Category Archives: Our Life Group

The Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the lost or prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups. I used the questionnaire and other material in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups by permission of Serendipity House, Littleton, Colorado 80160.

LK 15:11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
LK 15:13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
LK 15:17 “When he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
LK 15:21 “The son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. ‘
LK 15:22 “But the father said to his servants, `Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
LK 15:25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 `Your brother has come,’ he replied, `and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
LK 15:28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, `Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’
LK 15:31 ” `My son,’ the father said, `you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'” (NIV; all Biblical quotations are in the NIV)

The questionnaire, which I’d distributed the previous week, was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. Between sharing our answers to the two sections, we discussed two of the DIG questions asked about the parable in The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.

Looking into the Scriptures
This section contained four multiple-choice (1-4) and four Yes-No (5-8) questions.
1. Why do you think the prodigal son decided to leave home? – We divided between “to get away from his father’s values,” “to try to make it on his own,” and “to get away from his older brother.”
2. What was it that caused the prodigal son to come to his senses? – Our most popular choice was “hunger pangs.”
3. When the prodigal son returned home, what was his father’s attitude? – Our unanimous choice was “welcome home, son, I love you.”
4. When the older brother (who had been good) heard music and dancing, what was his attitude? – Our most popular choice was “it’s unfair.”
5. Do you think the father was wise to give his son his inheritance when he knew his son would probably blow it? – We divided between “Yes” and “No.”
6. If the father had a pretty good idea where his son had gone, do you think he should have gone after him? – We divided between “Yes” and “No.”
7. Do you think it was wise for the father to “kill the fatted calf” and throw a party when his son came home? – Our unanimous choice was “Yes” but we discussed what was unwise about his doing so.
8. Do you think that father split his inheritance a second time so that the prodigal son would have some spending money? – We divided between “I hope so” and “I hope not.”

DIG Questions
5. What’s Jesus’ point with this parable? What does the story teach about sin, repentance, and God’s love? Could you make a case for retitling this parable “The Waiting Father” or “The Elder Brother”? How so?
After our discussion of the question, I shared Darrell L. Bock’s and Joel B. Green’s comments on the parable’s title. “This parable is often called ‘The Prodigal Son,’ but it is really about different reactions to the prodigal. The key reaction is that of the father, who is excited to receive his son back. Thus a better name for the parable is ‘The Forgiving Father.’ A sub-theme is the reaction of the older brother, so that one can subtitle the parable with the addendum: ‘and the Begrudging Brother.’” (Bock, The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, page 412) and “Whose parable is it? The traditional answer, that it concerns a father with two sons, has much to commend it. Most importantly, the parable begins by naming ‘a man who had two sons,’ and goes on to underscore his conciliatory responses to the insulting behavior of both sons. Three telling observations suggest that this is not the case, however…. Finally, the larger co-text of this well-crafted parable in ch. 15 highlights the critical motif of ‘celebration,’ the joyous repast of what was lost (cf. Vv. 6, 9, 23-24, 27)…. Hence, as important as the father is to the parable, center stage belongs to the younger son” (Green, The Gospel of Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997, page 578; )
6. In summary, how [does this parable] answer the Pharisees’ objection in verse 2? What does Jesus want to teach the Pharisees in verses 25-31? In light of the context (v. 2), why does Jesus leave the story open-ended as to how the older brother responded to his father’s plea?
After our discussion of the question, I shared Alfred Plummer’s closing comment on the parable: “Not the least skilful touch in this exquisite parable is that it ends here. We are not told whether the elder brother at last went in and rejoiced with the rest. And we are not told how the younger one behave afterwards. Both these events were still in the future and both agents were left free. On purpose of the parable was to induce the Pharisees to come in and claim their share of the Father’s affection and of the heavenly joy. Another was to prove to the outcasts and sinners with what generous love they had been welcomed.” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to S. Luke, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1922, page 379)

My Own Story
This section contained four multiple-choice questions.
1. By temperament and experience, whom do you identify with in this story? – Our most popular choice was “the father.”
2. If you had to compare your spiritual journey to the prodigal’s journey, where are you now? – Our unanimous choice was “enjoying the fattened calf and the party.”
3. When it comes to spiritual things, what is your response to God’s “party”? – We split between “party lover: I’m ready, let’s party” and “wallflower: I’m there, but I can’t dance.”
4. What is the lesson for you in this parable? – We split between “you’ve got to let your children go, even though you know they will probably blow it,” “God’s love has no strings,” and “love overcomes mistakes.”

