Reading: Luke 13 – 14
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.
But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12-14 NIV
What would it have been like in the days of Jesus to have the disabled come to your place for tea? As in many places in the world today — with no fancy wheelchairs to travel in, or state-funded caregivers to assist — such guests may well have required a high level of personal assistance, not to mention tolerance and humility on the part of the host, and a willingness to overcome natural reservations and spiritual taboos.
On the surface of it, the cost of hosting such a group would seem high. And, as Jesus points out, there was no likelihood of the favour being returned. For those of his audience who felt “above” those disabled folks, it would have represented a step down…
And for the disabled, despised and rejected by men as they were, and familiar with suffering, how would it have been for them to be in the presence of these “respectables”, these esteemed ones of that society? How would they have felt? Because they themselves were most certainly not esteemed.
All of which sounds curiously familiar…
“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:2b-3 NIV
Isaiah describes it perfectly: Jesus put aside his majesty to become like those he came to save. The very same ones he would have me invite for dinner…
Jesus saw people as they really were, and he still does. He sees me as I really am. No matter what I choose to clothe myself in — respectability, wealth, position, social acceptance, an air of self-confidence — Jesus looks right through those things to see what is in my heart. And he asks that I release to him those garments that have been my source of dignity, and instead put on a new set of clothes…
“Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
There is something about those clothes, and the change of heart that is required to wear them. Somehow, they seem more suited to serving in, whoever the guests might happen to be…
Lord Jesus, please help me to see people as you see them. Help me not to suffer from a superiority complex, but instead, please work humility into the very fabric of my being, that along with all of God's children, I might be dressed well — ready and willing to love and serve.
Reading: John 18:1 – 19:27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27 NIV
I find myself captivated by this beautiful yet curious exchange between Jesus, Mary his mother, and John, “the disciple whom he loved”. I always think of the cross as the place where a “divine exchange” took place — Jesus' holiness for my sin; his good standing for my shame; his wounds for my wholeness; and much more besides. It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him.
But here, near the foot of the cross, another exchange is taking place. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is losing her dearly loved son, only to unexpectedly gain another.
Exchange: An act of giving one thing, and receiving another in return.
We usually focus — and rightly so — on how God gave his Son for us. This event, this sacrifice, is the very centre and foundation of our faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV).
But on the human level, someone else was giving over their son too. Someone who with great faith and humility had once said, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Many years had passed since Mary's declaration, but no doubt the words spoken to her at that time were again fresh in her mind as she stood before the cross:
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33 NIV
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35 NIV
Here, now, these words were being fulfilled. And although it isn't recorded here, I like to think that Jesus wasn't just “taken from” Mary, but that even in the midst of her grief, Mary was able to “offer him” into the hands of God, believing that God would indeed fulfil the promises he had made to her all those years ago.
And there at the cross, the sweetness of Jesus' love for Mary is revealed one last time before he dies. Her husband Joseph was already dead, and it seems her younger sons were not in position to care for her.
But Jesus knew this. And in a beautiful and very personal reflection of the divine exchange that was taking place on the cross, Jesus offers to Mary a new son — John — to care for her, and comfort her, and protect her from shame. “Dear woman, here is your son. [John], here is your mother.”
(I think it inconceivable that John was surprised by Jesus' words at the cross. Rather, Jesus will have planned this with John well beforehand — that when his time came, John would take Mary into his family home and care for her. So when Jesus said to John, “Here is your mother”, he was really saying to John, “It's time.”)
It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him. And all the more beautiful because for each of us, that exchange will be different. We each having different things we need to bring to him.
Indeed, it's an expression of the sweetness of his love that he deals with each of us as individuals. He knows our name. He knows our every need. And his desire is that each of us will fully discover all that he won for us at the cross.
Lord Jesus, may that be my life's pursuit! What a privilege that I can stand in your presence holy and welcomed! But Lord, what else is in my heart? What else that needs to be healed and restored? How yet is the divine exchange to be worked out in me?
Today, I offer my life to you afresh, and ask that you would help me to discover and experience all the riches that you won for me at the cross. Let nothing of your sacrifice be wasted.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 NIV
I love these scriptures. God has plans and purposes for every stage of my life, beginning, middle and end. And although I don't always know in advance what his will is, here in these scriptures are three things I can be certain are God's will for me, three good “buddies” that are always to be with me:
Be joyful always — no matter what the circumstances, I am to embrace joy, and never leave it for a less worthy partner — not fear, or anxiety or anguish. These latter things no longer have my permission to remain in residence!
