It’s pretty easy these days to let our minds wander with worry, isn’t it? Yet, Jesus tells us not to. I want to share with you four things to think about from my morning prayer and meditation.
Read Luke 12:22-34 then consider this with me…
The wildflower doesn’t control the field in which it will grow. It could be dropped randomly from a bird. It could be a runner from an already established plant. It can find itself in a grassy meadow, along a roadside, by a fire pit, or mired down in clay. Shoot, it can even be seen popping through a crack in the sidewalk.
So, too, do I find myself in a field…born into my family, with these parents, in this century, in this year, on this day, married to this man, with these kids and grandkids, in this town, with these neighbors. So, I ask myself, how much of this field was my making and how much was God’s?
The wildflower doesn’t control what grows around it. It might be in an environment that has to fight for its life through thistles and thorns, crowded out by crabgrass. It can stand tall and glorious or find itself in the shadow of the great and mighty sunflower.
So, too, do I have little control over what surrounds me or decisions others make. I am surrounded by political unrest, a pandemic in process, disunity, disillusionment, and disdain. I am trying to take care of my family, prepare for retirement, stay healthy and be kind and yet I cannot control the stock market or taxes or businesses shutting down or my 401K tanking or gaining. I cannot control a disease or whether you vax/not vax, mask/not mask. I cannot make hunger disappear or put every pervert behind bars. How much of my life world is my making and how much is God’s?
The wildflower doesn’t control the weather. Rain or drought, sunshine all day or overcast gray, she simply must stand tall in the midst of it all.
So, too, do I not control the hurricanes life can throw at me nor the times of the driest droughts. Dysfunctional family. Sexual abuse. Loss. The rogue kid. The death of a parent. The diagnosis of another. The questions with no immediate answers or perhaps no answers at all. The floundering faith. The wonderings and wanderings. One poor decision. How much of my life world is my making and how much is God’s?
The wildflower doesn’t control what type of flower with its color and shape, height and style. Depending on where she grows, she could be left alone to flourish and thrive or trampled down by cattle in the same field.
I, too, grew up to be a certain type of person, a certain size, shape and color with a particular personality and gifts that are too be opened and used. Much of who I am was influenced by the forces around me as I was growing. Was it a struggle to thrive? Or was I nourished and well fed? How much of my life growth is my making; how much is God’s?
Did you notice a pattern? There is much that is out of the wildflowers control. And yet, God.
Easy to preach. Hard to be in the middle of the field wondering if that cow is going to trample you or cover you in manure…either way it’s easy to get caught up in trying to control the cow.
For all that has shaped or misshapen me, for all that was in my control and out, for all the good and not so good, I am thankful that God takes all of those things and somehow brings them around for my good and His glory. If He is the same yesterday, today and forever then He will continue to do the same because life is still full of doubts and fears and cow poop.
I can rest in the space of no toiling, no trying, no spinning, no straining and simply be what he has called me to be…a wildflower in a field, being me. How much of me is mine; how much can be God’s?
Would you consider the wildflowers too?
If you like this post then you might enjoy these as well:
Does the air feel different lately or is it just me and what I’m reading? I feel like there’s a rising up… (a text I recently sent to a friend who responded in agreement…. something is up!)
I’ve had a fire in my belly for several years now. A fire that has tried to be extinguished, put out, doused, but even then, it smolders. Nothing fans that flame more than reading about women being mistreated “in Jesus’ name”.
In the big picture of things, I am but a small flame, but this is my outlet, my voice, my way of telling women in my circle that you are seen and heard and known. And who knows, perhaps the women in your circles need to hear this same message.
Jesus is FOR you. He sees you. He hears you. He knows you. And you are loved. He wants you to use your gifts and talents. It grieves him to see those who are meant to be trusted use their power to abuse and use, downplay and destroy.
Women were meant to walk alongside, not under, not over but beside men to do kingdom work.
When the Holy Spirit descended upon the first Christians at Pentecost, Peter uses the words of the prophet Joel to describe what has happened:
In the last days, God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy.
God using female prophets is nothing new. We’ve met Huldah already. The Bible identifies nine others in the Old and New Testaments: Miriam, Deborah Noadiah, Isaiah’s wife, Anna and the four daughters of Philip. In addition, women like Rachel, Hannah, Abigail, Elisabeth and Mary are described as having prophetic visions about the future of their children, the destiny of nations and the coming Messiah.
And no. It wasn’t just because a man was not available, as some may say and try to downplay biblical examples of female disciples, teachers, leaders and apostles. They were chosen because they had something to offer, something to say, something that was needed right then and there.
This is where we (all my female readers) come in. YOU are needed. You, with your gifts and givings, thoughts and talents, inputs and ideas. You. Right now. Right here. More than ever.
Right now, close to five million people are victims of sex trafficking. 99% are women, 3.8 million are adults, 1 million are children. (this statistic may be higher as this was from 2016)
Right now, 5.2 million children worldwide under the age of five die from preventable and treatable causes. (According to WHO international)
Right now, 821 million people in the world, that’s 1 in 9, do not have access to enough food. (World Vision)
Right now, 50-75% of women experience baby blues with 15% of these women developing a more sever and longer lasting depression called postpartum depression or PPD. (Cleveland Clinic)
Right now, women age 15-44 are more likely to be maimed or to die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
Meanwhile, the evangelical church has busied itself with endless debates about appropriate titles and roles for the women in the church. Churches are spending hours (years?) debating whether a female missionary should be allowed to speak on a Sunday morning. Whether girls should be allowed to attend seminary and what to do with them after graduation if they do.
