God Loves You in Your Sorrow

Grief and hardship come to us all.

The heartache you and I face helps put comparatively minor circumstances into perspective. I have friends and relatives who are suffering, those who now have an empty place in their lives due to the loss of a spouse or loved one. There are others who are waiting—waiting for a job, waiting for news concerning their health, or waiting for a son, daughter, spouse, or sibling to return safely to them.

Grief is something all of us will face at some point or another. While nobody in my family has passed on this year, I have experienced some losses and have been reminded of the shortness of life. A few months ago, I lost a dear friend to cancer. She used to tell people that I was her special friend. Not only did we attend church together, we seemed to understand each other. We laughed at many of the same things, enjoyed coffee together, and her sweet spirit helped sustain me through some rough spots. But now she is in the arms of Jesus. I imagine she is happy in the extreme to be with the One she loves so dearly. Three more friends have also left this earth since then, all of them Christ-followers, all of them showing evidence of that fact. I am happy for them, but I grieve also—mainly for their spouses, children, and other family they left behind.

Two other friends face serious health issues. One has had a stroke and at a rather young age (I consider late fifties “young”). She made it to church after 8 months of absence. Another was awaiting a lung transplant when I originally wrote this. Just a few days ago, he got the call, and has successfully received a lung. He is doing well, but has a long road of recovery ahead.

Yet another friend surprised me when I saw him at church one Sunday morning, and he told me he had resigned his pastorate. He has no prospects right now, but made this decision because “it was time to leave.” He must be hurting even though he knows he is following God’s direction.

Hardships and struggle come to us all. This is an imperfect world, and we will face tragedy, loss of jobs, health issues, and a myriad of other disappointments.

Does this mean we have done something to displease God? Does it mean He is punishing us or is mad at us? Perhaps we even question if He still loves us.

I do not believe God is mad at you or that you have displeased Him. Yes, we can be disobedient but as a Christian, Christ has done all that is needed to please the Father and He is not punishing you. Realize that Christ suffered the punishment for our sins. Disciplining? Perhaps. Remember that discipline can be Him redirecting us, giving us a different perspective, or leading us to repentance. But realize that He continues to love you.

If you are suffering or grieving or struggling or fighting an impossible battle, realize you may be doing just as God wants. Don’t believe me? Allow me to point to Job who God said  was a righteous man (Job 1:1). As a result of his righteousness, he suffered terrible losses. God also told Job’s friends they were wrong in their criticism of him. He told them to ask Job to pray for them and He would accept Job’s prayer (Job 42:8).

While I cannot answer your big questions in time of heartache or tragedy, I will suggest what God may want from you. He may just want to draw you close as He invites you to sit with Him. (He has a HUGE lap.)He may want to take your worries, exhaustion, and nightmarish circumstances upon Himself. Perhaps He just wants to love on and comfort you. The Bible says that He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1) who comforts us in all our sorrows so that we in turn can comfort others.

Take a moment today to ask God for His comfort, for His direction in whatever situation you face. And do not isolate yourself from others who want to comfort you or just be with you.

When God comforts you, try to find someone who needs comfort, and pass what God has give you onto them. It may take time to be able to do this, but eventually, through your own sorrow, through your own tears, you will be able to see the needs of another.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

Jesus Heals a Woman on the Sabbath

Read Luke 13:10-16

I daresay that most of us have been around people with serious physical deformities or perhaps you yourself suffer from a particular physical challenge. I grew up with a brother who had a form of muscular dystrophy. He died at the age of twenty-eight, and actually that is a rather long life for someone with this disease. Even though there were a lot of things he could not do, his disability did not keep him from studying God’s word and attending church. One thing that caused him problems was—believe it or not—he did not look like he had any kind of physical defect. He could walk without crutches or braces, get around without a wheel chair, and other than always being rather thin, he looked “normal.”

I remember when children figured out that something was not quite right they might say something like “what’s wrong with him?” So I grew up being rather sensitive to the problems of those with physical challenges, and today I cringe when people treat them as less than a person or I see the “normal” people staring. While it is our human nature to be curious, a look can always be accompanied by a nod or smile. (Sorry if it sounds like I’m being a little “preachy.”)

So now I try to imagine how the woman in our story today struggles to make it to the synagogue. Does she have any idea of what is to come? Bent over, unable to even look up to the sky, she is most likely in pain—both physical and emotional—but has learned to cope. Just as many people today learn to cope with pain that we perhaps cannot imagine. She walks to the synagogue, probably alone as people stare and children point and giggle at this oddly shaped woman—that is, unless people have changed a lot since Jesus’ day.

When Jesus sees her, he apparently stops in the middle of his teaching and calls her forward. Let’s take a moment to consider this. He calls her forward in front of everyone—the very people who have stared, ignored her as a fixture of sorts, minimized her existence, and maybe thought of her as being punished by God. Keep in mind that she may have been a young woman whose beauty and potential for finding a husband have been robbed from her. We don’t know her age, only that she has been bent over for eighteen years. So when Jesus calls her forward, what is she thinking? Has she seen Jesus heal before? Is she excited anticipating what the Savior might do or is she embarrassed at having this attention placed on her? I imagine her struggling to come forward, her feet shuffling, trying to lift her head to this teacher. But we know none of these things except that from our perspective the miracle that is about to happen.

