A One-Day Workshop with Jesus, Part 2 (Reflections on Matt 14)

Lesson 2: Compelled by Compassion

The disciples had observed the priority their Teacher had placed on personal, private prayer. This was an important lesson for them–one that would be reiterated throughout their ministry mentorship with Jesus. On this occasion, as they accompanied Him to the place of his prayer retreat, yet another ministry lesson came into focus. Again, it was not a lecture, or even an answer to one of their questions. Rather, it was a glimpse into the heart of their Teacher which allowed them to see the motivation behind His ministry.

As Jesus withdrew by boat to the solitary place for prayer, something caused him to change his plans. His personal retreat was momentarily postponed. Matthew explains why:

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:13-14 ESV)

What exactly had preempted Jesus’ plans? What had caused him to turn aside from the important activity of prayer?

handsHis heart of compassion. He had compassion on them. The sight of a helpless multitude of people looking for a morsel of hope compelled Jesus to interrupt what He was doing in order to shepherd those lost sheep. And so, for the better part of the day, the disciples watched as Jesus moved among the people, touching and healing them, as He taught them about the Heavenly Father who loved them and cared for them.

The take-away for the disciples? It was this: Jesus had demonstrated for them exactly what a heart for ministry looks like. It is compassionate concern for those in need. And if something is important enough to interrupt a personal prayer time, it must be really important. If prayer provides the gateway to empower our ministry, compassion fuels our motivation for ministry.

In the days to follow, Jesus would continue to mentor His disciples to become compassionate shepherds as He traveled about teaching and healing and giving them opportunities to do the same. He healed blind men; he made lepers clean; and every time, the disciples saw that same familiar look on Jesus’ face–the look of compassionate concern, the tender kindness of a Physician who enters into the suffering of his sick patients and desperately wants to help them.

Peter evidently “caught” the concept. This was probably in part because of that famous three-question oral exam Jesus gave Him after the Resurrection. Every time Peter tried to answer the question Do you love me?, the Teacher had admonished him to “feed my sheep.” Later Peter would write to other church leaders:

...shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:2-4 ESV)

FOR PERSONAL REFLECTION: The question for us today: what truly motivates us for ministry? Is it a heart of compassion for others? Are we compassionate enough to allow our personal plans to get interrupted? Let’s pray that Christ will create in us a true heart of compassion. Let’s pray that Christ may allow our hearts to be broken over what breaks His.


A One-Day Workshop with Jesus, Part 1 (Reflections on Matt 14)

Mentoring has become an increasingly popular method of teaching. The Bible is filled with examples of effective student-teacher interactions of this type. But arguably none were more effective than the mentorship provided by Christ to His chosen Twelve. In these devotional thoughts, we are going to look at one day the disciples spent with their Mentor, as recorded in Matthew 14, and hopefully discover a few “lessons” Jesus imparted to his disciples as He was preparing them as ministry leaders.

Lesson 1: The Priority of Private Prayer

Some mentoring lessons are not so much “taught” as they are “caught.” This was true for the disciples as they learned by direct observation of the behavior and actions of their amazing Teacher. The first lesson of the day was this kind of learning.
He [Herod the Tetrarch] sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. (Matthew 14:10-13a ESV)

kneel in prayer

Whether because of grief or because of the crowd’s expectations, or simply to rest, Jesus needed to get away to the desolate (or solitary) place. The solitary place was a place for prayer, to process things with the Heavenly Father. Jesus had begun His ministry with a forty-day prayer retreat in the solitary place. The Gospel of Mark (1:35) notes that Jesus got up before daybreak and went off to a solitary place for prayer. Later He would visit the solitary place of the Garden of Gethsemane for a time of intense prayer on the eve of His crucifixion. And in the present instance, in the midst of the grief and uproar around the death of John the Baptist, Jesus removed Himself to a place where evil and chaos could once again be placed in proper perspective–in quiet communion with His Heavenly Father. He did it because He needed to–He wanted to hear the Father’s voice and commune with Him.

The disciples surely took notice. If Jesus their Teacher found it necessary to spend time with the Heavenly Father in prayer, how much more so would it be important for them? Luke’s Gospel even introduces the Lord’s Prayer (Luke 11:1-4) as a request from one of Jesus’ disciples to teach them to pray. They knew prayer was important to their Teacher.
Peter must have learned the lesson. As a leader in the early Church, he spent time alone in private prayer. It was on that rooftop in prayer that God helped him grow in his understanding of the Gospel. He later encouraged the Christians scattered due to persecution to “cast all your cares upon Him (God) because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

FOR REFLECTION: So, what about you and me? Do we intentionally follow Jesus’ example, especially in the intensity of our ministries, to get away to the solitary place for prayer, to hear the Father’s voice and rest in His Presence? Ministry 101 begins with the simple but important truth: private prayer is essential for fruitful ministry.


