Martha Is My Hero

Luke 10:38-41

“Now as they went on their way, He entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what He was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to Him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.’”

 This passage is typically the beginning and the end of our view of Martha. Martha is the sister who missed out on the “better part” and was too concerned with her work to sit at the Lord’s feet. Let me tell you, I would NOT like it if the only things people remembered about me were my seasons of correction from the Lord. I like to think that I am more than my mistakes. I like to think that I have changed upon being admonished by the Lord, and I am sure Martha felt the same way. This incident is only a glimpse of the woman that Martha was, and I would like to propose that the Lord did not intend this event to change who Martha was as a person. Jesus loved Martha; He thought of her as a friend. He did not aim to change her character. He merely aimed to change her priorities.

 

John 11:17-27

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’”

 This is why Martha is my hero. Martha had the faith that met Jesus at the road, and Martha did the very thing that so many of us are incapable of doing: she was honest with the Lord. In our seasons of anger and hurt, we often lock out the Lord. “He did not come when I begged Him,” we say bitterly. “Why should I go to greet Him now?” We work through our anger and bitterness ourselves – or at least, we try. We eventually come to understand that, on our own, we cannot forgive. We cannot wade through oceans of grief on our own feet. We must be carried. Martha understood this, and even in the midst of what was surely the greatest sorrow she had ever known, she sought the Lord. She sought Him even when she did not understand what He had done.

Martha may have struggled with her priorities. Martha may have read the Psalm that says, “Be still and know that I am God,” and felt every word of it echo in all the loud places of her spirit that she wished so desperately would become quiet.

But in the end, Martha understood. Martha saw Jesus for who He truly was. Martha met Him at the road with all of her doubts and all of her pain and all of her confusion and STILL affirmed Him as the Son of God.

 

John 12:2

“There they gave a dinner for Him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with Him…”

Martha was still serving. Martha did not spend the rest of her life hanging her head in shame over her one admonition from the Lord, and neither should we. The Lord corrects us only to teach us greater truths about ourselves and what we are capable of. Martha understood this, and more than that – she understood Him.

 

Advertisements

Holy Week Postings

The Second Word From the Cross
“Truly I say to you, this day you will be with Me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Jesus had already endured a scourging and had already carried His cross up Calvary’s hill. Jesus had already had nails driven through His hands and feet and a crown of thorns pushed onto His already-bloodied face. Then came the mocking. The crowd — that had just days earlier cried hosanna – jeered. The centurions – that had just hours earlier flogged and stripped – ridiculed. And now, a criminal who hung beside him began to heckle.
“Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”
It was meant to insult the dying Jesus, but surely, there was a true thread of desperation in the sinner’s voice. This man had been rumored to raise the dead and to heal the blind. Surely, He could remove a man from a Roman cross.
The other criminal rebuked him. “’And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into Your kingdom.’”
Jesus responded with grace, though even as He spoke the words, He was suffering and dying for the sin of that man.
Jesus responded with this: “Truly I say to you, this day you will be with Me in paradise.”
And so He speaks the same words to us. Though it was the weight of our sin that held Him to the cross and though it was our price He paid, He still extends grace to us. He offers it every moment of every day because His suffering enabled him to do so. His suffering, death, and resurrection bought us entrance into “paradise.” All we must do is turn to Him from the mire of our sin and ask for it with true faith and repentant hearts.

Originally posted on 3/20/16 on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page

The History Behind Holy Monday
“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.” (Matthew 28:18-19)
For those of us (and this includes me) who aren’t very familiar with the growing seasons of fig trees, it is important for us to note that when a fig tree becomes covered in leaves, it is also time for it to bear figs.
And so it was with the people He had come to save. The time of their salvation was at hand. These people had spent centuries praying for a Messiah, and here He was. He healed their sick; He touched their untouchable; He raised their dead.
This still was not enough for them, for the ruling classes were clamoring for His death and a fickle people would soon follow.
In the world today, the time for us to bear fruit is at hand, for “we have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and full of truth.” (John 1)
We must bear the fruit of our life-giving God — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Holy Week is the perfect time to ask yourself a hard question —
if Christ stopped on the road to examine the fruits of my life, what would He find?