The Parable of the Great Banquet

Earlier this week the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the great banquet (Luke 14:15-24) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

LK 14:15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

LK 14:16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, `Come, for everything is now ready.’

LK 14:18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, `I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

LK 14:19 “Another said, `I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

LK 14:20 “Still another said, `I just got married, so I can’t come.’

LK 14:21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, `Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

LK 14:22 ” `Sir,’ the servant said, `what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

LK 14:23 “Then the master told his servant, `Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ” (NIV; all Biblical quotations are from the NIV)

The questionnaire, which I’d distributed the previous week, was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. We shared our answers. For most of the questions we differed widely on which of the suggested answers we chose. Moreover for many of the questions one or more of us couldn’t choose between two of the suggested answers. Thus we had a particularly interesting discussion.

Looking into the Scriptures
This section contained these six multiple choice questions:
1. How do you feel when someone declines your invitation to dinner? – We divided between “no problem” and “wonder what the real reason was.”
2. To what is the “great banquet” referring? – We divided between “the kingdom of God” and “the marriage banquet at the return of Jesus.” See below.
3. Why did the three people who were originally invited refuse to come? – We divided between “too busy with other things,” “not interested in being with God,” and “unaware of what they were missing.” See below.
4. “Go out quickly into the streets and the alleys…bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” Who are these people? – Most of us had “outcasts of society.” See below.
5. “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” Why? – We divided between “chose not to receive God’s grace” and “rejected Jesus as the Messiah.”
6. If God invited you to a banquet as his special guest (to spend time together), what would you do? – We divided between “wonder what God was up to” and “jump at the chance.”

My Own Story
This section contained these four multiple choice questions:
1. How would you describe your spiritual diet right now? – Our most popular choice was “gourmet feast.”
2. What can you expect at God’s banquet? – Our most popular choice was “all my needs will be met.”
3. When it comes to experiencing God’s spiritual feast, what will help you enjoy it more? – Our most popular choice was “assurance that I can eat whenever I’m hungry.”
4. What would it take to get you to come to the banquet of God’s deeper things? – We divided between “an adjustment in my schedule” and “a little more spiritual hunger.”
The diversity in our choice of answers is illustrated by my choosing the answer (or one of the answers) most popular with the rest of the group in only question 4. I had to choose “a little more spiritual hunger” because I’d chosen “spiritual hunger” in question 3.

When I said “See below” in reporting on our discussion of questions 2, 3, and 4 of Looking into the Scriptures above, I was referring to the following:

In our discussion of question 2 in Looking into the Scriptures, we observed that Jesus told the parable in response to someone’s saying, “Blessed is the man who will sit at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). The person was referring to the eschatological feast that Jesus describes in Luke 13: 28-29 and Matthew 8:11 as taking place with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see also Isaiah 25:6). Thus it’s quite possible that the parable is referring to that feast as well, which many identify with the “wedding supper of the Lamb” of Revelation 19:9. However the parable could be referring more generally to “the kingdom of God.” For example, Matthew Henry explains “in the kingdom of God” as:

“(1.) In the kingdom of grace in the kingdom of the Messiah, which was expected now shortly to be set up. Christ promised his disciples that they should eat and drink with him in his kingdom. They that partake of the Lord’s supper eat bread in the kingdom of God. (2) In the kingdom of glory, at the resurrection. The happiness of heaven is an everlasting feast; blessed are they that shall sit down at that table, whence they shall rise no more.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, Vol. V, page 733)

In our discussion of question 3 in Looking into the Scripture, we observed that the servant referred to in verse 17 was just letting those previously invited to the banquet know that the banquet was ready. They had apparently accepted the initial invitation to the banquet despite knowing that they were going to buy a field, buy oxen, or get married. Thus their replies to the second invitation were just “excuses” and may seem foolish to us. However George Arthur Buttrick asks: “Are these excuses more foolish than ours? ‘I got too much religion when I was a boy’ … ‘I am too tired when Sunday comes’ … ‘There are too many hypocrites in church’” (The Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville, Tennessee: Abington Press, 1952, volume VIII, page 256).

