The End of All Things Is At Hand

February 14, 2011 at 1:40 am (Announcements, Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

At sweet sixteen, my Shadow and I decided to start a business, catering tea parties.  We’d grown up hosting them and it was high time to cash in our experience and make our etiquette pay for itself.  “Tea by Two” we called our party hosting, and drew out menus, business cards, flyers and wrote up advertisements.  We collected dishes and hats, tried out recipes and bought up ingredients.

You might think I’m going to say the venture flopped.

It didn’t.  It took off before we’d gotten in the cockpit!  Without even advertising, we landed several parties in less than a month, with requests to go out of town for more.  We turned over all our investments and pocketed a tidy little sum each.  It looked like we were gearing up for a roaring business.

Then something happened.

You might think I’m going to say that the venture crashed.

It didn’t.  But my Shadow came to me and said, “Um…I can’t keep up with this.  I hate to do this…but can I bail before this thing is flying too high?”

I was relieved.

We were sixteen.  Still trying to wrap up school and keep up with serving our families.  Neither of us had our own car.  Neither of us really wanted to dive into filing self-employment taxes.  We didn’t really want to travel very far for parties.  We were borrowing my family’s kitchen and freezer space.  We really only did it for the fun of having a little side deal.  And, we discovered, the pressure of performing made the tea parties not quite the same as the ones we’d hosted for friends.  After a few, it was okay to put that in our file of things that we could do in the future.

Folks seemed surprised when we relegated the project to “good memories”, deposited our earnings in the bank, gave away our dishes and hats and moved on.

But sometimes we have to lay aside even good things or things that are going well and refocus on priorities.

This blog has been a bit like my catering experience.

See, Lauren and I had become such good friends and, after she and Nathaniel got married, we talked so much about women’s issues and what we were learning—and how it was really the same, married or single—that we got excited.  First, we were going to write a book.  But book writing was a bit more intense than we were really shooting for.  That’s how we settled on a blog.

I don’t think either of us expected it to take off quite like it did.  We’re nobodies.  We don’t have famous dads or husbands.  We’re not really a part of many of the conservative movements.  We didn’t really even know there were other girls out there like us online.

Then came the dilemma.  Should we actually work this blog and try to go big?  After all, blogging is a platform to voice the things we think are true.  We were beginning to get advertisement requests, giveaway offers, reposting requests, awards, listings and even guest writing requests.  And of course, the inevitable mountains of spam as well as a few nay-sayers.  As we began to look around the web at other websites, we began to understand just how seriously blogging could be taken.

Slowly we began to be a little disturbed by how many girls there were online—and how much time was spent online—and how much girls were being influenced by online teachers whom they had never even met.  Including us.

We’d always agreed to keep the blog low priority.  I suppose some can call it ministry, but our primary ministry will always be to our families and to the folks God has placed in our sphere of natural contact.

As time has passed, Lauren now has, not only a big man to take care of, but also a little man to train and teach in the ways of the Lord.  She’s developing relationships with a great church body and trying to outreach to neighbors.  She’s been fine-tuning budgeting and homemaking skills and learning to balance time.  The internet can sure knock a hole in good time management!  And now she’s discovered a new blessing and responsibility, due in September.

So when she told me she needed to stop blogging, it was a relief.  For me, handling the webmastering had been complicated, since I’ve never actually had reliable internet.  Aside from difficult, it also made me feel guilty.  It seemed like, if we were going to blog, and people were going to read it, it needed to be done well.  Plus, we both appreciate presentation.  You know, new content, nice layout, domain name.  The works.  And I didn’t have time or accessibility for “the works.”  For both Lauren and I, we discovered that blogging began to suck the life out of our private relationship with the Lord.  If we discovered something in scripture or were convicted about an area we needed to grow in or if something rankled us or if we learned a powerful lesson or walked through a hard time, we felt compelled to share.  Like we were withholding something valuable from ladies who depended on us.  It became difficult just to worship humbly before the Lord, because others were watching.  And we became increasingly aware that, well, neither of us really need to be putting ourselves forth as teachers right now.

We’re both young women.  With lots of life to live and people to serve.  And things to learn.  And it’s lovely to share what God is doing and teaching us, but our priorities still have to be our families and those whom God has placed in our natural sphere of contact:  those who know us and see our lives, who can encourage us and grow with us and teach us and hold us accountable to practice what we preach.

And we encourage you to make those your priorities as well.

Yes, we’re bailing before this thing is flying too high.

From Lauren:

First I’d like to apologize that this post didn’t make it up a couple of months ago.  And I would cite this as just one of the many reasons I am glad to be saying good bye to blogging.  I have a lot to learn about time management (among other things)!  And, in truth, it was about six months ago that I first talked to my husband and then Abigail about quitting.  What prompted me?  Well, I read Jasmine’s good-bye post on her blog where she described the upcoming release of her new book and her excitement over all the things she would be free from and free to do once she stopped blogging.  Strangely, I found myself feeling jealous—no, not of her having a book published (that had me quite excited!), but of the freedom she expressed.  I took a walk and wrestled with what I was feeling and took it to the Lord in prayer.  It seemed quite clear that blogging was getting in the way of the things that I really needed to focus on.  And with Nathaniel and Abigail in support of the decision, I pulled away.  And what a time of refreshing it has been!  Since I am less focused on an audience, my God has made very, very clear what He wants to accomplish in my heart—and let me tell you, there’s a lot of work to be done!  His word is indeed a mirror that shows us what we really are, and His good Spirit highlights the messes He wants to deal with, accomplishing His good purpose!

And, of course, as Abigail mentioned, finding out Nathaniel and I are having another little blessing, and being currently swamped with morning sickness, taxes, and a host of other things…I have no regrets.  J  Well, except for all the unfinished series and anticipated articles that never were written…but I trust you all will forgive me and rejoice in what the Lord is doing with us now.  Maybe we will write a book one day.  😉  Blessings to you ladies who have joined us on this journey.  Your thoughts and encouragement have been much appreciated!

From Abigail:

Friends often accused me of being content.  But I declare myself innocent of the accusation!  The facts are, I rarely wept the deadly tears of the unmarried simply because I had other dreams that plagued me more than marriage.  Dreams that seemed undefined, but still powerful, hopelessly far from fulfillment and even, at times, irreconcilable with my convictions.  Sometimes I fought with myself over whether or not they were even godly.  I wrestled these dreams into a slumbering state of contentment over and over and over again.  This summer they came to life with more ferocity than ever.  In frustration, I cried out to the Lord, “You gave me these passions.  Now what am I supposed to do with them?”  Many of you have made the same demand.  Some of you face the paradox of the “godly desire” that is still unfulfilled.  For many, it is marriage.  For some it is missions.  For others it is motherhood.  For some it is just more.  Disatisfaction is a necessary part of growth.  But of this I am certain—that desires are not godly or ungodly in themselves.  Because we can worship “godly desires” by desiring them more than God.  And anything that takes precedence over God is certainly ungodly.  Godly desires are desires that are made to bow, yielded, to pay homage to God, to His Word and to His timing.  And when they are prostrate before the King, they may be pursued, time and truth permitting, as a pursuit of Yahweh Himself.  Since deciding to “exit” the blogging world, I’ve been trying to focus my pursuits.  The pathway has been very up and down!  And I begin to see how truly God is a God of creativity and ingenuity and that He abundantly bestows both as we make our way through a transient life.  I’m thankful for the ways that He’s been shaping my character, strengthening my backbone and stretching me—whether it’s finally studying medical stuff or navigating the real-estate market or negotiating services and compensation or—as of the past week—nannying a handful of children.

Once upon a time, before there was Pearls and Diamonds, I kept a personal blog.  Perhaps you will find me there.

We hope you will live your moments in light of God’s redemptive sacrifice of His Son, the Holy Spirit’s powerful filling and the eminent return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  To Him be the glory both now and forever, amen!

Blessings,

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It Will Be Well

August 31, 2010 at 1:21 pm (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Trust, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

I’m losing a baby.

My client left the dimly lit counseling room where we’d been talking for the past couple of weeks, still intent on abortion.  There was nothing I could do to change the outcome.  The hardest part was this:  I’d known from the beginning that I was fighting a losing battle.  As soon as I heard the facts stacked up against her I knew that abortion would sound like the overwhelmingly best option.

But even as she walked out, and I ran upstairs to the bathroom and cried, the tears were just a cleansing.  Because God is not dead.  This path I had walked was rugged and hard, discouraging and wearying.  The whole way I was trembling, aware of just how fragile and how stumbling I was.  But I had seen God’s hand.  God’s work.  God’s power.  God’s provision.

Lately, I’ve been walking a lot of these paths.  As I round a bend in my life and I see the valleys stretched out below, I cringe.  I can see the path and I don’t want to walk it.  I’ve walked it before and I know what the end looks like—heartache, failure, confusion, tears.  I hate feeling fragile, wrestling for wisdom and pleading for clarity.  I hate making decisions that seem right, when my heart is torn.  And the lies!  The lies that assault me at the end of these valleys—that the outcome is my fault, that I destroyed what might have been good, that I didn’t do enough, that I was unworthy, that I spoke faulty words, that I have rendered a terrible testimony of the Lord—beat against me like fiery darts.  When I see those valleys loom in the distance, I start looking for short-cuts to avoid that path.

I am a wimp.

Because God is not dead.  The pathway is not about a destination.  There is only one destination of which I am assured—eternity with my Bridegroom.  And this is assured because of the pathway that He walked to purchase my spirit from bondage.  The end of that pathway was death.

Or was it?

