Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Jesus Speaks to Women: Luke 1

28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Luke 1: 28

There is so much in this passage of Scripture that we can meditate on.  This morning, however, I would like to focus on the first words Gabriel spoke to Mary...the greeting:  "you are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

WOW!  what a way to start a conversation!  I mean, really?!  

You know, I am a rather socially awkward person.  I never know how to act among people, especially people I don't know well.  I'm too concerned about making the right impression.  The thing is, I'm not sure what "the right impression" really is? How am I supposed to be like?  Funny? Serious? Caring? Compassionate? Smart? Intellectual? Academic? Knowledgeable? Dumb? Plain? All of the above?

Do you know what I mean?  Maybe not.  Sometimes I wonder if I'm among the few and far-betweeners who struggle with self-consciousness and who feel socially challenged.  Sigh... everyone around me seems so sure of themselves.  And here I am, full of insecurities...full of a sense of inadequacy that often leaves me empty inside...sigh...

Here's this angel, carrying a divine message to this young girl.  Of course He doesn't care about first impressions.  He is an angel sent directly from God!  His business card says: Heaven on it.  Of course he is OK giving Mary such a greeting.  Of course he is not faced by her being "troubled" by it.  He knows who he is and he knows his role in life.  He has a purpose: a God-given purpose.  He doesn't have to worry about finding the right words to make a good first impression.  He just needs to make an impression so this girl would listen to him.  And listen she does. 

To be more like Gabriel...sigh... it's like all those Hallmark Christmas movies, where there are angels that come to earth to make life easier for the protagonists or to teach life-lessons...they all have a special role, and important one...so even if they make mistakes, it's all OK in the end because they are moved by a higher power...sigh...

The thing is, I should not be jealous of Gabriel...or of any angel, for that matter (especially the ones on TV).  Though Scripture suggests that humans might be lower than angels, see Hebrews 2: 6-7 where it is implied that by Jesus becoming man, He lowered below angels...mankind is made in the image of God!  We bear His image.  Angels are in a whole other category.  We are God's poem.  We are His masterpiece! (Ephesians 2: 10).  That is our purpose:  to be the work of His hands!  There is no greater joy and role than that!

Jesus didn't become a man to save angels!  He became a man, went through the hardship of being human and died a gruesome death for me and for you...what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8: 4  Well, mankind is the object of God's love!

God's love for humanity calls for a response:  humility.

1 Peter 5:6-7 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

That's the one thing I must keep in mind:  to be humble.  The love that God bestows on me has nothing to do with who I am.  It is all about Who He Is!  Therefore, I humble myself in front of Him and in front of His beloved, as a servant of the Most High.  That is my role!  

Feelings of inadequacy...jealousy...envy...and all those sensations that emerged to the surface of our lives fueled by our insecurities must dissipate as we meditate on the greatest love of all:  God's love...for... 

God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Dear Lord, help me...help us...accept the truth:  You Love Us! Please, allow us to live liked we are loved, because we are...we ARE highly favored, and the Lord IS with us...Emmanuel.  Hallelujah!   Amen!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Jesus Speaks to Women - Luke 1: 26-38

We just finished looking at how women were at the center of the greatest event in the history of humanity:  The Resurrection of Jesus.  Now, about 8 days before Christmas, we are about to witness another life altering event:  The annunciation of the incarnation of Jesus...the moment when Jesus became a material being...the moment when the Word became flesh...

And of course, a woman is involved:  young Mary, the Virgin who is charged with carrying the unborn Jesus...WOW...what a moment!

There is SO much in this segment of Scripture that I could write every day for months and not be able to discern all the richness of this passage.  But, as we unwrap our most precious and long-awaited gifts on Christmas morning, I will try to do my best, to slowly unwrap the events recorded in Luke 1: 26-38.

Let's start with the first 4 verses:

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 
27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 
28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 
Luke 1: 26-29

We know Elizabeth's miraculous story, right?  The old lady who became pregnant and delivered John the Baptist: the one who is "great in the eyes of the Lord." (Luke 1: 15) Mary's story and Elizabeth's story have commonalities.  However, there are a couple of big differences between Elizabeth, the mother of John, the one of whom Jesus said:  Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11: 11) and Mary's experience.  First, Elizabeth's baby was conceived the old fashion, natural way.  The miracle was that she conceived!  Not how she conceived.  Also, Elizabeth did not receive any direct word from the Lord that we have on record.  It was her husband, Zechariah, who was visited by the angel of the Lord. 

For Mary, the whole thing was different.  Gabriel, the angel, was sent directly from God to her as a Divine Messenger who would deliver the news.  She needed this special visit since the Baby that she will carry was not naturally conceived.  God's grace is demonstrated here, at this very moment...the virgin, pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David, needed more than an awareness of the presence of God.  She needed an encounter: a real-life encounter with audible words and a visual in order for her to begin to take that rough journey of faith and trust that would begin that day. 

