Ellis Potter


Manuscripts' Collection

A Child’s Introduction to Buddhism

for Amelia Brown

Most people, all through history, have been religious. Religion is the things we do to connect us to the Truth. Religions are very different depending on what people understand the Truth to be. Religions are also the same in many ways. Most Religions have special buildings and places, special music and songs, special Scriptures, special meetings, special people who lead the Religion (priests, pastors, Sunday School teachers), special times of the year. So, when you learn about Buddhism, you learn about festivals, temples, priests, scriptures, activities (like lighting incense or candles or bringing flowers or fruit, having special decorations in the house). All of these things are part of growing up into the culture or society for children in any part of the world.

A very important question is: Why do people do all these special things? In Christianity we do what we do because we believe the Bible and that God is a Personal God who made everything and that Jesus came to die for us. We believe that God saves us from death and gives us new life in Jesus so we can be the way He made us to be and enjoy being with Him and each other forever.

A Buddhist child believes that all Truth is ONE. That means a kind of peace with no conflicts, no disagreements, no desires and no suffering. There is no jealousy or fear in ONE because there are no relationships. This is very hard for Western people to understand and must be experienced, rather than thought through. A boy named Sidharta Gautama lived in India 500 years before Jesus. He had some very special experiences of being ONE with EVERYTHING and he taught people how to come to these experiences and have this kind of peace. Buddhists try to follow his example to experience peaceful Oneness through meditating and peaceful living. All the religious things Buddhist have and do point to this main goal.

Some people have and do a lot of „Christian“ things in our part of the world without really trusting in Jesus or believing God’s Word. It is the same with Buddhists and people in other religions. A lot of the religious flavor or atmosphere of life is social or cultural. It is important to really know why we do the religious things we do and be really sincere about knowing and living the Truth.


A tip about assessing books on your own

Look carefully at the foot or end notes to see who the author wants the readers to read, who his friends are, who he relates to. Similar quotes on various themes can be found in the writings of Francis Schaeffer, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dali Lama, Karl Marx or St. John of the Cross. Choosing one of these writers to quote gives a big hint as to the orientation of the writer quoting them.

To some extent we know a person by the friends they keep. If a Protestant writer quotes mainly Catholic or Buddhist people it clues you in.

Also, check the index if there is one to see who and what is mentioned most in the book.

Finally, look through the Bibliography to see who the author has been reading. The more you do this kind of thing and the more widely read you become, the quicker and better you get at it.

As you become familiar with publishers, you realize that different publishers specialize in different points of views and subjects. There are New Age publishers, Conservative Protestant ones, Catholic, Buddhist, Humanist, etc. If someone writing on a Biblical theme is published by a Humanist press, it might be a good thing or not and is certainly worth noticing.

All of these proceedures help you to place a book in the big world of ideas and to contextualize your reading.


Accurate and non-Accurate truth

My new thought is probably not very new, of course. It is that the enlightenment, humanist, academic, rationalist community has put pressure on Christians to force the Bible onto a reductionist grid and prove that it is scientific.

Actually the Truth of the Bible is much bigger than scientific truth and when we squeeze it we distort it. The idea begins with the question: "Is the Bible totally accurate in all its teaching?" My answer is "no". The Bible has both accurate and non-accurate truth. Mathematics is accurate, history is not. Truth is made of fact plus meaning, not only fact. Justice is accurate. Grace is not. Together Justice and Grace make up Truth. The reporting of Luke in his Gospel and the Acts is accurate. The parables of Jesus are not accurate. They cannot be researched or "proven". We build a bridge accurately but we don't fall in love accurately. Building bridges and falling in love are both true parts of our lives. Science teaches us about the objective, accurate part of Truth. Art teaches us about the subjective, non-accurate part of Truth. We need both. They are not enemies of each other but need each other in a complimentary relationship.


Is Art a commodity or a relationship?

We all engage with various forms of art on a regular basis. The way we approach, evaluate, respond to, understand and use the arts depends on many criteria. We want to have a Godly approach to the Arts. One factor that seems important for this is the question; „Is Art a Commodity or a Relationship? “ Let’s consider some possible definitions of some basic terms.

The first and most basic word to understand together is, of course, “ART”. The English word comes from Greek and Latin words meaning “arm, skill, tool, to fit or join”. I would like to limit the meaning to “DELIBERATE HUMAN ACTION”. Some people think this definition is too large, but consider what it leaves out: Accident or chance is eliminated by the word “Deliberate”, all the creative activity of God in nature is left out by the word “Human” and invisible thoughts, ideas and pure imagination is left out by the word “Action”. Art must be speaking, writing, singing, playing, painting, moving - something manifesting choice and commitment. Moving on this basis to the word “Music”, we would say that music is “sound organized by human beings.” The great divide is between Art and Nature. All Art is necessarily Artificial.

“ENTERTAINMENT” is an important word relating to art. The English word comes from the Latin words “Inter-tenere” meaning to hold between. In that sense, we should avoid being entertained by art and rather seek to be stimulated, challenged, confronted, questioned, informed, etc. Our relationship to art should be active, responsible and interactive. The German word for Entertainment - Unterhaltung, meaning “that which holds under” is even stronger.

“TASTE” has to do with our personal, subjective point of view and our personal pleasure or pain. Many say “I don’t know anything about art, but I know what I like”. This is said as if it were an accomplishment to arrive at the knowledge of what we like. But all animals and plants know what they like. This is natural and the animals and plants seek what is good for them. But human beings are not only natural - we are spiritual as well; significant and rebellious. What we like is often bad and harmful, so we need different ways of measuring value in art.

We need to make two confessions about our relationship to art:

1. I often dislike what is good.

2. I often like what is bad.

My personal taste is not a good measure of what is good and bad.

Exodus 31:1-3 is an encouraging and challenging passage. In it we read that Bezalel was filled with the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, and was given spiritual gifts - skill, ability and knowledge. We know that the Holy Spirit gives the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, miraculous powers, prophecy, etc., but we often don’t realize that skill, ability and knowledge come from the Holy Spirit as well. These things don’t come from the devil, although they can be misused and twisted by him, as can the other gifts. We should rejoice in these gifts, which we all have in some measure, and take responsibility for their exercise. As God is creative and we are made in His Image, so we have a Biblical Mandate for Creativity.

Christian parents often ask me: “What kind of films should I let my children watch?” “What kind of music should I let my children listen to?” These questions are asked in love and concern for the edification and protection of the children. But, they are built on a disturbing underlying assumption: that art is a commodity, which we consume. They are questions of diet: Which films, paintings, or music should I consume because they will be nourishing to me, and which should I avoid? Andy Warhol could see that the American people wanted art to be product, so he painted a Campbell’s Tomato Soup Can. It was a great insult to the American people, but they loved it. If art is only products to be produced and consumed, then we can be self-centered and protective in our approach to it. But art is really expressions in various languages of observations, questions, complaints, admiration, challenges, encouragements made by human beings as part of a great conversation with the cosmos, or god and other people. If human expression is only products to be consumed, then we should never have a conversation with an alcoholic, a drug addict, a homosexual or a prostitute, because their conversation will probably not be edifying. But Jesus spent much of his time with these sorts of people because he knew who they really were - fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.

The bible records what Jesus taught us - that we must become like little children in order to get into the kingdom of heaven, in order to belong with God. Some Christians think that having faith like a little child means not asking questions. But, whoever saw a little child who did not ask questions? It is their profession. Children have the courage to ask deep, disturbing, even outrageous questions because they have faith in their parents, in God and in the world around them to supply reasonable and useful answers. Our experience of betrayal, dishonesty, and unreliability in a fallen world make us afraid to ask questions. Jesus came to heal that fear so that we can be like little children again.

Little children test their subjective concept of the world against the objective reality around them. For example, a child might crawl under a low table and decide to stand up. When he crashes his head against the table, he tries again, harder. Then he begins to cry in frustration and anger that his concept cannot be realized in objective reality. He must either submit to the form of the table and the world, or he will crack open his head and die. We all are in such a position morally in relation to God’s reality. We are allowed to discover the limits, but if we do not respect them, we will die. We can be thankful and rejoice in the fact that our God supplies us a stable and faithful basis against which to test ourselves and with Whom to have an eternal, meaningful, life-giving relationship.

Creativity must not be our God. Non-Christians finally have no reason or purpose to be creative as Christians do. The non-Christian creativity is from a kind of frantic energy in their search for meaning and purpose. The Christian should be more creative because we have a God and personal savior to thank, to glorify and to obey. Non-Christian creativity produces many interesting, stimulating and pleasing things, because the creativity in itself is right, not wrong. It is looking to creativity for a source of meaning and purpose and identity coming from the humans themselves that is wrong. It is also the non-creativity of the Christians, which is wrong and disobedient. When we do not obey God in being creative it is basically because we don’t have faith in Him to sustain us in the process and struggle.

Imagine you who are Christians would go out into the city and ask any 10 people this question: “If you would become a Christian today, do you think your life would become larger, fuller, richer, more involved with the people and circumstances around you? Or do you think your life would be smaller, narrower, more withdrawn, less involved with the people around you?” What do you think their answer would be? Jesus said he came to give us abundant life, not tidy life. We are to be the salt of the earth, not of heaven. We are to be the light of the world, not of the sky. We are not supposed to gather together to shine on each other, but go out into the world to shine in the darkness and flavor and preserve the rotting culture around us. Most people think the Christian life is a smaller life. Where did they get that idea? Why did we teach it to them?

Perhaps we should encourage each other to learn something of the various languages of the arts and to ask questions about them. Perhaps we should try to read the questions painters, film makers, writers, poets, musicians, sculptors, dancers and architects are asking. We know that Jesus is the answer. We need to love ourneighbors enough to understand what questions they are asking.


Apologetic Considerations

1. Don't be prejudiced or ridiculing. Don't expect to agree or disagree.

2. Ask many questions. Encourage straight and adequate answers.

3. Don't allow pragmatic ethical considerations and moral absolute considerations to be separated from each other in the discussion.

4. Don't be swept away by experiences or phenomena (levitation, sensations, speaking in tongues, healing, mind reading, etc.)

5. Take time and care to have the same meaning for terms (Lord, God, good, love, rights, tolerance, faith, worship, spiritual, etc.)

6. Encourage consistency and continuity of categories throughout the discussion and from day to day. (Spirit, love, God, man, meaning, etc.)

7. Look for both Verifiability and Falsifiability in worldview claims.

8. Do not answer questions that have not been asked, but help people to find and articulate their questions.

9. Never say "yes" for the sake of niceness.

10. Expect ideas to correspond to reality as a whole in the conscious waking state.

11. Include both Objectivity and Subjectivity in the discussion.

12. Carry ideas to their ultimate logical conclusions and consequences. (If people are good then there is no way to judge Hitler.)


The Importance of Asking Honest Questions

This is my first L’Abri Conference. My name is Ellis. I am an American and I live in Switzerland at Swiss L’Abri, I’ve been there for seven years. I’m glad to welcome you to this conference but I think that maybe some of you should be welcoming me; those of you who have been to conferences before. Since this is my first conference I’m very nervous, I’ve never spoken to groups like this and I very rarely speak without translation. Mostly when I go away from home I go to Poland or to Morocco or to Sweden or Germany or someplace like that and I have time in between my sentences to think about what I’m going to say next because it’s coming out in Polish or Arabic and I have time in between my sentences to compose my sentences. So now I’m really on the spot. And you’ll just have to be kind of patient with me if I have long pauses in between my thoughts.

My understanding and hope and intentions for these workshops is not that they would be another lecture, but that they would be a workshop and that we would work together. And not that it would just be questions and then mini lecture or answers but that there would actually be a dialogue of some sort between us. And so I hope you are all ready to participate in what we are doing. In L’Abri we are very adverse to spoon feeding. We think that the idea of just; we give you the answers and you write it down on your notebook and then you go home feeling greatly justified is a very bad idea indeed. And that it doesn’t result in life or health at all, and just results in you cluttering up your filing cabinet with another set of notes from one more conference.

So we’re hoping to involve you, and I’m hoping to involve you now and that you will get excited and maybe upset. That would be alright with me too. I think we should be upset, we have a lot of problems in this world to be upset about. Utto Middlemen is a very dear friend of mine, and we think alike on a lot of areas, and we often find ourselves saying the same thing simultaneously during meetings. I didn’t know what he was going to be lecturing on this afternoon when I planned to do this workshop, but the workshop turns out to be a summary, an extension, a question and discussion period on the very subject of the lecture. The lecture was, they are asking us to think again, and for what, and of course thinking involves asking questions, and that’s what we’re going to talk about together; asking questions.

We often find those of us who are evangelical, or those of us who are democrat or republican or those of us or perhaps none of us who are Communist or Muslim, that when we have questions about the basic presuppositions, by that I mean the basic attitudes, the basic framework, the basic grid through which we view things; the basic set of criteria by which we evaluate reality. When we have questions about those basic things that Utto has said are not a beginning but a conclusion, and then we live on the basis of those conclusions.

When we try to go back behind those presuppositions, and to ask questions we’re told; don’t ask questions! Just believe. It’s wrong to ask questions, it’s wrong to doubt, it’s wrong to be a sceptic. What you to do is be a good party member, a good true believer, a good joiner, a good belonger, a good non-boat rocker. That’s what you really want to do because it’s going to make your life easier. And it’s certainly going to make the life of the person who you are asking the question of easier, at least in the short run. And so people will say this to us, with great passion, and great conviction, and great earnestness. Do not ask questions, please I beg you, do not ask questions, it’s too disturbing, it makes life too hard. And so we face, each of us, most of us, considerable opposition in the area of asking questions. It really takes a great deal of courage and a great deal of conviction, that it really is necessary to ask questions and that it really is right to ask questions.

Now what I’m going to do is just say a few things for maybe fifteen minutes or so, and then we can just talk about these ideas. So write the things down that I’m going to say if you like; and then ask questions about what I say. Doubt what I say, question what I say. Please do not believe me.

The first thing I’d like to say in terms of a group discussion of this kind is that only an ignorant question is an honest question. Do not apologize if you have an ignorant question. You might want to apologize if you don’t have an ignorant question. If you have a question that is a pharisaical testing, or a question that is designed to show off how much you know. Or any other kind of dishonest question that people have, some kind of a sophisticated question. Be ashamed of that kind of question; just bury yourself under your chair if that’s the kind of question you want to ask. But if you have a really honestly ignorant question, stand up and be counted and be real pleased with yourself, and I’ll be pleased with you too.

Now not only is only an ignorant question an honest question, but very often not to ask questions is dishonest. If I say something and you don’t understand what I mean, which is not even to say that you disagree with what I’m saying, although that may be the case as well, if you don’t understand what I mean by a word, a sentence, a concept, an idea, and you sit there as you have been trained to do; at home, at school, at church, and you nod and smile politely and say “yes, uh-huh, uh-huh”, you have lied to me, you have lied to yourself, and you have lied to God and you have broken the relationship between you and me, and between you and you and between you and God.

You have cut off the possibility that we would actually tap each other and communicate with each other as human beings. We only will see each other through the invisible shield; we only will just be able to be nice to each other. We never will be able to sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron as it says in the Proverb; that is the rightful relationship of people to each other, one man sharpens another as iron sharpens iron.

We are taught to be “nice” and we use the word a lot; “that’s nice”, “he’s nice”, “be nice”, “don’t fight, be nice”. Do you know where the word nice came from? It’s a seventeenth century English word and originally it was used to illiterate with Nancy, and Nancy was a sailor’s term for prostitute “A nice Nancy” and nice originally meant promiscuous. And that’s in a very real way what it still means; “promiscuous” accepting all, undiscriminating, not committed, very liberal, hooking up with this one and then hooking up with that one, and hooking up with this one and not making any differentiation between right, wrong, this, that, you, you, you, just having everything all mushed together in an insensibly easy kind of life.

So we also have used the word “easy” to mean promiscuous. “She’s easy”. Most of us are old enough to have heard it used that way; “easy”. But “nice” used to be the word. To say she’s a “nice” girl was about the worst thing you could possibly say.

Well and to me; “We had a nice conversation.” is just about the worst thing you could possibly say. It means we were in physical proximity with each other but through our vast training and upbringing we have avoided very carefully actually touching each other. We have avoided actually communicating with each other because of the possible conflict it could involve, because of the possible rejection of an idea or a thought that that might entail. Because of the possible pain and confrontation we are likely to run into, because of the difficulty.

