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Monday, May 14, 2018

Define Speck

Last week our Coffee Break group thought about treasure - our treasure, God's treasure, where are treasure should be... But what would it look like if we really believed our treasure was in heaven? Would we see the world as a disaster area needing to be redeemed, our neighbors as casualties needing to be drawn into the fold... or would we simply ignore the state of the world as it's not where we belong?


(23) Why Do We Judge?

What would it look like if we really believed our treasure was in heaven?
1.       Would we be “so heavenly minded we’re no earthly use”?  How do we avoid that?
2.       Would we be so overwhelmed by the sins of the world we’d do everything in our power to change it?
3.       How did the Jewish leaders expect the Messiah to change the world? Does that change how we feel about changing it?
4.       What’s the connection between change and judgement?
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus moves on from telling us where our treasure should be to telling us not to judge.
1.       How would poor people (Beatitudes people) have viewed this transition?
2.       How would the Jewish leaders have viewed it?
3.       Read Matthew 7:1-2, Mark 4:24-25, Luke 6:37-38 What’s the connection between judgement and forgiveness?
4.       Read Matthew 7:3-5, Luke 6:41-42 What sins were the Jewish leaders condemning? What do we condemn? How does it make you feel to imagine society’s sins as “specks”? (And bear in mind, if you've come up with a sin that you really, really know is absolutely evil, your anger at my question is just what the Jewish leaders felt when they heard Jesus!)
5.       Read Luke 6:39-40 Who were the blind? Who are the blind today?
6.       Read Matthew 7:6 Who were the dogs? Who are the dogs?
If we’re not supposed to judge—if we’re not supposed to change the world by telling people what they’re doing wrong—what should we do? How can we change the world?
1.       Read Matthew 7:7-12, Luke 11:5-13 The Luke passage comes straight after Jesus’ teaching on prayer (the Lord’s prayer). What did Jesus teach us to ask for in the Lord’s prayer?
2.       What if a child asks for a stone or a scorpion? How would a parent respond?
3.       How much do we trust God when we pray? And how do we know we’re not praying for scorpions? And how do we balance faith in God’s love with faith in prayer’s power?
4.       Do you really believe that prayer can change / redeem the world?
Matthew continues with Jesus’ teaching about the “narrow gate,” a lesson which Luke places much nearer the Passion, when Jesus is in Jerusalem, quite likely looking at a narrow gate (so we’ll look at this later). Then he reminds us (and his listeners) how to recognize false prophets. Read Matthew 7:15-20, Luke 6:43-45
1.       What do you think “By their fruits you shall know them” means?
2.       Have you ever tried to look at the “fruit” of someone to determine if you will believe them?
3.       What is a false prophet? Is it just someone who makes a false prediction, or is Jesus talking about something more insidious?
4.       Some of Jesus’ listeners proved to be false prophets. How can we make sure we’re not false prophets too?
5.       What’s the connection between false prophets and judgement? Read Matthew 7:21-23
Matthew finishes his account of the Sermon on the Mount with a well-known parable. Read Matthew 7:24-28, Luke 6:46-49. Some developers do build in risky places, but we don’t build our own houses very often. Can you think of a modern analogy that would deliver the same immediate message to people today? What about building our worldview from Facebook, trusting our retirement savings to someone without checking their background…?
Read Luke 6:46. How should we judge? How should we live? How should we pray?

Monday, May 7, 2018

What's Your Treasure?

We're closing in on the end of the Sermon on the Mount... and on the end of the Coffee Break season. We're looking at treasure, light, lamps, flowers, birds and more, and asking, What's Your Treasure? How will you answer?


(22) What’s Your Treasure?

