Category: parable

the parable of the lovely notebook

Is it just me, or do others really enjoy having a new notebook or diary (if you still use a paper one)? There’s something attractive about having a notebook with crisp, pristine pages. I love it. I anticipate what I will use it for. I make myself promises that I won’t scribble or cross things out. I will only ever use nice pens to write in the book, and I will always use my best writing.

Recently for my birthday some kind friends of mine bought me this notebook.

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It was made in Italy and it’s got a lovely leather cover with that leather strap to keep it closed. It’s got my initials embossed on the front. The paper is lovely quality. I love it.

The only problem is that I haven’t used it yet. The book is too nice just to be used for taking phone messages or reminders.I want it to be used for something important and special. I want it to contain things that I will want to come back to and look over again in the future. I don’t want to spoil it with scruffy, rushed notes, or with poor quality handwriting, or with scratchy pens.

So the book is still in pristine condition.

But it’s not being used. It’s not able to fulfil its purpose. It’s being denied the opportunity to do all that it was created to be and do because I am concerned that it will not be used in the way that it deserves to be used.

Do we sometimes deny ourselves, or others, an opportunity to try something and to grow and flourish from it because we are afraid?

Do we sometimes forget that we have been given gifts, skills and personality in order to bless, delight and encourage others and keep them to ourselves instead?

Do we want to protect people or ourselves from harm and thus avoid taking any risks?

I have an idea of what to do with the book. I have resolved to use it.

What about you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

view from my pew 4

pewsDear Internet

Welcome to another of the musings of Mr Grenville-Stubbs.

I had an uncomfortable moment  after church this week. I was sitting having a cup of coffee after church with Dot, one of my lady friends (no, it’s nothing like that), when I noticed that she still had the plastic loop from a price label attached to her shoe. The price label was no longer there but somehow she had forgotten to remove the plastic loop.

And once I had noticed it I couldn’t help noticing it. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I found my mind wandering from what she was saying. I nodded sagely at what I thought was an appropriate moment when she paused and looked at me quizzically.

“You’re not listening to me, are you?” she asked.

I tried to bluff it for a moment by telling her that what she was saying was fascinating and I was fully supportive of her but at that point she started laughing.

“You’ve just proved my point,” Dot chortled. “I was telling you that you have still got the price label attached to your jacket and it’s sticking out of the back of your collar!”

I was somewhat embarrassed. It was partly because everyone would have seen where I shopped, partly because everyone would have seen that I bought the jacket in a sale. But I was mostly embarrassed because in order to change the subject I mentioned that Dot had still got her plastic loop on her shoe. She went on to say that it sounded like one of Jesus’ parables and I could not work out which one she meant.

Yours faithfully

Q.R.Grenville Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick likes to write)

the parable of the wall

Outside the church is a wall. It separates the church from the street. It’s a low wall, just the right height for sitting on. It’s a convenient wall. Passers-by will sit on the wall in order to make a phone call, to eat an ice cream (in the summer) and to wait for someone. And the nearby traders use it as somewhere to sit when they take a cigarette break.

The Minister of the church doesn’t approve of smoking. It’s unhealthy. The smoke is unpleasant for those around. It’s not the right image the church wants to project to the community. And even though there is a rubbish bin nearby, the traders tend to flick their cigarette butts into the flowerbeds behind the wall, which irritates the Minister.

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One day the Minister was passing by the wall and saw one of the traders sitting on the wall, smoking, as usual. The trader finished her cigarette, stubbed it out on the wall and flicked the butt into the flowerbed…

Scenario 1

The Minister was incensed: didn’t they have any respect?

“Excuse me,” said the Minister as the trader made her way back to her shop, “Is our wall comfortable?”

The trader sensed possible sarcasm and wasn’t sure what to say. The Minister took her silence as an admission of guilt.

“I noticed that you were sitting on our church wall while you smoked your cigarette and then flicked the cigarette butt into our flowerbed,” the Minister continued. “We don’t approve of smoking – it’s unhealthy and the smoke is off-putting so in future please don’t sit on our wall, smoking, and please don’t flick your cigarette butts into our garden.”

The trader mumbled an apology and went back to her shop. The Minister went into the church feeling pleased at having made a point, and ordered a ‘no smoking’ sign to be attached to the wall. It wasn’t long before no traders sat on the wall, no cigarette butts were flicked into the flowerbeds and the Minister felt vindicated.

Scenario 2

The Minister was incensed: didn’t they have any respect?

“Excuse me,” said the Minister as the trader made her way back to her shop, “Is our wall comfortable?”

