Scripture – Luke 21:34-35

But take heed to yourselves and be on your guard, lest your hearts be overburdened and depressed (weighed down) with the giddiness and headache and nausea of self-indulgence, drunkenness, and worldly worries and cares pertaining to [the business of] this life, and [lest] that day come upon you suddenly like a trap or a noose;

For it will come upon all who live upon the face of the entire earth.

Observation

There is a real need to be on our guard. Not so much to be guarded of other people but rather of the anxiety and worries of this world. Jesus wants us to take this seriously because “it will come upon all who live upon the face of the earth“. There is no escape from  self-indulgence, drunkenness (giving over control to something else) and the cares pertaining to the business of this life. No matter if you are a an upper-class Belgian aristocrat, a Tibetan Buddhist monk, or a farmer in Iowa, these worries will come upon you.

Application

I must be on my guard. I must not live in naïvety that I am immune or hidden from these worries. But in Jesus I am able to withstand these worries, to lay them at his feet and in so doing keep my heart from being overburdened or depressed by their weight.

Sometimes I do feel overwhelmed. And if I think about the root cause, it is from the worries and cares of the business of this life. The sky and the earth will pass away but the Words of God will never pass away. I know if I begin to feel overwhelmed, I need to guard my heart and my mind, to put back on the helmet of salvation and refocus my attention on Jesus who is by nature a Savior, who can lift me up above any worry or care lest my heart become overburdened and depressed.

Prayer

Father, thank you for your timely words today. It is so good to be in your presence and in your word. I pray for wisdom today that I might see in advance the potential threat of my heart becoming overwhelmed by the cares of this life. I love you. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Becoming a disciple: do not forget to give thanks

Scripture – Luke 17:17

Then Jesus asked, Were not [all] ten cleansed? Where are the nine?

Observation

Ten lepers begged Jesus to heal them. He did. One came back to thank him.

Application

How often have I received answers to prayer or special blessings, only to forget to properly thank Jesus? This is a reminder to not only have a thankful heart at all times but to specifically thank Jesus EVERY time he blesses and answers prayer.

Prayer

Father, I repent of being self-focused and ungrateful. I choose to count my blessings and my answered prayers today. You are so good to me. You are so patient and forgiving. Thank you. Be glorified by my life today. In Jesus’ name, amen.

 

Becoming a disciple: go to the notorious sinners

Scripture – Luke 15:1-2

Now the tax collectors and [notorious and especially wicked] sinners were all coming near to [Jesus] to listen to Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes kept muttering and indignantly complaining, saying, This man accepts and receives and welcomes [preeminently wicked] sinners and eats with them.

Observation

It wasn’t just regular people who were coming to Jesus in this story, it was the worst of the worst. Notorious and especially wicked, preeminently wicked people. There was no escaping the fact that these people were sinners. They weren’t people who had some immoral thoughts now and again or who smoked dope a little too often. They were notorious for their sin.

I imagine who today we would consider notorious sinners…

Murderers. Rapists. Thieves. Prostitutes. Racketeers. Pedophiles.

If there were a club today all these kinds of people hung out at, and Jesus arrived in town, and headed straight to that club to “accept, receive, welcome, and eat with” these people, what would we think?

Application

We need to go to the notorious sinners.

Prayer

Father, thank you for revealing your truth today. Jesus, thank you for your example of mission. Help me walk on the paths of your mission too. Amen.

It could cost anything up to and including everything

Scripture – Luke 14:26 (amplified)

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his [own] father and mother in the sense of indifference to or relative disregard for them in comparison with his attitude toward God] and [likewise] his wife and children and brothers and sisters—[yes] and even his own life also—he cannot be My disciple.

Observation

We usually skim past this verse because it is often translated “if anyone comes to me and does not HATE his own father and mother, spouse and kids, siblings and even their own life, he cannot be my disciple”. We are very sensitive to the word HATE.

This is such an important verse because Jesus is talking about the cost of being a disciple so we need to understand it. The concept of honoring (esteeming, valuing as precious, revering with tenderness of feeling and deference) our parents is throughout the Bible and it is the first commandment with a promise (long life). Jesus is not negating anything he has already said, but rather he is making clear the cost of being his follower – the adherence to the first commandment (you shall have no other gods before me).

Throughout history God had to keep reminding his people Israel to make him first and put away the things they valued, esteemed, and revered more than they did him.

Jesus is clear that you cannot be a disciple of his unless he is unequivocally NUMBER ONE: ahead of mother, father, spouse, child, sibling and even one’s own life.

That is the cost of being his disciple.

Application

Today is October 1 2012. Twelve days ago, on September 19 2012, my third daughter, Eva Lucia was born prematurely at 22 weeks. My wife and I had an incredible 45 minutes with her alive in our arms before she passed into the hands of Jesus. It was beautiful yet tragic. Perfect yet devastating. I miss her so much yet I am so blessed and thankful to know she is in heaven with my king, where there is no pain, no fear, just love and joy.

