Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Vist at Martha's House, part 21: Defending Piety and Zeal

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

Once again, I fully expected to move to Luke 11 today, but another point caught my attention, and I am compelled to stop here once more. As I read through Luke 10 today, I wondered if Matthew Henry (my favorite theologian) had found a treasure in this passage that I had missed. It turned out that he had. Read his words:

"However we may be censured and condemned by men for our piety and zeal, our Lord Jesus will take our part: But thou shalt answer, Lord, for me. Let us not then condemn the pious zeal of any, lest we set Christ against us; and let us never be discouraged if we be censured for our pious zeal, for we have Christ for us." (Matthew Henry)

I attended the community-wide Lenten Luncheon hosted at my church earlier this week and, as I glanced around the room I noticed people from a variety of faith traditions. There were Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians seated together around the tables. I'm sure other groups were represented, too (at least I hope so). As I surveyed the room, I thought the gathering was the most representative of heaven of any church gathering I'd attended recently. We put aside our own traditions to celebrate the Savior who died for us all. For one hour on Thursday, we were the body of Christ, and it was beautiful. I hope Jesus was pleased.

Since then, I've been thinking about this business of denominations and traditions, the controversy about hymns versus praise songs, raising hands in prayer or not raising hands in worship, speaking in tongues or not speaking in tongues, prayers for healing, liturgy, and this general grumbling that goes on about the worship style of others. If the truth be told, we don't just grumble about worship styles, we sometimes judge others, as well as condemn them when their worship is a little different from our own. In fact, what is even worse, we don't limit our bad attitudes to those outside our own faith group. There is a tendency to disdain for anyone who worships in a way different from our own, and recently, I've been wondering how Jesus feels about it. One of the last things he prayed for us was that we would be one, even as God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are one. He wanted unity for us, not division. I'm afraid our disharmony appalls Him.

The problem, as we can see, is not new. King David's wife condemned him for his public display of worship, and it cost her the love of her husband. Martha condemned Mary for her choice to worship rather than "make preparations" and it cost her a rebuke from Jesus. I wonder what our own snipping about worship styles costs us. If Jesus defended the one who was at His feet worshipping, and rebuked the one who condemned her, you can be sure that we do not go unnoticed when we do the same to those worshipping around us. 

Because I attend a church that is somewhat "stiff" during worship, I once asked a friend what prompted the different worship styles and what they meant. She explained this business of raising hands in worship in a way that made perfect sense to me. When a little child is sleepy and wants to snuggle, is hurt and needs consolation, or is tired and can't walk another step, what do they do? They reach up their arms to their parents and say, "Hold me, Mommy. Pick me up, Daddy!" In that same way, we raise our arms to our Heavenly Father asking Him to draw us near to Him, comfort us, carry us through a hard time. Holding our hands out, palms up, she said, is often done to symbolize that we come to Him with nothing of our own, willing to receive anything He sends our way. It is a symbol of humility and submission. 

Once I saw this business of uplifted arms and open hands in this way, I began to wonder, why don't we all raise our hands with desperation to draw closer to our Lord? Why don't we all hold out our empty hands before our God? I fear our lack of demonstrative action may be due to a lack of accompanying humility. (pride) After all, who wants to be the one raising hands in a room full of people who don't? We must ask, if we hold back in worship because of those around us, who then are we worshipping? 

How foolish we are to argue about worship! Why not get up in arms about sin, instead? Matthew Henry was absolutely right. Let us be sure that we do not condemn others for their piety and zeal "lest we set Christ against us". Our Lord wept and prayed for our unity as He was facing the cross. It was His heart's cry, and it should be our own. This weekend, as we prepare to attend worship services, join with me and try something radically new. Instead of condemning the worship style of others, let's give it a try. Embrace a fresh style of worship, whether it be raising hands in worship or kneeling in adoration. 

What matters, dear ones, is not the position of our body nor the location of our hands. What matters is the humility, ardor, and love in our hearts. What pleases Christ is unity among those who love Him. Let us love one another, let us welcome our differences, and let the worship begin!

Friday, February 20, 2015

A visit at Martha's House, part 20: Jesus, the Defender

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

A very interesting thing happened at Martha's house the day Jesus came to visit. After He arrived, he went straight to the business of preaching. That's probably not what He would have called it, but he sat down and started talking. When He talked, He spoke truth that needed to be heard, and Mary did not want to miss a word. She positioned herself at His feet and listened intently. Martha, however, was scurrying about, "making preparations" for her guests, but not spending time with those guests.

