Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ladies of Luke - The Benefactors

Luke 8 opens with Jesus doing His thing- going from place to place proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The chosen twelve are with Jesus watching and learning - job shadowing if you will. But it's not just Jesus and his peeps..."and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom 7 demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means." 

Lets chew on that for a minute or two. In a culture where women had little value, again we find women actively involved with the ministry of Jesus. These women were not cookie cutter converts. All three have been been touched by the healing hand of Jesus in some way, and all three were forever changed. Mary, we know was a delivered sinner, freed from demon possession and passionate about her salvation. No longer defined by the depth of her past sin, she followed and served in full obedience. Joanna was a women of great social standing. We know this because we know to whom she was married. Susanna; we know nothing of her, expect that she had experienced healing and her deliverance prompted her action. Different women with varied stories of deliverance, but they share a Savior. But let's not miss something important here; they weren't delivered and then sedentary. Instead their feet AND their checkbooks were moved to action. They attended to the needs of the ministry. If I close my eyes, I can almost see them in the markets purchasing food for meals, and at camp side kitchens preparing it. Getting laundry done, fetching water. Jesus was focused on his job - preaching - and these women (and others too) made sure all of the other "details" of daily life were addressed so that the ministry could continue without interruption.

Any takeaways for me today? You bet!

Can I honor God with my financial giving? Will  combining it with the giving of others in my faith community help advance real Kingdom work that has a real financial requirement? Yep. Can I reduce the temptation that my preachers, teachers, and leaders face to be distracted by "other things" and help them stay focused on spreading the Good News? Oh sure, especially if I am willing to do the types things that others simply don't want to be bothered with. It's not always about a spiritual calling or giftedness. Sometimes, we just need a willing heart to tackle an unglamorous, unseen and perhaps even an unclean job.

God,  inspire me  to seek out tangible ways that I can serve You and lighten the load of those around me who are called to preach, and teach and share the Good New of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Ladies of Luke - The "Sinful" Woman

Loving God with my today and tomorrow - not being defined by who I was or what I have done. This scripture is deep end of the pool stuff and what God is laying on my heart today isn't necessarily the rose petals and rainbows promises of His word. Today I want to unpack her story - but it intersects Simon's story too.

Luke 7: 36-43 One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee’s house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster. Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them. When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw what was happening, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. He would know that she is a sinner. Jesus replied, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher, speak,” he said. “A certain lender had two debtors. One owed enough money to pay five hundred people for a day’s work. The other owed enough money for fifty.  When they couldn’t pay, the lender forgave the debts of them both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the largest debt canceled.” Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.”

Jesus was invited to share a meal with some "Bible knowing" and "God loving" people. While Jesus was there, a woman with a well known reputation of sin came for a visit. She brought what she had to offer Him. This woman brought her best gift. This gift cost the woman; there was financial sacrifice and the sacrifice of her pride and personal interests to minister to the need of Jesus. It was not a glamorous act of service, in fact most would have avoided the task. The Bible records no spoken words between them, but it does record her tears. She was wounded, she was broken, she faced judgement and condemnation. And yet, she placed herself at the feet of the Savior. They called her a harlot. Today what would her label be: whore, prostitute, adulteress, post-abortive, or maybe even lesbian? To the "Bible lovers", she was too dirty to ever be made clean. Her disgrace was too significant, the stains of her sin were too permeating.  She was ruined - permanently.

How did Jesus address the hardened heart of His audience? With a story of course. Two men owed debts. The size of the debts were different but there was one thing in common - neither man had any hope of successful repayment. Knowing that they could never repay the debt, the lender forgave both debts equally and fully. Jesus then asked, who was more grateful? One of the men answered it was the man who owed more - and Jesus expressed that he was correct.

Luke 7:44-50 Jesus turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your home, you didn’t give me water for my feet, but she wet my feet with tears and wiped them with her hair.  You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing my feet since I came in.  You didn’t anoint my head with oil, but she has poured perfumed oil on my feet. This is why I tell you that her many sins have been forgiven; so she has shown great love. The one who is forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other table guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this person that even forgives sins?”  Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Here comes the slap for the someone. Jesus wasn't cruel - he was honest with a "Bible lover" that should have known better. Simon had invited Jesus in, but there wasn't much sincerity. Simon didn't extend comfort or kindness to his guest. Simon had basically said to Jesus "you can come in for a nice little meal and a fun little visit, but your presence in my home isn't going to make me uncomfortable, in fact your presence Jesus, wont be an inconvenience for me at all. Simon had little gratitude or  love. I am a Bible knower and a God lover. Do I ever do that? Do I want to love and serve my Lord in ways that are easy and convent? Do the gifts I offer cost my anything at all? 

