In the Waiting: Martha’s Story, Part 2 (Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to calvary}, Day 22)

{In the Waiting: Martha’s Story, Part 1}

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Jesus wanted to speak with Mary and I went back for her. “The Teacher is here,” I said, “and is asking for you.”

At this request, she moved quickly – we made our way back to the place I had found Him, paying no mind to those who followed us from our house.

I watched my sister as she ran ahead at the sight of Him. She fell at Jesus’ feet, her broken heart plainly displayed. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died,” she cried. She wept there, knelt before Him, and He looked up with sorrow etched in His face. Suddenly, He looked much older than His thirty-three years. “Where have you laid him?” He asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” some standing nearby replied, gesturing to the road that led to the tomb.

He looked down the road and back at Mary. As He lifted His head, I saw tears falling from the Lord’s eyes.

“See how He loved him!” I heard someone say, as I made my way closer to Jesus and Mary.

“Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” another replied.

Jesus’ sorrow over my brother was obvious as He approached the stone. He did care – He did love my brother, His friend. I had known it before – but now I could see it, after these many days of wondering why He did not come, why He sent no word.

He looked at me. “Take away the stone,” He said.

I stopped, like my feet were suddenly paralyzed. In His grief, did He want to see Lazarus? It was impossible – four days in this tomb – I could not stand the thought of what might have already become of my brother. “But, Lord,” I choked out, “by this time there is — a bad odor, for he has been there four days!”

“Did I not tell you,” Jesus said, “that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

The hope that had been only a flutter now danced wildly within me. For I did not know much, but I knew what I had seen. I knew what I had heard. I knew I believed Him, this friend who loved us….this Son of God who walked with us.

I nodded.

And they took away the stone.

Mary and I, we stood there, our eyes on Him. Hardly breathing, we listened as He looked up to heaven.

“Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.”

I gripped Mary’s hand.

Jesus called out, His voice loud and clear – “Lazarus, come forth!”

And there – there he was – my brother – my brother, who was dead….standing in the sunshine – alive.

“Take off the grave clothes and let him go!” Jesus said – and all in a moment, we were unwinding the linen strips, laughing and crying and feeling the beat of his heart as he threw his arms around us.

The unbelievable jubilation we felt was reflected on His face – and the disciples, the crowd of witnesses, were jumping and shouting in celebration with us. It was wondrous and we were filled with awe – we had sown in tears and Jesus had called forth a harvest of joy.

Lazarus was himself, restored completely – I could not let go of his arm, his hand – the warmth of his skin amazed me. The hollow inside of me was filled to overflowing with hope.

Because of Jesus, my brother was coming home again.

And the waiting – the wondering – the darkness of those days when He did not come to us…the disciples said He spoke of awakening his friend from death before He turned their path toward us. Despite the danger of walking among those who sought His life, He would come Himself instead of speaking a word of healing. He would come and reveal the glory of God.

In the silence, He still saw us. In the silence, He still loved us. In the silence, we were not abandoned.

Our limits and our expectations did not define what our Lord could do.

For if He could do this – if right before our eyes, He could call forth life from the despair of the tomb – then what could be too hard for Him? If He, Jesus Himself- was resurrection and life, then there was no such thing as too late. There was no such thing as hopeless.

So our stories would not end there in the caves outside of town – even when death would come again one day, it would not be the end of us. There would be a home for us, a home in the Kingdom of God, and Jesus would be the open door for us…and in that place, in Him – we would have everything we needed, wholly restored and wholly at home in His love.

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Questions – questions that Martha and Mary must have asked – are familiar. Don’t we ask these same things? When we have waited for answers and look around to see no help in sight, don’t we wonder – how long, Lord, before You intervene? When we see the prayers of others answered, don’t we wonder why we are still waiting? When darkness seems too chase away the light, don’t we fear that it is overcoming? And in our pain- when our hearts are broken and all we can feel is grief – don’t we wonder why things have turned out in such a way?

It isn’t easy to wait. It isn’t easy to be in a place where God seems silent. It isn’t easy to have a broken heart. It isn’t easy to lose dreams or the people we love.

If this is where your heart is today – please know this: both His love and His purpose for you are unshakable…and the devastation we see in this sin-broken world is not the end of the story.

