Tag: disciples

A Preview of A Laboring Hand

November is halfway over. My Reflections series has been introduced, and I’m thankful for those of you who have purchased, read and reviewed the book. But it is only the first in a series, and I’m going to give you a peek inside the second book in the series today.

Today’s excerpt comes from A Laboring Hand, Reflections Book Two, which releases to the public in January 2020.

If you’re familiar with Mary and Martha of Bethany, you’ll recognize this scene. It’s based on Luke 10:38-42. I’m intentionally starting in the middle of the scene so you can’t see what leads up to Martha’s frustration.

I hope you glimpse the overwhelmed, responsible big sister whose trying to make sure her guests are content and satisfied. Not only is she serious about being the “hostess with the mostest,” Martha wants her siblings to help.

How often have you been frustrated with the lack of help from your family during a hosted event? Or maybe I’m the only person who can imagine this actually happening.

Excerpted from A Laboring Hand, chapter four:

Soon enough, the laughter and banter of a crowd of dusty men filled the room. I welcomed them with a small bowl of water and a clean linen cloth. Well, it was clean for the first man or two who dried their hands.

Yeshua reclined at the head of the table on the largest cushion which my parents had often shared. John bar Zebedee, one of the Boanerges, sat on it with the Master. He was only a couple years older than Mary and the youngest of all the Master’s followers.

The crowd of dirty disciples filled the room, folded onto other cushions. Some chose to lean against the wall on rugs Laz had pulled from his room and ours. The dirt floor could hardly be seen with so many men sprawled around the room.

Mary and I circulated with pitchers, filling every cup we owned and still two men shared each one of the battered pottery pieces. Once we finished, I began to distribute bowls of spiced beans and cloth-wrapped packages of bread, still warm from their place on the hearth. I turned to ask Mary to assist me, but she’d seated herself cross-legged at Yeshua’s feet, staring up as he started to teach.

I blinked hard. What on earth was she thinking? Was this her rebellion since I hadn’t let her get water for foot washing? She was certainly positioned in a way that she could wash his feet if she had the supplies.

I continued bustling around taking care of our guests, but my frustration grew. Yeshua’s authoritative voice, usually so soothing, fueled the ire inside me. He could make her help me. I glanced at Laz, but my brother was watching the Master and scribbling on a piece of parchment. Mary never once looked my way, even when I nudged her with my ankle as I passed to refill the cup John shared with Yeshua.

They had promised to help. When I’d first mentioned inviting the group to stay over for more than a day, both Laz and Mary agreed to help with the work. Now they sat there, enjoying Yeshua’s teaching while I served everyone.

With a careful eye, I glanced at every cup and bowl. Levi raised his cup in my direction, and I sidled through the sprawled bodies to fill it, nearly tripping on another man’s filthy feet.

The mud-caked toes never even flinched, and my bubble of anger swelled. I swallowed it, and turned to top off his cup. He stared through me, as if I were invisible, but I was used to that from working in the Pharisee’s home. In the past, Yeshua’s friends were more gracious.

Unrest stirred inside me as I shuffled around, refilling cups and then fetching more bread to replenish the diminishing stacks. After refilling my pitcher from the jar stored beneath the eaves, I counted the loaves in the linen clothes on the counter. Only three dozen were left. Soon, I would need to bake more.

And that’s when it became too much. I strode toward Yeshua holding the jug of watered wine aloft and jabbed my sister with a meaningful kick. She blinked, staring at me for a moment as if I’d woken her from a deep sleep.

As I filled the Lord’s cup, I said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

A hush descended in the room. I heard the wine trickle against what was in his cup. Our eyes met.

“Bid her to help me.” Couldn’t he see how much work needed to be done? And Mary was just sitting there like a useless lump.

“Martha.” His voice was quieter than it had been, almost gentle.

At the sound of my name from his lips, the turmoil loosened inside me. Why had I waited so long to ask for his assistance? His dark eyes filled with understanding and concern. I knew he would help me because he cared about me.

“Martha, you’re anxious and worried about many things.”

The comfort oozing through me turned sharp and became a prickle of conviction. Worry was sin. My father had told me so.

“But one thing is needful.”

One thing? I wanted to jerk my hand around at the crowd of hungry men who needed food, drink, and places to sleep. There were many things that needed to be taken care of. I knew he could see that.

Yeshua sighed. His fingers rested on the handle of the pitcher beside mine. They were square and scuffed—working man’s hands.

“And Mary hath chosen that good part.” His voice rose slightly, but not with anger or impatience, and his hand dropped to his lap. “And that won’t be taken away from her.”

