Saturday, March 25, 2017

In Memory of Them: Mary of Bethany's Recollections before Passover from imagesgoogle

I knew he was going to die.  He’d told all of us enough times.  But none of them heard or wanted to hear.

That’s why I decided to do something dramatic – to show them all what he was saying.  What I chose to do was certainly appropriate.  Look at all the drama he employed when he acted out his parables!

It was six days before the Passover celebration.  Jesus was coming to our home.  It was a good time to do it.  So, I carefully worked out my plan.  I had some very costly ointment of pure nard from the far, far East, beyond Parthia, from the great mountains of India, about a pound of it given to me as a dowry by my parents before they died.  It was my greatest treasure.  I fished this out of my keepsakes and exempted myself from kitchen duties.  Martha was serving and our beloved brother Lazarus (whom Jesus raised from the dead to the joy and gratitude of all of us) was sitting with him and various friends at the table when I quietly stole in and crouched at Jesus’s feet.  He smiled at me, because I’d often done that so I could listen to his wise teaching – and here I was safe, because he wouldn’t let anyone remove me.

But, instead of simply listening carefully to him in silence, letting myself be enraptured by his thoughts, as any good student should do, I quietly slipped the perfume out of the little leather bag I was carrying and began to pour the entire pound of oil on Jesus’s feet.  Then, unbinding my hair, I began wiping his feet gently with my own hair.

Immediately, the strong fragrance of the nard flooded the house.  Everyone stopped talking and stared at me.

Jesus did not move.  He just looked at me with such tenderness and such sadness.

Then Judas Iscariot broke the moment by suddenly demanding loudly why I hadn’t sold that oil and given the money to him for the poor.  I knew very well the poor that he was talking about!  This same Judas had taken charge of the donations Jesus had insisted the disciples gather and share with the widows and the lepers and the blind and lame beggars, but I, for one, had been suspecting all along that Judas had been stealing it.  His look was so avaricious when he was railing at me that you’d think everyone would have noticed it, but some of the slower on the uptake disciples began to rally around him – when Jesus cut Judas off sharply.

“Leave her alone!  For the day of the preparation for my burial she has reserved this.”  And then he lectured them all, “The poor, miserable beggars you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”

They were stunned and no one reprimanded me further.

Four days later, a woman none of us knew showed up at Simon the Leper’s house and, to everyone’s shock, anointed Jesus – also with costly nard, perhaps following my example, though this time she anointed his head, not his feet, as I had done.  

And, then, can you imagine?  The disciples repeated Judas’s complaint, rather than Jesus’s counsel.  So Jesus had to repeat his correction another time.  He told them once again, “Don’t molest this woman. She is preparing me for my burial for I am about to die.”

Nobody is going to forget her actions, or Jesus’s kind words of forgiveness, though Judas’s harsh words will blow away like the chaff they were.

People had been gossiping that I did it because I was grateful for Jesus raising my brother – or, some suggested, because I was in love with him and not in the way that I and all of us in my home were.  Then they wondered if this other woman had anointed Jesus because Simon hadn’t done it – just the way Simon the Pharisee hadn’t anointed Jesus and a prostitute had even dared to creep into his house to pour costly oil on Jesus’s feet, just as I had done.   

But I knew these were all signs from God.  Each of these women had felt an urging and responded just as I had done.  His head and his feet were now anointed, a symbol of the spices and unguents we would use to prepare him at death.

Jesus had revealed by now that he was not only the Prophet of Nazareth, as many now called him, but the fulfillment of prophecy and, also, as well, the priest who was interceding for us and who was about to perform for us the greatest sacrifice of all – giving his life as the ransom for many.   And, he was telling us he was indeed the true king of Israel, prophesied in our Scriptures, the one who would be our suffering redeemer.  All these truths he was revealing to us as he explained to us and everyone these strange actions we women felt compelled to do for him, for we were symbolizing what he had been telling us all along; to give us life, he had to die.

Aίda and Bill     
 (from John 12:1-8, compare with Matt 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50).        

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How to Keep a Clean Conscience, a devotional based on Psalm 139 from imagesgoogle.

Guest blog by hospice chaplain Paul Bricker
 “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You understand my thought from afar.

You scrutinize my path and my lying down,

And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.

Even before there is a word on my tongue,

Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

You have enclosed me behind and before,

And laid Your hand upon me.” (139:1-5 NAS).

There are many passages in the Bible that deal with the subject:  “How to Keep a Clean Conscience”.  One of those passages deals with keeping a clean conscience in the midst of conflict.  Many believers when they enter into conflict tend to assume:  “I am in conflict….  That means I must have sinned….”   I have met abused women who have this sort of mindset.  Psalm 139 shows that just because one is in conflict does not necessarily mean that one has sinned.

Psalm 139 is one of the favorite psalms for the church throughout the millenniums.  It may be divided into six sections:   1. The Psalmist David marvels at God’s omniscience regarding himself (vv.1-6).  2. He marvels at God’s omnipresence with himself (vv. 7-12).  3.  The Psalmist marvels at how God created him (vv. 13-16).  4. The Psalmist marvels at the summary of God’s thorough knowledge of himself (vv. 17-18).  5.  On the basis of parts 1-4, the Psalmist prays and reveals the occasion of this Psalm (vv. 19-22). 6. On the basis of parts 1-5, David prays (vv. 23-24).

