Rosa – Joy in the midst of Sorrow

Rosa and her family run a restaurant just a few steps from the base in Cofradia. It is a favorite of ours for it’s half-size bottles of real Coca Cola and frozen juice popsicles. We did not see much of Rosa. Her brother, Vincente, is dying of cancer and lives across the street and she was spending time with him.  We passed her on the street or waved as she worked at her restaurant and always, her face and demeanor showed her sorrow.

Our team became acutely aware of a cultural difference when we heard about both Secu and Rosa spending time with their family members. Instead of living out the last days in a hospital, the family member is taken home and a vigil of sorts takes place.

On Tuesday at noon, a few of us stopped in at Vincente and his wife Eladia’s house and we were privileged to witness his baptism. Steve Silberman, the base director, played guitar and we sang some worship songs. Pastor Gollo read from Psalm 139. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. … Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (139:16, 23-24)

My reflection on this baptism was that this so represented real life. First that life on earth has many sorrows and cares. Our loved ones become ill, or life’s cares are heavy, and sorrow flows out of our hearts. And yet, on Rosa’s face and that of others, the joy at his baptism was a heavenly crown on their sorrow. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that – obvious, bitter sorrow but joy and hope in Christ laid over it.

In John 16, Jesus spoke to his disciples about exactly this sorrow and joy. When he died, they would weep and lament, but the world would rejoice – believing of course that death had ended Jesus’ influence. But he does not stop there and assures them that “your sorrow will turn into joy.” Like a mother giving birth, the pains and anguish are necessary before the new life comes forth. “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Vincente will die and Rosa and Eladia will have great sorrow, but they know the hope of the certainty of “seeing again” as promised by Christ Jesus. The water baptism we witnessed was such an illustration of the sorrowful earthly life buried with Christ and raised to newness of eternal life!

Joy and sorrow – real life and death – Lead me in the way everlasting!

This photo of Rosa was taken Thursday evening at the variety show and I was happy that for a few moments, she was able to enjoy her life in the body of Christ.

Rosa - A momentary sweetness for her broken heart

 

Secu – Meditating on God’s Word

One of the greatest blessings I realized on this trip is connected to Secu.

Secu - Renewed by The Word at night

She is the mother of four little girls and a boy. In addition to her children, she has been caring for her father who has Cancer and is expected to die soon. Her father is not a believer in the salvation secured by Christ and Secu is deeply concerned about his soul. [UPDATE: I received word the Secu’s father passed away on Wednesday. I will update again if there is anything else.]  We had hoped that Secu would assist us by preparing to read our daily Psalms in some dramatic way to emphasize the various emotions, but she was unable to attend due to the drama occurring in her own home and in her own emotions.

Thursday night was the all-night event and Secu was encouraged by her husband to attend. Praise be to God and bravo for Secu’s husband because he took care of the little girls AND his father-in-law! [The local ladies wanted a sleep-over from the very first time but it took until last year for us to agree to do it. One of the issues is that they cannot bring their children and need a husband, neighbor, mother, or someone to be willing to take care of them – kind of unusual for this culture.] Secu came and enjoyed the hot dog roast and variety show.

In one of the lulls between acts, Secu went to the microphone and recited Psalm 51 from memory. I was so impressed and later I inquired of her how that had come to her. Secu said that it was hard knowing that her father was not saved and many nights she would wake up. Then, to keep her mind from worrying, she would recite Psalm 51 over and over all the while praying that her father would come to that great point of repentance like King David had.

Our very first lesson with the Cofradia ladies was an encouragement to them to let God enlarge their hearts and minds to learn and understand the poetry forms of the Psalms. Secu found a place to leave her anxiety in the darkness of night and God enlarged her heart with His words. She ministers to her father through the strength and counsel of her heavenly Father. Psalm 16:7 says, I bless the LORD who gives me counsel, in the night also my heart instructs me.

Secu fits Peter’s description of a proper adorning beauty: Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gently and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4) I was blessed by her offering to share Psalm 51 from the hiding place of her lovely heart.

Cofradia 2012 – Reflections

We had a wonderful trip to Cofradia! The team was willing and open and the local ladies were warm and open. This was our 6th trip and the growth in all the ladies – the support group and the Cofradia group – is a work of God that is visible.

Here is a photo of the entire group on Wednesday morning:

Cofradia 2012

I have been reflecting and if I had to chose a theme for this year’s trip I think it would be something like “Real Life” or maybe “Life and Death”. Several of the long-time ladies in the local group are affected by the impending death of a loved one and I think I want to relay their stories to you in the coming days. For now, here are their photos and a request for prayers for them:

Rosa - A momentary sweetness for her broken heart

Secu - Renewed by The Word at night

I wonder if I have settled on the mentioned themes because of the overall focus on the Psalms. These laments and praises truly do reflect real life and I think the women responded to them because of that. Another clue was that the new members of the Houston team specifically mentioned recognizing that the Cofradia women had many of the same issues that we all face – cultures are different but human needs are the same.

Enough for now – check back to get the stories behind these photos….

 

Enlarge my heart!

Psalm 119:32

I will run in the way of Your commandments when You enlarge my heart! Psalm 119:32

This is the assertion of the psalmist who also laments in this stanza, “My soul clings to the dust; … “My soul melts away for sorrow.” Have you ever tried to run or even move swiftly when dead tired, full of sadness, weary from weighty things? The lightness of swift running is very appealing – perhaps especially to escape from the circumstances that lead to these feelings! How does a soul rise from the dust and sorrow? Answer: “when You enlarge my heart!”

I chased this thought around in the scriptures and found other uses:

In Genesis 26, the servants of Isaac and Abimilech quarreled over a well. Isaac dug three different wells and named them “contention,” “enmity,” and “Rehoboth – broad places, room enough” which is the same root word as used in Ps. 119:32. “For now the LORD has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.” (Genesis 26:22)

1 Kings 4:29: “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore.”

Isaiah 60:5 – of the future glory of Israel: “Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.”

2 Corinthians 6:11-13 Paul precedes these verses with a list of the marks of a true ambassador of the grace of God including: great endurance, purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God. “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.”

At times it is difficult to figure out what parts of our journey on The Way is our responsibility and what part we must leave to God. In Psalm 119:25-32 do we maybe find some shades of the answer?

Psalm 119:26-27 include telling God of my way, asking God for instruction and understanding, and meditating on His wondrous works. Just as Isaac’s servants had to dig three wells before they had room enough for all to drink, a child of God will continue to work and dig to root out our ways – confessing self-will and sin. Like Solomon we can ask for instruction and then study God’s word to learn His wisdom. Meditating on God’s works may take effort on our part to make the time to quiet the mind and reduce distractions to that one thing.

Then Psalm 119:30-31 contain several statements of commitment: “I have chosen …” and “I cling to…” Endurance, whether in physical exertions or mental activities, is not acquired by passiveness. The same is true of many of the character traits in Paul’s list. Purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, truthful speech develop through continual practice, day after day, year after year, strength built upon strength.

The truly good news, encouragement, and ultimate enlarging come from God’s gracious work. He hears and answers our confessions; He provides and promises the work of His word; His work in the universe is open to the eyes of our heads and hearts! The finished work of Jesus on the cross is the initiation of the new covenant promised that God himself would write the words of His law on our new hearts. The Holy Spirit is given and He enlarges this new heart to overflowing with the forming of our new natures.

There is not a formula answer to the who does what work question; not a guarantee of “If I do X then God will do Y.” I think that is good! I have experienced times when I was unable, or unwilling, to do the work and God graciously provided, but the most profitable times have resulted by deliberate choosing and clinging to God’s word. When I have chosen I been given rewards that truly have enlarged my heart.

Tell Him, ask Him, meditate on His word and works, faithfully choose His ways, and cling to His testimonies. Trust Him to enlarge your heart!

Is there a Christmas Psalm?

This morning as I think about the psalms, I wonder if there is a psalm that could represent or foreshadow our Christmas celebrations. What do you think? Certainly many of the psalms are used to celebrate God’s gifts and goodness, his lovingkindness and benevolence to all people. Maybe, a psalm that mourns would be appropriate for this season, after all Jesus came to earth as the Son of Man for a purpose that involved atonement for our sin. The psalm that came to my mind was one that I read last Easter season as one of the Messianic psalms – Psalm 45. Let’s see if this celebration psalm fits the celebration of Christmas…

“My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.”

Christmas is the time when we get more letters and cards from friends, relatives, dentists etc., than at any other time of year. There is a sense of ‘good tidings’ and happy greetings with one another – those we know and those who are strangers. In the busyness, could one possibly forget to address the verses to the king?

“You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one, in your splendor and majesty!

In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness; Let your right hand teach you awesome deeds! Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.”

Splendor and majesty was the heavenly hosts’ message in Luke 2, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Meekness is an attribute that is mentioned in this season, but the sharp arrows and falling people in the Christmas story came at the hand of the evil King Herod instead of the good king that is celebrated in Psalm 45. Peace with God – oh what gift to share with others!

“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.”

Here is mention of myrrh and cassia, like the gifts brought by the king makers from the east. One thing we often do not mention at Christmas is that the myrrh and frankincense were used as burial spices also, but they are certainly gifts meant to honor a king.

“Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear; forget your people and your father’s house, and the king will desire your beauty. Since he is your lord, bow to him. The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts, the richest of the people. All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold. In many-colored robes she is led to the king, with her virgin companions following behind her. With joy and gladness they are led along as they enter the palace of the king.”

So now we know, without a doubt, that Psalm 45 is a wedding song. At this point in the psalm we could sing, “Here comes the bride!” Notice well how backwards our modern wedding ceremonies are in that they concentrate on the bride. The wedding featured here, and in Jesus’ own teaching, highlights the coming of and preparations made by the groom for the benefit of his bride. In John 14, Jesus said that he was going away to prepare a place for his own, and that he would return and take them to his Father’s house to be with him. In the parable of the Ten Virgins, the bridegroom comes when his preparations are finished; some of those waiting were ready and others were not.

Is that not what a good portion of the Bible story – God’s story – about? God preparing a people, holy, pure, fit to be presented to the King? Jesus’ birth is the key to the creation of this people because there was no one who met God’s requirements to be joined to His Son. The people God had created as ‘very good’ rebelled and pursued less worthy gods; they sold their purity for a bite of fruit but had to be redeemed at the cost of a life. Jesus came to live a life fully obedient to God and to pay the price for his bride.

Further on in God’s story, Revelation 19, we read of the grandest wedding celebration in the marriage supper of the Lamb to the ready Bride clothed “with fine linen, bright and pure.” A wedding will happen! “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

“In place of your fathers shall be your sons; you will make them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.”

The union of the couple is intended to be productive and long-lasting. Philippians 2:1-8 exhorts those who are in Christ to participate in that union by thinking like Christ and humility in service and obedience as he did. God gave Mary and Joseph instructions as to the name of the Child that would come and this name, Jesus, is remembered and praised in all generations because God has exalted it.

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

Sing with the heavenly hosts – Merry Christmas! The Bridegroom is coming!

Wise Ones

I have been posting some of my old “Greetings” on our Women’s Ministry site in the Weekly Devotional.

We often associate the wise men with their gifts, maybe because that’s what we want!, but is that all we know about them?

Pop on over to visit…

 

 

 

Psalm 51

David was overcome by strong emotions and passions in the story in 2 Samuel 11-12. God’s question to David is, “Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in His sight?” and the consequences are connected to “by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord.” We can list David’s sins and yet miss the fact that God’s word speaks to us about our daily walk before God. This Word is good and sweet like honey and precious and pure like refined gold and is for us today. It tells of God’s righteousness, His goodness, and our errors and needs.

What does sin do to a person? Psalm 32 tells us: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged by sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalm 32:1-5) The contrast is between the blessed forgiven one and the heavy weight of God’s hand; between the blessed one whose sin is covered to the wasted, weakened one who tries to cover his own sin; between the blessed justified one who speaks to confess his sin and the one who groans all day long.

How can sinners come before a holy, righteous God? Psalm 52 is an example for us to follow.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

What do we need the most from God? Mercy. Depend on His love and compassion to come to Him with your sin, come to be cleansed.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.

What do we do? Confess. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” God is God, pure, holy, righteous, and judge of our thoughts, words, and deeds. Every single one of us are born in sin and sin all the time when compared to God’s truth and wisdom. Only God can remove sin and clean away the blackness and teach us from the inside out. Hear the affirmations “Cleanse me and I will be clean,” “Wash me and I will be white,” “Let me hear and my bones will rejoice.”

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Then something really wonderful – a miracle – happens!

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

God is the creator of all things and when you confess, he creates in you a new heart. Jesus told a priest named Nicodemus that a person had to be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God – in order to see God with new spiritual eyes and someday real eyes. Later in the New Testament, the disciples who believed that God sent Jesus save people from their sins received the Holy Spirit because they were born new. This is a new life! A new life that is for you! God’s Holy Spirit then helps you to be willing to live right, in hear truth, and seek after God’s wisdom. This is really Good News that you can share with others!

Be humble and broken. God takes and works on this kind of sorrow to clean, heal, and restore.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Finally, here is a prayer for the community of God’s people. Jesus told his disciples that he would leave them but that his work was to prepare a place for them to live. He promised that he would return for them and that those who are his would live with him forever. Jesus guaranteed this could happen and his life was that righteous sacrifice offered to God. God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and raised Him out of the tomb. When you accept that Jesus’ sacrifice covers all of your sins, when you call Him LORD, you belong to Him – you are in Christ. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

Psalm 51 shows us the truth. We are sinners and sin against God. Only He can take away the sin when we are sorrowful, confess, and ask for a new life. This is the truth. Don’t let any feelings, emotions, or passions take away this truth. God is a merciful God. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Come!

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