Everything warred within me as I struggled to comprehend his words. Mary was sitting there while our guests needed food and drink. How was that better than helping me meet their needs?

With one long glance, he turned to scan the room. “A certain man…”

I recognized the beginning of a parable. Usually I loved his stories—they always carried so much spiritual significance. Tonight, I couldn’t listen because the words he’d spoken to me stung my heart.

Mary hath chosen that good part.

I filled cups with lowered eyes. Tears burned at the back of my eyelids whenever I blinked, but I widened my eyes and jerked my shawl up to cover most of my face.

Mary sat at his feet doing nothing, but Yeshua said she’d chosen the good part. Mary hath chosen that good part. The words kept echoing all evening, drowning out the Master’s stories and the disciples’ questions.

Even now, as I’m writing about it, his gentle admonition stings somewhere deep in my soul. Was there something wrong with my desire to make the men comfortable? Did Yeshua not want a meal and refreshment while he was talking?

One thing is needful. What one thing?

Mary stirred on our shared bed. Her forehead wrinkled and then smoothed. As I’d helped her prepare for bed, I’d wanted to ask about the lessons, but I felt foolish. If I asked, she would know that I hadn’t paid attention while Yeshua taught.

Why did that make me feel guilty? Yeshua wasn’t angry with me. He even thanked me for the food and drink as I passed him to go to bed.

Yahweh help me understand what this means. What is the one needful thing for me to do? Sit and listen like my sister?

I sighed and my heart weighed more heavily in my chest. But if I do that, who will do the work?

**This is copyrighted material.

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FINDING FOCUS: Mentoring

Mentoring is God’s plan for passing along Christianity and the example of Jesus Christ himself.

This month, the blog will take a closer look at this important calling. As in the study book (no longer available for purchase), the study starts with a Portrait.

Mentoring is becoming a lost art. As you’ll see in the Bible study segment, we should be more serious about this focal point of Christianity.

What follows is my attempt to paint a portrait of one of the best examples of mentoring given in scripture. Because the details of the arrangement aren’t spelled out in scripture, plenty of license was taken in the fictionalizing of the account.