Sometimes following Jesus seems to cost more than we can wrap our minds around. This is why he is very clear that to be his disciple could cost anything up to and including everything. If we count the cost at the beginning and make the decision to follow Jesus no matter the cost, we will never be crippled by fear or grief.

Jesus is worth my every breath, my every heart beat, my every thought, word and action. In my human condition I rarely give him a fraction of these things but I desire him to be glorified (made number one) by every facet of my life.

I lost the honor and privilege of raising Eva Lucia to know and love Jesus here on this earth for a few decades, but I know she knows and loves him and sees him face to face even as I write this. My mind and heart cannot contain the joy I have to know this.

Prayer

Father, you are such a good dad. You have blessed me so incredibly I am without words. Thank you for reminding me the true cost of following your Son Jesus. It costs me everything. It cost you everything to rescue me. Thank you. I love you.

Becoming a disciple: knowing God as holy

Scripture – Ezekiel 8:14

Then he brought me to the entrance to the north gate of the house of the Lord, and I saw women sitting there, mourning for Tammuz.

Observation

tam’-uz, tam’-mooz (tammuz; Thammouz):

He was originally a Babylonian sun-god, called Dumuzu, the husband of Ishtar, who corresponds to Aphrodite of the Greeks. The Babylonian myth represents Dumuzu, or Tammuz, as a beautiful shepherd slain by a wild boar, the symbol of winter. Ishtar long mourned for him and descended into the underworld to deliver him from the embrace of death. This mourning for Tammuz was celebrated in Babylonia by women on the 2nd day of the 4th month. This custom of weeping for Tammuz is referred to in the Bible in the only passage where the name occurs (Ezekiel 8:14). The chief seat of the cult in Syria was Gebal in Phoenicia, to the South of which the river Adonis has its mouth, and its source is the magnificent fountain of Apheca, where was the celebrated temple of Venus or Aphrodite, the ruins of which still exist. The women of Gebal used to repair to this temple in midsummer to celebrate the death of Tammuz, and there arose in connection with this celebration those licentious rites which rendered the cult so infamous that it was suppressed by Constantine the Great.

Ezekiel had been transported in the Spirit to Jerusalem to be shown how wicked the people had become. The detestable customs of the babylonians had traveled to Jerusalem and the women of Judah were even celebrating this foreign idol at the north gate of the house of the Lord!

Application

What foreign and detestable things are we bringing into the presence of the Lord? The whole book of Ezekiel is wrapped around the core theme of Ezekiel 38:23 “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.”

What do I out above the holiness of God? What have I absorbed from the culture around me that I unknowingly have brought into the presence of God?

Prayer

Father, you are holy. You will not let you holy name be profaned. Please reveal to me any way I am acting like these women of Judah who mourned for Tammuz at your temple gate. Show me my errant ways. I need your discipline and your love. Please keep my hands clean and my heart pure. I pray the nations would know you are the Holy One, not just in Israel but in the whole earth. Thank you for calling me to your side and to follow you. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

The Story of Malchus (everyone has a story)

When Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, St. Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, a servant of the high priest, who was then healed by Jesus This is the story of Malchus…


Detail of Fra Angelico, “Arrest of Christ” (c.1450). Fresco, 182 x 181. Museo di San Marco, Cell 33, Florence, Italy. 

“You are my ear, boy,” says Caiaphas the High Priest to his servant Malchus. “Now go! Tell me what’s happening.” His words are sharp.

Malchus hasn’t been a boy for years, but he is in no position to protest. In fact, Malchus takes pride in being servant to the most powerful Jew in Israel. When he ventures out of the temple into Jerusalem proper, people who know of him treat him with respect.

“We’re so glad you’re here, Malchus,” they say. “How may we help you, Malchus?”

His special talent is listening, hearing. As reigning high priest in an intensely political environment, Caiaphas has many enemies. Malchus is indeed his ear in the city.

Lately, he has been dispatched to learn about Jesus, prophet of Nazareth, who is visiting for Passover. Malchus listens as Jesus teaches in the temple colonnade called Solomon’s Porch.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” Jesus is saying. “No one comes to the Father, but by me.”

What arrogance! thinks the servant. He moves among the crowd incognito, ear open for a seditious comment he can report back to his master.

“Come to me, all you who are weak and heavy laden,” Jesus continues, “and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Strange, thinks Malchus. How does arrogance fit with gentleness and humility. Malchus sees arrogance and pride up close every day. What isthis?

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them,” Jesus is saying now.

Not only Gentile rulers are like that! reflects Malchus. All rulers want to flex their muscles and make others jump — at least the rulers he’s familiar with.

“Not so with you,” Jesus continues. “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your slave, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Strange words! Amazing words to this slave. So Jesus sees himself as a servant, not a would-be dictator. So different from Caiaphas!

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost,” Jesus concludes.

Who’s lost? wonders Malchus.

Gradually, he begins to recognize the Teacher’s followers. An astute observer of body language, Malchus focuses in on one man, Judas. Ambivalence is written all over him. So Malchus befriends him and arranges for a discreet meeting with Caiaphas.

