The Call to Serve

Throughout Lent, I’ll be sharing weekly devotions based upon my travels to the Middle East. Today’s meditation is the fifth in the series.

“Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God. So, He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him.”

—John 13:3-5

The traditional site of the Last Supper is found on Mount Zion in the neighborhood of Jerusalem known as the City of David. In Jesus’ day, it would have been a prosperous neighborhood, home perhaps to an affluent follower of Jesus who made his residence available for the Passover celebration. As early as the year 130 CE, there was a “little church of God” in this location, most likely a house church where Christians gathered discretely in a time when they were strongly persecuted. Many churches have since stood on this spot. Two were destroyed by fire in the years 614 and again in 965. The current building was constructed by the Franciscans in 1335. The “Upper Room,” commemorated as the location of the Last Supper, is simply constructed with vaulted ceiling, Gothic arches, and white-washed-walls. It’s been sacred to Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The Tomb of David is housed in the lower level of the same building, and from 1524 to 1948 the building housed a mosque.

What Jesus chose to do as the Passover meal began was the work of the lowest status member of a household, a labor normally undertaken by a menial servant or slave. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Perhaps we can imagine him in the golden glow of oil lamps as he rolled up his sleeves, fell to his knees, and moved from one of his followers to another. He cradled their road-weary heels, poured water to wash away the grime of the day, and then gently toweled them dry. The busy chatter that precedes the Passover seder would have fallen silent, the disciples profoundly uncomfortable to have a high-status rabbi like Jesus serving them.

It was an object lesson in humility, setting the example of self-giving love and humble service. Within twenty-four hours, Jesus would set an even greater example, giving his life for the sins of the world.

How will you follow Jesus in the way of humble service?

Please pray with me . . .

Gentle and humble Lord, may love put us on our knees today. Amen.

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.”–Augustine

“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
―Therese of Lisieux

“I am persuaded that love and humility are the highest attainments in the school of Christ and the brightest evidences that He is indeed our Master.”–John Newton

“I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.”― Jana Stanfield

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Throughout Lent, I’ll be sharing a weekly devotion that draws on my travels to the middle east. Here is the fourth.

“But you,” Jesus asked them, “who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”—Matthew 16:15-16

Peter’s profession of faith came as Jesus and the disciples walked from the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. The city served as the administrative headquarters of Herod Philip, the Roman-appointed client king who ruled on behalf of the emperor in the region east of Gailee in modern-day northern Israel, Lebanon, and southern Syria. This was largely Gentile territory, with relatively few Jewish subjects. Consequently, Herod Philip pursued a policy of Hellenization. In other words, he encouraged imperial traditions and the worship of a pantheon of gods.

As Jesus and his friends walked, they would have been in the company of pagan pilgrims.  Caesarea Philippi was home to a spectacular white marble shrine, built by Herod the Great in 20BC to honor the emperor. There, those who were loyal to the emperor offered sacrifices and made financial gifts to curry favor with the powers of Rome. 

Caesarea Philippi was also home to an ancient fertility cult. The central source of the Jordan River erupted from the mouth of a cave at a rock formation known as the Gates of Hell. It was believed to be a gateway to the underworld and became the site of an open-air temple. For centuries, farmers seeking abundant harvests or bountiful flocks had come there to sacrifice goats to the god Pan. It is even alleged that the site was a place of child sacrifice.

Walking among travelers who sought the favor of many gods, Peter dared to affirm the one God of Israel and acknowledge Jesus as beloved Son and Lord. It was a bold and courageous proclamation, prophetic and scandalous, even treasonous.

Who do you say that Jesus is?

Please pray with me . . .

Lord Jesus, you are the Son of the one true God. In a world where we are tempted to worship many things—money, power, nation, sports, celebrity, and more—may we know that you alone are God.  May our words and works affirm our trust in you this day.  Amen.

“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.” — Margaret Shepard

“Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of a readiness to die.”

G.K. Chesterton

“Man’s mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind, it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.” — John Calvin

By gugganij – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Turn Aside

Throughout Lent, I’ll be sharing a weekly devotion that draws on my travels to the middle east. Here is the third.

“Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’” — Exodus 3:3-5

Today we visit St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt, the traditional site of the burning bush. On your way to St. Catherine’s, you’ll climb through a beautiful but harsh desert landscape of blowing sand, jagged cliffs, and plastic water bottles, tossed by travelers. Bedouin settlements cluster around springs. Disinterested shepherds cradle cellphones and watch shaggy flocks of sheep and goats. At the racetrack, a runaway camel, fast and cagey, brays and evades his captors. It’s a stunning place to visit, but how do people live here? It’s a testament to tenacity, ingenuity, and tradition.

When Moses tended the flock of his father-in-law Jethro here, he may have been regretting his change in careers.  He had traded his role as Prince of Egypt for that of a nomadic shepherd in the Sinai Wilderness.  It was hot, hard, lonely work with plenty of time to think about the mistakes he had make, like killing that Egyptian overseer. Then, he saw something remarkable, a bush that appeared to burn but was not consumed. As he turned aside to explore the mystery, Moses discovered that he was on holy ground and that God had a holy purpose for his life: leading the Hebrew people to freedom.

Wherever you may walk today, remember that it is on holy ground, and God has a holy purpose for you.

What might you need to turn aside from today so that you can have eyes to see and ears to hear God’s holy purpose for your life?

Please pray with me . . .

God of our ancestors, we turn aside from the preoccupations of our life to attend to your presence. Grant us eyes to see the bush that burns for us. Take off our shoes.  Give us ears to hear the purpose that you would have us undertake.  When you call our name, may we answer, “Here I am.” We pray through Christ our Lord, who was and is and is to come. Amen.