Originally posted 3/21/16 on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page

The Fourth Word

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”
Millions of innocent sacrifices had died on Jewish altars to atone for the sins of a people who continually fell short.
Every year – on that very day – the Jews celebrated that the Lord “passed over” them in judgement.
This would be the last time innocent blood would have to be shed to cover sins. This would be the ultimate “passover” of God’s people.
Jesus was the final Passover lamb, and all of our sin rested on His shoulders.
A holy and perfect God could not bear to look upon a man who represented — in its rawest, most ugly form — the broken relationship between man and Himself.
Jesus had never known life without His Father, and He felt abandoned.
He experienced abandonment so that we would never have to.
From this terrible Word, we can learn a beautiful truth: we are never alone. No matter how far we stray, no matter how low the valley… everything is covered in the shadow of the Cross.

Originally posted 3/22/16 on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page

The History Behind “Spy Wednesday”
The clock was ticking toward Good Friday. Jesus had pronounced judgement on the Temple, had cursed a fruitless fig tree, and had given his famous sermon from the Mount of Olives.
The Sanhedrin wanted him dead, and they lay in wait for their opportunity to strike down the Man who represented everything that could send their establishment toppling.
What they had been waiting for came to them.
“Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the Chief Priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I betray Him to you?’ They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that moment, he began to look for an opportunity to betray Him.” (Matthew 26:15-16)
The reason for the number of silver pieces was two-fold:
1) to fulfill scripture — “So they weighed out my wages as thirty pieces of silver.” (Zechariah 11:12)
2) to humiliate Jesus — 30 pieces of silver was the price that would have been paid to purchase a slave.
How terrible it is that humanity paid the price of a slave for the life of its Savior. Jesus, however, poured out “grace upon grace” and paid the ultimate price for a people who had betrayed Him — He paid the wages of our sin with His own life.

Originally posted on 3/23/16 on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page

The Sixth Word from the Cross
“A jar of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, He bowed His head and said, ‘It is finished.'”
It had been a long journey – one that had spanned thousands of years – for the time to come for Jesus to speak those words.
The journey had begun in a garden, a place where humanity walked step-for-step with God. It was there that the desire for knowledge trumped the desire for communion with the Creator.
Humans then began climbing the slippery slope back to God, but we discovered the horrifying truth: we could never make it back on our own. The chasm our sin had created was so wide that mere mortals could not bridge it.
We tried to cross it by fulfilling the Law, but it only served to prove that we “fell short of the glory of God.”
We tried to cross it by sacrificing animals on an altar, but its yearly repetition reminded us that our efforts were never permanent.
The only thing that could bridge that gap was the crossbeam of the cross. Jesus knew it. Jesus knew that millenniums of human struggling and shortcomings were over, because He Himself would now eternally be enough. Jesus chose all of His final words carefully, and don’t you know this one echoed throughout the ages?
“It is finished.”

Originally posted on 3/24/16 on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page

The History Behind Good Friday
The story of humanity began with one man’s fall from grace in a garden, and it climaxed with another man’s ascent to grace in a garden.
When Jesus retreated in prayer, the Bible is always careful to tell us that it was “his custom” to do so. The Messiah had prayed through every moment of His life, and He still did so, but with more desperation than ever before.
Jesus had asked His disciples to pray alongside of Him, but even that task — praying for the greatest Friend they’d ever have in His hour of deepest need — would prove to be too much for them.
This brings us to our first question of reflection this Good Friday: How many times have you “fallen asleep” in the midst of God’s assigned work for your life? How many times have you neglected to pray for a friend, even during the times when your prayers were what they needed most?
Jesus was then betrayed into the hands of His murderers — marking the second time God had been sold out in a garden.
Jesus endured a mockery of a trial, appearing first before the Sanhedrin, then before Pilate, and finally before Herod himself. Pilate claimed that he could “find no basis for accusation with this man,” but he still allowed the Jewish people to choose. Barabbas or Jesus? An insurrectionist or the Messiah? The Jews chose the cross for Christ.
This brings us to another question we must answer: How many times have we, too, chosen Barrabas? How many times have we chosen rebellion over Christ?
As He always had, God honored His people’s free will, even at the cost of His own Son. Jesus was crucified by the people He came to save, and though Pilate “washed his hands” of Jesus’s death, it is imperative that we do not do so.
We must remember that terrible, terrible Friday, for in its commemoration, we come to know the tender, bleeding heart of God — the heart that now dwells in us if we accept His work on the cross.
But take heart — though we honor Good Friday, we are an “Easter people,” and Sunday is just around the bend!

Originally posted on 3/25/16 on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page

The Gifts We Have, The Gifts We Don’t

Friday Devotional Thought:
“So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church.” (1 Corinthians 14:12)
I think this is one of the most often-overlooked promises of the Bible — the truth that each of us have a gift that can (and should!) be used for building up the Body of Christ. I think we overlook this so often because we as Christians get caught in the trap of comparison.
God did not promise that our gift would be the greatest, the most obvious, or even the most useful. He simply promised that we would have something to give that would benefit our brothers and sisters in the Church.
We often look longingly at the gifts of others:
“Listen to how well she can sing!”
“Can you believe someone can speak so eloquently?”
However, every time you look at another believer’s gift in envy, you take your focus away from the face of Christ.
It doesn’t matter if your gift allows you to do something that no one else will ever notice, because the truth of it is this: our gifts were never for them to see.
They were only for Him to use in the way that would most edify the body of believers around you. And sometimes, His best work in them is done when our gifts are given in silence, without expectation of praise and recognition.
Take comfort today in knowing that He sees your gift and that it is precious to Him. Don’t shy away from giving your gift, for it is a gift that only you can give!

Originally published on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page, 3/18/16

Long-Distance Running

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2A, NRSV)
All of us here at FUMC-Waynesboro have heard Brother David say many times that God is making a long-distance runner out of us. The key word in his statement is “MAKING.”
We ourselves cannot leap hurdles; we cannot so much as finish a lap on our own power, because the truth of it is this: long-distance runners are not born ready to race marathons.
So what does ready us? What prepares us for the race that is our lives?
(v1A) The Christian men and women living their lives around us are, by their every action, passing the baton to us. They encourage us to run our own race because we see the beauty and glory that is found in a life that has learned how to lap the miles. We run because they encourage us, and in the same way, we encourage others to run their race of faith by the way we live our own lives. That brings us to a very important question: does the way you live make marathoners or bench-warmers out of the lives of others?
(v1B) We cannot run the race of our lives encumbered by sin. Satan knows the truth: running is a spectator sport. Sin bites at our heels because it cannot bear a victorious runner, but we are called to victory by the one who conquered sin and death…
(v2A) We are called into the winner’s circle by the only true champion of the race. Christ calls those of us who take on His race and carry His lighted baton in a dark world to share in His final victory. As CS Lewis famously said, “If only the will to walk is there, He is pleased even with their stumbles.”
So, friends, even if you stumble and even if some hurdles seem still too high, take joy in knowing that Christ is still beckoning you to finish the race — because He already has!

 

Originally published 3/11/16 on the Waynesboro FUMC Facebook page

Bearing the Sign of the Cross

On Ash Wednesday, I attended the evening service at FUMC-Clinton and received the cross-shaped imposition of ashes on my forehead. A few hours later, I went up the stairwell in my dormitory and was greeted by a very confused statement.

“Um, you have something on your forehead.” A well-meaning hand extended to wipe the smudge off of my forehead, but I laughed and pulled out of reach.

“I know. It’s a cross. It’s Ash Wednesday.” Although the girl on the stairwell said that she understood, I saw the confusion still etched upon her face as she walked away.

As I carried on up the stairwell, I pondered a question I had never considered: what if, everywhere we went, we bore the visible mark of the God who created us?

How would we carry ourselves if we knew that we wore the mark of Christ’s suffering and resurrection for all to see? Would it change how we live our lives?  Would it change everything?

Of course it would. Some of us may even be less willing to sit in a church pew on Sundays if we knew that doing so would mark us with the imprint of Christ — because it would change how we lived in between Sundays.

But the radical truth is this: we do carry the mark of Christ. From the beginning, it was spoken over our lives –

“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27)

We were always intended to bear the evidence of our Creator into an unbelieving world. We were always meant to cause people to see a difference in us.

And, from the beginning, we knew we would sometimes greet hands that want nothing more than to wipe this mark from us.

