Look a Little Closer (My Redeemer Lives 3:1)

It’s easy to feel unseen in this world.

I think this feeling contributes to at least 60% of our mental health issues. That’s me making a wild guess, but think on a few things and let them ruminate. Look closer with me, if you will…

Think of those moments that people feel invisible as children: in a classroom, in a family, lying in bed at night, on a playground.

Think of the time spent as a teenager or a young adult searching and praying for a friendship that holds unwavering acceptance.

Think of the mental energy we expend on any given day, wishing we were just a little bit smarter, a little bit more put together, a little bit more thoughtful…a little bit more.

This world can be a harsh landscape, even in the best of childhoods, given the best privileges, and treated with the utmost grace.

Now think of all the people who do not have that.

Every time I encounter Mary Magdalene in Scripture, she appears to me as one of the least of these —  lacking support, lacking friendship, lacking resources, lacking truth, carrying the weight of her baggage around her neck like an albatross. Invisible to the world around her.

Let’s look closer.

First read the resurrection account from Mark 16:9-11 Look for any details you can find about Mary. What healing had Christ brought into her life? What struggle may still have been there?

[[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Not one, not two, not three, but seven demons. I want to lift the pain of that from her, but praise the Lord I don’t need to. Jesus did. He healed. He sent every last one of those demons in her life away, far away, gone. He saw her. He looked closer at her struggle and granted healing and restoration from years of torment and struggle. That’s Who Jesus is. That is what He does for each of us. Whatever pain of the past, whatever pressing struggles of the present, He sees and heals through His Word and His touch—not invisible touch, but very real touch. Think about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This is the same real present healing offered to us, that Jesus offered to Mary besieged by her own demons.

Now look at another account from Luke 8:1-3 for me:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them] out of their means.

Look closer.

What continued healing did Christ offer in this passage?

Was Mary alone? Far from it.

Also, some women…

Christ brings healing in a million ways into our lives, and this week, as we study resurrection, we are going to look closer at some of them.

Healing and restoration describe a far broader concept than we might see at first glance. We all need some healing and restoration— healing for relationships, healing in our hearts, healing for our health, healing for a more secure identity, restoration where there was discord, restoration to trust in whatever God is doing in our lives, restoration to walk in truth and love this day, and the next, and the next.

For the final passage today, look closer at John 20:11-18. In this awesome resurrection account, we see Mary look closer, angels looking closer in Mary’s need, and Jesus’s challenge and fulfillment of really, truly seeing.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Jesus heals in His resurrection, once and for all. He turns death, real and metaphorical, onto its head. It holds no power. Mary, and each of us just like her, is healed by the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the new life He gives in the resurrection. He also offers a challenge. Not a heavy law, you-better-get-it-together challenge, but more an offering –

Look closer.

“Do not cling to me…but go…”

Jesus tells Mary to go and tell, yes, but doesn’t that include looking closer? Looking into the lives of their community of disciples and all those around them and saying, “He is doing something else! He is healing! He is restoring!”?

We can miss so much when we look down or look in, only at our own frustrations, annoyances, or struggles. Christ continues healing by giving us community to walk this life together. He gives brothers and sisters to share the Resurrection Joy with, and a world to proclaim it to.

He looked closer at you. He sees you. Even while you weep, as Mary wept, in the midst of it, He reveals an empty tomb and Hope through His Word and through people to bring that Word to us. Look closer — where has He healed you?

Also today, let Him look closer through you. Watch Him see, heal, and restore. Be the Word bearer, share Hope and Life today. He sees you. He sees us. Look closer – know that you are seen.

You can download this Scripture card and one for every day of the week at PureJoyCreative.com.

Don’t forget this week’s Bible margin to help you reflect as you study.

Join the discussion by sharing your thoughts and insights in the comments, here and on social media.

Catch the week three video here:

20 Questions with Jesus

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Refusing to be halfway in (Chasing Freedom 4:3)

How many times have you invited someone and never received an invitation back?

It hurts.

This isn’t new to our generation. Maybe connecting with people is complicated by the presence of social media and a disconnection in neighborhoods, but reaching out and not receiving meaningful relationship in return is not new.

Paul addresses this universal human concern directly in Galatians 4:15-20:

 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? 17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Paul has theological concerns that are the purpose of his letter to the Galatians. He wants them to be spiritually free, not burdened by this yoke of circumcision and Levitical law that the Judaizers were trying to deceive them with. But he knew that spiritual freedom didn’t exist in a box. Spiritual freedom impacts every freedom in the Galatians’ lives, and in ours as well.

Paul’s message was that he wanted, and expected, real, genuine, honest, and reciprocal relationship with the Galatians. Is that too much to ask?

To some extent, yes, and Paul knows it. Our relationships will not be perfect. We are all sinful people. Paul speaks about this in his own letter to the Roman church, in Romans 3:9-12:

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”

We are all in this relational reality boat together. I mess up, you mess up. We offer confession and forgiveness and the planet turns and turns.

