Why do they hate that I love Jesus’ words?

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I live my days partially immersed in the Spanish-speaking world. Desiring to become proficient in the language, I spend 3 hours most days listening to podcasts, reading my Bible and novels, watching news in Spanish on YouTube and speaking with local Spanish-speaking natives. During the past two years I have come to understand more about the lives of many immigrants in our country.  Our pastor’s sermon yesterday morning caused me to see a similarity between ‘outsiders’ seeking a new home in America and those of us who are Christian, who are also ‘others’ and temporary residents in this world.

Joe’s text was Ezra 4. Returning Jews from 70 years of Babylonian exile had laid the foundation to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. But the pluralistic, syncretistic locals did not like these new developments.

What did they do? First, they offered to help out with the reconstruction, hoping to redirect it to their ends. Rebuffed and rejected, they then turned their energies into “discouraging the people of Judah and making them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans (during) the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia down to the reign of Darius king of Persia(Ezra 4: 4-5). That’s a LONG time.  Years of persecution, harassment and hatred.  In a word – afflictions meant to derail the Lord’s work.

With a change in leadership in Persia, these persistent enemies of the Jews then wrote flagrant lies about the returnees convincing the King Artaxerxes to mandate a halt to all building in Jerusalem.

Joe used this section of God’s word to emphasize that Christians, those who love Jesus and follow him, will ALWAYS be hated and persecuted.

Why? Because we actually believe what Jesus says, what the Bible teaches, like:

  • There is only one way to be saved from hell and eternal separation from God – through Jesus.
  • There is only one true and living God, the God of the Bible.
  • Sexual unions other than what the Bible teaches are sinful. (Marriage between one man and one woman for life)
  • Complementarian roles for men and women are God’s plan for mankind.
  • Humans are created male and female.

Just to name a few biggies.

Since March 2020, when Covid19 brought an end to ‘normal’, I and most everyone have longed to return to the way things were.  In a similar way, I think American Christians have been looking back over their shoulders wishing that life would do a reboot to 30-40 years ago when being a Christian was ‘acceptable’ and even commendable.

Joe’s sermon confirmed in my heart that ‘normal’ is NOT what I think it is.  Normal IS persecution.  I’ve just been living in a bubble.

Back to my Hispanic friends and my growing empathy for ‘aliens’ and recent arrivals to the States. Many don’t feel as though they belong, whether they are documented or not. What does ‘not belonging’ look like?  Degrees of persecution are routine experiences just because they are Hispanic. Like what?

  • The mildest poor treatment is indifference. Ignoring those who are not like the majority happens even in moms’ morning-out groups at a church.
  • The sting of jokes and epithets
  • Language barriers that hinder immigrants from finding community resources.

Exclusion hurts!

Then there are those in detention camps, waiting and hoping, living in difficult conditions, in a kind of limbo between appointments with lawyers and court dates, at the mercy of any kindness.

Thoughts during the sermon made me realize:

  • How I and other believing Christians need to accept that WE, Jesus’ followers, are the aliens, the unwanted and unwelcome in many parts of our country. Often scorned, mocked and intimidated into being quiet.

Somehow knowing this and embracing this REALITY cheered me as a tonic to my soul. Coming to terms with the ‘logic’ of persecution allowed me to shed that, “I just want things to go back to normal, when being a Christian was accepted.”

What a pipe dream. Let’s get real: the ruling majority KILLED Jesus. Furthermore, this Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity taught: Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:20)

Don’t you think it’s easier to live with the truth? Do we really want a return to ‘normal’?

At this point in my life, I now know that I want to complete my work and my training here as an exile. ‘Graduating’ to REAL LIFE in the presence of Jesus seems more appealing. AND I trust God’s timetable for me.

As our Sunday school teacher mentioned after the sermon: ‘The Good News is not that things are going to get better but that Jesus died once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.” (1 Peter 3:18). That was good news for the persecuted church in Peter’s day and it is just as true and meaningful today.

 

 

 

 

Power to obey Jesus

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What is the most difficult command God has given you? And how did you respond?

