Thursday, November 19, 2015

God knows my name.



Do you ever think about your name--what it means, where it came from, if it really matters? What if you go by a different name than you started this life with? Did someone have to send God a memo so He wouldn't accidentally call you Gertrude when you've vehemently denounced that name and warned everyone to please refer to you as Trudy? ;)

But seriously, though. Sometimes I wonder because I was actually born with a different name than the one I now use. Well, they're spelled differently anyway. So God does know how to spell it, right? And my middle name is different--much better, by the way.

This morning while reading about the Resurrection of Jesus, I fell in love with this story about Mary and I realized just how deeply He knows our names:

I love Mary Magdalene. She isn't the most popular, the best all around, the most valuable player, the beauty pageant winner. She has dealt with shame, demons, and quite possibly with being the butt of others' jokes. But there's a particular passage in scripture that defies all these societal claims and labels that have been placed on her, and it's one of my favorites.

It's early, still dark outside--Sunday morning. Mary's heart has been broken--her Lord, her Rabbi, her friend has been ruthlessly slain. With her heart raw and in shreds, she carries the burial spices in the black of the morning--the sun still hiding behind the hills--expecting to add them to Jesus's tomb. Because that's what you do for the dead.

And Jesus was dead.

No angels had shown up and carried Jesus off the cross. It seemed that nothing extraordinary, nothing miraculous would happen after all. Not for Mary, anyway. When someone murders you, you truly die. The miracle did not come. Death had not been defeated, the odds had not been defied. All that was left was a cold grave with the most precious person she had ever known--the one who had loved her despite her flaws--laid inside. 

But the next few minutes will change Mary's life forever, no doubt. Mary finds the tomb stone rolled away, so she runs to fetch Peter and the other disciples to investigate what has happened to Jesus's body. 

He's been stolen! Who would do something so cruel?

And so scripture says she stands outside the tomb in shock and filled to the brim with grief. A new grief, one that cannot believe someone could add such insult to an already unimaginable injury.

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.' Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' Supposing him to be a gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away'" (John 20:11-15 ESV).

Wow, so much to take in here. Mary is not looking for a miracle; she is looking for the dead. Maybe she doesn't even believe in miracles anymore. Her heart has been broken and she is empty. She just wants to get Jesus's dead body back so she can tend to it. Is that too much to ask?

But Jesus has saved His greatest miracle just for her!

"Jesus said to her, 'Mary.' She turned and said to him in Aramaic, 'Rabboni!' (which means Teacher)" (John 20:16 ESV).

Did you see that? Mary turned from the tomb and looked Jesus in the face and she didn't know Him. She thought He was the gardener, and begged this man to tell her where her Lord had been taken.

Her grief was so palpable, so overwhelming, that she could not even see the truth in front of her!

But there is one moment when she finally recognizes Him: 

When He says her name.

Oh, the beauty wrapped up in this one word: Mary! Jesus knows her name and says it in such a way that she also knows Him. I wish I could hear this exchange, to see the love on His face as His lips form the sound of her name! And what I wouldn't give to see her eyes widen and light up as she hears her name with such tone that no one else has ever used. I wonder if it sounded like singing.

Honestly, Mary seems to be a common name in scripture; the writers of the gospels differentiate her by adding Magdalene to her name, which also tells us where she's from. But Jesus didn't need to add that; He didn't need help distinguishing which Mary she was. And how extraordinary, how unique her name must have sounded when Jesus said it!

Mary. That's all Jesus had to say. He knew her in depth, He knew her heart like no one else, and He could prove it just by saying her name.

And you know what? Jesus knows your name, too. And if you let Him, He can call you in a way that no one else is capable. If you let Him into the deepest hurts, the darkest truths of your heart, He can call you by name and make it sound like a brand new identity. He can put joy and hope and purpose right inside your bruised heart if only you'll let Him. He can replace your sorrow, your disappointment with the greatest miracle you've ever witnessed.

