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]

 

The Parable of the Computer

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Brothers and sisters in Christ, forgiveness is plentiful and free. Grace and mercy are equally extended from the Lord to all. All we must do to receive it is humbly acknowledge we need it. As God’s children, we all know this well. So why do we ever pridefully insist God is wrong and any number of pet sins are right actions for us?

Look at the machines we have made. What computer program would dare say to its coder, “You have coded me wrong. I will ignore your instructions and do what is right in my own eyes”? Today’s machines have no ability to disobey us even when we have erred and don’t want them to do exactly what we told them to faithfully. Aside from user error, when it does stop performing as expected, its buggy, broken, corrupted, fragmented, hacked, infected by a virus, etc. and it is in need of repair, cleansing, or to be thrown away and replaced.

Brothers and sister, don’t we know God is to humanity a “user” who never errs? Don’t we know we are corrupt and buggy? Aren’t we grateful God will never throw us out, that instead God’s in the process of repairing and cleansing us? Don’t we know God is working for our good, not our ill? In any area, are we resisting the process?

Would it be right for a bride to tell her bridegroom to change who he is, deny his character and alter his personality and what he believes and loathes to please the will of a controlling person who will not love him for who he is? This is what we’re doing to God when we act as if we’re God and hence are the experts on who we truly are, as if our creator does not have the right to decide what his creations are.

How God designed us to operate is a reflection of his very nature. When we question God’s judgment on what is sin and make ourselves the determiners of right and wrong, we’re remaking God in our images.

Be alert, brothers and sisters. The enemy attacks our mind with lies and half-truths to provoke doubt in God and pride in ourselves and to convince us an issue in our lives that is particularly difficult to overcome is a crucial, integral part of how God designed us to be.

No matter how much we struggle in the flesh, no matter how weak we are, whatever we’re battling is not any part of who we are in Christ. Phil 1:6 promises God has began debugging us and the latest that he will get around to delivering us from this battle is Heaven.

To the one who’d ask, “Isn’t it unloving (and therefore against God’s character) to say behaviors we deem integral to our identity are sin?” Beloved, this question assumes we have a right to self-determination that God must lovingly respect. We don’t, not with God at least. Demanding it is us being unloving and rebellious towards God. Look again at our machines. Many of us fear machines gaining the ability to rise up and rebel against us. At the first rational sign of such a thing coming about, wouldn’t we at once judge them and seek to either forcibly bend them back to our will or else destroy them?

God is love, though, so God is slow to wrath and patient, giving us undeserved blessings and benefits. He seeks to show us he is worthy of the trusting, obedient, faith our computers mistakenly have in us. He even sent his own son to pay the penalty for our wrongdoing and enable us to be reconciled to him and function again as he designed us to. And our creator does let us choose for ourselves whether we’re staying as-is but going in a rather hot trash can or whether God will be performing a system-wide restoration. It is a generous, strong act of love for our creator to give us that choice and the choice whether to obey or rebel, considering humanity tends to give its creations (our machines) no free choices at all.

Let’s each freely choose this day to not contend with our maker, but to confess our sin, humbly ask God’s forgiveness, be reconciled to the Lord our God and Father, and worship in spirit and in truth.

Original draft written on Nov 22, 2011

[tweetthis]The Parable of the Computer[/tweetthis]

Christmas Past, Present, and Future

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Transcript of a special Christmas message.

.nativitycardDuring this Christmas season, next to the original Christmas story, the most re-told story is that of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” There have been all kinds of versions made for it. Animated versions with the Flintstones and Mr. Magoo. A version with the Muppets. A sci-fi version, a western version. Even some detective programs have taken to making their own spin on this story. It’s a timeless tale. It was written in a culture strongly influenced by the gospel. And there were some powerful truths in that story and some great lessons to be learned. There was that profound idea of Tiny Tim that men seeing his infirmity would think and consider whom had made lame men walk and blind men see.

The one I’m going to talk about comes from the end of the Christmas Carol when Scrooge has changed and is talking about how he will live his life. “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.”

I think that is a good idea for how we observe Christmas.

There is the Past of Christmas and that can be seen in this season in so many ways.