Meanwhile, churches prefer to have you “speak” from the floor and not the “stage” because “we wouldn’t want anyone to think you’re preaching.” Pastors are excusing themselves “once you start speaking” because “you have no authority” over them. Please use this music stand and not the pulpit…that’s for the person of authority. (These are personal stories from my “speaking” days.)
Meanwhile, churches are debating whether women should be permitted to pass the offering plate or make announcements from the stage or serve communion or lead worship or give the benediction or baptize.
Folks who see the leadership of women like Huldah and Junia as special exceptions for times of great need are oblivious to the “right now” world we are living in. They have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear.
We’ve got to listen to the Voice of the One who is calling us…so we can be a “right now” and not a “meanwhile”.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In Mark chapter five we find one of the synagogue rulers, Jairus, falling at the feet of Jesus, begging him to help his dying daughter. Jesus goes with him but gets caught up in the large crowd that is following him. A woman who has bled for 12 years touches his robe and she is healed. Jesus notices the power go out from him and asks who touched him. While they were figuring all of this out, some men from Jairus’ house came to him and told him his daughter had died.
Jesus ignored them and told Jairus, Don’t be afraid; just believe.
Jesus asks the crowd outside Jairus’ house who were weeping and wailing, Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.
He has them all leave and goes in with this little girl’s parents to where she was laying. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha koum!’ (which means ‘little girl, I say to you, get up!’)Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.
Talitha koum. Little girl, get up!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I know some remarkable women that are wiping the sleepy dirt from their eyes and waking up to do good works!
Here are just a handful I’d like you to meet:
My friend, Victoria, has labored tirelessly to receive her PhD so she can rejoin her husband in Ghana where they are liberating Trokosi women who have been enslaved from a young age. She will counsel them and give them a safe space to heal their minds and souls. She and Dr. Joshua will help them learn a trade so they can be be on their own financially. She fought long and hard for her degree, facing many uphill battles so she can fight hard for these precious women in Ghana. Well done, Dr. Victoria Bah Binney!
Victoria gave me this bracelet several years ago. It is made from broken glass, proving that broken can be made beautiful!
My friend and author Lisa Hardwick was a first time Mom in the throes of post-partum depression. She begged the question, Does this get any easier? Please tell me it gets easier. She has since written a book to help other “Momma bears” because: It was there at the bottom of the valley that she found hope and a light to pierce the darkness. Healing. Restoration. Redemption. Lisa’s story proclaims to the world that hope is real and true love from our neighbors is a life-giving fountain of strength. Well done, Lisa! You used what the enemy meant for your harm and allowed God to use it for the good!
My friend Missy works tirelessly to help women who are living in domestic abuse. She’s watched countless women be belittled, broken, and beaten. Rich people, poor people. Christian, non-Christian. Doesn’t matter…abuse knows no boundaries. She wants women in these situations to know God’s plan was never for them to be abused, whether that is emotionally, physically, verbally or spiritually. God is there with them. God will provide lifelines if you’ll grab ahold of them. She is one of those lifelines. Well done, Missy!
My girlfriends who devised a plan to feed four families in their community who didn’t have the means to have a Thanksgiving Day dinner. Seventy-three turkeys (really 75 because “they found 2 turkeys in the communion fridge”) and full course dinners with dessert (!) boxed up and delivered later, this small band of mighty women and the 80+ volunteers that helped them were amazed at how God moved. Well done, feeding the least of these!
Each of these women stepped up and into their calling, despite enemy attacks, little support, ugly stares from men across the court room, hard seasons, brutal sacrifices and being told no.
I wonder how many of you reading this want to use your gifts and talents to do kingdom work?
I wonder how many of you feel the calling but have been told you can’t because you’re female?
I wonder how many of you have been belittled, lied to or abused in the church (either physically or spiritually)?
I wonder how many dreams are asleep in you right now?
I wonder if you can hear Jesus saying to that dream, that calling, that gifting that’s been asleep or thought to be dead:
Sweet girl wake up! Get up! The world needs who you were meant to be!
It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness. (Leo Tolstoy)
Imagine my delightful surprise when my youngest daughter, home for the summer from college, brought a big bouquet of Queen Ann’s Lace for me to enjoy indoors.
Imagine her absolute horror to discover it was not Queen Ann’s Lace but Hemlock instead.
How can you tell? They look so much alike!
We took a walk outside; she showed me where she picked the flowers…she was lured in by the bright berries growing in the midst. I showed her the difference between the two. From far away they look the same. On closer inspection the differences are subtle but obvious…once you know them.
I have a book of wildflowers and have studied herbs and their uses and possible dangers. I’ve learned to recognize the difference with close observation and trusting what I’ve come to know about them.
Both are from the same family, giving them their look alikeness.
