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 3:20-2 
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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Grieved

One year during home assignment, we put our sons in a private Christian school. We thought the environment would be less of a shock to our MKs used to life in Indonesia, but that proved not to be the case. How hard it was to watch both of them struggle—adjust to culture, make friends, understand idioms, wait for invitations, figure out this new life. I grieved for my boys. I wanted to take away their hurt and pain. I just wanted them to be happy. How much more so, Mary grieved for her son. Listen to what Mary had to witness and endure on his behalf:
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Mark 6:1-3 
Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people. “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. John 7:12, 20 
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. Luke 4:28  
They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. John 8:6  
Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus. Mark 3:6
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. Mark 14:55-56
Grieved! Hurt! Pierced! Surely Mary felt the pain of Jesus' rejection, loss of reputation, and friends, especially among the neighbors. Usually, a celebrity has total acceptance and carte blanche among the home crowd. So when they don't, it pierces even more.

No mother wants her child to be an offense to others. We want our children, nieces, nephews and those we mentor to be liked, accepted, respected and loved by all. And how much more grieved are mothers of children with disabilities or social anxieties or mental illness? These moms especially understand the words of the author of Hebrews: Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3

What did Mary do? Did she rankle at the injustice? Was she angry at the mockers? Tempted to speak up in his defense? Or did she wish he wouldn't be so bold or abrasive? Maybe change his tone or his approach? Why does he say such controversial things? Why did he do that? Doesn't he realize the neighbors are talking? I don't want him to get hurt. Play it safe so that he doesn't have to suffer. Be normal so nobody notices. Had she expected that the Savior would be embraced with open arms? Did she think he could take David's throne peacefully?

I think Mary did what she had always done. She remembered—the prophecies, the exact words of the angel, Jesus' reply in the temple. And she pondered—the miracles he performed that showed his power over death, illness and nature; the words he spoke that revealed his identity as the bread of life, the lamb of God, the door, the way, the light, the living water.

Mary's unwavering faith enabled her to stand with Jesus in his pain and support him with her presence. And eventually, her journey led her to become a true disciple, to actively participate in the first church planting effort—to spread the Gospel.

What words and actions have you witnessed about your loved ones that have pierced your soul?
What promises from God do you have to remember and ponder? (See Dt 10:18, Is 53:2-3, Jn 15:15, Ps 145:8-9, 18 for starters)
What miracles and teachings of Jesus strengthen your faith?
How can you channel your grieving into spreading the Gospel?

PRAYER
Lord Jesus, I pray for all who grieve watching their children struggle to lead a normal life, to be accepted, and loved. I pray for those whose hearts are pierced because of the pain their loved ones endure due to the ignorance and cruelty of others. Strengthen their faith, remind them that you too endured ridicule and rejection and show them how to direct their pain into spreading the news of your salvation.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Releasing

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:1, 3-5

Finally, the opportunity was here! Mary's son, Jesus, was the Messiah, but he had yet to reveal himself to the world. She had kept this in her heart and pondered it for three decades. Here was the chance to show his power. 

But Jesus responded in a startling way. He called Mary "Woman!" Not mother, mummy, mama, or mom. This was her dearly loved son that she had carried, birthed and raised. What did he mean by this? Even if Mary totally understood that Jesus meant no disrespect and still loved her very much, there had to be some pang, however small. There always is when a mother realizes that things have changed in her relationship with her child. Releasing! Pierced!

Jesus was telling his mother their relationship would be different from now on. He was no longer under her authority, but would act only at the initiative of his Father. He would be about his Father's business, on God's timetable. 

My sons are young adults. They are no longer under my authority. I have to let them go. Author and pastor, Chuck Swindoll describes this releasing in Great Days with the Great Lives:
Ultimately, the decision to hold anything loosely—especially as it applies to relationships—is an act of faith. Human instinct would have us clutch the things we adore most. Releasing them, presenting them to God, requires that we trust Him to do what is right. When we do this for our children, the lasting impact we leave is a practical model of faith. And I can think of no better way to teach our children about the God we worship than by modeling our trust in Him daily.
I believe Mary was able to let Jesus go to fulfill his mission because she understood God's compassionate love for her (Luke 1:50). This love is described in Isaiah 54:10 Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion (mercy) on you. 