Now there are questions that we ask about life, I think at any age perhaps particularly when we are younger, but I think at any age we ask these questions, there are two big questions that we ask in the American culture but also in Europe I’ve noticed and more and more in Asian cultures as I meet people and read in the press about it, and the two big questions are this, they are the questions about life; “What can I get out of it?” And the second big question about life; “What can I get out of?” What can I get out of it, and what can I get out of.

Do those questions ring a bell in your mind? Have any of you ever heard those questions expressed in various ways? Have any of you ever found yourself guilty of having those attitudes towards life? What can I get out of it? And What can I get out of? Well of course when you look at it head on; those questions are dead wrong. They couldn’t be worse questions like that. They are the exact opposite of what we should be asking, especially if we are bible believing evangelical Christians. We should be asking “What can I put into life?” “How can I contribute?” What can I do that will make a mark, being a significant person? What difference will my life make? How can I be involved? Not what can I avoid. But how much within the limitations of only being able to be at one place at one time and having to have a certain amount of sleep at night and a certain amount of rest physically, intellectually and socially; How much can I be involved with?

If Jesus has died to give us life and to give it to us more abundantly…how much of that abundance can I embrace? If we are to be like little children, and did you ever see a little child that didn’t ask questions? I haven’t yet. They may exist, but mostly they ask “why?” all day long until you really wanna slap em. They ask “why?” Well this isn’t wrong; this is what God says we’re supposed to be like. We’re supposed to be asking questions all day long. And children run around, they are very unruly as a matter of fact. They look at everything, they touch things they break things unfortunately sometimes, they get in trouble, but they do it in a trusting way, they trust reality. There is a certain fresh naïveté about them. They trust what is there to be faithful. They trust gravity. They trust the tree to be able to climb it. They trust the ground to be able to run around on it. They trust what is there. God is there. They trust God. We loose that when we’re not like little children, we loose this trust. We loose being able to depend on God and to dare because we depend on God to ask questions, to look into something new, to question an assumption, to re-evaluate something that we always have evaluated in another way. When we become as little children then we have courage, then we have the courage to live.

What does it mean to ask questions? It means to desire to find out if there is more to reality or to a part of reality then I sense or experience or understand in the present moment; to desire to have clarification or translation of concepts impressions or ideas so that we might confront or evaluate them. The purpose of asking questions is to avoid avoidance. Often asking questions is not lightly tolerated. It’s difficult to tolerate the child who asks questions all the time. It’s difficult to tolerate the member of the board of directors of the church who is always asking theological or doctrinal or social questions. It’s difficult to tolerate that. It’s very difficult for a society to tolerate the Christian’s marching in downtown Atlanta over the abortion issue, it’s very difficult, it’s the thorny thing to do. T.S. Elliot has written in an essay on what is Christian Culture. Probably in the late twentieth century the most intolerable thing for Christian’s is to be tolerated. It’s nice to be tolerated. It’s nice to tolerate. And you know by know what I mean by the word nice.

To ask questions is to participate in reality and to be enabled to participate in reality. To ask questions is to avoid prejudice. To question our presuppositions, to question the grid through which we evaluate and filter the things that come in. We automatically evaluate things on this basis or that basis. And do we never question the basis? And if we never question it and never look at it; How do we know what’s going on? How do we know if we can still trust it? How do we even know what it is anymore? We might forget what it is, and it is to avoid automatic action, it is to avoid being determined, but to be actually significant, choice making, responsible, to avoid automatic action.

Asking questions is often thought of as scepticism, and scepticism has a very negative connotation. I would like to quote again from T.S. Elliot and exegete a little bit the quote; He says that scepticism is not infidelity or destructiveness. To be sceptical is not to be unfaithful. To question our parents, our church, our bible, our God, is not to be unfaithful. They are two different things. To question does not mean to disobey. It does not mean to be unfaithful. Nor does it mean to destroy. To question does not mean to attack.

To question means to honour what is there and to say; I really must have an honest and valid relationship with what is there and so I must understand it. I mustn’t just take it on some kind of a face value basis and accept it because I’m in the habit of accepting things. I must not prostitute it. I must not behave nicely toward God, toward any other aspect of my reality that I live in, toward the bible, toward Jesus Christ, toward his sermon, toward a conversation with my parents or my children. It does not mean to attack or destroy to ask an honest or ignorant question.

Now we talked about the other kinds of questions, and those kinds of questions; those dishonest questions, those sophisticated questions are to destroy or to attack. But an honest question is to build up, to clarify, to enable a relationship, a touching to take place. It is to ask to ask honest questions to be sceptical is also not unbelief due to mental sloth. Asking questions is not supposed to be an avoidance of confrontation. Saying; well I won’t believe because I am just to lazy to care about it enough to believe in it, whatever it is, or not to believe in it. But to ask questions is to say; “I do not know if I believe this or not, but I am going to find out if it is worthy of belief.” I am not going to be lazy and not believe in it by default, as it were. It is not unbelief due to mental sloth.

Questioning or scepticism is the habit of examining evidence, and it is the capacity for delayed decision. The capacity for delayed decision is one of the main characteristics of being a human being; the other animals don’t have delayed decisions. They migrate, they mate, they build nests, they eat, they run, they make almost automatic decisions. One could say programmed decisions, they function on instinct, and they follow patterns. Human beings are the pattern breaker. A human being is a pattern breaker made in the image of God, and we can’t break the pattern unless we ask honest questions about the pattern, if we don’t ask honest questions about the pattern. The Sabbath was not made for man, man was made for the Sabbath. Then we don’t believe Jesus when he said that about man and the Sabbath we say I was made for the pattern, the patterns are absolute. I am a Presbyterian; that is an absolute. I am brethren; that is an absolute. Those are the patterns into which I have fallen. I am whatever it is that I happen to find myself being, and that is the pattern, and I accept that pattern, and I don’t question that pattern. I’ll never be able to break it. And that’s not saying all patterns should be broken. Some patterns should be broken and some patterns should not be broken. We have to pray for wisdom and we have to diligently study and examine the situation in order to find out which is which. But the idea that no pattern should be broken, the idea that we should not question our presuppositions, our patterns, is a very unbiblical idea, a very unchristian idea, a very dehumanizing, destructive, and death dealing idea. And most of us are caught up in it.

Delayed decisions are not avoidance of decisions. We’re not just putting it off, we’re asking questions. Dr. Schaffer uses the example when he’s talking about having faith and asking questions before we have faith, before we make a decision of that sort. He says that if a man comes and asks a woman to marry him, she has the right, the responsibility, they duty to ask questions, to say; “Well, have you ever been in jail? Do you believe in beating children? What do you think about polygamy?” And she has the responsibility to ask various questions about these things and to ask about various views that he has. Is he a Christian, and why? And what does he think life is all about? And what are his hopes and plans, and to find out something about his past, to meet his parents, to look at his family tree a little and see what kind of people they are. She has the responsibility to do that and he shouldn’t object. He shouldn’t object to her asking these questions of him. And God doesn’t object to us asking these questions of him either. But now if two years go by and she says; “Well I just don’t think I have enough information yet because I don’t everything about you. I don’t have all the information about you, there are still all these “ifs” here, there are all these uncertainties that I have about you and I don’t want to do anything that I’m not really sure 100% of, and then the third year goes by and she’s still not sure. Well eventually she’s going to be eighty in the shade and she’s not going to be married. And he will long ago have gone off and asked somebody else who would make a decision a little quicker.

So I’m not talking about the avoidance of decision. I’m talking about a reasonable and necessary scepticism. Asking questions, examining of the situation, of being human and exercising our imageness of God, and exercising our mandate to break the pattern. We are taught “Seek and you shall find. Knock and it will be opened to you. And that we must become like little children.”


The Importance of Asking Honest Questions

Sometimes Christian pastors, parents and teachers are afraid of the questions young people and others might ask. Questions of another generation, or generated by secular teachers and other models can seem rebellious and threatening. Questions arising out of other cultural and worldview assumptions than those of the local Church can seem to be coming from another planet. Even if the questions are honest they can be very difficult to understand and the reaction is often suspicion or rebuke. It is known that Jesus is the answer, but there is a strong inclination to limit the questions to familiar ones. This situation is often very stressful and alienating.

At SEN the situation and atmosphere are quite different. Coming out of the L’Abri work and tradition, where one of the main themes is “Honest Answers to Honest Questions”, I have felt very much at home during my many visits at SEN. The workers at SEN know that Christians don’t need to be afraid of questions because Jesus really is the answer to all the questions. They also know it takes a lot of patience, love, hard work, prayer and deep thought to realize what the answers are and how they apply.

In preaching and teaching it is often more effective to raise and stimulate questions than to make statements. Which do you think would be more effective: To get on a city bus and shout out “Jesus is the answer!” or to shout out “What are your questions?” before sitting down. In which case would someone be more likely to come to sit with you and open up a conversation? Which would be the more frightening thing for you to do?

People come to the SEN “Gospel in Society Learning Community” sessions from many different countries, cultures, family and educational backgrounds and in varying conditions of mental and spiritual health. The questions of someone from an atheistic, mafia connected Russian family, or a Moslem family or a newly converted Evangelical from a nominally Orthodox family will be very different. Their questions are part of who they are and must be carefully and compassionately understood before they can be directed to the answers of Jesus.

As we relate to the culture around us, we are called to be salt and light. This requires us to know something of the nature of the rotting darkness in which we live. Asking questions is a key way of understanding the lost world that Jesus came to save and redeem. In relation to the world people often think of Phil 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” This is a very necessary advice, but something is often added to it’s meaning: The last phrase is read “think ONLY about such things”. It does not say that. Paul needed to think and write about many ugly and negative things, but he knew that while living IN this lost world we must think OF the Kingdom of God and its various manifestations around us or we will be depressed and disheartened.

As Christians we need to constantly ask ourselves: Am I doing right? Am I behaving in a loving and inviting way? Am I respecting the lost people around me whom God made and Jesus died to save? Do I trust God to sustain and use me in uncertain circumstances? We also need to ask questions of the people around us and stimulate them to ask questions for themselves. In this way their appetites for Truth are stimulated which is so important because it is only the hungry that are fed. Teaching by questioning is often connected to Socrates, but Jesus also used this method. The rich young man said to Him “Good Teacher”. This is polite and politically correct. Jesus’ answer was not polite – it was real: “Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Jesus challenged the man to see that if He is really good, He is really God. You can’t have it half and half, “sort of”, “you know what I mean” or “whatever”. Yes is yes and no is no. Jesus pushed the man. We need to push (gently and lovingly as possible) our neighbors.

On another occasion, the confrontation Jesus made was quite rude and violent, deeply loving and fruitful. When the Syrian/Phoenician woman asked him to heal her daughter, He basically called her a dog. This opened a door for her and her response was magnificent: “To the Jews first, yes, but then to all of us”. When the woman who had suffered from bleeding for many years tried to “sneak a blessing”, Jesus turned and asked, “Who touched me?” The question was absurd to the disciples, but not to the woman. This was her great moment to confess and proclaim Jesus and publicly rejoice in His goodness to her. He opened the door for this by his question.

Questioning is often associated with doubt and is thought to be rebellious or unfaithful. But, we only learn more about God and our lives as his children by asking questions. To ask questions is to desire to find out if there is more to reality or a part of reality than I sense or experience or understand in the present moment. It is to desire to have clarification or translation of concepts, impressions or ideas so that we might confront and evaluate them. It is to participate in reality and be enabled to participate in reality. It is to avoid prejudiced or automatic reactions. It is to confess our faith in God Who can and will sustain us in the struggle and process of asking, learning and growing. (Is there any kind of growth without pain?) Asking questions is skeptical because we don’t know, yet. T.S. Eliot wrote: “Skepticism is not infidelity or destructiveness, or unbelief due to mental sloth, but the habit of examining evidence and the capacity for delayed decision”. (Not avoided decision.) Jesus told us we must become like little children in order to belong in the Kingdom of Heaven. Little children constantly ask questions because they have faith in mommy and daddy, the world and God to give good answers. As “adults” we cripple ourselves with sophistication and fear and live in the smallest possible world because we think we can keep it clean.

Christians and non-Christians need to be careful about the agenda or purpose of their questions. Why do we ask? In the New Testament, 2 different words are used for “test”. One is Dokimazo, which means to assay, or to test to find out how much good is there. The other is Pierazo, which tries to find out what is bad or wrong. In I Thess. 5 Paul teaches us how not to put out the Spirit’s fire or hold the prophecies in contempt; it is by asking questions or “testing everything”. He uses the word Dokimazo and follows it by saying “Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” If we “Dokimazo” to find the good, the light of the good will expose the evil. If we “Pierazo” to find something wrong, it will not show us the good. As we interact with the world and its people, we should ask questions to find out how God’s image and character are manifested in it. Then, starting with what is praiseworthy, we can lead people to see what is still lacking. “Men of Athens, I see that in every way you are very religious.”

Finding the good was the motive in Jesus’ questioning of both the rich young man and the bleeding woman. The result was positive in the case of the woman and not in the case of the man, but in both cases the test was brilliantly loving. We should follow Jesus and test each other, the world and ourselves as He does. Questioning and testing are hard, painful and frightening. At the end of the Old Testament, Malachi writes of Jesus sitting as a refiner of silver. We are all cooking in the pot. He carefully keeps us just at the point of boiling, but not boiling over while he skims away the black scum that floats to the surface. As more and more of the scum gets taken away, the silver becomes a mirror and Jesus sees Himself in our lives. Boiling is not pleasant, but very effective in purifying. Can we receive the boiling questions of others, allow God to keep us boiling and live in trusting hope that good will be shown and produced? I believe and hope so.


Beatitudes and Parallels

Beatitudes of Jesus

1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

3. Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth.

4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

5. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

8. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Prayer of St. Francis

O Lord, make me an instrument of your Peace:

1. Where there is hatred, let me show love,

2. Where there is injury, pardon

3. Where there is discord, unity

4. Where there is doubt, faith

5. Where there is falsehood, truth

6. Where there is despair, hope

7. Where there is sadness, hope

8. And Where there is darkness, light.

O Master, grant that I may seek more to console than be consoled, To understand than be understood. To love than be loved Because it is in giving that we receive; In pardoning that we are pardoned; And in dying that we rise to eternal life.

Post-Modern Beatitudes

1. Blessed are the self-confident for they will succeed.

2. Blessed are those who avoid guilt feelings for they are comforted.

3. Blessed are those with a positive self-image for they will feel better.

4. Blessed are those who clarify their values for they will invent themselves.

5. Blessed are those who know their rights for they will realize their entitlements.

6. Blessed are those who are non-stick surfaced for they will be admired.

7. Blessed are those who mob and gossip for they will move forward.

8. Blessed are those who are politically correct for they will avoid controversy.


Biblical and Worldly Education

Much that is called education is not education but training. Training or teaching is a process of putting something into a person; data or processes. Education is a process of drawing something out of a person. Teaching or training in many government sponsored school systems is designed to produce worker bees for the economy. The goal of teaching is the formation of a factory worker, economist, mechanic, etc. The goal of education is the formation of a whole person, who is aware of their history and environment and able to think clearly and make moral judgments. An educated person can think well because they are aware of the ways a variety of people think. In Christian schools we should make a major effort to educate rather than only teach. Teaching is necessary and we should not devalue or avoid it. Teaching and educating should support and complement each other. Educating includes teaching and is a larger project.

The World is the salt and the light of the Church. Jesus said the opposite of that. The Church should be the salt and light of the world, but it often happens the other way around. There is a constant worldview competition going on. Values and assumption of the world enter the Church and replace the values and assumptions of the Bible. The world imposes extra commandments on our children and us: Thou shalt be natural, thou shalt go with the flow, thou shalt be cool, though shalt express thyself, thou shalt have fun, thou shalt have a good self-image, thou shalt get in touch with they feelings, thou shalt believe all truth is numerical fact. We must protect our children from the pressure to obey these commandments.

The world will tell our children “You can be anything you want to be!” this is a terrible lie that leads to disappointment, lack of trust, false guilt and shame. The Bible tells our children “You can be what God wants you to be – forever!” The world burdens our children with the need to invent themselves based on their experience of what feels right or what is fun. This has come to the point at which children need to invent their own gender. The world tells our children that nothing is given to them. They need to imagine, choose and get what they want. This makes our children very insecure and gives a profound identity crisis because they actually cannot invent themselves and needs to receive and work with what God has given them. The world tells our children that they are perfect and that “It’s all good!”. The Bible tells our children the truth that they and the world are fallen and not the way God wants them to be.

