Saturday, April 28, 2012

Martha's Redemption II

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Revelation 3:19

Those closest to God in the Bible have found themselves at times in a position contrary to the will of God. Often times these champions of the faith have uttered words or committed actions that seemingly defied God’s plan. Abraham and his son Isaac both lied to save their own skin. (Genesis 20 & 26) Jacob’s life is filled with “sticky” situations. Moses didn’t even get to enter the Promised Land. King David’s indiscretions are infamous. Peter’s impulsiveness got him in trouble more times than we have time to list in here. God’s rebuke of such behavior leaves a permanent imprint of His Holy Wisdom for all His children to see throughout the ages.

It is not by chance that these pillars of our faith exercised their free will and made wrong choices in their lives. It was all part of the Divine plan so God’s glory, wisdom, power and sovereignty would shine. The Lord is our Maker. He is our Father. O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64: 8 He has the owner’s manual in His hands. He wrote it! He is the only one who knows how to “use” us for good. Only when we surrender to Him and allow Him to make us His instruments, all our “flaws” become assets to further His Kingdom.

When we look at Martha we see the same paradigm. Like Peter, quick to action and ready to stick his foot in his mouth, Martha was a woman of strong character. I see a lot of Peter in Martha. Remember, Peter was the only one who got out of the boat and got to walk on water, but as soon as he looked away from the Lord, he got distracted by the waves and the storm, and began to sink. Likewise, Martha was the only one to get her hands into the work that needed to be done in order to host the King of Kings; but got distracted by the mountain of chores that the event involved. She looked away. She got distracted by the “storm,” and began to sink.

Like Peter, Martha would have another chance. She would have another encounter where she’ll experience the redeeming power of the Lord. Three times Peter denied Jesus, and three times he got to affirm his love for Christ. (Luke 22: 54-62; John 21: 15-20) The Lord had told Peter that the devil had asked Him to “sift” him as wheat, but that He knew Peter would “come back” from shame and be able to strengthen his brothers. (Luke 22: 31-32) After all, Peter was the one disciple who declared:
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” when Jesus asked them directly, “who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:13-20)

Much in the same way, Martha proclaims the truth about Jesus when she says:
"Yes, Lord," she told him, "I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world,” in response to our Lord’s question regarding whether or not she believed His word. (John 11: 26-27) Jesus chose Martha to reveal Himself to. He told her, as He met her on His way to her brother’s Lazarus’ tomb that she needed not to worry, for 
"I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11: 26-27)
This revelation for the ages was brought forth to Christianity through the centuries thanks to a gesture of kindness from the Messiah to His dear friend because He knew Martha would “get it.”

Martha got it, indeed. The Lord redeemed her and gave her another chance to recognize and to choose the one thing that matters. She was not distracted this time. She was ready. She did not hesitate. She said, “yes Lord.”

The Living God chose a man like Peter and a woman like Martha to reveal Himself for the benefit of those who would read and believe today, thousands of years later. Both were flawed and deeply human individuals. They both have, however, a visible passion for Christ that manifested itself in their fervor as servants and doers.

Martha had a moment of distraction for which she was rebuked by our Lord. Such moment, however, was necessary for her to understand the fullness and divinity of the One standing right in front of her. Martha’s actions and words of frustration that day back at her house were necessary for the Lord to refocus her walk with Him. His rebuke caused her to stop and think, ponder and consider, so in their next recorded encounter she would not be distracted.

As a person of action and words for the Lord, Martha became a conduit of the truth to all who would follow The Way, especially to His beloved daughters.

He has the owner’s manual…He is the only one who knows how to use us for good, with all our faults. He knows what we are capable of doing when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through us. He shapes us. He molds us. Like clay in His hands, He spins us and turns us around until we become what He designed us to be. Like clay in His hands, we must let go and let Him be God. Like clay in His hands, we surrender to Him, the Only One capable of smoothing out our imperfections and making us into something beautiful and useful for good and for His glory.

Psalm 100:3 Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Martha’s Redemption I

But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Luke 10: 40a

My good friend Martha…I feel like we are close friends. I know her. I relate to her. I identify with her. I am her.

It never ceases to amaze me that the Word of God is as fresh and new today as it was so many centuries ago when it was first uttered and rendered eternal on paper. I firmly believe that the Lord put this passage about the famous sisters Mary and Martha in the Bible exclusively for women. God sure knows His beloved daughters. He knows we are the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Regardless of race or nationality, I believe women around the world identify with the struggle presented in this portion of Scripture.

