Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Treasure and Ponder

Recently I watched Anne with and E on Netflix. This is the newest episode version of the classic Anne of Green Gables story. There is a scene in this series where Marilla opens her closet, reaches high up on a shelf behind other things and pulls out an old box. She lovingly opens it to reveal a bundle of old love letters tied up with a bow. Then she sits down in a rocker and slowly opens a letter, remembering the love of a former beau. This is what we often do, isn't it, with items of sentimental value that we want to keep and treasure. 

I imagine Mary doing this in a figurative sense. Mary’s heart was pierced over and over. How did she manage to remain a faithful disciple of her son? How do we too, live with and survive a pierced heart?
Mary gave us beautiful practice we can imitate. Luke 2:19 says that Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. Treasured (syntereo) means to remember or keep in mind lest it be forgotten and pondered (symballo) means to consider, dispute mentally or reflect. Further insight into this practice is found in Luke 2:50-52 they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them...And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. Treasured in this instance (diatereo) means to keep continually or to store in one's heart.

I believe Mary "was continually keeping all these things in her heart, the picture being of her carefully guarding and keeping them together in her mind as in a treasure chest. She brought them all together and joined them with other thoughts so she could carefully compare and reflect on all they mean." (Principles from Women of the Bible, Book 1)

To illustrate what this means for us today, let me bring Mary into the 21st century. If Mary were alive today, I think she would find or make a treasure or keepsake box for her love letters from God

First, she would rememberPsalm 71:11 says remember the works of the Lord. In her box she would put (in either objects or words form) what the Angel told her and Joseph and the Shepherds, what Elizabeth and Simeon and even Jesus said. This way she could remind herself again of the promises, the miracles, the dreams, the amazing visitors, the fulfilled prophecies and how God kept them safe over the years.

Then she would reflect. II Timothy 2:7 says reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. As Mary touched and took out each item, she could consider what it all meant, the words, the miracles, the promises, the pain. She wrestled in her soul to make sense of it.

And finally, she would retain. Luke 8:15 says But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Mary kept everything to refer to in the future, to give her comfort and faith when the next piercing came along. 

I have my "love letters" from the Lord in my “Treasure Box”. I don’t literally keep a box, but I have these truths on cards and bookmarks and flowers and in the notes on my smart phone. Here are some of mine that I remember, reflect on and retain:




How can we, like Mary, not say "let it be to me" when we treasure and ponder all God had done for us in the past and ask him to help us understand what he is currently doing?

May I suggest that you make your own box of remembrance or collection of objects or a special file on your computer or some unique way to help you remember, reflect and retain. I would love to hear how you treasure and ponder.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

My F(f)ather

Almost every Saturday for the past three years, my father has walked through my front door for a weekly visit. We sat on the couch, drank tea and chatted about our lives.

Two Saturdays ago, my father walked through my door as usual. Only it wasn’t so usual because it was the first time in six weeks that he could drive himself to my house. It felt right and normal again.

Then, last Saturday, I walked through my father's hospital door, sat by his bed and chatted about how he had lost the ability to walk. As we parted, he held my hand and said, “I’m sorry I won’t be able to walk through your front door again.” Since we were focused on walking, I was hopeful we could find other means to make sure Dad made it through the door.

The next dayFather’s DayI was in church singing the words to a favorite song, Good Good Father* and hearing the Holy Spirit speak to my breaking heart:

I've heard a thousand stories of what they think you're like
But I've heard the tender whispers of love in the dead of night
And you tell me that you're pleased
And that I' never alone

Eva, you are not alone, I am pleased with you

You're a good good father
It's who you are

Eva, I am your true Father even after your earthly father is gone. I am good.

And I'm loved by you
It's who I am

Eva, I love you and will take care of you.

Because you are perfect in all of your ways to us

Eva, my ways and timing are perfect.

As I was singing and weeping, my earthly father walked through his Heavenly Father’s front door. My father was right! He will never again walk through my front door. But while we were focusing on my physical home, God was focusing on his eternal home.

Oh, it's love so undeniable
I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable
I can hardly think
As you call me deeper still
Into love, love, love

Eva, my love and peace are here for you. Come deeper into my love, for I am your Good Father.