Let me tell you a story of humanity.  There came a day when the prophet Elisha passed over to the Gentile city of Shunem.  There he was shown hospitality by a prominent woman.  As time passed, she and her husband built for him a room on the roof of their house.  In his gratitude, Elisha sought for a way to repay her kindness.  Regardless of her wealth, her good marriage, her comfortable circumstances, she lacked one thing: a child.  So Elisha told the Shunamite woman that she would embrace a son.

Her reply?  “Oh no, man of God!  Do not deceive me!”

I can only imagine that this woman’s heart held wounds from years of lack.  Perhaps years of loss.  And as she looked down a path that frightened her, she was afraid of the end.  Because a pathway that might end with joy, also might end with sorrow.

Soon she conceived and gave birth.  And almost as soon, her son suddenly died.

Quietly she laid him on Elisha’s bed and told her husband that she was going to run down to the man of God.  “Why?” her husband asked.  Her only answer:  “Shalom.”  Peace.  It will be well.*

When she came near Elisha, his servant came out to meet her and inquire about her family.  Her only answer, “Shalom.”  Peace.  It will be well.

Then she came to Elisha and flung herself at his feet and her words rushed out in a confused, hurt torrent.  “Did I ask a son from you?  Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’”

In this moment, it seemed that the pathway had ended in death.  Heartache, failure, confusion, tears.  And she had seen it coming.  She had been afraid.  She hadn’t volunteered to walk this pathway.  Hadn’t she said “Don’t deceive me?”

But along the way she had groped for God’s purpose.  She had gone straight to the source.  To others who asked, she said, simply, “Shalom.”  Peace.  It will be well.  Her grief found expression in trust.

God was not dead.  In a dramatic display of power, which proved that it was not Elisha’s staff, nor even Elisha who held life and death, God raised her son.  About eight-hundred years later, He raised His own son.

The destination of these paths was neither death…nor resurrection.  Those were things that happened along the way—for God’s glory.  The destination was trust.

The pathway Jesus walked opened a way to God—through trust.  His example was trust in the Father as He entrusted His soul to a faithful Creator in doing what was right.  And He gave us something in which to trust—a tangible proof that God is with us.

The results of a pathway are in the hands of a Sovereign God.  But we can look at the pathway Christ walked and the power of God in His resurrection and have hope.  We confidently expect that God will bring us through life…and death…and resurrect us to an eternity with Him.  And if this is our eternal destination, why should we fear any path that lies before us?  If God is for us, who can stand against us? Immanuel means “God is with us.”

When my client walked into the clinic asking about abortion, it was an opportunity.  That hard path I dreaded was an opportunity to do what was right—and trust God to do what is right.  And it was not a path I walked alone.  Not a battle lost, the victory just looked different than I assumed.  And the victory belonged to God.  I’m not losing a baby.  The baby isn’t mine.  What God has done never ends at death.  His work goes on.

As I’ve come down what seems to be the end of several hard and painful paths—torn between hope and hopelessness—I’ve wanted to curl up, cover my head and hold as still as possible.  Maybe it won’t hurt.  Maybe I won’t have to see paths like these again.

But I know I will.  My life may be long ahead of me.  Or it may be short.  But the valleys will always loom ahead until I pass through the last valley.  And trust means that I don’t have to fear the valleys, because the Lord is there as well.  I must view them as an opportunity to do what is right—and trust God to do what is right.

He always does.

It will be well.

*The story of Elisha and the Shunamite woman is taken from 2 Kings 4.  According to Keil & Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament, pg 220), the word “Shalom” that the Shunamite woman used means, literally, “Peace.”  It could be used as a simple greeting, but in her case probably denoted more of the concept of “It will be well” or “everthing is fine”—with a goal of politely avoiding questioning.

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What You Seek

August 24, 2010 at 7:26 pm (Attitudes, Poetry, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I seek a remedy for pain

You only seek my greater gain
I look for breast to rest my face
You give me suffering’s embrace
What is my pain compared to Yours?
My splinters measured by Your thorns?

I seek to walk in comfort’s ways
You seek to teach my lips true praise
I cry because of aching bones
You wish I’d worship at Your throne
What are my tears to darkened stars?
My stitches measured by your scars?

I seek to shun my misery
You seek to teach me harmony
As You Yourself once learned to kneel
So You would have me, e’er You heal
What is my suffering to Your shame?
My aching measured by Your pain?

You do not seek that I would bear
A cross You will not also share
Nor do You seek to cruelly break
What You do not seek to remake
And any pain that leaves me torn
Is lesser then the weight You’ve borne.

This house of clay is not my home
But You teach patience through my bones
I face the fire You’d lead me through
And see the road emblazed by You.
Your suffering puts my pain to naught
This is the lesson You have taught
This is the outcome You have sought.

by Abigail Copyright 2005

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My Prayers of Dust

June 24, 2010 at 10:45 am (Godly Living, Poetry, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I plead a cause I think is just

With eloquence that man applauds

My guilded prayers melt into dust

Before the mercy seat of God

Is He who formed the mouth impressed

With many words and colored speech?

My empty prayers He sees undressed

And into dust He turns them each

But when I bow my knees and sob

That is a sound His spirit knows

Its measured beat meets with my throb

And cries to heaven overflow

And every word is deeper far

Than all the wells of earthly voice

No sounds of mine could ever mar

The pleadings of that Spirit’s choice

And when my God my prayer receives

It is not empty words He holds

His spirit intercedes for me

And turns my prayers of dust to gold.

Copyright 2004 by Abigail

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Part Six: Love and Today

March 8, 2010 at 1:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

I can look back on the past 20 years of my life with entire confidence that, when it comes to love, I’ve been an overwhelming failure.  Praise the Lord, His love never fails, and it stretches to mercifully cover my short-comings.

God’s commands for purity are not for yesterday.  Certainly there are consequences to our poor choices and we should do our best to rectify our mistakes, but the past is a part of something the Lord has bought back and promised to redeem for our good.  He is in the business of using even bad things for His glory and our good.  That is the power of God’s redeeming agape love.

Today we are commanded to seek to love purely—the Lord first and our neighbor as our self.  It’s not something that just happens–it’s a battle.  The command to “keep” our heart bears connotations of surviving a siege.  As long as we are fighting, we can overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.  A purity battle fought is not a purity battle lost.  We lose the battles when we stop seeking the Lord, when we give up, when we sit down and give in to temptation or greed or discontentment—in any form or appearance.

I don’t intend to impose law, but to lift up the Lord.  “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)  My challenge to you is the same I extend to myself:  Pursue the Lord!  Flee youthful lusts, but pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with those that call on God from a pure heart.  This is worship.

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Part Five: Love and Matchmaking

March 7, 2010 at 1:34 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Nathaniel and Lauren each arrived at college quite certain that they would not meet their future spouse there.  Two weeks into the semester they had met and both were beginning to have second thoughts.  Long before the first semester of her freshman year was over, Lauren had measured Nathaniel by her list of character qualities and found him to be exactly what she’d hoped for.

Thus began an epic four-year purity battle.

And when she should have had friends rallying behind her, helping her “keep” her heart and focus on the Lord and serving others, many were traitors, firing cupid’s love-darts behind her back, making suggestions, asking questions, “helping” her to snatch the pen from the Lord’s hand and write her own love-story.

Sometimes I wanted to grab shirt collars, knock heads together and shout the rebuke that these well-meaning friends needed to hear.  Perhaps I’m a little over-dramatic, but few heard Lauren’s heart weeping and bleeding as she struggled to gain control over her desires.  Few saw her weariness and tears the way I did as she struggled to tie each dream to the altar and burn it in worship to Almighty God.  Few knelt beside her on the battlefield, as she bowed her head, too tired to get up and keep fighting for focus.  It seems like a pretty story, reading of her four-year struggle and final triumph in giving up at the marriage altar, but the struggle wasn’t pretty.

In fact, as I watched, I made a solemn promise to myself.  “That is never going to happen to me!”

Ladies, never make a promise concerning something that is entirely out of your control.  You will assuredly break it.

I thought that if I was careful enough, guarded enough, chaste enough, no one would ever have anything to question, tease, prod or poke me about.  Apparently there is no such thing as enough.  I gave it my level best, but found myself harried at every step.  Everything from questions, teasing and “help” regarding particular guys, to unsought “sympathy” and “encouraging” prophecies of coming marital bliss were flung at me under a cover of smiles and nods.  Much of the time I felt entirely bewildered.  What in the world was I doing to make people say such nonsense?

The greatest part of the difficulty lay in treating my brothers with love—while being questioned or teased about them.  The self-protection in me wanted to push them all away as harshly as possible and save the remaining scraps of my focus.  Ah, but to do so would not be loving.

What was awkward has proved for my good in forcing me to search out godly responses (at which I don’t always succeed).  Perhaps you’ll appreciate the results of my dilemma.  *

Love your enemies

The fact is, sometimes when you’re fighting a purity battle, those well-meaning matchmakers feel like enemy forces.  “Friendly fire” they call it when your team is shooting you up, but the bullets whistling around your head hardly feel friendly.  Friend or foe, God’s call is for you to love them.  (Luke 6:27)  The fact is, most people who seem intimately interested in your romantic status probably are interested because they appreciate you.  They want to see you happy (which they’ve decided means married—or at least hopelessly in love).  And sometimes, they honestly just don’t know what else to talk about.  A gracious woman attains honor.  (Proverbs 11:16)  Learn to think and answer graciously because, I promise, the situations never end.

Accept what is said as intended in love.

1 Corinthians 13 says that love believes all things.  Commentaries suggest this means “believes the best.”  Giving folks the benefit of the doubt will hardly harm them, and will actually protect your heart from frustration and bitterness.