Both are beautiful. One can be deadly.
Both have a gorgeous collection of tiny white blooms that make up the bigger flower you see from a distance. Upon closer inspection, Hemlocks umbrella is a bit more round and sparser. The Queen’s, flatter and wider.
Both have similar stem patterns with one major exception: the Queen has hairy legs whereas Hemlock’s are smooth….deceptively so.
It’s easy to be deceived.
* * * * * * * * * *
There’s another family that knows the art of deception. In Genesis 27 we see Jacob trick his father, Isaac, into giving him the family blessing. Something that was rightfully Jacob’s older brother Esau’s.
How does he do it? How does he deceive his dad into giving him something that wasn’t his to receive?
Isaac had told Esau that he was becoming an old man now and was ready to give him his blessing. Gather your weapons…hunt some wild game…prepare me some tasty food…I will give you my blessing. (Genesis 27:2-4NIV)
The brother’s mom, Isaac’s wife overheard the conversation and wanted Jacob to receive the blessing instead of Esau. (That’s a whole other conversation for another day.)
Then Rebekahtook the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins. (Genesis 27:15-16NIV)
When Jacob went to his father, Isaac, he tells him he has done all that he asked of him and is ready for his blessing.
Here’s how the conversation went:
He went to father and said, “My father.”
“Yes, my son,” he answered. Who is it?”
Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me. Please sit up and eat some of my game so that you may give me your blessing.”
Isaac asked his son, “How did you find it so quickly, my son?”
“The Lord your God gave me success.” He replied.
Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so I can touch you, my son, to know whether you really are my son Esau or not.”
Jacob went close to his father Isaac, who touched him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.
He did not recognize him, for his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau; so he blessed him.
“Are you really my son Esau?”
Then he said, “My son, bring me some of your game to eat, so that I may give you my blessing.”
Jacob brought it to him and he ate and he brought some wine and he drank. Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come here, my son, and kiss me.”
So he went to him and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him…
It’s that easy to be deceived.
* * * * * * * * * *
What can we learn from these two encounters? How can we not be easily deceived?
Pay attention to subtle differences:
In both scenarios there were small differences that, if ignored, could be or were costly. Not only do we have to pay heed to them but trust what we’ve learned or know to be Truth.
It’s an old strategy from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) that’s still used today. There’s just enough twist to make it sound and look good from afar but on closer inspection, well, you can trust the Queen with hairy legs, but hairy arms beware…there’s a smooth talker under there.
Splitting hairs can sometimes keep you from being deceived and ultimately you will receive the blessing of your Father.
Question what we feel:
Jacob covered up his smoothness with the hair of a goatskin, giving the illusion of something that wasn’t true. His dad was tricked by what he felt.
We can be too.
We often feel things that give the illusion of truth:
I feel like no one likes me.
I feel like I’m all alone.
I feel like everyone has their act together except me.
I feel like I’m too much and not enough.
I feel like God won’t meet my needs.
I feel like God doesn’t care.
But upon closer inspection, we come to realize those things aren’t true. They are the devil in disguise as he covers up his smooth, slick ways under a goatskin of lies.
We can be deceived by what we feel is true. We need to remember that feelings are fickle, leaving us with a false sense of what it is we have to rely on, what we know to be true.
Question what you smell:
When Jacob leaned in to give his father a kiss, Isaac trusted that what he smelled, the apparent aroma of Esau, was proof that he was giving his blessing to the right son.
When I was working as a radiation therapist, I met a man by the name of Gerry who was an alcoholic and also newly diagnosed with head and neck cancer. Gerry was told that drinking alcohol, while getting radiation treatments, would be like lighting his throat on fire. Gerry nodded his understanding. Even eager to oblige in abstaining.
Every day, Gerry would come in smelling very strongly of men’s cologne with wafts of alcohol permeating through. No matter how much he tried to cover up what he was doing, we could tell by the smell that something was up.
We can cover up a multitude of mishaps and misgivings by splashing on some cheap perfume, but it will eventually end up smelling like the bull (or goat) crap it is. Isaac smelled Esau but heard the voice of Jacob. Something didn’t smell right, but he kept moving forward with the blessing. Should he have trusted the smell? Nah.
Question what you hear:
Isaac knew what he heard was not the voice of his son Jacob. He did question him…are you my son Jacob? But rather than trust his very own ears and what he was hearing, he went with what he felt. Rather than trust his gut that the voice didn’t jive with what he smelled; he gave an inheritance, a blessing to the wrong person.
He was easily deceived.
We have been on a wild ride for quite some time now, haven’t we? There are voices EVERYWHERE! Voices with opposite opinions opining for their side because they know they are right. We are feeling all the feels! And man does it stink!
So, whose voice do you listen to when all you hear is how right everyone is?
Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The Shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. His call his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it. (John 10:1-5 MSG)
Jesus tells us how not to get rustled or in our case hustled…listen to His voice. Become so familiar with it that you recognize an imposter right away…no matter how that imposter tries to disguise himself or what perfume she tries to cover her stink with.
How do we do that? It’s so simple we may think it’s stupid. Surely there’s another way, right? Nope.