And Jesus reveals his plans to her in a brief moment. First He lays his hands on her. We may not think of that as significant especially since it is a common practice for Him to do so. But this woman has probably not received much affection so this touch is significant. And when He does touch her, she is freed from her infirmity. Immediately she straightens up and praises God. Immediately. I love that Jesus can work in such a way, and the Bible indicates nothing of pain from this transaction, but perhaps we can hear the cracking of bones, as joints and vertebrae straighten, as muscles strained by the years of deformity relax, and those meant to hold her up are now free to do so.

Now we glance over at the synagogue leader who whoops and dances with joy!

Well, not quite. Instead he becomes indignant, and notice that he addresses the people (not Jesus), basically telling them that if someone wants healing they can come to the synagogue and be healed on any day of the week besides Saturday.

As quickly as Jesus has healed the woman, He cries out “hypocrites!” addressing the leader as well as the people who back him. He points out that if it’s important to take care of your animals on the Sabbath why can’t this “daughter of Abraham” be healed from an affliction on the Sabbath? That argument makes so much sense that notice what happens. The official and his backers are humiliated while others—the regular folk with little or no religious training—are amazed. All this takes place while the woman as I imagine tests out her new perspective, looks people in the eye for the first time in eighteen years, jumps for joy and runs to tell everyone that she is healed. She experiences joy in God while Christ’s opponents sit sour and humiliated. By the way, Jesus did humiliate his opponents on more than one occasion, and people were often won to Him because of this.

Praying you find joy in Christ, no matter your suffering.

Washing the Feet of Jesus

Scripture: Luke 7:36-50

Have you ever done something for the Lord that seemed a little strange to others, but you were so passionate about it that what others thought didn’t matter? The woman in our story today is one such person. She has a passion to worship Jesus. It seems there is something about Him that draws her—something that makes her heart ache to be in his presence.

One thing I want to mention before we go any further is that the other gospels record a story of a woman anointing Jesus. (See Matthew 26:6, John 12:3-7 and Mark 14:3-6). ) That may seem a little confusing, but for now just realize that some Bible scholars have had questions about these passages too. “Whether these accounts represent one event or two, or possibly even three, has been the subject of speculation for centuries.” (http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/women-of-the-passion-anoint-oil)

Identified only as “a sinful woman,” we see that she has a passion for Jesus and as a result, worships Him in a way that seems a little, well…extreme or “over the top” and definitely improper. She has, more than likely, seen Jesus heal, teach, raise the dead, and forgive. When she follows Him to Simon’s home perhaps she wonders if He could forgive her. Maybe she is desperate for the peace that His forgiveness might bring her.

However there are some social barriers in her way. Here she is—a known sinner (probably a prostitute or adulterer), inviting herself into the home of a Pharisee, a religious leader. She also plans to perform an act involving two things that were huge faux pas—touching a man in a society where men and women did not even address each other in public and letting her hair down for someone other than her husband.

But none of this seems to matter to her. Proper or not, she will show Jesus her love. So she anoints Jesus with oil and as she does, her eyes fill with tears, and she kneels at his feet without a word. I can hear the room grow silent. Her tears brim over, and unashamed, she uses them to wash His feet. I imagine she weeps a good bit moved by the fact that she is in His presence, before gently drying his feet with her hair. Think of it, here she is before at least fourteen men (probably more), touching Him and allowing her hair to fall freely over His feet.

At this point Simon begins to think. Perhaps he should not have for Jesus knows his thoughts–thoughts very logical to Simon–that she is a sinner, and if Jesus were a true prophet, He would not allow her to touch Him. First, Jesus tells Simon he wants to say something to him. Almost as if He’s asking for permission. But Simon’s okay with that and tells Jesus to say what’s on His mind.

So Jesus begins his reprimand by telling Simon a story about two debtors, one who owes a great deal and one who owes little. The generous moneylender forgives both debts. “Which one will love him more?” Jesus asks. Simon says that he supposed the one with the larger debt. (I think it’s cool the way Jesus let Simon figure that one out for himself.)

But He is not done.

Jesus points out Simon’s areas of negligence in performing the simple courtesies extended to visitors in that culture. Simon has not even called a servant to wash his guest’s feet. He did not greet Him with a kiss. And look at the “sinner”—she kisses, anoints, washes, and dries His feet. Not only that, but as Jesus says here, she offers these things with her own body—her tears, her hair—and performs the lowliest of services.

He then turns his attention to the woman, and I wish I could have seen the look on Simon’s face as Jesus said these words, comparing him, a religious leader to this “sinner.” We hope he begins to grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words. Maybe he is angry at the rebuke, or perhaps he has a revelation about his own character. I like to think that he becomes less judgmental after this visit with Jesus and begins to show mercy to other “sinners,” realizing he is one also.

So what can we learn from this passage?

  • As Simon perhaps figured out, we seldom understand what is in a person’s heart. Maybe on the surface, their sin is more obvious than ours, but that does not make it worse. And Jesus accepts an offering made with a worshipful heart.
  • Jesus is not at all interested in convention. He not only allows the woman’s touch, He compliments her unusual behavior.
  • Jesus forgives sin. He has such a deep well of love he does not worry about who comes to Him; He doesn’t worry about being influenced or tainted by our sin. As a matter of fact, He appreciates the openness and sincerity of the woman in our story.
  • No matter what, Jesus longs to demonstrate His love to us. Some of us may have committed the very sins that this woman was guilty of or worse. He still desires that we come to Him and lay all that “junk” on Him. He can bear the weight of our sins and the shame we may feel because of it—and I may add, the shame we may feel from what others have done to us.
  • Perhaps like me, you become emotional in public worship. Other people may think you’re a little odd for making such a big deal over Him, but I don’t think Jesus minds that at all.