And as we wait for Him to work all things for our good…we do not wait alone. We do not cry without Him seeing our tears. When we pray, He hears. We can’t always understand His ways or His timing, but we can trust Him. Martha believed before the miracle – she had faith in the Messiah, the Son of God, the friend that she knew.

And He did not fail her – she believed, and the glory of God was revealed on that day. She saw the power of the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. (Romans 4: 17)

With all my heart, I am holding onto this – one day, we will see His glory revealed. We will see life and restoration, redemption and peace. We will see the dry bones dance and the perishable clothed with the imperishable. We will see all things made new, all things made right.

For sin does not have the final word. Sorrow does not have the final word. Death does not have the final word for us.

Jesus is the Word – and He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He is the final Word for our lives, our souls, our hearts – and, in these days of waiting, we know that He is both the author and the finisher of our faith. He will not fail us.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” Psalm 126:5-6

“We wait in hope for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name. May Your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in You.” Psalm 33: 20-22

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“My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in Your word. My eyes fail, looking for Your promise; I say, ‘When will you comfort me?’ Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your decrees…Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations.” – Psalms 119:81-83, 89-90

Wait on Him – be of good courage – and He will strengthen your heart.-Psalm 27:14

“For we live by faith, not by sight…therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.-2 Cor. 5:7, 16-18

“For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” -2 Cor. 1:5

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope….with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.” –Psalm 130:5, 7

“I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.” Psalm 34:4

“No longer will violence be heard in your land, nor ruin or destruction within your borders, but you will call your walls Salvation and your gates Praise. The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be you everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end…I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.” –Isaiah 60:18-20,22b

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In the Waiting: Martha’s Story, Part 1 (Love Leads Us Home {following Christ to calvary}, Day 21)

Jesus was – I believed with my whole heart – the One sent from God. He was a teacher, a man with power that could only be from above. He knew more than anyone else had ever known. He spent day in and day out caring for our people – I saw it with my own eyes, how He gave second chances to the sick of heart and unimaginable healing to bodies thought to be forever broken.

I saw the compassion He had for everyone who came to Him – how even if He was tired, He still listened and gave. I saw how He disregarded His own needs for the needs of those around Him.

So I offered what I could to Him – an open door, a clean house, simple but good food. He came and He rested with us. Conversations were filled with laughter, with stories from the always-talkative Peter. It didn’t matter how many were in the room – peaceful silence reigned when He spoke, everyone giving full attention to His wisdom. Lazarus always abandoned whatever he had been doing to sit with Jesus – my sister did, too. At first, I would work myself into a frenzy to make sure everyone was perfectly taken care of (how I resented Mary for so quickly leaving her work!) – but He helped me to see that  while I worried over the number of olives left in the bowls and whether or not the floors were clean enough, I was missing what was right in front of me: the flickering of oil lamps, the scent of the warm bread broken and passed from hand to hand, the easy smiles on faces – and, most importantly, Him. I was anxiously trying to satisfy everyone’s appetites, but His words were already nourishing every heart in the place.

So much I would have missed if not for His gentle reproach on that day.

Yes, somehow Jesus – mystery and miracle-maker was also our friend.

So why, when we needed Him most – did He not answer?

For Lazarus – strong and loud, always ready for some new adventure, forever obliviously tracking dirt through our house …my brother whose tender-heart sent him sneaking out of the house with any extra food for those in need…my brother whose open arms made him a friend to all – fell sick.

I had never seen him like this – pale and gasping for breath, unable to even sit up.

His eyes, unfocused and red-rimmed, scared me more than anything else.

Of course – we knew what to do. We sent word to Jesus. Lord, the one You love is sick.

After we sent the messenger, I hovered between the door to watch for Him on the path and the place by my brother’s side — for I knew He could have spoken a word from where He was to make my brother well.

So I watched for the fever to suddenly break, his eyes to focus on me. I waited for him to sit up and say Martha, I’m hungry…can’t you make your lentil stew?

But days passed. He didn’t sit up. He didn’t see us there. And he did not speak. Lazarus did not get better.

My brother died.

We sat there, Mary and I, looking at his still body in disbelief.

Her eyes wide and filled with unshed tears, she looked at me. “Why?”

I could not answer her, for I did not understand.

Why did Jesus not come to us? Why, when He had healed so many others, did He not heal our brother – His own friend?