Spend time with the Shepherd. Get to know Him. His character. His life. His ways. His walk. His talk. His Spirit.
Read His word. Study it. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Experience Him. Watch for Him. Expect Him. Notice Him.
So that, when you hear it, feel it, smell it…you know if it’s Him and won’t be easy to deceive.
My sister and I are as different as night and day. She’s adventurous. I’m…well…scared of the carwash among other things.
We approach life much like getting in the swimming pool. She cannon balls. I enter slowly, step by chilly step.
I’m more of a thinker. She’s a doer.
Often times when I hear women talking about the sisters Mary, the thinker and Martha, the doer, they will pick one or the other with whom they feel a connection.
Is that a bad thing? Must we choose between doing and thinking?
The first time we meet Martha, she is hosting a party for Jesus as he passed through the town of Bethany. Dinner wasn’t the only thing steaming. So was she.
Her sister Mary (as we’ve already seen) was learning at Jesus’ feet instead of helping in the kitchen. Martha,boldly served up some roasted lamb with a side order of attitude.
Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! (Luke 10:40 NIV)
Boy do I get this. If you’ve been involved in church or ministry work at all, then you know the 80/20 rule that says 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. It’s so easy to serve with some Martha ‘tude. I’ve been her and also been served by her.
Jesus’ response? Martha, Martha, (whenever he says your name twice…oh dear!) you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42 NIV)
I can get so caught up in the serving part that I forget the sitting part. Without the sitting part, the serving part can become a bitter thing I do, not the better.
The second time we see Martha’s boldness is when her brother Lazarus is sick and Jesus delays coming so long that he dies.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, bu Mary stayed at home. “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been her. My brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” (John 11:20-22 NIV)
Martha’s daring drives her to the One who can calm her concerns. I love that Jesus doesn’t rebuke her but is ever the Teacher as he reveals a bit more of himself as the Resurrection and Life. He challenges her by asking, do you believe this? (John 11:25-26 NIV)
Some would call Martha brazen and brash, disrespectful. Mary’s response was perhaps much more appropriate. But we don’t have to put a lid on our wants and wonderings. We can be fearless in our asking of questions and laying out of our concerns.
We can therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 CSB)
Theology begins with doubts that make us dig. ‘Tude or not, he can handle us just fine.
The last time we see Martha, she’s back at it in the kitchen minus the ‘tude towards her sister. There’s another dinner party being given in Jesus’ honor. It’s just six days before Passover and while Mary takes her pint of pure nard to anoint the feet of Jesus as an act of worship, John tells us,
Two little words with a powerful punch. We find Martha using her gifts as a form of worship and not to wage war with her sister. When we each bring our gifts and talents to the table, the church and ministry of Jesus is so much better. The world needs to hear the good news of the gospel and whether that’s washing dishes or feet, both are important.
She’s learning and so am I.
I am just as content teaching a Bible study on even given week or gathering dirty communion cups after Sunday service. Reading a commentary on the book of James or pulling weeds. Planting seeds whether in the garden or over coffee with a distraught woman.
Theology doesn’t disconnect us from life or weaken our willingness to do the next thing. Knowing God, makes us mobile to do the very thing he calls us to. Those of us who know God find sacred in the simple as well as the sensational. As strange as it may seem, theology belongs in the kitchen just as much as it belongs in the classroom at seminary or behind the pulpit or in elder meetings.
I don’t believe we have to choose between Mary and Martha, between being a thinker or a doer. I think we are meant to be a blend of both.
Learning, leaning and loving make for some sound theology.
I’ve never felt very courageous. I scored 0% in the category marked “Adventuresome” on one of those tests everyone takes. Like Walter Mitty in his secret life, I would daydream an awful lot…can you hear me Major Tom?
But then again I have five kids, which takes lionhearted courage and I was the first of my big family to go out of the country to Zimbabwe on a mission trip. My pastor sent a text the day before I was to leave, You can do this Mrs. Mitty. He knew.
After that trip, every time something came up that would take courage (car wash anyone??) I would tell myself I could do this thing. After all, I’d been to Africa!
So maybe bold is a better word. I can speak to big groups but get a bit sweaty palmed small talking with folks I don’t know. I don’t mind being in the spotlight, the center of attention, but like to control when said light is turned on.
I’m a nine on the Ennegram, a Peacemaker, doing almost anything to avoid conflict and choosing the path of least resistance. I like routine. I don’t like to be the center of controversy. Though I can debate and have an opinion different than yours, I need a nap afterwards.
But sometimes you just have to be bold.
The third time we see Mary of Bethany she’s at another dinner party, this one being given in Jesus’ honor. (John 12:2 NIV) It’s just six days before Passover and time is drawing close for Jesus to be arrested, beaten, put on trial and crucified. He knows it.
I wonder if Mary senses it too? I wonder if she picked up something different in his teaching lately, an urgency, a preparedness, a warning of what was coming.
The disciples were jockeying for a pristine position on his right and left in this new kingdom Jesus came to establish. (Mark 10:35-45 NIV) They’ve politicized Jesus’ ministry thinking he would become the new king of the country instead of King of Kings.
