Thursday, March 28, 2013

Garden of Gethsemane Devotional

It confronts you and scares you--those times when you have to do something hard.

At school, that test was staring you in the face.  At work, that difficult conversation was now unavoidable. At home, that crisis demanded immediate attention.

In the middle of hard situations, have you ever been like me and said to yourself, “I can’t take this anymore. I want to run. How can I escape?” And then, I fantasize all the possibilities.

We ponder: “I can pack up, get in the car, and leave. Then I’ll have my freedom.” We brainstorm: “I’ll put two and two together and that equals a fifth—of whiskey, that is. Let me feel good now and I’ll handle it better later.” We daydream: “If I avoid it today, it’ll disappear tomorrow.”

When hard situations confront us, we get scared, we get frustrated, we procrastinate. We desperately want to get out from under the weight of it all.

But what if, in the hard situations you face, what if God’s will for you is not that you run from the pressure, but walk through it?

In Luke 22:39-46, in the Garden of Gethsemane we see that … 

Jesus felt tremendous pressure 

He knew the hour of his death was drawing near. His stress level was at a breaking point. He prayed to God, “Father, take this cup away from me.” And in his anguish, he sweat blood—a physiological condition known as hemohidrosis. Meanwhile, he has no support from his friends. They’re all asleep.

On top of all that, there’s something else contributing to Jesus’ agony—the place where he is at.

Jesus is just outside the city limits of Jerusalem, up on the Mount of Olives, at a place called the Garden of Gethsemane. The word, “Gethsemane,” comes from two Hebrew words, gat, which means “press,” and shemen, meaning, “oil.” Gat-shemen. Gethsemane. Oil press. Surrounded by a garden full of olive trees, all around Jesus is fruit that is destined to be crushed.

At this place, Gethsemane… 

Jesus faced two paths to pick 

When Jesus looked west, he saw the hard choice—the path of suffering and death.

West from the Mount of Olives and the Garden, across the Kidron Valley, there stands the grand, majestic Temple.  At the Temple, thousands of animals were slaughtered, their blood staining the altar, as worshipers followed God’s Law in order to seek forgiveness. James Martin observes, “But this animal blood had no power on its own—it was merely a placeholder awaiting the day when God’s Son would shed his blood as the final and ultimate sacrifice for sin.”

You know what Jesus will choose. He will go to Jerusalem. He will go to the cross. He will be what John the Baptist declared: “The lamb who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

But Jesus could have picked an alternate path. He truly had available another choice. It was the easier road. The road well worn. The path of self-protection.

East of Jesus, in just a forty-five minute walk, laid the Judean Wilderness. It is, simply put, the way of escape.

The Judean Wilderness is a desolate and uninhabited region. It’s filled with plateaus, rounded hills, deep canyons, and dramatic cliffs. Throughout the Bible's history, the Judean Wilderness has been a place where people go to escape. It is there that:
  • David ran and hid from Saul (1 Samuel 22-27).
  • Roman ruler Herod the Great built a series of fortresses—places to go in case the people rebelled.
  • The Essenes—the Jewish group responsible for the famous Dead Sea Scrolls—lived in solitude in order to escape the Jewish establishment at Jerusalem.
The Judean Wilderness is also the place where:
  • John the Baptist live and preached--boldly telling people to repent.
  • Tradition tells us Jesus came face-to-face with the Devil in temptation. 
The narrow and hard road led to Jerusalem, but the broad and easy road escaped to the Judean Wilderness.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the pressure was on, Jesus felt what we often feel—the urge to run and escape. 

Jesus could have fled, but instead, he bled 

In his hard situation, he did not run away, but walked through it. It was not easy, but he was committed to doing God’s will. For our sake, he chose to serve.

What hard situation do you face?

Maybe it’s a relationship that’s been strained for a long time. Up until now, everyone’s been too stubborn to take that first step of reconciliation.  By God’s grace, you’ll take that hard first step.

Maybe you’ve got an addiction. For too long, you’ve been denying it, protecting it, and feeding it. And it’s slowly stealing away your life. Now’s the time to do the hard thing. By God’s grace, you’re going to admit your need and get help.

Or maybe the hard thing you must do is learn the habit of reading the Bible. You hate to read. You’d rather watch TV or movies. But your avoidance of God’s Word is keeping you a spiritual infant. It’s time to take that hard step of learning to feed yourself on God’s truth. By God’s grace, you’re going to spiritually grow up.

Imagine what would happen if everyone committed themselves to walking with God as they chose to face up and do what’s hard. We will experience what Hebrews 5:8 says of Jesus: “He learned obedience through what he suffered.”

There’s one final feature about the Mount of Olives you should know about--its cemeteries. On the slope of the Mount are hundreds of tombstones—Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cemeteries. In fact, the Jewish cemetery is the oldest cemetery in continuous use, anywhere in the world.
One day, the Bible tells us these tombs, and the graves of all people throughout the world, will be opened up. The dead shall be raised. Sin, evil, and death shall be judged and finally be defeated forever. God’s everlasting kingdom on earth will be established (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29).

Why will all this happen? Because in the Garden, Jesus made a choice. He chose the hard road. He made the difficult decision. For our sake, he chose to serve. He could have fled, but instead he bled. And on Easter, the third day, God raised him up victorious.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Open Letter to Senator Jerry Moran

It’s Friday night and I’m sitting at home. I wanted to take my family of five to the Hutchinson Community Theater to see their performance of Sherlock Holmes, but I can’t because my bi-weekly paycheck is missing $60. Let’s do a little detective work and solve the mystery of the missing money.