I’m not saying that men won’t find these verses useful; but they won’t really be able to identify as closely as women do with it. They would see the women around them in it as if looking at a family portrait. But I doubt they would be able to see themselves.

At any rate, in this scene we see Martha “distracted.” She was probably overwhelmed by all the work that needed to be done. She had gladly opened the doors of her house to the Lord; but she didn’t expect to have to take care of feeding and tending to all the visitors that had tagged along with Him. She certainly didn’t expect to have to take care of all the needed preparations by herself. I’m sure she thought she’ll have her dear sister to help her out. What does sister do? The smart thing…she finds a front row seat among the audience, right at the feet of Christ, and cares not about the minutia involved in taking care of mundane chores. Mary knew that being with Jesus was the “only” thing that really mattered.

Did that mean that the preparations were not needed? I don’t think so. Scripture points out the preparations “had to be made.” Someone had to do them. That someone was Martha. The problem was that Martha got lost in the mundane details of the event, and forgot to enjoy the actual event. It reminds me of family gatherings when we are so concentrated and worried about not burning the food and cleaning the house, that when family arrives we are cranky, tired and in such a bad mood that we don’t really enjoy the celebration. (Maybe it doesn’t happen to you, but it has happened to me more often than not : )

The thing is that Martha was “distracted.” Her eyes lost their focus, and the “one” thing that was important became a distant and blurry object. She only went to Jesus to complain about her sister and to ask Him for Holy vengeance. She knew He was the “only” one who could order Mary around. Martha plays the victim in front of Jesus and also tells Him what to do!

“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10: 40b)

“Poor, poor Martha…I’ll go tell Mary, right away…” That’s what Martha was hoping to hear from Jesus. Instead, she got a reprimand and a rebuke that possibly caused her to go back into a quiet corner to sob and think alone.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10: 41

Jesus did not have words of condescension for Martha. He did not play her little blame game. Of course not! He is Jesus! He knew exactly what Martha needed to hear and that’s exactly what He said. Martha needed a reminder of what is important so she can re-focus her attention onto it.

I believe Jesus also told her this because He knew she would think about it. After all, Marthas are planners, organizers, workers, thinkers. Women who identify with Martha in this passage do a lot of thinking in their daily lives. They keep lists. They check off lists. They create other lists when they are done with the previous one. They make lists for what’s coming. They make lists for what is happening. They even make lists about what already happened in case it happens again they can refer back to that list and not be caught unprepared! And list-making is just one example that illustrates how much of a thinker a Martha-type woman is.

Jesus knew she would think about this incident, so He told her what she needed to hear so later she would be able to readily recognize the truth.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Mother's Letters

Is it her laughter? Is it her kindness? Is it her gentle voice and demeanor? Maybe it is her tender touch. Perhaps it is the way she smelled after her usual afternoon shower. It might be the letters that she wrote. I think it is everything. I absolutely miss it all. Twelve years later, and I still can’t believe she is gone.

An early morning phone call from a distant place was all it took for her to take flight to that land of promise, o so far away.

Like the early dawn dew that turns to vapor with the morning sun, she flew to her loving Father’s arms. The long battle was finally over. She fought it well and victory was hers as she closed her eyes and breathed her last on this earth.

She left behind those who would never forget her. Hurting hearts and lonely lives hope to someday, see her face once again.

I hold a bundle of letters in my hands, a gift from a time long gone. A precious gift of words filled with encouragement and love, which I treasure in my soul. She wrote me often, so the bundle is thick. I praise the Lord that she lived in a time when the pen’s markings were permanently imprinted on a real page, rather than in the era of vanishing words in cyber-space. I hold that bundle of letters in my hands as if to hang on to her in an effort to recover her material existence, but my efforts are in vain. Twelve years ago today, she flew away from me. But I know she waits as she always did. She waits for me to come home again after a long separation, as she always did when she was here and waited for me to return to the childhood house after life split us apart.

Her letters and her memories are all I’ve got of her today. That’s enough. I don’t need anything more, for she lives in my heart.

