Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Donuts and Heaven

The story of Martha and Mary also reminds us that we are not yet in heaven and that this world is sorely fallen. On the one hand, Christ’s presence and miraculous deeds cause some to believe and follow Him…on the other, the same causes intrigue, malice and dissent. The best example of this reality within the context of this story is found in John 11: 45-47:

Therefore, many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. 

The actions of those whose intentions were to stir chaos, eventually resulted in the process of Jesus’ persecution, mock trial and execution.

I often forget that this is not our home. I get so caught up in the things of this world that I mistakenly begin to feel as if this is it. Then, when things go wrong, I wonder why. When things do go my way, I am surprised. When disappointment, pain, suffering and trial come, I despair. The root of my state of shock is that I expect this world to offer me the benefits of heaven, right here…right now. But it is just not possible.

The other morning, Dylan discovered I had brought home some rather delicious doughnuts for breakfast and he was delighted! He took one bite and said: “WOW! I wonder if we will have these in Heaven? If we do, I could just eat them for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never gain weight…always be able to still be light! Isn’t Heaven fun?”

Dan and I laughed at his childish enthusiasm for the treat. Today, I think back on that moment and I realize that Dylan actually has a better understanding of Heaven than me.

He knows that we only get a glimpse of what is to come here on Earth. He knows that the benefits of our heavenly home are impossible to be fully enjoyed while we are still here on this world. He anticipates the day when Heaven would be a reality and he rejoices dreaming about it. He knows it will be different. He knows it will be perfectly delightful!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[a] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21: 3-4

Just as it was true in the days of Martha and Mary, when people who witnessed the same glory and radiance of Christ reacted differently as an illustration of the fact that heaven is not on earth yet…it is still the same today, when life and its misfortunes catch us by surprise. This is not heaven. We are still toiling in the land of tears.

The important thing is to remember that “blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life!” James 1: 12 And that in the meantime, we ought to keep our eyes on the price,

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3: 12-14

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Rawness of Life

God is Good…all the time! And He gives us what we need at the precise moment when we need it. In the case of our friends Martha and Mary, we see how Mary was given to Martha as a reminder of the need to choose wisely, and above all, to seek Him first! Martha, on the other hand, was given to Mary to remind her of the need for action and to give her a push when all she wanted to do was just to sit around, dwelling in her pain and loss. The crowd of friends and mourners was given to both sisters as a support network in their time of great anguish and grief. Lazarus was given not only a new life, but helping hands to get him out of his grave clothes and back on the road again. And, of course, Jesus was given to all as a Comforter, Savior, Redeemer, Giver of Life, God with Us…

In our very lives, God also manifests Himself to us in the way He meets our needs. The problem is that often, at least in my case, I fail to see Him. I beg Him to make His presence evident in my life…and I fail to see Him in the beauty of the sunrise. I wonder where He is, when He is in the middle of the storm. I shake my head in fear when I don’t feel Him near, and I miss Him in the warm embrace and kind words of those around me. I allow anxiety to overpower me, because I forget that He is my Strength!

Over the last few weeks, I have been falling into the abyss of fret and worry due to pending health exams both for me and for Dan. If there is one thing that can monopolize my sanity and thought process is upcoming tests. Around the same time, I received an invitation to join a private social media group that was trying to gather as many of those who were part of an ESL class 30 years ago as possible. What happened was that in 1988, 60 kids from Panama, including me, received a scholarship from the U.S. government to come to this country to attend college. That’s how I landed on this neck of the woods. But, before we could all arrive at our destinations, the 60 of us spent an entire year as residents in a dorm at the Panama Canal College in Panama City, studying English and American culture in preparation for our university experience. We lived in this dorm for 12 months, 7 days a week. It was a total immersion program. We did everything together. And, out of that experience, unbreakable friendships and even marriages emerged.

The thing is that it is impossible to keep in touch with a group that large. Therefore, once we departed for our colleges, we were only able to continue our close-knit unity with the few closest to us. Years upon years have gone by, until, all of the sudden, out of the blue, I received an invitation last week to join this social media group. I entered my phone number and in I dove into the most amazing social experiment I’ve ever participated in…actually, it feels more like the continuation, or part two, of the most amazing experiment I’ve ever been a part of…

People whom I haven’t heard from in almost 30 years were reunited again, and what has unfolded has been more than miraculous. For me, in particular, this has become the most effective escape valve God could have ever provided in my time of anguish and anxiety. As God would have it, I have been able to read and interact with my old pals almost non-stop! And it has been a true God-sent gift.