And by the way, the things we have done wrong and the wrongs that have been done to us are not who we are; they do not define us. Jesus sees His followers as righteous and redeemed, and you are of great value to Him.

I invite you to listen to the words of a beautiful song by Mercy Me:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXI0B4iMLuU

The Woman with the Bleed

Scripture: Mark 5:25-34

Jesus ministered to all kinds of people with a wide variety of illnesses and struggles. The one I want to look at today really touches my heart because it shows His concern for a condition that is almost uniquely that of a woman. And one that most of us would probably want to just keep quiet about. But since it is such a sweet story of Christ’s love for us, I want to take a close look at it.

Jesus has just crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples when we meet this woman with the bleed (or hemorrhage). Before she reaches him a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, kneels at Jesus’ feet and pleads with Him to come heal his daughter. So while Jesus (and apparently the crowd) takes off in that direction, this woman whose name is never given approaches Him thinking “if I can only touch the hem of his garment then I will be healed.” I imagine her hand as it reaches through the tangle of sweaty legs and dusty feet. And she does it. She touches His garment.

Before we move on, we should realize a few things about this woman:

  • She has not only suffered physically and financially (going to one physician after another, spending all her money and growing worse instead of better), she is also suffering spiritually and socially as this affliction marks her as unclean and therefore not fit to go to the temple or synagogue. (Leviticus 15:25-27)
  • If she is married there is a huge problem with her uncleanness. Her husband would not be able to have relations with her. For twelve years.
  • We don’t know how old she is so we don’t know if she has children and at this point in time she would be unable to have them.
  • She is basically an interruption to an important mission—that of a desperate synagogue leader whose daughter is dying.
  • She goes to Jesus in what she hopes is a private way. (No one else need know of this—she can touch Him, disappear into the crowd, and head home.)

Now it would seem Jesus had a choice to make. At the woman’s touch, He knows something has happened. Should He ignore it and continue with the synagogue leader? Wouldn’t that have been easier? Wouldn’t it have been better to hurry to the dying daughter? Or should He stop and acknowledge what has just happened?

Jesus chooses to do the hard thing.

He embraces this “interruption” and asks who touched Him. I can imagine the look on the disciples’ faces as they say, “well, ya know, you’re in this huge crowd pressing up against you like you’re a rock star or something and you want to know who touched you. Lord, are you…all right?” Yes, I am taking a slight liberty with Scripture but the point is the disciples often have a tough time understanding what Jesus is doing, and maybe they’re a little embarrassed by his behavior. Perhaps they’re thinking “all right, Lord, we’re here for You, but perhaps You need to get out of the sun for a bit.” At any rate, Jesus keeps looking around, pretty much ignores the disciples, and keeps asking. He knows that someone has touched Him and received healing.

Now I’m sure Jesus already knows who touched Him, after all He has the ability (even with His human limitations) to perceive what is in people’s minds and hearts. So…if He does know, why would he ask who touched Him?

Maybe He wants the woman to come to Him by choice, not because He points her out saying “I know it was you.” But isn’t Jesus still trying to embarrass her? Surely she does not wish to be brought to everyone’s attention. She didn’t want to get up in front of all those people and ask healing for this delicate matter. No, she wanted just to touch Him secretly with no one else knowing, and be done with it. But Jesus has other ideas, and I don’t think it is to shame her any further, but rather in His tender way, He wants to tell her something in front of the whole crowd.

Since he is so insistent, the woman comes forward and falls at his feet “in fear and trembling.” Was she afraid she was about to be rebuked for touching Him? After all, she was unclean and had no business touching anyone. And surely she couldn’t help but touch some in the huge crowd. We can’t be sure but we do know she tells Him the “whole truth”, apparently not mincing her words. And I’m wondering now, does this crowd already know about her situation? Do they know this woman has not been to the synagogue for twelve years? Does this synagogue leader who is standing next to Jesus know these things? And are they appalled at her words?

Well, it seems that Jesus knows exactly what to say to her. Jesus does not shame her because of all this. Instead of saying “oh, now look what you’ve done. Now I’m unclean too” He chose compassion. He chose to praise her faith. He chose to tell her she was whole, to go in peace, to be freed from suffering.

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But first he calls her “daughter” which probably meant “daughter of Abraham.” I hope you see the significance in that. She had been cut off from worship of the God of Abraham, from so much of what made her Jewish, and now Jesus is calling her “daughter.” He plays a part in re-establishing her place in the community and in the synagogue. If He, as God in the flesh calls her daughter, then He apparently establishes a personal relationship with her. He could have said “dear woman” as He did His mother but He chose the term daughter for significant reasons.

In just a breath or two Jesus establishes a relationship with her, compliments her faith, wishes her peace, and frees her from a terrible affliction.