Randomly, I get one out of the bundle. I look at the classic “air mail” envelop that encloses it and see that it is addressed to our old Brookfield, Ohio apartment, our first “home” here in the U.S.A. I pull the letter out the opening on the side where I carefully ripped it 16 years ago. (I remember Dan always commenting on how odd it was that I opened envelops from Panama by ripping them from the side?! : )

I carefully hold it between my hands and unfold it slowly. It is a two-page neatly written account of the events that took place when my family said goodbye to 1995 back in Panama; a few short months after I had left my country of birth for good.

I could not help but crying as I read it. I cried not only because I would never, ever read a newly written letter from my dear Mother again in my life, but also because the events that she so happily narrates in it are very unlikely to ever happening again either. She tells me about the jolly time they had, including members of our family long gone now, some by Divine destiny, some by choice. She tells me about toasting to 1996 with a glass of Champaign and about the melancholy in her heart for having me so far away. She ends almost every paragraph stating how much she misses me and how much she prays for my well being. She isn’t short on praises for my then young and always loving husband. Tucked in there, there is a line that brought a smile to my sadden face. She writes about how she sees the great love Dan has for me and about his high “moral and cultural” standard. I had to laugh at that!

She doesn’t spare her blessings for us as a young couple and reminds me several times how I must be patient and wait in the Lord for He will meet all my needs. She even congratulates us on the purchase of our very first computer! (That made me smile too : ) She points out how such purchase will enhance my prospects for finding a good job soon. She closes with one last line of encouragement, cheering me up, wishing me the best, sending me her love and showering me with her blessings.

I fold the letter and slide it in the envelope. I lay it on my desk. I look at it one more time before putting it back in the bundle, and back in the drawer where it has been residing for the last 16 years (I remember I bought the table where I keep them when we first moved to that apartment in Brookfield in the early winter of 1996).

I can’t believe she is gone. I can’t pint-point what I miss about her the most. I miss it all. But I sure praise the Lord that I have her letters. Reading that one tonight brought fresh memories of my Mother to me on this day we remember her passing. It is a wonderful gift to have them; and I pray I could preserve them for as long as I am on this side of heaven. I also pray that one day I would get to tell her about all the comfort and joy re-reading her letters brought to my soul for years and years after she was gone.

Te quiero mucho, mama…

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dropping the rock...

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8: 7b

“The thud of grace,” I certainly never thought about the passage in John 8:2-11 in these terms. Over the past weekend, after attending my church’s annual women’s retreat and watching a video where author, Nichole Johnson referred to this passage as “the thud of grace,” I have been forever impacted.

The “thud of grace” refers to the sound of the rocks hitting the ground after none of the condemning men found the justification to stone the adulterous woman to death. None of the condemning men had the moral authority to execute the sentence. Only one, The One without sin would have been the only one able to carry out the sentence, but instead, He extended His gift of grace to this sinner.

The self-righteous band of accusers brought this woman to Jesus to trap Him. They, however, ended up caught in their own hypocrisy.

It was a trap because the law that they were supposedly carrying out originally says:

If a man is found sleeping with another man's wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel. Deuteronomy 22: 22


"'If a man commits adultery with another man's wife--with the wife of his neighbor--both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. Leviticus 20: 10

In other words, if they were really interested in the fulfillment of the law, they would have brought the man too, to be stoned as well. All they wanted was to trap Jesus into a predicament, a “lose-lose” situation for our Lord. If He had said, “yes, go ahead and fulfill the law of Moses,” He would have been at fault for they were not carrying out the law as written. If He had stopped the stoning directly, He had been accused of breaking the law of Moses. In His divine wisdom, our Lord did exactly the right thing, which not only taught a lesson to the hypocrites of His time, but to us today too.

The accusing men held on tightly to the rocks they carried in their hands. Can you picture it? In their anger, self-righteousness, and desire to finally defeat Jesus, they squeezed those rocks with piercing excitement, anticipating the moment they’d get to fiercely throw them at the frightened woman standing in the middle of this scene.

With each passing second, they tightened their grip on those rocks. The jagged edges cut through their skins, and instigated their thirst for blood. The fear in the eyes of the adulteress fed their hunger for vengeance. The other men around them provided safety in numbers, and validated their misguided sense of justice. Boy, have I been one of them…?