And in turn, we can say His NAME and mean it in a way some can only marvel at. Jesus was "Rabboni"--Teacher to Mary.

I want Him to be Teacher to me, and I want Him to say my name like that. 

Don't you?

 Peace of Christ to you,

Monday, November 16, 2015

At a Distance

This morning I noticed something I hadn't before while reading the account of Jesus's arrest and trial before his crucifixion.

It's one subtle little line, but it whispered to my heart with tremendous weight.

"Peter followed at a distance" (Luke 22:54).

I can just imagine this scene in my mind, the tension disrupting the velvety night, how Peter must have trembled and his heart must have hammered in fear-stricken anticipation. They were dragging Jesus away, and Peter must have been rewinding the events of the past week in his mind, meticulously searching for Jesus's specific words of warning about this very moment. Had he misunderstood Jesus? Was this really the way it would all end? Surely Jesus could not be overtaken! How would he get out of the officials' grasp?

Peter showed his fierce love for his Master and his hot temper before; but this time was different--more final. There were no more rehearsals or lectures; this was the big production and the final examination. Time had run out, and Peter was panicking.

I read and re-read that statement: "Peter followed at a distance" again and again. Could Peter have not followed at all? Could he have run off and hidden himself away, shutting out the reality of what was happening to his friend? Maybe in body, but I don't believe he could have in spirit. Because when you love someone so fiercely and your very purpose is wrapped in something--someone--you must follow. You must see what is to come, what is next.

Even if all you can muster is to follow at a distance.

I don't know what would have been done to Peter had he followed more closely. Maybe they would have arrested Peter as well. I'm guessing that was his fear. I do know that he had followed close enough that Jesus could later turn and look at Peter.

That just chills me. I cannot imagine the despair I would feel in Peter's position at that moment of gaping open exposure. He could not hide, and he had spent every denial afforded him by Jesus's own prophetic words. There was nothing left but to stand in the nakedness of the truth--he had denied his Lord, his friend.

And it had begun with him following at a distance.

I wonder if Peter had somehow had the courage, the boldness to follow on the heels of Jesus instead of at a distance, if he somehow would have mustered the courage to stand with Jesus? I wonder if he had not allowed himself to be deterred by fear, if Peter would have turned other hearts toward Jesus in those hours rather than calling curses down on himself?

Of course we know that this happened to fulfill Jesus's words that Peter would indeed deny Jesus three times. But what about us?

What if we had the courage to follow on the heels of Jesus rather than at a distance? What if I allowed His teaching, His leading to be enough authority for me to follow closely and obey fully?

What if I wasn't afraid of what would happen to me if I followed my Savior a little more closely?

Like Peter, I know I must follow because Jesus is who He said He is. I must follow because He has seized my heart and I am drawn to Him. Because I know the truth and cannot deny it.

But how closely will I follow? That, I get to decide. And so do you. How intimately do we want to see Jesus's works, His miracles, His plans? My heart screams that I want to experience them right on His heels! But my fear warns me to shrink back, to allow some distance for safety...just in case. Scripture says that even if I do follow at a distance, His grace is sufficient for that. He will look on me with love even if I am tangled in my fear and can only stumble along behind. Because He understands us and He loves us in our afflictions.

But how will He look on me if I break the heavy shackles of fear that slow me down, if I shake them off and run to catch up to His side?

Jesus, may we follow you fiercely, may we drop the heavy blanket of fear that weighs us down and run with the freedom and weightlessness that will propel us forward closer to your side. So we can hear your words up close, even your sighs and your gentle whispers.

May we follow on His heels and not at a distance.
Peace of Christ to you,

Monday, November 2, 2015

If You Ask Me To


There's this Canaanite woman in the gospels and she is my favorite. Seriously, we could be BFF's.

Why? Because the woman just doesn't give up. I like that. Plus, she is catty. (I learned about being catty from my precious grandma, thank you very much!)