Jesus may not always free us immediately from our affliction or our suffering, but He does make a way for us to go in peace. And perhaps a more important thing to consider is how we can help others “go in peace.” So here’s some homework: Ask God to give you an opportunity to speak peace into someone’s life outside your regular circle of family, friends, and co-workers. Be honest if this is new or difficult for you. You may find that you have helped someone with a smile or a kind word. Voicing your appreciation to a waitress or a nurse or cashier can make their day and perhaps help lift a burden that you are not even aware of. And don’t be surprised at the peace you find in ministering to another.

Patience and Trials

Those of you who follow my blog know that I love stories of Jesus and the women he interacted with, and I try to stick with that theme. But this month I’m going to take a break and speak to a subject that I’ve had on my mind for some time.

Have you ever had someone tell you “don’t pray for patience”? Even if the phrase is said tongue in cheek there’s a good reason for giving this advice, right? After all, we “know” that God will start teaching us patience by allowing us to experience all sorts of trials. This concept could be considered biblical as Romans 5:3 states that tribulation brings patience. Well, of course we don’t want to go through tribulation! So asking for patience is like asking for trouble.

Well, here’s where I have a problem. Telling ourselves and others not to pray for patience reflects something very wrong with our thinking about God and His wisdom. Of course, our human nature does not wish to go through trials. However if you read the first half of the above verse (Romans 5:3) it tells us we should glory in tribulation.

Wait. Are you crazy? We should be excited about trials? Maybe even invite them into our lives?

I know, I know that seems kind of scary. But don’t we realize that God is a giver of good things? So should we really be afraid of the lessons He might try to teach us? Or worry because of what we pray? We will all face trials and frustrations no matter how we pray. So wouldn’t it be better to go through them with patience rather than without it? And do we really think that we can tell God when and how much tribulation to allow in our lives by not praying for patience?

There is another huge problem with this thinking.. In 1 Corinthians 13 starting in verse 6 the Bible describes the characteristics of love and right off we see “love is (oh my, there it is)…patient. While we’re thinking on that, we might want to take a look at the fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:22 we read this: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” When we see this we think “oh, yeah! Give me love, joy, and peace, Lord. I want me some of that.” But…following those three wonderful traits is our friend…patience!

This really makes me wonder if we can ever exhibit the love, joy, and peace Jesus intends for us without at least a dab of patience? And are we really going to skip over that portion of the fruit of the Spirit because it might bring us difficulties or temptations or even heartache? If God does allow those trials, He will accompany us. What a wonderful way to get to know him better! No, I’m not excited about facing trials but Jesus sure faced them while He was on this earth and think about this: is the servant better than his or her master? (See Matthew 10:24 for the answer.)

Perhaps you’ve already realized that if we want others to treat us with patience, we should we be willing to do treat them in like manner. And of course, the most important Person we desire patience from is God. So…patience is something God wants for us, and if we desire to be more like Him well, maybe we should think of it as something to pray for.

Here are some things I hope you include in your “take away” today:

  1. We shouldn’t be afraid to pray for the things that will enable us to be better followers of Christ. Including patience.
  2. Realize that God is with us in every difficulty, and that makes it all worthwhile (and by the way, I believe God will allow trials that are more than we can bear, but that is a subject for another time).
  3. God does not stand ready to load you up with trials just because you ask for something good.

“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
http://biblehub.com/isaiah/41-10.htm Accessed on January 29, 2016

Praying that you will have all the love, joy, and peace Christ intends for you. (I’ll let you pray for the patience.)

Remembering

In case you don’t realize it, Christmas and the holidays that surround it can be a busy season! In all the rush we may feel a little lost and wonder what happened to the “true meaning” of Christmas. Many have found ways to keep Christ in Christmas such as celebrating advent, attending a Christmas Eve service, reading the Christmas story with family or friends, and I’m sure many of you have your own traditions.

Jesus baby

Well, guess what. I want to help you out too. Because I believe this is of utmost importance to our joy: remembering what God has done for us and becoming a thankful person. We can always, anytime, no matter what is going on, thank and praise God. Take time during this season to sit down and read a psalm aloud to Him (yes read to Him) such as Psalm 30, Psalm 27, or Psalm 100. Spend time just being with your Lord.

I know this can also be a sorrowful time for many. While it is a popular misconception that suicide rates go up around Christmastime, a significant number of people do face the “holiday blues.” So as we get our preparations underway, let’s be aware that the people around us may be lonely or have horrible memories of Christmases past or may have experienced a tragedy in recent days.  Perhaps we can reach out to someone who seems a little down and of course, we can do the most powerful thing possible and pray for them.

I am praying that you, my reader, will experience the joy this season can bring, along with the excitement and the wonder of it. Because no matter what we have been through in the past, what we are facing right now, or how lonely we may feel, we can still experience joy—a deep-rooted joy that can remain with us all year.

I’m sure some of you have already seen this video (link below), but in case you haven’t, I hope you will watch and remember all that Christ has done for you. He loves you so very much.

Peace in Him.

Jesus, His Mother, and a Party!

A few months ago, I was listening to a Christian radio station when one of the DJ’s asked a hypothetical question. If Jesus were on this earth today, living in our culture, would he be on social media?

I wasn’t sure about that one, but one of the other DJ’s said yes! Jesus absolutely would use social media as a way to connect with people. You may argue that  Facebook, Google+ Instagram, etc are not the best places to really connect with folks, and I would agree. It disturbs me when people say they are closer to their Facebook friends than they are their “real” friends. Nevertheless I have found it does have some real value. Through social media I have reconnected with friends I no longer see for one reason or another and have been able to find out what is going on in their lives. Being able to pray with them in their times of need has been wonderful.