The world tells our children they have rights and entitlements and the meaning of life is to demand and collect them. This makes our children takers instead of givers, victims instead of responsible change agents.

The world is very powerful so working against its principles and values is very hard and dangerous. God calls us to do this and will sustain us in the battle.

The world tells our children there is no supernatural or miracle. The enlightenment and scientific revolution resulted in many developments and inventions. It also was a humanistic revolution which put pressure on the Church to reduce Truth to fact and prove that the Bible is true in mathematical terms only. Christians have given in to this pressure in various ways. One way is concerning the Star of Bethlehem. People have been making great efforts to establish that the star was a natural phenomenon like a super nova or conjunction of planets or comet. The “star” was really a miraculous appearing of the Shekinah Glory of God, telling the wise men about the coming of the Son of God, guiding them to Him and resting above the house where he was. We should not teach our children to be embarrassed about miracle and the supernatural or encourage them to explain away everything in the Bible as naturalistic or mathematical fact. In a naturalist and humanistic society people who believe in and proclaim the miraculous and loving nature of reality will be bullied in various ways. We must support each other in this battle.

The battle for life and the Kingdom of God is hard and dangerous but God is on our side and will sustain us. Be of good courage!


Christian Listening

After a Church meeting the logical and profitable thing to talk about is the sermon. Usually we talk about other things, instead. Perhaps this is because our listening is not very good. If a preacher knows his sermon will be talked about, he will probably make a better sermon - something worth talking about. A congregation that meets regularly together can expect to get the quality of sermon it encourages in the preachers by the way it listens. Poor or sloppy listening invites poor or sloppy preaching.

How might our listening be less than it should be and how can we improve it?

In listening to a sermon, people look for a blessing for themselves. They listen for something that somehow connects with their life or touches them and then sometimes stop listening. We do not listen in terms of God's whole Word and Council. We tend not to listen to find out what the truth is and how it fits and works together. We listen in terms of ourselves. We are at the center.

God should be the center of our listening, rather than ourselves.

Many people listen to hear familiar things they have heard before. Then they encourage the preacher in saying only the familiar things rather than challenging them and helping them to grow in understanding.

Preachers preach to the level of the listening. We need to honor God's Word and the teacher by listening critically and with discernment.

Usually there are things in a sermon that are not understood. Sometimes these things are confused in the preacher's mind and delivery. Sometimes the listeners don't have the background to put the things in context and focus. We have a tendency to just ignore these things and go along in "peace". This "peace" is not the Shalom of God, which is the foundation for life and growth. It is a false peace that puts us to sleep, comes from ignoring each other and God's Truth and leads to boredom, alienation and despair.

Many people don't listen well enough to realize they don't understand or even disagree with some things in the sermon. This protects us from "conflict", but it prevents us from sharpening each other as iron sharpens iron. A good preacher prepares much more than he can deliver in the short time of a sermon. Listeners should confess their misunderstanding or lack of understanding and ask the preacher to explain things. This doesn't mean to start an argument, but to ask the preacher to teach us more. Then there can be growth and sharpening of understanding for our lives. Then the preachers will be encouraged to prepare and feed us better food.

May the Lord open our ears our minds and our hearts to His Word and to each other.


A Readers' Theatre Adaptation

(Prepared by Ellis Potter)

NARRATOR 1: After the Sabbath, at the dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

Mt. 28:1-4.

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other.

WOMEN: "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

NARRATOR 1: But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

ANGEL: "Don't be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"

Mk. 16:1-7.

NARRATOR 1 : While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground.

ANGELS: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'"

Then they remembered his words.

Lk. 24:4-8

NARRATOR 2: While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the leaders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money.

PRIESTS: "You are to say, 'His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.' If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble."

NARRATOR 2: So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

Mt. 28:11-15

NARRATOR 1: When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.

Lk. 24: 9,11

But Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

NARRATOR 2: Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

ANGELS: "Woman, why are you crying?"

MARY MAGDALENE: "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him."

NARRATOR 2: At this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

JESUS: "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

MARY MAGDALENE: "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

JESUS: "Mary."


JESUS: "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'"

NARRATOR 2: Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:

MARY MAGDALENE: "I have seen the Lord!"

NARRATOR 2: And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jn. 20:2-18

NARRATOR 1: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,

JESUS: "Peace be with you."

NARRATOR 1: They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.

JESUS: "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have."

NARRATOR 1: When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them,

JESUS: "Do you have anything here to eat?"

NARRATOR 1: They gave him a piece of boiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

JESUS: "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."

NARRATOR 1: Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.

JESUS: "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with high."

Lk. 24: 36-49

NARRATOR 2: Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.

DISCIPLES: "We have seen the Lord!"

THOMAS: "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

NARRATOR 2: A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.

JESUS: "Peace be with you!"

"Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

THOMAS: "My Lord and my God!"

JESUS: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

NARRATOR 2: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jn. 21: 24-31.

Interactive Learning Project

An excercise in listening, asking questions, team work, honesty, openess and research.


1. Divide the students into groups of 4 or 3 students and 1 staff member.

2. Assign a small research project within the main area of study for the group, e.g.:

a. identify 2 items on a history timeline,

b. find what the Bible means by „Peace“, „Love“, „Prophecy“, „Joy“,

c. tell about 2 characteristics of post communist societies,

d. tell about 3 or 4 elements in a worldview.

Provide enough copies of the needed research materials and give 30-45 minutes for the group work. Each table should have a related but different project.

3. Gather the whole group together and have a speaker from each table give their report. During the report have everyone at the other tables write at least one question each about the report. Tell them the questions should be aimed at getting a fuller understanding of the issue. Have each person read their question to the members of the reporting table who write all the questions down. Repeat with each table.

4. Ask each table group to choose 2 questions from those asked to research and answer. Give 30-45 minutes for the group work and have all tables report to the whole group. Members of the small groups should take turns giving the reports.

5. During the reports the teacher or facilitator should open and guide discussion at any point, giving input, contextualizing the issues and filling in the picture as needed with connecting information. One round of reports, questions and answers for 4 tables should take about 6 to 8 hours. If a class meets daily for an hour, 5 class periods should be enough as the students have time in between to digest and think. You might find them doing extra research.

Copyright © Ellis H. Potter

The Story of Joseph (Part I)

(Adapted for Readers’ Theatre by Ellis H. Potter)

Dramatis Personae:


Brothers (3 or 4 – one is Reuben, one is Judah)



NARRATOR: Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brother, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more

JOSEPH: Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.

BROTHERS: Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?”

NARRATOR: And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers.

JOSEPH: Listen, I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.

NARRATOR: When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him

JACOB: What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?

NARRATOR: His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind. Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph,

JACOB: As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.

JOSEPH: Very well.

JACOB: Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.

NARRATOR: Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron. When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him,

MAN: What are you looking for?”

JOSEPH: I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?

MAN: They have moved on from here. I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

NARRATOR: So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

BROTHER I: Here comes that dreamer!

BROTHER II: Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.

NARRATOR: When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands.

REUBEN: Let’s not take his life. Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.

NARRATOR: Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe – the richly ornamented robe he was wearing – and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

Judah said to his brothers,

JUDAH: What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.

NARRATOR: His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.

REUBEN: The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?

NARRATOR: Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father.

BROTHERS: We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.

JACOB: It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.

NARRATOR: Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted.

JACOB: No, in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.

NARRATOR: So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

The Story of Joseph (Part II)

(Adapted for Readers’ Theatre by Ellis H. Potter)

Dramatis Personae:


Potiphar’s wife






NARRATOR: Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph.

POTIPHAR’S WIFE: Come to bed with me!

NARRATOR: But he refused.

JOSEPH: With me in charge, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?

NARRATOR: And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said,

POTIPHAR’S WIFE: Come to bed with me!

NARRATOR: But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants.

POTIPHAR’S WIFE: Look, this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.

NARRATOR: She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story:

POTIPHAR’S WIFE: That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.

NARRATOR: When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying,

POTIPHAR’S WIFE: This is how your slave treated me.

NARRATOR: He burned with anger. Joseph’s maser took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.

Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them.

After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men – the cupbearer and the baker of the kind of Egypt, who were being held in prison – had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own

When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected

JOSEPH: Why are your faces so sad today?

CUPBEARER AND BAKER: We both had dreams, but there is no one to interpret them.

JOSEPH: Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.

NARRATOR: So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream.

CUPBEARER: In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.

JOSEPH: This is what it means. The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.

NARRATOR: When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph,

BAKER: I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.

JOSEPH: This is what it means. The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh.

NARRATOR: Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand, but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

NARRATOR: So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream. He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then pharaoh woke up.

He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other head of grain sprouted – thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.

In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh,

CUPBEARER: Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.

NARRATOR: So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

PHARAOH: I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.

JOSEPH: I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.

PHARAOH: In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows came up – scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.

In my dreams I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads sprouted – withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none could explain it to me.

JOSEPH: The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed the Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.

It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.

And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”

NARRATOR: The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. So Pharaoh asked them,

PHARAOH: Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”

NARRATOR: Then Pharaoh said to Joseph,

PHARAOH: Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you. I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

NARRATOR: Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him,

MEN: Make way!

NARRATOR: Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.

Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharoah’s presence and traveled throughout Egypt. During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.

Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh

JOSEPH: It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.

NARRATOR: The second son he named Ephraim

JOSEPH: It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.”

NARRATOR: The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharoah told all the Egyptians,

PHARAOH: Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.

NARRATOR: When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.

The Story of Joseph (Part III)

(Adapted for Readers’ Theatre by Ellis H. Potter)

Dramatis Personae:




Brothers (3 or 4)




NARRATOR: When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons,

JACOB: Why do you just keep looking at each other? I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.

NARRATOR: Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.

Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them.

JOSEPH: Where do you come from?

BROTHERS: From the land of Canaan, to buy food.

NARRATOR: Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them

JOSEPH: You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.

BROTHERS: No, my lord. Your servants have come to buy food. We are all the sons of one man. Your servants are honest men, not spies.

JOSEPH: No! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.

BROTHERS: Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.

JOSEPH: It is just as I told you: You are spies! And this is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here. Send one of your number to get your brother; the rest of you will be kept in prison, so that your words may be tested to see if you are telling the truth. If you are not, then as surely as Pharaoh lives, you are spies!

NARRATOR: And he put them all in custody for three days. On the third day, Joseph said to them,

JOSEPH: Do this and you will live, for I fear God: If you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here in prison, while the rest of you go and take grain back for your starving households. But you must bring your youngest brother to me, so that your words may be verified and that you may not die.

NARRATOR: This they proceeded to do. They said to one another,

BROTHERS: Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come upon us.

REUBEN: Didn’t I, Rueben, tell you not so sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.

NARRATOR: They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter. He turned away from them and began to weep, but then turned back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.

Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man’s silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. After this was done for them, they loaded their grain on their donkeys and left. At the place where they stopped for the night one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver in the mouth of his sack.

BROTHER: My silver has been returned. Here it is in my sack.

NARRATOR: Their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling

BROTHERS: What is this that God has done to us?

NARRATOR: When they came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan, they told him all that had happened to them.

BROTHERS: The man who is lord over the land spoke harshly to us and treated us as though we were spying on the land. But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. We were twelve brothers, sons of one father. One is no more, and the youngest is now with our father in Canaan.’ Then the man who is lord over the land said to us,

(JOSEPH:) This is how I will know whether you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, and take food for your starving households and go. But bring your youngest brother to me so I will know that you are not spies but honest men. Then I will give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the land.

NARRATOR: As they were emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his pouch of silver! When they and their father saw the money pouches, they were frightened.

JACOB: You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me!

RUEBEN: You may put both of my sons to death if I do not bring him back to you. Entrust him to my care, and I will bring him back.”

JACOB: My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow.

NARRATOR: Now the famine was still severe in the land. So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them,

JACOB: Go back and buy us a little more food.

JUDAH: The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.

JACOB: Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?

BROTHERS: (Each sentence read by a different brother.) The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?

JUDAH: Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.

JACOB: If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift – a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.

NARRATOR: So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house,

JOSEPH: Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare dinner; they are to eat with me at noon.

NARRATOR: The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought,

BROTHERS: We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.

NARRATOR: So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house.

BROTHERS: Please, sir, we came down here the first time to buy food. But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver – the exact weight – in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.

STEWARD: It’s all right. Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.

NARRATOR: Then he brought Simeon out to them.

The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. He asked them how they were, and then he said,

JOSEPH: How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?

BROTHERS: Your servant our father is still alive and well.

NARRATOR: And they bowed low to pay him honor.

As he looked about and saw his brother Benjamin, his own mother’s son.

JOSEPH: Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about? God be gracious to you, my son.

NARRATOR: Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.

After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said,

JOSEPH: Serve the food.

NARRATOR: They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians. The men had been seated before him in the order of their ages, from the firstborn to the youngest; and they looked at each other in astonishment. When portions were served to them from Joseph’s table, Benjamin’s portion was five times as much as anyone else’s. So they feasted and drank freely with him.

Now Joseph gave these instructions to the steward of his house:

JOSEPH: Fill the men’s sacks with as much food as they can carry, and put each man’s silver in the mouth of his sack. Then put my cup, the silver one, in the mouth of the youngest one’s sack, along with the silver for his grain.

NARRATOR: And he did as Joseph said.

As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys. They had not gone far from the city when Joseph said to his steward,

JOSEPH: Go after those men at once, and when you catch up with them, say to them, ‘Why have you repaid good with evil? Isn’t this the cup my master drinks from and also uses for divination? This is a wicket thing you have done.

NARRATOR: When he caught up with them, he repeated these words to them.

BROTHERS: Why does my lord say such things? Far be it from your servants to do anything like that! We even brought back to you from the land of Canaan the silver we found inside the mouths of our sacks. So why would we steal silver or gold from your master’s house? If any of your servants is found to have it, he will die; and the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.

STEWARD: Very well, then, let it be as you say. Whoever is found to have it will become my slave; the rest of you will be free from blame.

NARRATOR: Each of them quickly lowered his sack to the ground and opened it. Then the steward proceeded to search, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest. And the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack. At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.

Joseph was still in the house when Judah and his brothers came in, and they threw themselves to the ground before him.

JOSEPH: What is this you have done? Don’t you know that a man like me can find things out by divination?”

JUDAH: What can we say to my lord? What can we say? How can we prove our innocence? God has uncovered your servants’ guilt. We are now my lord’s slaves – we ourselves and the one who was found to have the cup.

JOSEPH: Far be it from me to do such a thing! Only the man who was found to have the cup will become my slave. The rest of you, go back to your father in peace.

JUDAH: Please, my lord, let your servant speak a word to my lord. Do not be angry with your servant, though you are equal to Pharaoh himself. My lord asked his servants, ‘Do you have a father or a brother?’ And we answered, ‘We have an aged father, and there is a young son born to him in his old age. His brother is dead, and he is the only one of his mother’s sons left, and his father loves him.’

Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me so I can see him for myself.’ And we said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father; if he leaves him, his father will die.’ But you told your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you will not see my face again.’ When we went back to your servant my father, we told him what my lord had said.

Then our father said, ‘Go back and buy a little more food.’ But we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother is with us will we go. We cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’

Your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons. One of them went away from me, and I said, “He has surely been torn to pieces.” And I have not seen him since. If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery.’

So now, if the boy is not with us when I go back to your servant my father and if my father, whose life is closely bound up with the boy’s life, sees that the boy isn’t there, he will die. Your servants will bring the gray head of our father down the grave in sorrow. Your servant guaranteed the boy’s safety to my father. I said, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, I will bear the blame before you, my father, all my life!’

Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come upon my father.

NARRATOR: Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants,

JOSEPH: Have everyone leave my presence!

NARRATOR: So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

JOSEPH: I am Joseph! Is my father still living?

NARRATOR: But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

JOSEPH: Come close to me. I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant of earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me – you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.

NARRATOR: Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

When the news reached Pharaoh’s palace that Joseph’s brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased.

PHARAOH: Tell your brothers, ‘Do this: Load your animals and return to the land of Canaan, and bring your father and your families back to me. I will give you the best of the land of Egypt and you can enjoy the fat of the land.’

You are also directed to tell them, ‘Do this: Take some carts from Egypt for your children and your wives, and get your father and come. Never mind about your belongings, because the best of all Egypt will be yours.”

NARRATOR: So the sons of Israel did this. Joseph gave them carts, as Pharaoh had commanded, and he also gave them provisions for their journey. To each of them he gave new clothing, but to Benjamin he gave three hundred shekels of silver and five sets of clothes. And this is what he sent to his father: ten donkeys loaded with the best things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain and bread and other provisions for his journey. Then he sent his brothers away, and as they were leaving he said to them,

JOSEPH: Don’t quarrel on the way!