Not Mary. While the others are eating Mary takes a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. (John 12:3 NIV)
This was a bold act for several reasons: 1.) Society expected her to be serving food not wasting time at Jesus’ feet. 2.) Touching someone’s feet was considered degrading (imagine the disciples surprise when Jesus washes their feet!) 3.) A woman was never to take her hair down in public…never. 4.) The perfume she poured out was more than a year’s wages and her dowry that she’d been collecting. It gave her value for a favorable marriage in the future. All poured out, wasted as some of them were saying. (Based on the book Insight’s on John by Charles Swindoll)
The boys in the room didn’t like it. They thought it was a big waste and were vocal in their “concern” but Mary didn’t care. She didn’t just bust open a jar, she broke open the box society had put her in. She lived out the full life Jesus came to give her.
Being a woman of faith can put you in a position to step outside your comfort zone and into the war zone, to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do to take a risk and pour it all out there with a boldness you’ve not known before.
We have to be ready. We can’t walk into battle armed only with what we learn from a person behind the pulpit on Sunday morning. We aren’t meant to fight with the men (they are not our enemy) or even in their shadow but beside them armed with sound theology from our own digging daily in scripture. This war zone is no respecter of gender.
It is on the battlefield that a woman will discover the power and usefulness of her theology. Mary’s third portrait should have a profound impact on how we see ourselves as women, in the home and in the church. When we take this definition of ourselves seriously, the home, the church, and the men will only benefit. Conversely, to walk away from this hurts us all. (From the book When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James)
Mary shows us much about what it takes to be a theologian. She sat at Jesus’ feet and learned. She learned what he was all about and who she was because of who He is. But it’s so much more than learning.
She fell at His feet and leaned. We lean in to what we’ve learned; which enables us to endure those storms that could rock our world otherwise. It puts our faith to the test and helps strengthen and mature our theology.
She worshiped at His feet and loved. When we begin to understand who Jesus is and what he has done (and does) for us we want nothing more than to love him, to pour out our best for him. Worship is never wasted.
Mary is such a great example for us to follow. But…
What if I’m more like Martha? I’m so glad you asked…
I lay there curled in a fetal position, recovering from a DNC and replaying the last couple of weeks in my head. The excitement of the OB appointment. The look on the doctor’s face as he searched for that water-in-the-womb swoosh swoosh swoosh. The slim hope that the Doppler just missed picking up the tiny sound. The ultrasound techs somber expression as she too searched with her wand.
I’m so sorry.
Words I had not heard the previous four pregnancies. Words I didn’t want to hear now. We had already told everyone. How was I to face the looks, the questions, the sorrow, the sadness. Oh the grief! I now understood how one weeps for someone you’ve never met, someone not fully developed but fully human, a life not lived.
In the darkness of night with my arms wrapped around my empty womb I cried out to the Creator of all things, where are you in all of this Lord?
They sent for their friend, the one who could help them as their brother’s sickness took a turn toward the inevitable. They’ve heard him speak and watched him heal sicker people than this. Surely he would get there in time. Surely he would come quickly once he got word how sick their brother Lazarus had become.
They waited and prayed while Jesus delayed….yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days. (John 11:6 NIV)
When Jesus got there (finally!) Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17 NIV)
Mary stayed in the house until her sister Martha told her; the teacher is here and is asking for you.
The Teacher. The One who welcomed her, invited her, taught her, discipled her, valued her, befriended her and loved her. The One whose feet Mary sat at to learn are the same feet she fell at to lament.
Scripture tells us, when Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32 NIV)
How many times have I said and heard and wondered the words if only?
If only you’d been there, Lord…
…in the darkest days of depression.
…in the emergency room.
…at the doctor’s during the diagnosis.
…when abuse was happening.
…in divorce court.
…at the casket of a loved one.
…when my child died.
…in the middle of a panic attack.
…in the wondering and wandering and worry.
…in the confusion of identity.
…in the wilderness
Anybody else have an if only you had…? Does he even care?
Mary is sitting at a pivotal place in her theology. It’s one thing to learn, to know the lingo, the language, the churchy words. But living it out is something entirely different.
What kind of theologian am I if I can use an intelligent system of words and ideas but have never experienced despair and confusion or wrestled with God and walked away limping while wondering what he is doing in the world around me. Those words will seem crass and uncaring.
True Christian theology does not stand aloof from life but fearlessly gets its hands dirty in our everyday lives. (Carolyn Custis James)
Most of us probably have not experienced the kind of miracle we see with Lazarus being raised from the dead unfold in our lives. The divorce happened. The abuse left some scars. The child is still gone. The womb still empty. The night is still dark. Hearts still hurt.
Jesus is there. Right beside us. Weeping. Knowing there is a bigger story to be told. Knowing that if you believe, you will see the glory of God. (John 11:40)
I have to hold on to this. He can use our heartache and hurt, our pain for a purpose. My story is for his glory.
We sit at his feet and learn so we can lean in and live during days that are hard. We learn of the goodness of God so when life is not good we know he is. We live in the presence of his peace when chaos abounds. We lean in more knowing he is our strength and help; a refuge in times of trouble. We fall at his feet and cry out our questions, our if only’s because we believe in Him, the One and Only.