Life would never be the same for Mary.  Whatever dreams and hopes she might have had got cancelled at that moment and replaced by a completely unexpected turn of events...that neither she or anyone around her could have ever imagined.  The page of her story where she was just a young, ordinary woman waiting to get her ordinary life started flipped in front of her eyes as she was greeted as the Lord's greatly favored one. 

"The Lord is with you," Gabriel said.  I don't know how much of this Mary truly got...for she was "greatly troubled" Scripture points out.  Of course she was troubled!  A celestial encounter???!!! She wasn't even sure who this...person...talking to her was!  All she knew was that whatever it was, she didn't know him...and then, this stranger is talking to her about being favored by God and that the Lord is with her?  I mean, really!  Put yourself in her position.  How would you react?

I'm a middle age woman, and I think I'd freak out a bit.  Maybe young women are more trusty of strangers.  Maybe they are more curious.  They don't fear as much because they don't know how many bad things can happen to you out there, in the world.  But the encounter must have been intense, for she was troubled and wondering what was that all about.

To tell you the truth...I think I would try to just walk away.  I would pretend that I didn't hear Gabriel or that he had the wrong person.  I would pretend that there was another woman behind me, and that he was talking to her, not to me...and just continue moving my feet pass him.  I've done stuff like that.  When I don't want to talk to someone, I pretend I haven't seen them.  I know, it's horrible of me...but I am very self-conscious, so I fear I'd make a fool of myself, so it's best if I just don't engage people.  That's why I think I'd probably just look away and pretend he is not there...talking to me!

I don't know...the fact is that, though troubled, Mary stayed put.  Good for her! and for all humanity, as well!  The same Mary that later on would stay put by the cross of her son, by the grave, and finally by His Glorious Resurrection, stayed put and listened to the angel's words.  What an example of Christian womanhood. 

Dear Lord, may You fill us with the strength you gave Mary to stay by You, even when we are afraid, confused and troubled...for the troubles of this world are nothing compared to the Glory that awaits for us with You for eternity!  Amen!


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Jesus Speaks to Women: Matthew 28

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28: 8-10

I wake up fairly early in the mornings, and lately, I have started taking the dog out as soon as I come downstairs.  He's already gotten used to this, so, as soon as he sees me, he gets really jumpy and excited because he knows he is going outside. I have to tell you, it isn't as easy to keep up this routine in the winter as it is in the summer!  The dark, dark, dark mornings in this neck of the woods just make it for a rather pitiful chore.  The cloudy, wet, COLD darkness of the Western PA mornings sink my soul and make me want to run away...sigh...  

Today, as I try to do every day, though, I lifted my head up to the heavens above, only to see darkness...I walked down the driveway with Link and then back up...deep in my thoughts...I looked up one more time, and just for a faint second, I saw this huge, bright star shining like a fire on the sky.  Then, a deep cloud covered it and I couldn't see it again.  But I know I saw it!  And all I wanted to do, then, was to stand there in awe, staring, waiting for it to show up again, but it didn't...hmmm...

I don't know why today's Bible passage makes me think of that incident this morning? Perhaps it is because, like the women back by Jesus' empty tomb were up before dawn.  Or maybe it is because, as they walked in the darkness of the early morning that day, they were filled with the sorrow and hopelessness of thinking their Lord was dead.  Maybe even because I imagine that walk in the dark being as drury, damp and cold as mine this morning with the dog.  But, regardless of the darkness, light shone brighter than the sun at noon day in the desert when they encountered the Living Jesus!

Can you imagine?  Not only did these faithful women met an angel, but they run into Jesus Himself!  All of a sudden!  And He actually spoke to them:  "Greetings!"


It is no wonder the women fell on their faces and worshiped Him.  There is no other appropriate response in a moment such as this.

The fear mixed in with the surprise and the exhilaration made up for a couple of truly discombobulated women, I imagine.  So much so, that Jesus had to offer them a few words of comfort.  As the compassionate and loving Lord that He is, Jesus said to them:  “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  

The overwhelming shock these women must have gone through was soothed by the kind words of Our Savior...but that didn't mean the women were to stay there.  There was a call to action, as well:  GO!  Go, be my messengers.  Go tell my brothers.  Go tell them to GO if they want to see me.

Meeting Jesus is always an earth-shaking, life-changing event.  And it usually involves a moment of face down on the floor or standing in awe.  But then, the call to action does not delay and it usually sounds the same:  GO!