Pray continually — I am always to be in conversation with God, my constant companion.
Give thanks in all circumstances — God is good, all the time. There is always something to be thankful for.
And then there's this “body guard” called Peace. As I bring all my worries and concerns to God in prayer, and keep an attitude of thankfulness, peace is there guarding my heart and my mind. The knot in my stomach is untied. My troubled thoughts are brought into order. This is what God has secured for me through my relationship with Jesus — Peace. Ah, thank you, Lord. This is something I can enjoy!
These three habits can be my default setting. It's God's will for me, so it must be possible! And whenever I find myself weighed down with worries or tied up in knots, I can simply turn to my three good buddies, Be joyful always, Pray continually, and Give thanks in all circumstances.
I like the following paraphrase of Philippians 4:6-9 from the Message:
“Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.
“It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
“Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realised. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:6-9 MSG
Father, I'm so grateful that your plans for me are good. Help me to trust you with all my cares, and to live in that place of peace — right in the centre of your will.
Reading: Isaiah 50
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away. Isaiah 50:4-5 NIV
How beautifully this scripture describes the Holy Spirit at work, in and through Jesus. Speaking though Isaiah, Jesus reveals his attentiveness to the voice of his Father, and how the precious words he heard became, in his own mouth, such a blessing to others.
These were no ordinary words. They carried the power to save, to sustain the weary and bring hope to the broken hearted.
Not one word that the Father spoke to Jesus fell by the wayside. Rather, they were welcomed and acted upon, for this was his life and ministry – to do his Father's will.
Here too is my life's calling, to hear the voice of the Spirit, and to obey it. Just as Jesus was filled with Spirit, so too God has graciously imparted his Spirit to me, and to all who would receive him.
This entire week I have the privilege of 'escaping' to the beautiful Maniototo Basin in the South Island of New Zealand for the express purpose of learning to hear the voice of God and move in the gifts of the Spirit. With the guidance of Rodney Francis, Len Butner, and John Fergusson, I am discovering that, more than I ever knew, God is speaking to me.
I have often struggled with those gentle promptings. Is that God speaking to me or is it just my own thoughts? So this week, I have put it to the test. I have been asking God to speak to me, to give me specific words for the people around me – words that would encourage and minister to them. Most of these folks I have only met this week.
Trusting God for those first thoughts and impressions that come, and sharing them with those people in a spirit of love (and with some trepidation), I have discovered to my delight that the words really are from God. He has given me things I could never have known about those people and enabled me to speak healing and encouragement to them, often in very specific ways.
I feel so encouraged! The Sovereign Lord really is giving me “a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” He is “waking my ear to listen like one being instructed.” This is the work of the Holy Spirit and is, I believe, a ministry for all believers.
For so long I have prayed that God would open my ears, and it seems that perhaps, they were open all along. And so, with Jesus I declare that I will not be rebellious or turn away. Nor will I be constrained by fear. Instead, I will seek his voice, listen and obey.
Thank you so much Father for your Spirit, and the gifts he brings. Thank you for your voice. Please help me as I endeavour every day to listen for your promptings, to put aside fear, and to bless others by sharing your precious words with them.
Reading: Joshua 23:1 – Judges 3:6
Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel. Joshua 24:31 (NIV)
After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord… Judges 2:10-11 (NIV)
Head knowledge will always be trumped by personal experience. Though stories be a powerful influence and storytelling vital to sharing and passing on my faith, being IN the story takes it to a whole new level. To walk on the bed of the sea with water heaped up on either side, to feel the heat and the power of God manifested in a pillar of fire, to see water spontaneously gush from a dry rock, and to collect bread from heaven every morning – these are experiences that no handed-down story can match.
In the days of Joshua, these and many other encounters with God influenced the heart of the entire nation. They knew God not just because they had heard the stories, but because they were in them. But as these encounters with God became past history, even by just one generation, the faith of the nation began to crumble.
It's not enough just to share stories handed down from others. I need my own stories. I need my own first hand experience of the power and presence of God. I need to have been on the receiving end of his goodness. I need to have been healed. I need to have prayed in faith and seen miraculous answers to my prayers. These things form the basis of my personal testimony.
Not only that, but others need to be able to see God at work in me and through me. Why would people be drawn to my faith if the substance of it was simply the stories of others? How much weight would that carry? No, I need my own stories.