A Thanksgiving/Christmas Thought

We know we have many reasons to offer thanksgiving to God. If we were to list all the ways God meets our physical needs, it would be quite a long list. During the Thanksgiving season particularly we are reminded of the many physical blessings we have received from the hand of the Lord: food, shelter, protection, and God’s blessing of the work of our hands. Along with these physical blessings, God has also given us something far greater than those: He has given us a Savior–His Only Son Jesus, who came to give us eternal life!
Scripture records the account of one of the first people to offer thanks to God for Jesus. Her name was Anna, and the story is found in Luke 2:

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. [22] When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord …[36] There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, [37] and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. [38] Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:21- 22, 36-38 (NIV)

Anna had dedicated her life to prayer and fasting in the temple. She spent her days talking with God and listening to Him speak to her heart. Because of the spiritual fine-tuning God gave to her heart as she spent day after day in His presence, she was able to recognize the eight-day old baby Jesus as the long-awaited Savior God when Mary and Joseph brought him to the temple. As she began to prophesy about the child, her first response was to give thanks to God for Jesus. Right before her very eyes was the child who was the Promised Redeemer of Israel, the Messiah!

That Child was God’s greatest gift to Anna, to the nation of Israel, and to all the world–including us! By giving us Jesus, God provided something we could never have provided for ourselves: forgiveness of sin and the hope of eternal life with God. Later, the apostle Paul would echo the words of Anna as he declared: Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)

In the midst of giving thanks to God for the wealth of material blessings we have received, let’s also remember to have the heart of Anna and Paul as we thank God for the gift of His Son, our Savior and Lord, Jesus.


Aches and Pains (of a Spiritual Nature), Part 2: Hunger Pains

Hunger Pains20120104-063823.jpg

Hunger pains are a physical sensation which signals to the human body the need to consume food in order to fuel the body’s energy. When we go awhile without eating, the empty stomach may experience some muscle contractions. The resulting discomfort is commonly referred to as hunger pains.

Jesus knew about physical hunger. He had fasted for forty days in the wilderness, and afterward, the Scriptures tell us he was hungry. The temptor appealed to Jesus’ physical need for food to wage his first attack:

The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Matthew 4:3 (NIV)

But Jesus also knew that there is much more to living life as God intends than constantly striving to meet our physical needs. Living daily in such a way to please God and bring him glory requires our complete dependence upon God himself to provide the resources for such an endeavor.

Although he was indeed very hungry after a forty-day fast,  Jesus’ response to the devil’s temptation reveals that he had more on his mind than just physical hunger:

Jesus answered, “It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ “ Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

As he would soon be teaching the multitudes on a Galilean hillside, Jesus wanted them to hunger for spiritual things. He longed for each one to have a longing in his soul for a right relationship with the Heavenly Father–so much so that it would produce spiritual hunger pains. Jesus knew that everyone who hungered for God would not leave unsatisfied, but rather, God the Father would fill them with heavenly fare, things such as mercy, forgiveness, hope, and joy!

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6 (NIV)

Lord, we want to be concerned with more than our physical needs. We sense that our greatest needs are, instead, spiritual in nature. Give us a holy discontent, spiritual hunger pains, which can draw our hearts heavenward in search of the nourishment which can only be found in You. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.


Aches and Pains (of a Spiritual Nature), Part 1

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Withdrawal Pains

To begin to follow Christ involves a decision that cannot be compared with any other decision, except in the fact that it is a decision we continue to make on a daily basis. It is a turning from self and turning to Christ. And the process can be a painful one. As the Lord works in us to conform us more and more to His image, we may experience some degree of pain in the process. Just as someone used to drinking several cups of coffee a day might experience headaches as a result of withdrawal from caffeine, so we as Christians experience a bit of shock to our system as we withdraw from ourselves and grow in newness of life in Christ. As Paul wrote:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; [23] to be made new in the attitude of your minds; [24] and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:22-24 (NIV)

Putting off the old way of life, and putting on the new can and often does cause withdrawal pains. In fact, there is nothing pleasant about crucifying the flesh. But that is exactly what we are called to do as we follow our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. [35] For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.  Mark 8:34-35 (NIV)

Lord, we look to You as the Author and Finisher of our faith. Give us grace to withdraw from self and be filled with You more and more each day. In Jesus’ Name, AMEN.


