Devotions

And She Fell at His Feet
Devotions

And She Fell at His Feet

Mary of Bethany as a Model of Christian Discipleship

Mary’s brother was dead, and there was nothing she could do to change it. A few days earlier, she and her sister, Martha, had sent for their friend. He was a known healer, but he had yet to arrive. Now, the time for healing had come and gone. All that was left was to sit and to grieve. That’s what Mary was doing when her sister found her.

“He’s here,” Martha said. “And he’s asking for you.”

If He came to heal, He was four days late. Mary went out to meet him, to ask him why he took so long. She would tell Him if He had been here, none of this would have happened. But before she could say any of this, she fell at His feet and wept.

Read the full devotion at Koinonia.

The Wind and the Waves
Devotions

The Wind and the Waves

Daily Reading:

[biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 4:11-16″]

 

Key Verse:

[readolog_blockquote ]14 Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:

As I write this, I am at the beach. The sky is clear, the breeze is light, and I might stay all afternoon.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. That’s when a wall cloud the size of Texas appeared out of nowhere and sent hundreds of beachgoers scrambling to shelter. First came the wind, then the sand, then the flying tents. Panic poured over us as we scrambled like ants in a thousand directions, not sure what to grab and what to let go. Eventually, we were able to dodge fugitive umbrellas and boogie boards and wrestle ourselves and our gear to safety.

Later, I opened God’s Word and read, “Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit.” Thanks, God, for the visual aid.

Perhaps very soon, the evangelical Christian church in America might have far more in common with the church of Ephesus than we ever have had before. No longer is the sky clear and the breeze light. A wall cloud of culture looms above us and forces us to make decisions. Why do we believe what we believe? How do we love a world that no longer loves us? And how do we make the Church effective in this culture?

Paul describes the church not as a collection of individuals worshiping and carrying out ministry programs, but tied together as one body. This body has arms and legs and muscles and bones. Every part of this body is created to function together. We’re not meant to wander in aimless confusion. We’re not meant to crouch silently, paralyzed from fear. Instead, we’re meant to act and go where our head, Jesus Christ, takes us.

And so God gives us all special gifts, spiritual gifts, to help us function as this body. He gives us leaders (apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers) to train or equip us for work in ministry. Ministry is our job, not just theirs. Everyone gets to play.

If together we use the gifts God has given each of us for the building up of one another, we then cease to be like children and become mature, a body of believers exercising discernment and knowledge and (above all else) love. We are unified in our mission and our efforts, because we are one body acting solely at Christ’s direction.

It is this body with Christ as its head that God intends to accomplish His work on Earth. We are not a collection of passive believers who lean on the “resident experts” to do God’s will. We are not a group of individuals who go to church to simply to have our needs fulfilled. Instead, we each have a part to play for the good of the whole.

Then when the storms come, and they will, we will find our strength and our purpose in the One who uniquely gifts us and pulls us together. He will direct our path, and we will go there together.

Reflection Questions

We often pray that God will help us as individuals: God help me with this, or God help me do that. How often do we pray for God to help our church?

Do you know your spiritual gifts? Do you know the spiritual gifts of those around you?

Should we explore our spiritual gifts when choosing a service role in our church or our community?

How are spiritual gifts different than Christian roles (i.e. things we are all called to do in the course of our walk with Christ)? How are they different from natural talent?

Oh How He Loves You and Me
Devotions

Oh How He Loves You and Me

Daily Reading:

Luke 7:11-17

Key Verse:
[readolog_blockquote ]Just as He neared the gate of the town, a dead man was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow. Luke 7:12[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:

Mom once told me how she’d stay up all night crying, worried how she was going to buy groceries the next day. She would sit in a rocker and hold me in her arms. I was her center, her reason to try again tomorrow. To this day, my mother is my best friend.

So when I read about a widow who was crying in the street as they ushered her only son’s body out of the city, this stopped being just another Jesus story for me. I thought about my mother and how she might feel. This could just as easily be her story – MY story.

I can’t imagine the grief of losing a child. Naomi lost her sons, and she expressed her grief passionately. “Call me Mara,” she said, “for the Lord has made me bitter.”

In 1 Kings 17, the widow of Zarapeth had already accepted the inevitability of death from starvation for both herself and her son. But by providing for Elijah, she miraculously maintained a supply of food, only for her son to perish anyway.

“She said to Elijah,’Man of God, what do we have in common? Have you come to remind me of my guilt and to kill my son?’ ” (1 Kings 17:18). But Elijah prayed, God listened, and the boy came back.

“Then Elijah took the boy, brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. Elijah said,’Look, your son is alive.’ ” (1 Kings 17:23).

