Mary and Martha’s trust

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photo credit: Big Grey Mare Tree Planted By The Water via photopin (license)

In John 11 we read the famous text where Mary and Martha face the death of their brother Lazarus. While he is ill and dying, the first thing they’re reported doing is sending for Jesus. In this passage, they trust Jesus completely–they are sure even after their brother’s passing, that if Christ had been there, he would have saved Lazarus from dying. Some may be tempted to fault Christ for not being there, and accuse him of waiting on purpose until he had created an opportunity for an even flashier miracle. However, reading the text, a lot of people in this family’s area were bent on killing Jesus. He had a legit cause to decline to go. From the disciples’ reaction, it still wasn’t safe for him to be there when he did risk going down there for the funeral. How many of us today wait until the funeral to show up when we have far less at risk than our lives?

Now, depending on who is preaching this text, and what point they’re trying to make, often, Martha either has total trust in Jesus or expresses continual doubt. In reality, she has total trust in Jesus and is struggling to believe he’ll do the impossible for her. For real, how many Christians today would have cremated their brother Lazarus by day four? How many of us, knowing Christ is with us always, so much as ask him to raise the dead? Don’t we have faith? So does Martha. It’s not her faith that is limiting her, it’s her expectations. I.E. we have faith that God can. But we still struggle to believe he will.

What Christ offers her–a brother risen again not in a distant future, but right now–it’s everything she hopes and longs for and her grieving heart is instinctively guarded against disappointment. Since reason tells us even today the dead don’t normally get up again after the doctors have given up on reviving them. Does it happen? Yes, but it’s rare.

The remarkable thing here is nowhere does Christ chide them for their battle between faith and fear and doubt. At the height of it, in fact, seeing their need to grieve, he weeps with them. Knowing what he is going to do, he takes time to emphasize with them and feel with them the painful loss they’re already enduring. Just in case we all think he is instead throwing himself a sinful pity party about their “sinful” grief, the Jews’ reaction to his expression makes it clear he is stopping in the middle of his plans to resurrect Lazarus to grieve the death of his friend.

In doing so, he gives a precious gift to all of us, especially anyone exposed to the false teachings that condemn grief. Christ, who knew no sin, who had absolute faith in the Father and knew what he was himself going to do beyond all doubt, took time to process his grief at the loss of his friend to the grave before calling him out of it. He knows your need to process your pain, grieving heart, he has experienced it, too, and he was without sin.

And Martha, despite her hostess concerns about exposing her guests to the stench of a corpse, did believe in what the Lord could do enough to go along with opening the tomb. So, yes, Martha and her sister Mary trusted in and had faith in Christ even in the dark turmoil of their grief, and no less so for their grief or their battles with fear and doubt.

One last note on trust. According to the Bible, who should we trust? Answer: God alone. While we often believe it is wrong to distrust humans, we have good company in it. During his earthly ministry, Jesus didn’t entrust himself to humans. And John means what he says, that was Christ obeying scripture. (See John 2:23-25) I did a keyword search for “trust and man” on Biblegateway, it pulled up seventeen verses, and the general gist of virtually all of them is to command us to NOT trust humans, especially not yourself, the proud, strong men, military leaders, and politicians, and especially not for salvation.

Now, we should still love them, respect them, pray for them, etc. But not trust them. Our trust is to be in God alone. This can be of great comfort, looked at rightly. Can I trust this person? The Bible says no, they are fallen, they will let you down sooner or later. But God never will. He is with you, he loves you, and he will help you. Go forth in what God has called you to do, not because you can count on the people around you to always be there for you, but because God is always there for you.

 

[tweetthis]Mary and Martha’s trust[/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]According to the Bible, who should we trust? Answer: God alone[/tweetthis]

 

Comfort for Anxiety, please, hold the guilt trip.

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photo credit: Big Grey Mare Tree Planted By The Water via photopin (license)

Meditating on God’s word is an effective way to counter lies both from our own anxious minds and spiritual attacks. When tempted, Christ himself defeated Satan by countering with what it was written in the Bible. I am a student of the practice, not a teacher. And please continue any medical treatment you are on, but I’ll share what I’m learning with you.

The basics are to recognize our emotional states, identify the lies influencing us, and pick verses that effectively contradict them. When it is the devil, say it loud, with authority, and he will back down if there is no other factors at play.