I was deeply convicted by the “thud of grace” lesson, mainly because, the more I thought about it, the more I saw myself as one of the accusers. I am a rock “clencher.” More often that I’d like to admit, I’ve been clenching to that rock, waiting to throw it with all my might. More often than not I’ve been tightly gripping the rock, feeling the jagged edges piercing through my own skin, feeding my frenzy in anticipation of the moment when I get to throw it at the culprit.

I also realized that the rock is a weapon, but it is also a burden. The rocks I carry around in my hands, readily available to be thrown at a moment’s notice, represent a burden that weighs heavy in my soul and slows down my walk with the Lord.

I’m so ready to condemn because I am so unforgiving. I am so ready to condemn, because I am greedy with grace. I am so ready to condemn, because I am selfish. I am so ready to condemn, because it is all about me and how I feel. I am so ready to condemn, because I forget that I am nothing, and that the only thing that makes me righteous is the righteousness of my Lord and Savior, which He gave me as an undeserving gift of Grace.

I heard the “thud of grace” this past weekend, as I dropped my rock. Yes, a few days ago, I finally opened my hand and dropped it. I opened my hand and let it rolled out of my palm. I had sat there listening to the lesson with a rock clenched in my fist until the time came for each one, who chose to do so, to drop it. I was slow to stand up, but, after many other women had dropped theirs, I got up and let it slip out of my fingers. After flying in the air for a split second it hit the bottom of a box where other rocks had been dropped.

I heard a solid, heavy, somber and sobering thud as my rock hit the surface, and my soul felt lighter. It felt lighter because I relinquished my constant desire to condemn. It felt lighter also because I released heavy burdens that I’d been carrying around for too long. I am exhausted and weary so as I let go of my rock, I took up the Lord’s word at face value when He said: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11: 28.

I come to You, Lord, and I rest in You. Justice and vengeance and judgment belong to You, and to You I defer. Help me to remember this truth next time I am tempted to pick up a rock again.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Grace and Forgiveness

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Luke 23: 34

On this Holy Saturday, the beauty of spring fills up my house as the sun and the cool breeze come in through the open windows.  My sons and my husband are outside and I am here, thinking about the precious gift that we celebrate this weekend.  The gift of God in the flesh, coming down to us, to suffer and die on the cross to rise again on the third day so we, His beloved, could be justified in His presence, saved for all eternity to spend it with Him in His glory. 

Today, I contemplate the gift of grace.  The grace of God by which He grants us forgiveness of our sins so we could be saved. 

My personal struggles with forgiveness make this a very uncomfortable subject for me to reflect upon.  I stand in the midst of several spiritual battles that keep me from offering sincere and complete forgiveness to some around me.  I say I forgive, but I find myself re-taking the hurt; therefore, having to forgive again and again.  I have a hard time letting go of the pain caused by the offense.  In some instances, the pain remains because my ego was bruised, and pride blocks the door to forgiveness.  In other cases, the pain is deeply rooted because the real offense has been perpetrated against someone whom I dearly love, and it hurts me more than if it was against me. 

I then struggle forgiving my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I struggle forgiving my own flesh and blood brother.  I struggle forgiving myself. 

There is no reason for me to harbor un-forgiveness in my heart.  The Lord is clear in His command, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11: 25 We also reiterate the need for forgiveness every time we recite the Lord’s Prayer, And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. Matthew 6: 12. As it is written, For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6: 14-15

We know it is not for the benefit of the person we are forgiving, as much as it is for our own benefit, so we may also be forgiven and have peace. But we, I still struggle.
Jesus explained how those who have been forgiven much, love much. (Luke 7: 36-47) Those with a great debt that is forgiven, cannot take forgiveness for granted. It is impossible. They cannot forget the great gift of grace that they’ve been given, so they extend that same grace to others generously. They are very aware of their sinful nature and of the mercifulness of God. The reality of grace is constantly evident in their daily walk with the Lord. The truth is, however, that regardless of how good we think we are, and how little we believe God has had to forgive to us due to, what in our eyes is just a limited and “insignificant” amount of transgression; There is no one righteous, not even one. Romans 3: 10

…there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. Romans 3: 11

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1: 8

We should all do, therefore, as the woman at the house of the Pharisee. The woman, who, under the cruel scrutiny of the self-righteous, disregarded their scorn and focused on the Living God sitting right in front of her. She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, poured exquisite perfume on them and did not ceased to kiss the feet of her Lord as an expression of her great love and gratitude for the grace that, though undeservedly, He had extended to her without reservations.