Beth Moore points out in her Bible study, Breaking Free, that the Hebrew word for compassion or mercy (racham) means a love like that of a parent for a child, especially an infant. While we rear our children to become independent of us, God raises us to become more and more dependent on him for he never has to let us go.

Are you struggling with letting your children (or spiritual children) go?
Has someone that you have mentored and discipled surpassed you? 
Are you still trying to keep them under your wing? 
How can you encourage them to be about their Father's business?

PRAYER
Compassionate Father, I rejoice that you will never let me go, nor will you ever let my children go. Thank you that because of your unfailing love, I can take the step of faith to let them go to serve you and fulfill their calling just as Mary let Jesus go to become the Savior of the world.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Widow

Joseph, by Fontanini
I have a beautiful Italian Fontanini nativity set. Last year when I set it up, I realized I didn't know which figure was Joseph. In fact, I was afraid I didn't have Joseph at all. So I googled and discovered that one of the figures that looked like a shepherd was in fact Fontanini's Joseph figurine. Once again, I was reminded how often Joseph is sidelined in the story of Christ's birth.

We cannot look at Mary without giving Joseph the applause he deserves. Joseph was a righteous man. He chose to act honorably despite the norms of his shame-based culture. While he knew the child Mary was carrying was not his own, he did not want her to be disgraced publicly (Matthew 1:19).

Joseph was also an obedient man. When he had the confirmation from God that Mary's story was true, he was all in, totally on board (Matthew 1:20). Mary and Joseph illustrate what one of my favorite authors, Carolyn Custis James, has coined the "Blessed Alliance—God's design from creation that men and women join forces in serving him together" (The Gospel of Ruth).
He shuts down his carpenter shop, gets behind his wife's calling, and adapts himself to his wife and God's calling on her life. His whole life will be committed to making sure she succeeds in carrying out the mission God has entrusted to her. (James, Half the Church)
Like Mary, Joseph was favored, blessed and pierced! He too, paid a high price to follow God's calling.
These are costly decisions for Joseph for they diminish his reputation in the community, turn his life upside down, and run his private agenda through a shredder. But he is every bit as resolute as Mary when she subordinated her public reputation to the private call of God. (James, Malestrom)
What an amazing partner and ally Joseph was to Mary. He was indispensable in helping her fulfill the calling. But somewhere along the way (scholars believe it was before Jesus began his public ministry), Joseph died. Mary is now a widow! Pierced!

In Mary's culture, the oldest son would bear the responsibility of taking care of a widowed mother. However Jesus was wandering around the countryside with no income. Since scholars believe Mary moved to Capernaum with Jesus when he began his public ministry, perhaps Mary was included in the financial provision that came from the women disciples (Luke 8:1-3), perhaps Mary's other children took up the mantelwe do not know. But we do know that Jesus made sure that Mary was taken care of after his death (John 19:25-27). All things considered, Mary must have acutely felt the loss of her biggest supporter, Joseph.

Seventeen months ago, one of my best friends, Lori, died after a ten year battle with cancer. Her husband, Ben became a widower. How deeply pierced his soul has been. He has lost the other half of his alliance, his counterpart. I have witnessed what a huge adjustment it is for him to navigate life now without a partner by his side, especially when that partner was as deeply committed to fulfilling God's calling as he is.

Scripture doesn't tell us how Mary coped. But I believe her faith and her ability to ponder things in her heart helped her through this. She kept her focus at all times on her calling and got personally involved in Jesus' mission, even encouraging him to begin his public ministry (John 2:1-5).

May we too, whether we have an earthly spouse or not, stay focused building God's kingdom and may we form many Blessed Alliances with our brothers and/or sisters.

How have you experienced the Blessed Alliance?
Have you ever lost a dear partner? How is Jesus providing for you?
How can you get involved in Jesus' mission?

PRAYER
Lord God, our provider, thank you for the beautiful example of Joseph who adapted his life to ensure that Mary was able to fulfill the calling you gave her. Give us more men like Joseph. And when we are separated from precious partners, provide and keep us committed to seeing your kingdom come.