“We will see him again,” I said to her, the words barely loud enough to carry through the room. “On the day of resurrection, we will see our Lazarus again.”

With a wail erupting from her lips, she ran to me. We held each other and cried.

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It felt like my insides had been hollowed out, but there were things that had to be done. One last time, I took care of my brother. We anointed his body with oil. We washed him and wrapped him in the finest linen shrouds I could find. Carefully, Mary and I added spices to the shrouds. While the house filled with friends and neighbors who came to grieve with us, we did all we could do for him.

Still – Jesus did not come.

The walk from our home to the outside of town, Lazarus’ body carried behind us, was – at the same time – the longest and shortest walk I could ever have imagined. Each step felt heavier than the last. Mary was looking all around us – thinking, I know, of the day Jesus stopped a line just like this one in Nain and raised a young man back to life.

But there was the tomb and there was Lazarus, still wrapped in his shrouds, and no Jesus in sight.

We watched as they lifted Lazarus and laid him in the cave. Mary’s hands held tightly to mine as the stone was put into place.

It was over.

Despite the crowd of people around us, we had never felt so alone as when we walked back into our house and knew that Lazarus would never again be waiting for us there.

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Four days. Four days our house had been full of those who had loved Lazarus. So many faces, so many men and women who came to comfort us. I was kept busy tending to the visitors and dreaded the day they would no longer sit with us – I dreaded the silence and the reality of his absence. Mary was nearly silent those days – she withdrew into the corners and the shadows, only speaking when necessary. I worried for her health – I worried for her spirit.

My comfort was the promise of the prophet – one day, God would swallow up death. Our dead would live, their bodies would rise – but one day seemed so far away.

And then – at last – word came. Jesus was drawing near.

Mary shook her head when I beckoned for her. She would not come with me to meet Him – so I left her in the company of neighbors and ran to find Him.

He was just the same as He always was – eyes kindly looking down at me – and my words were honest, because He already knew how I felt. “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” I didn’t understand His ways – even so, He was still the One from God. “But I know that even now God will give You whatever You ask.”

“Your brother,” Jesus said to me, “will rise again.”

I nodded and held my shoulders back, even while new tears formed and fell from my eyes. “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

And then He looked at me and said this – “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

I thought of Lazarus’ silent heart, the stone in front of the tomb – and looking up into the eyes of Jesus, the knowledge of resurrection moved from my head into my heart. For the first time since we walked away from the tomb, hope fluttered in my soul. Perhaps the day of resurrection would come sooner than I had imagined. Perhaps God would soon establish His kingdom among us, calling forth the dead. Perhaps I would see it with my own eyes.

“Yes, Lord. I believe that You are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

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{This post is based on Scriptures in Luke 10 and John 11. I hope you join me for part 2 of Martha’s story!} 

Simple Reminders (For When We Begin to Forget What Matters)

It can be easy to get caught up in details and easy to get tangled in technicalities. We get snagged and tied up in the noise and the pace of life, our vision filling up with this and that and the other until we lose sight of what matters.

Today, my heart is saying: time-out.

I read Luke 10, feeling Jesus’ response to Martha’s distraction and distress (caused by her busy-ness and her sister’s non-busy-ness) to my core — And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.

I want to be like Mary. I want to choose that good, needed thing…His presence.

I want to keep my eyes on Jesus, my Savior whose love is my comfort and peace. I want to lean into His words with no other conversations crowding out His still, small voice.

Will you join me in taking these moments to savor His simple-but-extraordinary truths?

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Jesus came into our world to bring good news and to help us.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. –Luke 4 :18-19

He has compassion for us.

When the widow was weeping over her dead son, when He saw a crowd of confused and helpless people – lost like sheep without a shepherd–, when He saw the sick and the broken…He had compassion on them. (Luke 7:13, Matt.9:36, Matt.14:14) He brought life, He healed sickness, He met the needs of their hearts. This compassionate heart of our Savior has not changed. The love of the Father that sent Him to our rescue has not changed. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground outside of the Father’s care…and so Jesus says to us- Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matt.10:31) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt.11:28)

We can trust Him to provide what we need. The words of Jesus free us from the heavy weight of worry.