I think, my encounter with the bright star this morning, in the midst of that deep darkness makes me think of this passage of Scripture, because, not unlike these women thousands of years ago, I was not expecting the light.  I'm so used to darkness as the norm, that when light appears, it's just mesmerizing.  But that's exactly when you realize that Jesus cannot be put into a predictable paradigm.  He is anything but ordinary and just when we think we have Him figured out...He surprises you like we can never imagine.  And He speaks to us in a language that we can understand...a language of not just words, but actions, visions, images and events that speak to us words of wisdom and words of life!

May we be awake for our personal encounter with the Light! May we not be so distracted by the sorrow of darkness that we miss the arrival of the Son!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Jesus Speaks to Women: Matthew 28

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28: 8-10

What a glorious passage!  The fulfillment of a promise, the most important promise in God's Word:  The Resurrected Messiah!  Without this moment, Christianity would have never come about.  Jesus IS Alive!

I know, we are approaching Christmas, not Easter.  But...as we all know...there would be no significance to Christmas without Easter morning!  The Christmas lights, the trees, the presents, the caroling, the cookies, the children's plays...none of it would have any meaning without this very moment related to us by Matthew...Jesus is Risen!

And...He chose to reveal Himself first to whom? To women.  WOW...the faithful women who barely had left the tomb (only during the Sabbath they stayed away), were the ones Jesus showed Himself to first.  The privilege of sticking by our Lord!  What a reward!  Hopelessness didn't have the last word here, not ever.

After the women had their encounter with the Messenger who told them to go inform the disciples about the resurrection, they "hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy."  I LOVE this statement.  Let's look at it in parts:

1.  Hurried away from the tomb:  yes, leave the tomb behind!  Once and for all, walk away from it!  Have you ever stuck by the tomb even after you've realized it's empty?  Have you dwelled on the events that caused you sorrow and pain even years after the events happened?  Have you lingered around the hurt of an extinguished relationship?  Have you hung around the ashes of a burnt bridge long after the ashes have been scattered by the wind?  Have you continued to be afraid after healing? I have...  I don't know why it is so hard to just "hurry away from the tomb" when we find it empty?  I mean...look at what we are at risk of missing: running into the Risen Lord!!!

2.  Afraid yet filled with joy:  this is my favorite part!  I am afraid ALL.THE.TIME... I live in fear.  I have allowed fear to grab a foothold in my heart, and I am struggling to rid myself from it...to take away the control it has over me.  Little by little, the Lord is teaching me, with each trial, that fear has no place in the heart of the believer because our hearts belong to Christ, and Christ has our best interest in mind.  Even if we don't understand what is happening to us at the moment, we need not be afraid because we trust that God's plan is perfect!  That doesn't mean that fear will disappear completely, but that we will be able to run and REJOICE even in our fear.  This passage illustrate that fear needs not paralyze us.  Fear could be the fuel that helps us run faster towards the feet of Jesus!

Dear Lord, please, every time we face trials, allow us to realize the moment when the trial is over so we can walk away from the tomb, and run to your arms in spite of our fear...may joy overpower the fright so we can hurry to Your arms.  Amen!

Stay tune for the moment when Jesus, finally, literally, speaks to women :) 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Jesus Speaks to Women: Matthew 28

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. 
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. 
4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. 
5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 
6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” 
Matthew 28: 1-7

I have to admit:  I am a big superhero movie fan.  Yes, the fact that I have two boys has helped increase my appreciation of such genre.  However, I might say, it has been my tendency to be drawn to these types of stories what, perhaps, originally fueled my son's appetite for superhero-action films.  I just love a good and thrilling story with lots of excitement where heroes fight and lightning and earthquakes make villains tremble and become paralyzed with fear! I can say, I imagine myself in the middle of that type of action and wonder which superhero I would be!  I know...I know... where's the eye-rolling emoji, right?

The thing is, in each of the Marvel Universe movies (which is what we prefer in this household, btw) I can see a scene like the one related to us by Matthew in this passage above.  All the elements are there:  the tragedy of the seemingly hopeless death of the Greatest Superhero in the History of the world, followed by His faithful beloved sorrowful mourning...which is in turn, abruptly interrupted by the dramatic entrance of a Celestial Messenger with all the theatrics of having villains become like corpses, paralyzed by fear and blinded by the lightning and earth shattering landing of such a being.  I mean, I'm typing this, and my hands are shaking, I'm so excited!

Our Heavenly Father is the greatest story teller in the UNIVERSE! (Marvel, DC or otherwise, if you know what I mean?)  No earthly script writer even comes close to what God writes in His plan for His children.  The plot twists and storylines of the story boards that God designs for our lives are so immeasurably richer than anything man can come up with.  That's why they all, whether they know it or not, find their inspiration in real life...and in the real life written in the Sacred Word of God!