I imagine that she's spent her whole life living under the suffocating stigma that she is less than, a curse, and unworthy. But on this particular day, she is determined to change her legacy.

For starters, Jesus was trying to keep his presence a secret at the particular house into which he entered. Nice try. For some reason, people flock to brilliance; have you ever noticed that? I love how Mark puts it: "He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret" (Mark 7:24 NIV).

So Miss Canaanite (which essentially means Miss Cursed, mind you) decides she will bombard Jesus with her current emergency of a demon possessed daughter.

Okay, can we pause and appreciate the tenacity and desperation of this momma for a moment? I mean, Lord bless her, can you blame the woman? We've all had that moment where we'd do anything to make the crazy in our child stop, right? (Don't shake your head, you know you have. Remember that day in Target on the Disney Princess aisle? Yeah, that's what I thought.) Anyway...

I love how Jesus acts like He doesn't hear her. Isn't that cute? I think He could totally hear her; He just wanted to see how desperate and committed to this she really was. I also think Jesus appreciates wit, don't you? You remember those lists we used to make for our potential boyfriend or spouse? We'd write down all the things we hoped our future mate would have. I've had one of those stored in my head about God for years, and a sense of humor ranks among the top for me.

_____________________________________________

THE GOD I WORSHIP MUST HAVE'S...
1. Must be powerful
2. Must have sense of humor
3. Must be capable of calming my high-strung butt down

_____________________________________________

See what I mean? This Canaanite woman no doubt had a list like mine.

Because I'm no biblical scholar and I think I'd butcher this, here is a brilliant explanation of this exchange in terms of society's political and religious atmosphere at that time from Dr. Allen Ross in "An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew":

Jesus wanted the disciples and the woman to understand fully that His ministry in the brief time He had on earth was very focused. He was the Son of David, the Messiah. That fact did not admit this Canaanite woman to the benefits of the covenant made with the Jews. The kingdom had to be fully offered to them first, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom. (The passage is like John 4:22 where it was recognized that “salvation is from the Jews.”) So all the woman could do is ask for mercy, general mercy as a non-Israelite.

So basically, she was asking for something that didn't have her name tag on it.

And you know, I love how Jesus has the ability to make a new name tag right on the spot, don't you? He is the Son of God, which gives Him power and authority to do His Father's will...and we now understand that His Father's will is that all would hear and be saved--even the Canaanites or the pagans (Matthew 18:14; 2 Peter 3:9). I sorta think Jesus knew that at this moment; He was just prodding the Canaanite woman to press into Him and ask for it, to truly want what He could offer.

Anyway, when Jesus gives her an excuse of why He maybe can't help her, her cattiness comes out with claws. She essentially takes her political and societal labels and maneuvers them into a loophole where Jesus has to help her.

"'Yes, Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table'' (Matthew 15:27 NIV).

See what she just did there? She is saying that she knows full well what her place in society is (under the Jews that is), but she is desperate enough that she'll take home a doggy bag. She doesn't even expect to order from the menu; she'll settle for the true diners' left overs.

She knows that even a smidge of His grace will do the trick.

See why I like her so much? She isn't high maintenance. She just needs a little.

And so Jesus does just that. I imagine His smile and His white flag admission: "All right, all right. Good one," as He chuckles to Himself.

I have a feeling she was one of Jesus' favorites, too.

You know what this woman teaches me? She teaches me that it's okay to bombard Jesus! He can hear, and He is capable of taking on whatever burden I'm hauling around. He has the power to grant whatever it is that we need, no matter if it seems like something completely out of our reach or not! If what you need is out of reach and has someone else's name tag on it, Jesus can add yours and He can hand it to you.

But you must ask Him to. He wants you to ask Him to. He wants you to confess that He is actually powerful enough to rescue you, to save you, to heal you, to carry you through the dark hours of your life--whatever that hour looks like.

If you ask me to, I will.
Peace of Christ to you,