“If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me first.” (John 15:18)

The world will not always understand why you live the way you do. The world will not always even like the way you live. A famous poet said it this way: “I know that I have life only insofar as I have love / I have no love except it come from Thee / Help me, please, to carry this candle against the wind.” And that we must do. We must carry the light of our faith – even if flickers, even if we stagger – into the darkness, and by doing so, we must show the face of Christ to those who may not otherwise see it.

 

Originally published in the FUMC Rod & Staff Monthly Newsletter, March 2016

An Open Letter to Those Wanting to Make a Good Decision

It’s a bit of an internet fad right now for bloggers to write posts that are entitled “An Open Letter to…” so, I guess if I were a trend-follower, I would call this editorial “An Open Letter to Those Wanting to Make a Good Decision.”

If you ask me what the best decision of my life was, I would tell you every single time that it was joining the family here at FUMC – no contest. However, I do not think that joining a church is a one-time act. I think joining a church and becoming a part of its family is something you get up and choose every single day. You choose to make it a priority in your life, and you choose to model with your life the things that your church family stands for.

I think you can only do this by becoming truly involved in the life of the church, and this, too, involves much more than sitting on a pew for an hour on Sunday morning. I cannot even begin to name all of the opportunities First United Methodist Church has available: United Methodist Women circles, Sunday School classes, Sunday evening worship, Wednesday night Bible studies, choir, Serving Our Seniors – and those are just the things I can name off the top of my head.

Our church also has a ministry geared specifically for teenagers because, speaking from firsthand experience, the years between junior high and college are a time full of decisions. The decisions you make during this time will set the course for the rest of your life, and I am thankful every day that I had such a solid group and leaders to ground me and to constantly point me in the direction of what and Who is truly important. I found more comfort and direction than I will ever be able to say sitting on those worn leather couches in the room with the handpainted walls, and I think every other youth who comes through the FUMC family can find that same feeling.

I am not a parent, but I do believe that it is the greatest gift you will ever give your children to model fidelity to a congregation and to lay the foundation for them to one day become faithful members themselves. Faithfulness to a church is a habit, and it is only in acts of service and love – many of which happen between the walls of a Church — that we ever learn what it means to be a servant of Christ.

Christian writer Ann Voskamp said once that “love is always in the laying down,” and she was so right because when we do these things and when we make ourselves available in these ways, we learn the love of Christ by experiencing it.

 

(originally published in the FUMC Rod & Staff Monthly Newsletter, February 2016

 

Saying Amen in the Broken Places

Every Sunday, for as long as I can remember, I have watched two acolytes come down the aisle of the sanctuary, holding aloft thin golden candle-lighters. They light two candles behind the altar during the prelude, and then come back to reignite the candle-lighters and to extinguish the candles at the end of the service. I watched it every Sunday, so I never paid much thought as to why the acolytes did what they did.

“It’s symbolic,” My pastor explained from the pulpit, answering the question I had never thought to ask.

“We, as Christians, are the light of the world. When we come together, we carry the light into the church, and when we depart, we bring the light back out into a dark world.”

That is a beautiful, beautiful expression of our faith, but even more beautiful are the mess-ups involved with this task.

Sometimes, the flickering flame does not survive the walk through an air-conditioned sanctuary, and the acolyte arrives at the altar with a blackened wick. Amen to that because how many times have we staggered into a sanctuary burned-out from all the things humans try to cram into a day, let alone a week? How many times have we said the Communion response,

“Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved You with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done Your will; we have broken Your law; we have rebelled against Your love; we have not loved our neighbors; and we have not heard the cry of the needy,” and felt every single word of it echo around in all the empty places of our hearts?

When the flame tapers out too quickly, I am reminded that my faith does also.

BUT WHEN THAT HAPPENS, the acolyte does not refuse to be the light. The acolyte humbly turns to the other and offers his burned-out wick and is reignited once more. That, my friends, is a picture of the church. We extend our brokenness to those whose light is bright, and we learn from them, we grow from them, we are replenished and reignited by their passion, and they light our darkened path. God does not leave us alone when the path gets dark. He sends people to light our way – to light us – until we can once again give light to others.

The message is no less beautiful when it is done perfectly, but how powerful it is when it mirrors our own stumbling walk!