As we have seen, Martha was frustrated with Mary for not helping her and that frustration rose to such a point that Martha took her anger to Jesus. "Mary is not helping! You come here with a dozen men and it is a lot of work to take care of You! Tell her to come and help me!" That's not how she said it, but it was the essence of what she said. Martha went to Jesus expecting that He would defend her. What a surprise it was for her when He did not!

It's interesting to me that Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and did not say a word. She did not get up, either. I would have popped up and hurried to calm the conflict. I would have wanted to defend myself. Not Mary. She sat calmly at the feet of Jesus and stayed put, letting Jesus defend her if He would, and defend her is exactly what He did.

Scripture is filled with images of our Lord as a strong tower, a defense in time of trouble, a refuge in the storm, and Mary found that to be true in the small storm brewing around her at Martha's house. Our Lord is a strong tower and we can run to Him for refuge. 

For Thou hast been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, and shade from the heat; for the breath of the ruthless is like a rain storm against a wall.  Isaiah 25:4 NASB

He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. Psalm 91:4 NASB

My tendency is to want Jesus to defend me, no matter what, but a look at this passage shows us that, in the dispute between two much loved women, Jesus chose the part of the one at His feet. The refuge under His wings described in Psalm 91:4 is a beautiful place, but it is promised to the one who "dwells in the shelter of the Most High." 

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide n the shadow of the Almighty." 
Psalm 91:1 NASB

Many times, Israel found themselves on the receiving end of discipline from the Lord that they did not expect. Israel, though much loved and blessed by God, was also disciplined by Him when they turned away from Him. It was only when their hearts turned back toward Him that His defense would come.

This is a hard word, and I hesitate to speak it, but it is one we would do well to consider. It is one I, myself, need to remember. Our Lord will not defend my sin. If I choose the way of the world, I should not expect Him to embrace my choice nor to defend my choice. It is only when I choose "the good part" that He will defend the choice I have made. Will He still love me when I do wrong? Of course, He still loves us, but our perfect God has no part with the sin of this world except to cleanse us from it.

The beautiful truth that Mary found is one I have found as well.  The faithful disciple can count on our faithful Lord to defend our walk of obedience. What uncommon, unbounded, amazing grace is found when I embrace the simple life of following Him. In that walk of discipleship, I do not have to defend myself, for my Lord will rise to my defense Himself. He is a strong tower, and, though the breath of the ruthless come against that tower like a raging storm, the walls will hold. (Isaiah 25:4) Isn't that a beautiful image? 

Dear ones, may you and I position ourselves at the feet of Jesus, staying there no matter what storm comes against us, confident that our Lord will not only protect us, He will defend us, as well.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Visit at Martha's House, part 19: Where to find gratification

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

As I have written before, my favorite theologian and commentator is Matthew Henry (1662-1714). His words, though written several centuries ago, still ring true. Henry cuts like a blade to the heart of Martha's distress, and, unfortunately, to my own. "He (Jesus) was not pleased that she should think to please him with a rich and splendid entertainment, and with perplexing herself to prepare it for him; whereas he would teach us, as not to be sensual in using such things... The many things she was troubled about were needless, while the one thing she neglected was needful." 

Think about that for a minute. Martha was troubled about her preparations because she was trying to present a "splendid entertainment" to Jesus, thinking that she would impress and please Him with the lovely and lavish presentation. Martha expected to be gratified by Jesus' response to the details of her presentation. She was going to do a great and memorable job, make a fantastic meal, and Jesus would be impressed. She would get the credit and revel in the kudos. I've been guilty of this, and on more than one occasion. What concerns Jesus is not the lavishness of our service, and it is not that we did such an elaborate effort that we were completely exhausted by it. What concerns Jesus is the heart with which we do that service. A simple presentation done by a heart filled with love is infinitely preferable to an elaborate work done by a grumpy, irritable heart. 

Martha anticipated that her own gratification would come when Jesus praised her for all her hard work. She must have been sorely disappointed when Mary received His praise instead. It is not the work of our hands that most pleases Jesus. It is the work of our hearts. This is a truth that has been hard for me to learn, but one that is very freeing. It took years for me to understand that a plastic tablecloth placed with love is infinitely better than a lace tablecloth starched, ironed,  and placed with resentment. 

Henry's words about the "one thing" are so insightful that we do well to consider them. "Godliness unites the heart, which the world had divided." When I pursue godliness as my aim, the divisions the world would make in my heart are united. It is an astounding truth that, when we are overwhelmed by the things of this world, tugged and torn in every direction, uncertain which way to go, we can find both peace and the answers we seek at the feet of Jesus. Godliness unites the heart.