However, Paul also points out that there is a difference between sin present in our relationships and trading in people we love to impress other people. I can’t deal with masks. I can’t deal with fake, and very many of us cannot deal with that kind of rejection.

Paul, a very real person, had every right to be heartbroken, angry, sad, and bent out of shape about this kind of behavior in a relationship, particularly in the church.

Paul’s message to the Galatians and to us is:

We are all in.

All in.

Paul didn’t shut off his love for them – he wrote and labored for them. He references the pain of his heart and mind, the cost of being tossed aside by his fellow brothers in Galatians 4:19:

…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!

This is serious labor, the work of relationship.

Just as children are born and grow over time, so does relationship and Paul is going the distance, not giving of himself half-heartedly. Loving when it’s hard. Caring when it feels like too much work, when it physically hurts.

He also calls some BS. Honesty in relationship, spoken in love and with the foundation of real relationship, breaks open the doors for Christ to shape and grow us. Paul, wraps his challenging statements in love for the Galatians.

 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you. (Galatians 4:20)

“I wish I could speak gently to you. I wish this conversation wasn’t so necessary or so painful…” (Heidi’s paraphrase)

However, he calls it like it is. He expects the Galatians to be all in, as well; Nothing less.

Some people include so that the can exclude.

Whether on purpose or because they are unaware of life outside themselves, this is being halfway in a relationship. It’s not ok.

Paul says, All in or no in.

It gives me strength in relationship to know that I can call it like it is in love, have some level of Biblical expectation of people, while letting Christ form each of our imperfect selves. All wrapped up in the grace of a God who does not disappoint, who always includes.

God is completely and utterly all in.

Romans 8:31-32 is one of my favorite Bible passages about our All-in God:

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

All things- exactly what we need for freedom in our relationships, exactly what we need for this day, for this difficult person, for being true and real and honest, when life is grand and when it’s tougher than we ever imagined.

Lord, you are an All-In God. Guide us in our steps, our days, and our relationships to love and set boundaries as You would have us, but to never give up hope that You are working, to give when it’s hard labor, and to love when we do not receive. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

Discussion questions:

What are your relationship pet peeves? When are relationships hard for you? What happens in them to make them hard?

When has God called you to have stronger boundaries, while remaining “all in” in a relationship?

When has someone invited you further into their life in a way that spoke grace into your life?

Mercy Pursues You

I’m not the only one with good ideas. Obviously.

It’s one thing I love about Bible study. When we open the Word, insights come flying of the page, and your insights will probably look different than mine. The same message will apply differently depending on the given day, moment, season, or struggle in life, along with the sure and certain message that transcends time and space – that hits home for the hearer in the First Century and is exactly the same for the hearer 2000+ years later.

I am convinced that one gigantic benefit of the Body of Christ is the gift of connection and insight. When we gather to be vulnerable and share what we hear from the Word for our own lives, we also reach across the table in a way we cannot completely understand to touch the life and offer insight for the person in study with us.

Last Fall, one of the women in our Bible studies at I Love My Shepherd shared with me a simple insight, passed along from her pastor to her years before, to those of us in the Word that day –

Mercy pursues.

Open your Bible to Psalm 23:6 –

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever. (ESV)

The Greek root word for follow here is radaph. It can mean to follow, to pursue, to chase, or even in certain circumstances, to persecute. Context helps translators choose which are most usable in Biblical translation. Look at the character of God, according to the Psalm as a whole:

He shepherds.

He leads.

He disciplines. 

He comforts.

He prepares.

And it is in His nature to pursue, as well as follow.

How many of you have had a situation in life that you can point to and say, “Mercy pursued me? He was after my heart, my mind, my soul, all of me.”

God is patient. He is loving and kind.

He is also jealous for His children. He sent Hosea to chase after Gomer. He sent the spies into Jericho for Rahab, among other things. He handed His mother to John from the cross. He found Saul on the road to Damascus.

He has a plan. He has a great big awesome plan that involves Mercy in your life, with a capital M.

Sometimes He sits and lets us do our thing. Sometimes we wonder what in the world He’s doing, where in the world He is. Sometimes we wonder if He’s even listening, but He has a plan. He is active, when we cannot see Him. He is active when we cannot feel Him.

His plan is for our good, for mercy to come in, for loving-kindness to infiltrate, and He knows just the right time. His plans are always best and oh so worth the wait.

In all of this He is always, always pursuing us; never for a moment are we not on His mind and in His heart.

Some days, friends, I need to know that I’m worthy of pursuit. Because God calls me Child, He also calls me pursued. When I look to other people to seek after me, to honor me, and deem me worthy… I can look around and find His mercy, which was the only thing that ever mattered all along.

Someone needs to know Mercy pursues them, so let’s tell them.

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Christ Jesus pursues me.

Christ Jesus pursues you.

Today, know that Goodness and Mercy is after you, because you are worth chasing after. Radaph

Mercy pursues.