Monday, February 20, 2017
Today, I just wanted to wrap up what we talked about last time regarding the reality that sometimes we experience a decreased sensory awareness of the presence of God and how it may be caused by our own pain and sense of shame. Pain may prompt us to say things like “where are You, Lord? Where are You in all these?” Shame makes us hide because we feel unworthy. We know, however, that both reactions are provoked by the enemy’s tactics. The enemy of our soul wants to separate us from Our Great God. He knows our weaknesses and he uses them to further his plan of disruption and chaos. He feeds on our fears and sense of inadequacy to then manipulate us into thinking we really are not worthy of the love of God…or that God really does not love us the way He says He does, for, if He did, He would not let us be in so much pain…
Given our weaknesses and state of mind, the enemy could sound extremely convincing. Doubt, despair, fear, anxiety, panic, anger, rejection, distrust…all those crushing feelings and emotions begin to clutter our soul and devastate our heart. The result: diminished awareness of the nearness of Our Lord…and a victory for the father of lies.
The truth, however, will set us free! (John 8: 32)
Seeking Him during those moments, coming to Him in the Word becomes crucial in those when apparent defeat is at hand, because no matter what the enemy may say to us, we know,
Nothing Can Separate Us from God’s Love
31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8: 31-39
What else can I say? Let us dwell in this truth and trust the One Who Loves us enough to die for us.
Thursday, February 16, 2017
Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.
John 11: 30
John 11: 30
In my search for lessons about surrendering to God’s will, this passage speaks to me about a very interesting aspect of our relationship with Christ. It has to do with the fact that sometimes Jesus stays put and waits for us to come to Him…to drop whatever we are doing and just come to Him... to surrender it all, and just come to Him.
That’s tough in so many levels.
First, the idea of not sensing His presence terrifies me. When I am at a moment of crisis, pain, fear, loneliness, loss, anxiety and all those emotions that crush us, the only One who can pull me out of that pit is Jesus. His presence is vital to my survival. The thought of not experiencing His nearness is devastating. God’s plan, however, sometimes includes moments of decreased sensory awareness. But it is just that. It is our awareness what falters because He is always near. He is ever-present. And He has a special place in His heart for those who suffer:
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Often, however, pain could be so noisy that it mutes the voice of God. Pain could be so overwhelming that it may swallow us into a vacuum of loneliness and sadness that it is impossible for us to see outside of our circumstances. Shame could also be a factor. Guilt can come down like a gable of judgement accusing us. That’s the lies of the enemy, though, bombarding us with a message of inadequacy that screams at us “you are not worthy of being in the presence of God.” Then, we retrieve even more…in our hour of most need of His nearness we hide or we simply walk away.
I want to remember, the next time this happens, that those feelings are nothing but the enemy’s attempt to deceive me and manipulate me. Instead, I want to remember to go to the Word the second I begin to feel like Christ is not with me. I want to remember in those moments of trial that:
The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth.
I want to remember that if I…
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you…
Next time we will explore another level in which a diminished awareness of the nearness of Christ is utterly hard to withstand. Until then, let us always recall the mercies and promises of Our Lord, which are true and new every morning and every day.
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
Another Valentine’s Day is here. Ever since the day after Christmas, stores’ seasonal isles have been packed top to bottom with pink and red, heart-shaped junk.
I think I have expressed before that this is not my favorite holiday. But, since I still have one elementary-age kid living under my roof, my kitchen counter is covered on those silly folding cards each pleading a bright-colored, “Be my Valentine.” Who would I ever ask that to? I don’t even know what that phrase means. Can someone please explain?
At any rate, this in-depth look at Martha and Mary’s experiences with Jesus has made me think of Valentine’s from a different perspective. Rather than the rose-colored glass of superficiality and last minute teddy bears, plastic flowers and stale candy, I’m looking at it through the lenses of friendship…deep, true, enduring and ever-lasting friendship. Do you know what I’m talking about?
I think you do…I’m talking about those few people who have actually walked that mile and more in our shoes and still stand by us. I’m talking about those few humans whom, despite of the fact that they know us, they still continue to call us friends. I’m talking about those friends that in spite of time or/and distance, still manage to maintain the tie that binds us together, because that tie is of the heart and spirit, not of the material world.
We all need at least one of those…a friend to laugh with and most importantly, a friend to cry with.
I believe that the test of a true friendship is hardship. It is easy to be a friend when things are going along well. It is easy to cruise with those whose ride is smooth. When the road gets bumpy, though…the enjoyment gets hindered by reality, and relationships may suffer and fall apart.
Martha and Mary are going through one of those moments in life when pain is king. They had just lost their brother. I’m not an expert on Jewish culture, but my guess is that, since the sisters seemed to live together, and there is no indication of a husband or father-figure, they were most likely dependent on Lazarus for sustenance and support. I know in the Hispanic culture, brothers, particularly if they are older or if there is only one male sibling, they have quite the responsibility for their un-married sisters when the parents are gone. I’m assuming it might have been similar in the times of Martha and Mary. Therefore, losing Lazarus was not just devastating from the spiritual point of view, but utterly frightening from the material/financial perspective as well.