So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan.

BROTHERS: Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.

NARRATOR: Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them. But when they told him everything Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the carts Joseph had sent to carry him back, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.

JACOB: I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.

The Story of Joseph (Part IV)

(Adapted for Readers’ Theatre by Ellis H. Potter)

Dramatis Personae:






Egyptians (3 or 4)

Brothers (3 or 4)

Canaanites (3 or 4, same readers as for Egyptians)

Man (one of the Egyptians)

NARRATOR: So Israel set out with all that was his, and when he reached Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac.

And God spoke to Israel in a vision at night and said,

GOD: Jacob! Jacob!

JACOB: Here I am.

GOD: I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph’s own hand will close your eyes.

NARRATOR: Then Jacob left Beersheba, and Israel’s sons took their father Jacob and their children and their wives in the carts that Pharaoh had sent to transport him. They also took with them their livestock and the possessions they had acquired in Canaan, and Jacob and all his offspring went to Egypt. He took with him to Egypt his sons and grandsons and his daughter and granddaughters – all his offspring.

All those who went to Egypt with Jacob – those who were his direct descendants, not counting his sons’ wives – numbered sixty-six persons. With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob’s family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all.

Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.

JACOB: Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.

JOSEPH: I will go up and speak to Pharaoh and will say to him, ‘My brothers and my father’s household, who were living in the land of Canaan, have come to me. The men are shepherds; they tend livestock, and they have brought along their flocks and herds and everything they own.’ When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.

NARRATOR: Joseph went and told Pharaoh,

JOSEPH: My father and brothers, with their flocks and herds and everything they own, have come from the land of Canaan and are no in Goshen.”

NARRATOR: He chose five of his brothers and presented them before Pharaoh.

PHARAOH: What is your occupation?”

BROTHERS: Your servants are shepherds, just as our fathers were. We have come to live here awhile, because the famine is severe in Canaan and your servants’ flocks have no pasture. So now, please let your servants settle in Goshen.

PHARAOH: Your father and your brothers have come to you, and the land of Egypt is before you; settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. And if you know of any among them with special ability, put them in charge of my own livestock.

NARRATOR: Then Joseph brought his father Jacob in and presented him before Pharaoh. After Jacob blessed Pharaoh, Pharaoh asked him,

PHARAOH: How old are you?

JACOB: The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers.

NARRATOR: Then Jacob blessed Pharaoh and went out from his presence.

So Joseph settled his father and his brothers in Egypt and gave them property in the best part of the land, the district of Rameses, as Pharaoh directed. Joseph also provided his father and his brothers and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their children.

There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph

EGYPTIANS: Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is used up.

JOSEPH: Then bring your livestock. I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone.

NARRATOR: So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.

When that year was over, they came to him the following year

EGYPTIANS: We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. Why should we perish before your eyes – we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.

NARRATOR: So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.

JOSEPH: Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.

EGYPTIANS: You have saved our lives. May we find favor in they eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.

NARRATOR: So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.

Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.

Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph.

JACOB: If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that your will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.

JOSEPH: I will do as you say.

JACOB: Swear to me.

NARRATOR: Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

Some time later Joseph was told,

MAN: Your father is ill.

NARRATOR: So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.

JACOB: God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me and said to me,

GOD: I am going to make you fruitful and will increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.

JACOB: Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath.

NARRATOR: Then Israel saw the sons of Joseph.

JACOB: Who are these?

JOSEPH: They are the sons God has given me here.

JACOB: Bring them to me so I may bless them.

NARRATOR: Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

JACOB: I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.

NARRATOR: Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

Then he blessed Joseph.

JACOB: May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm – may he bless these boys. May the be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly upon the earth.

NARRATOR: When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head.

JOSEPH: No, my father, this on is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.

JACOB: I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations. In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing: ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.

NARRATOR: So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.

JACOB: I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. And to you, as one who is over your brothers, I give the ridge of land I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow. I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites.

NARRATOR: When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people.

Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel. So the physicians embalmed him, taking a full forty days, for that was the time required for embalming. And the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days.

When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court,

JOSEPH: If I have found favor in your eyes, speak to Pharaoh for me. Tell him, ‘My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.

PHARAOH: Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.

NARRATOR: So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him – the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt – besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. It was a very large company.

When they reached the threshing floor of Atad, near the Jordan, they lamented loudly and bitterly; and there Joseph observed a seven-day period of mourning for his father. When the Canaanites who lived there saw the mourning at the threshing floor of Atad, they said,

CANAANITES: The Egyptians are holding a solemn ceremony of mourning.

NARRATOR: That is why that place near the Jordan is called Abel Mizraim. So Jacob’s sons did as he had commanded them: They carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre, which Abraham had bought as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite, along with the field. After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

NARRATOR: Then Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead.

BROTHERS: We are your slaves.

JOSEPH: Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.

NARRATOR: And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph stayed in Egypt along with all his father’s family. He lived a hundred and ten years and saw the third generation of Ephraim’s children. Also the children of Makir son of Manasseh were placed at birth on Joseph’s knees.

Then Joseph said to his brothers,

JOSEPH: I am about to die. But God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

NARRATOR: And Joseph made the sons of Israel swear an oath.

JOSEPH: God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up from this place.

NARRATOR: So Joseph died at the age of a hundred and ten. And after they embalmed him, he was placed in a coffin in Egypt.

The Lord’s Prayer

(Transcribed by Chris Jani from a sermon at Danube International Church, Budapest, Hungary)

Poor John has to talk to you about me, I get to talk to you about Jesus! So, I’m really happy that I have my job and he had his job.

Ronnie told me that you’re having a series of teachings on prayer and that made me very glad and it made me very glad to hear in your prayers, that you’re obeying Jeremiah’s command to bless the city, which is central for the Kingdom of God. I love your banners, here. “Devote yourselves to prayer,” you know the Hebrew word is holocaust: whole burnt offering to prayer, it’s not a sweet, nice thing and “Lord, teach us to pray.” And when they asked him to teach them to pray, he gave them it in the gospel of Luke, they asked him and he gave them what we call the Lord’s Prayer.

How many of you have memorized the Lord’s Prayer? Right. That’s lovely. I’m glad. There’s a difficulty, though, anything that we memorize can become a mantra and lose its content. So I thought today we would take a brief look at some of the content of the Lord’s Prayer. It is so rich that we’ll just skim the surface, but I pray that God will bless us and build us up and establish us in His ways and in the reality of prayer for our life and our world by this brief look.

I’m going to use the text from Matthew, which is a longer text than the text in Luke. From Matthew, chapter 6, verses 9 through 15, Jesus is the King. We’ve been singing about Jesus, the King. And the sermon on the mount is the account and the content of the king going up on the mountain, and giving the manifesto of the kingdom, in the sermon on the mount.

Moses went up on the mountain and received the law from God. Jesus went up on the mountain and did not receive the law from God because He is God and He gave us the law. He didn’t cancel the law that Moses gave, He deepened it. He took the ten commandments and He deepened them in the eight beatitudes. Moses wrote the commandments on the wall. Jesus, by the power of the Sprit, wrote the beatitudes on our hearts. It’s a deepening and richening process that makes the reality of living in God’s kingdom much harder. And it confronts us, as the man who gave the testimony told us, with the impossibility of being good, and the necessity to trust God to make us good and to pay it all for us.

Then, Jesus talks about the law and gives us the six examples of the law which are universal. None of them are dietary, or national or historical, or geographical, they are all universally human issues of the law and He deepens them from mechanical obedience and lifestyle to attitudes of the heart. And then in verse six, he speaks about three ordinary things that give order to our lives. They are the ordinances of the Christian life. They are giving, praying and fasting. Normally, we are a bit more familiar with the giving and praying than the fasting, but Jesus put them all equally there. In Matthew, he says this then is how you should pray, so we know he’s going to give us an outline of prayer.

In Luke, he says, “When you pray, say.” So it seems if we combine those, that we should recite the Lord’s prayer alone or together, but we also should use it as an outline of our prayer. It is the Lord’s prayer, because it is the prayer of Jesus. This is the king, praying to his father about the reality that he has come to establish and pay for on this earth. This is the cry of the heart of our king and he’s inviting us to join with him in his prayer and to make it our own.

And he begins by saying our father, which means that there’s something missing when we pray this prayer alone. It’s not my father, and we are reminded that God is a trinitarian God, three persons who have relationships among himself. He is a community of divinity, he is not a unity, he is also a diversity and that we, who are made in his image, must also live in community and have relationships with each other or the reality is incomplete. Jesus said where two or more of you are gathered together, there am I in the midst of you. When we are not alone, we are more in the presence of God because God is not alone. I’m often giving students a proverb that I made up. It’s not in the Bible but it’s a very good proverb. “God alone is God and God is not alone.” It’s a very simple thing, but it’s only true of the God of the Bible. It’s not true of any other god that has been imagined in history.

So, our father, we pray together. Our father in heaven. What is heaven? Where is heaven? Briefly, heaven is not far away. You don’t have to shout in order for God to hear you because He’s in heaven and we’re here. Heaven is the God dimensions of reality. Heaven is the dimensions in which the uncreated reality lives and earth is the/are the dimensions, length width, height and time, where the created part of reality functions, lives. And they are co-extensive. They’re other dimension, but they are not in other places. Heaven is not far away. Heaven is here. God is here, with us. Jesus said I’m going away into heaven and then he went into the cloud of the shekinah glory, in the ascension and he disappeared from their sight but he was still with them as he promised. He went away from their sight but he promised, “and lo I am with you.” I am with you in the same place where you are, functioning in other dimensions. It’s like if you have a box, it has length and width, but it also has height. And the height is not the length or the width, it’s different, but it is not disconnected from the length and the width. Those dimensions belong together in the reality of the box. Well, reality as a whole is a bit more complicated than a box and there are created dimensions and uncreated dimensions and dimensions that were created that we cannot access scientifically. But are nonetheless fundamentally real and it is that which is heaven so we can speak to God in a soft voice and he still hears us from heaven. Our father, in heaven.

And then, there are six requests. It’s a very strange prayer and anyone who teaches children to pray would not accept if a child prayed in this way, because there’s no praise, no thanksgiving, no confession, none of the normal things that we think prayer should involve. It’s just six requests. And the first three are about God. That’s the foundation, that’s the framework, the context of our lives, establishing the basic reality. The next three are about us. And it’s important to do it in that order. We need first, when we speak to God, to speak about God, and the first request is the most important need that we have on earth: may Your name be known as holy. Now, we say holy God and the word holy is on Christmas cards and holy is all around, but people do not know God’s name as holy. Many of you know people and it saddens you, who know God’s name as myth, or who know God’s name as cruel or who know God’s name as stupid, or escapism. This is extremely common, I’m sure, in Budapest. It is in the cities where I work. So people do not know God’s name as holy/wholly, spelled with an /beginning with an ”h” or beginning with a “w”. They know God’s name as these other false things, and the most important thing is that people will know God’s name as holy and that is where Jesus begins. Maybe that’s where we should begin when we follow Jesus.

Then he says, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What is the kingdom of God? Jesus said a variety of things about the kingdom. He said it is coming and it is near and the kingdom is here. And the kingdom is among you in your relationships. And the kingdom is inside you. So, maybe that’s a riddle. If all of those things are true about the kingdom, what is it? Well we can see immediately it’s not the church, which is commonly believed. Very commonly believed, but it’s clearly not, because the church doesn’t fit all of those things and it’s not the kingdom or nation of Israel or a geographical location. The kingdom of God is the “basilea”, the rule of God in our hearts, in our minds, in our relationships, in our city, in our workplace in our church, in our families, in our world. It is the rule of God. And he’s saying, your rule come, your will be done. Where? On earth as it is in heaven, in the created dimensions that we experience, as it is in the dimensions that we don’t experience. May reality be one and not divided. Jesus came to heal the tremendous division between heaven and earth and between God and people. And he’s going to glue the whole reality that is split apart back together. And what does He use for glue? His own blood. So you see Jesus has come for that purpose, to glue reality together, with his blood, and so this is what He’s praying, your kingdom come, your rule be in the created dimensions that people experience, in the same way that it is in the unseen dimensions. May reality be united and I want that so much I’m going to pay for it. This is our Lord, this is our king.

On earth as it is in heaven. So, the prayer is that heaven will come to earth. But very few Christians understand that that is what Jesus wants us to pray for. Most Christians think that Jesus wants us to pray that God will take us away from here to heaven. That is the opposite of Jesus’ prayer. We pray your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven and what we mean in our hearts, is, “Dear God, get me out of here. Take me to a better place.” And all these saccharine, hallmark card phrases that we have, that are supposed to describe God’s reality, here is the real thing. It’s not romantic. Heaven comes to earth. The heavenly city comes down onto the earth and we are together with God forever amen. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. The years of manna are ended. And this is a two way street. And it’s expressed with the ancient monastic slogan, ”ora et labora”: pray and work. And the prayer and the work are shown us in the lord’s supper, in the communion. What are the elements that Jesus gave us to use to remind us of him? They are bread and wine. They are not spring water and chestnuts. They’re not ready made elements. They don’t fall on us out of a tree, they don’t run babbling in a brook naturally. They are not natural elements. They are supernatural, miraculous elements. They are elements that come into being because human beings take what God has made and work with it. We grow the wheat, we grind it, we make the flour, we bake the bread. And then there is bread. And it comes from God, but we, his children, have dominion over the creation and we work. We depend utterly on God, but we work. We make the bread. We don’t come to the communion table and pray and then the bread falls out of the air onto the table. It’s not that kind of a gift from God. It’s a gift that are (our?) tools and raw materials that God gives us, which we have to have from his hand, and then we work and we make the bread and we bring the bread to God to celebrate his being and we say, dear God, you give us all that we need and we bring to you what we have done with it.

And also the wine. God makes grapes to grow and then people cultivate the grapes and harvest the grapes and squeeze them out and learn vinteculture and technology and make the wine and then we have wine. It doesn’t fall like rainwater out of the skies. So, give us this day our daily bread is acknowledging our dependence on God. We cannot live unless he helps us and unless he gives us what we need. But it is also acknowledging our place and responsibility to work and to create and to have dominion. So this also is how Jesus wants us to think about reality when we pray. And when we think about bread, we need to pray about agriculture and economics and politics and transportation and storage systems and refrigeration and we need to think about all of these things that are involved in making bread happen for people around the world, better in some places than in other places but all of those things are involved in God giving us bread, in ora et labora. Pray and work. So when we pray for bread, we should pray for skill and wisdom and love and cooperation and service hearted attitude toward our work, which is part of God’s reality. Give us this day our daily bread.

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Now this is somehow central, because when the prayer finishes, then Jesus elaborates on that. Because it’s a very central thing, because it is central to relationships, and God is a God of relationships, not only with us, but before there was a creation, God had relationships among himself. And that is the foundation of our reality and only that.

Forgive us our debts. Forgive us our sins. Forgive us what we have done that have separated us from you. And the forgiveness comes in an atoning sacrifice as John writes in his first letter, chapter four. Atonement means at-one-ment, if you break the word down. An atoning sacrifice is a sacrifice that is made so that people who are separated can be together again. That is the atonement on the cross. It makes us at one with God, it doesn’t make us God, in the/a monistic, Hindu or Buddhist sense, it makes us with God that Jesus atones for our sins.

So the forgiveness is not only to say you are not guilty, although it is that, and it is not only that we escape punishment, but the forgiveness is to restore relationships. When we sin against each other, we cannot pay. The brother testified about gossip. If you gossip about me, it’s like opening up a feather pillow in the wind and the feathers go into all the world. And then you decide, “oh that was not a good thing to do, I’m so sorry, what I’m going to do is I’m going to go and collect all those feathers and put them back in the pillow.” See, then you wouldn’t need my forgiveness if you could do that, but of course it is utterly impossible to do that. So you cannot pay the debt to me. You cannot pay me for what you’ve done to me. But if we are to be reconciled, what is the possibility? The possibility is that I would pay it. That I would give it for you. I would give for, I would forgive. Where do I get the money to pay your debt? I get it from the bank of Jesus. I draw on his blood and I have power to forgive, power to reconcile. This is a rich, deep, exciting power, that we should get excited about. This should thrill us as much as sky diving.

Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Now, forgiveness is known to be quite therapeutic. You carry around a burden of, “oh, they did this to me” and you’re tied with a negative tie to someone. And forgiveness cuts the negative tie and therapeutically releases you from a burden that you don’t need. Yes, it does function in that way, but that is not what Jesus is talking about.