DARKNESS IN 3D

Darkness in 3D

 

Mark 15:29-34 (NIV)

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, [30] come down from the cross and save yourself!” [31] In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! [32] Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him. [33] At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. [34] And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud                                                                                               
voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? “—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

 

Three Dimensions of Darkness

It was the darkest day in human history. God’s Son, without a trace of unrighteousness, was nailed to a rugged cross. Everything about the event was marked by sheer brutality and unbelievable cruelty. It was a day marked for eternity and shrouded in darkness. In fact, the darkness there on that hill outside Jerusalem touched the realm of the emotional, physical, and spiritual- a three-dimensional darkness, if you will.

Emotionally Dark

The people present at the crucifixion were not all enemies of Jesus who wanted to see Him dead. In fact, the Gospel accounts  tell us that many of his disciples, closest friends, and even His mother Mary, were there to witness his death. They were bewildered, confused, and aching to the core as they watched their beloved Rabbi, friend, and son undergo the agony and suffering of the cross. There was nothing bright and sunny about the occasion. Their tears and gasps were very real as they clung to one another during Jesus’ unbearable ordeal. How had it come to this? How could things turn out so terribly for the greatest man they had ever known? Jesus was the very Son of God! It was indeed a very dark and sorrowful day.

Physically Dark

But there was another kind of darkness shrouding the death of Christ. Even the heavens, the physical realm, participated in the ethos of the moment. Scripture tells us that darkness covered the whole land for three hours beginning at noon. That phenomelogical event is later referenced by secular scholars such as Phlegon, Thallus, and others. The darkness was accompanied by earthquakes at the same time. No one is able to explain sufficiently from a scientific point of view how that darkness occurred. A solar eclipse would not seem plausible given the fact that Passover was celebrated during a full moon. Even so, the sun ceased to provide light for three hours during the crucifixion. Evn physically, it was a very dark day.

And Spiritually Dark

The most poignant kind of darkness observed that day was the incredible spiritual blindness on the part of many people who participated in the death of Christ. The Roman soldiers mocked him with insincere worship–dressing Him as a king and then bowing down before Him to make fun of Him. While He was hanging on the cross, many passed by and hurled insults at Him. Even the thieves crucified alongside Him heaped insults on Him. But perhaps most stunning is the fact that Israel’s religious leaders mocked Him with the words “He saved others, but He can’t save Himself!” Those who should have been the first to recognize the work of God were blind to the reality that they were mocking God Himself! The spiritual blindness of all those who ridiculed Christ might be considered to be the very darkest aspect of the crucifixion

For the disciples and followers of Jesus, that darkness would pass. Their mourning would turn to joy as they would witness the glorious resurrection of their Lord.  With Jesus alive, there would be hope for the future!

Though it was an unusual occurrence which would not soon be forgotten, the physical darkness at midday would be short- lived as it yielded to the returning sunlight. As the sun would bathe the earth, there would again be hope for the future!

But for those who would remain in spiritual blindness- the worst kind of darkness-what hope could there ever be? Without Jesus,  the Light of the world, their darkness would continue. Without the resurrected Savior, there would be no hope for the future.

The Good News? For those who would follow Christ, darkness gives way to God’s glorious light!

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)


Salt in a Low-Sodium World

Matthew 5:13 (NIV) You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

Mark 9:50 (NIV) Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.

Luke 14:34-35 (NIV) Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Americans lately have become a lot more conscious of what we choose to put in our mouths. Interest in the nutritional value of certain foods is at a higher level than ever. One specific nutrition focus targets the sodium level in our diets. Identified as a potential culprit in high blood pressure, sodium has also been linked to hardening of the arteries. Grocery stores have joined the fray and have lined their shelves with products labeled as low sodium. It’s clear that low salt is in and high salt is out in today’s world.

For many centuries salt has been used as a food preservative. In ancient cultures, it was also used as a means of currency in trading. Early Roman soldiers were compensated with salt rations, and from the Latin equivalent of salt, sal, the English word “salary” had its origin. The meaning of the notion “worth his salt” originated from the same idea.

When Jesus used the analogy of salt as he spoke of his disciples and their relationship to the world, he was speaking of salt’s preservative property. When Christians are living for Christ as their lives intersect with the world in board rooms, school rooms, courtrooms, as well as living rooms, the presence of Christ is felt, and the world is affected by godly living. But whenever and wherever Christians fail to live for Christ, the opportunity to influence the surrounding culture is lost. Salt has failed to be salt.

Jesus never said it would be easy to be salt in the world. In our day, it seems that the culture around us would much prefer a low-sodium world. Increasingly Christians are coming under attack for living as Christ commanded. But our Savior did not leave us without the spiritual resources to live as salt in the world. What he calls us to do, he empowers us to do.

In what ways do you see yourself as “the salt of the earth?” What challenges do you face in living this out?

May we courageously live for you, Jesus, in a world which increasingly opposes the truth and righteousness found only in you. We thank you for providing the necessary spiritual resources for us to truly be salt where we live. We need you. In your name, AMEN.