So would Jesus participate in social media? I’m not sure, but what the DJ said certainly rings true. Jesus loved being around people and loved connecting with them in all manner of ways. He went to the temple to teach people, ministered to individuals, at least once invited himself to dinner, and went to parties

Parties in Jesus day were different than ours. Hospitality was exceedingly important to them. Did you know that in Jesus’ time the party after a wedding could last a week? A week! No honeymoon for the bride and groom, but rather, they entertained for several days after the ceremony.

In John 2 Jesus, His disciples and His mother have received invitations to a wedding in Cana. And now the celebration is on. The host is prepared with plenty of food and wine. Or at least he was supposed to be. At some point during the days of the celebration, the wine runs out. This was a huge problem. It was not like running out of pretzels or drinks nowadays, and oh, well, will someone run up to the 7-11 and buy some more? Oh, no, this was a reflection on the host’s reputation. His lack of hospitality would be a gigantic faux pas. So Jesus’ mother Mary goes to her son and tells Him about the situation.

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Why would Mary do this? Why would she bother the Lord with such a problem?

Perhaps she thinks that her son will listen to his mom and come up with a solution. But Jesus does not do as she had hoped or maybe expected. (If you study His life much at all, you will see Jesus often did the unexpected.)

Instead of saying something like “Sure mom, I’ll be glad to help,” He tells her “Woman, what have I to with thee? My time is not yet come.”  (KJV)

Take a deep breath, everyone. If you have never read this story, you may wonder why He was talking to Mary like that. His mother! I know His words have raised a lot of questions. So let’s try to answer one or two at least.

As you may know, “woman” was a term of endearment and respect. Okay, that’s better, isn’t it? BUT look at his next words. “What have I to do with thee?”  What? He really said that to her?

Not long ago, I was very direct with God and made this statement to Him: “I know you were being respectful when you called Mary ‘woman’, but I still think what you said afterwards…well, it seems rude.”  The Lord did not keep silent, and these are the words I heard him speak to my heart: “Now Eileen, don’t you think I knew how to talk to my mama?”

Well, that shut me up.

And I love it when He speaks in my vernacular. Both my children call me “mama,” and so for me the term is particularly endearing.

But the Lord had another assurance for me. “Look at how she reacted. She knew what I was saying. She was not offended.”

Oh.

I am totally looking at this Scripture in a new light now. Perhaps Mary is a little more spiritual than I because she doesn’t drop her jaw, make a sigh of disgust or demand that He talk to her with more respect, but simply turns to the servants and bids them do as her Son wishes. Is she recognizing His authority here? Is He somehow getting it across to her that He wishes her to relate to Him as Lord in addition to the mother-son relationship? Some scholars have said this is the case. His words probably meant far more than the English can convey. But apparently she understood his intent, and had confidence that He would let the servants know what to do.

And this passage ends in the first recorded miracle of Christ when He turns the water into wine. (By the way, it was good wine too according to the words of the host.)

There is always more that can be said about a particular passage of Scripture, and this one is no exception. So what would I like you to take away from this? First of all, Jesus acted in a loving way to His mother; He knew how to talk to her. Secondly, you and I are not the same as Mary, and He knows that. He knows how to treat each of us and how to speak to us as individuals.

Let me add one huge caution here. If you are not reading your Bible and searching for God’s instruction in His Word, it may be very difficult to hear His voice. Sometimes God may speak to us in a thought, an idea, or through the voice of a friend. But first search for His face in Scripture and through prayer. For that is where we find Him.

The Grief of Two Sisters and the Compassion of Jesus

The death of a loved one can be traumatic to say the least. Aside from the sadness, the hole left in our lives, or any number of emotions, grief can sneak up on us and strike when we least expect it. A movie, a casual comment, hearing a phrase the loved one used, or even a commercial can trigger tears or the wrenching of our hearts.

Today I want to take another peak at the lives of Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazurus. The three siblings were apparently very close to Jesus, and we have the opportunity to observe the sisters’ reactions and the reaction of our Lord to the loss of a loved one.

When we read about Martha and Mary a few months ago in Luke 10 we saw that Mary had the faith that Jesus most appreciated while Martha—well, he kind of fussed at her for not paying attention to what was important. Mary, who seemed so useless to Martha, was praised for listening and spending time with Jesus. I also believe Jesus’ rebuke of Martha was a gentle one, and He took the sting out of his criticism by addressing her by name. I also believe He was more disappointed with her attitude than anything else. Remember? She called him “Lord” then demanded He tell Mary to help her. In other words, Mary should be serving too, why don’t you see that and say something? (See my July 2015 blog.)

So let’s spend some more time with these two fascinating women and see how they interact with Jesus at a tragic juncture in their lives. It’s kind of a long chapter, but I encourage you to read John 11:1-43 for yourselves.

Just days before Lazurus dies, the sisters send Jesus a message telling Him that Lazarus is sick, referring to their brother as “the one you love.” Perhaps those words are meant to convey the urgency of the situation as well as an expectation that Jesus come immediately. But Jesus, in a seemingly callous manner, waits until after Lazurus dies to go to them. In verses 7-16 Jesus lets the disciples in on His plans. These verses deserve a closer look and we could most definitely delve into this passage and find some great treasures, but I mainly want to stick with Martha and Mary. (Again, I encourage you to read through these verses, and look at what the disciples say about His planned journey.)