Forgiveness is not release, it is engagement.

In the year before my wife died, two men did me great harm. And then I got emails from them, one in America, one in South Africa, saying, “I have done wrong to you, will you please forgive me?” And I wrote back and I said, “yes, I forgive you with all my heart. How are you? What’s happening in your life.?” Well I never heard from them again, because the purpose of their forgiveness was for them. It was so they could say, “well, I’ve washed my hands of him, he forgives me, now I’m released from any connection or obligation to him.” But, is that what we want from Jesus? Do we want Jesus to forgive us so He can walk away from us and forget us? Do we want Jesus to forgive us so that we can be released and disconnected from him? Absolutely not! We want him to forgive us so that we can be with him.

Now, some of you are as stunned at that as I am. Because I realized that the people I need to forgive, I don’t want to be with them. That was kind of a nervous laugh, wasn’t it? I don’t want to be with them. I want to be rid of them. I want to be free. Yes, I forgive you. Bye.

This is in my heart because my heart is hard. I’ve been a Christian many years and I can testify that I have experienced some increase of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in my life and I am filled with shock and awe and wonder and thankfulness that that actually happens in filthy me. And it does. I’m praising the Lord for that. But it is not over. There are big, ugly, hard places in my heart and when you think about forgiving in order to be atoned to be restored to each other, you come face to face with the ugly hardness of your heart and then that we need to bring to God, to say, “God, see the hardness of my heart and I need You to soften it and to confess I don’t want you do to that. It just sounds horrible to me that you would actually heal me, and that I would have healthy responsibilities as your child in/and service. Oh no, that’s not what I want.“

What I want is more convenience and more privacy, to feel better about myself, that’s what I want. But that isn’t what God wants from me and we need to pray what Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. What You will be done. Not my will. Because our will is death. Our will is ugly and alienating and destructive. Unless you are extremely special people. But the brother who gave the testimony discovered that, that his will is ugly and destructive generally. And then he became thankful for his salvation in the Lord. So do not be afraid of your fears. Face them and bring yourself to God and say, “oh God, bless me.” Pray that in terror, and you should be afraid because he will bless you and it will make your life so much harder. But that’s what he wants. He wants us to have life and have it abundantly. Well abundantly doesn’t mean cheerfully, happily happy go lucky, row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. That isn’t the abundant life. The abundant life is engaged and active and bearing burdens and being creative and taking responsibilities. That is the purpose of forgiveness so that we can be bigger people with richer relationships. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And lead us not into temptation. It means it’s not that he’s likely to lead us into temptation and that we have to ask him not to because we know from James that God never does tempt us. But, if you say, how big was that steak? You say, “Well, it was not small”, meaning that it was the opposite. So, in that sense, lead us not into temptation, means lead us away from temptation. It’s not that God would normally lead us into temptation and we need to say, “oh please don’t do that.” But it’s that we’re asking him to actively lead us away from temptation.

But deliver us from the evil one. So the last three requests are about us. For food and forgiveness and protection, in the context of the first three requests about God.

Now, you may notice that part of the Lord’s prayer is missing from this text. And it is the doxology that you probably all believe is actually in the text, but it isn’t. A student came to me who had been invited by friends to a Catholic church. And he came to me and he said, “well, you know there were strange things and I wasn’t used to it, but the thing that really got me was they chopped off part of the Lord’s prayer. They didn’t say the bit at the end about for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, they they didn’t say that.“ And I said, “open your Bible to Matthew 6 and and look in there.” And he said, “Ahhh, It’s not in there!” And I said, “yes they actually say it accurately and we add that and it’s not wrong to add that, we do add that.” But it’s not that Catholics don’t add things because at the end of every psalm, they add a doxology, and we don’t, see, we’re different. But the doxology which we all say, we all said, is not in the text. But it’s true, it’s true and it’s certainly not wrong to say it.

Then Jesus goes more deeply into the forgiveness point in verse 14. 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 sins, your heavenly father will not forgive your sins. God is love. God is relationships. The function of God is atoning sacrifice. We all have needs. We need to eat and to be warm and things like that, but more deeply, we need to be seen. And we see this with children. All day, children cry, “Daddy, look! Daddy look!” And if daddy doesn’t look, because he’s in jail or divorced or drunk or dead or always on missionary outreach, pacé. Then the need is not met and the child is distorted in his being. And that’s, that’s the condition of all of us, you see. We need to be seen, we need to be heard.

Even if someone doesn’t agree with me, I need them to understand what I say. And we see that with children. Before they speak Hungarian or English, they speak and they are not understood and they are enraged. We’ve all seen this. We need to make a difference. Where I have lived and worked, it shouldn’t be the same as if I were never there.

And we see the children, they build the blocks, viola, difference, and they knock the blocks down and viola, another difference. And sometimes those differences are very inconvenient. But, they are necessary. For the child and for us.

And we need to be wanted. We need people to say, come, be with me, be with us.

You are wanted. And you all know How horribly we suffer when that need is not met.

Where do those needs come from? Do they come from the devil? Are they a result of our sins? I don’t think so. I think we have those needs as the image of God because God has those needs.

But having those needs, which is very painful to us, is perfect joy to God. Because the need is the basis of trust. And trust is essential to love.

Here’s my little picture of God. God is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And their identities are others-centered. The identity of Jesus is clearly not in Jesus, it is in the Father and the Holy Spirit. And the identity of the Father is in Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Each person of God empties himself to meet the needs of the other two, which means that each person is emptied once and filled twice. And the filling increases exponentially until the power is so great that He says let there be light (poof) and there is a universe. And this power, this others-centered emptying and filling is, is love. God is love. Love is not a cosmic gas cloud of niceness. Love is atoning sacrifice as John tells us in his first letter, chapter four. So when we are made in the image of God, that is how he makes us to be, to be like him and we’re not. Adam and Eve were in the beginning, and then they became self-centered by eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. So they didn’t have to trust God. And depend on him to tell them. They could be self-fulfilled, self-satisfied, self-expressed. Eve could be a liberated woman. And they could be independent and then immediately they were dead. Because they became black holes. Have you ever noticed that God is three persons and the devil is one person? And the three persons of God are others-centered and the one person of the devil is necessarily self-centered, there isn’t anything else. And then the devil is enticing us, and tempting us to join him in self-centeredness so that we become little black holes and get absorbed by the black hole of the devil, who is like a roaring lion, prowling around, seeing who he may devour. Just sucking people into his black hole-ness, where the gravity is so dense that no light can escape.

You see how theology and astrophysics should be friends with each other. Science and faith should be complementary functions and not competitive functions. That’s another lecture series we’ll have next week at the university.

John tells us that the only way we can know that we love God is by loving each other. If you say, “I love god, I love god, I have visions, I have spiritual gifts, I have healings in my life, I have power to do this and that, I love God.” If you don’t love each other, that’s all noise. That is not the test. The test is: do you love each other?

I’d like to just look briefly at Philippians 4, verses 4 through 7, this very famous passage about prayer from Paul in closing. Philippians 4, verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice. Let your gentleness be evident to all. The lord is near. He’s here. Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, every part of your life, every part of your world, every part of your relationships, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”. Don’t hide anything from God. Bring everything to God. Be constantly referring your life in every aspect to God. And then comes this great promise: There are many things in the Bible that are claimed as promises that are not promises. They/there are incidences that happen, but this is a promise, universal for everyone and the result is, the promise is if you bring every request to God, the promise is not that He will give you what you want. That would be the most horrible thing that could ever happen because of the hardness of your heart. That your heart, as the brother said, is deceitful above all things. So don’t hope that God is going to give you what you want. Hope that God is going to give you what he wants. But he wants to know what you want, because he wants you to be open with him. He doesn’t want you to hide from him. So you bring all the things, the good the bad and the ugly the noble the petty the selfish, bring all of those things to God and then the promise: “and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” which means that if we bring all of those things to God that he will keep us, he will keep us in his arms, with all our wounds and all our disappointments and all our hopes that don’t get satisfied in our lifetime, he will keep us and we will know it and the knowing that we have that we are belonging to God and kept by God is beyond understanding.

You cannot express it in words, you cannot express it mathematically but you know it fundamentally in your being.

So let’s close with that thought. We have all these things about the Lords’ prayer, the outline of how we should think and approach and bring life and the world to God and the promise is that he will keep you, you will belong, you will not be alone.

May the Lord bless you and keep you.



This lecture is about different kinds of manners in different cultures and times; about the Biblical basis for manners as a humanizing function in promoting the image of God. It is about the abuses of manners and their becoming abstract and burdensome. It is about how to think about our manners and those of our children as we move from a modern to a postmodern culture. It is about manners as part of the generation gap and part of binding the generations together. It is about the tension between having some decisions made for us, and inventing ourselves. We are largely free to choose our manners style within the context of our community but it is negligently disobedient not to choose.

The word manners in English comes from Manus which means hand. So it’s a rather general consideration of what we do. Manners is how do you do. Not in the sense of how are you but how do you do. How do you do this and that and the other, what is your manner of operating, the manner of speaking or the manner of relating, your manner of behaving. What is it that you do? Etiquette, which is connected somehow to manners means originally a list of ceremonies in the Royal court of France or a ticket to get into some kind of event or group or society. It has come to mean a label which also has application for us. Manners label us, we are known by our manners. People categorize us by the way we behave and by the way we do things.

Manner-ism is the habit of gestures, speaking, or behaving that people have. It’s also the use of a distinctive style in art, literature, or music. One says “the manner in which it is done”. Polite you can see is also connected to manners and etiquette – polite comes from politus which means polished or made smooth. As you go through life there are many barriers and bumps and grinds and scratches and inconveniences. When you are polite you make life smooth for yourself and for those around you. It’s sort of like an oil that is poured on life so the machinery goes more smoothly and doesn’t grind and squeak and break gears and break down. That is polite.

In various cultures and various periods of history manners take a large variety of forms. Some of the forms of politeness in different cultures are the opposite of each other.

In Europe it is a very polite thing to put your hand on the head of a child. It’s a gesture of greeting and blessing and welcoming. In Southeast Asia it is the most impolite think you can possibly do. The foot is low and the head is high and the hand is in the middle. To put your hand on someone’s head is a gesture of great disrespect in Southeast Asia. The most shameful thing that can ever happen to you in Thailand is if someone hits you on top of the head with a slipper. It’s a shame from which you probably will never recover. You’ll be scarred for life if someone did that. In Europe it would be a game, a form of silliness between people. We would think nothing of it but in Thailand people would think a great deal of it. It would be the worst possible manners to do that. In Europe, in a casual situation, like L’Abri, it might even be a friendly gesture to take a floppy, you know a Japanese motorcycle boot and bonk someone on the head with it. That might be charming and friendly or a way of flirting or something like that but don’t do it in Thailand because it’s completely the opposite. It’s very unfriendly.

I’m a pastor and I pastor a generally international flock. There was a man from Nigeria who came to my house. He came upstairs, and knocked on my door. When I opened the door he rushed past me into the flat. He looked around, quickly found a chair and sat down. Then he began to speak. I thought: “what… What is this?” So I asked him, what is this? And he said: “Oh in Nigeria, in my tribe of people, in my race and language group of people it is necessary to be physically lower than your superior to show them honor and if you would sit and I would stand it would be the greatest dishonor to you. So the first thing I wanted to do coming into your presence and being a little bit nervous is to find a way to be lower than you even if it’s to sit on the floor.” That was so ingrained in him, the way one relates to other people, that he behaved in a way which to me was rude. He was being as polite as he could be, he really was on his best behavior. I was a bit startled.

We find forms of greeting in the Bible that are little bit different than ours, like falling on your face or grabbing a hold of someone’s knees which was very polite in Middle Eastern biblical times culture, but might be a little odd in England today. You might get arrested if you grabbed someone’s knees.

So, cultures are very different. Societies it seems to me, over history, swing back and forth until they collapse totally, between a dehumanizing lack of manners and a dehumanizing exaggeration of manners, if you see what I mean. Societies are either everybody for themselves, the devil get the hindermost, with almost no manners or structures in society at all, or societies are very rigid with all kinds of rules and regulations, and you have to stay within those and people are rather paralyzed.

So, it’s excessive freedom or excessive form. Societies swing back and forth in various areas of life between those two. Excessive freedom and excessive form. The question that comes to my mind is: as Christians, living in the kingdom of God, how should we relate to our societies on earth going back and forth between these two extremes. It seems to me we should consider where we are on the pendulum swing now. What direction are we moving? Are we moving in a direction of form and mannerlianess and rules and traditions? Are we establishing a way of behaving? Or are we moving into an area of greater freedom and individual choices or the attitude of going with the flow and saying “whatever”. How do you behave? Should Christian move in the opposite direction of the general swing of the culture toward a balanced middle. Is this part of our function as salt and light in the world?

Jesus didn’t say you’re the salt of heaven the light of the sky. Sometimes I think Christians think he really did say that. He said you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

What does it mean? Salt gives flavor and preserves. In the time of Jesus, they didn’t have refrigeration, so salt was essential in the economy for preserving food, especially meat. The Roman soldiers were paid half in gold and half in salt because they needed the salt so food would not spoil. Salt preserves, it keeps things from rotting. When Christians live in the world they keep the world from rotting and they also give flavor - the flavor of the kingdom of God, the flavor of the good news, the flavor of life in and from Christ to the world. In terms of manners how do we do that? It may be that we need to be a bit countercultural. If the culture is excessively formal the Christians might move toward freedom in order to be salt and light. If the society around us is excessively free the Christians might move toward form. It seems to me that probably Christians living in the kingdom of God should not go with the flow and just follow the trends and go along for the ride of whatever the culture around them is doing. The culture around us, wherever we are; Africa, Asia, Europe, it doesn’t matter, the culture around us is not the kingdom of God. It is not fully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The culture around us is distorted in a variety of ways, with darkness and rotting elements in it. How are Christians to be light and salt in the culture around us? Probably not by going with the flow and saying “everybody does it”.

I think the most important thing I’m going to give you this evening are questions to ask about manners. Information, statements and answers are interesting and useful in getting a picture. The most important things are questions; like “How should we then live?” Someone wrote a book about that question. How should we live? What kind of manners should we choose for ourselves? Are we in a situation where the world needs more form or more freedom? What does God call us to do in the world as his children, as salt and light?

I travel a lot on every continent and in very different cultural, social situations. This has given me some perhaps unusual experiences. I was invited to a Christian home in Meknes in Morocco for a couscous. We went into the dining room and lay down on couches with a small place in the middle. We were four men at the meal and the sister of the host came into the dining room walking backwards rolling a table, wearing a veil. She set up this table and walked out. Then she walked in backwards again with a silver handwashing apparatus, warm water in a kettle and a towel over her arm. She came and stood by each of us in turn. We held our hands over the grilled basin and she poured water over our hands. We washed them and then we dried them on the towel. It would have been absolutely rude to look at her or speak to her or say thank you or anything like that. It would be nearly the equivalent of seduction in such a situation. One does not look at or speak to another man’s women in that culture. One doesn’t even speak about them to him. If you hear that the man’s wife is sick you never ask about her. You don’t say “how is your wife”. Sometimes you have to adjust to situations like that. After the washing she brought the food and then we began to eat. They don’t use chopsticks in Morocco or knives and forks. They eat with their hands and they are very good at it. They rolled the food up and pop it goes into their mouth, elegantly and gracefully. Meanwhile I was dribbling and drooling. There is only one big plate for everyone. To be polite you flicked the juicy bits in front of you into the area of your neighbor to be friendly. I was the guest and so people kept flicking the sheep’s eyeball into my area and I sort of flicked it on. It was very tricky. I supposed to be polite I should have eaten the thing but it was not my normal diet. It was difficult to have good manners.

When I was working in Swiss L’Abri in the mid-80s, people came to have discussion meals in our house and sat around our dining table. When I grew up in America it was unthinkable that a man would wear a hat inside any building, especially a private home, or a church or in the presence of a lady. It was absolutely unthinkable in the 50s and 60s that that would be done. When the students came in and sat down one of the guys kept his baseball hat on. We prayed and started to eat and I said; “I would like to ask you a question. It’s been a long time since I lived in America and I would like to ask you if it has become polite for men to wear hats at the dinner table? They all told me yes it has. I said, thank you very much and we went on with the meal. I was stunned but what could I do? I couldn’t say “well, I’m a dinosaur and you take your hat off in my house!” You run into these situations where you know what is decent and right from your childhood and people don’t behave like that anymore and there’s a certain tension that comes into your life.