And so now, in Luke, we have yet a third widow grieving over the loss of her son. But this time, God is there in the flesh. The text says Jesus “had compassion on her.” The original word is actually “splagnizod,” which is a turning over of the insides, a visceral, physical reaction to what He saw.

“Don’t cry,” He told her. What an incredibly touching moment this must have been, even if the widow didn’t fully understand why. Here was her Creator coming to her in a very real way during a very real time of grief. He was right there, in the midst of her pain to wipe away her tears. “Don’t cry.”

Why was Jesus so moved by this woman and her circumstance? Did it invoke images from the ancient days of Naomi or the widow from Zarapeth? Or maybe when He looked at this woman, He saw His own mother in the days to come.

The whole thing shows a beautiful side of our Savior, the Creator side. We’re His people. He loves us, deeply, splagnizod. And while that particular word may never be cross-stitched on a pillow (and for good reason), the ability of the one who was fully-God and fully-man to relate to our suffering in a very real way is permanently etched across our hearts.

This Jesus who approached a widow in her time of need is the same Jesus who no doubt wrapped His arms around my weeping mother in the middle of the night as she held her only son and waited on God’s faithful provision. “Don’t cry.”

I love this Jesus, and I know that He loves me.

Reflection Questions

  1. How has God loved you this week? It may be hard to see Him through the crowds. But perhaps He was right beside you.
  2. What loss are you grieving? A loved one, a relationship, a job, or maybe even a dream?
  3. How honest are you with God (and yourself) about your feelings? We’re not told the widow asked for Jesus’s help, or even that she believed. He was moved by her grief. Whatever our answer to question 2, how have you expressed that grief to God?

Have Mercy On Me, A Tax Collector
Devotions

Have Mercy On Me, A Tax Collector

Daily Reading:
Matthew 9:9-13  |  Mark 2:13-17  |  Luke  5:27-32

Key Verse:

[readolog_blockquote ]When the Pharisees saw this, they asked the disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:11[/readolog_blockquote]

Devotion:
Next month, I visit my accountant to file my 2012 tax return. He’s very good at his job, and he seems to somehow enjoy it, which I can’t help but find a little strange.

Each year, I sit across the desk from this guy and wonder how he does it. Not that my taxes are that difficult. But there’s no way around the fact that he’ll have the unenviable task of telling someone (hopefully not me) that Uncle Sam needs more from them this year than they anticipated.

If beautiful are the feet that bring good news, how ugly are the ones that deliver a big, fat tax bill? Consider, for a moment, what it might be like if those people had to pay him directly for their taxes. Better yet, what if he raised the amount so he could keep a little (or a lot) for himself?

To take it one step further, what if his very existence was their constant reminder of an occupying government that took their freedom and used him, a traitor to his own people, to make their lives as miserable as possible? That would make next month’s appointment much less enjoyable.

The Bible tells us about a guy just like that. His name was Matthew. And he was a disciple.

It’s not at all unlike God to use the most human of people to do the most heavenly of things. In our weakness, His strength is made perfect. So He uses people who are at the end of themselves to begin the things that only He can do.

The Pharisees in this story didn’t get that email. They were all about their own strength. And they had lots of rules to prove it. Spiritual acts like sacrifice were less about obeying God and more about showcasing their knowledge and capacity to keep the law. They were spiritual rock stars, not at all like that slacker guy Matthew and his sinner friends at the tax booth. Boo!

I guess that’s why, in Matthew 9:11, they thought it strange to find Jesus kicking back and breaking bread with half of the Roman IRS. Matthew was throwing a dinner party for Jesus. He’d even called a few buddies over and introduced them to his new friend.

So the Pharisees asked the disciples (not Jesus directly), “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

In all three Gospel accounts of this story, we see Jesus offer a fairly straightforward response when the Pharisees question his association with these people. “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do,” Jesus said.

Okay, fair enough. The Pharisees could sort of get this one. To say the tax collectors and sinners were spiritually sick was not out of bounds with their way of thinking. But in Matthew’s account, Jesus takes it a step further. “Go and learn what this means,” he begins. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

This is my new favorite part of the story. “Go and learn what this means” was what a rabbi of that time would say when he quoted a text. In other words, “Take what I say and go think about what God is telling you.” By saying this to the Pharisees, Jesus was speaking to them as an authority.

What text was he quoting? Hosea 6:6: “For I desire loyalty (mercy) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

So why does God value mercy for a sinner over the sacrifices of a saint? Perhaps it’s the same reason we might rejoice at the healing of someone who is terminally ill over the continued well-being of someone who is healthy. “Those who are sick don’t need a doctor, but the sick do.”

Enter Matthew, or Levi as he was known in Hebrew circles. Who better to tell us this part of the story than the one who experienced the miraculous mercy of Jesus first-hand?