In our discussion of question 4 in Looking into the Scriptures, I justified the inclusion of “Gentiles outside of the covenant” as a possible answer by observing that some commentators identify those who were originally invited as the Jews and those who were invited later as the Gentiles. One recent commentator, Darrell L. Bock, even claims that this “is the crux of the parable,” explaining:

“The original invitees represent Israel. Although the nation as the originally invited is not responding, the time for the arrival of the kingdom had come, and the initial celebration of its blessings will go ahead. Others previously thought excluded from the celebration will get invitations. These people represent the spread of God’s blessings beyond the bounds of the needy of Israel. In all likelihood, the inclusion of Gentiles is alluded to here (Isa. 49:6). Israel, though first in line, is missing her present chance to sit at the table. The first have indeed become last.” (The NIV Application Commentary: Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996, page 395)

However another recent commentator, Joel B. Green, rejects this view. After noting that some identify those invited later as the marginalized among the Jews (the “poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” found in the town’s streets and alleys) and the Gentiles (those found in the roads and country lanes outside the town), he claims:

“One looks in vain within the Lukan narrative or beyond for instances wherein these proximities (in or outside town) are used to distinguish Jews and Gentiles, however. Luke seems not to be interested in specifying the precise nature of the socio-religious divisions at work here.” (The Gospel of Luke, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1997, page 561

Whatever, the parable clearly brings out that all are invited to attend the great banquet and that only those who accept the invitation will get to attend it.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

LK 12:13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

LK 12:14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

LK 12:16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17 He thought to himself, `What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

LK 12:18 “Then he said, `This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ‘

LK 12:20 “But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

LK 12:21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (NIV; all Biblical quotations are from the NIV)

The questionnaire, which I’d distributed the previous week, was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. We shared our answers.

Looking into the Scriptures
This section contained these six multiple choice questions:
1. In verse 13, what was the man in the crowd really saying to Jesus?
2. In his reply, what was Jesus telling the crowd?
3. In the parable, what is Jesus saying about wealth and the pursuit of wealth?
4. Why is God’s response to the rich man so harsh?
5. What does it mean to be “rich toward God”?
6. If Jesus commented on our view of wealth today, what might he say?
The only question on which all of us chose the same answer was “In the parable, what is Jesus saying about wealth and the pursuit of wealth?” The answer which we chose was “wealth can make us self-indulgent.”

My Own Story
This section contained these four multiple-choice questions:
1. Where are your riches? (Name two)
2. What are three priorities for your life right now?
3. How would you like to be remembered?
4. Where would you like to leave your riches?
Again we chose different answers.

We also read Luke 12:22-34 and discussed how it related to the parable of the rich fool.

This footnote is about the Life group which Leonora and I host. The group meets at our house every Thursday evening. Regular attendees are the members of our family living at home (Leonora, me, and our son Robert), two other members of our church (Ray Noble and Russell Froude), and the three Church of the Latter Day Saints missionaries currently stationed here.

Leonora leads opening worship, Ray and I alternate in leading a study, Ray prays for our requests, and we have lunch. In Ray’s turn to lead the study, we view the story of a persecuted Christian contained on the Voice of the Martyrs’ “I am n” video and discuss it guided by the Voice of the Martyrs’ participant’s guide. In my turn to lead the study, we read a parable of Jesus and discuss it guided by the questionnaire on it contained in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.” We are grateful to the Voice of Martyrs for providing Ray with material for us to do the study that he leads and to Serendipity House for giving me permission to reproduce material from “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups” for use in our study.

We’re planning to have four more studies in 2016-17, two on the stories remaining in “I am n” and two on parables of Jesus. The two “I am n” stories focus on forgiveness and faithfulness; the earlier stories focussed on sacrifice, courage, joy, and perseverance. I haven’t decided which two of The Great Banquet, The Lost (Prodigal) Son, The Pharisee and the Tax Collector, and The Talents we’ll study; please let me know if you have a preference. We’re planning to have a closing supper as well.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

LK 10:25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

LK 10:26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

LK 10:27 He answered: ” `Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ “

LK 10:28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

LK 10:29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

LK 10:30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,’ he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

LK 10:36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

LK 10:37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (NIV. All Biblical quotations are from the NIV.)