My wife is an occupational therapist and she worked with handicapped children. All the parents came and we were eating together. The father of a handicapped girl who was getting food all over because she was spastic got more and more stressed. Finally, he said “Lick your knife!” This would be polite behavior in the Alpine village where they lived.

Now a story of a very different nature. I go often to Poland and once in the mid ‘80s I met the father of a friend whose name is Grabinski. My friend took me to his father’s flat. It was a remarkably elegant flat in a communist country with Chippendale furniture and Wedgwood china. Family portraits hanging around the room dating from 1601 all looked like Mr. Grabinski. The portraits were of a general, a Bishop, a King’s mistress and that general level of society. I visited this flat three times in a week and we really got to know each other. He was 82 years old and his manners were impeccable. He took upon himself the role of father of the Polish people to be an example, to raise their level of humanness at every possibility. I found out that he had been a judge in the court system. Under the Nazi occupation he was required to sign a paper declaring that all of his Jewish colleagues were incompetent. He refused to sign it and was in Auschwitz for two years because of this. I asked him about his experiences in Auschwitz. He said that, of course, it was dreadful in many ways but everyone who was near me survived. I asked “why?” He said; “I made them keep their fingernails clean”. Manners saved their lives, gave them dignity, and reasons to live. The prisoners were grubbing in the mud in all the horror and here was a man telling them to keep their fingernails clean. He had the authority to do it and he saved their lives with this kind of thing. The last evening I was with him there were only the two of us and the servant in the kitchen. We were having coffee after supper and speaking French because he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Polish. He asked me if I had taken the sugar for my coffee. I said yes. He said “Thank you”, and took some for himself. His level of manners didn’t allow him to take the sugar until he was sure that I had already. That was the last blow for me and I said; “you know I’m an American I have never been with aristocratic people before, it’s a totally new experience for me.” He drew himself up and said; “Oh, we are not aristocratic. We are noble. I had insulted him. Then something clicked in my American mind. This is what nobility is – to live a high level of life and be a father and example to everyone around. He carried this burden every moment. That was my most extreme experience of good manners, of enlivening manners, manners that are a blessing to people. In the American culture we don’t really have something exactly like that and so it was very eye-opening to me concerning manners.

There is a work in Kansas City called “the culture house” which is basically a dance and drama, theater and music school. They have 800 students a week coming through their work. It’s a Christian work and one of the courses that they teach is manners; which fork to use and how to greet people and how to be in a social situation. The name of the course is Grossbusters. Do you know the film the Ghostbusters? This is the gross busters and they are trying to bust grossness by helping people realize what the possibilities are.

Manners connect us to the past or break with the past. We have in our lives intrinsic motivation. We are motivated from inside ourselves, emotionally and willfully to do a variety of things. We also have extrinsic motivation. We are motivated by the outside, by our culture, by our parents, by our circumstances, by our boss, by necessity, by threats or punishments. We are motivated to behave in a variety of ways.

It seems to me that manners are a combination. Our manners are a result of extrinsic motivations: the way we were raised, the culture around us, what is accepted or not and what the norms of behavior in our environment are. These things are not how we feel. These are the reality outside of ourselves and are independent of how we feel. Manners are also intrinsic motivations, to bless, to ennoble, to polish, to make life go, to make life work for the people around us. That is a more intrinsic motivation.

Manners is a way of setting norms, of establishing what is normal behavior in a society. If we don’t behave normally we apologize and we are excused or forgiven. Normal behavior varies largely from society to society. I have been in societies where it is very rude not to belch after a meal and I have been in societies where it is very rude if you do belch. To belch not to belch can be a major question of manners.

As I said, manners make life work for other people. Do you know the expression RSVP? Please reply? Those are often ignored, people don’t RSVP or not, they just ignore it. This makes life hard so it’s good manners to RSVP, to make commitments, to keep your commitments.

Now we are moving into a social period in Europe and North America where people have a strong tendency of keeping their options open. So if someone is trying to organize a conference or an event of some kind and they want to know if people will come, people wait until the day before because something better might come up. They delay until it’s the next day and they have to decide to do something or other, but it makes it very difficult to plan and to organize things. As we move into a postmodern culture, this tendency is part of it. We move towards the values of individualism, living how you feel about life, expressing yourself, satisfying yourself, fulfilling yourself. There is a great deal of attention on the individual self rather than on the community. In other periods of time there was a very strong emphasis on the community with very little emphasis on the self. As Christians how are we to behave, how does God call us to behave in these different kinds of situations. As I said before, probably we should move against the grain. We should probably live a bit counter culturally in order to be salt and light in the world.

In manners we find generation gaps. What our grandparents think is polite we think it’s ridiculous and what we think is polite normal behavior they find absolutely gross and unacceptable. This causes difficulties between generations. Manners involve being aware of people outside of ourselves, outside of our age group, outside of our subculture and trying to make life work for them as well as for us. A person who has good manners has a larger view of life. They are aware of other people, how they are, how they behave, what their expectations are, what their condition is. A well-mannered person chooses behavior that makes life work for the people around them and encourages the humanness of the people around them. It’s a larger life than an un-mannerly life.

There are all sorts of manners. Now we have email manners and SMS manners, and texting manners. Do you proofread your texts? Do you write “how RU2Day?” “I’m l8” and abbreviations for everything, a bit specialized and arcane? Or do you write everything out? This is a very new area of manners.

There are negative aspects of manners. For example, they can become rigid, pharisaical or phony. They can produce social fragmentation. Manners can be very expensive and burdensome. In some cultures, weddings are so expensive that people can’t get married till they’re 35 and have saved up the money. It seems to me that that kind of manners is an unnecessary burden on people. Funerals is another case. It’s good manners in some cultures to spend tremendous amounts of money on funerals when the widow needs it to pay the rent or to deal with the mortgage. People are strongly pressured to make a big, expensive show. In some cultures, hospitality is quite exaggerated.

Manners can produce false expectations. Manners are often suspected especially by younger people, of being dishonest, not natural, not spontaneous. This is a big problem, a big issue in life that we need to think about. One of the commandments of our culture is: “thou shalt be natural”. The Bible teaches us not be natural but to be spiritual. The Bible wants us not go with the flow of the natural society around us, but to live in the kingdom of God and be filled with the spirit and walk in the spirit. This is not the same as saying “whatever, go with the flow” and running along the track of the society or your subgroup, or peer group.

Manners can hide us from the truth. They can be a mask and they can hide us from each other. Sometimes we have very good manners and it’s like a wall of ice between us and the next person. I don’t want to encourage that negative aspect of manners. Manners can make us proud: “I have manners. I was raised properly. I’m one of the real people.” Manners can make us suspicious of people who have different manners than we do, and they can falsely identify us. When our identity should be in Christ, sometimes our identity is in behavior patterns and social customs and traditions. That can be a powerful and negative part of life. A group in the 30s in Europe that had very good strong manners and was very disciplined and polite and orderly was the Hitler youth. The consequences of the Hitler youth were not entirely positive in various ways but they had very good manners. It’s a complicated issue.

In the New Testament which group had the best manners? The Pharisees. They washed their hands, they wore the right clothes, they said the right things, they were in the right places at the right time. They had the very best manners and Jesus was sometimes a bit critical of them. He was even critical of their manners. He said: “you wash your hands and the outside of the dish but the inside of the dishes full of rot.” He’s saying your manners hide you from the reality of your need to repent and be cleaned. The manners of the Pharisees worked against them.

There are positive aspects of manners. Manners build social capital. Manners are a way of investing in the society, in each other, of building up trust, stability, familiarity, comfort and ease of movement. These functions of manners are important for life. Manners are humanizing and honoring to the other people that we interact with. Manners are culture forming. Manners bless. Bless means enlarge. It doesn’t mean make feel good or give you what you want. Curse means make life smaller. Manners bless, they make life larger and they ennoble, they make life noble. It might be appropriate as sons and daughters of the King as Christians are, to have some nobility in their life. Like Mr. Grabinski, who was really salt and light in the world around him.

Submitting to forms, to rules, to guidelines frees us from the tyranny, the slavery of our desires and moods of the moment. Very often we are slaves to our moods, to our impulses, to our desires but living within forms frees us from that slavery and gives us space to see a wider picture and make choices rather than only making knee-jerk reactions to situations. We can actually make rational, moral, responsible, creative choices about these things. When manners are practiced in love they do not lie although they might hide or disguise some of the details of truth in mercy. If you always tell the whole truth there is no room for mercy. There is no room to protect people from embarrassment and unbearable burdens and things like that so manners don’t lie but there is mercy in manners. They really make life work for people.

Manners are actually practical and efficient. We spend time having good manners in order to save time and make things work and to avoid confusion. In America we have an expression: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Manners helps us not to hurry so much that we get behind.

A danger in manners is that we can have manners instead of God. Rather than that I think we should have manners because of God. First we have God and because we belong to God then we have manners. If we have manners first it’s humanistic rather than Christian. The same manners, the same behavior, the same elegance, the same traditions can be had either instead of God or because of God. You can’t always tell by looking at something whether it’s healthy or not. You need to ask more questions of yourself and others.

Manners involve a hierarchy of respect. We respect elders and officeholders and teachers and pastors and members of Parliament and bosses. The New Testament speaks of this by saying give respect to whom respect is due. In a postmodern culture respect is not due to anyone. Now it is politically incorrect to respect anyone but the biblical worldview of the kingdom of God seems to include this relationship of respect from people to other people. As Christians living in God’s kingdom it may be that to be salt and light in the world we should have patterns of behavior that show respect for the different people around us.

In manners there are taboos – which may or may not be useful, and may bring false guilt. Sometimes people feel terribly guilty about things that are not morally wrong. They get this burden of guilt and shame from the cultural manners. In this way manners sometimes work against us.

Manners are an expression of humility. I humble myself before the people that I’m with and submit myself to a form of living with the people that makes life work. Good manners don’t put ourselves but others at the center of reality.

In the area of manners and in a lot of other areas of life there are choices that we make for ourselves and there are choices that are made for us. We are all born into a family, into society and within that society there are choices of behavior that are established and are made for you. That are given to you by your parents or your teachers or your church leaders, your politicians, whoever it may be. There are also choices you make for yourself about how to behave. I think wisdom is discerning which is which and accepting the fact that part of my life, part of my behavior I do not choose. Those choices are made for me by my culture, by my tradition, by my ancestors, by the society around me. Other parts of my life I choose for myself. That idea is politically incorrect in a postmodern society where you have a moral obligation to reinvent yourself, to decide who you want to be. We are taught values clarification and helped to invent ourselves, to shape ourselves according to our own genius, desires and taste. Probably many of you have been taught in this way. If we accept that some choices are made for us it’s countercultural and radical.

Manners can make the difference between eating and dining. This can be a very good difference. Manners involve discipline and the establishing and keeping of standards. We have different manners in different situations: at home, at school, at church, at the sports club, or sports event, in public places like restaurants and theaters and concert halls and cinemas.

Manners, as I said before involve law and grace. Manners can be very condemning and excluding or manners can be inviting and embracing. We need to think about what our manners do. Possibly you, living as mostly postmodern people will not have a tendency to practice manners that condemn and exclude. It is good to be free of that. However, we need to develop a way of having manners that also encourages, includes, accepts and embraces other people.

Manners make the party go, they are a social oil, including people. Manners are very hard work when we are tired or when we don’t feel well. Nevertheless, it is an effort that might be worth making, to make life larger. This is our cultural responsibility. There are also times and situations when certain elements of manners can drop. Sometimes it is appropriate to relax and not stand on ceremony.

Sometimes we fast from our manners, we have certain standards but then in different kinds of situations we would lower those standards temporarily in order to make life work. For example, if we are fasting and people come to visit and we want to serve them something, we might fast from fasting for the sake of love and for the sake of making people feel welcome. Life gets very complex and rich when you think of things like that. All that we do should be motivated by love because God is love. If you have clear standards of behavior and forms of operating, their reason and purpose should be love. Manners should support our caring for other people, making life work for them, encouraging them, ennobling them, inviting them to a larger reality.

In different relationships, different people have different rules of manners. For instance, the host and the guests have different manners, so that manners are not a democratic equality. Manners are a way of playing different roles and taking different parts in society. Everything is not a vanilla sameness in human life when we have manners that give distinctions between older people and younger people and authoritative people and non-authoritative people, and hosts and guests, etc. The host is someone who prepares a situation and invites people into it. The people who are invited into the situation don’t have the role of preparing the situation, rearranging the furniture and exercising their own imagination. Their role is to come into something that has been prepared to enjoy it and participate in it. We need to be aware of what our various roles are in various situations in order to make life work well for everyone.

Practical manners can become empty ceremony or a theatrical performance over time. Hundreds of years ago wine tasting became a normal part of life. The purpose of wine tasting belonged to the manners of hospitality. For tasting the host pours a little of the wine into his glass first to see if it has turned to vinegar or is “corky”. Also a piece of cork might have fallen off into the bottle and the host, instead of a guest, will get it in his glass. These are polite manners that make the situation go better for the others. In our time this practice has degenerated into an elaborate charade and theater of showing off. Now the host gets a little wine in his glass from the waiter, holds it in the light and sniffs it saying, “Ah, the bouquet is luxurious without pretense“, and other things to show how knowledgeable and cultured he is. Actually, the role of the host, when the sommelier comes and pours the wine is to make sure it doesn’t smell like cork or vinegar and tell the sommelier it is OK. You’re supposed to know what you’re buying you not need to taste it. The height of elegance and good manners is to say to the waiter: “I trust you”. This builds social capital. That really makes the party go and it will make the waiter appreciate and admire you. Manners have an element of trust in them. We behave in expected ways and ways that don’t disturb, or alarm, or confuse, in order to build trust in our relationships. That saves time and makes us able to come closer to other people, rather than everyone doing what they fell like at the moment.

The gospel and truth sometimes supersede manners or politeness. My wife and I had a friend, an English woman who lives in Switzerland, who had very good manners and everybody liked her. She was eating with us one time and we were talking about different philosophies and doctrines and she said: “well, the main thing is that we should just all be friends, don’t you think?” I said well I actually don’t, I don’t think that’s the main thing, I think there is such a thing as truth and we need to respect that and take it seriously.

Jesus exhibited a variety of manners. Some of them were bad manners. He didn’t wash his hands properly in a ceremonial washing like the Pharisees did. He didn’t respect the Sabbath and he could be very in-your-face with people. When the rich young ruler came to him and said: “good teacher, what must I do to be saved?” the polite thing would have been to receive this compliment, but Jesus was not polite. He said: “why do you call me good?” “Only God is good. Am I God? Or am I not good? You must choose”. That is not good manners. That is love. There come times when love and good manners conflict with each other and then we should choose love even though we might be criticized for loving because the love is not good manners. Jesus was highly criticized, they even killed him, partly because he had bad manners. When the Syrian-Phoenician woman came to him and said: “Son of David, heal my daughter!” is another example. She was not a daughter of David; she was not a Jew. She was a Syrian-Phoenician woman. He said: “it’s not right to take the bread of the children and throw it to their dogs”. The dogs were the goy, the nations; so he is saying, you are a dog and you are the dog of the Jews and you should not get their bread. Is that polite? You see, this was a test for this woman. The woman said: “yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table”. Jesus told her: “for this answer you may go; your daughter is healed”. He opened up a window of opportunity for this woman, this was her glorious moment to come deeply into truth. The truth was not pride or nationalism. The truth was Jesus. She said, true, I’m a dog. That’s beside the point. You are Jesus and that’s the point, and you have eternal life and healing and that is the point. So it was a glorious moment for her brought on by Jesus not behaving politely. We are sometimes confronted with such situations where politeness is not love. Politeness can be maintaining a mask for someone and helping them to continue to hide from reality rather than inviting a person into reality which would actually be the blessing, the enlarging of life of love.

Manners can be the whitewashing on the tomb. They can be just the niceness painted on the surface of everything which would be a negative thing. Or manners can be the life that remains when everything else is gone in the prison. Manners can bring beauty order and dignity by keeping the fingernails clean. Manners can bring life.

We live in an era of tremendous emphasis on the individual and the individual’s responsibility to invent themselves but we cannot really live with completely independent sets of manners.

Our manners function in a group, in a society. We don’t have personal manners that we practice in a bubble by ourselves. Your manners are in relationship with other people and need to be taken into consideration in love.

