Monday, April 18, 2011

Martha: A Woman Who Had It All Together...And Knew It!

Her home was evidently large, but thirteen unexpected guest would be a stretch for any hostess. And, considering there was no microwave or dishwasher or even a refrigerator, the challenge of serving a large, unexpected, crowd must have been daunting. I’m surprised Martha even had nerve to issue such an invitation. Granted, having Jesus and His crew for supper would be an honor, but she must have possessed resources and a large dose of confidence to pull it off on short notice. Not to mention a staff of servants.

Like the sister of Moses, Martha was the oldest of three siblings. She, along with Mary and their brother, Lazarus, were probably orphans. The Bible never mentions a father or mother and when the children are listed, Martha’s name always comes first. She and the others had likely inherited the big house and a business as well which provided a continual income.

Mary was evidently several years younger than Martha and Lazarus no more than a teen, so the full responsibility of running everything had probably rested on her shoulders for a number of years. The home is even referred to as “her” house. She was the matriarch of the family running everything and giving orders that kept everyone in line. She seems to be one of those people who “have it all together” because she ran both the home and the business with ease and kept the family wealthy for the entire three years scripture records their history. Martha not only knew what should be done, she knew who should do it and when.

She also has a temper and it flared quickly when things were not going to her high expectations. We find her twice in the Bible and both times she is ticked off because things are falling apart as others refuse to do their duty—at least, they are not doing it the way Martha wants it done!

When Martha invited so many people to dinner that day, the kitchen must have kicked into high gear. What to serve, what to drink, where was the good tablecloth and were the silver goblets shined? Details. Success rested on well executed details. And, where was her little sis? In the other room with the men listening while Jesus talked!

At last the frustrated Martha had all she could stand. “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” But, Jesus put things in perspective by reminding her that much of her busy running around was pointless. Only a few things were truly necessary. Who cared if the silver wasn’t shined? Setting a perfect table and being a perfect hostess might be important to Martha, but it was not important to Jesus. There were other things going on that far outweighed dinner.

The second time she appears in the gospels, Martha is a broken, grieving woman. She seems to have learned much about what is really important in life. But, old habits die hard and even now there is a mild rebuke in her voice as she tells Jesus, “If You had been her, my brother would not have died.” As Jesus had once encouraged her to focus on what was really important in life, He now encouraged her to see what was really important about death. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.”

It is not a sin to be a Martha personality. Our world needs take-charge leaders who speak out when they think things are wrong. But if these talented, have-it-all-together people let their focus drift from what is ultimately important, they make their own lives miserable and the lives of those around them as well.
What about your world? Do you know a Martha who needs to balance her talent with an eternal perspective? Maybe that “Martha” is you.

Read Martha’s story in Luke 10:38-41 and John 11:01-12:3

Salome: Faithful and Giving

The women of the Bible fall in every category: rich and poor, famous and unknown, evil and righteous. Some stand out as main characters while others weave their way almost stealth showing up repeatedly in the background. One of these is Salome. Although she is mentioned several times much about her remains a mystery. She is the main character in Matthew 20:20-28 but only the last name on a list in Mark 15:41. Putting her story together is like gathering puzzle pieces and having to occasionally guess at the fit.

Salome was married to Zebedee—a very prosperous fisherman. She was the mother of James and John, and her sons were well enough connected to be personally known by the high priest of the nation. [1] Both parents were evidently deeply religious and also very generous. Zebedee made no objections when his sons walked off from the business to follow Jesus [2] and Salome was rich enough to be one of the women who bankrolled His ministry while traveling with Him for at least two years. [3] Yet, many mysteries remain.

One mystery is whether she was the sister of Mary, Jesus’ mother. The Bible doesn’t say for sure but it does give puzzle pieces that might be a fit. When John writes about the crucifixion, he names several women standing close to the cross. They are (1) Jesus’ mother, Mary, (2) her sister, (3) Mary the wife of Cleophas, and (4) Mary Magdalene. The fact that three of the four women are named “Mary” complicates the issue just a bit. Mark and Matthew identify three women who were watching the proceedings from a distance: (1) Mary Magdalene, (2) Mary the mother of James and Joses and (3) Salome. [4] Since it would be natural for the women to move around—as Mary Magdalene obviously did—some have connected Salome as Mary’s unnamed sister and the “wife of Cleophas” as the “mother of James and Joses.”

We can’t know for sure because neither the Bible nor history tells us with certainty. But it would not be unusual for family to gather at such a moment of such tragedy and it was not unusual for marriage lines to cross and recross in the close knit community. The Bible does confirm that John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, and Mary were cousins. This made Jesus and him second cousins. If Salome was indeed Mary’s sister, then the disciples, James and John, would have also been His first cousins.

Yet, regardless of the earthly relationships, we do know that Salome loved her Lord. She was faithful with her money, faithful with her sons. Like most Bible characters, she had her faults; once Jesus had to correct her over ambitious attempt to secure special privilege for her boys. [5] But she stood faithfully as she anguished at the cross when her sons had run away and she was one of the first to arrive Easter morning in a futile attempt to anoint the body of Christ. Salome was probably one of the unnamed women gathered in the upper room when Pentecost brought the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Even though details of her life remain a tantalizing mystery, you can read about her in Matthew 20:20-24, 27:56; Mark 10:35-40; 15:40 & 41; 16:1 & 2, and Luke 8:3. And, although we dare not add or take away from scripture, the Lord trusts you enough to allow examination of the puzzle pieces with freedom and imagination. Who knows? You might find new inspiration as you follow the example of a woman named Salome.

[1] John 18:15
[2] Matthew 4:21&22
[3] Matthew 27:55; Luke 8:3
[4] John 19:25; Matthew 27:56; Luke 23:49; Mark 15:40
[5] Matthew 20:20-24, 27:56

Five Sisters Who Changed History

Sometimes sisters became famous because of a brother. Like Miriam and her famous brother Moses, or Dianna and her twelve famous brothers, the sons of Jacob. Other sisters are always thought of in famous pairs. Like Mary and Martha, Ruth and Orpah, or Rachael and Leah. But one set of sisters remains virtually unknown although their courage changed history for most of the world.

The sister’s names were Mahlah, Noah, Tirzah, Hoglah, and Milcah. (Yes, there is a woman in the Bible named Noah). They were born sometime after Moses parted the Red Sea and reach adulthood before the walls of Jericho fell down. We could say these ladies changed things because of their “courage” but the American slang word “moxie” may fit their character better. What they did was certainly courageous, but they were not battling against an enemy or even a threat. Rather, they saw a social norm that needed to be changed and respectfully, persistently pushed the authorities with clarity and reasoning until the mountain moved.

Their story is found in the twenty-seventh chapter of Numbers. Miriam was dead. Aaron was dead. Of the three siblings, only Moses remained and soon he, too, would join the others. But before he departed, he sat in order both the leadership and the laws that would govern the new nation. Part of those laws concerned the way the new land into which they were marching would be divided. Who would get what and under which conditions needed to be settled or when the war started the twelve tribes might stop fighting the enemy and start fighting each other.

Things were proceeding in a very orderly fashion when the sisters shook things up a bit. The Bible says they “stood before Moses, before Eleazar the priest, and before the leaders and all the congregation, by the doorway of the tabernacle of the meeting.” In our culture that would be a bit like walking into the Oval office or testifying before congress. The “door of the tabernacle” was where serious business was conducted and laws handed down. In a male dominated culture, women didn’t usually show up there—and especially not single women. And, most especial single women who wanted to talk about a new idea no one had ever thought of before.

Moses’ plan was to give the conquered land to family groups determined according to genealogies traced through the men. So-and so, the son of such-and-such would receive x-number of acres until all the land had been parceled out. It seemed like a good plan to Moses and the elders. After all, it was the way things had always been done. Then the girls showed up at the door and things got complicated.

Mahlah, Noah, Tirzah, Hoglah, and Milcah had no father or brother or husband through which they could inherit. And, their problem had larger implications. What about widows or other single women in the future? Moses hadn’t thought about that and he wasn’t exactly sure how to solve the problem. So, he did what everyone should do in such circumstance. He took the question to the Lord.

God’s answer left no room for doubt. “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right; you shall surely give them a possession of inheritance among their father’s brothers, and cause the inheritance of their father to pass to his daughter.” It was a radical idea for the times but the Jews obeyed generation after generation.

Although surrounded by cultures where women were little more than chattel for men to move about or discard as they pleased, the law of female inheritance rights glared in sharp contrast to the “norm” but it always had ramifications far into the future. Even to us. Our own law and American constitution are rooted in English common law and the English common law finds its roots in the Old Testament including the law of female inheritance rights.

Because these five sisters who stood up for what they believed right, thousands—even millions—of people have been touched. But, what about us today? Have you considered the far-reaching nature of causes you champion? Is there an injustice you need to speak out against or a new idea just waiting to be said? You could make a difference for generations to come.

You will find the story of these five sisters in Numbers 26:33; 27:1-11 and Joshua 17:1-6.

Miriam: Israel's First Sweet Singer

Have you ever experienced such a dynamic answer to prayer you thought you would never doubt God again? Have you blundered so badly it felt as though your sin was exposed to the entire world and even God was frowning? If so, you can relate to Miriam.

The first time we meet Miriam in scripture, she is a child obediently hiding in the bulrushes along a river bank. Probably somewhere between the ages of five and ten, she had been stationed there by her mother and told to wait. She probably had no idea exactly what she was waiting for but when an opportunity presented itself she was quick with creativity, wit and courage.

It’s a well known story how Pharaoh ordered all Israelite boys drowned at birth but Moses’ mother defied the command by building a water-proof basket/boat, putting her infant son inside and setting his older sister to watch. Hour after hour Miriam watched the floating baby and when the Egyptian princess found the basket she cleverly devised a plan. Approaching the royal gathering, she offered to run find an Israelite mother to nurse the baby. The rest of the story, as the saying goes, is history. Moses not only survived the Nile but grew to be a prince and spent the next forty years walking the halls of the palace.

Meanwhile, back at the slave pits, a second little boy was born. His name was Aaron. This child—along with his parents and sister, Miriam—spent those same years in hard labor making and hauling bricks. Then, Moses committed a crime and left the country.
Another forty years passes.

By the time the little family is reunited the parents are dead and Miriam, Moses and Aaron are what our culture thinks of as “senior citizens.” Together, the siblings began the long year’s adventure as inch by inch Pharaoh’s hold on the nation is broken by God. Moses is the chosen leader, Aaron the spokesman at his side, and their big sister Miriam occupies a supporting role as prophetess—a rank and distinction she will hold for the rest of her life.

Miriam is remembered for two things: her songs and her failure. Her song was first heard when the Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry land while the armies of Pharaoh drown. With a tambourine, dancing feet and strong voice this 80+ year old woman lead the women of the nation in praise. Her failure followed about 35 years later when her baby brother, Moses, married a new wife.

The marriage might have been tolerable, but the wife Moses chose was a foreigner rather than a daughter of Abraham. Miriam was furious. His choice opened the door for others to follow his bad example and demonstrated that he was no more “holy” than anyone else. Including her and Aaron.

Working behind the scenes, Miriam began to sow discontent. God had spoken to her and Aaron just as He had to Moses. Their bloodlines were pure. They could do a better job of leadership than her feet-of-clay brother and deserved a chance to give it a try.

In the end, God, Himself, called the three siblings before Him to strengthen out the mess and because Miriam was evidently the leader of the rebellion, she bore the brunt of God’s anger. Leprosy covered her skin and she was cast out of the camp as “unclean.” Only the passionate interceding of her brothers saved her life.

We don’t hear a lot about Miriam after that point. For one thing, she—like Moses and Aaron—were very old by that time and soon all three would be dead. Yet, when the Bible list genealogies, Miriam is included with the men—a rare distinction given few other women. She was the first prophetess recorded in the Bible and remembered in Jewish history as the first “sweet singer of Israel.”

You can read Miriam’s story in Exodus 15:20-21; Numbers 12:1-15 & 26:59; Deuteronomy 24:9; Micah 6:4.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Other Side of Light

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High / Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

Light. It’s warm rays provide comfort and cheer as they bathe our world with sight, direction and hope. Life on earth could not exist without light. But there is a phenomenon of light we don’t often consider: Light creates shadows. These shades and shifting shapes are evidence that light has come.

There are eighty-one biblical references to shadows. While nineteen of these use the word in a negative sense—as in the “shadow of death” —the majority refers to physical shade or the author wants to express ideas of protection, comfort and shelter. To be in the shadow of something larger than ourselves is a good thing. And it’s only made possible because we are dwelling near the light.

Christians often become confused or discouraged when they sense they are walking in “shadows.” Perhaps they have prayed for God’s leading but can’t seem to find the right trail. Or, the vibrant colors they once experienced in worship have faded to muted tones. Or they feel God has set them aside. While others reap in the bright sunshine of harvest, they are forced to idle alone in the shade.

Yet, there is no need to despair. Shadows are not the backside of God. Indeed, they can be evidence of His face and when we adjust our eyes to see shadows from a biblical perspective, we may welcome them rather than accusing the One who makes shadows possible.

Never assume spiritual shadows must be punishment or correction. If we have searched our heart and honestly find no unconfessed sin or rebellion, we should rest! The Holy Spirit is very willing and quick to expose such things if we ask. Trust Him. If you missed something, He will let you know. The shadow may only be the arms of an ancient, solid oak reaching out with protection and an offer of rest.

As the gentle shade swallows us, we may gaze with envy toward brighter fields, but our Father knows what is best. He may use the shade to whisper, “Be still and know that I am God.”
If we allow the shadows of God to have their perfect work in our life, we will soon become as content in shade as in open sunlight. We will know that just because the light dims, it doesn’t mean God has left us alone in the dark. We may even learn to appreciate our shelter. If we’ll rest quietly, the slower pace, indistinct lines, muted colors may reveal a different kind of beauty we have never noticed before.
When God chose a time of day to walk side by side with Adam and Eve, He picked the cool of the evening. The blaze of day was fading. Shadows were lengthening. The garden was taking on a misty indistinct glow. If we will trust Him, we may find the shadows in our garden of our life to be the most pleasant places we ever walk alone with our God.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Called to the Light

[God] called you into his marvelous light.
I Peter 2:9

The ring of the phone, the sound of a voice or a "ping" saying "you've got mail," draws us to investigate and when we discover it's an invitation to something wonderful, our hearts reach out with anticipation. We can imagine, dream, and hope long before we fully partake of what is offered and as the heart reaches out we experience a foretaste of the happiness to come. That is how it is with God's calling to the light.

We know darkness all too well. Our personal darkness: Disappointments; discouragements; times when we try hard but simply can't pull it together and other times when we fail because we never tried at all. There are broken relationships and broken dreams. Confusion and the sour taste of problems without solutions.

Add to this, the darkness of a rapidly devolving world: Hatred and violence, hunger and oppression, injustice and greed. Even if we avoid all news cast, refuse to read headlines and turn off the radio, the bubble we build around us will never be solid enough to keep it all out. Thin walls leak enough sad realities to frighten and grieve.

How wonderful that in the middle of all this darkness, Someone calls us to a different reality-the reality of God's marvelous light. A light that starts as a glimmer then grows brighter and clearer as you move deeper in. No wonder we stretch out, reach and seek the Source calling us forward.

After a recent trip to see The Chronicles of Narnia, I was inspired to reread this children's classic including The Last Battle. In this final book, the children are again suddenly pulled from England into Narnia, only this time their exit feels different than previous experiences. They wonder a great deal about this at first, but soon the plot thickens and from that point the book reads much like the other adventures.

It isn't until the very end of this last book that something changes. The adventure is over. The bad guys have lost. Aslan has won. Then, the lion (representing Christ) does something very strange. He allows Narnia to grow cold, dark and uninhabited and closes the door sealing it off forever.

Slowly, the children realize the reason why their exit from England felt different-they all died in a train wreck. The time of childhood imagination is over. Amazed, they look around at the new, bright land of heaven-their eternal home. Romping and rejoicing the great lion moves ahead of them calling the same words they have heard so often before: "Farther up! Farther in! Come higher with Me!"'

We don't live in a pretend world, but it is a temporary one. When we hear His call and reach for the light, darkness and confusion begin to fade as the solid reality of His marvelous light glows even while we remain on this side of glory.