The questionnaire, which I’d distributed the previous week, was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. We shared our answers.

Looking into the Scriptures

The first three questions asked if we thought that Jesus knew that the Samaritans were people of mixed ancestry and religion (1 Kings 17:24-41), that the road from Jerusalem to Jericho was dangerous because of robbers who waylaid travellers, and that a person who touched a corpse was unclean for several days (Numbers 19:11). We agreed that he knew these things.

The next two questions asked if we thought that the priest and the Levite were justified in passing by the wounded man if there was a good chance that the wounded person was playing dead to trap them or if they were in a rush to get to their religious duties in Jericho. Although we sympathized with the priest’s and the Levite’s situation, we felt that they weren’t justified in passing by the wounded man.

The last two questions were multiple-choice questions:
– Why do you think the Samaritan stopped when the others “passed by on the other side”?
– Why do you think Jesus told this parable in response to the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbour?”
We didn’t agree in our answers to these questions. For the first question our most popular answer was that the Samaritan knew what it mean to be a hurting person and have people pass by, and for the second question we were divided between Jesus’ telling the parable to let the lawyer answer his own question and his telling it to use the case history approach which lawyers use.

My Own Story
1. What do you do when people come up to you on a street corner and ask for a handout? – Besides answering the question, we had an interesting and enlightening discussion of what we thought we should do when this happens.
2. Now that you’ve read this parable, who would you say is your “neighbour”? – Our most popular choice was that based on the parable our neighbour is anyone who approaches us with a need.
3. If you had to call upon someone outside of your family at 3 o’clock in the morning because of a deep personal problem, on whom would you call? – We were divided among our pastor, a close friend, and someone who had conquered the problem. We also agreed that even before calling on one of them, we should take the problem to God in prayer.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host studied Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful or unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

MT 18:21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

MT 18:22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

MT 18:23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

MT 18:26 “The servant fell on his knees before him. `Be patient with me,’ he begged, `and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

MT 18:28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. `Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

MT 18:29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, `Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

MT 18:30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

MT 18:32 “Then the master called the servant in. `You wicked servant,’ he said, `I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

MT 18:35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” (NIV; all Biblical quotations are from the NIV))

The questionnaire was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. For each part I allowed at least five minutes for members of the group to answer the four multiple choice questions in it and then we shared our answers. Between doing the two parts, we discussed three of the five DIG questions that The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups asked about the parable.

Looking into the Scriptures
1. Do you suppose Peter had a special reason for asking how many times he needed to forgive his brother and, if so, what was it? – All of us chose, “he just wanted to know.”
2. What is the parable that Jesus told really about? – The only option that more than one of us chose was, “how to say thanks for God’s forgiveness.”
3. How would you describe the attitude of the servant toward the one who had wronged him? – We split between “don’t let the scoundrel off the hook” and “let him suffer.”
4. What’s the principle for you as a Christian in dealing with someone who has wronged you? – The majority of us chose, “only the forgiven know how to forgive.”

Dig
1. Offenders in Jesus’ day were forgiven up to three times; a fourth offense need not be forgiven. What does Jesus’ answer say about forgiveness in the kingdom?
– We agreed that Jesus’ answer said that forgiveness in the kingdom should be unlimited.
3. How does Jesus’ point in verse 35 compare with 6:12? Do we forgive others so God will forgive us, or does God forgive us so that we will have a forgiving attitude?
– Matthew 6:12 says, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Although both it and verse 35 seem to favour the first option, we agreed with the second option. Leon Morris comments on 6:12, “This must surely be taken as an aspiration rather than a limitation, or none of us would be forgiven; our forgivenesses are so imperfect. But the prayer recognizes that we have no right to seek forgiveness for our own sins if we are withholding forgiveness from others, and perhaps even that we cannot really seek it (The Gospel according to Matthew, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmanns Publishing Company, 1992, page 147).
4. Based on this parable, is God’s forgiveness of us limited or unlimited? Conditional or unconditional? Likewise, our forgiveness of others?
– We agreed that God’s forgiveness of us is unlimited. Although our initial reaction was that God’s forgiveness of us is unconditional, we went on to agree that our initial reaction was based on our theology and that the parable and Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sin, your Father will not forgive your sins,” indicate that God’s forgiveness of us is conditional on our forgiving others. We had an interesting and fruitful discussion on how to reconcile the two. We agreed that our forgiveness of others should be unlimited and unconditional.