I believe they might have been left in desperate circumstances. So they were dealing with the emotional impact of grief as well as with the practical aspect of trying to figure out how they were going to continue to live…literally. In John 11, verse 32 we see some of that devastation in Mary:
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Remember Mary is the emotional one. Overwhelmed by her feelings, she falls at the feet of Jesus yet again, this time to sob in misery and loss. She displays an attitude of surrendering, while at the same time expressing a hint of the same reproach we heard Martha voiced earlier. Jesus, however, far from judging this outburst of frustration and sadness, exhibits one of the most emotional reactions in Scripture:
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
It’s kind of interesting that Jesus does not try to reason with Mary. Unlike He did with Martha, which led to a grand revelation involving the mind…Jesus’ response to Mary’s display of emotion is filled with the same display of humanity from His part…He was deeply moved and troubled…so He wept…
Jesus knows us so well. He gives us the exact and customized response that we need when we need it, and according to who we are. He is the truest of friends. He is the one friend we can count on to stand by us when we feel that the world is coming to an end. He is the one who feels our pain. He is the one that weeps with us. He is the one who wipes away those tears. He is the one who makes all things new. And He is the one who teaches me to celebrate today and every day.
He is the One I’d ask, Lord, would you be my Valentine?
Thursday, February 9, 2017
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him.
John 11: 28-29
I like this passage a lot. It makes me chuckle a bit. I mean, really, look at this. Why is this information here? Martha has just expressed one of the most profound statements of faith and belief in Scripture, then, almost as if in a movie, the “director” cuts to Martha going back to tell Mary basically something like: “get on your feet and get walking, sis. The Lord wants you…lazy bum…” Of course, I’m adding some editorial comments in here. I’m being irreverent and having a little fun interposing my own reasons for Martha’s intentions to go get Mary, but don’t you think it is a little interesting?
Remember verse 20 in Luke 10? Martha jumped as soon as she heard the Lord was on His way, and went up to meet Him…what did Mary do? “…but Mary stayed at home.” Luke and John obviously thought these details were important for some reason. Therefore, they included them in their narratives of these events. To make it even more interesting, we see how:
When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
John 11: 31
I mean, it was so unlike Mary to just jump out of her sit to do anything, that when she did, the rest of the people around her noticed it and followed her, to make sure she was OK and to comfort her in case she was having some kind of sudden panic attack or something. I’d like to think that Mary needed Martha to shake her up a bit so she would get moving.
In my humble opinion, these details are important to show the contrast between the personalities of these two sisters. And I believe that the point at the core of this contrast is to realize that the Lord does not differentiate between people based on personality. He looks at the heart and the hearts of both sisters are in the right place, even if their actions may make us think otherwise.
We all need to be like Mary and choose to seek Him first…choose to sit at His feet, or else we become lost in the world. But, we also, all need a little Martha in us, or else we run the risk of becoming stagnant and paralyzed.
Above all, it is crucial that we remember that it is not what we do, but what He does in us what matters. Of course, we are called to be obedient and Jesus gives us parameters of behavior that we must subscribe to. Don’t you think, however, that if we could just behave perfectly we would not have much use for a Savior?
I’m pretty sure if I could do everything right all the time, I would be sore for all those paddings on the back I’d be giving myself. Pride would be on the rise and I would believe the lie that I am all-sufficient. In reality, my shortcomings, flaws and failures point me to my never-ending longing for Christ. I am nothing without Him. Even the most spiritual people in the world are still in the world…which means, they are imperfect subjects in need of a Perfect Lord.
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11: 27
Jesus gave Martha one of the greatest revelations in all Scripture…to Martha…practical, distracted, action-minded, whiny Martha. And in a moment of pristine clarity, she saw it and she believed! And all these for our benefit, so today, people around the world who struggle with the same things that Martha struggled with all those years ago, would also clearly see that we too can be used…that the Lord also reveals Himself to us…and that we too can believe.
Martha’s statement of faith and belief in this passage is a far cry from the Martha that demanded Jesus to force Mary out of her sit at His feet and send her to the kitchen to work. This is Martha’s moment of enlightenment. This is Martha’s Holy Spirit-inspired speech. I am willing to bet she didn’t even know where those words came from. I mean, she knows they are God-inspired, and the reason she knows they are is because after she said them, she was probably like: “whoa…who said that?”
I have had moments like that, haven’t you? Moments when you say or do something so out of character, but in a good way, that you surprise yourself. Like when I am patient with my students, I can’t say with my kids, because I never am patient with them…that would be a totally spooky moment…or when I get some insight from Scripture that I never got before…or when I just bite my tongue instead of lashing out (this does not happen very often, so whenever it does, I’m totally blown away!).