They say:  “I don’t know what all the guys are thinking.  If I had a son, I’d be sending him to talk to your dad.”

I think:  “Since you don’t, how pointless is that to suggest?  Besides, I’m glad you don’t have a son.  I wouldn’t marry any son of yours anyway.”

A proper response:  Recognize that this person just expressed confidence in me as a person of character as well as someone they would appreciate joining their family.  That is the Lord’s grace on my life and I should be encouraged that His hand is evident in me.  Probably no verbal response is necessary and no mental reflection should be enacted.

Turn sympathy into a chance to praise the Lord.

Paul told the Thessalonians “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all things.  This is God’s will for you.”  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)  As women who want to do God’s will and bring Him glory, we should take every opportunity to proclaim the Lord’s goodness.

They say:  “You’re not married yet?  Well, you’re so (insert flattering comment) I’m sure there’s an amazing man just around the corner for you.”

I think:  “People have been telling me that for years.  How do you know what’s just around the corner for me?  It could be ten more years of singleness.  Besides, what does (insert flattering comment) have to do with deserving an amazing man?”

A proper response:  Accept that this person is meaning to be kind, then declare the Lord’s goodness.  “The Lord has been really blessing me with opportunities to serve Him as a single woman.  I know He’ll do what is right and good.  He has always been good to me.”

Refocus the conversation on the Lord.

Paul wrote to the believers to be filled with the Holy Spirit, making the most of the time, teaching and admonishing one another with Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.  (Ephesians 5:15-21)  Sometimes a conversation simply needs to be nudged back in the right direction.

They say:  “So, is there a special man in your life?”

I think:  “Define special.  When there’s someone special enough to be considered special, I’ll let you know.  You’re not special enough to be privy to special information.”

A proper response:  Accept that this person is interested in my life and doesn’t want to miss anything exciting that’s happening.  *without the eye roll, Abigail*  “You know, I’ve really been learning a lot lately about what the Lord wants from me as a godly woman…”

As you trail on about the encouraging things you’ve been learning and how you’ve been learning to love the Lord and keep your eyes on Him, your interrogator may do one of two things:  be encouraged and uplifted or sink down in a chair with their chin sagging on the floor—never to ask you questions like that again (we hope).

Answer a fool according to his folly.

Proverbs says to “answer a fool according to his folly.”  (Proverbs 26:5)  Some questions aren’t anyone’s business.  Some don’t deserve the dignity of an answer.  Some don’t have an answer.  Just because it was asked, doesn’t mean it requires your reply.  Indiscretion on another’s part doesn’t require indiscretion on your part.  Impertinence needn’t be satisfied.  I recommend the shrug as a very effective tool for expressing “that’s none of your business, but you don’t know any better, I suppose.”

They say:  “You know what?  Something’s missing from your house today.  Where are all your suitors?”

A proper response:  *shrug*

Some suggestions don’t even deserve a serious response.  You can pass them off and move on to other topics.

They say:  “You don’t have a boyfriend?  I have a very handsome grandson you should meet.”

A proper response:  “I’m sure you’re proud of your grandson.  How long have you lived in AR?”

Some can simply be made light of to relieve embarrassment.

They say:  “So, Abigail, when are you getting married?”

A proper response:  “Oh, I’m thinking next May.  Of course there are some minor details to work out before then.”

Sometimes you should pass the buck.

They say:  “So, how many of these young men are head-over-heals in love with you?”

A proper response:  “Maybe you should survey them and find out.”

Like water off a duck’s back

After you’ve answered, you should refocus on the Lord and forget about it.  My biggest weakness is a festering frustration due to the “helpful” people in my life.  I over-evaluate everything, assuming their nosiness is caused by something I’m doing wrong.  Do I look like I’m pining away for a husband?  Am I acting like I’m “in love” with so-and-so?  Do they really just think I’m like that—from one guy to the next?  It doesn’t matter.  Be pure before the Lord.  That’s well-pleasing to Him.

Are you the enemy?

From the other side, if you’re the nosey matchmaker, I’d like to challenge you with a few thoughts.  You may think you are expressing love, encouragement or care for a person.  Beware lest you are actually adding to a load of frustration.  You may be aiding and abetting the enemy.  Anything that you do which encourages another person to become distracted from whole-hearted devotion to the Lord and from selfless and unselfconscious love for their neighbor is actually fighting against their best interests and the Lord’s glory.

What is she supposed to do about it?

What are your motives in the questions you’re asking or the suggestions you’re making?  Remember that if you’re speaking to a young lady, there’s not a lot she can do when it comes to taking initiative.  Nor should she be particularly encouraging attention from a young man who has not been approved by her parents.  You may be usurping her parents when you appear to offer your blessing to something they have not blessed.

On the flip-side, if you think she may be too forward or is encouraging attention, you may have reason for questioning.  Encouraging attention without intent or without parental blessing is false advertising.  If your questions are intended as a gentle rebuke, you should be clear in explaining your perceptions and concerns—please don’t leave her to her own deductions.  If you aren’t clearly encouraging her to keep her heart pure you may appear to condone a “defrauding” situation.

What are you encouraging?

Scripture tells us to encourage one another and build each other up and to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.  (Hebrews 10:24)  If you’re encouraging distraction from the Lord, you’re actually tearing down the very things you should be building up.  If you’re encouraging young ladies to be discontented, you are like Aaron, who knew better even as he built a golden calf from the Israelites’ most prized possessions.  (Exodus 32)  Love is encouraging each other to worship the Lord.

Are you usurping?

If you know something she doesn’t, you may be usurping another’s place to tell her.  Perhaps her parents want to talk to her about a situation and know her heart.  Perhaps a young man is pursuing, but she doesn’t know—to protect her in undistracted devotion to the Lord.  If your desire is to “be the first one to know,” check your attitude for selfish motives.  Be very careful that you do not reveal secrets.  The would-be bride in Song of Solomon warns the town maidens not to question her about her admirer.  “Do not arouse or awaken love before its time!”  (Song 2:7)

Are you gossiping?

Scripture warns against being busybodies and gossips.  When you’re playing the “matchmaking” game, are you being a gossip?  Why is the information you’re asking important to you?  What do you hope to accomplish by it?  Are you going to tell others?  Why would you tell others?  How will it build you up and encourage you to focus on the Lord?  How will it encourage a young lady to focus?  Does it build up the body of Christ?

Love extends through every relationship at every time.  Whoever you are, whatever your situation in life, you should be practicing love—sacrificial love.  Your words and actions should be guarded by love—love for the Lord and love for your neighbor.  Jesus says if you cause one of His little ones to stumble, it’s a grave offense!  Purity isn’t a check-list of dos and don’ts—it even includes what we encourage in others!  We’re to be examples in purity and love.  We’re to think on things that are pure.  We’re to love from pure hearts.  Keep the Lord first.  Love your neighbor.  That guards purity.  That is worship.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*  The examples I shared are all  things that have been frequently said to me.  I’m not advocating the thoughts I expressed as being either pure or loving, I’m just being honest.  I still need to work on accepting what is meant in kindness.  If these don’t represent your responses, you may appreciate hearing how someone else thinks—especially if these are the kinds of things you have said to others.  If these examples are expressive of things you’ve said or done, I’m not trying to pick on you—just trying to give you another perspective on what you may be (unintentionally) accomplishing and challenge you to consider your motives—are they pure?  Are they bringing the focus and glory to God?

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Part Four: Love and Marriage

March 6, 2010 at 1:33 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Once upon a time I found myself in the middle of a conversation with a young woman.  The topic?  Romantic relationships.  She was aghast when she discovered that I “don’t date.”  “But—but—but,” she spluttered.  “How will you ever get married if you don’t date?”  “Hmmm,” I stroked my chin, enjoying her perplexity.  “I’ll have to think about that one.  How many guys have you dated?”  She thought for a few minutes before answering something close to a dozen.  “And you’re still not married?” I opened my eyes wide, pretending shock and horror before smiling.  “Well, if a dozen attempts haven’t found you hitched, it doesn’t really seem to me that dating is making marriage happen for you.”

Created to be his help-meet?

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians he commanded them to go about “romance” in a set-apart way—not in lustful passion like those who don’t know God, and to be careful of defrauding.  In so-called “conservative” circles, we recognized the devaluation and pollution of marriage and the entirely impure routes many take to get there.  Often we denounce dating as “lustful passion” and “defrauding.”  We also see the rejection of God’s wisdom in creating men and women with unique roles.  And soon we are creating models and stereotypes of how a romance must progress and preaching slogans like “I’m saving my heart for my husband” and “Biblical courtship” and talking about being maidens in waiting. *  We proclaim the importance of marriage and the beauty of being wives and mothers, but sometimes I think we get caught up in the means and forget the end.  I think we’re confusing ourselves when we insist that we were created for marriage and child-bearing.  Before you stone me and throw me out of the synagogue, hear me out.  I counsel crisis clients at a pregnancy center, and every time I go over the information about conception, baby development and birth, I’m overwhelmed by God’s genius in creating women with the unique ability to sustain another human life.  You’ll never catch me devaluing that as a woman’s “saving” service. **  And yet, there’s a bigger picture.  You weren’t born married.  You could have been, but you weren’t.

Let me explain.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  And He created a man to care for the earth.  But the man needed a helper.  So God created a woman and brought her to the man.  Eve might as well have been born married.  Adam had to have a wife to help him fulfill God’s command to multiply and fill the earth.  Eve was created to be his helper.  No questions asked.  That was the role God gave her when he brought her to the man.

