Shepherd’s Pie anyone?

As many of you know, in January we kicked off our Sunday night services with a first century church approach.  We begin each week with a common meal, usually something simple and hearty, like a bowl of soup and a dessert.  Occasionally, I’ll switch things up and make a regional favorite like mac-n-cheese, stovies, or this week’s menu of shepherd’s pie for those who don’t love soup (aka. Sam!).  After we’ve eaten we move into the worship center and engage in about 20 minutes of video driven praise and worship, and then Sam spends about 35-50 minutes teaching from the Bible.  Our attendance has been running consistently in the low 20’s each week, which seems really tiny compared to most of our church partners in the States, but for winter time in Buckie it’s great.

This week was a bit unusual in attendance, we have a lot of people out ill with the flu and late winter colds.  To be honest, the day could have been really discouraging had the Lord not provided encouragement for us in some unexpected guests in our evening service.

shepherds pie

Last night at 5:55 p.m. Sam, myself, and two of our faithful ladies were staring at each other over a massive pan of shepherd’s pie, feeling a bit disappointed that we were the only four who had come out for church.  We knew in advance that a couple of folks would be out of town or at another church for a baptism service, but where was everyone else???  We could only assume the worst as I silently contemplated how many freezer containers I would have to come up with to ensure the 10 pounds of shepherd’s pie I’d fixed wouldn’t go in the bin later this week.  As the four of us sat in silence the door opened and an unfamiliar face popped in – “Are you having a night service?”

Suddenly the room felt like it had been jump-started.  “Yes!  We’re just getting ready to have dinner.  Please join us!”

“Oh, you’re having dinner?  What time is the service, we can come back later?”

“No need to come back, we have plenty of food, and we’d love for you to eat with us.”

“Okay, let me go get my husband…”

A few minutes later we were joined by this lovely couple who live near Inverness.  They happened to be in our area for a mini holiday and were on their way home when they passed by our building and saw our lights on.  As we ate dinner together we learned that he is an ordained minister in the Free Presbyterian church in Scotland and he is not currently assigned a church but travels and preaches in a few churches ranging from Dingwall to Oban (on the West coast); and his wife is an American expat from Illinois who came to Aberdeen with the Rotary Clubs of America in 1990 to study for two years at the University.  She met and married her husband and has been in Scotland ever since.  It was fun to hear her accent, which is definitely not Illinois any longer but certainly not Scottish either.

Even though it was just the six of us we had a great time of fellowship, worship, and teaching.  As I flopped in my chair last night at 9:00, having managed to get the remaining pan of shepherd’s pie into the fridge, exhausted and a bit despondent about the low attendance, Sam remarked that the couple told him they were blessed by our service and that they hadn’t eaten all day so the meal was an unexpected treat.  Instantly, my heart broke for them and at the same time my feelings of self-pity and discouragement evaporated.  We may never see this couple again, but I know that the Lord placed them in our path to encourage us, and us in their path to feed them.

Friends, we’ve been in Scotland for six months now, and while I would not say the honeymoon phase is over a lot of the glitz of a new ministry has worn off.  Traditionally, February and March are the most difficult months here, and this February is proving to be a bad one for our community.  Last week 5 people passed away from various illnesses.  The previous two weeks before saw nearly that same number each week.  Yes, the days are beginning to get longer by a few minutes each day but illness and seasonal affected depression are at their peak in our community just now.  Morale is very low and it’s easy to make excuses to stay home and do as little as possible.  The enemy is working overtime to keep people distracted, grief-stricken, and ill so they can’t or won’t come out and hear the Word taught.

Sam’s Sunday night teaching series is appropriately named – Game of Thrones.  There is indeed a battle raging in our world for who will be King on the throne of our heart, and currently it looks like the enemy is making his move.  What he doesn’t know is that we don’t give up that easily.  We know who wins this battle, and the Devil’s time here in Buckie, Scotland is running out!

Oh, look…it’s time to get lunch sorted…shepherd’s pie, anyone?

He did it for us

the lords supper 1

**This was a Lord’s Supper meditation I wrote and shared with our church in October, and the words of it have stuck with me all month long. I wanted to share it with you guys in the hope that it will encourage and inspire you to be bold for HIM this Christmas season.**

I don’t think anyone would disagree with me if I said, the difficulty with death is the finality of it.  Once a person is gone it’s too late to say that last goodbye, to take back angry words, to share family secrets, to impart words of wisdom, or to say, “I forgive you,” “I’m sorry,” “I love you.”  Often the words we’ve left unsaid singe our soul with a regret that is carried throughout the rest of our life.  I’ve heard many people at funerals wish for just one more hour with the deceased to make amends, say the words that were left unsaid, and purge their soul of regret.  If only they’d only known their time was up…

As I was thinking about the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples I was wondering if he may have felt like many of us do about saying goodbye…if there was anything he wanted to tell his disciples before he would be taken from them?