Now it is night, Passover night, and Malchus goes on a hush-hush mission with temple soldiers — and Judas. They move into the Garden of Gethsemane. Suddenly, they encounter someone and soldiers converge, their torches casting eerie dancing shadows among the gnarled olive trees. Malchus, breathing hard, catches up.

Jesus is standing, somehow calm amidst the confusion. “Who are you looking for?” he asks.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” is the retort.

“I am he,” says Jesus.

Now, with supreme hypocrisy, Judas kisses him to confirm the identification and the soldiers move in. One disciple flashes a sword and begins to brandish it wildly.

Malchus is struck, blood gushing from his head. The blade has sliced his ear clean off. He clutches at his head to stop the bleeding and drops to one knee. Blood is pouring down his neck, drenching his cloak. He begins to wobble, blackness is engulfing him.

Then a sudden warmth. Pain ceases, and the flickering light of the torches reappears. Jesus is kneeling before him, right hand covering his wound. All Malchus can see is the man’s eyes filled with a gentleness and love that melt all enmity.

“You’ll be all right, now,” Jesus assures him.

A soldier jerks Jesus to his feet and the spell of the moment is broken. Malchus reaches up to feel his head. The ear is there — all of it. His ear is whole, the bleeding stopped, only his blood-soaked cloak to indicate that there ever was a wound.

But the crowd has moved on now, torchlight diminishing, voices receding. Malchus is alone.

“You are my ear, boy.”

Oh, yes! He must run to report what had happened. He must get up and run.

Somehow he cannot. The drive to please his master is gone. He cannot forget those gentle eyes boring into his soul. He cannot forget the hand on his face. He hears Jesus’ words again, “You’ll be all right now.” Words of concern — for him, an enemy, deeply involved in the plot to silence the Teacher. He is an agent of Jesus’ arch enemy, yet Jesus heals him. It doesn’t make sense.

Finally, Malchus gets to his feet and returns to the palace. The courtyard is astir with news of Jesus’ capture. “The Nazarene is inside being interrogated right now,” says one. “The elders have gathered to try him.”

Malchus returns to his room and removes his stiffening cloak and tunic. He washes the caked blood from his shoulder, arm, and face, and soaks his hair and beard to dissolve the remaining blood. All the time he stares at his ear in the mirror. It is whole, undamaged, without pain.

What have I done to this kind, gentle man? Malchus asks himself.

The rest of the day is a blur. He follows the multitude to Pilate’s quarters, hears the Roman’s pathetic attempt at washing his hands of the matter, and goes behind as the crowd surges up the narrow streets to Golgotha, just outside the city. By the time Malchus arrives on the hilltop, Jesus is hanging from a cross, his body and face mutilated almost beyond recognition.

Malchus is aghast at what he has done, at his part in this ugly business. Jesus’ words flood back, “… To seek and save the lost.” Surely, I am lost, says Malchus. I have shed innocent blood.

Now Caiaphas arrives, puffing, strutting, taunting. So vengeful, so petty, so filled with hatred.

Malchus burns with shame. He kneels, but no one is watching as he pours out his agony and begs forgiveness. Thunder cracks. Wind blows. As Malchus strains his ear — his whole ear — he can hear Jesus’ unbelievably gracious answer to his cry: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Malchus rises. The man they call “the ear of Caiaphas” is different, for this slave’s ear now listens for a new Master.

______________________

This fictional story is based on Luke 22:49-51.

what’s your story?

Becoming a disciple: The art of timing and retreat

 

Scripture – John 11:54

Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the Jews. Instead he withdrew to a region near the desert, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples.

Observation

There are strategic times in life to withdraw from the public eye, to go somewhere where you are not known, to stay with a smaller group of friends or believers. Although the Jews were plotting to arrest Jesus, he could have still gone into Jerusalem and prevented anyone from taking him by force, but Jesus understood timing and he understood retreat. In what ways can I learn from Jesus the art of timing and of retreat? Many would have thought that being in Jerusalem during the few weeks before the passover, as the crowds began to pour in, getting ready for the feast, doing the ceremonial washings and such, would have been an important time for Jesus to be able to interface with the masses, do a little campaigning, give some public exposure to some of his line up of miracles. But no. He retreated to a little almost-in-the-desert village, Ephraim, that was so podunk that no-one thought to look for him there. He wasn’t concerned about doing all the things people expected of him, but stayed focused on what his father had asked him to do.

Application

In ministry, there are so many times that our presence is somehow expected, that it can feel like a performance. Jesus was anti-performance. He understood the wisdom of retreat and the art of timing. I want to grasp to a greater degree this art of timing and the deep knowing of when I need to retreat from public. I need to discern when I need to do this alone and when I need to do this as part of a team.

Prayer

Father, please teach me to only do what you ask me, as Jesus did. Let me not be swayed by what I think people expect of me, but rather keep me focused on doing only what you say. Give me wisdom so that I may understand the art of timing and of retreat. I pray you are pleased with my heart today. I so desperately want it bent around you. In need of your mercy and grace, I am grateful to be considered your son today. In Jesus’ name, amen.

modern day ephraim (called taybeh) is the only christian town in israel/palestine.