Matthew most likely had no idea how his life would change when he left for work that morning. But what started out as just another ordinary day at the tax booth ended when Jesus uttered two words, the same two words that have been changing lives ever since. “Follow me.”

Jesus continued, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” The Bible says there’s no one who’s righteous, no not one. I’m guessing the Pharisees weren’t counting themselves among the tax collectors and sinners. But in reality, their question could’ve been rephrased to ask, “Why does your Teacher eat with us?”

Reflection Questions
Does mercy have a seat at our table? Or have we made our own rules about who can and can’t join us for dinner?

Are we prepared to accept others as Jesus accepts them, without condition? Or have we exchanged mercy for something more comfortable and less controversial?

Lastly, when He asked us to follow Him, did we consider the places He might go?

The Feet That Bring Bad News
Devotions

The Feet That Bring Bad News

Part 3 of 3 in the John 13 series

[readolog_blockquote ]After he said these things, Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “One of you is going to betray me.” John 13:21[/readolog_blockquote]

The twelve men were most likely still trying to process what was happening.   Jesus was washing their feet.   He had gone to each of them, one by one, performing the most humble and menial of tasks with the love and care of a Creator for his created.

Now, as He takes His place at the table once again, He says, “So now you’re clean.   But not every one of you.”   Oops. Did he skip one?   Let’s see.   Twelve men, that’s twenty four feet.   No, that’s all of them.   So what did Jesus mean by this?

Here in the middle of this touching act of service, an act that foreshadows the ultimate sacrifice Jesus would soon make, comes a reveal more shocking than anything we’ve seen on “Lost.”

Verse 21 says, “Jesus became visibly upset, and then he told them why. “˜One of you is going to betray me.'” If they had commercials in first century AD, they would have cut to one here.

By now, we know the rest of the story.   Jesus identifies Judas as His betrayer, sending him out to “Do it, and get it over with.”   While the other eleven disciples are still confused, it’s clear to us that Jesus knew as he washed Judas’ feet what was to happen.   Jesus knew what Judas would do.   And still He washed the feet of the man who would soon hand Him over to a brutal and shameful death.

So, when Jesus said earlier, “I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you,” did He also mean washing the feet of the very one who least deserved it?

And if so, what does that mean for us?   What does this tell us about how Jesus treats us?   What does this tell us about how we are to treat one another?

 

Dinner and a Movie
Devotions

Dinner and a Movie

Part 2 of 3 in the John 13 series

[readolog_blockquote ]Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

John 13:38[/readolog_blockquote]

Movies have a way of transforming us instantly.   We watch a James Bond movie and leave the theatre noticing every detail about everyone around us, ready to jump into action at the first sign of danger.   We watch a war hero selflessly sacrifice his life for the sake of those around him.   Then we leave ready to do the same, certain that we are prepared to answer just such a call.

This was Peter after his last meal with Jesus.   He had been caught up in the drama playing out around him.   “I will lay down my life for you,” he tells Jesus.   But Jesus knows better.   This was no movie.   This was all too real.

“Will you really lay down your life for me?   I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

Ouch.   Talk about busting your bubble.   It’s easy to watch from a distance and consider ourselves worthy of participation.   But when we are the main characters, life seems anything but cinematic.   Peter left the theatre ready to risk it all.   But as Jesus predicts, his first test ends miserably as he in fact disowns Jesus not once, not twice, but three times.

What Peter promised was not a bad thing.   The problem was in his motivation.   He was more focused on his own glory than the necessary sacrifice that would have to be made.   Certainly, there are moments in life when we are called to do the right thing, the hard thing.   But those moments are anything but glorious, let along Oscar-winning performances.

In short, we can be in the movie, or we can watch the movie.   But we can’t do both.   The choice is up to each of us.

Disciples Didn’t Go To Day Spas
Devotions

Disciples Didn’t Go To Day Spas

Part 1 of 3 in the John 13 series

man_450.jpg

[readolog_blockquote ]Then [Jesus] said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You address me as’Teacher’ and’Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do.
John 13: 17[/readolog_blockquote]

Disciples didn’t go to day spas, and they didn’t wear New Balance.   Most theologians agree on these points.   And since we’re also fairly certain they didn’t drive Mini Coopers, it’s safe to say they walked . . . everywhere.   The unfortunate conclusion of these historical certainties is that disciples had dirty, ugly, smelly feet.

But so did everyone.   It was in the fine print when you signed up to be a Biblical character.     And so upon entering one’s house, most people compensated as would you or I by washing their feet.   And feet being what they are, you can imagine that this was a pretty personal thing.   In fact, to wash another person’s feet was considered so demeaning that the laws forbid a Jewish slave from being forced to do it.   You had to call in the “B” team, the Gentile slaves, for something like that.