I remember very vividly one of those specific instances in which I truly felt almost in a sensory way, the spiritual voice of God speaking to me, revealing His will to me very clearly. I was in my mid-twenties and I had just broken up my engagement to Dan the night before. That very next morning, as I was sitting in traffic on my way to work, thousands of miles away in a whole other country, it happened…it was as if God had removed a veil from my eyes and showed me the truth: I would never, ever see Dan’s face again. That truth punched me right on the gut. Then I felt God shaking me out of the absurdity of my circumstances and telling me: “Don’t throw this relationship away for it is my will!”
That was 23 years ago, almost to the day. Five months later, Dan and I got married.
At any rate, regardless of the significance of the revelation and in spite of our flawed-nature, the Lord is so Merciful and Good that, once in a while, He allows us to have moments of clarity beyond any human explanation. And even if right after that moment, we fall back again on our old ways…each time we have one of them we know we are getting closer to a full awareness of the hand that guides our every step.
Yes, Lord! I Believe!
Monday, February 6, 2017
I love these Martha and Jesus moments. They are delightfully profound and profoundly human. As we continue to hang out at verses 21 to 24 we see another teaching/learning moment. Dear Martha is kind of, sort of, whining again in verse 21: “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” And we also see her giving sort of like the equivalent of a regurgitated reply in verse 24: Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” In between, however, tucked in verse 22 we see a glimpse of Martha’s clarity: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
Martha gets it!
She knows she is standing in front of Divinity and that the ground her feet are touching is Holy Ground! Regardless of how much the material world distracts her, Martha is still a child of the Most High, and as such, her heart is a heart after God’s own…even if imperfectly. Otherwise, Jesus would not give her, in a few seconds, one of the most outstanding revelations ever presented in all of Scripture to a human creature…let alone a woman!
I am so glad that Martha existed and that her story, short and all, made it into the pages of the Bible, for knowing that there was such a woman, and that Jesus loved her so that He revealed Himself to her in a profound manner, fills my heart with hope.
I don’t know if this encounter happened before or after the time when Jesus went into Martha and Mary’s home, but I don’t think it really matters. The timing of these events is not the point. The point is that Jesus meets us wherever we are and that regardless of our faults, of our inability to stay focused, of our perceived inadequacy, He still takes the time to teach us and show us the way as He walks along with us.
Martha’s sentence expresses incredible faith. “It doesn’t matter if my brother is dead, Lord, I know you can bring him back!” That’s what her words imply. In a very Martha-practical-manner, right to the point, her action-prone mind recognizes the power of the Man standing in front of her and that His words are action. She seems, however, to falter again, when she replies “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day…” It is almost as if she takes a few steps back at the words of Jesus: “Your brother will rise again.” It feels as if Jesus’ affirmation seemed so strong that it went over her head.
I imagine this scene as Martha missing the point one more time…then, Jesus, with His ever-perfect timing, catching her as He says: Martha, stay with me, girl! “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
I don’t know how Martha was able to keep it together. The intensity of Jesus’ words as His piercing stare would have melted me away like ice-cream left outside at noon in July in Arizona.
Martha…our dear Martha…our controlling, demanding, whining, stubborn, distracted Martha got to experience such a magnificent moment with Jesus. I just want to cry! No one is too far gone to fall outside the reach of Our Lord’s hands.
“Do you believe this?”
Friday, February 3, 2017
Let’s continue with verses 21 through 24. In there we see more about Martha’s nature. Her words kind of remind me of that whiny tone she used when she demanded that Jesus would make Mary get off her lazy behind and get to work. “Lord…if you had been here, my brother would not have died…” In her grieve, Martha exhibits a very common reaction to loss: anger. I know that might be a stretch, but don’t you think that Martha’s words express a bit of reproach? Losing someone dear causes us to question God’s decisions and timing, doesn’t it? Well, it does to me. Martha is just being human…a perfectly, imperfect human female.
I remember when my Father passed away. I knew it was going to happen eventually. When it actually happened, however, I could not help to react in anger. I have to tell you that, even though anger is part of my life… I was surprised at my reaction. I had been praying for the Lord to have mercy on my Dad and not to let him suffer a long agony. When I got that phone call, though…I could not believe that God had taken him away. I was very confused about my feelings. But I guess, feelings are supposed to be confusing.
Back to the passage, we see Martha’s humanity and frailty. However, we also see her faith: “But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Her distress does not mean lack of faith. She believes! She knows everything is possible with God! She senses the power of Christ. Her heart is in the right place, even if her mouth and feelings get away from her once in a while.
I made peace with God after my Father’s passing too. It wasn’t as if I had lost my faith. My faith was intact. I was grieving.
Jesus knows that. And He grieves with us. Here, Jesus shows an incredible amount of compassion:
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
He comforts her and He gives her hope to hang on to.
Our dear Martha’s reply, however, does not sound as if she is taking the Lord at His word 100%:
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
This exchange shows us more of Martha’s humanity. She sort of goes back to her default “Sunday-School” reply that she has learned in her years of studying the law. But that is exactly where Jesus meets her!
In the coming days we will continue to dig into this passage to discover how we don’t have to be completely transformed for Jesus to reveal Himself to us or for Him to do great things through our deeply flawed selves.