But there was a bigger purpose.  Turn to the end of the Book—the Revelation given to John—for the unveiling of why God created the world, why He created man and woman.  “You created all things,” the saints proclaim the worthiness of the Lamb “and for Your pleasure they existed and were created.”  (Revelation 4:11)

Role vs. Purpose

The revelation is that you and I were created for God’s pleasure.  For His glory.  To do His will.  And we weren’t created married, which means that His pleasure, His will and His glory are more far-reaching than simply being married.

See, when an actress performs in a play, her purpose can’t be simply to play her role.  Her role will fall flat and empty if she focuses only on her character.  Why?  Because she’s missing the bigger picture.  The purpose of a play is to tell a story.  In order to tell the story, a play incorporates individual characters.  So the actress must make her purpose to tell the story, to express the story by playing her role.  She must make her role serve the story.  She is a part of a whole.

My concern is that, all too often, we miss the bigger picture.  By holding up marriage and motherhood as our purpose, we are actually stealing from the story.  What I see seeping through the cracks in the marriage goal are a few subtle lies:  that marriage will fulfill my needs; that I serve God through marriage, so, in the meantime, I am being prevented from really serving God as I was created to do; that single years are wasted years; that if I am not married, I must not be godly/mature enough; that my reward (of marriage) is based upon my performance (contentedness/purity/domestic skills/etc); that unmarried people are incomplete—just waiting on a spouse so they can truly be useful; that I would be more useful to God if I were married (I know better than He does). As we swallow these lies like our daily vitamins, we come to be self-obsessed.  Instead of looking at the bigger picture, the story that God wants to tell of His power, His love and His glory, we’re focused on our role.  Instead of making our role serve the story, we just want God to hurry up and write our lines.  When will it be my turn to come on stage?  How does my costume look?  Is this the guy for me?  I’m content now…Lord, where is my husband?  Soon we are pursuing our role instead of our purpose.  We’re obsessed with being wives and mothers, when we should be obsessed with God’s glory.

Ladies, even a pagan can be a wife and mother.

Am I against marriage?

Absolutely not!  Godly marriages glorify God.  But discontentment does not.

Our purpose is to glorify God.  We do this by seeking to understand our role—learning to be obedient women.  Being submissive wives and loving mothers is not the end.  It’s the means to the end—glorifying God.  And it only brings God glory if it springs from submission to God and love for His people.

What does God want from women?

For several years now, I’ve been searching the scriptures to see what God commands me to do.  I found an interesting omission.  God never commands me to marry.  He doesn’t command me to save my heart for my husband.  He doesn’t command me to court.

He commands me to love Him with my entire heart.  He commands me to love my neighbor as myself.  He commands me to view my body as His temple and abstain from sexual immorality.  He lays out the blessings and responsibilities of marriage.  In fact, He holds forth marriage as a picture of Christ and the church—that’s a pretty glorious role to play—picturing here on earth a spiritual truth as large as God’s eternal plan of divine love and redemption.  He also lays out the blessings and responsibilities of singleness.  Those whose roles find them unmarried or who have chosen to audition for unmarried roles are to be single-minded.  And Paul insists that singleness presents more freedom for service to God.  Neither is to covet the role of another.  “If you have a wife, do not seek to be free.  If you are not married, do not seek a wife.”  (1 Corinthians 7:27)  He lays out guidelines for relationships—single and married and in-between.

We are not commanded to have a mindset of marriage.  We are commanded to have a mindset of love.

Godly women are to love

Love, Biblically speaking begins with Christ’s love for us which enables us to have agape (sacrificial) love for all men, which progresses to phileo (affection) toward Christian brothers and sisters and finally (if God so wills) to romantic love—the deepest human fellowship, reserved in the Lord for one person.  When we divorce romance from agape, we have what Paul calls “lustful passion.”  Which is impurity.  For each of us, it must be agape that inspires phileo and controls romance—within the pure bounds of marriage.

The commands to believers over and over and over again are to love.  We are to love Yahweh with all our heart.  We are to love our neighbor as our self.  Your neighbor always begins with the one closest to you.  Married women are to love their neighbors, as well—their husbands and their children.  (Titus 2:4)  We are to look out for the interests of others, being devoted to one another in brotherly love, giving preference to one another in honor.  Our mindset shouldn’t be marriage, but love.

Love Yahweh with all your heart.  Love your neighbor as yourself.

This is obedient womanhood.  This is worship.

It is also the foundation for a marriage that mirrors Christ and the Church.

One day it may be these two loves that lead you into a godly marriage.  What is marriage if not complete and sacrificial giving of oneself—love?  When you understand your purpose is God’s glory, then you can joyfully accept a role of singleness or marriage—for however long the Lord prolongs it.  You can understand that God must always claim first place in your affections and that you must always love others as you love yourself.  Married or single.  This is obedient womanhood.  This is worship.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*  I’m not trying to attack the goals or purposes of phrases like this, but none of these terms is actually found in scripture.  I’d encourage us to be careful to lift the actual scriptural principles higher than our extra-Biblical models and phrases and to be sure our models and phrases are supporting and fitting into the grid-work of scriptural principles.  I’ve seen each of these terms pasted on rather varying explanations.  Those who advocate these ideals certainly can be/often are upholding Biblical goals, but its not subscribing to a “courtship approach” or claiming to be a “maiden in waiting” or to “saving my heart for my husband” that makes us pure.

**  I use the term “saving” role in reference to 1 Timothy 2:15, which speaks of the woman being “saved” or “preserved” through bearing children.  It is not her eternal salvation in view here—as though salvation were by works, especially a work over which she actually has little control—but the salvation of her importance in human society.  Modern women think they must compete with men to establish their importance, but men cannot compete with women in the thing God considers their most important task.  What will become of the human race if women cease to raise children?

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Part Three: Love and My Brother

March 5, 2010 at 1:18 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

I grew up guarded.  By my late teens, I’d apparently developed a reputation for distance.  One spring, I arrived at Lauren’s dorm room for a week-long visit, to be greeted by an enormous mirror scrawled with survival tips—from a couple of my brother’s friends.  “Be more friendly to guys,” came one sage command.  But my careful aloofness was shattered shortly after moving to Arkansas.  Our home was suddenly full of young men, eager to be part of a family, unwilling to permit me to live a hermit’s existence.  And what was I to do?  When a boy lives in your house overnight…or for a week…or a month…all pretense of distance and limits on interaction die a slow and painful death.  He becomes your brother.  Except that he’s not.

I found myself up late at night, with my brother and a few “extras,” working through life issues, studying the scriptures, playing games, singing praises, praying and offering advice.  Then suddenly one day I made a horrible discovery.

All these guys that were hanging around?  I loved them.  Not just an “oh I would serve them because Jesus says to” love, but a genuine, sisterly affection.  I wanted their good.  I missed them when they were out of town.  I hurt when they hurt.  I cared what was happening in their lives.  I appreciated hearing their thoughts.  I wanted to encourage them and see them cheerfully serving the Lord.

Oh no.

As I wrestled with guilt, feeling that I’d somehow lost my “kept” heart, I began to search the scriptures to see what the Lord had to say to me.  And I found three basic principles to guide and guard my actions.

Love your neighbor

“What is the greatest commandment?” a lawyer asked Jesus, and the Lord’s response was two-fold.  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.”  He dealt with the heart of worship.  Love God.  But then He added, “And the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.”  He explained that on these two commands hang the entire Law and Prophets.  (Matthew 22:35-40)  “By this will all men know that you are mine,” Jesus taught His disciples, “If you have love for one another.  A new commandment I give you—love one another as I have loved you.”  (John 13:34-35)

God is calling us to love our fellow believers.  *  In fact, it’s the natural result of fellowship—brotherly affection.  We begin with sacrificial love—as Christ has loved us, we lay down our lives for the brethren, and the return is an emotional response.  (1 John 3:16)  Paul writes in many of his letters that he has a fond affection for the believers.  Never does he discriminate between the men and the women.  In Christ, they are unified in spirit.  In Christ, they are his beloved brothers and sisters.

Don’t be a cheater

To the specific topic of purity, Paul speaks a severe warning.  “Do not go farther and defraud your brother in the matter, for God is the avenger.”  Simply stated, Paul warns us not to take what doesn’t belong to us in a relationship.  This, too is guided by love.  First, love for the Lord, then love for your brother.  What rightly belongs to another person?  To God belongs your heart.  To your Christian brothers and sisters belongs sacrificial love (as worship to God) and brotherly affection.  Only to a spouse belongs ahab— romantic love.  This is what must be carefully guarded—by sacrificial love—as worship to God.

Be a sister

“Treat the younger women as sisters, in all purity,” Paul told his disciple, Timothy.  (1 Timothy 5:2)  Sisters, in all purity.  “What does this look like?” I’ve had girls ask me.  “I’m really close with my brothers—it just doesn’t seem like it would be pure for me to treat other guys the way I treat them.”  Growing up with two close brothers myself, I wrestled this question until I was exhausted.  And then, one day, I understood.

Purity is a heart attitude.  What is your heart attitude toward your brothers?  Are you trying to impress them by your beauty, your talents or even your godliness?  Are you constantly placing them in the balance with your husband checklist?  Do you watch them constantly for some little sign of interest?  Hardly.  You love your brothers and you want what’s best for them.  What is best for them?  To serve the Lord whole-heartedly.  To seek Him first.  To grow and mature.

“Let love of the brethren continue,” the writer of Hebrews encourages.  Brotherly love is pure.  It flows from a heart that is “kept” by God and it encourages our brothers to worship with us.  Here’s a snapshot of what brotherly love looks like.