The trader sensed possible sarcasm and wasn’t sure what to say. The Minister continued: “It’s just that I have noticed that you sit on our wall a lot and I was hoping it was comfortable.”

The trader grinned. “It’s a wall innit?” she said. “I aint expectin’ cushions!”

It wasn’t long before the Minister started joining the traders on the wall for a chat from time to time. The Minister still didn’t like the smoke, and cigarette butts were still flicked into the flowerbeds but the traders felt welcome.

Questions to inspire you:

This parable is based on real events – one of the scenarios happened.

What are the ‘walls’ and ‘cigarettes’ for you and your church?

How could you respond in missional ways?

What might we need to lay aside in order to take the opportunities that God might be giving us?

What small changes in attitude could make a big difference to the people you meet?

Be blessed, be a blessing

blind to the truth?

20160402_114517Recently I acquired a study. The garage in our house has been converted into a study. It’s a lovely space in which to work, study and meet people and makes my life a lot easier. It’s also downstairs, which helps (not too many upstairs garages though, so I guess you realised that). And it’s much closer to the coffee-making facilities in our house.

The front of our house faces south. And it was only after we had some vertical blinds installed that I realised the significance of this: if it’s a sunny day when I twist the blinds open in the morning I have to twist them to the right so that the sun does not shine directly through into my eyes. Later in the day, after the sun has traversed (or, for the cosmic pedants the earth has rotated) I have to twist the blinds to the left for the same reason. It’s not something that is bothersome, but it’s not something I had considered until the first sunny day when I was in my study.

I think that the ability to be flexible, adaptable and open-minded is one that all of us need to develop because the environment and circumstances in which we exist changes around us. I think most people suffer from change-inertia. It’s not necessarily that we don’t like change but it takes so much effort that we’d rather not bother thank you very much. However if we don’t change and adapt to the changing circumstances around us in the same way as if I failed to adjust the the blinds we may find that we can’t operate effectively because those changed circumstances make it more difficult.

It seems to me that churches suffer from change-inertia. Christians are like all people who tend to like things the way they have always been. Keeping church the way it has always been is perhaps a bit like a spiritual security blanket and if things change in church one of the fixed points of a person’s faith has changed and that can be uncomfortable. I understand that.

But I don’t think it’s healthy. Because if one of the fixed points of a person’s faith is the way a church has always been then their faith is in the wrong thing. We are supposed to be followers of Jesus and put our faith in him not in traditions, preferences, buildings, or even other people. And following Jesus involves change. That is at the heart of the word ‘repentance’ (a change of direction back towards God). It is inherent in what the Holy Spirit is doing within us – changing us to become more like the people God created us to be. And if you look at how Jesus engaged with the religious people and traditions of his day he was all about change! I would go so far as to suggest that if a church does not want to change (if the change is Jesus-led) then they are in danger of becoming a church-preservation society and not a church.

I may be coming across a bit strong here, but it bothers me that if churches do not change and adapt to the changes in culture around them they will be seen as out of date, irrelevant, and old fashioned and that people will then think of Jesus in the same way and ignore him. We’re supposed to be free samples of Jesus not of our own preferences and traditions. And if we refuse to adapt to our changing environment and become irrelevant while remaining in a happy holy huddle we are not only being selfish but disobedient to Jesus by not going to make disciples.

Now before anyone starts branding me a heretic and picking up virtual stones to lob at me or my blog can I say that I am not suggesting that we change the core of our message. Churches must always be ‘on-message’ when it comes to Jesus. But we can change the way that we say it. For example, Christians may (or may not) know what I mean if I say, “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” But for most people outside church if they hear that they will imagine I am engaged in some sort of animal cruelty and may call the RSPCA.

Jesus used language and illustrations that were contemporary for his day, but were also radical and challenging to the status quo and that is a problem for us if we refuse to change and adapt. Many of the amazing stories he told are culturally irrelevant to the Western post-modern society in which I live. (Don’t lob those virtual stones yet, read on). His parable about a Good Samaritan needs a lot of explanation to people today (explaining the depth of the historical animosity between Jesus’ Jewish listeners and the Samaritan people of his day, the religious cleanliness rules that would have prevented the priest and Levite from carrying out their duties if they had touched the beaten up victim, for example) even though the message is relevant today (perhaps more than ever). Today in telling the same story we might talk about the parable of the Good Immigrant who goes out of her way to look after a Right Wing Racist thug who was beaten up by a rival gang (who might still be hanging around) and was ignored by the leaders of his gang who ran away and a vicar who was on her way to a PCC meeting. It’s the same point Jesus was making about who your neighbour is but set in a different cultural context.

So how would you communicate the truth of “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb” to someone who knows nothing about the Biblical imagery or theology of that statement?