In community there are different considerations of manners. Here we are gathered for this lecture in a community called L’Abri. There are different types of manners in different communities. For instance, in a monastery during a meal you do not talk. You give people space, in silence. The goal is humanizing fellowship. In L’Abri at a meal you do talk, and engage and include people. The goal is humanizing fellowship. We make choices which are never perfect, but we make choices commit ourselves to them. In a situation like L’Abri there are a variety of choices that need to be made. Do we wait to start the meal together? Do we wait to finish the meal together? If there is a conflict of schedule and the kitchen workers’ convenience with a long and valuable conversation, which has the priority? I don’t think the Bible will give us any particular right or wrong answer to these questions but it seems to me that we should make choices about these things and not just let life wash over us. We should have dominion over our society and our relationships. We can make choices and set up standards so that we can begin with those and be flexible and merciful, because we have a starting point. If we have no starting point and it’s all up for grabs, it’s very difficult to be flexible and merciful because you’re already floating in weightless space and there’s not much left to give. We also need to be sensitive to the actual situation rather than rigidly keeping a schedule or tradition.

To finish I’ll read a few quotations about manners. Some of these will encourage you that it could be worse than your own situation.

Erasmus wrote a book for a teenage boy, the son of a friend, about manners. During Erasmus’s lifetime it was his bestselling and best known book. It was translated I think into eight languages during his lifetime and far outsold all his other books but it is not known now. There are various pieces of advice that he gives to this young man. One of them is “turn away when spitting lest your saliva fall on someone.” You probably don’t think you need to be told that, you probably already know it.

Here’s another gem. “If you cannot swallow a piece of food turn around discreetly and throw it somewhere”.

• “Before you sit down make sure that your seat has not been fouled.”

• “Farts may be concealed by coughing”.

• “It is impolite to greet someone who is urinating or defecating”.

For some of these it’s hard to imagine the social situation he’s trying to give order to. This is not ancient history; this is 300 years ago.

• “Do not blow your nose with the fingers you hold the meat with”.

The culture was different. This is from H. Jackson Brown, Jr.:

“Good manners sometimes means simply putting up with other people's bad manners.”

Emily Post who wrote in a long book about manners: “manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness you have good manners no matter which fork you use.” That was Emily Post herself who said that.

Fred Astaire: “the hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any.”

Niccolo Machiavelli: “for as laws are necessary that good manners be preserved so there is need of good manners so that law may be maintained”.

Amy Vanderbilt: “good manners have much to do with the emotions. To make them ring true one must feel them not merely exhibit them.”

Q&A Time

Q: when you were talking about, sort of how like Christianity works into manners, you said something that confused me, you said… You don’t want,… Christians shouldn’t go with the flow, you said that. How can you not do that while still… You have to, you have to adjust. It seems like you were suggesting there are Christian manners which that would be different from the culture.

A: what I’m suggesting is that the culture around us goes in the direction of a variety of distortions, and it goes back and forth. It’s too formal or too free and that when we observe the dangers and the distortions of the society around us it is the responsibility of the Christians to be salt and light and to bring things back more to the center. That means to behave in a radical way, in a distinctive way, in a responsible way, in a faithful way, not just going like sheep and going with the flow and saying whatever, everybody does it so then I need to do it. It means that Christians are to have dominion and to be critics, judges of the society around them and to discern whether what the society is doing humanizes or dehumanizes and then to take action. It is dangerous because the people around you might be startled or might feel intimidated or might feel insulted by what you do. They might be quite challenged by what you do, so it’s not safe to do that but love is not safe.

Q: I’m thinking of the scene in Gran Torrino when they are in the barbershop, I remember you commenting on that, and there is language and phrases that aren’t used with friends that between them, very very humanizing and very affirming and you know I express affection but other people would be absolutely appalled. Where is the practical application? Where would that barbershop scene fit with what you’re saying?

A: it fits in with the idea that we have different manners in different situations. I’m sorry I didn’t understand the question

Q: me and Alan share a room at say we decided to use the language that we use and it becomes a term of affection and you know between the two of us how do we review that word from a Christian point of view that overtime becomes very affirming.

A: I think you can make a distinction between private behavior and public behavior so that there are things one would share as a kind of a tradition, in a small circle that you wouldn’t take into a larger circle and you would have to be discerning about these things. Yes it does become a bit situation and depending on the group that you’re in. So, love isn’t just law, to say these are the ways of behaving but love is discerning and it recognizes distinctions and differences so that the way behave in Parliament isn’t going to be nearly so polite as the way you behave in the pub.

Q: interesting how you connect manners and trust because it feels like our generation is very distrusting of manners because we find it very rigid and you can’t be ourselves. Can you talk a little bit about trust?

A: yes, the form of things gives us a deep trust and a deep stability. It is a comfort for us when there is a form in which we live. The trust that we feel when nothing is wrong, where no behavior is unacceptable it seems to me is very surface. It becomes almost like a mask. Real life and real love are deeper than that. We should be trying to have as rich and deep a life and love as we can possibly have. This would be a complementarity of form and freedom. When a situation becomes too free and is missing almost any kind of form then it seems to me it’s not really safe. It’s not really stable and deep and trusting in a real way. It’s just sort of excusing in a dehumanizing way, well never mind, brushing it off, something like that. On the other hand, if it becomes too formal then there is no room to move. It’s just law and there is no mercy there is no grace or anything. You need to find a balance, to find the center of life and to be working for that. And I think we are all unbalanced as individuals. We are too formal or too free and societies are also unbalanced they are either too formal or too free and it can go back and forth between them. The Christian responsibility is to discern, to be salt and light, to ennoble, to be radical, to bring the principles of the kingdom of God into the societal situation.

Q: in addition to, I would say with my experience is like there is a growing distrust in my generation about manners. If I say excuse me you know I’ve gone into fights because people are thinking that I’m cracking on somebody’s girlfriend, people thought that I was gay people thought that I was putting on a front and presenting something that I’m not and I don’t know the way that I manage in big cities is the reception of manners. I would maybe look at that/

A; you should look into that for appropriateness and so if you want to bring salt and light into the culture, you want to move people forward. If people are at step two you don’t get in and present them step seven, you go in and present them step three. You move incrementally you don’t move all the way over because they won’t be able to receive it. You’ll just produce more heat than light by doing that. No you have to be discerning, exactly.

Q: I have two questions one of them is about taboos and the other one is about the place of swearing. I think it was kind of like… Should we have taboos in the culture I think there is a lot of feeling about it at the moment that is to say to say, we should be real we should be able to do anything do you think that we should have less taboos perhaps and you think that’s a good trend so far. The other thing is just about the context of swearing and by that I don’t mean like the classic family words that are just really rude but I mean words like saying crap or words that people don’t really think about. You mean like slang? Yes kind of like slang, that’s what I mean, and the place of that in manners because you can go to say… I was talking to someone earlier today about the disconnection between. A scratch that

A: yes I do think we have to be flexible and we do have to behave and have different vocabulary with different groups of people. And both are authentic because authentic in my reading of the Scripture does not mean natural, it means spiritual and spiritual means larger. It doesn’t mean go with the natural flow. To be an authentic person doesn’t mean just to vomit all the time, whatever naturally comes out. You see, people think that is authenticity but I don’t. I think authentic is to be as God made me to be, creative, loving, discerning, and caring with intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. That’s the fuller richer authenticity of a human life. Beginning with the kindergarten movement we have had children blossom like flowers and each one expressing its own innate glorious, precious little color and texture and there should be no inhibiting or guiding or guidelines or forming that you shouldn’t shape in any way or direct the blossoming of the flower because the flower is inherently good and pure and beautiful. I regard that as the most dangerous nonsense possible. People are sinners and that whole idea assumes within the humanistic worldview that people are good which is one of the strongest faith statements possible. I know lots of people who believe that people are good and I am just in awe of their faith. In the face of all the evidence they still believe that people are good. Woah! If I had such faith! It’s either great faith or it’s insanity, and I’m afraid it’s insanity. The idea that people are good is obviously not true, it’s just a wish, it’s just saying, I believe that people are good because I’m a person and if people are good and I am good and I don’t need to confess my sins. I’m not responsible to any sort of God or creator or anything like that because I’m good, because people are good. It’s a false gospel. I think Christians shouldn’t say aha, aha, whatever… That’s the equivalent of saying go to hell! As long as I can keep the social oil going and make everybody happy and keep the party going you can go to hell, as long as it preserves my comfort. I don’t think Christians are allowed to do that that we should say hey, wait a minute, we should try to be real.

Language that is thought to be vulgar in one generation is not thought to be vulgar in another. At the turn-of-the-century it was extremely vulgar to say swell. The older generation was just horrified that young people would say swell. It was just terrible. I think it meant pregnant. I’m not sure exactly what it meant but he was just, you say: this was a swell meal! This meal was really swell! And so language changes and what’s really rude at one .20 years later is not rude but we need to be sensitive to the age of people that were dealing with because some things are offensive to one generation that are not offensive to another generation. On the other hand, I have been in non-Christian situations where the most helpful thing I did in the whole encounter was to say shit! It connected us, it was just the connecting tissue, the bond that made it possible to communicate with each other. Because I thought is a real human being he says shit! I don’t always say that you know, I’ve never said it from the pulpit, I’m a preacher, and I probably won’t ever say it from the pulpit, but I have said it on occasions and not in anger or disgust but because that was the scene, and that was a way of connecting. It’s a word that has a meaning it’s a noun and a verb. And taboo, I haven’t thought very much about taboos but language is taboo, behavior is taboo, in various cultures postures are taboo. In Thailand it’s rude to cross your legs so that the soles of your feet point to someone’s face. It cannot be done. Nothing is ruder than that.

Q: if we choose deliberately not to talk about something because there are some things that we should keep quite private. The reason I’m asking this is that in churches where I have been in my life. I always think of churches as 10 years behind of what’s going on in the culture and that’s a good thing sometimes but where is the breaking point because you see someone behaving one way in the church and you meet them outside church and they behave in a different way with a different set of manners…

A: we need to be very careful about that because in churches and in other kinds of groups there are buzzwords. People say a buzzword like anointed or spirit filled or something and everyone goes bzzz.. And then you ask: what does spiritual mean? Oh, everybody knows. As soon as someone says that I realized nobody knows. I don’t know please tell me what does spiritual mean? And they have no idea but they know how it feels to say the word. And they know how to feel when other people say the word and it’s a group identifying word so everybody comes and says spiritual and bzzzzzz and then we like it and we feel connected together and everything but it actually destroys language which is too bad. So I think we need to be careful about buzzwords and feel-good words and gestures and things and make sure the meaning doesn’t drain out of parts of life and be questioning. What does that mean? Why do we say that? That is not safe because it’s very annoying to do that, it’s not comfortable. That is one of our Commandments thou shall be comfortable and thou shalt make comfortable in every occasion. You don’t find that in the Bible. That’s an extra biblical commandment that I don’t think we should obey always. Sometimes we should, we should make people comfortable but Jesus was not a comfortable person. He was a true and loving person and they are not synonymous.

Q: ...

A: when people say authentic sometimes I associate it with natural and automatic and unthinking. Authentic means without thought, without consideration, just what naturally flows out is authentic. And then I think no, that’s not how I read the biblical anthropology. We’re supposed to be making choices deliberate and discerning in our behavior and not authentic in the sense of going with the flow and not just whatever comes in our mind comes out our mouth. That would be authentic to speak your mind but that is very destructive. If I were to speak my mind you would all leave the room very soon. It doesn’t really work. It’s the same for all of you to if you speak your mind people wouldn’t hang around for long. It wouldn’t be productive.

Q: I’d like to think what you think about small talk? Is that similar to the question about being authentic? I just had a discussion with a friend at home, if I want to know how a person is I don’t ask how are you, I asked where did you come from what are you doing…

A: I think small talk opens up possibilities of relationships and helps people to find open doors to communicate and to relax and it builds somehow a bit of shallow trust which is a start. It’s not enough. If you only have small talk that’s poverty but it can be first step in communication. Personally am very bad at small talk, I’m okay with big talk but small talk is a mystery to me. I see people doing it beautifully and artistically and I say oh, wow, that’s really a skill to be able to do that and make people comfortable and connect and then he can go on from there to more important things, oh, this is wonderful. It’s not my particular skill.

I think manners, humanizing manners, loving manners take into account who the person is and how they are. Do they want to talk about their health? I asked them how are you? And I open up a window of opportunity and then I should be able to discern, do they want to talk about how they are or not. If they do, I pursue it with them and I let them tell me about their life. Oh, you mean if someone asks you about how you are? That’s a very acrobatic situation it seems to me and I handle it in a variety of ways. I’ve been rather naughty I must say in some situations when people ask how are you? And I sense strongly that they don’t care I have said things like: oh, I’m in an agony of despair and how are you? And they don’t hear it! Because they don’t want to know!

Of course if you’re a waiter working for tips you’re partly in the entertainment business. And the question really is: do you have a positive attitude towards people? But it’s expressed badly. Sometimes you need to read the question behind the question. So the question on such a questionnaire: do you think people are basically good is not asking what it is asking. It’s asking do you have a positive attitude toward people. That’s the real question. And the answer is yes. I very much have a positive attitude towards people but literally I don’t think people are good but I have a positive attitude. And that’s what they’re looking for. You have to look behind sometimes and not to be too nitpicky and legalistic or you don’t get along.

I think it’s right to try but you’re not the only person in the room, other people have an attitude and an agenda. I’ve talked with people and the small talk goes on for half an hour and I try in various ways to get it a little bit deeper and then I realize that they are determined that we will not know each other and I cannot solve that, I cannot make that different.

You have to pick your battles you can’t fight every battle all the time. And in some cases you have to leave it so that you can come again another day in a different situation, in a different mood, in different weather, different atmospheric pressure, then things might be different.

It often is like that and I think that’s probably quite fine but sometimes the small talk is manipulative or hiding and that’s not healthy and I’m not sure how to deal with that actually. If someone is using small talk in an unhealthy way. Should I smashed down that barrier or not? I mean it’s like Pink Floyd the wall. You build the wall and you can’t just get through it. The wall is there. That I think it’s a matter for prayer. To pray for wisdom and insight into your situation and to pray for guidance and strength and the capacity to actually touch people in ways that they can be touched, that might not be part of your normal way of relating to people, that would be a special insight in such a situation. I think praying for that is very valid and often effective. We’re not that bright you see to figure it out on our own, how to love people especially if they are afraid to be loved. You really have to find the right way.

But open discussion becomes hate speech. I have been accused by English people of being insensitive. And there is no defense!

Well I think we don’t know these things but we should pray about these things and we should talk about the things and we should hope about these things because in the kingdom of God by God’s grace and as his children, we should be able to be a blessing to the world around us. We might not be able to figure it all out tonight but to start moving in that direction and thinking about what is my responsibility, how can I grow in understanding, how can I stay close to God and pray that he will guide me in these ways, I think those are very positive things for your life. Not instant but that you grow, you blessed to become larger to become more engaged in life, more expert at living, more creative and effective in your lives and this is great. This is wonderful, I think this pleases God. It’s approaching 10 o’clock shall we draw a line?

Well I think that the idea of manners, the idea of behaving well, the idea of honoring the people around you, the idea of bringing order and beauty into life are independent of your social standing or the type of work that you do because there are people who are very wealthy and they have horrible manners and they have nothing to do and they’re just slobs and their nasty to their neighbors and there are people who are in very low-paying hard-working jobs and their lives are very rich and they are very kind and ennobling and enabling people I think these principles cross all the socioeconomic lines and that everyone can be encouraged that manners… You don’t have to have a certain amount of money in order to have good manners. You can have good manners in a concentration camp like Mr. Grabinski. He didn’t have any money in that concentration camp, he had no servants. He had nothing of his background or anything, he just had his soul and his burden and then he lived. Okay. Good! Shall we pray together?

In Memoriam - April 2013

Mary Francis Johnson was born on 12 April, 1928 in North Carolina. She moved with her family to China when she was very young and spent her childhood there. Her parents were Southern Baptist Missionaries. She returned to the US with her family and went to High School in Virginia. She then went to college at Baylor in Waco Texas and the graduate school in Richmond Virginia to study Occupational Therapy. She came to Holland with her teacher and friend Anne Bates to work as missionaries there. After a couple of years they were invited to Basel to help start the Occupational Therapy Association of Switzerland. After four years in Basel, during which time they became acquainted with Francis and Edith Schaeffer and the work of L'Abri Fellowship, they were able to buy Chalet Bellevue, the large Chalet next door to the Schaeffers in Huemoz, VD. They started a pioneering work with handicapped and particularly Cerebral Palsied children. After Anne Bates died Mary became the directress of the Home and continued that work until it closed in the mid-80s. She then worked for some years at La Castalie in the Valais, a large home for handicapped children until she retired.