We have all been forgiven much. Only grace justifies us. It is only the gift of the “amazing grace” of our Great God that “saves the wretched like me/us.” And as we walk the road of sanctification, we remember that even though, “Once we were blind, now we see.” We see and receive the forgiveness of our sin and remember that forgiveness brings about love. It is this love what moves us to forgiving our debtors, as we have been forgiven our many debts. Grace is a gift that we receive thanks to the costly price that Jesus paid on the cross. He gives it to us not to keep to ourselves, but to pour out freely and abundantly to His beloved. It’s only grace. And only grace will lead us home.

Friday, April 6, 2012

De-Cluttering the Soul - "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." John 1: 29

But who can discern their own errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.
Psalm 19: 12-13

Well, there is nothing better than a major remodeling project in order to help one get rid of superfluous items, a.k.a. junk. We just went through the total transformation of our kitchen; and may I say, it looks fabulous! (Well, after we are done painting, I’m certain it will look fabulous).

Before the project could begin, I had to empty every one of our old cabinets. I could not believe how much junk I had accumulated during the last 10 years. I found stuff I had not seen in at least that long! I also found stuff I didn’t even know I had; - this made me feel really icky. So I bought big black garbage bags and I began my de-cluttering mission. I donated about eight 30-gal bags full of soon-to-be-someone-else’s “treasures” to Goodwill. I threw away about five more. The rest, I put in plastic bins and boxes, and unto the storage room outside the house they went.

After the kitchen work was finished, I was ready to start bringing my stuff back inside, and to my surprise, it didn't fit! I knew it wouldn't since the old kitchen had more cabinetry, - a.k.a. more room to store unnecessary junk. I decided which items I was going to bring inside my brand new kitchen. The rest I kept in the bins and I hid them away back in the outside storage room, - out of sight, out of mind, right?

I felt good about my de-cluttering success. The new kitchen felt light and airy, just the way I wanted it. No longer did I feel the weight of all the junk hidden inside old cabinets. No longer did I stress out about stuff creeping out into other rooms. No longer did I experience guilt every time I shoved new junk inside the already over-stuffed drawers and cupboards in my old kitchen. Now, all I had were the bare necessities. No more would I run into things I’d forgotten or even knew I had. I declared my mission accomplished. But, was it?

Of course it wasn't! Outside, in a dark and hidden place, in a forgotten room not too far away there sat 5 or 6 big plastic bins full of stuff I didn’t know what to do with…

I had, indeed, gotten rid of a lot of dead weight and clutter; but I had also kept a whole lot I didn’t need to keep. I just couldn't let go of it. Even though I knew I didn’t have much use for it, I packed it all up and put it in a back corner where it didn't bother anybody. Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Of course it wasn’t! I’m writing about it, aren’t I? The hidden junk is as much in my mind now as it was when it hid in my old kitchen cabinets. I had not gotten rid of it. I had just moved it to a different place. I hadn’t de-cluttered. I had just cluttered a different place. I had not gotten rid of all the excess. I was not completely clean. I had just done the bare minimum. The sense of guilt was still in my heart, and I didn’t know how to get rid of it.

Why am I thinking about such things on Good Friday, one may ask? Simple…I think about these things today, because this is the day that we commemorate the actions that the One and Only performed in order to wash us white as snow.

Today we remember with solemn reverence and infinite gratitude what our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ did in order to wipe away our hidden sin and reconcile us to the Father so we could have perfect union with the Trinity by the cleansing power of His blood.

It is only by the blood of Jesus that the de-cluttering of our soul could be declared a complete success. Jesus doesn’t just move our sin around. He wipes it away. There is no way we can keep hidden sin stored in plastic bins in a forgotten corner of our heart. He cleanses us and purifies us with hyssop. He thoroughly washes us until we shine brighter than gold. He blots out our transgressions and washes away our iniquity. Nothing remains, not even our hidden faults. That’s what the sacred blood of Jesus can do. That’s what the sacred blood of Jesus does when we receive Him in our heart and soul.

There is no way we can purify ourselves by our own means in a way that we appear blameless before the Almighty. There is no way we can cleanse ourselves and wash away the hidden sin by ourselves and be clothed with righteousness so we can be reconciled with God. There would always be sin that we can’t let go of. Without the blood of the Lamb who was slain we would always hang on to creepy clutter that crowds our soul and leaves no room to breathe free.