Brotherly love is pure because it is honest

“Love without hypocrisy,” Paul wrote in Romans chapter twelve and then he spelled out a particular description of “true love.”  Abhor evil, cling to good, be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor, diligent, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope, persevering, devoted to prayer, contributing to the saints needs, practicing hospitality, don’t be haughty but associate with the lowly.  We’re not talking about blurting out “I love you.”  We’re talking about sacrifice without any pretending.  “Little children, let’s not just love in word,” John wrote in his affectionate letter.  “But in action and in truth.”  (1 John 3:18)  There is no pretense in brotherly love.  Honest love meets purity when your goal is not to capture a heart, but simply to serve the Lord and His saints.

Brotherly love is pure because it is not self-seeking

What is your goal?  1 Corinthians 13 proclaims that love does not seek its own.  It’s not looking to promote itself or its own agenda.  That certainly tosses actions like flirtation and innuendo right into the “hypocrisy” basket.  “Do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others.”  (Philippians 2:4)  What would edify my brother?  What would encourage my brother?  What would bring my brother’s focus to the Lord?  Sacrificial love meets purity when your goals are to promote the interests of the Lord and His saints.

Brotherly love is pure because it does not show favoritism

James delivered a stout rebuke to those who picked favorites.  “Do not treat your faith in our Lord with an attitude of personal favoritism.”  (James 2:1) We’re commanded to love the brethren—that’s all of them.  Honest love leads us to associate with the lowly.  (Romans 12:16)  When you serve, you must serve all indiscriminately—the young man you might marry some day and the old woman that you wish would wear matching socks.  You are not to give or withhold love or service on the basis of age, ethnicity, background, beauty or gender.  Christ certainly did not.  All must be treated as Christ, that all may know you are His.  Indiscriminate love meets purity when you treat every person in Christ’s body as Christ Himself.

Brotherly love is pure because it expects no return

“When you give a feast,” came Jesus’ directions on hospitality, “Invite the poor…who can’t pay you back.”  (Luke 14:7-15)  Remember that “freely you received, so freely you must give.”  (Matthew 10:8)  God poured out His love and grace on you, showering you with a mercy you can never possibly return.  He commands you to “give preference to one another in honor.”  (Romans 12:10)  “He who gives to the poor is lending to the Lord…and the Lord will repay Him.”  (Proverbs 19:17)  God has blessed you richly.  To freely pour out the same love you have freely received is worship.  Prodigal love meets purity when you are loving without thought of the love being returned.

Brotherly love is pure because it is eternal

Faith, hope and love are the cornerstones of the Christian faith.  “But the greatest of these,” Paul writes, “is love.”  (1 Corinthians 13:13)  Faith will one day become sight.  Hope will one day be realized.  Love will continue.  Romance, as we know it, will last only this lifetime.  Jesus said there will be no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven.  (Matthew 22:30)  But brotherly love will still unite us at the throne of Christ.  Eternal love meets purity when it recognizes that everything must have an eternal perspective—what does not bear fruit in eternity is of little value.

Brotherly love is pure because it points toward Christ

Because we must love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind, we recognize that this is the highest call on the heart, soul and mind of every person.  To love the Lord first and then to love our neighbor as our self, we must consciously strive to point every person to the cross, the grave, the sky.  The love that worships beside another person is pure.  We must be controlled by love, walking in love, pure in Christ.  “The love of Christ controls us having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died.  And He died for all so that those who live may no longer live for themselves but for Him who died.”  (2 Corinthians 5:14)  Christ-centered love meets purity when you keep Jesus the center of every relationship.

The world doesn’t understand brotherly love—it’s something unique to Christ’s disciples.  “This is how they’ll know that you’re mine,” the Lord said.  It doesn’t fit the grid for the world’s definitions:  on the one hand, take whatever you can get.  On the other:  protect yourself.

We recently shared with you the results of a survey on purity.  The purpose of this survey was to instruct us so that we can love in wisdom—understanding more clearly what our actions suggest.  But no set of rules or boundaries can entirely protect—ourselves or our brothers.  Keep in mind that love for the Lord and love for your neighbor should always be the guiding influence.  Had the Good Samaritan been a woman, I think they Lord would have still desired her to show love by helping her “neighbor.”

The kind of love God requires isn’t self-protection.  It’s risky.  It’s dangerous.  It can be painful.  But it is second only to loving God.  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  The pure heart loves the Lord and seeks to encourage others to do the same.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*  A few commands to love our brothers:

(agape—sacrificial):  John 13:34; John 15: 12; Romans 13:8; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:12; 1 Thess. 3:12; Heb. 10:24; 1 Pet. 1:22; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:16; 2 John 1:5;

(phileo—brotherly affection):  Romans 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13: 1; 1 Pet. 3:8;

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Part Two: Love and My Heart

March 4, 2010 at 1:46 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

The Valentine’s Day just past left me with plenty of fodder for the mental camel I’ve been feeding. Over and over again were the expressions of devotion “You have my heart!” or the pleas “Be mine.” Giving and exchanging of heart-shaped candy and heart-covered cards left impressions of hearts popping out of the heads of every couple I passed. Modern music speaks much of the heart, but the father in Proverbs had some thoughts on the issue, as well. He warned his son of the dangers of impurity, encouraged him to be faithful to the wife of his youth and exhorted “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Proverbs describes temptations not unlike our own and speaks of the wisdom of “keeping” what the world would tempt us to give.

>Keep:

The Hebrew word translated “keep” has a lot more depth to it than four letters might imply. It means a conglomeration of watching, maintaining, guarding, protecting, preserving, even concealing or surviving a siege (mostly negative connotation). The word is nearly identical in purpose to the command given in the Garden of Eden, when Adam was placed in the garden to cultivate and “keep” it. (Genesis 2:15) *

Just what was Adam’s task? To keep the soil soft, healthy, bearing good fruit. To protect it from weeds. To cultivate healthy, fruit-bearing plants. Why? To bring God glory.

The Creation story tells us that man and woman were created in God’s image and when we skip to the end we see God’s purpose. “Thou hast created all things and for Thy pleasure they existed and were created.” (Revelation 4:11) God created you a unique woman, in His image, to bring Him glory. You belong to Him, heart, soul, mind and body.

The heart of the matter

To keep, to guard, to maintain, to protect our heart, we’ve got to understand to Whom it belongs. The answer is not “to ourselves.” The answer is not “to our husband (wherever he is and whenever God wills to reveal him to us, etc, etc).” When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind…” (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27) Over and over, Yahweh complained of Israel’s unfaithfulness. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” (Isaiah 29:13) He described the worship issue in graphic language as adultery. In the New Testament, Paul describes our bodies as God’s temples and explains that purity is a worship issue. (1 Corinthians 6:19) “Lust, covetousness, impurity, greed…which amounts to idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

God commanded us to love Him. We failed. We chose other gods, other lovers, other things. That’s the story of scripture. Adam and Eve failed to love the Lord with their hearts, minds and souls—instead they sought to know good and evil experientially, they sought knowledge elsewhere and the fellowship between man and God was destroyed. This was the relationship that you and I inherited at birth: enmity with God. But God was never surprised and He was willing to offer His redeeming love to buy us back from slavery to the other things we had pursued. Hosea pictures for us the power of redemption as he buys back his adulterous wife. God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners—enemies of God—He gave His own precious Son to buy us back.

Why am I recounting the gospel story for you? Because when God bought you back, He made you a new creature, able to have intimate fellowship with Him. By the Holy Spirit’s power you are able to love God. “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God created you once, and you belong to Him. Then He bought you back by redeeming love. Is there any question that you belong to Him?

You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart. The world will never have an accurate view of love because the world does not know God.

The Idols We Serve

Why did Hosea’s wife keep fleeing him and returning to her life of sin and degradation? Didn’t she have exactly what so many Christian girls long for today? A godly, compassionate husband and several beautiful children? Still her heart wandered to fields that did not belong to her, and where her heart wandered, her feet followed. Discontentment, we call it.

Lust. Greed. Covetousness.

God calls it “idolatry.”

The idols of Israel’s unfaithfulness were made of wood, gold and stone—materials that God had created, that were good, that served a purpose–in fact, materials that were used to build His own temple. It wasn’t the materials that caused the idolatry. It was the hearts of the people that sought for something they could touch and feel to complete them. In a similar way, romance, marriage and motherhood are not evil. They have been created by God and are holy—when surrendered to Him. But whenever we pursue, worship or serve our desires—even godly desires—we allow them to usurp the place that only Yahweh can fill.

Discontentment, we call it.

God calls it “idolatry.”

Pursue the dream-giver

You’ve seen the young woman everyone says is “glowing.” She’s the one “in love,” the one everyone watches with whispers and chuckles. Her every thought is to please her lover. She talks about him constantly. She talks to him every chance she gets. She can’t wait to be with him and when she is, her eyes are fixed on his face. She’s like a garden soaking up the spring rain and flourishing. Hosea, the faithful husband, proclaims the Lord’s faithfulness and the refreshment found in His presence. “Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn and He will come to us like the spring rain watering the earth.” (Hosea 6:3)

Your heart is like a parched garden—it longs for fulfillment. Your Divine Lover created you to respond to His offer of divine love. Scripture says He jealously desires the spirit that He has made to dwell within us. (James 4:5) The Father in Proverbs says the heart must be diligently kept for from it flows the springs of life. The Father seeks worshipers, Jesus told the Samaritan woman, and He promised her springs of living water—welling up inside of her to eternal life. (John 4:14) Press on to know the Lord and He will come to you—bringing refreshment, bringing life.