So I looked through Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s accounts of the Last Supper, which are the model we use for our own Lord’s Supper time, and they all are pretty similar.  Jesus and his disciples are in the upper room, Jesus offers a blessing for the bread and a prayer of thanksgiving for the juice, and he tells his disciples to remember Him in the same way every time they’re together.  Pretty simple and straight-forward, and yeah, I’ve heard that version about two-thousand times in my life.  Surely there has to be more to that last night than just dinner and a quick demonstration?

So back to Scripture I went, turning to John’s account of the Last Supper.  I’ll admit, I was skimming through, glancing at the section titles for reference.  I flipped clear through the book of John and was a bit confused that there wasn’t a section titled “The Last Supper”, so I flipped back through again, thinking I’d missed it somehow.  But nope, nothing labeled “the Last Supper.”  How odd…the other three Gospels have it, so why not John?  I must investigate this further, so I started reading in John 12 and that’s when it hit me…there was so much more to that last night with Jesus than a few verses describing the Last Supper as we practice it, and Jesus’ final words and teachings to his disciples wasn’t just for their benefit, but also for ours.  So let’s take a quick look at it.

So the first thing that Jesus does in that final week of his life is found in John 12 – Jesus spends some time with his dear friend Lazarus and his two sisters.  Of course, he first has to raise Lazarus from the dead, but hey, he knew this would be the last time he would see his friend for a while, and his heart was breaking for his two sisters who he loved very much as well.  So he raises Lazarus from the dead, they hang out and have a meal together, Lazarus’ sister Mary anoints his head with some expensive perfume, and the next day Jesus and the Twelve head down the road toward Jerusalem.

Bethany is only about 1.5 miles from Jerusalem, and raising Lazarus from the dead wasn’t something people saw everyday.  John says that the news of that particular miracle had definitely spread up the road ahead of them.  The already crowded road into Jerusalem was especially packed that afternoon with spectators hoping for a big show as Jesus and his disciples walked into town.

We know from the rest of Chapter 12 that Jesus makes his famous “Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem” and then quickly tanks his popularity by telling these massive crowds that the cost of following Him would be much too high for them.  He goes on to tell them in that same sermon that the time of ignorance about the truth of God had passed, there was no longer any valid excuse for man to not follow God’s plan, and those who wanted to truly be His followers would have to give up their life for the sake of His message.  He states clearly to this massive crowd of people that he has been sent from God, that he is in fact the Son of God, and that judgment for the world had come because of His message.

Woah!  If Jesus had been a politician the Twitter feeds and party polls would have gone absolutely bonkers, reporting a major downward shift in his popularity because of that statement.  John says in 12:37 that in spite of all the miraculous signs Jesus had done – like raising Lazarus from the dead the day before, most of the people still didn’t believe he was the Messiah, which is exactly what Isaiah prophesied hundreds of years before.  I guess not a lot has changed in 2,000 years.

The next event John records is the night of the Passover feast, beginning in chapter 13 and this is where we start to see Jesus’ urgency in saying everything he wanted to say to his followers.

Jesus and the (120) disciples are all crammed into the upper room of house, preparing to celebrate the Passover.  Jesus feels this first last command is crucial in the life of a Christ-follower, and knowing us as he does, he understands that he can’t impress the sheer importance of it and what it looks like in practice by simply talking about what it means to serve others; but actions speak volumes over words so he straps on a towel and goes around the room washing the feet of his disciples.

The entire point of Jesus’ teaching exercise, which is that in order to be a true disciple of Christ we must always humble ourselves and follow the example of Jesus by serving others firstNo form of service is beneath us, and no anointing is so sacred or grand that it excuses us from any form of service to the Kingdom.

It’s at this point in the evening that the Passover meal would have been served.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all wrote about Jesus blessing the meal, breaking the bread and lifting up the wine, which is the same model we use in our Lord’s Supper each week.

Getting back to John’s gospel account though, at this point in the night Judas is revealed as the betrayer and in shame and embarrassment he leaves the upper room.  After a quick discussion between the disciples regarding Judas’ behavior including some of the disciples promising they would never sell out, Jesus tells Peter not to be so pious in his devotion – that he’s going to betray the Lord three times before the night is up.

As the room settles into a stunned silence, Jesus, feeling pressed for time, takes the opportunity to impart a few more final thoughts with the disciples at large (the 120) – these are the things he absolutely wants them to grasp and remember.