It's not that my own faith depends on it. But the faith of others just might. Jesus himself expected that some would believe in him because of his miracles: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)
And in the very next sentence, he reveals his expectation that some would believe in him because of miracles happening in and through me: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12).
These things aren't for my benefit. They're for those who don't yet know him, because just as it was in the days of Joshua, so it is in this day: To see God at work first hand, and even more, to experience him – to be IN the story – that is the stuff that turns hearts and generations to God.
Lord Jesus, I so want to be a generation changer! To be salt and light in this world and to see your hand at work, to be a testimony to all whose hearts would turn to you. Please break the power of low expectation that has defined my generation, and release in us faith to move mountains and to do the work you have commissioned for us, that through us your love and glory might be clearly revealed, in our generation.
Reading: Colossians 3:1-17
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)
The old me is dead. I “died with Christ” (Colossians 2:20), and then three days later, I was “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). This happened at a specific moment in history nearly 2,000 years ago, but I got to “share in it” when I made my own personal decision to accept Jesus as my Lord, and be baptised. With that burial and resurrection, I became a brand new person, a “new creation”. Home is no longer where it was. My new permanent address is now “hidden with Christ in God”.
But with this monumental shift in the spiritual realm comes the realisation that all my old settings need to be re calibrated – the way I think, the way I respond, my priorities, my focus, the things I pursue – everything.
Calibrate: Correlate the readings (of an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument's accuracy; adjust to take external factors into account; carefully assess, set or adjust.
It's still happening, this Re-calibration. In fact, the more time goes by, the more I discover in my heart and mind that doesn't correlate with those of the 'Standard'. As I read my Bible, I keep becoming aware of things in me that don't line up with the way that Jesus is, or his expectations of me.
Yet I don't feel guilt. Rather I feel hunger. I find that I am wearing some old attitude that I suddenly, desperately want to get rid of. I see a standard of faith that I fall woefully short of, and I desperately want my faith to grow to meet that new standard. I discover once again that God desires intimacy with me, and I long to go deeper in my relationship with him.
What a wonderful privilege to have the Spirit of God doing this work in me. He really is re-calibrating me. It's as I turn my heart and my thoughts toward him that he truly can have full reign to do his work. Coming before him as I read my Bible, setting aside time to walk and talk with him, and choosing in all my decisions to honour my declared devotion to him – these things open the way for God to reset and restore everything in my life that needs putting right. How good is that!
Holy Spirit, I offer myself into your hands, and say, “Have your way.” Please re-calibrate me so that I might be like Jesus. I want to love like him, and be pure in every thought and motivation. Jesus, I thank you that my future is now in your hands, and for the privilege of being able to walk with you now, and every day. Come, Lord Jesus!
Reading: Matthew 26:57 – 27:31 (NIV)
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:63-64 (NIV)
It's interesting to reflect on the challenge that the high priest made to Jesus. He said, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The reply he got was exactly what he wanted. He knew that Jesus was compelled to tell the truth, and he welcomed it, not as truth, but as a succinct unambiguous claim of identity: “Yes,” Jesus said, “it is as you say.”
With this statement, Jesus had nailed himself. But Jesus didn't leave it at that. He added a powerful prophetic statement to leave them in no doubt, and to lay down a warning: “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Anyone there who really was open to the possibility that Jesus might in fact be who he said he was would have cause to swallow hard about what they were planning to do. It was a stark warning, but it fell on hard hearts. The company present would kill Jesus, and his words would come back to haunt them.
There was perhaps one man in that gathering who did have fresh cause to reconsider his opinion of Jesus. Malchus was the servant of the high priest. He had been there when Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives. It was he who had his right ear cut off as impetuous Peter lashed out with his sword. And, it was he who looked up to find that the very one they had come to arrest was reaching out his hand, and touching him, and he was healed. It was a moment he would never forget.
I wonder if in that moment, something softened in his heart? Enough to give him reason to pause, and consider afresh, “Could this man actually be who he says he is?”
Humility before God is the only way for us to know truth. It's being prepared to lose face by stepping away from our old attitudes toward Jesus in order to stand with the very one we had previously mocked. Or shunned. Or perhaps simply ignored. It's being able to come before him with hands empty and heart open to say, “I was wrong. And I need you.”
Father God, your approval is what I want more than anything. Ultimately, the opinion of others matters not. Only that you would forgive me, and accept me, and enjoy me. May arrogance be far from me as I thank you, and humbly accept your incredible gift of grace.