Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sister

 “And there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister…” John 19:25

         I, who was blessed to have three older sisters, am ashamed to say that these words in John nineteen never before caught my attention, and now it is only because someone near to me pointed them out. Perhaps God knew I would not fully appreciate their poignancy until I had lived long enough to appreciate the treasure I had, and have, in my own sisters. The Apostle John need not have pointed out that one of the women who was with Jesus’ mother at the Cross was her sister; but since he was the only disciple nearby, and the only one to whom Jesus spoke, his account of the Crucifixion is the most revealing, to my way of thinking. Then, too, from this day forward, his life and Mary’s would be intimately entwined until the death of one of them (vv. 26-27). Let me tell you two things that endear this lady, the earthly aunt of Jesus, to my own heart.

         First, the bond between the sisters that this scene portrays was not severed by the attention—good and bad—that Mary lived with through her life. I tend to think she was an older sister, because Mary was so young when God chose her to be the vehicle for the human birth of His Son into the world. Theoretically, every young Jewish woman from the time the Holy Birth was prophesied, longed to be chosen for this high calling; and an older sister could easily have begrudged her younger sister this privilege, in much the same way the brothers of David harbored ill-will toward him because he was singled out. Yet, seemingly, being overlooked in favor of her sister did not faze this woman. Nor did the slurs and ridicule that Mary surely had to endure for many years (Matt. 1:19;  Jno. 8:41) cause her to shy away from her sister’s company. If she was there in the end, it stands to reason, she stood with her in the intervening years.

         Then, consider this. The scene at the Cross that day was horrifying, yet this woman stood next to her sister as she watched the Son she loved with all her heart, until every drop of blood was drained from His body. Surely, not even love for her sister would have kept her there those six agonizing hours. There were only three kinds of people there the day that Jesus died: those who helped to kill Him, those who hated Him, and those who loved Him. I have no doubt, she was in the last group. From this day on, these two women were not only blood sisters; they were Blood sisters. And I may only be speculating, but I believe that one of the “women” with Mary, who were with the disciples in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, was Mary’s sister, the one at the Cross with her (Acts 1:14).

         The camaraderie of brothers is at least matched by the communion of sisters. By their very nature (generally speaking), women love to bond; and when the bond is one of family, as well, we find it even sweeter. Ah, but deeper still is the attachment that combines not only these, but the added dimension of the Spiritual bond in the Body of Christ. A sister with whom we can share not only love of family but also love of Christ, is a gift from God that should never be taken for granted. Mary had such a sister, and so do I. In fact, I have two (one is in heaven). We can laugh, cry…and pray together. Like Mary and her sister, we meet at the foot of the Cross and stand together against those who hate our Lord.  The bond we share will follow us to the gates of heaven, when all four “Hopkins girls” will be together once again in Glory!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

It's Beneath Us

“But God…hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 4, 6

         The last four verses of chapter one of Ephesians tell us exactly where Jesus Christ is right now: at the right hand of God in “heavenly places...above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion…” This is as it should be. On the other hand, you and I, as Blood-bought children of God, are there too. This is the grace of God. When God raised Jesus from the dead (1:20), He “raised us up together” with Him (2:6). We may not be there bodily, but we’re there literally. This is not a contradiction. The verses in chapter one about Christ are more about His position of power than His seating arrangement. Because of where He is, verse twenty-one says, all things are “under his feet.” This is a given, wouldn’t you say? Are you beginning to get the picture now, as far as you and I are concerned? We are “in Christ Jesus,” so we, too, are in a position of power. With that in mind, may I point out just two things that are beneath us?

SATAN: If you flip over a few pages in Ephesians to the last chapter, you’ll see that our greatest battles are fought against him and his minions “in high places.” If we had to fight him from where we walk daily, we’d be at great disadvantage. Everyone knows those who hold the high ground have the more favored position over someone fighting an uphill battle. Ah, but “heavenly places” trump “high places” every time! In point of fact, we’re out of his reach, unless God wills otherwise (Job). So when we succumb to his attacks, we can be sure we have not taken advantage of our advantage. And it’s beneath us.