When it is physical brokenness or our own wounded hearts, that is another story. Christian Meditation still can calm our minds and soothe our heart, but you have to repeat your chosen text many times, really chew on it to get it worked down into the hurting places where God is working.

In selecting texts, many of us tend to go to a concordance named Google, who reports back its top-ranked online lists of verses. “Bible on Anxiety” turns up some excellent websites. That said, nigh any list of Bible verses on anxiety includes verses with some variant of “Don’t be anxious.” For our purposes, that may not be the best choice.

In the proper context, “don’t be afraid” is a soothing reassurance. But “don’t be anxious” typically is a command, and the law tends to provoke anxiety, not relieve it. Now, if you commanding yourself to not be anxious a thousand times or so does relieve your anxiety, great. If it only heaps a guilt trip on you and makes you feel condemned, though, please skip that one.

So what does work?

First, read the most infamous verse in context. It begins Paul’s recipe for defeating anxiety. The full passage is far more helpful. However, it is not a text to meditate on, it is instructions for countering anxiety, which includes instructions on meditation. It doesn’t have to be God’s word, though God’s word is most powerful. An effective Christian meditation is “whatever” is in line with Biblical truth and is good, just, honorable, pure, and lovely. It can even be a visual from God’s word and/or of the good things of God’s creation. One image from the Word that I find helpful is of a tree planted by water, with its roots plunging right down into the stream. Secure in God’s steadfast love.

Second, get specific. What exactly are you anxious about? What provokes it? When it isn’t strictly chemical, persistent fears often arise from negative core beliefs about ourselves and others. A negative core belief is a false belief your heart harbors even when your conscious mind knows it is a lie. This subconscious fear will still influence you so long as it remains buried in your heart. It can backfire to answer your own heart the way you should answer the devil. As a wounded heart feels things, anything said in a harsh tone is speaking death. To speak life, swap out strong rebukes for a gentle, loving tone as you counter old lies with the corresponding truth about your identity in Christ.

Third, don’t rush yourself past the stage of identifying the lies your heart is holding onto to avoid “speaking death.” God can still hear you “speaking death” in your heart. It is still manifesting in your life. Face it. Admit it out loud. It is okay. You must grab hold of it to get it out. What to be wary of is latching onto it only to wallow in it. Meditation, speaking life, is more effective if we first identify the lies embedded like thorns, confess them to the Lord, and get him to remove them.

Fourth, sometimes God says no to removing such thorns in the flesh. That no is nothing to be ashamed of; it happens even to the best of us, namely the Apostle Paul himself. What God did through Paul was phenomenal, yet the man was never able to overcome the shame that had him declaring himself “the worst of sinners” over his actions before he was a Christian, despite his own teachings on the grace of God. There are times when God has a reason for our struggle, such as making his strength perfect through our weakness; in some cases, God is using our very weakness to strengthen us in his power.

Finally, here are seven Bible passages that work well as verses to meditate on to combat various kinds of anxiety. At least they comfort me and the Facebook friends who answered my short survey. Feel free to shorten these as needed, but read them in context the first time. The exact wording isn’t vital for meditation purposes, so long as it reflects the Bible’s intent and meaning.

Psalm 62 Meditation: God is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. God is a refuge for me.

2 Timothy 1:5-12 Meditation: God has given me a spirit of power, a spirit of love, and a spirit of self-control (which promotes the sound mind some translations mention.)

Matthew 19:23-29 Meditation: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Isaiah 26:3 Meditation:”You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”

Isaiah 41:5-13 Meditation: The Lord is with us and he is our God. He will strengthen us. He will help us. He will uphold us by his righteous right hand. (From Isaiah 41:10)

Psalm 139 Meditation: God knit me together in my mother’s womb. Praise you, God, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works, including myself. (Bonus prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart. Show me what grieves you. Lead me in the way everlasting.)

2 Cor. 4. 7-10 Meditation: I am afflicted (or hard pressed) but not crushed. I am perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not forsaken. I am struck down but not destroyed.

Psalm 4:8 (ESV) “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (This meditation is perfect for anxiety at bedtime.)

Again, you can’t breeze through this. You have to chew on the truth; sustain focus on the verse or the Bible-based meditation for several minutes at least. Try pairing it with instrumental worship music, relaxing nature sounds, or visualizing the beauty of God’s creation. Also, keep your breathing slow, deep, and rhythmic, as if you are breathing in the truth of God’s word. Feel free to let me know what works for you and which verses are your favorites. Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus!

[bctt tweet=””Comfort for #Anxiety, please, hold the guilt trip.” #ChristianMeditation #BiblicalMeditation” username=”@andreajgraham”]

From Broken to Set-Apart

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When I began meal planning, I bought an awesome set of 32oz BPA-Free deli containers to store freezer meals in. Initially, I made them peel-off labels with contents and dates. After several months, the novelty wore off, and my inattentive-type ADD declared my labeling system was too complicated. I surrendered to my weak flesh and fell into just shoving the leftovers in the freezer without labels. When not labeling stored food led to irritating problems, I got out my Sharpie and wrote on one tub, thinking it’d be permanent. To my delight, it washed off, after all. Victory, an efficient labeling system that accommodates ADD! (Note: using a Sharpie is the right way to label leftovers. I had made it too complicated.)

Anyway, awhile back, I bought a new dish drying rack that lacked a silverware compartment. I missed that feature and decided to make a silverware drying tub. So I took one of my deli containers and poked holes in the bottom with a sharp knife, pictured above. Presto, the wet silverware goes in, and the water drains out the bottom.

Recently, the Holy Spirit nudged me about that tub. If it could think, it would conclude it is broken and useless, but it isn’t. It’s been set apart by its owner for a specific purpose.

Of course, we’re not really talking about my hacked deli container. When we have a condition like ADD, we feel broken and may even fear we’re useless. But God uses our brokenness to set us apart for him.

Quick caveat—I have put other deli containers to use as tools to organize my kitchen stuff. I have pierced none of my kitchen stuff holders. Yet they are just as set apart. You don’t have to be “broken” to be separated to God for a specific purpose.

Still, our brokenness is useful to God. If we seek to stop surrendering to it and let God use it to teach us to depend on his power. As 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV) says, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

[tweetthis]“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2Cor.12:10 [/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]Feeling broken and useless? Be encouraged. God can use our brokenness to set us apart for him.[/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]From Broken to #SetApart: What a Christian homemaker with #ADD learned from a deli container.[/tweetthis]


Affiliate links are included for your convenience, in case my enthusiasm for these nifty tubs is contagious.

Hope at a Dead End

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Gentle Reader, please share this with a friend that this could speak to. This is for the brother or sister whose gotten bad news about their career, health, or a family matter.

You feel stuck at a dead end, watching dreams crumble in the midst of the daily grind. Maybe pain and fear binds you, keeps you stuck in less than all you could be. Maybe you’ve pushed ahead in your goals as far as physical limits will allow. Maybe it’s not simply the voice of our own emotions screaming “you’ll never win.” Maybe a human authority is telling you that the odds are against you and they’re not ever getting any better.

There are no guarantees in this life. God doesn’t owe us anything, least of all miracles. “God works all things for our good.” But not all things in life are good. “God is for us, so who can be against us?” Yet we won’t win every battle. At some point, God is going to let us lose a battle with death itself. If we remain in the faith, God does turn even the ultimate loss of death into our ultimate victory, eternal life with Christ. Remembering that can help us face the prospect of painful losses with hope and fight on.

The nature of faith is uncertainty. God is faithful to God’s word. If the Bible says God promised to do it, God will do it. Yet many promises are conditional on us acting by faith. And applying the Bible’s promises to specific situations isn’t always easy. And it can be even more challenging to hear the voice of the Lord clearly. We need a humble awareness our heart’s strong desires can cause us to misunderstand. I pray God changes our hearts from desiring what isn’t God’s will to desiring what is God’s will.

But at your dead end, remember we serve the God who led Israel out of Egypt, straight into a dead end.

[tweetthis]At your dead end, remember we serve the God who led Israel out of Egypt, straight into a dead end.[/tweetthis]

Picture it. The Red Sea before the Children of Israel, and the armies of Egypt behind them. Trapped. Impossible to go forward into freedom. Impossible to escape the master bent on dragging them back into slavery. Yet God commanded Moses: “Tell the children of Israel to go forward. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:15b-16)

By faith, Moses obeyed the Lord, and the sea parted. By faith, the children of Israel went forward.

God overcame Israel’s dead end.

I can’t guarantee the desire of your heart is in line with God’s. I can’t guarantee your goals and plans are indeed the Lord’s plans. Still, when you come to closed doors that are unlikely to open, knock. Pray. Let God lead you to the best of your knowledge and discernment. And knock on the closed doors you encounter.

God can move mountains. God can give you favor and blessing beyond measure. If it is God’s will, knock, and the door will be opened. If it doesn’t open, it only means that specific door wasn’t right at that specific time. Keep trying other doors until God changes your heart or shows you another path. Or takes you home forever.

Don’t assume an open door is God’s will, either. Not everyone who opens a door when you knock is acting in accord with God’s will.

So let’s act by faith, aware of our natural limits, and aware of what God can do if God pleases to do it. Let’s weep and cry aloud as needed. Let’s praise and lift our hands in worship and sincere thanksgiving as the Spirit moves in us. Let’s pray carefully about the opportunities that do come to make sure they are God’s will.

But I believe the “dead end” in your life isn’t the end. One way or another, in this life or the next, God has so much more for you.

[tweetthis]Hope at a Dead End #overcome “If God is for us, who can be against us?”[/tweetthis]

The Farmer’s Impatient Daughter

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photo credit: yaxchibonam Dark orchard / Huerta oscura via photopin (license)

Once a little girl lived with a cult that kept her locked inside, chained to her computer all day, hungry and naked. She couldn’t do any serious study. In fact, she couldn’t do anything but play games online. In her favorite game, she got to be a farmer and grow beautiful fruit trees. She figured out how to work the game so at least some trees were in bloom or ready to harvest at all times.

Finally, the police came and freed her from the cult’s hands. After many scary, confusing days, one morning, her greatest dream came true. A farmer took her home to live with him forever. On a real farm! The girl was so excited when she spotted the apple trees. She looked forward to the leaves growing back, the flowers blooming, and the apples appearing. Should only take a couple hours.

So, after lunch, she asked her new dad if they could go pick the apples.

Her new dad sent her a curious look. “Beloved, it’s winter.”

So? The girl wondered. In her game, she’d harvested her apples at least six times a day in winter, too.

Her dad let her go outside and explore the farm, and the girl ran straight to the apple orchard. To her dismay, they still looked as sad and barren as they had this morning.

The girl screamed and ran crying to her new dad. “They’re dead! The apple trees didn’t bloom and bear fruit. They’re dead We need to cut them down and plant new ones!”

“Beloved, our fruit trees aren’t evergreens. They sleep through our cold, dark winters.”

“Well, they need to wake their lazy butts up, blossom, and make the apples appear already.”

“It doesn’t work like that, beloved.”

“Of course it does! I’m an expert farmer in my favorite game. I know all about farming!”

Her dad restrained his amused grin and hugged her. “Come with me.” Her dad led her out to the apple orchard and lifted the child up so a branch was at her eye-level. “See here? See these tiny little buds?”

The girl scrutinized the seemingly lifeless apple tree branch. It did have tiny little brown buds.

“Those, beloved, are our asleep apple trees, growing our apples. It’ll look like no apples are growing if you check them every few hours or even every few days, but they are growing.”

“Why so slow? What’s wrong with them? What can I do to make them grow faster?”

“Nothing, beloved. This is life, not a game. Real growth is not instantaneous. Nor does it only take mere hours for the fruit they’re growing to appear and mature. There is no hack that will give you real apples ripe for harvest year-round, not as cold as our winters get. I know it’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to see real growth happening,  but slowly, day by day, the season will change, the days will get longer and warmer. In spring, the apple trees will blossom. Their fruit will mature by harvest time, this fall. Then we’ll pick our apples and wait on the Lord through the next cold, dark winter.”

~~

We may laugh at this poor child’s absurd expectations for real trees growing real fruit. But many of us react similarly when God leads us or a loved one into a spiritual “harsh winter.” We don’t understand what God is doing, especially when the season lasts far longer than we think it should.

It can be hard to tell on a daily basis if a soul enduring a harsh winter is in fact still alive and growing. Let’s be slower to condemn and cut down. Instead, let’s be more loving and encouraging like the farmer in our story. Stay with the Lord through the harsh winter of the soul. I don’t know why you’re going through this. But I know he is with you and still at work in you, even when you can’t see it. And all you have to do is let him. Faith itself is a gift. Just cry out to the Lord and ask. It likely won’t be instantaneous, but spring will come.

[tweetthis]The Farmer’s Impatient Daughter #spiritualgrowth #shortstory #parable [/tweetthis]

[tweetthis]An expert #farmgame player learns real fruit takes longer than two hours to grow. #modernfable[/tweetthis]