The other night, right before turning out the light, I read a brief devotion about Peter’s cry for help as he was sinking amidst the stormy waves. Jesus chastises him with question, “Why did you doubt?”

I’m thinking, ‘Hello, Jesus! it’s not every day an ordinary man tries to walk on water. Can’t you give him a break? Can’t you give him an attaboy for attempting to do something no one else has?

Curious to see what more might be in the text, I looked up the passage in my bedside-table Bible.

Matt 14: 28 – 32 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Did you notice that Peter actually DID take some steps on the water without sinking?  How is that?  I think there are two conditions that he met:

– Jesus gave a command

–  Peter believed he could obey Jesus’ command

So, what happened?

Peter changed his belief.  At first he believed that just by the power of Jesus’ summons, he COULD do the beyond-ordinary feat. But all of a sudden, his fears and what he saw around him felt MORE real and true than Jesus’ word to him.

Let’s take Peter’s successful steps on top of the water and think more broadly. Does his experience mean that you and I CAN obey the commands God gives us? I think so. But the power is not in us. What I draw out of this scenario with Peter and Jesus is that:

  • Believers CAN obey (and are expected to obey their Lord)
  • But not without God’s power.

I’m reminded of Mike’s 2 favorite verses:

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING.

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Back to the other night. As I lay pondering these principles drawn from Peter’s experience, other commands came to mind:

  • Do not fear
  • Do not be anxious
  • Cast all your cares on me
  • Be holy
  • Love one another
  • Think about what is true, right, beautiful, praise-worthy, excellent etc

The list goes on and on. What’s new for me is the realization that we believers, grafted into Jesus, are not only expected to obey but we are to count on, depend on Jesus’s grace so that we CAN obey.

How does that help?

Practically, with my sinful default temptation of fearing the future and not trusting God!

The last couple of days each time I’ve been lured into sin, I’ve stopped and reminded myself of this FACT:  Maria, you CAN obey this command.  Not only CAN you, but Jesus expects you to given his promised grace. He provides the power and strength TO obey. No command of his goes out to the world without supernatural ability for believers to obey.

NEVER does our God envision us muscling through to obedience with our puny human strength.  That’s not only impossible, but absurd.  Rather, He expects us to rely on the fact that we are in union with Christ. We have access to His power. At least 80+ times the phrase ‘In Christ’ is written.  We are not alone.

So, brothers and sisters, be encouraged. And don’t forget that each time we disbelieve our Lord, we have been equipped to repent and receive immediate forgiveness. Obedience not only pleases our Holy, Triune God, it makes us happier.

 

 

One thing is necessary

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40. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me!” 41  “Martha, Martha, the Lord replied, “you are worried and upset about many things. 42 But only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, and it will not be taken away from her.”…  Luke 10: 40 – 42

A new school year started last week.  My anxieties came back to life after their sabbatical of 2 1/2 months.

What is at the root of these worries?  What I focus on during the school day.  Here’s my list of concerns – those situations where I lack confidence, occasions that intimidate me a bit:

  • Will I be able to capture and hold on to the attention of middle school kids?
  • Will I be able to create and carry out effective and engaging lessons, which actually result in them acquiring French?
  • Will I have sufficient time in my school day to complete teaching, planning, grading and handle all those extra duties teachers seem to have?
  • Will I feel free to spend time with my colleagues, listening and encouraging them, all the while accurately representing Christ?
  • Will I be able to grow the French program in the Middle School?

Those 5 matters I have turned into individual and multiple prayers that I send up to God frequently throughout the week.  Better to pray than to worry, right?

Yes and no.

Reading how Jesus corrected Martha and how He described her sister, Mary, caused me to think again.  Maybe I have miscalculated where I should invest the bulk of my energy. Rather than prioritizing and investing all my mental energy on ways to meet all these challenges, I should focus first on what actually might energize me and provide life.