SIN: “For sin shall not have dominion over you…” (Rom 6: 14) There are fewer things more intimidating and daunting than the temptation to sin. As the saying goes, “I can resist anything but temptation.” And the fact that it can come camouflaged as something so seemingly minimal as a lapse in intercessory prayer (1 Sam. 12:23) only makes it harder to overcome. However, when we see sin for the Christ-killing thing it is, and our spiritual sensibilities make us long to draw away, we can feel overwhelmed by its sheer force. But this verse says, though it will always be a part of our lives (1 Jno. 1:8), it need not have dominion over us. When we yield to its demands, it’s not because we’re ill equipped to meet them; it’s because we’ve temporarily left the high ground, and we are dealing with them on equal footing. That, my friend, is a losing battle, and one we need not fight. It’s beneath us.

         In one of the Mary Poppins stories, she and the children make a day trip to visit her uncle Albert, whose one idiosyncrasy is that when he thinks of something truly funny and laughs heartily, he floats to the ceiling, and remains there until he can think of something truly sad. As you probably remember, Mary, the children, and Bert, the chimney sweep all end up on the ceiling; and it’s not until they realize their visit must come to an end that they all slowly float back down to the ground. It’s a thing of mindset—happy or sad.

You and I, as believers, have “floated to the ceiling,” so to speak. We’re “seated in heavenly places.” But unlike the people in the story, nothing can ever make us “float back down.” Our place in the Kingdom of God is reserved forever. But we can allow our mindset to keep us “grounded” in a bad way, in our Christian lives. That’s what Romans six, seven, and eight are all about. We’re far above the likes of Satan and sin. They’re both beneath us—literally—and the sooner we believe that and take advantage of our position in Christ, the sooner we’ll begin to resemble the conquerors we truly are in Him.

We’ve got the high ground; let’s use it!

Thursday, February 21, 2013


"And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked..."   Genesis 3:7                                                         
         Nobody likes a “know-it-all,” especially God. You only have to read the story of our original parents in the Garden of Eden to know this is true.

         Knowledge is very seductive. At least, it is to me. Unfortunately, it’s capable of producing entirely opposite results. It can become a catalyst for both good and evil. In fact, the tree in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were expressly forbidden to partake of, had the unique quality of being able to provide knowledge of both, in one bite. That would be a good thing…wouldn't it? Eve certainly thought so. As a woman, I find it very probing that the devil chose to dangle the temptation of all-knowledge before Eve instead of Adam. And it was she who was deceived, not he (1Tim. 2:14). She loved knowledge and he loved her, it could be argued.

Whatever their individual motivations, it turned out that the new revelation that came to them after the first bite of the forbidden tree of knowledge was the fact that they were naked. Surely way down on the list of things I’d like to find out about myself.  Have you ever had one of those crazy dreams where you're in a large group of people, and you suddenly realize you don't have any clothes on? Who knows; this may be déjà vu from Mother Eve!

         Of all the aspects of our lives that require discrimination, one of the most important is in the matter of acquiring knowledge. We only need to know as much as God wishes for us to know—of both good and evil. To dash from this "tree" to that in search of ever more knowledge and experience, is to court disaster. In Eve’s case, it cost her something she would never again regain: innocence. And, oh, the ruined lives knowledge has often left in its quest! I want to know everything God wants me to know—nothing less...but nothing more.

“Adam and Eve didn’t need to know good and evil; they only needed to know God.”  
                                                                                             R.D. Sandlin

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Company You Keep

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus….And being let go, they went to their own company." (Acts 4:13; 23)

         The company you keep—it says a lot about you, you know. As a matter of fact, it says everything about you. With the exception of individuals whose presence is obligatory, those with whom we associate regularly mirror our own attitudes and preferences. You may rise above the company you keep from time to time…but not for long. It was easy to spot that Peter and John had been spending time with Jesus Christ, and it was the reason these two good men ended up in jail. Christ-deniers will use any means possible to stop the spread of His message.