My Own Story
My Own Story’s being personal, I won’t report here on our answers to the questions in it.
1. What would you do [about the situation given in a case study presented in the questionnaire]?
2. What have you found helpful in dealing with sour relationships?
3. Who is the easiest [and who] is the hardest person for you to forgive?
4. How could you pass on God’s forgiveness to those who have wronged you?

The Parable of the Sower

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-23) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

MT 13:1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

MT 13:18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (NIV)

The questionnaire was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. For each I allowed at least five minutes for members of the group to answer the four or five multiple choice questions in it and then we shared our answers. Although only four of our seven or eight regulars were present, we had a good discussion. However we didn’t reach a consensus in answering most of the questions and so here I’ll give just the questions except for the last question in each section.

Looking into the Scriptures
1. If you had been in the crowd when Jesus shared this parable, how would you have felt?
2. Why do you think Jesus used this illustration to explain how people receive his message?
3. What is the “crop” that the seed is to produce?
4. What is Jesus really saying in this parable? – We agreed on “if you’re not producing, it’s not the fault of the seed..” In each case the sower and the seed were the same’ only the soil differed.

My Own Story
1. If you had to divide your life from BIRTH to RIGHT NOW into four quarters (Like the quarters of a football game), how would you describe each quarter as far as the spiritual values that Jesus preached and live? On the line below, fill in the quarters of your life–starting with CHILDHOOD as your first quarter. Then, for each quarter, jot down one of the four soils.
2. In the period of your life where you indicated the best crop, what was the contributing factor?
3. In the period of your life where you indicated the poorest crop, what was the contributing factor?
4. If you were to take God seriously for 30 days, what would it mean in practical terms?
5. Which of these “farm trivia” facts would encourage you the most as you “sow” the “seed” of the gospel? – We divided between “a seed of grain can yield 100 times its own weight” and “the crop cannot be determined as the seed is planted.” We observed that the latter should be encouraging to pastors in their preaching and to all of us in our witnessing.

Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7:24-29)

Last evening the Life group which my wife, Leonora, and I host discussed Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders (Matthew 7:24-29) guided by The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s questionnaire for beginning groups.

MT 7:24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

MT 7:28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (NIV)

The questionnaire was divided into two parts, Looking into the Scriptures and My Own Story. For each I allowed five minutes for members of the group to answer the five multiple choice questions in it and then we shared our answers. Between our doing the two parts, we discussed The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups’s DIG question on the parable. My Own Story’s being personal, I won’t report here on our answers to the questions in it.

Looking into the Scriptures
1. Today’s forecast in my life is for: – This question’s being personal, I won’t share our answers here.
2. Who is Jesus describing in this passage? – We chose “a crowd faced with a big decision.” I noted that although the parable was addressed to Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 5:1-2), the passage observes that “the crowds were amazed at his teaching” (NIV).
3. The rock Jesus recommends as a strong foundation is: – Although most of us chose “Jesus himself,” we agreed that “faith expressed in action” was also a good choice.
4. The sand Jesus refers to is: – Although most of us chose “the world’s values,” we agreed that “wishy-washy commitment” was also a good choice.
5. The point of this story is: – Although most of us chose “if you don’t follow Jesus, spiritual disaster will follow,” we agreed that these options were also brought out in the story: everybody builds a house somewhere, everyone will experience storms, and survival depends on choosing the right foundation.

Dig
(Question) How do the similarities and differences between the two house builders reflect the people who heard Jesus? What kind of commitment is Jesus calling for here? What is the alternative? (Used by permission of Serendipity House, Littleton, Colorado 80160)
(Answer) Both house builders built a house, and all the disciples (and people) heard the words of Jesus. One house builder built his house on a rock and the other built his house on sand, and some people put the words of Jesus into practice and other people didn’t put his words into practice. Jesus is calling for complete commitment here. The alternative is lack of or wishy-washy commitment. (This is my answer edited after the group discussion of the question.)

Before our discussion of the parable, Leonora led us in singing and prayer and Ray Noble, our church’s Voice of the Martyrs’s representative, shared the account of a persecuted Christian. After our discussion of the parable, Ray led us in prayer for our prayer requests and Leonora served us lunch.