Air stagnates in the women’s section at the rear of the Ephesian synagogue. I open my mouth to join the recitation and nearly gag when the body odor of an elderly woman in front of me wafts my way. Lord, help me!
Yes, that is a prayer. I find myself uttering three- and four-word petitions all day long. And the gracious Lord I serve hears and answers.
In this moment, I don’t heave the contents of my stomach onto the women around me. Nor does a retching sound emerge in place of the scripture. God has answered again.
My tongue forms the ancient words from Deuteronomy. Feminine voices embrace me on every side, joining and blending with the deeper tones from our fathers, husbands, brothers and sons.
I tilt my head to the side, searching for my husband Aquila. My father is dead, my brother remains in Rome, uninterested in the Way, and the Lord has never blessed me with sons, only two daughters, both married.
Aquila is more than enough. We serve Jesus Christ together, just as we make tents together.
A male voice begins the first song of degrees. Other voices join in. I twitter out the high part my mother taught me so many decades past. The soprano notes complement the lower voices of both women and men.
A woman behind me joins on the high harmony. My heart leaps as I’m transported back to childhood, learning the part with my younger sister.
I turn my thoughts toward the Lord, voicing each word from my lips to his ears.
“The Lord is thy keeper,” we sing (Ps. 121:5). Praise Him for keeping us safe when Caesar evicted us from Rome.
“The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil” (Ps. 121:7). Yes, Lord, you have preserved Aquila and me too many times to recount.
“I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” (Ps. 122:1).
Tears clog my throat. King David, author of this psalm, wrote of the tabernacle, but I have never seen the temple in Jerusalem. I squeeze my eyes closed to ease the burning.
When the singing ends, several men pray aloud. Their voices make a tuneful backdrop to my own thanksgiving and supplication.
The rabbi reads from Isaiah. It is one of the three books outside of the Torah that this synagogue has available, along with sacred scrolls.
A stranger, dark skin naming his origin from parts to the south, perhaps even Egypt, stands and speaks. The tone of his voice is cultured, smooth like cream. His words are fine. He expounds on the passage from Isaiah’s prophecy before speaking of other prophecies.
I nearly topple over when the man mentions the teaching of John the Baptist. I straighten against the hard seat, nothing more than a plank of wood set atop cinder blocks.
He speaks of the Messiah. My heart thrums in my throat until his honeyed words are nearly drowned by the pounding. Does this man know of the Way?
Many members of the synagogue are believers, but others claim Jesus of Nazareth was not their Messiah. The topic is dangerous to discuss in this Jewish place of worship.
I couldn’t discern whether the young man knows the Way. His focus seems to be validating John as the forerunner, the prophet to make straight the path before Messiah.
A chorus of murmurs from the men interrupts his fine speech, keeps me from hearing what more he says.
Several other men stand to read or recite scripture. No one else expounds on the passages. After another hymn and prayer, the rabbi dismisses the gathering with the traditional Shalom blessing.
Outside the domed building, I breathe deeply, watching the men file out. Aquila comes, head bent close to Benjamin, one of the members of our house church. Aquila’s leanness makes him appear taller than the stout cobbler. They exchange nods before Aquila extends his hand to me.
I take it, amazed that it can be cool and warm all at once. I press my back against the wall of the synagogue, raise on my toes to speak directly into my husband’s ear.
The crowd leaving the worship service is quiet, but the street around us teems with commerce. It is Ephesus. The trading never ceases.
“Who was that man? The one who spoke of John?”
“Apollos, an Alexandrite Jew.”
“Does he follow the Way?”
Aquila shakes his head, a slight move. I stare into his rich, brown eyes and see the motion wasn’t a denial. He thinks the younger man might be a believer, but it is dangerous to assume this. Apollos hadn’t spoken openly of Jesus, like Paul the Apostle had done when he visited here a few months past.
“We should invite him to break bread with us.”
Aquila nods. He scans the trickle of worshipers still emerging from the synagogue. A royal blue cloak swirls at the doorway, and the dark-skinned man emerges. Behind him, the rabbi shakes his head vociferously. My stomach clenches at the sight of the synagogue leader’s stern visage.
My husband shuffles toward the two men, waiting a respectful distance apart. The rabbi looks at him expectantly, but Aquila nods toward the stranger. Apollos stands half a head taller than my husband. Their lips move, but the bustle of the city and my distance from them makes hearing the conversation impossible.
Soon, Aquila is nodding. Both of them step toward where I’m waiting, hands folded over my queasy stomach. Lord, don’t let this be a mistake.
Trivial conversation follows us through the crowded market and into the quieter trade district. I fall behind the men, trying to listen to snatches of their conversations.
Lord, protect us if this man is not sent from you. Grant us wisdom to teach him Your Perfect Way. Move in his heart. Touch our tongues and lips. You promised your Spirit’s aide.
I could not hear much from the men, but I know the Lord hears every syllable of my fervent prayers.
A faint odor of tanning hides greets us when Aquila swings open the door to our home. It is nearly impossible to keep the stench away when our trade requires us to handle cured hides and skins every day.
The men sit on the couches in the center court of our small shop. My feet glide soundlessly across the mosaic and into the storage room. I fetch a skin of new wine and three cups. I place some bread and olive spread onto a large platter beside the cups, and carry all of it to the men.
I pour wine for both men, meeting Aquila’s eyes when I hand him his drink, ducking my head when I pass a cup to our guest.
Aquila swallows before asking, “What do you know of John’s baptism?”
Apollos sips his beverage, reclines on the pillow-covered arm of his couch. “His immersion of believers in water prepared men and women to become part of something greater.”
They discuss this subject. I swallow a mouthful of drink, but the knot in my stomach won’t allow more than that. I continue to pray until I feel a nudge from the Spirit.
“What of Christ?” I say.
Both men turn to stare at me. My husband’s eyes widen. Apollos holds my gaze, sipping from his cup before setting it on his thigh.
“Has Messiah come?” The dark man’s eyebrows press together, creasing his wide forehead.
I keep my eyes pinned on our guest, but I still see the slight shake of Aquila’s head. The witness of Christ within me prods me to ignore the wordless warning from my spouse.
“Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ. He called an assembly from the body of those baptized by John. We were baptized by Paul the Apostle in Corinth a few years past.”
“I heard rumors about this Jesus. Why do you say he was the Christ?”
Aquila and I take turns quoting prophecies of old which Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled. Prophecies everyone agrees spoke of the coming Messiah.
Aquila asks questions and nods at our explanations. His attendance on my words sends a flush to my cheeks. This man is a powerful orator. If he follows the Way, many people will turn from the path leading to eternal destruction.
Light fades. I bring a lamp from an inner room and light the wicks floating in pots encircling the terrace. A sense of peace envelopes me, a blanket of assurance as real as the curtain of darkness falling around us.
Today I have discovered another way Aquila and I can serve the Lord together. A young man will be saved from destruction. In turn, his persuasive speaking will convert many more to the Way.
Thank you, Lord.

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***This excerpt was first published in 2016 in the first edition of FINDING FOCUS THROUGH THE LENS OF GOD’S WORD, copyright belongs to Sharon Hughson