In God’s economy, giving is keeping. If you lose your life for Christ, you will gain it for eternity. If you give to the poor, the Lord will repay you. If you want to keep your heart, you must pour it before the Lord. Paul wrote to the Philippians not to be anxious, but to pour everything with prayer and petition and thanksgiving at the feet of Christ. “And,” he promised, “the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) If you pour your heart, your grief, your struggles, your pain, yourself out in extravagant worship, you will find it guarded, protected and healed. You will find it softened, growing with good things. You will keep your heart. For God’s glory.

Purity and worship

Whenever anxiety enters, when other things vie for your attention, when your biological clock is ticking so loudly it is waking the neighbors or when that godly young man gives a good answer at Bible study, you must keep your heart. You must know it, you must guard it, you must conceal it, you must cultivate it. It’s not that desires are ungodly, but even godly desires must find a place in the kingdom of God. Jesus encouraged His followers to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25-34) The Father knows what you need before you ask. Above all else, He knows you need Him.

Seize every distraction as a redirection to focus on the Lord. Take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Seek the Lord.

Jesus blessed the pure in heart. “They shall see God,” He said. (Matthew 5:18) He accepted into His service women at whom others looked askance. Others saw only the scars of the past. Jesus probed into hearts and found them washed clean, restored and redeemed through the prodigal grace of God. ** When a woman of shady reputation poured a vial of expensive perfume over the feet of the Lord, she was pouring out her heart, despite the cold condemnation of those witnessing the act. But Jesus accepted this extravagant worship with the words, “he who is forgiven much, loves much.” (Luke 7:36-50) As forgiven women, let us never forget to love much. Purity is a heart attitude that springs from devotion to Christ.

A “kept” heart is a heart that has chosen the best part—the place at Jesus’ feet.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

* A few interesting uses of the Hebrew words translated “keep/guard”: Gen. 3:24; Gen. 17:10; Gen. 28:15; Gen. 30:31; Ex. 12:25; Ex. 15:26; Ex. 20:6; Ex. 23:20; Lev. 18:26; Num. 6:24; Deu. 5:1; Ps. 12:7; Ps. 25:10; Ps. 34:13; Ps. 78:7; Ps. 89:28; Ps. 91:11; Ps. 105:41 (contains both words); Ps. 119 (uses both interchangeably, repeatedly); Ps. 127:1 (same word used for “keep” and “watchman”); Proverbs; Ecc. 3:6; Is. 26:3; Is. 27:3; Jer. 3:5; Ez. 20:19; Dan. 9:4; Hos. 12:6; Mic. 7:5; Nah. 2:11; Mal. 2:7

** Prodigal (adjective): 1. wastefully or recklessly extravagant. 2. giving or yielding profusely; lavishly abundant. The “prodigal son” was wastefully and recklessly extravagant with his inheritance—an evil thing. Mary of Bethany was lavishly abundant with her worship—a pure thing. God is prodigal with the grace He bestows on us—extravagant, profuse and lavishly abundant. Praise Him!

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Part One: Love and Purity

March 3, 2010 at 1:43 am (Articles, Attitudes, Godly Living, Love, Marriage, Purity, Singleness, Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Several years ago, I received a Facebook invitation to take a “purity quiz” and see how I rated.  Curious, I clicked over.  Not surprisingly, I ranked something like “angelic”—entirely due to activities I had or hadn’t participated in–including marriage.  I shook my head and blinked—had Lauren been taking this quiz, she’d have lost “purity points” simply by virtue of being married.  In fact, her reputation would have been severely tarnished by the fact that she kissed her husband—never mind that it wasn’t until their wedding day.  Girls I know who are now shining examples of purity would have been ranked something like akin to purity’s pond-scum due to pre-Christ actions—forgiven actions.  Oh, friends, a girl could obsess about boys, flirt with boys, read romance novels, fantasize—even look at pornography and still come out “angelic.”  But she couldn’t be married.  She couldn’t have kissed her husband on her wedding day.

It wasn’t that long ago that Britney Spears was held up as an icon—a “good girl”–a “virgin.”  Now her name conjures up shudders of horror.  Something happened.  What went wrong?

As I clicked the browser closed I thought, “Something is terribly skewed with our perception of purity.”

For what is “True Love” waiting?

Swimming against the current is never easy, and when it comes to the issue of purity, sometimes it feels like we’ll be swept away in the filth of modern “love.”

We easily recognize the destruction of “love” by a society so devoid of anything holy.  In the name of love, God’s commands are broken, vows are broken, marriages are broken, hearts are broken.  The world surrounding us has a broken image of love glorified in the public unveiling of sex and the rampant cheapening of romance.  Both have become a commodity sold on billboards on every highway, advertised by every form of media and sported on a million living models.  To the world “love” is a multi-million dollar industry—a never ceasing effort to capture in a tangible way the elusive spark of intimacy.

In the midst of the madness, some say purity is coming back into style.  In an effort to swim against the “Love is Sex” current, the “True Love Waits” campaign has spawned a fad of rings and t-shirts and banquets and merchandise to encourage “purity pledges.”  But the statistics surrounding the “True Love Waits” movement are hardly encouraging.*

As godly young women see the “True Love Waits” advocates being swept into an ocean of temptation and technicality, they wring their hands and cry for answers.  In the effort to protect “true love” the boundaries are often pushed back, one step at a time.  “True Love Waits” preaches purity as “saving sex for marriage.”  A boundary of “saving sex for marriage” is like starting down a water slide thinking you won’t get to the bottom.  So, where do we draw the line?  Well, kissing leads to sex, I won’t kiss.  Holding hands leads to kissing, I won’t hold hands.  Dating leads to holding hands, I won’t date.  Emotional attachment leads to dating, I won’t get emotionally attached.  Friendship leads to emotional attachment, I won’t be friends with boys.  Talking leads to friendship, I won’t talk to boys.  Eye contact leads to talking, I won’t make eye contact with boys.  Being in the same room with boys leads to eye contact, I won’t be in the same room with boys.  HELP!  There are boys everywhere tempting me to break my purity pledge!  They keep walking into the room!

From our fogged understanding another skewed perception of purity is formed.  Subconsciously we are accepting the word’s definitions and understandings—“falling in love” leads to sex and purity is saving sex for marriage, so if we are really going to accomplish purity, we’re going to have to protect ourselves from “falling in love.”  At least until we marry, at which time suddenly we will fall in love and ta-da!  Everything will be perfect and pure.  Essentially, we’re not supposed to love boys.  Which breaks down, in so many words, to a horrible lie:  that love is impure and purity is unloving.  If we want to be pure, we can’t risk loving.  So we create rules:  no dating, no best guy friends, no talking to guys, no looking at guys period!  And no matter how pure our intentions are, how well we keep our own rules, they simply don’t work.  I promise.  Suddenly one morning, we wake up and realize that we’re crushing on a guy we’ve never even looked at.  (He sure gives good answers at Bible study, though.)  In anguish and frustration, we tear out our hair crying “How did this happen?  I did everything right!”

Be an example—in love and purity!

Paul left his son in the faith—his protégé–Timothy, in Ephesus, strengthening the church, establishing order as Paul’s apostle and wrote him some guidelines for his conduct as a younger Christian.  “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”  (1 Timothy 4:12)  He charged Timothy to be an example—in love and purity!

An example in love and purity—to those who believe.  Love and purity not only do coexist, but must coexist!  Scripturally, love is not something a person can “fall into.”  Neither is impurity.  Both are choices that we make, often one tiny moment at a time.  To understand just what the Lord wants of us, let’s get back to the Bible for our definitions of love and purity.

>Purity

The Bible uses the word “purity” to refer to doctrine, wisdom, thoughts, religion, hearts, devotion—and in its most simple form it means: undefiled. **

>Love

Scripture commands two kinds of love:  phileo (Greek–brotherly affection) and agape (Greek–sacrificial love).  It also speaks of several forms of romantic love (various Hebrew variants of ahab).  All are created by God and intended to be pure.  And all must flow first and foremost from devotion to God.  ***

The world has a terribly skewed perception of purity for a simple reason:  purity is not a set of rules.  It’s not a have or have not check-list.  In many cases acts are, of themselves, not impure, but motives direct whether our actions are pure or impure.  Jesus said “out of the heart proceeds…impurity.”  And “he who looks at a woman to lust has committed adultery already in his heart.”

Purity is a heart issue.  And rather than denying love, it is actually empowered, guided and guarded by love.

If you want to be pure, you must love.

Because love is pure and purity is loving.

Part One:  Love and Purity

Part Two:  Love and My Heart

Part Three:  Love and My Brother

Part Four:  Love and Marriage

Part Five:  Love and Matchmaking

Part Six:  Love and Today

*READ WITH CARE:  A study done by the New York Times reveals that, of teens who take the “True Love Waits” pledge, the majority break them.   Many Christian girls perceive purity as a “technical virginity”

**A few appearances of purity:  Job 11:4; Psalm 12:6; Psalm 18:26; Psalm 24:4; Proverbs 15:26; Proverbs 20:11; Zeph. 3:9; Matt. 5:8; 1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Tim. 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:3; Tit. 1:15; Jas. 1:27; Jas. 3:17; 1 Pet. 1:22; 2 Pet. 3:1.

** *A few appearances of agape:  Matt. 5:43; Matt. 6:24; Matt. 19:19; Matt. 22:37; Matt. 22:39; Mark 12:33; Luke 6:27; Luke 7:42; Luke 10:27; Luke 16:13; John 5:42; John 8:42; John 10:17; John 13:34; John 14:15; John 15:9; John 15:12&13; Rom. 5:8; Rom. 8:28; Rom. 8:35; Rom. 12:9; Rom. 13:8; Rom. 13:10; 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 5:14; 2 Cor. 12:15; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:2; Eph. 5:2; Eph. 5:25; Phil. 1:9; Col. 3:19; 1 Thess. 3:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 1 John 3:11; 1 John 3:14; 1 John 4:19; 1 John 4:21; 2 John 1:6.