Matthew continues Jesus’ sermon through several chapters. Luke splits the teaching, giving different parts on different occasions. Many Bible translations split the sermon up with headers, defining passages by verse numbers. Many Bible studies pick out particular verses from multiple locations and combine them with a single focus or theme.
1.       What do we gain or lose from the different ways the Bible is printed or read?
2.       How important is the choice of Bible translation to you?
3.       How important is it to have context for passages? (And does Matthew lose the context when he puts all the teaching in one place?)
4.       Is the Bible your treasure?
5.       What’s the difference between being known as “people of the Book” and being known as “people of God”? How might this difference be perceived by outsiders?
Matthew includes Jesus’ teaching about treasure next. Read Matthew 6:19-21, Luke 12:33-34
1.       How does this relate to providing for our children, taking out insurance, locking doors and using mothballs?
2.       What treasures are we most tempted to store on earth?
3.       What treasures are we most afraid to lose? (What’s you greatest fear?)
4.       How do we avoid turning things and relationships into treasures on earth?
So, we have to see clearly and look carefully. Read Matthew 6:22-23, Luke 11:34-36
1.       Luke places these passages closer to the Passion (when Jesus is in Jerusalem). Why might they have seemed particularly relevant and memorable then? How might people who watched the crucifixion relate this teaching?
2.       How clearly do we see our own motives?
3.       What helps you see more clearly? What is your “lamp”?
We have to know our motives, know (choose rightly) who governs us, and then trust. Read Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13
1.       Have you ever been torn by conflicting priorities?
2.       Have you ever struggled to work out which choice would serve which master?
3.       Is this injunction meant to make us worry about all our choices, or to comfort us? Does Matthew 6:25 change your answer?
Read Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:22-32
1.       What don’t birds do? Does that mean we shouldn’t do those things?
2.       What don’t flowers do? Should we go around naked? Why not? (And was Adam naked? Were Christian missionaries right to insist that tribespeople wore Western clothes?)
3.       Is feeding the poor a good thing?
4.       Is worrying about the next war a good thing?
5.       How do we balance trust with sensible precautions?
6.       What are we anxious about today, in this church, town, city, country, world? How do we practice what this teaches?
7.       And what/who/where is our true treasure?

Monday, April 30, 2018

What's your prayer?

We're kind of following Matthew's account in our Coffee and Bible studies, so now we come to the Lord's Prayer, which Luke (and maybe Mark) don't include until much later in the story. Chances are, Jesus taught the same prayer over and over, to disciples who, like us, could never quite remember. So now he teaches it to us...


(21) What’s Your Prayer?

We’re still reading the Sermon on the Mount, though Luke places the next section later in Jesus’ ministry. Maybe we’re reading several sermons, repeated sermons, or separate sermons. We can’t know which, but we can and do know, this teaching was believed to be true by those early readers, writers and followers of Jesus. As present-day followers, we also know this teaching and prayer was important enough that God inspired his writers to include it (twice) in his Bible.
Following on from the “love your enemies” and “be perfect as your father is perfect” passages, Matthew looks at some of the ways we try to prove we’re obeying. Read Matthew 5:48-6:4
1.       What’s your (or your child or grandchild’s) favorite way of trying to prove you’re good?
2.       Do you ever compare your “goodness quotient” with your neighbor’s? How do you come out in the comparison?
3.       What do rewards already received look like? Can you avoid them? How should you respond to them?
4.       Is all non-secret charity forbidden? What would that look like? What does public charity look like today? And where do taxes and “entitlements” fit in?
5.       If the left and right hand verse is hyperbole, what might it really mean in practical terms?
Read Matthew 6:5-8
1.       What did public prayer look like then? What does it look like today?
2.       How does this relate to arguments over prayer in public schools/at public sports events/at political meetings?
3.       How does it relate to prayer accompanied by sackcloth and ashes, fasting and abstinence? (Read 2 Samuel 3:31)
4.       How does this relate to prayer in our small group?
5.       What’s the difference between shopping-list (babbling?) prayer and believing God cares about all the details?
Read Matthew 6:9-13, Luke 11:1-4 What is different in the two passages? (You might want to read the footnotes too)
1.       When Jesus said “Our Father” it was new and exciting. What do we lose by making this a formal prayer?
2.       How do we balance praying for God’s will to be done and trying to force God’s will on our neighbors (e.g. with human laws, prohibition, etc)?
3.       How do we balance asking for our daily needs with caring for our neighbors’ daily needs? How does this apply when the neighbor might have broken a human law (immigration for example)?
4.       How do we balance asking forgiveness with giving it? What do you (or society) consider unforgivable? How does your forgiveness interact with society’s? Read Matthew 6:14-15, Mark 11:25-26 Does this affect your answer? And what forgiveness should we offer when “men sin against” not “you,” but others?
5.       What is your greatest temptation? Why do you return to it? Why doesn’t God make it easier to resist?
6.       Is it just the glory that’s forever, or are the kingdom and power eternal too? And why might this verse be missed out (or added)? (Could the fact that Jesus is heading to Jerusalem at this point in Luke be important?)
Read Matthew 6:16-18
1.       In Jesus’ day, fasting was public; it included wearing sackcloth, putting ashes on your skin, etc. Today the closest we get is Ash Wednesday—Do our Ash Wednesday celebrations follow Jesus’ directions?
2.       Jews all fasted at appropriate times and for appropriate reasons, so Jesus says “when” you fast because he knows they will. What if we don’t fast? How might this passage apply (like 6:1-4) to other things we do?
3.       We don’t anoint our heads either, but in Jesus’ day, anointing made you fit in with Romans as well as Jews. What do we forbid or allow that might make us fit in, and why might fitting in be as important as standing out?