And now today, this Saturday, we celebrate my father’s life, legacy and testimony. We honor him and put his earthly bodythe one that ran at full steam for 92 years and then just petered outto rest. But his soul, his spiritmy real fatheris chatting about his life with his Real Father. The same Good Father that loves me.



*Songwriters: Anthony Brown / Joseph Patrick Martin Barrett
Good Good Father lyrics © Capitol Christian Music Group

Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Magnificat

Mary: How I praise the Lord. How I rejoice in God my Savior!
Hannah: How I rejoice in the Lord!
Miriam: Sing to the Lord! For I will sing about the Lord, the God of Israel.
Deborah: Praise the Lord! For I will sing about the Lord, the God of Israel.
Today I feel like Mary and Hannah and Miriam and Deborah! I must lift my voice and my pen and praise the Lord. Today I rejoice in my God and my Savior! I feel a song rising in me that has to be sung!

Mary: For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and now generation after generation forever will call me blest of God.
Hannah: How he has blessed me!
While I haven't been blessed in the way that Mary was, I still feel that God has taken notice of me - a lowly, ordinary woman seeking to serve him. His marvelous grace has been extended to even me.

Mary: For he, the mighty Holy One, has done great things for me.
Hannah: No one is as holy as the Lord! There is no other God. Nor any Rock like our God.
God has been listening to my prayers and I am beginning to see real, concrete, tangible answers to the deep cry of my heart. His answer, his healing has been so gradual that at times it has seemed negligible. But lately, it has come in spades and leaps and bounds! There is no other answer, no one else who could do the work he has done.

Mary: His mercy goes on from generation to generation, to all who reverence him.
Hannah: He lifts the poor from the dust - yes, from a pile of ashes - and treats them as princes sitting in the seats of honor.
God's lovingkindness that I see to Mary has been extended to me. He has withheld what I deserved and given me what is undeserved.


Mary: How powerful is his mighty arm!
Hannah: For the Lord has solved my problem.
This kind of healing and change only comes from his hand. Only he can reframe a habitual life, renew a patterned mind and reprogram a heart.


Mary: How he scatters the proud and haughty ones! He has torn princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
Hannah: Quit acting so proud and arrogant! The Lord knows what you have done, and he will judge your deeds. Those who are mighty are mighty no more! Those who were weak are now strong.
At times I was proud and felt I deserved his attention and his immediate action to the desperate cry of my heart. But he is teaching me to be accept his ways in his time. 

Mary: He has satisfied the hungry hearts and sent the rich away with empty hands.
Hannah: Those who were well are now starving; Those who were starving are fed.
He has been more than what my hungry heart has needed and even wanted. He has filled me when I was empty and satisfied me with himself.


Mary: And he has helped his servant Israel! He has not forgotten his promise to be merciful. For he promised our fathers - Abraham and his children - to be merciful to them forever. 
As God did not forget to show love, compassion and mercy on the children of Israel, so he has not forgotten me. He has shown the same love to me. It hasn't been in the way I wanted or in the timeframe that suited me, but his love has always been there.

Thank you, my Lord for the recent grace and love I have experienced. It is from your hand and I want to give praise to the mighty, Holy One!

Mary: Luke 1:46-55 The Living Bible 
Hannah: I Samuel 2:1-10 The Living Bible

Friday, May 12, 2017

Healed

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. Luke 24:1-8

No record exists of Jesus showing himself specifically to Mary after his resurrection, but since "he presented himself to [the disciples] and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive" (Acts 1:3), I have no doubt that Mary saw her son in the flesh again! Perhaps she was part of the delegation of women who ran to the tomb early in the morning. Perhaps she was with John because it was now his responsibility to care for her. We don't know if she had private words with him but we know enough.

Her son was alive! God had fulfilled the promise given to her by the angel. Her treasured memories and pondered thoughts finally made sense! The one born to save his people from their sins, saved her, his mother. What joy! Her soul that had been pierced over and over was now healed by her Savior's piercing!

As Mary was with Jesus through his whole life and death, she was there witnessing the power of the resurrection and the birth of the new church (Acts 1:14). Tradition suggests she ultimately ended up in Ephesus with John, serving the church there.

Mary is the Favored One. Because of God's grace alone, she was chosen to bring the Savior into the world and raise him.

Mary is the Blessed One. She surrendered from the start to God's will and believed that what he said would come to pass. She was blessed because she obeyed and became a member of the Kingdom of God.