A few appearances of phileo:  John 21:15; Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 4:9; Tit. 3:15; Heb. 13:1; 1 Pet. 3:8; Rev. 3:19;

A few appearances of romantic love:  Gen. 29:20; Judg. 16:15; 2 Sam. 1:26; 2 Sam. 13:4; 1 Kin. 11:2; Pro. 4:6; Pro. 5:19; Ecc. 3:8; Song of Solomon; Ez. 16:8; Ez. 23:11; Hos. 3:1.

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Women of Wisdom: The Art of Worship

February 24, 2010 at 1:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, W.O.W., Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

Once upon a time, a Samaritan woman asked Jesus the question that had divided the Jews and Samaritans for centuries.  “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say Jerusalem is the place where we ought to worship.”  Jesus’ answer was revolutionary to the religious systems of both the Samaritans and the Jews.  “An hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.”  (John 4:7-38)

The hour was coming when true worshipers would worship at Jesus’ feet.

The story of Mary of Bethany is so sparse that many have tried to piece together her background from the airy fantasies of vivid imaginations.  But the Lord has providentially given us all that we have in His word—and all that we need to understand Mary’s love for the Lord—who had loved her first.  In each of her three appearances in scripture we read of her worshiping the Lord—in spirit and truth.

Her worship wasn’t the empty religion of her day, but was completely focused, notably quiet, evidently un-aware of her audience, forgetful of cultural protocol, and entirely extravagant.  In fact, it often earned her the ridicule of all but One.

“Mary was listening to the Lord’s words, seated at His feet.”  (Luke 10:39)

When the Master first visited the home which Mary shared with her sister Martha, He began to teach.  Mary’s heart opened to the divine words and she sat, unaware of her sister’s bustling and angry scowls, soaking up the words of Jesus.  She recognized that His words were life and she was lost in His presence.  Worshiping.  When her sister approached the Master with her frustrated demand, Mary made no excuses.  She didn’t have to.  Jesus longed for listeners.  Even at His transfiguration God sent a voice from heaven and reminded His closest disciples to “listen to Him.”  “Mary has chosen the good part,” He told Martha.  “It will not be taken from her.”

Jesus has promised us His presence, He has given us His word.  Mary’s worship was in her delight of God’s presence and His word.  Spirit and truth.  This is the worship God seeks.  David recognized that God did not seek sacrifices, but contrite hearts.  The apostles proclaimed that Yahweh did not dwell in temples made with human hands—His temple is the body of those who believe.  When the Jewish temple was destroyed and an end was put to sacrifices, the Christians recognized that the final sacrifice had been offered at the cross and an end had been made to formula religion.  God seeks for worshipers who worship not in Jerusalem, or on “this mountain”, but in spirit and truth.  Focused on His word, longing for His presence.

And those who worship the Lord have chosen the good part—which can never be taken away.  No circumstance can separate us from Christ, in whom is demonstrated the love of God.

“When Mary came where Jesus was, she fell at His feet…weeping…”  (John 11:32)

Mary’s beloved brother Lazarus had died.  Jesus had not come as quickly as the sisters might have hoped, and the last enemy had taken its captive.  As the sisters mourned, they must have mourned that Jesus had not been present—to prevent their brother’s death.  What they did not know was that Jesus had delayed.  Even the pain they were experiencing would be redeemed for the glory of God.

As soon as Mary heard that Jesus was asking for her, she rose so abruptly that she caused a stir.  And as soon as she saw Jesus, she flung herself at His feet, unaware of those who looked on.  Only once in the narrative of her interaction with the Lord does she speak.  “Lord,” she said, expressing her grief, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Her worship extended to her grief, pressed through her pain, and inspired her to throw herself at the feet of Almighty God.  She had longed for His presence and now she grieved in it.  It hurts, her actions said.  It hurts, but I worship you.  Her worship moved Jesus.  He had known this was a difficult thing—sometimes the Lord must permit pain, grief and sorrow for His glory.  But it is never a delight to Him to see a child’s pain, and He ached with Mary.  He ached to see the pain and sorrow that sin and death cause and He longed to show her His power over sin and death—a foretaste of the great struggle which He had come to wage.

Sin and death bring pain, but we can be comforted with Mary and Martha by the resurrection on the last day.  And we can be comforted in knowing that Jesus is also grieved by sin and death.  To fall at His feet weeping, expressing our pain and confusion is worship—in spirit and truth.  It hurts, but He is still God.  He will redeem our pain for His glory.

“Mary therefore…anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair…”  (John 12:3)

A year’s wages worth of perfume were poured at the feet of Jesus in an act of extravagant worship.  I’ve heard many speculations on this perfume and how it came into Mary’s possession.  Some have constructed a colorful past for this quiet woman—after all, who would have expensive perfume, but a harlot?  And why would she be a grown woman, still living with her brother and sister?  Others have suggested that Mary’s parents had died, since she and her siblings now formed a family unit of their own.  A common practice of the time was to invest money in spices or perfumes which could be resold later.  This prized perfume, they contend, was Mary’s sole inheritance.  Others suggest Mary was a widow and this was the last vestige of her past marriage which she carried with her when she returned to her childhood home.  Still others suggest it was her dowry, something she had treasured for the day she would be joined to a husband.  As she poured it at the Lord’s feet, she was expressing her love and devotion to Him as Her bridegroom.

Frankly, scripture leaves us entirely in the dark as to Mary’s past and future.  All we know is the immense value of her offering and Jesus’ acceptance of her gift.  Is the Holy Spirit telling us that it’s not important?  Whether this offering embodied her past of sin or her future hopes, her treasured memories or simply her security and stability, it was likely the largest part of her possessions and she poured it over the feet of the Lord.  Some have suggested that Mary’s act of letting down her hair was considered immodest or suggestive.  But as Mary wiped the Lord’s feet, this lowly act of service could hardly have been considered indecent or impure.  Rather, completely oblivious to the opinions of others, she was humbling herself at the feet of her Savior and pouring out her entire being—possessions, self, heart.  She gave herself entirely in response to the gift He had promised her.

I have often wondered, based on the words of Jesus to those who criticized Mary for her extravagant worship, if she truly did understand what His disciples did not.  Certainly, Mary had chosen the good part—listening to Jesus—while some of His disciples had to be reminded to listen.  Had she grasped His insistence that He would suffer and die in Jerusalem?  Did she realize that this was her only opportunity to embalm Him?  To offer her last expressions of love to the One who loved her soul?

When she was criticized again Mary held her breath, like David who said, “I am like a dumb man.  I utter no defense, for the Lord is my defense.”

“Leave her alone,” the Lord rebuked her attacker.  Once again Mary had chosen the good part.  “She did it to anoint my body for burial.”  And it would not be taken from her.

The Lord seeks for true worshipers.  He delights and desires that we pour everything at His feet—our time, our mind, our heart, our sorrow, our confusion, our possessions, our past, our present, our future, our hopes, our dreams, our memories, ourselves.  He wants it all.  And when we give it all, we find we have chosen the good part: our joyful eternity doing exactly what we were created to do—worship God in spirit and truth.  And it will never be taken away.

Read Mary’s Story:  At Jesus’ Feet

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Women of Wisdom: At Jesus’ Feet

February 23, 2010 at 1:00 am (Articles, Attitudes, W.O.W., Worship) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Posted by Abigail

(Taken from Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46; John 12:1-8)

Once upon a time a quiet, little Jewish girl grew up in the hill country of Bethany, near the Holy City, Jerusalem.  Every Sabbath, as she grew from childhood to womanhood, Mary heard the sacred writings of Moses and the Prophets and listened breathlessly to the promise of a Messiah.  She listened quietly as her sister, Martha, and her brother, Lazarus, debated the time of the Messiah’s coming and speculated on His reign.  The hearts of the Jewish people drooped under the yoke of Rome.  Had Yahweh forsaken them?  Once He had led His people out of slavery in Egypt, yet every Passover the shadow of the Roman governor stretched across the meal of lamb and herbs.  And once He had rescued His people from certain death in Babylon, yet every Purim, the celebration was clouded by the echo of the Latin language in their streets.  His temple stood newly renovated and spectacular on the Holy Hill, yet often on the way to Jerusalem, the outlines of cruel Roman crosses could be seen outside the city proclaiming death to any who disobeyed the iron fist of Rome.  Each time Mary passed a Roman soldier, the symbol of her people’s oppression, she prayed that Yahweh would send the deliverer.  She prayed.  She hoped.  She believed.

Then, one day, she fell in love.

She’d heard the stories.  “He’s a prophet!” many exclaimed as His miracles were recounted.  He’d healed the sick, given sight to the blind, strength to the lame.  He’d fed thousands from a few loaves.  He’d taught with authority that challenged the hypocritical chief priests.  “Could He be–?”  Mary heard hope in the voices that had long sounded dry and weary.  In spite of the militant speculations as to this Prophet’s designs, Mary’s thoughts lingered on the women.  Many of the chief priests and rabbis wouldn’t even speak to their own wives in public, yet this Teacher reached out to heal women who were sick and suffering and even enslaved to evil spirits.  And afterwards He accepted these women’s ministrations as they sought to repay Him for the gift of a second chance.  This man was unlike any of the Rabbis she had seen and unlike any of the Messiahs she had been taught to pray for.

And this Rabbi had just entered her home as a guest.  As soon as Mary’s eyes met His, she was overwhelmed.  Lacking the pomp and circumstance of an important person, He dressed simply with a homespun mantle draped over His shoulders, road-stained with dusty feet.  He was surrounded by eager, clamoring men, yet His eyes held determination and peace.  So many voices making so much racket, yet only One voice seemed to matter.  He had so much to teach, so much to express.  And there was so little time.  How could she ever learn it all?  He was so holy; Mary felt if she could sit in His presence long enough, she would be completely washed clean, inside and out, shining like a pure star in the heavens.

Suddenly a voice at her elbow startled her.  “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone?”  Mary had hardly realized that she had settled onto the floor at Jesus’ feet, her eyes on her folded hands, soaking in every word.  He told such simple stories with such profound meaning.  But of course Martha had been stressed, bustling here and there, her home full of men—important men, if they traveled with the Rabbi.  Jesus looked at Martha and Mary watched His face as her sister continued without giving the Master a chance to answer.  “Tell her to help me.”

Jesus’ answer was gentle, yet firm.  “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only a few things are necessary, really only one.  Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Though He spoke to her sister, Mary grasped His words about her and clung to them.  She had chosen the good part.  She had chosen Jesus.  He would not be taken away from her.

Even when Jesus left to continue His ministry across the region of Judea, Mary pondered His teachings and clung to His promise that the good part would not be taken from her.  She knew that Jesus was not like other men, nor even like other Rabbis.  She knew that He loved her—yet not in the way of a home and children.  She knew that He didn’t belong to her, and yet, in a small way, He did.  And she had given herself completely to Him.  As He traveled the region, she listened breathlessly to the accounts that trickled back of His miracles, His growing popularity and His increasing clashes with the Pharisees and Sadducees.  “He is the Messiah,” people declared.  Then came the shocking news:  Jesus had declared His oneness with God.  “Blasphemy!” cried the Jews and tried to stone Him, but He eluded their grasp and left that region.

Mary’s heart was troubled.  Didn’t they listen to Him?  Didn’t they understand His words?  Didn’t they realize that Jesus’ words were life?  What He spoke must be truth.

But her troubled thoughts were interrupted by a greater trouble.  Her brother, Lazarus, fell deathly ill.  “What shall we do?” the sisters whispered to each other as they gazed at their feeble and delirious brother.  Jesus had healed countless strangers, would He come and heal their beloved brother?  “God gives Him whatever He asks,” Martha asserted, in faith.  A faithful friend, another disciple of Jesus, was dispatched immediately to carry the word to Jesus:  “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”  Careful not to demand His presence, the sisters wondered if it would be safe for Him to come.

Then came the waiting.  The praying.  The hoping.  The believing that Jesus would do what was right.  What passed through Mary’s mind as she watched her brother’s suffering, unable to offer more than love, wondering why the Lord delayed?  Was it because Judea had rejected Him?  Could it be unsafe for the Master to come to Bethany, since He had just escaped a stoning?  Did Mary struggle against feelings of abandonment?  Jesus had promised that the good part would never be taken from her, yet He delayed coming when she needed Him most.  And even as Jesus delayed, Lazarus weakened, faded and passed on.

Jesus had healed others.  Many others.  “If He had been here, our brother would not have died,” Martha whispered, clasping Mary in her arms their brother was laid in a tomb and a stone rolled to cover the doorway.  Mary nodded as her sister offered the comfort of those who hoped in Yahweh: “He will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”  Then they went home.

The next several days passed as a blur, friends and fellow mourners coming and going, whispering, offering consolations.  Mary thought only of Jesus.  Why hadn’t He come?  She didn’t understand.  She knew Jesus loved her.  She knew Jesus loved Lazarus.  “If only He had been here,” she mulled it over and over in her head.  “If only He had been here, my brother would not have died.”  Once He had defended her and said she had chosen the good part—the place at His feet.  She wanted to be there, now.  Life seemed so clear and simple when she sat at His feet.

“Mary,” her sister was at her elbow, shielding her face with her shawl to give them some privacy.  “Mary, the Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

All her thoughts, her questions, her tears fled as she heard the words.  Quickly she bounded to her feet and was out the door, following her sister’s directions to find Jesus.  Mary didn’t notice the Jews following her, supposing that she went to the tomb to weep.  Why would she go to the tomb to weep?  A cold stone could not hear her cry; a sepulcher was not the good part.

Then she saw Him.  He was standing just where Martha had left Him, His eyes fixed on her, seeing her before she came.  A choke filled her throat and the tears welled up, blinding her eyes as she stumbled and sank down at the Master’s feet.  “Lord,” she wept, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

She could sense the grief in Jesus’ tone as He turned from her and asked, “Where have you laid him?”  Several voices answered, “Lord, come and see.”

Then Jesus wept.

Whispers.  “Behold how He loved him.”

Other whispers.  “Could not this man who opened the eyes of the blind have kept this man from dying?”

Of course He could have.  If He had been there–

Mary’s tears flowed freely, unchecked, washing the pain, the agony, the questions, the confusion down into the abyss of things long passed.  Jesus was weeping with her.  He loved her.  He was aching for her.  She looked up into His face and saw there that same peace, that same determination.  He had more to teach her.  She stood and followed Him to the tomb.

The stone lay firmly against the mouth of the tomb, but Jesus raised His arm and said, “Remove the stone.”

“Lord,” Martha’s voice was quiet, concerned, anxious, “by this time there will be a stench for he has been dead four days.”

Jesus turned and looked her directly in the face, His voice gentle but firm.  “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

Mary’s heart was hammering in her chest.  What was Jesus about to do?  The glory of God?  What had He told Martha?  Mary’s mind raced over all the miracles of Jesus, her heart filling with a trembling hope.  Hadn’t Martha said, “God gives Him whatever He asks for”?

As the stone was rolled away, Mary watched Jesus raise His eyes to heaven.  He took a deep breath and called out, “Father, I that You that You that You hear Me!  And I know that You hear Me always, but because of the people standing around I said it, that they may believe that You sent Me.”

Mary’s hands trembled as her mind echoed, “I do believe!”

Then Jesus’ voice rang out against the stones, “Lazarus, come forth!”

And there he was, bound hand and foot with the linen wrappings, but walking slowly from the entrance of the tomb.  Alive.

“Unbind him,” Jesus commanded.  “And let him go.”

The event caused quite a stir.  Friends and neighbors wanted to know what had happened, and the word spread quickly, and lingered long after Jesus had left for the wilderness, once more avoiding the Jews.  Mary replayed the days, moment by moment, searching them out, trying to understand, thanking Yahweh for her brother.  And she pondered the words Martha had related to her.  “He told me, ‘I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe?”  Martha had expressed the cry of her own heart, “Yes, Lord, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”

This Christ was so different from what they had all expected.  The Jews had been hoping for a conquering king, but the Christ Mary knew was a servant, a Teacher who wept and a Great Physician.  He had conquered blindness, lameness, deafness—and now death.  And He had conquered her heart.

It was almost Passover when the Lord returned to Bethany.  Again Martha was serving, busy and bustling, but without complaint.  Lazarus sat with Jesus, gladly acting the part of host.  Mary had been carefully watching the Lord’s face—it still held the peace and determination, but also seemed marked by a quiet sadness in spite the noise and excitement.  Some of His words held a strange sense of expectation, though He said little. In the folds of her shawl, Mary held her prized possession—a pound of pure nard, a perfume worth a year’s wages—waiting for her opportunity.  Finally she approached and knelt again by those beloved feet.  She didn’t notice the silence that settled or the surprised eyes fixed on her as she began to pour the perfume over Jesus’ feet, rubbing away the road-dust with her hair.  This was not just the good part, this was the best part.  Being at Jesus’ feet, pouring herself at His feet, worshiping.

“Why was this perfume not sold and the money given to the poor?” the scornful voice broke through Mary’s consciousness.

Condemned, again, she knelt, waiting Christ’s reply.

“Leave her alone, in order that she may keep the custom of anointing for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but you do not always have Me.”

As the fragrance of the nard wafted around her, Mary’s heart grew heavy.  She would not always have Jesus?  He would be buried?  Hadn’t He promised that the good part would not be taken from her?  He was the good part.  The best part.  The only part.

Around her, the conversation continued, Judas sullen after his rebuke.  Jesus eyes lingered on Mary’s face, a tender sadness in them.  Anointed for His burial.  Jesus would die.

But deep inside, a tiny flame of hope flickered.  Lazarus had died, too.

The next several days were laced with the greatest pathos the world has ever seen as the Lamb of God was led to slaughter.  God turned His back on His own Son, leaving the Son to weep alone, sweating blood in His agony.  Women clustered around the foot of the cross, watching this innocent man-God bear their sin and God the Father’s wrath.  Was Mary with them, at the foot of Christ’s cross?  Then it was finished.  But the end was the beginning.  On the first day of the week, the women hurried to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, but they were too late.  Was Mary with them that early morning?  She had already anointed the Lord.  When Jesus had raised Lazarus, He had said, “Father, I know that You hear Me.”  When Christ hung on the cross, pleading for the sins of the world, He was heard.  He knew He was heard, but for the sake of those on earth, God proved it in the same way He had with Lazarus.  When the women came to the tomb, the stone had been rolled away and Jesus had come forth, alive.

Whether or not Mary was present at the death and resurrection of Jesus, she certainly must have heard and understood the power of this conquering King.  He had not only triumphed over death—but also over that which caused death, over sin.  And in His promise that those who believe in Him should live eternally, she heard her happily ever after.  The good part would not be taken from her.  At the resurrection at the last day, she would be raised, to live forever, sitting at the feet of Jesus, worshiping.

Lessons from Wisdom:  The Art of Worship

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