So you can imagine what the disciples must have thought in John 13 when Jesus got on his hands and knees and began to wash their feet.   Other than Gentile slaves, this kind of thing was only done by wives for husbands or children for parents, and maybe disciples for teachers.   But it was never done by teachers for disciples.   And yet there Jesus was, kneeling, washing, and teaching all at the same time.

Peter (typical Peter) protests Jesus’ action. But Jesus says, “If I don’t wash you, you can’t be part of what I’m doing.”

That statement goes a little deeper than the bowl of water on the floor.   Jesus was getting ready to endure humiliation that would make washing feet seem like a walk in the park.   But without it, humanity would be lost, and He loved us too much to let that happen.   The tough part for Peter, and perhaps for us, is in realizing that to be a part of what Jesus did and is doing, we too must learn about true love and be willing to humble ourselves enough to serve one another.

“I’ve laid down a pattern for you,” He said. “What I’ve done, you do.”

So the next time someone shows us their dirty, ugly, smelly feet (or any other part of their anatomy for that matter), perhaps we should consider this story.   As Christians, perhaps we  should be the first on the scene to do the jobs that must be done but  that no one else wants to do.

Devotions

The Thunder and The Cup

thunder_cropped.jpg
There are  times in life when the clouds  over “Brandon  World” part and the light of  reality breaks through, even if for a moment.   These are times when, for whatever reason, I am quiet enough, still enough,  or weak enough to experience God and His Word.   This is one of those times.

To Lead  Like Thunder
I didn’t know until recently that Jesus called James and John the “Sons of Thunder.”    Apparently, these two brothers earned that name by being bold and  head-strong,  even to a fault.   They were movers and shakers, leaders among their peers, make-it-happen kind of guys.   We all know people like this, people who are  really good at getting results but that  are  so goal-oriented that things like sensitivity, or fairness,  or  . . . oh, I don’t know . . . other people,   just seem to get in the way.

The Sons of Thunder were famous for tripping over their own goals.   There’s a great story in Matthew 20 where James and John  use  their mother to  approach Jesus with a special request. In verse 21 she says, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”

Stop the truck!   What?   When I first read this, I thought,”That sounds just like a couple of  God Squad  wannabe’s.   Always  trying to sit  next to the most popular guy in school.”   I mean, really.   They  can’t even ask for themselves?   They have to get  their mother  to do it?    And when the other disciples weren’t around?   How calculated!   Then I looked in the mirror.  

I hate to say it, but my reflection looks an awful lot like this story.   I too have been concerned with where I might sit in the grand scheme of things.    I too  have become so goal-oritented  and ambitious that I failed to see the big picture – a picture that included the feelings of those around me.   But I still can’t say that my actions have ever been purely selfish.   Nor  should we assume this for James and John.   Who wouldn’t want to spend eternity next to Jesus?    These guys were being who God made them to be.   They were seeking their place.   And they felt they had found it next to Jesus.  

Unfortunately  their actions, like my actions,  sound an awful lot like thunder.   Loud, but that’s about it.

To Drink from the Cup
cup_cropped.jpgDon’t get me wrong.   To lead like thunder can be effective.    But  sometimes it’s only in the  lonely echoes of failure  that the whisper of  Truth can be heard.   This Truth is as humbling as it is powerful.   When it speaks of leadership, it makes no promises of success, or acceptance, or of thrones at the right hand of God.   Instead,  it warns that to lead is  to be misunderstood, distanced,  or even despised.

What does Jesus say to James and John’s request?   “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them (not to their mother). “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”

Can’t you just see James and John standing there like Forrest and Bubba in front of Lt. Dan?   They look at each other, then back at Jesus, blank stares and blind confidence, nodding  “Uh huh.”  

The scene had to be similarly amusing for Jesus at first.   But I can’t help but wonder if His face grew sad with the thought of what was to come for these Sons of Thunder.   I say this because as He was setting them straight on who makes the seating chart in Heaven, He also  says to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup.”

Fourteen years after this story takes place, James becomes the first of the disciples to be  martyred.   His brother John, while living longer, does so in exile on a remote island, a prison camp, where he  sees how the world  will end.   The true cup of leadership is often not at all what we envision.   It is more a responsibility than  a privilege.   And its taste  is often bitter at best.

It’s later in this story that we find one of the most profound statements of leadership ever recorded in history.   Speaking to the disciples of  James and John’s request, Jesus says, (28)   “. . .  the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

And so for modern-day Sons of Thunder, there is a profound lesson to be learned here:

Leadership is not about where you sit.   It’s about the cup you drink from.