And Mary is the Pierced One. She felt every prick of anxiety, rejection, and pain that Jesus felt. And as a result, she found the joy of salvation.

With grace came blessing and pain. But Mary endured and set a high bar for us of how to be a discipleSurrender, Believe, Treasure and Ponder.

Can you say with Mary, My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant? (Luke 1:46-48)

What about Mary's life and example do you most relate to?
What is God telling you that you need to follow and obey in the days ahead?
How does knowing that Jesus was pierced for you bring you healing?
How can you model your life after Mary?

PRAYER
Savior God, thank you for demonstrating your power over evil and death in your resurrection. Thank you that your wounds healed Mary and that they heal me. Give me your power to testify of this to the world and to become a true disciple as Mary was.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Torn

Carrying his own cross, [Jesus] went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS... Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:17-19, 25-27 

As the future of her precious son grew more bleak, she was nearby, waiting for news, speculating, praying, crying. I imagine she knew of (if not even witnessed) his betrayal by a friend, the mockery of a trial, the false accusations, the severe beating. She followed as he staggered to carry his cross, felt every horrifying hammer pound and shivered with each agonizing breath. She heard the insults hurled at him, watched the soldiers gamble for his cloak and taunt him. And she gazed on him as he took his last breath.

How her body must have hurt. How she must have wanted to make the pain stop, hold him in her arms, tell him it would be alright. Did she doubt? Did she wonder if she heard the angel right? In all her remembering and pondering, did she imagine this? Was this really the way of salvation? Where was the crown, the throne, the scepter? When would these awful Romans be overthrown? Torn! Pierced!

Mary wasn't going anywhere. When no other family members were there, and all male disciples except John had turned and run, Mary stayed with her son. Even God forsook him (Matt 27:46), but not Mary. (Can I say that?) She could not alleviate his suffering, but she could comfort with her presence.

But as Mary was pierced, Jesus was pierced for her. As her soul was wounded, his wounds paid the price for her soul. As Mary's presence comforted her son, his provision for a new family comforted her. As her heart broke for her son, so his heart broke for her.

Jesus knew the pain of his mother's piercings. And Jesus' piercings are for you and me as well. He understands our pain and our piercings.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.  Is 53:5
Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. Hebrews 2:18  
How can you relate to Mary in the loss of her son?
How has Jesus' suffering alleviated yours?

PRAYER
Jesus, our sacrificed Lamb, thank you for suffering and being pierced for us. You died that Mary might be saved. You were pierced for my sins. Your wounds have healed me. Thank you that Mary found salvation through all her and your piercings.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Rejected

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”...Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:20-21, 31-35

This passage of scripture makes me think of the story I read as a child, Are You My Mother? except that I imagine the offspring saying, "You are NOT my mother!" These words of Jesus are hard to swallow at first glance.

About two full years into his ministry, Jesus was constantly followed by great crowds and great controversy. His family heard the reports and thought he was nuts. Since "take charge of" means "to take custody of", they must have intended to take Jesus away, probably back home. This was a family intervention to reign in the one who was "beside himself".

But Jesus did not acknowledge Mary and her other sons as his family. You are not my mother! Ouch! It must have hurt to hear these words. After all she had done! Rejected! Pierced!

The jury is out on Mary's motive behind this intervention. Some think Mary agreed with Jesus' brothers. For her to take this step, she must have really felt he had gone too far and needed a cautioning mother talk. However, Dr. Timothy Ralston of Dallas Theological Seminary, feels that this doesn't fit with the unwavering faith characteristic of Mary. In his words:
The word translated "out of his mind" describes someone who is confused or has lost something, including one's spiritual and/or mental balance, one's path or something else. This "loss of way" can be described as "becoming distracted or diverted". Thus Mary's concern is that the excessive demands of the crowd have distracted and diverted Jesus from his larger Messianic responsibilities. Her son, she believes, is in danger of losing his way. (The Virgin Mary: Reclaiming Our Respect, due to be published in October)
What is clear is that Mary had to learn that Jesus's mission and his way of fulfilling it did not look like what she envisioned. Jesus was always turning things upside down. And he did it again here by redefining his family. Of course, Jesus didn't hate his family and he wasn't trying to cut them out of his life. He was simply saying that his true family members were those in the Kingdom of God, those who do God's will. 