1.      The Psalmist marvels at God’s Omniscience regarding the Psalmist (vv. 1-6).

Here the Psalmist marvels in the tenderest manner at how God knows the Psalmist.  God knows when the Psalmist sits and rises.  God knows the Psalmist’s thoughts.  God knows the Psalmist’s path and lying down.  For me, as a person who has had speech problems throughout my life, the following insight especially touches me: God knows the word on the Psalmist’s tongue even before the Psalmist speaks.  Sometimes, I do not know the word that will come off my mouth.  I take comfort that God does know the next word that will come from my mouth.  The psalmist concludes this section:  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain it” (v. 6).

2.The Psalmist marvels at God’s Omnipresence with the Psalmist (vv. 7-12).

Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend to heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

If I take the wings of the dawn,

If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

Even there Your hand will lead me,

And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,

And the light around me will be night” (vv. 7-11).

Here the Psalmist marvels in the most tender manner at how God is present to the Psalmist.  Where can we flee from the Holy Spirit?  Where can we flee from God’s presence?  When I was a child, I was afraid of the dark.  I took great comfort in v. 12:  Even the darkness is not dark to You, and the night is as bright as the day.  Darkness and light are alike to You.  Such a verse of God’s presence would calm my fears at night as a child.

3.The Psalmist marvels at how God created the Psalmist (vv. 13-16).

For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb (v. 13)….

My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them (vv. 15-16).

Here the Psalmist marvels in the tenderest manner at how God created the Psalmist.  God wondrously formed the Psalmist’s inward parts.  God wondrously weaved the Psalmist in the womb.  One can understand why the Psalmist would exclaim:  “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well” (v. 14).

4.The Psalmist marvels at the summary of God’s thorough knowledge of the Psalmist (vv.17-18).

Listen to how the Psalmist marvels about God’s knowledge of the Psalmist:  “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!  How vast is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.  When I awake, I am still with You.

5. On the basis of parts 1-4, the Psalmist prays and reveals the occasion of this Psalm (vv. 19-22).

In a way one would think that this Psalm would have been completed at verse 18.  But it is not finished.  The Psalmist has expressed earlier in this Psalm some of the most tender thoughts found within the Bible.  In contrast, now, the Psalmist prays one of the most non-tender prayers in the Bible.  The Psalmist prays a violent prayer:  O that You would slay the wicked, O God; Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.  For they speak against You wickedly, And Your enemies take Your name in vain.  Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against You? I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies” (vv. 19-22).

Here we find the occasion of this Psalm.  The Psalmist David is in trouble.  He is in conflict.  He is being hunted down.  He prays specifically:  Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed” (v. 19).  The Psalmist is being hunted down by murderous people.

In light of this lethal hunt, David does some spiritual inventory.  He wants to know if the trouble he is in is because of something wrong in himself.  Is there a sin that David has done that has caused this murderous hunt of the Psalmist to proceed?  That is why the Psalmist David has called upon our Omniscient God, Our Omnipresent God, and Our Creator God to search the Psalmist out (parts 1-4).

After calling upon our Omniscient God, Our Omnipresent God, and Our Creator God to search the Psalmist out, David has come to a singular conclusion.  The problem is not in the Psalmist.  The Psalmist is not being hunted down because of the Psalmist’s sin.  The problem is 100% with the murderous thugs chasing him.  The Psalmist takes singular aim at the problem.  He prays a violent prayer against his enemies.

How should we understand such a passage?  Should we pray violent prayers against our human enemies?   We should bless our human enemies (Matt. 5:44).  However, we as Christians should know who our enemy is.  The Apostle Paul writes who our enemy is:  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood [humans], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

The war between the devil and Christians is true and real.  We can pray violent prayers against the devil.  We can pray:  “Depart from me, demons of bloodshed.”  We can pray:  “O that thou would slay the wicked demons, O God.”  We can pray:  “Do I not hate those demons who hate Thee, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those demons who rise up against Thee?  I hate those demons with the utmost hatred; these demons have become my enemies.”

In the past I have been asked:  “How can you tell the difference between the devil’s accusation and the Holy Spirit’s conviction”?  The answer is easy.  If one follows what the Psalmist does in this passage by calling on our Omniscient God, our Omnipresent God, and our Creator God and asks God to point out one’s sin, God will point it out.  If God points it out, then ask God to forgive you.  We have a great promise:  How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”  (Heb. 9:14).

If one has a vague sense of dread….  If one has a sense of “Oh me, oh my, how sad am I,” then one knows that it is the devil’s accusation.  Here one can pray violent prayers against the devil.

6.On the basis of parts 1-5 the Psalmist concludes in prayer.

Here the Psalmist David prays a prayer to God.  The Psalmist prays a prayer of spiritual inventory and hope.  He does this with a clear conscience:  Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious [the psalmist is anxious] thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (vv. 23-24).   There is no reason whatsoever to have a polluted conscience.