         But eventually they were forced to let them go and it was then that Peter and John proved once again the accuracy of the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” Just as soon as they were free to choose, they “went to their own company.” And so do we. It’s as simple as that. They gravitated to fellow believers as surely as “water rises to its own level.”

It was G. H. Morrison, however, who challenged me to think more closely about those three little words, “And being let go…” As long as they were restrained, they were under the control of someone else; and not until they we set free, were they able to freely choose. In the same way, all through our lives, there will be constraints placed upon you and me, and only when we’re free of them, will we be able to see who we really are. Here are two examples of what I mean.

         The prodigal son may very well have led an exemplary life (outwardly) while in his father’s house, but as Morrison so wisely points out, “No man becomes a prodigal in one swift hour. If he went to the harlots, he had been dreaming of them.” Leaving home didn’t make him a prodigal; it merely showed his prodigal heart.

         Again, there are men and women, who, while making a living or raising a family, adhere to the restraints of society or propriety until they reach middle age or somewhat older. Then, what often follows is a minor or major “mid-life crisis,” as they call it, when they engage in behavior they would have frowned on, or even condemned when they were younger. This is not a sudden phenomenon; it’s a result of unrestrained thought processes that, when the opportunity arose, were acted upon. Spiritually speaking, they go “to their own company.”

          Here’s something to think about: If you could spend one day unrestrained, and unobserved by or accountable to God or man, with whom would you spend that day? It is written of Jacob that he was “gathered to his own people” (Gen. 49:33) and of Judas that he went “to his own place” (Acts. 1:25). In the end, we choose with whom we’re most comfortable, and God obliges us by making them our eternal companions. The world and God knows us by the company we keep.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Till Death Do Us Part"

“For I am persuaded, that neither death…shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord.”  (Romans 8:38 & 39)

         In the traditional wedding ceremony, the vows spoken by both the bride and groom are finalized with but one qualifier: “…till death do us part.” What each one saying is that the promise to love, honor, and take care of the other exclusively is a bond only death can break, at least as far as he or she is concerned. Although the memories of a deceased spouse will always be there, the reality of his or her person has been severed. This is a heart-wrenching experience for any marriage, especially when long years have fused their love into something grand and glorious.

         It occurred to me recently that when Jesus Christ became my Savior, Lord…and Bridegroom (2 Cor. 11:2), His vows of faithfulness to me did not include those five words, “…till death do us part.” In fact, while by faith I have the joy His presence now, death (or the Second Coming) will open to me the glory of His very Person. From that day, all those years ago, when I acknowledged my need of a Savior and pledged my love to Him forever, nothing will ever separate us, now or in the future. I think it is significant that when Paul lists all those extreme circumstances and entities that one might think could sever God from His people, first on the list is “death.” There is a finality about death that seems to preclude anything and anybody from our existence. No wonder the final offering of encouragement is always, “Where there’s life, there’s hope.” Well, child of God, in our case, where there’s death, there’s hope! God has disarmed death (1 Cor. 15: 54-55) by the resurrection of His crucified Son, so that now it’s no longer a parting but a portal. A portal into His very presence, in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s the greatest hope of all.
         Unless the Lord returns first, one day, my husband of many years and I will be parted in death. Even if we die simultaneously that relationship will be severed. But my relationship with God through Jesus Christ will continue on, without a hitch. One last (truly) breathtaking moment here, and the next one inhaling celestial air in a new body “like unto his glorious body” (Philip. 3:21). And should I dread this? Should you? Death may be a parting from loved ones and friends, here, but not from God. Nothing shall ever separate us from Him. In the words of Martha Snell Nicholson,

This isn’t death; it’s glory!
It isn’t dark; it’s light.
It isn’t stumbling, groping,
It isn’t faith; it’s sight.
This isn’t grief, it’s having
My last tear wiped away.
It’s sunrise; it’s the morning
Of my eternal day.