I could hear the chug of the church bus rounding the corner at my Mom’s house. It was a rare occasion that I got to spend Saturday night with her and go to the fancy big church in town as my Granny called it. No country church for me, where the wooden pews and people smelled of must and old age and the “facilities” were still outside. Not this weekend.
They were having a contest and my younger sister asked if I could please come with her so she could earn her hat for bringing a guest. The special bonus, if there were X amount of kids that Sunday, the pastor, John Maxwell, would eat a live goldfish. We were all in.
The kids were singing, as kids do, at the tops of their lungs We’re Whirly Birds for Jesus, we live for him each day… I soon caught on and wanted to be a Whirly Bird too. I wasn’t sure about this Jesus but I really wanted the cap these kids were wearing, a red beanie with a little helicopter on top. You could earn pins for it too (!), which filled my people-pleasing-award-winning-accomplishment-doing-soul right up.
I soon learned that being a Christ follower was more than donning a Whirly Bird beanie heavy laden with bling from winning contests. Souls were at stake after all. Mine included.
I discovered a classmate of mine also went to the fancy big church in town and happened to be at movie night. (Movie night? At church! Fancy big church’s meter pegged to the right of cool.) We settled in with some popcorn and candy and sat beside each other ready to watch the 1970’s film called A Thief in the Night.
Our popcorn grew cold, candy uneaten as Micky and I watched the confusion and mayhem of this woman who had been left behind. At the end of the movie the youth pastor got up and explained how Jesus was coming back and how we needed to be ready or else be left here to suffer. He read Matthew 24:36-51 to us.
That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. (Matthew 24:39-40NIV)
I wasn’t exactly sure what all that meant. We didn’t own a hand mill nor did we have fields but we did have a garden and canned a lot so maybe that counted. What I did know was that I did not want to be without my Granny and left in a place where the people were weeping and gnashing their teeth. (Matthew 24:51NIV) Obviously there were no Whirly Birds there.
So Micky and I went forward to accept Jesus as our Savior whatever all that actually meant. This movie scared the hell out of me but didn’t drive me to a place where I would come to really know Jesus.
For two more decades I would wax and wane between singing with my beanie on and running to escape the fiery flames. Always working to be good enough, missing the mark horribly, feeling the shame of things I’d done and things done to me, asking forgiveness for things that were already tossed as far as east is from west. It was a vicious cycle of rinse and repeat, rededicate, renew, return to old ways.
Until life spun me in a different direction and landed me in a place I’d never been.
Tucked in the Gospel of Luke are five little verses that introduce us to two sisters from Bethany, Mary and Martha who find themselves with a dinner guest by the name of Jesus. While Martha is busy in the kitchen, we find Mary had managed to make her way to where Jesus was and took the posture of a student, a disciple, a learner at his feet.
Whether by invitation or an act of bravery, Mary knew she wanted to understand more than the bits and pieces she put together as she went about her duties or heard secondhand from her brother and those that knew him personally. She wanted and needed to know Jesus herself.
So she sat at his feet, listened and learned.
This first female New Testament theologian will glean much from this meeting. While we don’t know what Jesus was saying, I wonder if she was beginning to understand that this Man brought a different message than the culture of her day.
Jesus tells those who are listening, Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42 NIV) In a culture where women are not invited to sit at the table and learn this changes everything.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We were going to church every time the doors were open. We served. We sang. We served some more. If a spot needed filled we were there. And yet my marriage was falling apart. My adult version of being a Whirly Bird was crashing fast. Those gnashing teeth were hot on my heels.
I soon discovered a foundation of theology built on service alone and the things I “do” is like shifting sand that soon crumbles when hard times come. All of my do’s are paltry compared to what has already been done. I needed to know the doer of done. Not just those bits and pieces I heard from the pulpit or Sunday school teacher.
Sound theology starts with sitting and soaking at the feet of the Teacher Himself. Not just on Sunday mornings or even Wednesday nights. But every chance I get.
Knowledge of his character, recognition of his voice, learning about his heart and compassion doesn’t keep us from walking through seasons of difficulty. Life happens and happens hard sometimes. But we weather storms differently when we know who is taking us through them. When we know the One who holds the compass.
Learning is the first step to being a sheologian. We wrestle with texts. We ask questions. We wonder. We wait. And then we are given opportunities to practice. To put feet on our faith. To live out what we’ve soaked up.
There’s more to Mary’s story. And mine. As you’ll soon see.
You could see the battle going on in the woman’s mind that sat across from me. Her husband had coercively, emotionally abused her for many years. While I could see her making strides toward gaining some confidence, she was struggling to answer the question I asked.
What do you want to do?
I really want to leave him….but I can’t.
Because if I leave him, God will leave me. He hates divorce.
While it is written, I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel. (Malachi 2:16NIV) it also says this of God, Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5NIV)
My heart broke for her as she shared with me that she was told by “the church” God would rather she stay in the abusive marriage than get a divorce. She now recognized the affront for what it was but what was she to do? We talked, searched scripture and prayed for direction.
Unfortunately her story is all too common. Being duped, damaged and deceived by half-truths and truth twisting is a play by the enemy that is as old as the Garden of Eden. She knew just enough scripture to believe deception but not enough to refute it with truth.