Luke’s account of the two sisters who have just lost their dear brother Lazarus prompted me to imagine what Martha’s list might have looked like (had she written down what caused HER stress and anxiety:

  • Oh no!  Jesus just showed up and with his group of guys, too.  I’ve been feeding well-wishers and mourners for a week now.  What am I going to serve?
  • I’m exhausted!  Where am I going to find the strength and energy to fix more food. And who is going to butcher the lamb, now that our brother is gone?
  • I was going to send Mary around to the family that supplies our wine because we’re all out!  But look at her.  She just sat down with the men to listen to Jesus!  Where’s her head!  With all this work to do?  Doesn’t she care about me?  So this is the way it’s going to be now that Lazarus is gone. I should have figured!
  • Oh, my – Lazarus IS gone.  How are we ever going to make it, two women alone?

What is Jesus’ response, the God who knows all our thoughts and cares?   Read the 4 statements at the beginning of this post.   Freedom calls me with those enigmatic words of His: One thing is necessary.

What is Jesus NOT saying?  Does he tell Martha to skip all the food prep?  No!  Hospitality is a good thing.  But ultimately it doesn’t rank # 1.  We CAN live without food.

But we can’t live without Jesus.

So what did I see afresh in Luke’s account of a very familiar vignette?

It was how I evaluate a ‘good day’.  In past years, I’ve called it a ‘good day’ if I taught well. If I had a fruitful-for-the-kingdom conversation with someone.  If I completed my work.

But I can’t control any of those outcomes, hence my anxiety and uncertainty day to day.

So what IS necessary?  What is ‘the one thing’?

I can see more clearly how God has been moving me over the past 5 or 6 years to rely on Him throughout the day.  To look to and depend on His divine, supernatural Spirit for EVERY thought, word, action, and decision about the future.

Jesus and Paul challenged followers of Christ to stay ‘grafted in the Vine’, to ‘remain in union with Him’.  We actually are not meant to do anything apart from Jesus.  He even tells us we can’t.

  • John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.

So I have redefined what Maria calls a ‘good day’.  The one responsibility I have as Jesus’ lamb is to do all in His strength, aware of my position IN the Vine.

Teaching a ‘good’ lesson, completing my list, engaging in a fruitful conversation with a colleague – yes, these are important.  But I can’t control the outcomes.  Hence – perpetual anxiety.

But I CAN control my thoughts.  That ability is given to every Christian in whom lives God’s Spirit.

My goal and focus this school year is to rely on Jesus and seek to please Him that way. And when I forget my source for everything and start angsting about X, Y and Z, I can still please Jesus by repenting of sinful AND needless worry.  And call it a GOOD day!

Keep your roots in good soil

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tomato-in-soil  The zucchini failed, the cucumber baby plants did not thrive, but our container garden yielded tomatoes.

These tomato pots have shown me over the past 4 months that if the soil is good, and God provides adequate sun and water, that is still not enough to produce a crop.

All vegetation, if it is to yield fruit, must have its roots planted in the soil.  That is crucial. (yes, I have heard of hydroponic cultivation!)

Aren’t we Christians the same?  According to Jesus, we will grow naturally, without working at it, if we are immersed in His Word, sucking up nourishment because it satisfies like nothing else.

John 15:4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I recently noticed in this verse that the verb Jesus uses is to BEAR fruit. We don’t GROW the fruit ourselves.  We just let fruit sprout and flourish.

As the Holy Spirit gives growth, He causes our new nature to develop characteristics like joy and patience, gentle responses and kind actions, to name a few.  This Holy Spirit fruit in turn feeds and fertilizes us, resulting in deeper and sturdier roots and an ongoing yield.

I like how the inspired psalmist described the process in Psalm 92: 13-14: 

Planted in the house of the Lord,
They will flourish in the courts of our God.
[Growing in grace] they will still thrive and bear fruit and prosper in old age;
They will flourish and be vital and fresh [rich in trust and love and contentment]; (Amplified Bible)

I’ve noticed some dying leaves on my October container plants, but I’m still getting salad tomatoes. How encouraging for all of us in a Western society that abhors and tries to hide from aging.  Since we don’t have to rely on ourselves to ‘add value’ we can relax and allow God generate all and any good yield.

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