Then there was this "sinful woman". The woman had been forgiven of much - and she was grateful for much. She didn't care what anyone thought; no cost was too much. This woman understood the depth of her sin and thus understood the depth of  Jesus' mercy, love and grace. She was both forgiven and given peace. A cleansing from the inside out. No longer bound by regret, remorse, judgement, embarrassment, shame - she was given peace. No longer defined by who she was - her peace came from who Jesus is. Her story is not exactly my story; but I understand judgement, sin and shame. I understand how Satan can try and use my past failures to haunt me. I can relate with the condemnation of people who can't or wont look past who I use to be. No mater what my label was - my identity is now secure. I am a daughter of the Living God, forgiven and "in peace". 

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Ladies of Luke - A Mourning Mother

Has your heart ever been broke beyond words?
Have there been moments when the overwhelming rawness of life hindered your ability to speak or think - or do anything more than breath?  Yeah - me too.
Luke 7:11-15          Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, "Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 
Now here is a lady that understands heartbreak and loss. Already a widow, she is now taking the long walk to the cemetery to bury her only son. In this culture, this woman has just lost her last hope. She is now alone. No husband or child to care for her, protect her or provide for her. Her today is filled with sorrow and her tomorrow looks bleak. Yet, she didn't throw herself at Jesus' feet, she didn't call out to him "Lord, Lord". From the text, we can't be sure if she even saw Him at all. But HE SAW HER. In the midst of her pain, Jesus noticed. And don't miss it, 'cause this part is import: He did something! An extension of His love and compassion, His grace and His almighty power over all things; it was nothing she asked for or could ever deserve. Jesus addressed the need of the woman in a way that only HE could.

But let's be real. Most of us haven't buried a spouse and a child, so can we really relate to this lady? Let's take a minute and break that down. My family isn't perfect, we're just people and that means that we do stupid people things and say stupid people things from time to time. A job can pay the bills, but it's not always fun or personally fulfilling - and what about all of those good Godly people who are under-employed, unemployed, or on furlough?  Good people are struggling to sell a home in a topsy turvie market, and more families face the demanding challenge of raising a special child with unique medical/behavioral/educational needs. How many parents have cried a river of tears as their adult child chose to walk away or drift away from God? What about the health complications we never expected, but now must face? We are surrounded by husbands and wives who have forgotten or fell away from what it is to live and love together under the blessing and direction of God - and they live each day in pain.  Then there all of us who are living through what can be a war zone with creatures we label as toddlers, preschoolers, kids, teenagers and emerging adults. Even great kids have bad days; great parents have bad days too. To go back to work or stay at home with the babies?  What about those OREO people - providing assistance and care for aging parents and helping to care for, provide childcare for and co-raise their grandchild? Too many bills and limited finances. Lots of demands on the schedule and not much time. The newlyweds, the new empty nesters and the new retiree's . . . think there is no stress, conflict and heartache there?

We serve the same God that saw the widows heartache and was prompted to act. That Jesus guy - He loves you and He loves me that much too! On the days when life is so big that breathing seems like a task, Jesus is there. He sees and He cares. Even when your heart is so heavy that your eyes can't look up for Him, He still looks toward you. And more than that, Jesus is still in the business of meeting needs in ways that only He can. It may not be the way that others expect, or even the way we'd like or expect - but our needs will never go unnoticed. He loves us too much for that :-)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ladies of Luke - The Mother in Law

 Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon Peter. Now Simon's mother in law was suffering from a high fever and they asked Jesus to help her. So He bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to minister to them.  
Luke 4:38-40

Just two short verses. We don't know much about this Mother In Law. We can infer from scripture that she either lived with her daughter and Peter or she was so ill that she was staying with her daughter during the illness. High fevers are scary things...even by today's standards.  A fever is the bodies was of saying that something is seriously wrong; but many times the fever in and of itself doesn't specifically identify the problem. It's a symptom. "They" asked Jesus to help her.  "They" - Peter and his wife would be the logical guess. It was likely that Peter was there to witness first hand when Jesus had cast demons and healed others, so this could be seen as a logical request. Next of course Jesus does His Jesus thing; He rebukes the fever and it leaves. And then the women - what - she gets up and ministers to them? What's that about?

The woman was dramatically healed. Jesus saw the symptom, the fever, but he healed the illness. Her immediate response was an act of worship. Not next week and not tomorrow - right now! Not a song. Not a dance. Worship. Service. Love and gratitude prompted her to action and obedience. God's restoration doesn't cause a her to be silent or still. She was compelled to honor God.

So what can this lady teach me. No fever for me today. I'm feeling just fine and looking pretty good thank you very much. But Wait. Just cause I look fine, does that really mean I am healthy? Sometimes there are things in my life that are symptoms of a deeper illness. A critical spirit, a stubborn opinion, a pre-conceived idea that something just wont meet my standard. Hey God, this is the way I want it. Why don't we do it that way, You can just join right in and bless the party. My pride, my standard, my idea.  Me. Me. Me. The name of my illness. Sin.

As God continues to extend His RADICAL grace to me, shouldn't my question really be...hey God, how can I honor you, worship you, and pay it forward for your will and your kingdom today?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Ladies of Luke - Anna

I'm a married working woman, in the midst of raising three sons with my husband. We live each day in the most technologically advanced period of history. Plugged in, tuned in, signed in, turned on. Busy. Busy. Busy. What can I learn from a widow that lived in a church 2000 years ago?

Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem. Luke 2:36-38

She was a daughter - Me too.
She had been a wife - Me too.
She was old - I feel old some days.
She was devout.
She was an evangelist.

Anna was devout. She was committed to the practice of fasting and prayer. It wasn't what she did, it was how she lived. In constant communion with God - worshiping night and day... In all things, at all times, on all occasions. Not just from nine to noon on Sundays. Not before meals and at bedtime. Her conversation with her creator was uninterrupted.

Devout. Sacrificing physical comfort for deeper connection with her heavenly father ...with her fasting and prayers.  Fasting without prayer is what I call "a diet." Forgetting to eat lunch isn't fasting. Skipping dinner 'cause there is no time for the drive thru isn't fasting either. Prayer is not thinking, and it's not wishing. It's something that you choose to do on purpose. Prayer is never accidental. It takes time and effort. It's communication and it's parting of growing a love relationship with God. It's getting to know God in a different way, and letting Him get to know me.

Devout. Anna was paying attention and looking for the movement of God the very moment Simeon was praying she showed up... Anna was no frog on a log. She didn't just show up for church and sit in her polite little seat. No! She was a worshiper of the Most High God. She knew God. She loved God. Anna didn't rely on her friends relationship with God, or her pastors relationship with God. She and God were on a first name basis.

Devout ...broke into anthem of praise to God...when God moves God should be praised. It's not about "look how cool this is for me", it's about WOW! GOD ROCKS! Anna understood what it is to glorify God for God's glory.

Devout. Anna talked about how God had moved. She didn't keep the treasure to herself ...and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem. She was sharing the good news story in real time. She told everybody. Everyone needed what she knew. Everyone needed WHO she knew.

Do I live a life of worship - or do I just sing until I "feel" connected on Sunday mornings?
Do I live a life of prayer - or am I just thinking and wishing?
Do I sacrifice physical comfort for greater spiritual things?
Am I paying attention for the movement of God?
Am I sharing the good news story in real time?

Thanks Anna. Your example helps me understand and challenges me to be more intentional in my own faith journey.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Ladies of Luke - Mary and the Day she forgot Jesus

When Matt and I were pregnant with our first child, Matt's duty station for the Navy changed. In the late fall of 1994 we moved from upstate New York to Connecticut for Matt's first assignment on a fast attack submarine. We made a quick trip to the coast to being looking for housing in the community. A number of base closings had caused the relocation of several thousand families to the New London Base and so we would not be able to get into Navy housing for about a year. We left the mountains of New York on a Friday afternoon, drove the several hour trip down to New London and started to look for a hotel for the night. Literally every hotel we went to was full. Finally, we found a place where the night manager reluctantly stated "if the people don't show by midnight you can have that room I guess" So we waited, in the car, in the cold. And we talked about Mary and Joseph. Pregnant, cold, tired. No room at the inn.  Eventually we were given the room. No star in the sky, no heavenly hosts - just a young couple praising God for the provision of a little hotel room that provided shelter for the night. For the first time in my life I felt like I could relate with Mary. God had provided, though not in a manner that she had expected I'm sure - and He provided for us too.

Twice in Luke 2 there is reference to the fact that Mary treasured things up in her heart and pondered them. There were things that Mary kept for herself. Insights, blessings, whispers from her heavenly father. She was aware. She was alert. There were times when she made the effort to pay attention, and make a mental treasure. The second thing I can learn from Mary in Luke 2 - pay attention, some treasures are just for me.

Mary was a good mom. She took her boy to temple, and to the feasts. She was doing her part to raise her child up with a strong faith connection and tradition. But she was human. Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company they traveled for a day. They began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him them went back...  Many and Joseph were busy doing their thing and they moved on without Jesus...and they didn't notice at first. When they did realize what was going on, they looked for Jesus where they were. Then they went back to the place that they knew Jesus was.

This was the third thing Mary decided to teach me, and it isn't a comfortable lesson.
Wow! Do I sometimes forget Jesus? In the busyness of my life, how many times have I rushed ahead without God and then realized later that He wasn't there? How many times have I tried to find God in the choices that I have made and the paths that I have followed all on my own? The cure for this of course is repentance. When I am not where God is, I must go back to God. (just like Mary and Joseph went back to Jerusalem). It can hurt. It might be embarrassing. It may cost me some pride. I need to get over it, and get back to God.