Anybody else been there? We may not be in an abusive relationship but there is a half-truth believed to be the whole truth. A twist to scripture you’ve never untwisted.
Who are these “creeping people”? The Message tells us they look like this:
People who are self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust and allergic to God. They’ll make a show of religion, but behind the scenes they’re animals. Stay clear of these people. (2Timothy 3:1-5MSG)
That’s quite a list, yes? Instead of women being creeped out and recognizing religious fads that calls itself “truth”(2Timothy 3:7MSG) these people are creeping in and taking every advantage of us and many times we don’t even notice. Does this fire up anybody else?
These people prey on the weakness of women, the guilt of women and the passions of women. (2Timothy 3:6) Listen, it is not God’s desire that women be weak in discernment…theological, Biblical, and moral discernment…so that they are sitting ducks for creeps.
What makes these women (and us) gullible and easy to deceive? Let’s look at the reasons in reverse order:
The Passions of Women. The emphasis here could be sexual in nature but we women can be passionate about a lot of things. We can lust after…the perfect house, job, family, body etc…we are so intense with our passionate pursuits that we leave no space or place for sound Biblical study.
We find our value in the stuff we have or the things we do instead of the One that’s already done it for us. We passionately pursue after our purpose instead of purposely placing our passions in the hands of our Pursuer.
There’s nothing wrong with having goals and dreams, pursuits and passions as long as they don’t have you.
The Guilt of Women. These are women who are loaded down with sin. This isn’t fun to talk about but here we go. We cannot surround ourselves with people who never speak truth to us, who let us do whatever we want. I have a handful of girlfriends who are my biggest cheerleaders, yes, but who also keep me in check if I’m out of line.
This alignment keeps me out of the line of enemy fire and able to recognize his schemes.
Paul warns Timothy about this a bit later when he says, For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2Timothy 4:3-4NIV)
Don’t circle yourself in with best friends who scratch an itch with a feather. Surround yourself with grace full truth tellers. You’ll grow stronger and keep the creeps out.
The Weakness of Women. The creeping people who are mentioned in Timothy are smooth talkerswho prey on women with every new religious fad that calls itself truth. Oh, it’s subtle and slick most of the time. There’s just enough Jesus sprinkled in to make it sound good and Godly but the underlying message is more like did God really say…as said by the serpent of old.
What do we do so we aren’t misled?
In a word: Theology.
I know, I know. It sounds boring or maybe intimidating or too churchy. But theology isn’t just for the men. We will be judged based on what we ourselves know to be truth not what somebody else did or didn’t tell us to be true. We have a responsibility, as women, to become sheologians.
It really isn’t as tedious or terrifying as it sounds…as I hope to show you over the next few blog posts. Theology isn’t just about reading textbooks like Lectures in Systemic Theology, trying to get a grasp on the knowledge of God. James tells us that even the demons believe that there is one God…and shudder. (James 2:19)
We are in a battle that is fierce. Carolyn Custis James says, Soft theology won’t sustain us on the battlefield. Marching into battle with superficial, false, and flimsy ideas of God is like going to war with a popgun tucked under your arm. (When Life and Beliefs Collide pg 95)
Theology is more than just knowledge.
Sound theology brings a bazooka to the battlefield enabling us to keep the creeping people out and our itching ears scratched with the Truth. Sound theology grounds us when life picks us up and spins us around. Sound theology prevents us from believing half-truths. Sound theology helps us recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing. Sound theology engages the intellect, leans in after a loss and warrants us to worship.
You didn’t choose this desert space, this wilderness place.
Or maybe you did.
However you land there doesn’t really matter, it can be horrible yet the most hallowed place you’ll ever be.
In the last blog post, Forcing the Pieces, we met Sarah who desired to have the children God promised her and her husband. But God’s timetable wasn’t hers so she suggested they get the party started with a romp in the hay between her man and her maidservant. Alas, it worked and Hagar (AKA Fertile Myrtle the maidservant) does indeed get pregnant.
Sarah gets angry about the whole thing, blames Abraham. Abraham throws his hands in the air and says you deal with it. So she did.
Sometimes you have no choice but to flee for your own well-being. You choose to take a stand and with such courage and bravado say, Enough! Sometimes you have to leave behind the familiarity of community, a job, a home, drugs, comfort, provision, abuse, friends, tradition, others opinions. Walking away from what you know, all you’re familiar with and what makes you fit in can be one of the toughest and best things you do.
Sometimes it’s simply the season of life you’re in. You run your kids around like you’re an Uber driver at Kentucky speed way and you miss adult conversation. GNO? What’s that? Or you’re an empty nester who gave all your time and energy raising a family and now what do you do? You’re a student who lives, eats and sleeps studying, classes and tests…social life? What social life? Your child has special needs and demands time and energy, doctor appointments and round the clock care. You love them to pieces but could sure use a break.
Dry desert air makes for a thirsty soul. Thirsty souls wander and wonder.
Flip over a few chapters and we’ll see Hagar had gone back (in obedience to an angel), had the child and once again, because of Sarah’s jealousy, got banned, this time….for good.
Sarah said to Abraham, “get rid of that slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” (Genesis 21:10 NIV)
Sometimes the choice is made for you. A husband walks out. Kids rebel. People distance themselves. A diagnosis is made. A death happens. And don’t think for a minute this century doesn’t have “Sarah’s” in it…using you for a means to an end manipulating and mean, then tosses your butt out like a rag doll.
Either way, here you are. According to Brene’ Brown, The wildernessis an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand. (Braving the Wilderness)
The wilderness is full of uncertainty and certainly feels like you are the first and last one to blaze this trail. Surely nobody gets it. Or you. Check out my journal entry for January 18th:
Twice Hagar found herself in the wilderness, the unknown, the scary place. The first time she was seen by God; the second He heard her cries. Both times He brought comfort and provision. Wilderness has wild in the word because it’s a crazy time of walking with the One.
Hagar’s time in the wilderness, that time of searching and solitude, allowed her to experience things she never would have otherwise. She is the only woman, a slave woman at that, who names God. You are the God who sees me, for she said I have now seen the One who sees me. That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi, it is still there. (Genesis 16:13-14NIV)
He continues to be the One who sees. Now and forevermore.
Don’t be afraid. Keep moving through.
You’re among good Wilderness walkers. It’s where the prophets and poets live for inspiration. It’s where the risk-takers and trailblazers thrive. It’s where Jesus beat the devil at his own schemes.
He sees you. He hears you. Lean in and listen. Walk in the wild and be free.
God promises Abraham kids and Abraham believed God would give him kids. So simple…God answers prayers. (Journal entry/January 16th/Genesis 12-15 )
I wish I could say I was like Abraham who trusted God to do what He said He would do, what He promised him He would do. No matter how long it took. Abraham set out on an adventure not knowing what the whole picture looked like, not knowing the when’s, why’s and where’s but knowing the One who was sending him. His journey of faith was simple: Abraham believed the Lord. (Genesis 15:6NIV). Period.
I fear I’m more like Abraham’s wife Sarah who got ahead of God. You see God had promised this couple children so they waited. And waited. And waited. It sure seemed like God forgot or was asleep or just didn’t care. Maybe, just maybe, she was supposed to do something, take action, to get this as-many-stars-in-the-sky-so-shall-your-offspring-beparty started. After all, “God helps those who help themselves” right? (Anybody else use this line of thinking while telling yourself it sure sounds like a Proverb so it must be so? It’s not.)
The very next day, January 17thmy journal entry looked like this: Nothing good comes from getting ahead of God’s plan. Trust Him…even when it doesn’t look promising.
Sarah ended up “helping the Lord” by having Abraham sleep with her maidservant. While we may look at this and think to ourselves wow! I would never ho my man out to another woman, which is probably true for the majority of us but what would you do/have you done when you’ve taken matters into your own hands?
I liken all of this to putting a puzzle together. It’s a process to go from 2000 pieces dumped on the table to finding and assembling the edges, giving you a frame from which to work, to the buildings coming together to people’s faces and animals becoming whole to the field of grass and wildflowers making sense.
Watching, waiting and walking away.
My man stands in awe and wonder 🙂 of my puzzle putting together ability, as he does not have the patience for it. Every now and again he will try and then get frustrated. How can you sit there and look and look then pick up a piece and it fits?
There are clues in the pieces but you have to be patient. A little piece of a foot here, a bit of flower there and the shape all matter but you have to look carefully. God gives us hints of hope in our situations too but we must be always aware, ever mindful and looking for Him.
Sometimes when I can’t see it coming together I need to walk away for a little while. When I come back, it’s fascinating what I now see that I couldn’t before. Giving your mind a rest can be just what you need in order to see that God is working.
We have what I call a “waiting well” issue in our culture today. Our attention spans demand instant gratification, quick points to an article, faster internet speeds, quicker service, microwave meals, instant replies on text messages, articles instead of books, okay Google information, short conversations and drive-through answers to prayer. We do not like to wait so we…
Force the pieces together.
My four-year-old grandson was helping me put a puzzle together one Sunday but soon got discouraged at such a big endeavor so he tried this:
Obviously this would make quite a different picture than the one on the front of the box.
Forcing the pieces together skews the bigger picture of God’s plan. I am in a current season of waiting on an answer to prayer and I want so badly to make something (anything!) happen. Desperate decisions don’t make for a pretty picture so I remind myself that God’s ways are not mine and He is working this thing out. I have to constantly…
Look at the bigger picture.
I keep the lid to the puzzle box right next to me so I can look at it as I try to decipher where the different pieces go. I need that to be my guide especially in the beginning when I’m looking at a mound of pieces with no direction.
We’ve got to be in His word, studying, learning and getting to know the character of the One who puts the pieces together. Praying to Him, yes but also listening for Him to speak to us. We can rest in Him, trust Him and put our faith in the process He sees fit for our situation. Being still and watching or moving forward with pieces as He sees fit.
So how did Sarah’s story end? Was God angry with her for forcing the lineage He had promised to Abraham? There were consequences and it was a bit messier because of the move made too early but…
…the Lord was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what He had promised. (Genesis 21:1NIV)
He is faithful. He sees you. He hears you. He will put the pieces together.