Last week, we read the really sad announcement that the Mother of the one under whose initiative the group was formed, passed away. The demonstrations of friendship, love and solidarity in his loss have been truly moving. Many, including me, have manifested the incredible timing of this group in our lives and the huge difference it has made. God has blessed us beyond what we can see in the material world…He has given us each other again to help carry our burdens.

In talking to one of my dearest friends, she mentioned how we have been able to witness “the rawness of life” during these past days. Yes, indeed…life is hard…life is raw…but we have a Great God that knows it, and takes care of us as we walk through this valley of shadows and tears.

Just like He did with Lazarus, He gives us those who help us get out of our grave clothes so we can start to live again.

Praise You, Lord Jesus…Name above all name…Emanuel!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Martha that Chooses Like a Mary

As the crowds of observes dissipate and the sisters cling to their brother’s arms to start the procession back home along the side of those closest to them, I marvel at all that has happened. The journey back home is full of reminiscing. I, for one, keep thinking about that moment when Jesus said to Martha, in Luke 10: 41-42:

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I realize now, that the Lord didn’t say to Martha, “be like Mary.” He said, “choose like Mary”

That realization brings me great comfort, because, deep inside, I know I could never become a Mary. Christ can turn me into whoever He wants me to be…of course…however, I believe that He doesn’t want to do that. I think, Jesus wants me to be the best me I can be. And, what I am, resembles more a Martha than a Mary. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have a license to stay stagnant just because I have to be true to my nature. Absolutely not! The Holy Spirit is hard at work in me. Jesus is in the business to make all things new. The Father commands me to be holy and sanctified. Therefore, because I have been called by God, saved by Jesus and indwelled by the Holy Spirit, it is my job to walk a road that leads me to become the version of me that I was designed to be: the image-bearer of the Trinity.

As such, I am to mind my choices. Regardless of who I am, it is my calling to seek Him first. My victory comes when I fix my eyes on Him. I overcome when I drop the distractions, the strongholds, the shackles, the doubt, the fear that come from a life lived gazing away from the face of Christ, and turn my eyes upon the glory of the One and Only, the One Who Overcomes the World, The One Who Makes the Dead Alive Again!

As I ponder on these things, I am reminded of something I read:

“Trust and Thankfulness get you safety through this day. Trust protects you from worrying and obsessing. Thankfulness keeps you from criticizing and complaining: those “sister sins” that so easily entangle you.

Keeping your eyes on Me is the same thing as trusting Me. It is a free choice that you must make thousands of times daily. The more you choose to trust Me, the easier it becomes. Thought patterns of trust become etched into your brain. Relegate troubles to the periphery of your mind so that I can be central in your thoughts. Thus, your focus on Me, entrusting your concerns into My care.” (Jesus Calling, Sarah Young)

I wish I could be a Mary; but I’m afraid I’m not. Guided by the light of the Holy Spirit, however, I can learn to choose like her more…I can become the best Martha I can possibly be…the best Gisela I am supposed to become.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From Chattel to Thinkers

As we are approaching the end of the meditations on Martha and Mary’s experiences with Jesus, I’d like to mention that someone pointed out at church this past Sunday how women in the Gospel knew Scripture and how revelatory that was. The fact that women knew the Word might not seem significant, let alone revolutionary to thinkers of the new millennium. Two thousand years ago, however, women were chattel, not higher than a mule or a horse. I think a camel ranked higher than a woman. And what business do a mule, a horse or a camel have knowing about Sacred things?

That didn’t mean women were not absorbing whatever knowledge they could get their hands and brains on.

I did read, that Jewish women were allowed to receive a little education on religion and the main religious instruction in the home was given by the man and not the woman. But they could not be disciples of any great rabbi, they certainly could not travel with any rabbi.

Boy, did Jesus change things, huh?

He had women following Him, learning from Him, receiving His revelation all along the years of His ministry! Martha is a great example of this! Remember that exchange between them, when Martha was sort of recriminating Jesus for not having been there to avoid Lazarus’ death? What did Jesus do?

23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” John 11: 23-27

Jesus took the time not only to talk to Martha, but to meet her at an intellectual, rational level. He did not regard her as an inferior being who does not deserve the grace of His Word because she’s got the brain of a mule. He knew she could handle thought provoking ideas. He knew she knew what Scripture said about death and resurrection (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea), so He challenged her because He knew she was up to the task. He gave her His revelation for the world to read centuries afterwards because He knew her mind was capable…for she, too, is part of His creation.