Do we adapt to our ever changing world, or do we keep the blinds as they were and end up unable to see what we are called to do?

Be blessed, be a blessing

An ant called Declan

antDeclan was a busy ant, as were all his friends. He spent his day scampering around the countryside looking for food to forage for the rest of the ant colony.

One day Declan crawled across a picnic table and came across a jam sandwich. A child had dropped it on the ground and although the child had been quite willing to eat it, earth and all, their mother had told them to leave it and left it on the table top. Declan was drawn to the sticky, sweet jam and thought to himself how the sandwich would feed the whole colony for days.

He rushed back to the nest and told the foreman, who sounded the alarm. The message went out to all of the foraging ants, who all came back to the nest. The foreman told them that Declan had found a jam sandwich and the rest of the ants cheered.

Declan felt very proud as he led the ants in a long line back along his route and up onto the picnic table top to the sandwich. When they got there the rest of the ants swarmed over it excitedly.

Then one of the ants said what most of them were thinking: “It’s a big sandwich, isn’t it?”

“I can carry fifty times my own body weight,” said another, “but I could never lift that on my own.” Lots of the stronger ants agreed with him.

“How would we fit it down the hole into the nest?” another asked. Some of the practical ants had been wondering that themselves.

“It’s very sticky jam,” objected another. “I don’t want to get covered in jam.”

The mood changed from excitement to despondency. It had been a lovely idea. Slowly but surely the ants decided that it was too difficult a task to carry the sandwich back to the nest and went back to what they had been doing beforehand.

The foreman looked at Declan. “Sorry, Dec,” he said, “It is a brilliant sandwich, but it was too much for us to manage.”

Sadly Declan agreed with him and left the sandwich. But he couldn’t help, wondering what might have been possible if they had thought about working together.

What might God be saying through this parable?

Be blessed, be a blessing

The parable of the okay Samaritan

(This is the most recent parable we are sharing with our churches. It is based on The Message paraphrase of the Bible).

questions

Just then a religious scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbour as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?”

Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Samaritan travelling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, intending to take him to an inn. But just as he was about to set off he remembered that he was supposed to be home early that night because he was expecting a delivery of a new harness for his donkey from RiverJordan.com.

“Then he looked at the man’s injuries and felt bad that he was worried about who was going to sign for his delivery. He looked at the bandages that he had put on the man’s wounds. Blood was beginning to seep through. He worried that it might stain the travel rug that the man was sitting on, and blood was really difficult to get out as Persil hadn’t been invented yet, so he took the man back off his donkey and laid him gently at the side of the road.

“’No!’ anguished the Samaritan to himself, ‘this poor man needs help. I can’t leave him like this at the side of the road.’ So the Samaritan took out a piece of papyrus and wrote on it, ‘Please help this man.’ And he placed his sign next to the man who had been robbed and went on his way, feeling that he had made a difference and done enough.”

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?” asked Jesus.

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Did he really become his neighbour?”

Questions
How does the reshaping of the story make you feel?
Who are your neighbours?
What opportunities for mission action does your church take? Is there more that you could do? What stops you from doing more?

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the sower 2 – the sequel

Jesus told a parable about a farmer who scattered seeds and what happened when it fell on different sorts of soil (you can read it here). I have written a sequel. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Village

A farmer went to sow some seeds in his field. He remembered that last year when he had scattered the seeds some had fallen on the path and the birds had eaten them. Some seeds had landed on rocky places where the soil was shallow and while the plants had sprouted they withered in the heat of the day because there was no moisture. Still more seeds fell among thorns which choked the wheat as it grew. But some fell on good soil and produced a wonderful yield of crops.

This year he had worked really hard. He wasn’t going to scatter any seeds onto the path for the birds, he was going to be careful at the edges. He had spent ages on his own clearing away all of the rocks and stones from the ground. It was back-breaking work which had taken him weeks to do, but he had achieved it. And then he had spent weeks clearing away all of the weeds and thorns on his own. That was hard work too, and he had the cuts on his hands to prove it. Finally he had ploughed his field to make it ready for the seeds to be sown. He was proud of all his hard work.

Today he was ready. He went out to his field. He looked at the results of all his hard work and planning. He was very pleased with himself. He reached into his bag of seeds, ready to start sowing.

Then he stopped.

His heart sank.

He couldn’t believe it.

With all of his busyness he had forgotten to get any seeds.

How often do Christians do we ‘labour in vain’ – doing lots of good work in our own strength and forgetting the most important thing – that we need God?

And how often do we do things on our own without considering whether there are other people who could help us in the hard work if only we asked?

Be blessed, be a blessing