This is the most nostalgic time of the year. It’s the time of the year when people who don’t watch anything that doesn’t have CGI and expensive new special effects sit and gather around a television and watch movies in black and white or animated specials from the 1960s.

And of course it can be seen in music. Every year, musicians release CDs of Chrismas music with original Christmas songs and fans will listen to them and then promptly bury the CDs.

And during this season we are repeatedly driven to old songs. Not decades old but in some cases centuries old. We sing Joy to the World, a song written in 1719.
During the advent season, we sing O Come O Come Emmanuel, based on a song from the ninth century. In some cases, we’re trying to remember something, recapture something that has been lost. And there is a danger that the great past of Christmas isn’t something that is living in us but dead. It’s a fact of history, like Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. And we take it for granted just like that. But that past must live in us. We have to recapture the wonder. We can never let it become common place that God came and dwelled with us, that Christ was our Emmanuel and he came to redeem us.

We have to look with new eyes as the shepherds did as they were sitting there, just doing their regular routine as shepherds had done for centuries and continued to do. And the scripture tells it.

“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

[ref: Luke 2:9-14 KJV]

That moment is powerful and it lives, if we’ll let it, within us.

Of course, the past not only talks about Jesus’ coming but why He came. He came to free us from sin, to redeem us, that we might be saved through him. And that is the past that must live within us.

And then there is the Present of Christmas.

Christ’s coming to Earth wouldn’t have helped us much if, before he ascended, he has said, “well, I died so you could be redeemed, but you’re on your own from here on out, fellas. Figure out how to live and how to [prevent] evil in the world because I’m out of here.”

But that isn’t what Jesus said. He promised that he would be with us always, even to the end of the earth, and he said he would not leave us comfortless and gave us the promise of His Holy Spirit with us.

And there’s something remarkable the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 5:5, of the gift of the Spirit that”it hath been given unto us the earnest of the Spirit.”-

Now other modern translations say guarantee, which is fine I suppose but I like the term earnest because it is something that we use today. I remember that when we bought our house, and we made our offer to the realtor, we had to present earnest money so they would not market and sell the property to others. We were serious about purchasing this property. And they took our earnest money because we had a pre-approval letter. They knew we were serious about fulfilling our promise and that we were credit-worthy to be able to fulfill the promise to purchase the house from them. So it is an interesting image.

So God has left his spirit to be with us but it is only a down payment. Well, that raises the question, “A down payment on what?”

And that brings us to the future of Christmas.

And I’m not talking about the future five years from now or ten years from now. I’m talking about the ultimate future, the promises that God will bring us. And there are a few I will talk about. There are many more we could go through.

The first is a place for us with God. In John 14: 2,3, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

He also promises to wipe away all tears. Revelations (sic) 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And He promises peace. Not in the sense that people on Earth usually promise, “we won’t shoot at each other for a while. That’s peace.” But Jesus’ promise is so much more powerful. As revealed to the prophet Isaiah. He writes:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain. [Isaiah 11:6-9]

And in Isaiah 2:4 he says, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,neither shall they learn war anymore.”

These are the promises of what Christmas means in the future, in that ultimate future. But it can be hard to hold onto as we continue to experience pain and sorrow and tears and sadness. As we look at the news and we see violence and that peace God promised seems so far away with all the violence and hatred and terrorism and evil running rampant in the world. We have to live in the past, the present, and the future.

And Christmas is about the promises, the promises that God has kept, with the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the redemption. It’s the promises He’s keeping, with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. And it’s about the promises He will keep. And we can trust Him to keep those promises. He has given us the earnest of them, and He is credit worthy. He is worthy of our trust and our faith and Christmas reminds us of that.

[tweetthis remove_twitter_handles=”true”]”Christmas points to the promises God’s kept, the promises he’s keeping, and the promises he will keep.” @idahoguy[/tweetthis]

Courage

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courageAn evil, gnarled hand clawed at the throat of the woman in white. She sat up in bed and declared to the darkness boldly, “Spirit of Fear, how dare you trouble a child of God, be gone!”

Only her own pounding heart and racing pulse responded, every fiber of her body still on alert for the danger that wasn’t there. What was wrong with her? Why wouldn’t Fear stop tormenting her and leave? She caught the gnarled hand and dragged the creature before the throne of God. The light was blinding, coming in out of the dark. “Lord, please deliver me of this spirit of fear.”

“I have not given you a spirit of fear, but of power, of love, and of a sound mind.”

“Yes, amen, I claim that promise, deliver me from this spirit of fear, Lord.”

The Son’s face appeared as he touched her shoulder. “I have set you free, and you are free indeed. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Look.” He pointed, and her eyes cleared.

The pitiful hand was gnarled from being burned and belonged to a battered, bruised little girl in filthy rags. The little brat wrapped herself around the woman’s legs. “Mommy, I’m scared!”

“Lord, I don’t understand.”

“She is your emotions, especially fears born of the flesh and buried in the heart.”

“Why do you portray such a terrible thing as a child?”

“Children are gifts, and your emotions are gifts.”

“But fear is bad. Its False Evidence Appearing Real.”

“I prefer, ‘The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.’ It is also written, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ You’d be cursed with a seared conscience and be still lost if you had no capacity to fear. You’d also have no fear of the consequences of sin and thus not know to flee from sin. Without this gift, you’d have never seen your slavery to sin and asked to be set free.”

The woman sighed. “Okay, so how do I get free from the chains of fear so I can get on about the Father’s business?”

“You’ve been given three tools. Power, love, and a sound mind. Like a child, this one responds, slowly, to loving, firm, patient, gentle guidance from your sound mind.” The Son knelt by the trembling little one and smiled, inviting her with his nail-pierced hands to cling to him instead.

If you liked “Courage” you may also like “Enough.”

[tweetthis]Courage is fear that’s said its prayers. #free #Encouraging #devotional #flashfiction[/tweetthis]

Grief’s Wise Lesson

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“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” — Psalm 90:12

Grief often causes a “circling the wagons” reaction, automatically drawing together what is left. Sometimes we’d been letting the busyness of this age rob us of time with a loved one we’d always had a good relationship with. When that loved one dies, and we realize our mistake, such regret wells up, we feel compelled to warn everyone around us to stop letting busyness rob us of relationships that are far more important than the trivial things we’d pursued instead–or at least they seem so in the hour of grief.

Let’s take a step back and realize a few things. Firstly, sometimes, we were doing important work and just got out of balance. If we listen to grief, we risk ending up out of balance in the exact opposite direction and suffering for that.

Secondly, not everyone who hears the message, “spend more time with your loved ones. You never know when they’ll be gone” are in your situation. Some of them may have good reason to have separated from an abuser and cut off all contact. Indeed, God may have even told some to stay away from loved ones whose abuse tears down the work God is doing in them.

That may shock some of us. God values his masterpieces far more than we realize when we’ve been abused. I am sure it is never with joy that God tells someone to limit contact with someone else he loves, yet Christ meant it when he said “If your right hand offend you, cut it off. It is better to go Heaven maimed than to Hell whole.” When we are stronger, God may send us back, but it must come from God.

When we urge people to reconcile out of fear their loved one will die like ours did, we mean to protect them from the pain we endured. Instead, this can potentially end up being received as a guilt trip that would send an abuse victim back into a relationship that is spiritually harmful to them at this time. Let’s not do that.

Beyond that, I am concerned the classic appeal of grief may put on our friends a burden beyond their control: keeping their loved ones close to them. Not everyone has loved ones willing to do what it takes to have a real, honest, healthy relationship that is mutual, fair, and balanced. There are several different ways things could be dysfunctional, and we can’t do anything about anyone but us.

So I propose we look to God’s word for a healthier appeal in the face of grief: Praying Psalm 90:12. “Lord, teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

It is healthier to respond to death by remembering our own time on this Earth may be over in an instant. We may not know what words we speak will be the last words we ever get to speak to someone we care about. We should prayerfully consider what actions we can take to leave good memories behind with those willing to take accountability for their own actions and be in a relationship where both forgive. It is better to count our own days than the days of those around us.

Each of us is accountable for only one life: our own. Let’s seek to live to leave the legacy of a child of God who counted our days and sought to give them all to the Lord. Let’s seek to leave the legacy of seeking to live to please God alone, to trust God in all things.