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1: 29

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139: 23

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday

Holy Thursday in the Spanish Speaking World is the day Catholic churches create magnificent Altars to house the Holy Host and commemorate the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form.  
Colossians 2: 9

On Maundy Thursday, or Holy Thursday, (the Day of the Mandatum, which in Latin means Commandment) Christians begin to celebrate, remember and reflect upon the last days that our Lord Jesus walked upon this earth.  Often we attend services that re-create the Last Supper and/or the washing of the feet.  All throughout the Christian world, followers of Jesus hear about how The Lord commanded us to serve and to love as He did.  I, personally, can’t help but to think about the countless Holy Thursdays I spent in my hometown back in Panama.

Ever since I was a little girl, I became fascinated by this Holy Day.  As soon as I was old enough, I began to go by myself to church services that nobody else in my family wanted to attend (except my Mom, who often did accompany me in my Holy Week tours).  I sat through seemingly endless solemn masses filled with mystical rituals that deeply intrigued me.  I wanted to learn the significance of every little ceremony and I thirsted for the Word.  Even though I didn’t fully understand the meaning of many of the religious practices I witnessed, I always experienced a profound sense of the Divine in my heart and soul.

Of all these practices, I remember fondly the events of Holy Thursday.  On that day, there is a high mass at the Cathedral, followed by a very long and very special procession.  It is particularly special because it is a procession in which only men can participate.  “La procession de los hombres,” the procession of the men is called.  Silence is the main characteristic of this event.  Hundreds of men walk in silence and reverence behind a statue that represents Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The procession stretches for a few miles on the main avenues of my hometown as women and children quietly watch it go by, trying to pin point their own among the sea of men of all ages who process in front of them. 

For years, I too was one of the women standing on the sidewalk, watching the men go by in quiet awe.  Not a pin drop can be heard; only the footsteps on the pavement like the sound of a grieving drum.  Ever since I remember my Father walked that procession.  I always looked out for him.  Seeing his tall, slender and straight figure among other familiar faces of uncles, and cousins was comforting.  It was a statement that my earthly father does follow the Way.

After the procession, after women and children are re-united with their men; my family would go home and I would stay at church for a little longer worshiping the Living God at the freshly adorned Altar of the Host.  All across towns in countries like Panama, churches decorate a prominent place in the front of the church with candles and flowers.  These altars are called “Monumentos” or monuments and some feature statues of angels and even stairs that guard and lead to a “monumental” vessel or arc that contains the Holy Host.  Believers kneel down around the outer edges of the “Monumento” and worship.  Churches stay open all night long during Holy Thursday, and there is always someone praying by the foot of the Altar of the Host all throughout.  I remember my sister’s interest on the “Monumentos” sparked a few years after I’d left Panama, and she began a tradition to visit as many as she could during the night of Holy Thursday.  I think my Mom used to go with her.  And I believe my sister continues that tradition still today, even if by herself. 

At any rate, I can’t help but remember these two aspects of my past which marked the celebration of Holy Thursday year after year.  Even though both rituals, the procession as well as the Altars of the Host represent only man-made traditions; as I reflect on them today, they do play a part in my current relationship with my Lord.  I think about them now and I see clearly how they both point to that instance when Jesus’ humanity becomes most apparent to me.  They both remind me of Jesus night at the Garden of Gethsemane.  They both echo the night that Jesus prayed for the bitter cup to be taken away from Him.  They both speak of the night that Jesus was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  On that night, Jesus asked His disciples, His friends, to stay with Him and keep watch, as He prayed to Abba, Father in distress.

Jesus, in His humanity, needed His close friends to be there with Him in his hour of greatest agony.  As we know, the disciples could only hold on for a little while, since they were overcome by sleep to Jesus’ dismay.  Jesus continued His earnest prayer until His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  Angels came to strengthen Him, for men couldn’t endure. 

Jesus’ suffering pierces my heart.  As I read the passages in the Gospels again today, I hear the distant footsteps of the hundreds of men walking silently in the procession of Holy Thursday as a representation of Jesus calling them to keep watch with Him.  The men who say yes walk behind Him in solemn vigil.  They know they are not strong enough to fulfill the task on their own.  But they also know that they don’t have to.  Even in the hour of His greatest agony, Jesus is strong enough for all of us.  