Joseph H. Hallerman writes that in Jesus' world, blood relationships were of primary importance, in fact the brother-sister relationship was the strongest. Because marriages were arranged for the continuance of the patrilineal line and brides were strangers in their new home, one's primary affection and loyalty were to one's siblings. Therefore, when Jesus said that one's spiritual brothers and sisters were to take precedence over one's blood siblings, it was hugely counter-cultural.

Jesus reiterated this new spiritual relationship again in Matthew 10:37: Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Mary, like all disciples, had to be in a faith relationship with Jesus and follow his agenda.
Jesus was giving Mary the Gospel—the only path to blessedness. Physically giving birth to Jesus ultimately meant nothing if Mary never listened, believed, and lived out the teachings of her son. Her true calling life—and the only bond with him that endures—was to hear his words and to live by them. Her greatest calling was to follow Jesus and cultivate the family resemblance by becoming like her son." (Carolyn Custis James, Lost Women of the Bible)
Life on a missionary team taught me to redefine family. Teammates were brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and even grandparents. We were frequently in each other's homes for meals, game and movie nights, holidays and celebrations. We played together, laughed together and cried together. This concept of spiritual family brings comfort to the single, the widow, the childless, the orphan as it must have to Mary when her son died and went back to heaven.

Have you heard your child say "You are not my mother"?
How have you put too much emphasis on your blood relationships and not on your spiritual family?
How have you idolized your nuclear family to the point of excluding others? 

PRAYER
Father God, teach us what it means to be the family of God, to show our connection by doing your will and loving you most of all. Show us how to prioritize our spiritual relationships. Help us invite and include our spiritual siblings into our homes.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Prodigal Parent

Scripture tells us that Mary had other childrenJames, Joseph, Judas, Simeon and at least two daughters (Mark 6:3). One can only speculate what it was like to live with an older brother like Jesus! But scripture does give us a few glimpses into their relationship.
Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. John 7:3-5
Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” Mark 3:20-22 
Jesus' brothers did not believe in him! They thought he was crazy! They tried to take charge of him. And they were nowhere to be seen when Jesus was falsely convicted and executed. Perhaps the fact that he wasn't carrying his weight around the home was the problem. Perhaps his perfection convicted them. Perhaps they were tired of him always being right. Perhaps they resented his popularity. Perhaps they hated being pushed into the spotlight to answer questions about him. After all, to them he was just Jesus, their big brother.

What strain this must have put on Mary's relationship with them. How hard it must have been to have children who didn't believe, even after all the years of recounting the angel's visit, promises, the evacuation, the miracles. 

Prodigal parent! Pierced! Mary knew the pain of a mother whose children do not follow the Savior, even though they have have been raised hearing the Gospel and seeing the handiwork of God. Any mother is torn when her children don't get along or have each other's back. Mary balanced the piercing tightrope of supporting her son's mission and loving her prodigals.

Thankfully, Mary's pain didn't last forever. Somewhere along along the way, her prodigals began to hear, listen and believe the truth about their very unique brother. After the resurrection, Jesus appeared to her son, James (1 Cor 15:7) and all the brothers were found joined together in constant prayer with the new church (Acts 1:14). James then became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13-22, Gal 2:9) and is believed by most scholars to have written the epistle of James. Mary's other son, Judas, also wrote an epistle (Jude) and her sons and their wives took missionary journeys (1 Cor 9:5). I think we can safely assume that Mary's stalwart faith and unwavering belief in her son, Jesus, eventually helped her other children to also believe. 

Many of my dear friends have children who are prodigals. I often sit and pray with them as tears and sorrow overtake. They wonder what they did wrong. They are quick to blame themselves. Their greatest desire is for their children to love and follow Jesus.

The Apostle John says: No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God (I John 3:9). May this be a comfort to those with prodigals. If the seeds of faith and salvation are in your children, they will not be able to run forever. The Spirit will draw back a wayward child. May we be the example Mary was to her prodigals.

In what ways are you a prodigal parent?
How does Mary's example encourage you today?

PRAYER
Jesus, thank you that the example of a godly mother can influence a prodigal child. I pray for my friends who know the piercing of this pain. Please help them to have stalwart faith and unwavering belief in you and your Spirit to draw back a wayward child.