Do we want to impress Jesus? There is only one way to do that, and it is the way of Mary. Do we want to find gratification in our service? There is one sure way to find that, and it, too, is the way of Mary. When you and I serve with love, when we make godliness our aim, we not only please our Lord, we find joy and contentment for ourselves. Let's begin our day, then, in the most important way. Seated, listening, at the feet of the Master. As we go our way, let us serve, nor from compulsion, but from love.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Visit at Martha's House, part 18: Storage

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB)

This business of "shall not be taken away from her" is so important that we are visiting it again today. The word translated as "taken away" is aphaireĊ and is the same word used to describe the "taking away" of our sins, which are removed as far as the east is from the west. When God cleanses us of our sin, He removes that sin permanently and completely. We may commit that sin (or some other) again and require additional forgiveness, but that particular sin is gone. 

The beautiful promise we find here is that there are some things that cannot ever be removed. What Mary found at the feet of Jesus was one of those things. Mary had made the choice to seek first the Kingdom of God, and the truth Christ poured into her when she sat at his feet was hers forever.  No one could take it away from her. 

What is even more amazing is that, when I humble myself at the feet of Jesus, when I study Scripture and seek His truth, what I gain is mine forever. No one can take it away. When I live His truth, it becomes a permanent part of me. I like to think of the life of faith as a grand investment that never fails. I've made plenty of investments over the years that failed to bring a return, but this is one investment that never fails to pay a dividend. It is that "storing up in heaven" that nothing can disturb. No stock market crash can affect that treasure, no thief can steal it. Isn't that comforting news?

As we go about our days, we invest our time in all manner of activities, from exercise and housework to business, clubs, public service, and church work. There is certainly a need for all those things, but there is only one investment of time that will pay an eternal dividend. Dear ones, when we seek first the Kingdom of God, we are richly repaid with treasure that can never be lost. Let's be sure that we make that most important eternal investment first, before all others, confident that the gain is ours forever.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A visit at Martha's house, part 17: Priority

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

We come now to the last phrase in our Lord's reply to Martha, and it is beautiful. Listen with your heart to these words again, "Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." In the midst of many choices and distractions, Mary had positioned herself at the feet of our Lord, and He defended her choice. In fact, His words left no doubt. What she had chosen "shall not" be taken away from her. The important part of Mary's choice was not just that she initially made the choice. The important part, the part that gained the commendation of Christ, was that she stayed put, despite the interruptions and distractions. Because she demonstrated by her actions that she was serious about her time with Christ, He was serious about protecting that time. 

In the early years of my faith, the busyness of my life easily crowded out my time for Bible study, meditation, and worship. It was only when I made a serious change in priority, making time with my Lord the first priority, that I began to learn the truth of these words. Was it hard to carve out that time? Of course. I chose the time at the beginning of my day for worship and Bible study, which meant that I would be getting up earlier and sleeping a little less. The first one who had to understand that I meant business about the new schedule was me. Did my family suffer as a result of my decision? Certainly not, but the new schedule did mean that I arose earlier and had to do more to prepare for our morning the night before. 

Just as Mary found, when I became seriously committed to my time with our Lord, He was equally committed to protecting that time. There are still interruptions and distractions, but far fewer than at the beginning, because the words of Christ are as true for me and you as they were for Mary. Though the choice to spend time with our Lord is one that must be made over and over again, what I have chosen, what we have chosen, in terms of time with Christ, will not be taken away from us.

Jesus was referring to Mary's choice of time with Him over housework and "preparations" but He was also referring to her heart of love for Him. Her pure, unbounded love gave Him great delight, and He would not have it snatched away by the condemnation or judgment of her sister. He protected her loving heart, just as He longs to do for us. 

Please don't mistake my intent here. Housework and meal preparation have to be done, as well as the work of earning a living, and there were tasks that even Mary could not avoid. The problem is not doing the work of running a household or earning a living; the problem is one of priority. Which is most important to us? Is it getting all the work done in a certain manner and by a certain time or is it serving Christ with every action, every step we take? 

King David learned the importance of priority and made time with God the predominant prayer of His life. May we, too, pray (and seek) with David, that we might dwell in the presence of our Lord, both in solitude as well as while we go along our way, all the days of our lives.  