In John 11:17, Jesus arrives when Lazurus has been in the tomb for four days. In verse 20 Martha hears He is coming and goes out to meet Him while Mary stays at home.

Wait. What? Is that right?

Yep. That’s Martha all right, heading down the road to meet with Jesus while Mary stays at home with the guests who had come from Jerusalem. Let that sink in for a minute. Martha who previously had been the one hurrying about, anxiously serving and taking care of preparations leaves a house full of mourners and heads out to meet Jesus with no desire that I can see, to serve Him. She simply wants to get to Him. Perhaps she is hoping to receive comfort. Or perhaps she wants to confront Him. All we know is that Martha wants to be with her Lord.

When she meets with Jesus, the first words out of her mouth according to Scripture are: “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Hmm. Sounds like confrontation wins out. Or does it? Perhaps Martha is just seeking honest answers. Jesus doesn’t interrupt her, but listens as she continues (I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus is a pretty good listener), and her next words reveal her heart. “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Wow! Do you think she really believed that Jesus could raise her brother from the dead? (Hang on and we’ll gain more insight into her thinking.)

Jesus then tells Martha that her brother will rise again. She understands this—she knows he will rise at the last day. But Jesus has something more to share. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He tells her. “He who believes in me will live even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” I imagine Him stating these words gently with an extra dose of the love that He has for this woman.

Martha’s reply is apparently immediate. And look at what she says! (It really is a great answer. Okay, take a deep breath. Ready to see more of Martha’s heart?) “Yes, Lord. I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God who came into the world.”

Dude. The first time I read this I was so proud of Martha because, to be honest, I was a little worried about her harsh attitude toward Mary in the Luke 10 story. But now I see her standing before Jesus having this quiet conversation. And He gives her a chance to confess what she believes about Him. She knows her brother will be raised and live forever. Jesus just had to remind her of what she already believed. He changed her focus and got her to confess aloud what she believed. This must have been a comfort to her for “after she had said this, she went back.”

When she returns, who does she go to? The Bible says she pulls Mary aside and tells her sister that the master is asking for her. I’m so glad we get to see this side of Martha as she delivers the message that Jesus wishes her to come to Him. That is so awesome. Picture Martha’s kindness to Mary as she pulls her aside so they can speak in private. I love it. And Jesus requests her presence.  So now it is Mary’s turn to go to Jesus. And she leaves so quickly that those who had come to comfort notice and follow her.

jesus annointed with perfume

When Mary reaches Jesus, she falls at His feet. Much like her old self for this isn’t the first time she is at His feet. She once washed His feet with her tears, and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:37-38)

in a display of devotion. So now her emotions spill forth again in much the same way but this time with grief. And she says the same words as her sister. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” According to the Scripture, she doesn’t add Martha’s statement that God would do whatever He asked, yet Jesus understands her aching spirit. He is moved by her weeping and the weeping of those who had come with her. Maybe this is the reason “Jesus wept” for as soon as He asks where they have laid Lazurus and they tell Him “come and see,” He weeps. The ISV states that Jesus burst into tears. The Aramaic Bible in Plain English says “And the tears of Yeshua were coming.” I don’t know about you, but I want to weep when I read those words. Theologians have come up with a number of reasons for Jesus’ tears. All we really know is that Jesus is moved with compassion for Mary and for all the Jews who had come with her.

The people lead Him to the tomb and as Jesus tells them to remove the stone, Martha objects. “Lord, by this time there will be a stench.”  Keep in mind that we just heard Martha say that God would do whatever Jesus asks, but now her practical side has settled on her and she thinks about the smell. (Notice that once again she prefaces her objection with “Lord.”)

As you probably know, the stone is moved and Jesus calls Lazurus from the grave. Many come to believe in Him because of this miracle much to the chagrin of the Pharisees. It is interesting that the Bible says nothing about Martha and Mary’s reaction to having their brother back. And I wonder–do they dance with joy as they welcome him into their embrace? Do perhaps both of them fall at Jesus feet and cry tears of joy? As Jesus wept with them, does he now laugh with them? Or maybe they stand in stunned silence.

But God was glorified as Jesus said He would be (verse 4), and both sisters find comfort in Christ.

Messed Up by Sin, but the Good News is….

I have entitled my blog “Find His Love” for a very specific reason—my desire to help women better understand the tremendous love God has for them as individuals. (And as I have said before men, you are welcome to read along.) I know what it is like to doubt God’s love. I know what it is like to hear over and over that He is love, yet to feel unloved and ashamed before Him and the world. Even after I became a Christ-follower, I struggled with these feelings. And I am one of those who believe that feelings are important. God created emotions. He understands our emotions. Furthermore, God wants us to love Him with all our:

  • heart
  • soul
  • strength
  • mind

(Luke 10:27)

Seems like “emotions” or “feelings” are included in that list somewhere.

So I developed a mission to help followers understand and yes, feel(!) God’s love more deeply by studying the way Christ demonstrated that love. What a powerful force we would be for His kingdom if we could but begin to grasp the concepts of that magnificent love.