In 1978 she married Ellis Potter, with whom she worked in L'Abri Fellowship until they moved in 1991 to Basel, where he was called to be the pastor of the Basel Christian Fellowship. During the 1980s Mary went many times to Poland and help start and equip the school and association of Occupational Therapy. She became an honorary member of "Friends of Children", an independent association of parents of handicapped children working precariously under communism. She continued to visit Poland until she was no longer able to travel at age 80.

After 10 years of being a pastor's wife Mary moved from Basel to Riehen, where she remained in active communications with various members of the therapeutic community around the world. Because of her deteriorating health Mary lived the last year of her life in the Dominikus Haus in Riehen, where she received excellent and loving care. She was very grateful for many visits from some of you who are here now during her time at the Domikushaus and at various hospitals before that.

Mary Potter died on March 26, 2013. She is survived by her husband Ellis Potter, a nephew Robert Dambacher and a grandnephew Joshua Dambacher.

Sermon - April 2013

Mary's heroic pioneering work in the foundation of the Swiss and Polish Occupational Therapy Associations are a matter of public record and private memory. Her tireless, loving and expert care for handicapped children was evident to anyone who saw her with them. Her gracious and gentle hospitality were appreciated by all who received it. Her gentle and quiet spirit was noticed by all who met her and commented on by many.

Not all saw her rich, quick and intelligent sense of humor, which she retained even when suffering dementia. My memories of Mary feature the many times we laughed hysterically and helplessly and the running jokes we shared for decades. These united us in a childlike and sometimes even naughty happiness.

Before we were married Mary and I were very good friends for 2 years. Then we had 34 years of the ups and downs, the joys and stresses of married life that most people experience plus some unique ones. We were 20 years apart in age but not in spirit. In the last year we became very good friends again. In some ways the last year was the best, bringing us back to the lovely starting point of our relationship.

Most of us have come here today to say "See you later" to Mary because we believe in and expect the resurrection of the dead. Jesus conquered and destroyed death by his death on the Cross and rose from the grave to show us something of what our eternal lives will be like: touching, eating, drinking, thinking, talking, working, being creative, serving and inviting one another for ever in God's presence.

Let us pray: Our dear kind Father in Heaven, we thank you for Mary. We thank you for all the creative and healing work you did through her. We thank you that you have called her to be Your child and have given her such a deep assurance of belonging to You. We pray that our memories of Mary will encourage us in the goodness of our own lives. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Passion Week Reading

(A Readers’ Theatre adaptation of a harmony of the Gospels. Prepared by E. Potter)

Production notes:

This is a Reader’s Theater adaptation of a harmony of the four Gospel accounts of Passion Week from Palm Sunday through the burial of Christ. It is designed to be read in Churches and other types of meetings and is suitable for filming. No words have been added to the Scripture text but some repetitions have been left out. The narrators’ roles are substantial but several instances of “he said”, “they replied” etc. have been removed. The NIV translation has been used. The reading will work with other translations and in other languages.

No costumes, lighting, makeup, music or movement are required for the reading, although these things can be added if desired. The idea is to have a drama that is doable and effective with a minimum of time and effort. Normally one full rehearsal is enough. The readers can be on a stage, around the edge of the room or sitting in the audience, whichever seems more effective. Readers need their own full script, which they can highlight and underline. The Scripture references should not be read aloud.

The reading has 40 characters. These can be combined to reduce the number of readers required to 12-15. One reader can read the parts of Judas and Pilate or be Peter and one of the priests or part of the crowd. Groups of people, priests, disciples, the crowd, etc. should be at least three readers. A separate Narrator has been provided for each of the four Gospel: 1 – Matthew, 2 – Mark, 3 – Luke, 4 – John. These can be combined into one.

An “Easter Reading” has been prepared as a companion piece.

Download Passion Week Reading

Prayer and Meditation

We often hear the words “prayer” and “meditation” used in a variety of ways. They are both vital parts of the Christian spiritual life and we must be careful not to be confused by the non-Biblical ways they are used. Perhaps we should start by saying what prayer is not: Meditation, contemplation, thinking, imagining, feeling, action or work, communion with nature, ecstatic or transcendental experience, Union with the “ALL”, silence ritual or magic. Prayer is not natural to people, but is given by God as part of our full spiritual life with Him. Prayer is personal in that it is a communication between one person and another Person. Prayer is language – direct, definite and committed. If we read some of the prayers recorded in the Bible e.g. I Kings 8, Col. 1:9-12, Eph. 1:15-29, Phil. 1:9-11 we find that God’s people speak to him in ordinary language about both this space and time existence and about eternity – all part of our spiritual life. God speaks to us through His Word (and His creation). We can speak to Him about his Word and how it applies to our lives. We should be encouraged to pray and have communication with God, convicted of our failure to make prayer central in our lives and resolved to pursue healing, knowledge, restoration and growth in our lives before the living God who saves us.

Meditation has a Biblical and non-Biblical meaning. In Psalms 49, 5, 19, 119, etc. the Hebrew word for meditation means, “to murmur, have a deep tone, sighing or moaning”. We can think of Rom. 8: 22-27, which speaks of the creation “groaning” and the Spirit “groaning” for us. Biblical meditation is not a vague, transcendental experience or state of consciousness. The word appears most times in Psalm 119, which is one of the most highly organized chapters in the Bible. This seems to indicate that meditation is not a disorganized, “going with the flow” kind of thing. Meditation involves our reason and thinking about ordinary reality. Biblical meditation is about God’s character or His actions. Thinking is in a strait line. Meditation is like taking some information about God and holding it in our minds as if over a web or net so the Holy Spirit can show us places where it touches and applies to our lives that we never saw before. Then we can think and pray about what He shows us.

In the Eastern or new Age sense, meditation means to stop thinking and hold the mind completely still, raising ourselves up to a “higher” state of consciousness. This is very difficult to do and it actually does bring us into contact with the supernatural. However, since we are not thinking, we cannot “test the spirits” as John commands us to do in I John 4:1-3. This kind of meditation is therefore dangerous. It is also disobedient because we are setting aside part of the way God made and designed us to relate to Him. God is rational (and more than rational) and He has made us in His Image to be rational. When we come before Him to relate to Him, we must not deny or abandon anything except our sins. God sent Jesus to save us completely – our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our work, and our creative imaginations. We must present all of these parts of ourselves to Him as we grow in our spiritual life.

So, we should meditation about the deep things of the Lord and we should think and pray before and after we meditate. Then we will have a more complete and safe relationship with Him.

The return of the Prodigal Son

Art Interprets Scripture

What do you see? Community viewing.

Background questions from audience.

Scriptures: (how do you see these scriptures connected to the painting?)

The Prodigal Son

painting by Rembrandt

Luke 15:11-32




Ps 139:13-15



Mt. 27:46 “My God, My God” (Ps.22.1)

15:7-9 (Isaiah 29:13)

20:1-16 Workers in the vineyard

23:37 (Isaiah 49:15, 66:10-13)

Lecture Topics of Ellis Potter

Comparative Worldviews

Compares the Biblical Trinitarian worldview with Monism and Dualism. It takes people out of their boxes and helps them to understand how and why intelligent and lovely people have a very unbiblical worldview. Then it helps them see why only the Biblical worldview supports and sustains our lives. Can be given in one hour, but is better at 4-6 hours with discussion. Many concepts are new to the average Western person. (Handout or board)

Comprehensive Spirituality

If we grow spiritually, what would that look like? Do we become more transcendent and less visible? Is an awareness of and participation in the supernatural all that is involved in spiritual growth? This lecture explores the spiritual nature of people as originally created by God and the spirituality of the resurrected Christ. It helps people to understand the Lordship of Christ over all of life. We will be discussing the physical, rational, creative, communicative, moral, relational, emotional and supernatural aspects of spirituality. We will take a close look at the resurrection appearances of Jesus, who is our model of spirituality. We will consider the apologetic and evangelistic applications of these aspects of spirituality.(Handout)

Apologetic Considerations

Jesus is the answer, but what are the questions? This lecture has 12 points to help people develop a non-defensive, loving approach to non-Christians. “The Gospel with open ears”. (Handout)

Authority and Epistemology

Explores the nature and function of authority in God’s reality and human life. Then looks at four authoritative sources of knowledge about God: Bible, Reason, Institution and Experience – BRIE, the “cheese” lecture or the la BRIE lecture. (Handout)

Music faces death. “Requiem for my friend” by Zbigniew Preisner.

This requiem was written after the death of the filmmaker Kieslowsky by the composer of the music for his films. It is accessible to the average person, tonal (modal) and quotes many styles and centuries. The music gives permission to grieve deeply and still have hope. The lecture is a guided listening and requires a CD player. (Handout)

The Importance of Asking Honest Questions

“Don’t ask questions, dear, just believe as a little child.” This lecture explores what it means to believe as a little child (they constantly ask questions because they trust and believe there are answers). It helps people not to hide from God or each other and not to force people to pretend to understand or believe. (Manuscript handout possible)

Is Art a Commodity or a Relationship?

Should we relate to art in terms of our taste or a system of healthy diet or should we try to understand what the artist is saying and respond to it? Helps people realize that art is not just a product for sale but a communication for relationships. (Manuscript handout possible)

Filmgoers’ Discernment Guide

Using a checklist of virtues and vices, this exercise helps people understand what a film is saying about an issue, not only whether it is present in the film. It helps people get beyond their own taste toward an objective critical facility in reading films. Requires watching a film and discussion after with handout.

A Visit to a Museum

Using this 4-page questionnaire, groups of people explore various experiences and discoveries in a museum and then compare notes. People learn to see by following a “guided seeing” and by listening to how others see.

Worldview Survey

An 8 page questionnaire, helping people understand the values, hopes, fears of people with various worldviews. Most participants learn how little they know about their neighbors and are challenged to take a loving interest. It takes 90 minutes to fill out the questionnaire in 4 parts, plus discussion time.

Dokimazo and Pierazo

Starting with I Thess. 5:21 (“test everything”) this exegesis and application helps people to discern the difference between testing to find the good and testing to find the bad.

“Stop, Look and Listen”

A mini-lecture on how to slow down and relate more carefully to the culture around, trying to establish a Biblical mandate for creativity and discernment. This is followed by an interactive analysis of Rembrandt’s “Prodigal Son” (or other painting) and a short piece of music. People do not need any particular artistic or musical background in order to profit from this activity. (Requires cassette player or CD and the facility to hang a poster/print of the painting.)

Overview of the Sermon on the Mount

This lecture is a summary of many sermon on the Sermon on the Mount.

Truth is more than fact.

What Do You Think?

Facilitator's Instructions

Before handing out the survey, ask the participants to take the survey twice: once quickly for their immediate, “knee-jerk” reaction and then more slowly and reflectively. Tell them they may change as many “votes” as they like, and to circle the new answer so they can see how many they changed and any patterns that might emerge.

When everyone has finished (20-25 minutes, usually), ask how many made no changes. Then one change. Then two changes, up to 10 or more with some groups. Groups of more than 20 people usually make a beautiful bell curve with one making no changes, one making 10 or more and most making 2-4 changes. It can be interesting to point this out so that people feel “normal”.

Ask which item they would like to start talking about. Start wherever they want. When an item is chosen ask how many put “Agree Strongly”, then Agree Somewhat, then Disagree Somewhat, Disagree Strongly and Don’t Know. If everyone put the same thing it is not worth discussing. Then choose another item. When you have an item with a good variety of opinions, ask for a representative of one of the groups, perhaps “Agree Strongly” to give their reasoning for choosing what they did. Listen without comment. Then ask for a representative of one of the other groups to give the reasoning of the Agree Strongly group (NOT their own reasoning). Very possibly they will not be able to do it because they weren’t listening. So, they need to ask the Agree Strongly person to repeat themselves. Possibly they will not be able to repeat themselves because they were not listening to themselves. Wait until they can make a clear statement or change their choice to “Don’t Know”. Then get the person in the other group to give the reasoning of the Agree Strongly person and ask the Agree Strongly person if they got it right. Then ask the other person to give their own reasoning. Get all the groups to speak through a representative and ask people to give the reasoning of each other. People will probably discover that their response depends a lot on how various words are defined. This is more complicated when using a translation. See if the people can agree on what the various terms in the item mean. The facilitator should ask questions of clarification and encourage others to do the same.

Then move on to the next item. Do not come to a conclusion or identify the right response. In an hour you should be able to work with 2-4 items. Then ask how many people changed their vote during the discussion. Point out that this is one of the values of having a discussion rather than a debate or argument.

The end.

Special note for teachers in a classroom situation:

Test this procedure as a pedagogical method. Write 10 statements about the chapter studied by the class in any week. The subject can be history, mathematics, literature, language or social studies. Make some of the statements clear and some not clear, some more true and some more false. Have the students do the procedure on Friday. Then a month later give a short test on the present week’s material and on the month-old material the students discussed with this method. See if they score better on the material from a month before than on the fresh material. If they did, this works as a learning tool.

Download "What do you think?" Survey

Who Am I?

Everyone struggles with this question from time to time. We ask “Who am I in the family?” “Who am I outside the family?” “Who am I among my peers?” “Who am I at work?” “Who am I in the Church?” “What is my place?” “How do I fit in?” “Who should I be?” “How can I be the winner, the admired one, the achiever, the controller, the leader, the boss, the influential one, the righteous one, the one who knows?” “Can I affirm my identity by doing, building, serving, taking, getting, leading, submitting, enabling?”

The questions are constant, stressful, confusing, unstable and basically hopeless.

Jesus is the answer. If my identity is in Christ, I don’t need to be anyone else, but I can be who I should be. If I know who I am in Jesus, the other questions become secondary. If I worship Jesus instead of what I do, I will have more focused energy to do well. If I receive my identity from Jesus rather than trying to make or find it for myself, my identity will be stable and my life more fruitful.

This is not a fairy tale. It is the Gospel Truth. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is the answer.

Leader’s Guide to Worldview Survey

Purpose of the survey:

Do we start with the questions or with the answers when we talk with people? It is the goal of this survey to help people to learn discernment about which questions or which issues have meaning for the people they talk with. The answers someone picks may not reveal much about their own worldview. Hopefully they will help them understand the worldview of others better. Also, they will see how their worldview relates to or fits in with other worldviews; where the common and exclusive areas are. The survey, if done in a group, should stimulate discussion, not argument, as the people will not answer the questions, but simply assign them (from an emotional distance) to the appropriate groups. This can be discussed in terms of accurate or inaccurate, rather than right or wrong, and still be very educational. Taking a distant, non-emotional view of different worldviews is a very new thing for many. This survey should help.Some of the questions are a bit puzzling because life is a bit puzzling and we are not always very clear about what is important or meaningful to others. It takes some thought and discussion to get closer to reality. One of most important things for people to see is that not all questions are about me or what I think or feel. It is hoped that people can lern to see questions for what they actually are, rather than only through the lens of their own experience.

Instructions for the survey:

Individuals alone, groups in a school or in other teaching situations can use the survey. It can also be worked through together (perhaps with an overhead projector), or individually with discussion afterwards. It is suggested that this survey not be assigned as “homework”, but filled out on the spot with discussion following if possible. It was originally estimated that it would take 50-60 minutes to do the survey, but the first few groups took 90 minutes. Experience has shown that if the survey is done together in a group it stimulates a lot of discussion. If people do the survey individually and then come together with it, is seems to stimulate confession of lack of love, ignorance, not caring, lack of awareness of people around and a desire to know and care more. Perhaps you could do a couple of the items with the people to show how it works:

Sample question:

The question about the maximum age of a fetus at which abortion should be allowed is not meaningful for Catholics because they think that no age is appropriate.

Depending on your group, it might be good to do just one part of the Survey and discuss it to see how they are doing. Perhaps the rest of the Survey should wait for another time. It will be fairly obvious, especially to non-Christians taking the Survey, that it is organized from a Christian point of view. It should be useful for people with a wide range of worldviews or points of view. For the Christian it is a preparation for loving our neighbors, taking them seriously and helping them develop an appetite for the Gospel. As Christians, we know that Jesus is the Answer. This Survey helps us start thinking through how we can direct people to Him through their questions.

Download the Worldview Survey

To contact Ellis please use the following email address: ellispotter@live.com

Copyright © Ellis Potter 2021