One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD And to meditate in His temple. (Psalms 27:4 NASB)

Monday, February 16, 2015

A visit at Martha' House, part 16: The good share

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

Jesus has such lovely manners! He could have slammed Martha with condemnation for her manner of address, her irritation, her attitude toward her sister, but He did none of those. Instead, he talked about the good choice Mary had made, and did it without really mentioning Martha's specific choice. 

Mary, he said, had chosen the "good part", and that is the part I want to choose, as well. The word translated here as "good" is agathos and it is used to indicate good or useful. The word translated as "part" is meris and means "a part of the whole". Vine's describes the word as "a share, as of an inheritance". Putting the two words together, we find that agathos meris indicates the "best part" or the "best share of the inheritance". Thayer translates the two words together as a phrase meaning "the good part, which insures salvation to him who chooses it". Mary's choice gave her something very valuable, didn't it?

Of all the things the two women could have chosen that day, all the parts of the visit, Mary chose the one part that would give her salvation from the consequences of her sin and eternal life, as well. Mary's choice is even more appealing when we realize what Martha's choice netted for her. At the end of all her busyness, she probably had a clean house and a big meal, as well as an angry, frustrated heart and a very grumpy attitude, but no time spent with Jesus, no peace, no joy. This dichotomy of choice is true in my own life, as well. When I choose to spend time with Jesus, I find peace and joy in His presence, as well as direction for my day. When I choose the way of Martha, I find that same grumpy attitude that she found. Being busy makes the day go faster, and that sometimes seems like a good thing to me. Being busy and grumpy, however, is not. 

What I want to do, what I must do, is choose the path of Mary, who made time with her Lord the priority of her life, above all others, for I want what Mary gained. Dear ones, you, too, have a choice to make. Will you choose the path of Mary? Will you choose the path that leads to eternal life, to joy and peace? 

"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14 NASB)

Hear the words of Jesus. The wide, broad gate looks easier and more sensible, He said, but it is the way of the world, and leads only to destruction. It is that narrow gate, the road less traveled, that Mary chose, and it is the one that, though narrow and more difficult, you and I must choose, as well, for it is the path that leads to eternal life.

{There is one more phrase in this section that is so beautiful I'm saving it for tomorrow, so be sure to check back.}

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A visit at Martha's House, part 15: The Choice

But the Lord answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:41-42 NASB)

We turn now to Mary, the sister whose choice was commended by Christ. The warmth I feel toward Mary is not because I disdain housework, nor that I would not want to prepare for guests or to help my sister. (Actually, I like a clean house, enjoy having guests, and have the greatest sister in the world.) What I love about this story is that Mary made one choice to do what she most wanted, and Jesus commended her for that choice. Oh, if the choices I make could always receive the commendation of Christ, what a glorious life it would be! 

Perhaps, by looking at Mary's choosing, you and I can learn something important about our own choosing. The word translated here as "chosen" is eklegomai and literally means "to choose for oneself". This choosing of Mary's was not a rejecting of anything. Her choice was not as a result of rejecting Martha nor of rejecting housework or meal preparations. When Jesus arrived at the door of Martha's home, the two sisters had many options that included housework, meal preparations, running next door to tell everyone that Jesus was there, and turning Him away to protect themselves from those officials who wanted to destroy Him. They both had the choice to sit at the feet of Jesus, honor Him with their presence, and soak in every word, as well. Both sisters made their choices, but only one found peace and contentment there. Only one was commended for her choice by Christ.

Just as you and I must do, every day of our lives, the two sisters quickly surveyed multiple options and made their choice. Mary chose to revel in the presence of Jesus and, when you and I make that same choice, we can find the same peace and contentment she found. In fact, the choice to be busy or sit at the feet of Jesus is one I have to make every day, often multiple times a day. Sometimes, though I hate to admit it, I choose the way of Martha. As you might imagine, when I choose the way of Martha, I end up with the results of Martha, too, feeling put upon and chastised. 

It is only when I choose the way of Mary, reveling in the presence and words of our Lord, that I find the joy and commendation of Christ, and you, too, can have that same joy, that same commendation. Mary did what faithful men and women have done for centuries. Like Joshua before her, she chose to serve the Lord with her presence and gained His peace. The wonderful news is that you and I can walk in their footsteps, choose their path, and have those same results.  

Framed and hanging in a prominent position on my wall, this verse is one I see every day. This choice is one I must make on a daily basis, and one you must make, as well. Let us join Joshua, Mary, and all those before us who understood the truth of these words.

And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15 KJV)

If I want the commendation of Christ for the choice I make, that choice can only be Him above all others. Today, I choose Him. What choice will you make?