The Problem of Sin

And yet lately, I’ve been thinking more about the world in general, and of those who have no clue about who Jesus is or what He did. I have also been burdened by the horrors that seem to increase in our world every day. Atrocities haunt us when we turn on the news or get on the internet. Hatred. Starvation. Desperate refugees. Beheadings. Sex trafficking of women and children.

Here in the United States, we still see hunger, homelessness, a plague of adultery, and yes, human trafficking. Why do we see so much suffering and chaos in this world? Why do I suffer? Why are children hurt and scarred for life? Every problem—from the violence of ISIS to our educational woes to the aggravations at work and at home—can be summed up in one word: sin.

I know we don’t like that word. But sin is the problem—throughout the world as well as in our individual lives. When sin entered into the world, death also entered, along with sickness, the violence we see in nature; the whole world became skewed from God’s perfect plan.

And believe it or not—that is the good news. Because sin can be redeemed. Sin and the damage to our lives can be healed and even used by God.

Was Jesus really the Christ? 

Jesus, the Son of God came to redeem sinners as the Messiah. But perhaps you think He was just a man, a good man, a good teacher. You may believe Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God. But I promise, Jesus knew who He was, and I’d like you to see a few of the ways in which He proclaimed Himself:

Jesus called God His Father, and the Jewish leaders understood what He was saying.                      “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.  In his defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’ For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.” John 5:16-18 (emphasis mine)

“I Am the Bread of Life”
“Jesus replied, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.'” John 6:35

Jesus Said He Could Forgive Sins
While healing He declared: “‘…that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—’Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’ And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God…” Matthew 9:8

“I am the Light of the world”
“‘…I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life…'”  John 8:12

I have come that they may have life, abundantly”
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd…My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  John 10:10, 27-2

I am with you always”
“‘…behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”   Matthew 28:20

“I am the way, the truth, the life”
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.'” John 14:6

If you believe the Bible has any historical value, you see that Jesus made some pretty amazing claims about Himself and His Father.

But How Could He Die for my Sin? He was a Human Being and He Sinned, didn’t He? 

The direct answer is a simple “no.” Since Jesus made Himself equal with God, and God does not sin, He could not either. But other Scriptures support this concept as well. In Hebrews 4:15, the author states: For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (NASB)

I’ve provided a link to one site listing the Scriptures that deal with His sinlessness. http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Jesus-Christ,-Sinlessness

So How do I Respond?

Perhaps you think you have lived a good life, and have never done anything so bad that you need a Savior. “Surely I can make my own way in this life, and come out all right.” That seems reasonable. But take a look again at John 14:6 (above). Jesus claims He is the way. And according to Romans 3:23 we have all sinned. Yes, Jesus loves us and He forgives. But He only forgives when we become willing to turn from our wrongful deeds. While Jesus declares “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” we must also realize that He died to save us from sin, not so that we keep on sinning. So believing He is the Son of God and that He died for us must be accompanied by a heartfelt repentance (turning from sin and to God).

Or you may be thinking you must get my life right first. Notice what Jesus says though, God wants to give us eternal life. And Romans 6:23 says that the gift of God is eternal life. A true gift is not something we must earn or even can earn. It is only by believing and turning from sin that we can receive this gift.

Perhaps you feel a certain emptiness in your soul. May I suggest that the filling you need is Jesus the Son of God? I know I felt that hole in my life for a long time. I needed to understand that I could never be good enough to gain God’s acceptance. His acceptance only came through a moment in time when I told Him I believed and agreed to live for Him. Praying a prayer is not necessarily what it takes as you may have been told. Believing and turning from our own ways invites Him to make our heart His home.

This video may be a little dated, but I hope you will enjoy it. It is entitled “The Hole Story”

References:

http://www.everystudent.com/wires/whodoyousay.htmlAccessed September 3, 2015

Parker, Troy. “The World’s Messed Up.” Worldview series Part 4. Sermon presented at Church at Red River. Shreveport, Louisiana, August 30, 2015  http://churchatredriver.com/media/worldview-2/

Scriptures are from the New International Version of the Bible unless otherwise indicated.

Attitude, Balance, and Sisterly Strife

I have not written in over a month, and apologize to those of you who “can’t wait” to hear from me.

Have any of you ever suffered from vertigo? If so, you have my sympathies. I could blame my delay in writing at least partially on that. It was a “fun” few days until I went to a chiropractor and she did some adjustments and showed me how to get “balanced” again. Odd exercises, but they work! And if they will keep the vertigo away, I’m there!

When a person has severe vertigo, they are pretty useless. Everything is spinning, and when you try to put your feet up under you, well, it’s not gonna happen. In my case I was fortunate to have a husband around who is a CNA and didn’t mind taking care of me (getting me to the bathroom, bringing me my meals while I laid around for three days). Walking was impossible, and I certainly couldn’t go to work. (I couldn’t even dial the number to work because my phone thought it was a child’s top.)

This little episode makes me wonder if there are others “out there” who feel out of balance and maybe even useless. You’ve tried, you’ve struggled, but things just won’t come together for you. You want to serve God; you want to spend time with Him, but your attention is turned to the tasks you must accomplish in order to survive, in order to keep everything going. And even if you are not super busy, in our world of television, movies, electronics, and other things that are designed to catch our eye and keep our attention, our focus is easily distracted from Christ.