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. –Matthew 6:31-33

He is a trust-worthy foundation, in all situations. The whole world can shift, people can change, our situation can turn-upside down…but Jesus does not change. He is steady and sure. We can depend on Him and He will not let us fall.

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. -Matthew 7:24-25

He doesn’t condemn you or turn you away – He welcomes you.

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. -John 3:17

When Jesus steps in, we become subject to Him, our Lord of mercy and grace – and we are no longer subject to shame, sin, or fear.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. –John 8:36

He does ask us for our everything when we follow Him…but not without giving His everything first.

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.–Matt.16:24

 I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. –John 10:14-15

At the end of the day, so many things can try to distract and deter us from the point of it all, from the plain and simple truth – God loves us enough that He sent Jesus to die on the cross, so that through Him we can be made righteous – forgiven of all sin.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever should not perish but have everlasting life. –John 3:16

And through His death, through His resurrection power – we can come into the presence of God and dwell with Him forever…while here, on this earth, the Holy Spirit within us – we abide in His love. This, friends, is the needed, good part…and it is the peace to our souls when we are troubled and worried about many things.

May we lean in, hear His voice, and live His Words…

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.  This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another.-John 15:9-17

May we hold our hope steady, no matter the noise and the always-changing world. May God make firm our feet on the foundation of His truth, our hearts overflowing in fullness of His joy and love, our ears open to His Spirit’s leading, our hands open to give as we have received, our mouths obedient in speaking His gospel.

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone – Mark 16:15

Wave After Wave of Mercy

visitation

And Mary said,

I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

-from Luke 1, the MSG

Words of Wonder from St. John Chrysostom

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” –Luke 2:13-14

 What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a mother who has brought forth new life; I see a child come to this light by birth. The manner of his conception I cannot comprehend. Nature is overcome, the boundaries of the established order set aside, where God so wills. For not according to nature has this thing come to pass. Nature here has rested, while the will of God labored. O, ineffable grace! The only begotten One, who is before all ages, who cannot be touched or be perceived, who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, which is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that we mortals cannot see. For since we believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, we doubt that which they do not see, and so he has deigned to show himself in bodily presence, that he may remove all doubt…

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched, who is without complexity, incorporeal, now lies subject to human hands. He who has broken the bonds of sinners is now bound by an infant’s bands. But he has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and abject humiliation the measure of his goodness. For this he assumed my body, that I may become capable of his word; taking my flesh, he gives me his spirit; and so bestowing and I receiving, he prepares for me the treasure of life. He takes my flesh to sanctify me; he gives me his Spirit, that he may save me.

 Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken. For this day paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused and spread on every side – a heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth…

 Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He has come on earth, while being fully in heaven; and while complete in heaven, he is without diminution on earth. Though he was God, he became man, not denying himself to be God. Though being the unchanging Word, he became flesh that he might dwell amongst us.

 What shall I say? What shall I utter?

 “Behold an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

-St. John Chrysostom, from the essay ‘The Mystery’

mary and baby

Giving Him Room

A reminder for anyone walking in a season new and unfamiliar…or anyone overwhelmed by the day-to-day, the work at hand…for those who are following God’s call and feel unqualified, uncertain, incapable…for all of us who want our lives to be like that bright-long-ago-star, helping to show someone the way to Jesus…remember – in all things, His grace is all we need. His ‘power works best in weakness’. (2 Cor. 12:9) Sometimes, I think, we forget that we have to get our own plans and our own ‘abilities’ out of the way…we have to give Him room to work in us!

Maybe the thing to remember about Mary is that she said yes to God’s call, even though it was nothing she could figure out or achieve on her own. She surrendered what she had to God: a fragile body, a willing heart.

“God is the giver of such impossible tasks. He says to one-hundred-year-old Abraham and ninety-year-old Sarah, “Make a baby!” He tells a young virgin, “You are with child.” He informs a young, confused carpenter, who has never so much as touched his bride-to-be, “You are a father!” Perhaps, in the end, it’s not our abilities, but simply the fact that He says so. It is not a matter of what we can or cannot do but of God’s power.” -Michael Card

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. -Matthew 19:26

Beginning An Advent of Awe (with poetry)

Mary’s Song

~Luci Shaw~

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest . . .
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by doves’ voices, the whisper of straw,
he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
all years.
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.