Actually, this case of whodunit is easy to solve. First, Congress created a fiscal “lions, tigers, and bears” fa├žade that threatened ominous ruin of the economy. Then, you—a Republican—went along with Democrats at the start of the year and voted in favor of President Obama’s Fiscal Cliff Package (H.R. 8), which didn’t just raise taxes on the “rich,” but burdened every working stiff with an expired-and-reinstated 2% social security tax increase. Finally, you assured constituents (Kansas Common Sense Newsletter, January 7) that while you still don’t like higher taxes, it was necessary to maintain some semblance of the status quo, except now life is more difficult for me and thousands of Kansans.   

Because you wouldn’t fight on conservative principle, and instead acquiesced to getting along with well-dressed colleagues on the other side of the aisle, I’ll be making about $1,500-$1,600 less this year than last.

Senator Moran, let there be no mystery about how I feel—I’m furious, angry, and disgusted. Please, no more empty words. Cast votes that reflect conservative values. Or, get out of the Senate.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Seminar on Bible and Archaeology

I'll be teaching a six hour Osher seminar on the Bible and archaeology over three Fridays October 12, 19, and 26 , on the campus of Hutchinson Community College.

Discover another dimension to God's story through the fascinating objects found over many years. This course will certainly increase your appreciation for Bible history and the reliability of God's Word.

Registration is $35 and the details are right here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Simon Peter and Andrew: Lesson in Sibling Rivalry

If you grew up with brothers and sisters, you probably experienced a few tense moments of sibling rivalry. As the older brother of two sisters, I can remember incidents of fighting, but the reasons why are long forgotten. Fortunately, today I have a great relationship with both of my younger sisters.

The Bible is filled with stories of sibling rivalry--Joseph and his brothers, Jacob and Esau--but one pair of siblings rarely discussed is Simon Peter and his brother Andrew. While reading John 1:35-42, I was struck how Andrew met Jesus first, before his brother Peter, yet it's Peter, not Andrew, who becomes the star disciple in the gospels. In fact, the Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary states bluntly, "The New Testament shows little interest in Andrew." So, was there a sibling rivalry between Andrew and Peter?

We know the disciples were prone to jealousy and envy (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 9:33-37), yet it appears that Andrew and Peter enjoyed a harmonious relationship. After Andrew encountered Jesus, John 1:41-42 tells us, "the first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah' (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus." Notice that when Andrew had become convinced of Jesus' special nature (John 1:39), the first person Andrew wanted to tell was his brother Peter. That's brotherly love!

If you're familiar with the New Testament, you know that Peter goes on to have a prominent role in relationship to Jesus. While Andrew and Peter were both among Jesus' 12 disciples (Mark 3:16-19), Jesus did not give Andrew and Peter equal attention. Peter, along with James and John, received extra time and training (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). Interestingly, there is one incident in Mark 13:3--when Jesus discusses the end times--where Andrew seems to be butting in as he listens to Jesus along with Peter, James, and John. The last time we see Andrew's name in the Bible is in Acts 1:13. There, Andrew, Peter, and many other disciples are a unified fellowship of believers awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit.

Unlike the story of Jacob and Esau, the Bible doesn't tell us whether Peter or Andrew was the older brother. If I were to guess, Peter's bold personality and strong leadership style suggests someone first born. If true, then the younger brother introduced the older brother to Jesus. Peter learns from Jesus in the gospels, preaches Jesus in Acts, and writes of Jesus in 1 and 2 Peter. But in contrast to Peter's major role, Andrew is relegated to a minor character (John 6:8-9). Was Andrew envious of his older brother? Who knows? Maybe Andrew, who spent time with John the Baptist (John 1:40), took to heart one of the Baptist's lessons: "He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:30).

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Harvest Reading: Farm Sermons

The Kansas wheat harvest is coming early this year. Typically, harvest doesn't begin until the middle of June, but this time around, it looks like harvest will be in full swing before Memorial Weekend. Long time farmers who I've spoken with tell me this early harvest is highly unusual. In their lifetime, they can remember only one other early harvest.

Meantime, believers in Jesus are waiting for the Lord's harvest time, when He will bring to completion the end of the world as we know it. God, just so you know, it's OK with me if you want to start your harvest early!

Until then, you might enjoy this series of biblical messages, preached by the great 19th century English pastor Charles H. Spurgeon, entitled "Farm Sermons." Originally collected into book form many years ago, Spurgeon declares, "It is fit[ting] that farmers should have sermons gathered out of their own occupation, for it is one which, above all others, abounds in holy teaching." This collection has a total of 19 messages. Check one out this harvest season. Surely, it will bear some good fruit in your soul!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Amusement Park Known as CCM

Denny Burk links to a funny and sad story of Meghan O’Gieblyn's experience with CCM--the contemporary Christian music scene--in the 1980's. Those years are fond memories for me because at that time I worked in a music store and hosted a Sunday radio show that played CCM.

Here's my prayer for those who relate to Meghan's story...

The Kingdom of heaven on earth is sometimes like treasure hidden in a field. When CCM found it, they hid it again, and built upon the land a corny amusement park--complete with CDs, concerts, costumes, and consumerism.

Tons of teens enjoyed the carnival atmosphere, but in-authenticity and edgier competition eventually put the park out of business.

Years later, a woman--wearied by the glitzy culture's hollow center--stopped by the abandoned amusement park. She laughed at all the old memories, but was taken aback to one particular moment when she saw an old shovel. She recalled the words of one of the carnival workers. This one spoke like he genuinely believed the message he proclaimed--"Inside this park is buried treasure!"

Taking the shovel, she began to dig. After a few moments, much to her surprise, deep in the dirt, there it was--the hidden treasure.

When she found it, she hid it again, and then in her joy went and sold all she had, and bought that field.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Japan: Before and After Pictures

Pray for Japan as they strive to recover from their recent earthquake and tsunami. The damage is sobering, as seen in these before and after pictures.