I love this passage.  I love how it records that it was the women, again, the Marys whom, though feeling hopeless, faithfully walked back to the tomb as soon as they were allowed after the Sabbath.  Their faithfulness and their willingness to continue to do their good work without growing weary was immensely rewarded by the stunning appearance of the angel of the Lord.  I love how the angel of the Lord didn't even bother talking to the guards.  They were like dead, anyway.  He addressed the women!  THE WOMEN!!!  You know how big that was?  Women couldn't even testify in court because their testimony was considered as relevant as anything a dog could say.  And this divine messenger charged the women with the task of acting as witnesses to the disciples. The women were the ones upon whom the glorious job to go spread the word about Jesus' resurrection fell!

WOW!  How's that for girl power, huh?

And just wait...see what happens next!

As the Greatest Superhero Story Ever Told, there is more...let's stay tuned for the sequel!  I can't wait!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Jesus Speaks to Women: Matthew 27th

59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. 
Matthew 27: 59-61

Have you ever been able to stick with something even beyond all hope?  Like, for instance, stick with a prayer that has gone decades unanswered? It's not easy to drop something from our prayer list ... but often, we seem to be praying for something that just does not seem to be the will of God... so... what do we do?  I mean, we know our prayer is in accordance to Scripture.  It's not like we are praying to win the lottery or wishing ill on someone.  What if what we are praying is for a friend, a co-worker, a nephew or a niece, a husband, a son or a daughter, a brother to have a revelation from Christ so they can join the family of believers... but the years pass and the revelation never comes?

It is very easy to get discouraged and to abandon hope that it will ever happen.  However, we are supposed to stay in hope because hope is not a feeling that emerges out of favorable circumstances.  Hope is the person of Jesus the Christ! and He never disappoints.  We are to run the race set before us and stick with it, if that is the race we know we are supposed to run.  As we run it, we are to pray without ceasing:

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6: 18

As we see the first tinge of discouragement surge in our horizon, we must be alert!  We must be alert so we don't fall into the temptation of giving up.  Instead, we should look at the great cloud of witnesses that surround us in or lives and in Scripture...remember the women at the tomb, the many Marys who, as they saw, with their own eyes, their Lord die the most awful death ... and witnessed the big stone being rolled to close the grave, they stuck with it...sitting there...even after all hope had seemingly faded away...and OH the reward they were about to get!

It's been almost a decade I've been lifting to the heavens one particular prayer...and the answer I keep getting is "wait, not yet."  But remembering these women at the tomb makes me realize that there isn't a tomb in my life yet as far as this prayer is concerned, so I should not be so upset...but even in the desolate despair of a future grave comes in, Hope must remain!

May the strength of Our Lord keep us from giving up in our righteous prayers!  Amen!

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Jesus Speaks to Women: Matthew 27

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph,and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.  Matthew 27: 55-56

Well...we arrive at the moment when Jesus breathes His last as a man on this earth.  The darkest moment in the history of the world.  The moment that caused the curtain of the temple to tear in two from top to bottom. The moment when the earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open.  And who was left there...women...

I don't know about you, but I am totally drawn to drama.  I love movies, and among my favorites are those that make me shed a tear or two.  I don't know why, but I do tend to rank a film on its ability to move me...I guess that's why they call it "the movies," huh?  My sons and my husband all make fun of me because of that.  I tend to dismiss their claims...but today, I did catch myself rating a movie as "really good," by saying:  "It made me cry like 3 times..."  The moment I realized I had rated it good because it had made me cry was when, after I said that, Grant blurted out:  "And she only watched 30 minutes of it!"

Yeah... it's true, I actually stopped watching the film after about 30 minutes because there was so much noise at the time (Dylan was trying to do homework and such) that I was not able to fully concentrate on the story.  I knew I could have cried even more, but I wasn't getting my sadness-fix because I couldn't hear well!!!

At any rate...could it be possible that women are attracted to drama?  to things of the heart?  to suffering?  I don't know.  It sounds too stereotypical.  But in my case, it is true.  So, when I read the passage about how these three women were "watching from the distance" as they saw Jesus being crucified after following Him since Galilee to tend to His needs...I would have to say I identify with them.  I can see that. I can see all the men scurrying away as these small group of women stuck by Him.  Even if in the distance, they stuck...maybe because it is part of being a woman...maybe because Jesus had stuck by them as well...

Remember, women were not valued...so, for this segment of Scripture to record that these women were there, it is pretty significant.  It did not go unnoticed by the witness.  And I think its significance will come up later as we continue to see these women sticking by Jesus all the way to the grave and beyond.

There is power in staying with Him.  Even when all hope seems to be lost, staying by Jesus is what we are called to do...and in due time, we'll see great miracles happen.

I pray that we have the strength to stay, not for the love of the drama, but for the Power of His presence that even when we don't feel it, we know is there.