“‘You would not have called to me unless I had been calling to you,’ said the Lion.” — C.S. Lewis

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” — Frederick Buechner

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.” — Annie Dillard

Sinai Trail, St. Catherine’s Monastery, Egypt

Into the Wilderness

Throughout Lent, I’ll be sharing a weekly devotion that draws on my travels to the middle east. Here is the first.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. After He had fasted 40 days and 40 nights, He was hungry. Then the tempter approached Him.”—Matthew 4:1-3a

From the edge of the ancient oasis of Jericho in the West Bank, you can see the Mount of Temptation in the distance. A Greek Orthodox monastery at the top marks the spot where Jesus fasted and prayed following his baptism. If you have the time, you can ride a cable car to the top, swaying in the hot sun above the Judean Desert. Within the monastery’s walls, you can visit the grotto where tradition maintains that Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread.  At the south summit of the monastery, now inside a chapel, is a stone where Jesus sat as Satan offered him all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus would turn away from God and worship him.  

From the summit, the spectacular view takes in the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, and the mountains of Moab and Gilead in Jordan. It’s a harsh and hostile landscape. Beyond the oasis of Jericho, it’s all red rocks, sand, dust, scrubby vegetation, and nary a spring in sight. For an Adirondacker from this land of abundant waters, it’s tough to imagine an overnight camp-out there, let alone forty days and nights of prayer and deprivation.

It’s when we are in “the wilderness,” far from what is familiar and comfortable—when we are feeling stretched thin, inadequately supported, and vulnerable—that the diabolical voice of temptation speaks up. Temptation may sound like the critical voice that sabotages our best efforts—telling us we are not good enough, smart enough, or skilled enough to meet the challenge. Temptation may invite us to walk the easy path, doing what is expedient and convenient rather than taking the time to discern and do what is right. Temptation can be insidious, like the desire to put work, civic commitment, friends, or family before our love for God.

Jesus met temptation head-on with the sword of scripture. He rebuked the Devil’s three temptations with three deftly chosen readings.  If only we had been paying better attention in Sunday School when the teachers were handing out those memory verses!  While we may not be the Bible scholar that Jesus was, that diabolical voice is silenced in our understanding that we are not alone in the wilderness, for God so loved the world that he sent us Jesus, who promises to be with us, “even unto the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).

Take heart, my friends. The season of Lent may confront us with the reality of temptation and our struggle to resist, but it also reminds us that we are not alone. Our success record with temptation may not be the best, but the Lord has got it covered. May we observe a holy Lent.

Question for reflection: How do you need Jesus’s help today?

Please join me in prayer . . .

Merciful God, we give thanks for your Son Jesus, sent into this world as a sign of your great love for us. Silence within us any voice but your own, that we may move past temptation and doubt to serve you with the fullness of who we are, to the glory of your coming Kingdom. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.

“Temptation is the devil looking through the keyhole. Yielding is opening the door and inviting him in.”—Billy Sunday

“We usually know what we can do, but temptation shows us who we are.”—Thomas a Kempis

“The essence of temptation is the invitation to live independently of God.”—Neil T. Anderson

By יעקב – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

You Feed Them

Throughout Lent, I’ll be sharing a weekly devotion that draws on my travels to the middle east. Here is the second.

“Late in the day, the Twelve approached and said to Jesus, ‘Send the crowd away, so they can go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find food and lodging, because we are in a deserted place here.’ 

He told them, ‘You give them something to eat.’”—Luke 9:12-13

Tabgha, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, is the traditional site of the feeding of the 5,000. The location was originally known as Heptapegon, meaning “the place of the seven springs.” Its lush gardens are an inviting place for a picnic or a service of worship. From the fourth century, Byzantine Christians were making pilgrimage to the site. Egeria, a Western European Christian woman and author of a detailed account of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about 381/2–386, described her visit to Tabgha. She wrote, “By the sea is a grassy field with plenty of hay and many palm trees. By them are seven springs, each flowing strongly. And this is the field where the Lord fed the people with the five loaves and the two fishes. In fact, the stone on which the Lord placed the bread has now been made into an altar. People who go there take away small pieces of the stone to bring them prosperity and they are very effective.” Today the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes has replaced the original Byzantine church. It features the remains of the stone table as well as a splendid early figured pavement (mosaic floor), depicting flora and fauna of the lakeside.

The miracle that Jesus worked at Tabgha began with two facts: hungry people and the reluctance of the disciples to do anything about it.  Jesus was clear with his friends: it was their responsibility to meet the hunger of their neighbors.  The disciples gathered their little bits: just a few barley loaves and some small, dried fish, the lunch of peasants.  But those little bits went a long way.  Some say it was a miracle of multiplication.  Some say it was a miracle of the Spirit, a satisfying “spiritual” meal.  Still others suggest that the willingness of the disciples to share inspired a miracle of sharing in others who opened their packs and passed around provisions. The outcome was a blessing for all and a bold precedent that faithful people have been following ever since. 

Questions for reflection: How do you need Jesus to feed you today?

How will you feed others?

Please join me in prayer . . .

Generous and provident God, you make abundance of the most meager beginnings.  Grant us the grace to know that you can feed us and satisfy our deepest hunger, today and every day. Renew us in the way of discipleship that notices and cares, feeds and shares. We pray in the name of Jesus, the Lord of abundance. Amen.

He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. — C.S. Lewis

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“I hunger for filling in a world that is starved.” — Ann Voskamp

Figured pavement, Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes, Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee