Monthly Archives: March 2014

An Unexpected Encounter with Jesus

Jesus has just finished praying in the Mount of Olives when a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests came to arrest him.  Luke reports, “And one of them [a disciple] struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.   But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’  And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” (Luke 22:50-51) The Gospel of John says that the servant’s name is Malchus.

Imagine if you are Malchus.  You have accompanied a group of soldiers, probably at the request of your master, the high priest.  You come in the dark of night across the Kidron Valley separating Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives with torches and weapons to arrest Jesus whom you have been told is an enemy of the Jewish religion and Israel.  One of Jesus’ followers attacks you with his sword, cutting off your ear.

Then this Jesus, your supposed enemy, reaches out and touches your ear and it is fully healed.  One moment it is hanging there, bleeding, about to fall off, and the next moment it is completely restored.  One moment your adversaries are acting as you would expect adversaries to act, and the next moment Jesus, the object of your arrest, is reaching out to you, not to do you harm, but to undo the harm done by one of his followers.

How can Malchus not be affected?  It had to be life changing.  Since John identifies him by name in his Gospel, it is likely that Malchus became a follower of Jesus and was familiar to John and the people for whom he wrote his Gospel.

As with Malchus, Jesus is always ready to reach out to us.  In the most unlikely of circumstances, he is there, always inviting, ready to heal or respond to a need we have not anticipated.  In the ordinary and extraordinary, he is there.  Whether it is to open our life to him for the first time, or to go deeper in our relationship with him, he is present.

Like Malchus, I had an unexpected encounter with Jesus many years ago on a country gravel road south of Kansas City, Missouri on the way to my wife’s grandmother’s farm.  I asked him if he would take away some disorder in my life and he did.  As a result, I invited him into all areas of my life, including my professional life, and my life has never been the same.  If you ask my wife, she will tell you that from that point forward, my priorities began to change, as I sought God’s will in each area of my life as a husband, father and an attorney for a large international oil company.

Are you willing to be surprised by an unexpected encounter with Jesus?

Are You Willing to Stop to Help Another?

Ask someone how they are doing, and they will likely tell you how busy they are.  We seem to be always busy – demanding jobs and active families with children involved in numerous activities often results in our rushing from one place to another.

The Gospel of Mark reports that as Jesus, his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar beside the road, heard that it was Jesus who was passing by and he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Those standing nearby rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the louder, “Son of David have mercy on me!”

Above the din of the crowd Jesus hears this man call out to him as the heir to King David.  Ironically, Bartimaeus, the beggar, may have known who Jesus was better than the disciples and the crowd following him – “King of kings, Lord of lords, Sovereign of the universe,” titles attributed to Jesus in Isaiah 9:6-7. Bartimaeus is appealing to the King, and the King has stopped to hear his plea.

Jesus responds by asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimeaus says, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  Jesus says, “Go, your faith has healed you.  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Are you willing to stop what you are doing to respond to someone in need?  Sometimes I have stopped; sometimes I have passed by.

One evening when I was driving to a meeting, I came upon a man who had just been hit by a pick-up truck as he was crossing the road with a grocery cart.  The man was on the street in front of the truck and the grocery cart was under the truck.  As one of the first on the scene, I immediately pulled into an adjacent parking lot and ran to him.  I kneeled down to see how he was.  As the sound of sirens approached, he asked me if he was going to die.  I said, “No, you are not going to die,” and started praying with him as a crowd gathered around.  The rescue squad arrived and pushed me aside.  They put him on a board and took him to a nearby hospital.  I inquired of the hospital, but since I didn’t know his name, was never able to learn whether he lived or died.

In reflecting on the moment, I came to understand that I was the King’s delegate that evening and the King wanted me to stop and let the man know that whatever his physical condition, he wasn’t going to die, but would live for eternity.

There is blessing in stopping. Are you willing to listen above the din of the crowd and resist the pace of the moment to stop – and respond to the need of another on behalf of the King?

Control or Fatih – Which Do You Live By?

How frightening it is for us to give up control, living by faith instead of by our own wits!  But that was God’s desire for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus is praying, realizing that he might soon be seized by guards, arrested, subjected to false accusations and an unjust trial, torture and death.  He may have also been feeling the heavy weight of rejection, sin and wickedness in the world that was about to overtake him in spite all of his teaching, miracles and good works.

He said to his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” He then prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:38-39)

Jesus reveals to us the fullness of his humanity by asking the Father three times to take this cup of anguish and free him from this hour.  But then he yields to the will of the Father, giving up control and submitting to his sorrow, anxiety, rejection and every imaginable human emotion of fear and doubt. It was God’s desire for Jesus to accept the cup in order to carry out God’s saving plan for human kind. Jesus was free to reject or accept the cup. Fortunately for us and the history of the world, he accepted it.

Like Jesus, we too, may be given cups that are bitter to drink.  Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with an advanced and aggressive form of prostate cancer that had spread outside the prostate to at least one lymph node.  It was a cup filled with the initial shock of the diagnosis, a gauntlet of consultations, evaluations of the various treatment options and their varied side effects, the actual surgery, the recovery process and follow-up hormone therapy for three and half years.

The Gospel of Luke reports that after Jesus submitted to God’s will, an angel appeared to him and strengthened him.  I too, was attended by angels. My wife was always at my side.  Two daughters, who lived in another state, left their families to spend successive weekends with me. Another daughter encouraged me with scripture (Sirach 38:1-13).  A good friend who had cancer that made it difficult for him to even walk, showed up in a snow storm to pray with me in the pre-op, leading the attending nurses and surgeons in prayer for what they were about to do.  My fellow board members of Christians in Commerce prayed and fasted for 24 hours for me at a meeting just prior to my surgery.  Through God’s grace and the expertise he has given my doctors, my PSA has been undetectable for over seven years.

In looking back, I believe that I have rarely experienced God’s love more than during this time through the prayer and actions of my wife, children, extended family, friends from Christians in Commerce, the People of Praise, St. Mark’s Catholic Church and former colleagues from Mobil Corporation.

It is not unusual for most of us to want to be in control, managing and manipulating the events of our lives.  However, God does not always give us a road map to our journey of life.  If he did, we would likely try to take control, and mess it up. Jesus gives us a better example – seeking the Father’s will in all things.

Do We Follow Jesus at a Distance?

As we begin the Lenten Season, we might ask ourselves, how much of my following Jesus is at a distance? After Jesus’ arrest, we read in the Gospel of Mark, “Peter followed at a distance right into the courtyard of the high priest.  There he sat with the guards and warmed himself by the fire.” (Mark 14:54)

Like Peter, we may profess our allegiance to Jesus that “even if all fall away, I will not,” or we may recite the Creed every Sunday in our church declaring that we believe in “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only son.”

Yet, we keep our distance from Jesus, failing to keep our appointment with him each day in prayer or putting a higher priority on our comfort as Peter did when he sat with the guards and warmed himself by the fire.

Like Peter, we may be thrust into circumstances where we are reluctant to be identified with Jesus.  In Peter’s case, it was the guards, the elders, and the mob.  For us, it may be a boss who has disdain for God, or social friends who consider any reference to Jesus as foolishness or it may be our yielding to that little temptation that never seems to go completely away.

Early in my career when I would attend a company meeting followed by cocktails and dinner, the conduct could sometimes get a bit macho and boisterous. It was not unusual for the conversation to involve exaggerated exploits, the building up of self and the putting down of others, off-color stories, gossip, and the fawning over whoever might be the most senior person present. At some point I began to realize that when I engaged in this kind of conduct I was distancing myself from Jesus. It was so easy to go with the flow and so tempting to want to be a part of the group. It required a decision on my part not to participate.

Just as Peter’s faith was tested, so may our faith be tested.  The world inclines us to keep our distance from Jesus, while Jesus bids us to draw near.  He says, come to me all who are burdened from the cares of this world and I will give you rest.  Come to me all who are thirsty for meaning in life and I will give you understanding.  Do not fear those who do not follow me for I have overcome this world. Step across the distance that separates us, and you will experience my love, my strength and my peace.

Do your daily choices distance you from Jesus?  How can you shorten the distance?