When I read Jesus’ words, “yet not what I will, but what you will.” And “Enough!  The hour has come.  Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.  Rise!  Let us go!  Here comes my betrayer,” in Mark 14: 16-41 I see Jesus’ Divine nature taking the lead role to commence His Holy Passion.  I think of Jesus as Commander of His and my destiny.  I feel His power rise again and I know He is in control of whatever is about to happen.  That’s what the Altar of the Host or “Monumentos” make me think of as I remember them today.  They represent the glory of the Lord.  He is man, but He is also God and King, and as such He deserves the most visible location, the most beautiful and fragrant of the flowers and the most brilliant of the candles.  He deserves our best.  He demands our all because He is worthy of our praise and worship all night long, and all the days of our lives. 

I think of my sister and her tour of the Altars around our hometown and I see a devotion born out of her deep love for our Lord, a love that took a long time to sprout, but that it is now in full bloom.  I see the kind of relationship that grows out of hardship and pain, and it’s watered by tears.  I see a contrite spirit, the perfect offering that ascends to the throne of the Most High like the most pure of incense. 

Easter celebrations take many different shapes and forms.  The external expressions of our devotion, however, are not the essential aspect of this Holiest of times.  What’s important is that on this Holy Thursday, as we stand at the door of the Easter season, we remember how Jesus asks us to follow Him to the Garden and to the Cross so one day we can also follow Him to His throne.

This particular "Monumento" reminds me of those at the Cathedral in my hometown.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

I Know Who Holds My Future Too!

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it. John 1: 1-5

As we begin the Easter season, I would like to “be still and know” that the Emmanuel, God with us, remains with us still.  It is so easy to believe the lies of the enemy and become disheartened thinking that the whole world around us has turned their back on the Lord.  It is so easy to fall into the trap of the master of deception and believe that all is lost.  It is so easy to lose focus and let the truth turn blurry.  It is so easy to despair as we see the godlessness that surrounds us.  

This is not a new phenomenon, however.  Since the beginning of Christianity, believers have faced anxiety and isolation.  Otherwise, the Holy Spirit would not have had to inspire the Apostle John to write about how the Light entered into the world but the world rejected it, and misunderstood it.  This objection to the Light was true in John’s time and it is true in our world today as well.  

We have only to turn on the TV to realize how the world rejects and misunderstands our Lord.  Any show can illustrate this point; but today I was reminded of John 1: 1-5 when I heard about the reactions to a statement given by Tim Tebow at a recent ESPN press conference.  Tebow, who was traded to the NY Jets as a back up quarterback, which comes as a demotion after being the starting QB at the Denver Broncos, said:

"I don't know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future. That's something that has always given me peace and comfort. That's why I don't have to worry about the future. I can just worry about today and worry about becoming better as a football player and a person.''

As a Christian, I rejoice at how a 24 year old man in a public venue openly speaks about his faith in the One and Only God.  The secular world, however, completely misinterprets this statement and criticizes Tebow’s words as evidence of what they call, “a lack of confidence.”  

Lack of confidence?  Are you kidding me?!  In my opinion, Tebow’s words express exactly the opposite.  He is 100% confident.  He knows who the source of his strength is and he taps into His power.  He knows who designed his days and he trusts Him.  Rather than showing misplaced confidence which breeds arrogance; this young man acknowledges that it is Providence who marks his destiny and he humbly accepts it as truth.

After I meditated on this incident, I decided that I need to shift my focus every time I hear disconcerting things in the media.  I need to concentrate on the light and not be afraid of the darkness.  Instead of feeling downcast because of the reaction of the secular world, I rejoice for in young men like Tim Tebow I see what the future could hold if we stay in Him who holds and sustains us.  Rather than believing the lie that it is possible to “kill” God; I remember that, regardless of what may happen here on earth:  

The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103: 19)

I uphold this truth: that, even though our current society is under the influence of the powers and principalities of darkness and it doesn’t recognize, receive or understand the Light, Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1: 12-13
I also remember the comforting lyrics of the old hymn, and sing:

I don’t know about tomorrow;
It may bring me poverty.
But the one who feeds the sparrow,
Is the one who stands by me.
And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood;
But His presence goes before me
And I’m covered with His blood.

Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand.