Monday, January 27, 2014

Martha, Martha !

Harold Copping Jesus at the home of Martha and Mary 400.jpg
                                                                                                                              painting by Harold Copping

Martha ,  is  one of the more readily known characters of the bible -- but I feel that too often Martha is criticized without giving her due credit and praise!

I wrote about Mary a few posts back -  and did not intend to  ignore her sister Martha!
The sisters, Mary and Martha - we so rarely think of one without the other.
But there is much we can learn from Martha by putting her centre stage instead of looking at her in the shadow of the sister that is so readily given the higher praise.

Martha, is not 'less than' Mary, in fact, she has the highest commendation that can be given ...
Jesus LOVED her !
John 11:5  "Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus."
Note how Mary is not mentioned by name in this verse, only as Martha's sister! Is it to draw our attention to Martha to see what Jesus saw and valued in her?

Martha --  no other bible character shares her name.  
Martha means 'mistress' - mistress of her home.
From the facts we are given we can glean that Martha indeed was 'mistress' of her home. We know her husband must have died because the laws of her society did not allow women to own property unless they were widowed.
We know Martha was hospitable.   It says she 'received'  Jesus into her home.  The Greek word used there means "entertain hospitably'.
There was a reason Jesus went often to her home. Martha knew how to treat her guests. She 'served' them, made them feel welcome and cared about!   Her home was a place of 'rest' and 'comfort' where needs were anticipated and met.

But then , in the recorded story we are so familiar with in Luke 10:38-42 , we see that something goes wrong.
We find the clue to discover what went wrong from Jesus' words to Martha.  He says " are encumbered..." 
The Greek word translated encumbered means 'to drag all around'.
Have you ever felt like you were 'dragging around' ?  Feeling burdened down with a to-do list longer than your day, feeling like everyone else was 'playing' and all the work was left to you ?    Isn't it often our 'attitude' , rather than our task itself, that is so heavy we are 'dragging' it around ?
We see this attitude found root in Martha's thinking  since she verbalizes it  to Jesus, "Don't you care...?" 
Lets change the story up a little... do a little role reversal.
Lets imagine that Martha is doing what she loves to do -- serving others and  graciously taking delight in seeing others enjoy her hospitality.
Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to His words.   She looks up and sees Martha busily serving -  getting fresh drinks, refilling plates, getting napkins, finding an extra cushion for the one whose back is sore.
Mary, feeling pride that she has rather chosen to sit at the feet of Jesus than rush around serving food and drinks,  says to Jesus, "Jesus, look at my sister, Martha.  She is just running around doing needless tasks instead of sitting at your feet , as I am doing, drinking in your words!"  
What would Jesus have said to her ?
He would have said ... "Mary, you are indeed sitting at my feet, but Martha has chosen to serve me with the gift I have given her and I will not take it away from her."   

How do I know that is what Jesus would have said ?
Because Jesus does not allow finger pointing.
We have another example in John 21:21,22 where Peter , having been told that he will die a violent death, looks around and points to John asking .. "What about him?" and Jesus answers .. "What's that to YOU?"  
Also in II Cor. 10:12 we are told not to compare ourselves one to another.
Each of us has been given a gift of God and if we use that gift to His glory , one is not better or higher than another .
What we need to guard is the attitude in which we exercise our gifts and to recognize that ALL gifts are needful .

Do we need servers in the body of Christ ?? Most definitely.  It is the Marthas that do the things that make us comfortable, that make us feel welcome , that add those touches that lift our hearts and brighten our days.  It is the Marthas that make 'room' for the other gifts to flourish,  They are the ones who walk into a situation and see what needs to be done !  It is the Marthas who make sure that nothing distracts the heart from God, but rather makes room to draw the heart to see God.
We see this modelled in Martha - that very practical 'gift' of serving/organizing/recognizing and doing what is needed.
  • we see her serving in her own house - hospitality (Luke 10:38)
  • we see her serving in other people's homes - Simon the leper (Matt. 26:6)
  • after her brother died - interestingly it was not Mary who ran to meet Jesus, it was Martha.  Mary is overcome by grief, Martha is still in 'control' thinking ahead, thinking what is best to do, doing what can she put her hand to, helping others (as calling Mary to come to Jesus)  (John 11:20)
  • at the grave - when Jesus commands the stone to be rolled away - it is Martha that immediately evaluates the situation -- and points out that since the body has already been in the grave for 4 days there will be a terrible smell.  (John 11:39)
Is the serving gift exalted in scripture ?   very much ! 
  • Matt. 20:27-28 Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve. 
  • Gal. 5:13 For you, brethren, have been called to liberty, only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 
  • I Peter 4:9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 

I am not a Martha, I am more a Mary -- BUT -- I admire the Marthas I know, appreciate them, love them, and I watch them, learning from their example how  to be more like them. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"What's in a Name, Baruch ??"

I think about what it must have been like for Baruch to carefully, painstakingly copy letter by letter , word for word, the message that Jeremiah dictated.    What kind of scroll was it , what kind of pen, what kind of ink ...  how long did it take him ?
The greatest miracle is that we .. thousands of years later... have Baruch's recorded words in our hand, in our language!

We looked at the life of Baruch in my last post -- today I wanted to share some neat insights if we dig even deeper into Baruch's carefully recorded  ancient words of scripture.

1. Names are important in the bible, their meaning telling a story about the name bearer.

Baruch means 'blessed'.   His name is often linked with that of his father, Teriah .
Teriah means 'light of God'.

I'm reminded of the first Psalm that says... "Blessed is the man ... (whose) delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he mediates day and night."   

So we have Baruch -- blessed because day and night he sits in the 'light - or Word- of God'...
(Psa 119:130  The entrance of Your words gives light; )

2. There is a neat analogy/picture in the story of Baruch.

When we first saw Baruch,  he was involved with the legalities of Jeremiah's purchase of land -- but this was no personal investment for future economic security.
Jeremiah was carrying out God's word of commandment to him - it was a prophetic enactment with meaning. To the Jews it was meant to be a pictorial promise  that one day God would restore them to their land.  He held the deed to it and would preserve it.

But I believe there is a deeper meaning for us  hidden in this picture.
After  Baruch wrote out the documents according to God's words and sealed the deeds  according to legal procedures,  Jeremiah then gave Baruch this further order. We read it in Jer. 32:13-15,   
Then I charged Baruch before them saying, 
"thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: 
Take these deeds, both this purchase deed which is sealed and this deed which is open, 
and put them in an earthen vessel, that they may last many days."

In this picture we see  in Baruch an example of both  the 'hearing' and the 'doing' of God's word.  
Jas 1:23  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 
 God added one last detail in His instructions... "put them in an earthen vessel" .
Why ?  so they would last many days.  
In II Cor. 4:7  our physical bodies are referred to as earthen vessels ...
and in Psa 119:11  we read ... Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.  It is not enough to hear, or even to keep the letter of God's laws  ... we need also to 'hide' it in our hearts so that it will be preserved -  as a 'living Word' that becomes part of us. 

So then from this picture we see ...  "We are blessed if we meditate on God's word, walk in the light of it, and hide it in our heart, so it will 'last many days' --We know God's word, His promises will stand, they will not fail and if we keep them in our heart, they will bear  eternal fruit and we know in Him - the Word of God - we have eternal life!"  

3. There is another interesting 'picture' in this story.    
Jeremiah's prophecy came true -- Israel was carried away into captivity by the  Babylonian king.  
Jeremiah and Baruch were among the few that remained  in the land of Israel, but Baruch's brother Seraiah was among those taken captive.   
Jeremiah had a task for Seraiah.  He  gave him the following instructions. (Jer.51:59-64)
He said, "Seraiah, when you go with the King of Judah, with those taken captive to Babylon , when you get there, take this scroll  upon which I have written all the evils that will come upon Babylon. They shall be utterly and completely destroyed. When you have finished reading it so all can hear, then tie a stone to the scroll and throw it out into the Euphrates River so that they will know that as the scroll sinks to be seen no more, so also shall Babylon sink and be no more when I bring my judgement upon her!"   

It is  interesting or important to note  that Seraiah was given this task and not Baruch.     
Baruch's name means  'blessing' and this was no blessing that God was proclaiming upon Babylon.  
Seraiah's name means .. 'God has prevailed!"  making him such a 'fit' choice to deliver  the judgement prophecy over Babylon.   
So the people of Babylon who stood listening to Seraiah,  HEARD the words of God,  SAW it enacted ,  and also , could not ignore the name of the messenger GOD HAS PREVAILED!   

When God speaks -- so shall it be !! 

Baruch,  a little known character in the bible... but with surprisingly much to teach us !  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A False Bottom - Discovering Baruch's Secret

Recently, I was thinking of writing some posts about obscure or little known characters or scriptures. I'm always curious about the people or verses that are important enough to be in the scriptures but are not commonly known or understood.
I love the book of Jeremiah and coming across the passages speaking about  Baruch, wondered  how many people would, on hearing his name,  immediately  know who he was.
As I sat thinking about Baruch, I  had that 'nudge'  that I recognized as God saying ...  .. There is more to his life story than what immediately meets the eye !

For those of you who are not sure who Baruch is, here is his story in brief.
He is first mentioned in Jer. 32, as the scribe that recorded and filed the legal documents needed when Jeremiah purchased a piece of property.
We see him again  in chapter 36 when Jeremiah again had need of him, this time to record the words of God as God spoke them to Jeremiah.  Then, because Jeremiah was under house arrest, unable to go to the the temple, he asked  Baruch to go in his place and  read the words of the scroll to the temple leaders.  Baruch did so and then also read them before the King when he was commanded to do so. The words angered the King and he tossed the scroll into the fire.   When,  in his rage, he commanded Jeremiah and Baruch to be seized , God hid them.
We see Baruch still with  Jeremiah , staying behind in Israel, after most of the people were taken captive to Babylon.
 Read Baruch's story for yourself and you  see Baruch, as an underdeveloped, background character , simply doing what Jeremiah needed him to do. You glean no sense of who Baruch was as a fleshed out person that would interest you.

BUT .. . there is a false bottom in Baruch' story box.
In chapter 45 of Jeremiah... very near the end of the book and long after we have forgotten about Baruch,  we have a very interesting chapter with one last reference to Baruch.   Here in verse 5 we read this .. ."And do you seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them, for behold, I will bring adversity on all flesh," says the Lord. "but I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you will go."  
These words were spoken by God to Baruch, but they make no  sense.   Why would God promise Baruch his life after he already lived through the threats and danger that were now finally passed? And what great things could Baruch seek for himself ?  His country had been ravished, his people in exile, life become an exercise in survival!
But wait....this is not as it seems !   Look closer and you will see that chapter 45 is not in a chronological sequence.
Verse 1  indicates where chapter 45 belongs in context of Baruch's story.   These words were spoken to Baruch in the fourth year of the reign of King Jehoiakim.  Chapter 44 ends long after that !
When was the the fourth year of King Jehoiakim's reign in our story?  It was a very narrow window of time placing this word to Baruch in chapter 36, just after Jeremiah's first dictation when  Baruch is told that he will have to go read it in the temple.

Wow...  put this passage into its rightful place in the story and Baruch becomes a very interesting character !
Look at the first words... "Do you seek great things for yourself ? Do not seek them."  
We know Baruch was not just an ordinary scribe.  He was sought out as the one who handled important documents.. a lawyer , a scribe of scribes.   His career was building, he was gaining influence in high places.
But then, he is pulled into Jeremiah's service. It would not be politically correct to be seen as a Jeremiah supporter , since Jeremiah was the number one political/public enemy.  Standing with Jeremiah, in any way would not only put his career at risk but his very life !
Even though Baruch had high hopes for his place in Israel society, he was a godly man.  When faced with a life changing decision, we are told that he struggled, considering the probable consequences of doing what Jeremiah was asking of him. He cried out ...  maybe while pacing the floor in the dark torment  of night...  "Woe is me now! For the Lord has added grief to my sorrow. I fainted in my sighing and I find no rest. !!"  
God heard his cries, and sent Jeremiah to him with a message from God's mouth.
Not only does God tell him that his own plans for success are not what he should be focused on, but God also says that He will reward him by giving him life..  Baruch, no matter where he went could be assured that his life was in God's hands and God promised to keep him safe.
NOW, we understand why Baruch so calmly did all that Jeremiah asked him to do. He knew his life was not in danger!  
We see in Baruch an example of faith even when his own plans were crumbling or his heart quaked in fear!

Do we take God's promises so to heart that no matter how dark the world gets  around us, we just keep doing what we are called to do, steadfast without an anxious heart ?

** more insights under the 'false bottom'  in Baruch's story... next time ..

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A False Bottom

One of my granddaughters is 'sneaky smart' .. She firmly believes that if I know what she wants or needs it is as good as if she already has it.  That is fine and good  .. until it comes to surprising her at Christmas!
This year one of the things she  wanted  was an expensive bottle of perfume.   I knew she would be expecting it.
So I decided, at the very least, to tease her a little.
When it came to wrapping the perfume,  I took a box , fashioned a false bottom and 'hid' the perfume  under it.   I covered it with tissue  paper and to throw her off  even more put a packaged tube of hand lotion  in the top portion   of the box.   It worked - even though I told her there was something else in the box ,  she never suspected the false bottom  believing the box to be as empty as it looked !

I find God has packaged His Word like that.  Much of it is in plain sight for all who open it but often gems of insight or truth are hidden - as it were-  under  a 'false bottom', and revealed only to those who are willing to diligently and prayerfully study His Word,  eager to find the 'hidden' things.  
Did God 'hide' them because He didn't want us to have them ?    No, I believe He hid them for the pleasure of those who seeking for them , find them !!
How often I read a passage of scripture and feel that nudge of the Holy Spirit whispering to me that there is more to the passage.. something I am missing.   And that excited rush of emotion motivates me to find the 'treasure'.   Sometimes I find it quickly, sometimes it takes a longer period of time and more diligent searching.   My keen sense of curiosity works well for me, keeping me searching until I find what  I suspect is hidden from those who take time only for a mere surface viewing.  

One of the many proofs that God's Word is truly God breathed is this very thing.  That  God's Word is never boring -  there is always something new to glean, some new insight, some new application, some new understanding, some detail that was previously missed  ..  though the truth of God's Word never changes.

It is God's desire to draw all His children into seeking out the treasures of His Word...   if we will but hear the voice of the Holy Spirit sent  to lead us into all truth.

Isa 45:3  "I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am (your) God .... "

** next post --  an example of a 'false bottom'  in God's Word.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

 Wishing you
a very BLESSED Happy New Year !! 
Once again we have hung a new calendar on the wall as we greet another new year !  
Perhaps facing the unknowns of a new year, makes us want to have some control,  so we make resolutions that will presumably  improve us in some way  as we wander through the days, weeks and months to the end of 2014.
But what if we make a serious resolution -  that from this day forward  our eyes will be on Jesus.  That we resolve to be more like Him in all we say, in all we do , and in all that we are and become  -- the true 'make-over' that Paul speaks about in II Cor. 3:18 ...   which says ... 
"But we all with open face 
beholding as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, 
are changed into the same image from glory to glory, 
even as by the Spirit of the Lord."

It is natural to  desire to be like someone we admire and to  try to emulate them and follow their example. 
We are made in God's image,  called to be 'like Him' .

We so naturally link obedience and disobedience to the demands of laws/commandments or an endless list of do's and don'ts,  something we learn early as a child in our parents care.
How often we struggle in our walk of obedience ...   we make judgement calls as to right and wrong ... consider whether  we will  take the high road or 'this time'  stoop to compromise,  we justify what we want to do .. we struggle to silence our consciences ,  we meet the minimum standard we have set for ourselves or we aim high and feel the guilt when we fail.

What if we changed the question.

What   if instead of speaking of God's law/s commandments in terms of obedience we changed the question.  What if throughout our day the question we kept before our eyes was ...  
"Do I want to be 'like God' ? or do I want to be NOT like God ?"  
God is love,  and Jesus taught  how all of God's commandments boil down to two commandments - to love God, to love our fellow man.   The more we desire to be  like God, the more we choose to  love, the more we choose to love, the more we are changed to be 'like God'. 
The closer a relationship is the less need there is for a 'list' of requirements --  more and more 'love' itself dictates all that is good and guards against harming the relationship.

It is interesting to note that in the 400 years of silence between the Old and the New Testament,  when there was no relationship between God and man, there was a continual focus on adding  to the 'list' demanding obedience until, by  the time Jesus came the list was ridiculous.
Focusing on obeying a list of commandments leaves us cold in relationship... and a cold relationship demands a 'list' .... but wanting to be 'like God' motivates our obedience by LOVE  in those things that will change us 'from image to image' until we truly look like Him in all our ways !

I want to be one like the disciple of Jesus,  about whom it is said ... "And a certain servant girl, seeing him as he sat by the fire, looked intently at him and said, "This man was also with Him."  (Luke 22:56)