  • He tells them to truly love each other, and that by doing so they will show God to a world who doesn’t know Him.
  • He tells them to trust Him, and also to trust that God sent him.
  • He gives them assurance about life after death by telling them he’s going to prepare a place where they can be together for eternity.
  • He tells them that God isn’t a mystery as some religions want you to believe – that anyone who loves Jesus and lives their life by the teachings and commands he gave, can absolutely know God because Jesus and the Father are one in the same.
  • Jesus encourages them with a promise that anyone, at any time in history, who believes in Him, loves Him, and follows His teachings will be able to obey the Lord and accomplish a life’s work for the Kingdom, just like Jesus did.
  • He promises the gift of the Holy Spirit who would continue to reveal the deeper Truths and mysteries of God to them so they (and we) would not lose faith in His message.

At this time during the evening, Jesus knows that Judas has betrayed him to the religious leaders and the Temple guard would be dispatched to arrest him forthwith.  He knew the first place they’d come was to the room where they were now, and he wasn’t quite ready to leave his Disciples just yet, there was more he wanted to tell them privately, so he says to the eleven left, “Come on, lets walk for a while.”

As they’re making their way through the dark and crowded streets of Jerusalem, heading toward the Kidron valley and the Mount of Olives where Judas and the Temple guard finally catch up to them, Jesus continues to share with them his final thoughts.

  • (maybe they passed a vineyard and he uses it as an appropriate illustration – chapter 15) He teaches them the deep truth that apart from His Gospel message and a daily relationship with Him we cannot bear any fruit that is useful to the Kingdom. He warns them that those who do not love him and remain faithful to his teachings will be removed from his protection by God and will be thrown away to wither and die.  He encourages them to remember that God carefully prunes those who are producing fruit so that they will be even more productive in the future, but not to lose heart during the pruning process – that the pain of pruning is meant to bolster the harvest, not destroy the vineyard.
  • He reminds them again that his deepest desire is for them to love each other, and that that is going to be the most effective evangelism tool they will posess.
  • He tells them plainly to get ready; the world is going to hate them. He says they’re going to be punished unfairly, they’re going to be criticized as false teachers, thrown out of the synagogues, beaten, imprisoned, starved, mocked, and even killed because of Jesus’ message, but not to lose heart because Jesus will be with them in the form of the Holy Spirit, and they will be able to testify to the truth of His message because they had been with Him from the beginning of his ministry.
  • He encourages them to remember that in a few hours-time they will feel like their world has ended, that the last 3 years was all for nothing, but not to lose heart, that joy will come in the morning!
  • And then he blesses them with his own gift – the gift of peace – and we know that’s a peace the world cannot understand, nor can it take that peace away from us. Because while His disciples will suffer in this world, and some will even be killed for his name, we can all will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus has overcome the power of this world and He is waiting for all his disciples beyond the temporary pain we endure for Him in this world today.

Now, these guys were a wreck at this point.  John 16:6 says they were “grieving over what he’d told them.”   So right there, in the middle of the road, Jesus just decides to have an impromptu prayer meeting for the benefit of the eleven men who were walking with him.  And he prays this incredible prayer of empowerment over them.

And as I read through His prayer this week it brought me to tears because I know that Jesus wasn’t just praying for the eleven men standing with him on the street, but when he was praying that prayer he was thinking of me, and you, and every other person who would follow him one day.

And in this prayer he prays for our boldness and certainty – because he’s trusted us with this amazing message of hope, and he knows that we will be able to accomplish incredible things for the Kingdom, but we don’t always believe that.

He prays for unity of heart and mind among all those who would ever follow Him – that we wouldn’t be divided by legalism, church doctrines, and cliques, but that we’d all cling tightly to the original message that he taught.

He prays for his Father to teach us his word, to make us holy, to adopt us as sons and daughters, give us His name, and cover us with the same familial protection that he covered Jesus with while he was in this world.

He prays that his Father would protect us from the evil of this world, and that when we suffer we will not lose hope, and we will not turn from our faith in Jesus’ message.

He prays that we will not keep the amazing message of love, hope, peace, and eternal life to ourselves – that it is a message for all the world and that as His followers we will be quick to share his message boldly, wherever we go and with everyone we meet in order to bring glory to God the Father, and to Jesus his Son.

As we prepare to take the Lord’s Supper today, I pray that we will hear and understand Jesus’ last words to us.  I pray that like these eleven men, we will not only remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but we will think of these final words Jesus spoke to all of us.  Words that have the power to change hearts, restore lives, and bring healing to a lost and broken world.