Category Archives: With The Word online Bible Study

with the Word online Bible study: small things

Standard

Luke 13.18-21

Jesus asked, “What is God’s kingdom like? To what can I compare it? It’s like a mustard seed that someone took and planted in a garden. It grew and developed into a tree and the birds in the sky nested in its branches.”

Again he said, “To what can I compare God’s kingdom? It’s like yeast, which a woman took and hid in a bushel of wheat flour until the yeast had worked its way through the whole.”

~~~

What caught your attention in this reading? What made you wonder or have a question?

When you read this (try reading it aloud to hear it differently!), what images, music, or other scenes float into your mind?

Think about your week or your day. How does this scripture connect with what is going on in your own life?

The mustard bush is an invasive species–it takes over all the space in the garden and drives out other things. People tried to avoid getting mustard seeds in their garden. Why do you think Jesus uses this example to talk about the kingdom of God?

Similarly, yeast (or “leaven”) was reserved for non-holy breads. During festivals and holy days, only unleavened bread was allowed. So the kingdom of God is like yeast that corrupts the whole bushel of flour and makes it unholy? Why this metaphor? What does this tell us about the kingdom of God?

Both the mustard seed (the smallest of the seeds) and yeast (tiny!) are small things that change everything. They’re barely visible, you can’t see them working, until suddenly the whole garden or the whole bushel of flour is changed. How is that like the kingdom of God?

What is something small that you can do that will make a big difference in your faith or life? Or how can your life be like yeast, growing the kingdom of God in the world around you?

Advertisements

with the Word online Bible study: fasting

Standard

It’s Lent, a time of examination and preparation. One way the church has historically observed Lent is with the practice of Fasting…why? How? What? When? Where?

Matthew 6.16-18

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  

Jesus seemed to take for granted that people would fast. Notice that he did not say “if” you fast, but “whenever” – as if fasting was something a person who followed Jesus would do regularly. Still, we don’t hear a lot about fasting in our culture – that may be because fasting is a practice that reminds us that we are not ultimately in control of everything. We have become a people very proud of our self-sufficiency and independence; but fasting helps us keep our balance in life. Jesus knew that we needed to live in the balance of life focused on God, and it’s easy to let our focus slip to things we think we need (letting our bodies control us).

What do you think about this passage? What do you hear when you hear Jesus say “and whenever you fast…”? What do you think of when you hear the word “fasting”?

Fasting helps us see ourselves as we really are – when we remove something from our life, we quickly see how much we depend on it – how much it controls us.  It can help us see that we have come to depend too much on one thing – and just as God promises, our lives become imbalanced when we become too dependent on something and we lose our focus on God.  Deciding to go without, food, or television, or our cell phone, or ipod or video games we learn how much our peace depends upon the pleasures we get as a result of these things – and how powerful & clever the body or mind are at getting its own way against our strong resolves.

Have you ever tried to go without something–fasting from TV, or food, or something else? How did that go? What did you learn during that time?

Luke 4:1-4

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ‘  

Jesus went without food or the company of others for forty days to be strengthened by God – to be sure his focus was on God and not on himself or his desires.  Tempted and tested over and over again, Jesus became fully aware of the weaknesses of a human body, mind, and spirit by enduring a much longer fast than most of us could imagine.  He fasted before he began his ministry and was convinced he knew what was possible for us in a life with God here on Earth.  In human form he learned first hand about the strength provided when we trust and focus on God. Jesus taught us by doing what we can do – from what is possible not by what is impossible.  Jesus added spiritual practices to his life and taught us from what he knew would help us live as we were created to live.  He expected us to fast so that we might also become confident in our knowledge of God and ourselves.

Fasting among the Jews and then among Christians began as a spiritual practice of going without food and sometimes drink for a certain amount of time.  It was intended to be a time of re-centering themselves toward God – to allow the physical hunger to remind them that they were not created to be self-sufficient or live independent of God.

Spiritual practices exist to help us grow in our faith, our hope, our love, our gratitude – they are not a way to win the approval of others or of God.  When we fast from something we desire, it helps us become more open to the acceptance of God’s will for us and helps us to see our lives through our faith in God.

Lauren Winner learned practiced fasting as part of her Jewish faith and then came to add the practice to her life as a Christian.  She said, “Fasting is not merely a long, torturous means to a far-away end; a fast is not to be understood as a miserable experience that will sanctify you.  Nor is a fast like a back-room deal at the courthouse, the lawyer for the penitent trading three weeks of food in exchange for divine mercy.
…the fast accomplishes a repositioning.  When I am sated, it is easy to feel independent.  When I am hungry, it is possible to remember where my dependence lies.” (Mudhouse Sabbath p. 91)

What do you think? How can you let something go and learn to be more dependent on God, from whom all blessings flow? What would it mean to fast from something this week or this season, and how might it change your perspective on where God is and what God is doing?

In the Family Devotional Booklet for Lent there is a fasting practice recommended. Last week we fasted from snacking between meals. Did you try that? How did it go? This week we are fasting from text messaging and video games. How is that going? What’s easy, what’s hard, and what is helping you to see God and life differently?

Do you need a family devotional booklet for Lent, with daily scripture readings and reflection questions? Contact Teri in the church office.

with the Word online Bible study: healing and serving

Standard

Mark 1.29-34
After leaving the synagogue, Jesus, James, and John went home with Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed, sick with a fever, and they told Jesus about her at once. He went to her, took her by the hand, and raised her up. The fever left her, and she served them.
That evening, at sunset, people brought to Jesus those who were sick or demon-possessed. The whole town gathered near the door. He healed many who were sick with all kinds of diseases, and he threw out many demons. But he didn’t let the demons speak, because they recognized him.

*What grabbed your attention in this reading?
*What questions did it bring up for you?
*How does the Scripture connect with something that has happened in your day? your week? your life?
*What might God be saying to you through the gospel?

Remember that the word used for Peter’s mother in law getting up and serving is diakoneo –she ministered to them, like a deacon. It is the same word that is used when Jesus is in the wilderness after his baptism and “the angels ministered to him.” How does that change your reading of the story? What do you think about the fact that when it’s angels we use the word “ministered” but when it’s a mother-in-law we use the word “served”? (Think about this insight into biblical translation…)

Can you imagine being in front of the door with the whole town? What would that be like? What would you be hoping for?

Why do you think the demons recognize Jesus but people don’t? What do you make of the fact that Jesus won’t let the demons speak because they recognize him? What is that about?

What is the good news in this story? What is the challenge for us today?

with the Word online Bible study: passing the mantle

Standard

2 Kings 2:1-15

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’

Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

What did you hear in this story? Try reading it out loud as if it’s an adventure story, or as if you’re narrating a movie. What do you hear, see, smell, feel?

What do you think this story is about?

Do you identify with a particular character? More with the leader finishing his work and passing the mantle, or with the apprentice picking up that mantle, or with the bystanders?

Elijah is one of two people in the Old Testament who are “taken up” rather than dying. This story is the basis of the Jewish tradition of leaving a place at the table for Elijah–because he was taken up, that also means he could return, and so as a practice of hospitality and of expectant waiting for God’s work, Jews leave a place set at the table at major festivals (and some do so at every meal), so they will be prepared. There has long been the idea that Elijah will return to prepare the way for the Messiah–which is why John the Baptizer is often equated with Elijah.

Knowing all of that, how does that change your understanding of the relationship between Elijah and Elisha and John the Baptizer, Jesus, and the disciples?

What do you think is the good news in this story?

What is the challenge to us for taking up the mantle in our community?

with the Word online Bible study: create in me

Standard

Psalm 51:1-12

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Have you ever done anything so wrong, so destructive, so hurtful, that it was impossible to make it right? That’s the kind of prayer this is. Psalm 51 is the prayer of David after the incident known throughout scripture as “the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” You might recall–David saw Bathsheba and thought she was beautiful, he had an affair with her and she became pregnant…in order to hide the matter, he recalled her husband from his army and tried to get him to go home and sleep with his wife. When Uriah’s honor would not permit that (it was forbidden for those on duty to sleep with their wives, or even in beds, while the army was in the field), David had Uriah sent into the thick of the fighting, where the rest of the army pulled back and Uriah was killed. Then David took Bathsheba to be one of his wives. When we ask the confirmation class to count how many of the Ten Commandments David broke in this one affair, they often come up with more than 10!

On being confronted with his sin, David prays this prayer. He knows he’s in the wrong, and that it’s too late to make amends or practice reconciliation with the people he’s hurt. But God is also hurt–God put a lot of trust in David, and gave him a lot of responsibility. It’s never too late to make amends with God–and after this prayer, God does continue to love David, just as God continues to love us even when we hurt others and hurt God.

This is a classic prayer for Lent, a season of repentance. To “repent” means to Turn–to turn around, do a 180, and decide to change. A new translation of the Bible uses the phrase “change your hearts and lives” instead of “repent” because of the connotations that word has in our culture. It’s not only about apologizing, it’s about changing behavior, changing our hearts and lives.

What is something you need to change? What is something you need to put behind you and walk away from, so you can seek God with your whole heart? Can this prayer help?