Most of you I’m sure have read the story of Mary and Martha from Luke 10. If not, I invite you to open the pages of your Bible or take this link to Bible Gateway www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+10%3A38-44&version=NIV

You’ve also perhaps heard it preached on. I know I have. Several times. Now I love stories about women in the Bible but I get a little tired of trying to figure out if I am a “Martha” or a “Mary”. So I’m going to approach the story of these two women in a little different manner.

This particular account begins when Jesus who is now on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) passes though the unnamed village where Martha and Mary live. (Many assume this is Bethany because that is the locale mentioned in John 11.)

We see Martha opening her home to Jesus, prepared to serve her honored guest. And is she ever busy! The Bible only tells us that Martha opened her home to Him, but we should probably assume his disciples are present as the Bible seems to indicate there was a great deal to do.

But there’s a problem, and that “problem” is sitting at Jesus’ feet. Her sister Mary. I don’t know about you, but I wonder what Jesus is telling her. Are the words intended just for Mary? For Mary and Martha, or also for the disciples? I’m just curious about these things.

As Martha works, I can just see her fuming. Her sister sits while she takes care of “all the preparations”. And Jesus says nothing to that lazy Mary! Now that, my friend, is just not fair. How can He ignore her hard work?  And how can Mary be so inconsiderate? (I’m wondering how many of us have fumed in a similar way.)

Well, Martha has had enough. “Lord,” she says. “Don’t you care that I am doing all the work and Mary…she…she is doing nothing! She should not have left me to do all this. Look at her! She is just…sitting there. Tell her to come help me” (Okay, not to disrespect God’s word, but yeah, I threw in a few of my “insights”.) Her request seems fair enough. Certainly, not unreasonable.  But I do have to chuckle a bit at Mary. She starts her request with “Lord” then in the middle of it says “tell her”.

But maybe you can relate to Martha. Maybe you are totally on her side.

Lord, don’t you see me here drowning in this mess. I can’t get supper fixed for having to take care of a screaming baby. Can’t you get my husband to help?

OR

Lord, this is so unfair, I work hard at my job, but ______ only works when the supervisor is around, and yet she is favored and gets the promotion. How can You allow this injustice?

Now I don’t object to telling God how we feel. I think we should let Him know what’s going on, as if He doesn’t already. But back to the story.

Here Martha is working really hard and it seems Mary comes out as the “favored one.” Well, perhaps it’s comforting to know that Jesus gives Martha a relatively gentle rebuke. First off, He addresses her by name: “Martha, Martha…” (I feel that when God really wants to get my attention He speaks my name in that still small voice. “Now, now Eileen…” And I love it.) Notice He doesn’t tell her to quit serving but instead points out that the problem is her attitude about her serving. She is distracted or “troubled” by many things, and Mary has chosen what is better.

Wait, wait, she’s doing what’s better. Just sitting there?

Well we obviously can’t sit at Jesus’ feet like that all the time. But the only way we can serve Him (and by the way, that includes loving that co-worker or husband or whoever else you think is not doing their share) is to spend time with Him and find a way to ignore the distractions, even the things that seem to demand our time. Perhaps it’s a bit about finding “balance” in our hectic and often distracted lives.

Okay, so great, Eileen, but how do I do that? What you say sounds simple but I’ve tried and it doesn’t seem to work out for me.

I understand. I can feel your frustration for I remember the “days of yore” when I had small children, and perhaps it is your turn now—you are the mother who works outside her home, who is wrestling a baby and a toddler from the moment you get home, and by the time you get everything done just so those babies will be fed and bathed and put to sleep, you fall into bed exhausted, whisper a prayer, and drift off to dreamland yourself. So your time with the Lord is, well…minimal. Or maybe you don’t have kids and work is just stressful or your parents are ill and you’re exhausted from caring for those.

A friend of mine faced this same frustration when her children were small, and had no idea what to do. Until one day an older lady asked her a question. “Do you have time to take a shower? Can you pray while you are in the shower?” These words were so freeing to her, and showering became her alone time with God. Maybe that seems kind of lame and maybe that won’t be the right time for you. Maybe the kids are pounding on the door or even slipping notes to you under the door whenever you’re in the bathroom. Perhaps you can find a quiet corner at work while you’re on break. Perhaps when you have some time off, you can take some extra time with God to build your relationship. But don’t feel guilty because you don’t spend an hour in prayer, or because you don’t get up at 5:30 a.m. to pray.

And I can hear you: Like sure, I can do that. I was only up until 3 with a sick child. No problem. (Told you I understood.)

Don’t worry about the “giants of the faith” who set this “standard”. You are you. And God knows, and He understands.

And for those of you who can spend an hour or more a day praying and exploring your Bible, I encourage you to keep things balanced as well. It may be just as hard for you to avoid the guilt that tries to grab hold of you when you spend that time with Him.

Do you see? Satan has us coming and going. If we don’t spend enough time with God we’re guilty. If we spend the amount of time we feel we need, we feel guilty because we’re not “doing” enough.

Whatever your situation, whatever your phase in life, hold onto Him. Keep Him before you. Maybe simply pray His Name to restore your focus. Ask Him to remind you of His presence. He will bless you, as you seek Him. Don’t worry if it’s not “enough”. He loves you so much, dear ones.

Oh, oh, oh, and guess what happens in another passage? We see Martha interacting with Jesus in a very different way. But I’ll save that for another time. (If any of you want homework, read John chapter 11.)