Jesus openly elevated women. He demonstrated to the world that women were not chattel but human…that they were not brainless, but thinkers.

Thank you, Jesus, Amen!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Quiet Time with Our Lord

As I meditate on the need to taking off the grave clothes and clothing myself "with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh," (Romans 13: 14) which in my case involves obsessing about my problems, worrying about my circumstances and/or becoming anxious about "what if" scenarios, I think the key is, once again, to seek His presence.
My devotional reading has much to say on this topic, but today's quote was right on:

"Learn to live above your circumstances.  This requires focused time with Me, the One who overcame the world.  Trouble and distress are woven into the very fabric of this perishing world.  Only My Life in you can empower you to face this endless flow of problems with good cheer.

As you sit quietly in My Presence, I shine Peace into your troubled mind and heart.  Little by little, you are freed from earthly shackles and lifted up above your circumstances.  You gain My perspective on your life, enabling you to distinguish between what is important and what is not.  Rest in My Presence, receiving Joy that no one can take away from you."  (Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young - John 16: 33, John 16: 22)

Sitting quietly in His presence.  I believe that is a practice that could definitely help me to begin to have the discipline to seek His face, first as I fix my eyes on Him...and allow the background to blur and eventually disappear.

But if I don't set aside time to sit quietly with My Lord, how will I ever allow Him to quiet my soul long enough to see Him and hear Him?

Dear Jesus, please guide me into a quiet time with You, starting today!  

Grave Clothes

The next command Jesus gives in this scene is very revealing: Jesus said to them, 

“Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11: 44b

Lazarus is alive again. He has been resurrected. A new life has been granted. He is born again, in a sense. However, there’s still something left to do in order for him to be completely free: quit dragging around the grave clothes!

How many times does Jesus have to deliver me? How many times does He have to rescue me? How many times does He have to bring me back to life for me to drop the old grave clothes and put on the new me?

I have to confess that I have a hard time letting go. It doesn’t even have to be a good thing, either. I have a hard time letting go of the bad things in my life as well.

It makes no sense. But it’s true.

God has healed me. He has given me a new chance. He has defeated my enemy. But I’m still afraid. I’m still anxious. I’m still in shackles. I’m still wearing the grave clothes.

Someone, please, take them off of me and let me go!


I don’t want to be a mummy anymore.

Lord Jesus, please give the command. Just say the Word, and I will be finally free.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Lazarus, Come Out!

43 …Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. John 11: 43-44

This is one of those Jesus moments in Scripture when I totally get covered in goosebumps! Wow! The majestic power of the Word in action right in front of the world to see! Praised be His Name, the Name above all names!

Our Jesus is certainly in the business of bringing dead people back to life! At the sound of His voice, the stones quake and the dead rise!

I can’t help but to imagine what Martha must have felt at this moment. For a woman whose entire life revolves around action, this must have been the ultimate instance of the insanity of movement. There is no record of anyone saying anything…that’s probably because even Ms.-I-always-have-something-to-say Martha was speechless. I mean, really, what could anyone possibly say here? The only thing left to do is to fall on one’s knees and worship the One and Only, Jesus the Christ!

But let’s just take a quick look at something here before we fall flat on our faces. See what the Lord did? “Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”’

Yes, He speaks and things happens. The creative power of the Word is in display in this event. But, what does He actually say?

There is no incantation being pronounced. There are no magic words being said. There isn’t any mysterious formula being spoken. Jesus simply calls out his friend’s name in a loud voice and commands him to get out of the tomb. That’s all…

And Lazarus does it.

The man that had been dead and buried for 4 days because Jesus had the audacity of not being there to prevent him from dying, now walks out of the tomb on his own two feet as if waking up from a long nap, still dragging his sheets around.

That is the story of our lives. He may as well be saying: "Gisela, come out!"

As we walk alongside with Christ, often, we fall behind, get trapped in a hole, fall into a pit, get tangled in webs of deceit, get lost in the darkness of this world. We are left for dead. We drag the sheets that wrap the old self and sleep-walk through precious days that won’t come back, without the power of freeing ourselves from the chains that bind us to the circumstances that enslave us.

We know Our Heavenly Father wants us to live the abundant life, but we don’t know how to get it. And that is because in order for us to be free, Christ has to first, call us! We cannot resurrect ourselves. He has to say the word, and we shall be healed. He has to call us by our name, and then we will hear. He has to command us to get out of the entrapment we are in, and then, we will be free.

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
35 “Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
36 For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11: 33-36

Let us now fall face down on the floor and worship His Holy Name!