Sunday, March 26, 2017

I am the resurrection and the life

I have recently been participating in a women’s Bible study at Bedon Baptist Church. I am not a member of that church, but that didn’t matter to the precious ladies there. They have welcomed me as one of their own, and I am so grateful for their love and care.

We’re using a study book written by Lysa TerKeurst titled “Finding I Am.” It’s a six-week study that guides us through specific scripture readings each week and poses questions about personal application of those verses. We meet together weekly to talk about it. The focus of the specific scripture readings are the situations and circumstances when Jesus started a sentence with the words “I Am.”

“I am the bread of life.”  John 6:35

“I am the light of the world.”  John 8:12

“I am the good shepherd.” John 10:11

Last week we studied John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  The circumstance that caused Jesus to make this “I am” statement was the death of Lazarus. Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were good friends of Jesus. The scripture says that Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Both Mary and Martha were obviously grieved over the death of their brother and were missing the presence of their friend, Jesus. Jesus was out of town at the time and didn’t get back until days later.

In our study workbook, we were prompted to consider a time when someone we loved died too soon. That wound is still fresh for me. I was devastated just a few months ago when my college roommate and lifelong friend, Lynne, died much too soon.

Lynne was diagnosed with cancer four years prior. The struggle seemed manageable the first three years. The fourth year was hard. In one of the last conversations I had with Lynne shortly before her death, she told me that she still firmly believed Jesus had the power to heal her here on this earth. She believed that physical healing was absolutely something Jesus could do. However, she told me that at this point, she no longer wanted him to heal her physically. She said she didn’t want Jesus to heal her because she didn’t want to have to go through the four-year dying process all over again some time later down the road. Once was enough.

The story of Lazarus came up in that same conversation with Lynne. We talked about how Jesus did make his way back to Mary and Martha’s house and that he called for Lazarus to come out of the tomb where his body had been rotting for four days. Miraculously, Lazarus came alive again walked out of the tomb.

Jesus told Martha, before it actually happened, that Lazarus would rise again. Martha didn’t quite catch Jesus’ context because she responded that she knew it would happen someday when it was the end of the world as we know it. Jesus wanted her to know that she didn’t have to wait until then to see new life. She could experience it that very day.

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’ ”
Her sister Mary and some other friends showed up with their own disbelief about Jesus’ immediate power to give life. Jesus loved this family. They were his people. They stood next to him, hugged him, spoke face to face with him, ate meals with him; yet they still had difficulty grasping the hope that Jesus could give them. This brought Jesus to tears.

Lynne and I also talked about Jesus’ weeping. The people closest to him didn’t believe in him — then there was poor, dead Lazarus. There was plenty to cry about. Maybe Jesus cried because he felt the same way about Lazarus that Lynne did about herself. Yes, he could heal Lazarus, but then Lazarus would have to suffer through death again later. Surely, once should be enough.

Lynne believed. She believed that heaven now would be better than suffering through the dying process again later. I can’t imagine what Lazarus must have thought when he was told he’d have to leave heaven to go back to earth for a little while.

Not long after Lazarus’ mournful wake and subsequent miraculous awakening, Jesus faced his own death here on earth. Unlike Lazarus, once was enough for Jesus. It was enough for all of us.

He is the resurrection. He is life. Believing that allows us to live even after we die.
“Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” Hebrews 9:27-28

This was originally posted March 26, 2017 on The Press and Standard site.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wait…what just happened?

In June 2016, the United Kingdom passed a referendum to exit the European Union. That Brexit event stunned much of the world. We just weren’t expecting that to happen.

Then there was the American presidential election in November. If you went to bed early that evening, you likely were surprised by the results the next morning.

Large numbers of football fans thought the Atlanta Falcons were going to bring home the Super Bowl LI trophy in February 2017. The New England Patriots never held the lead throughout the entire game, but won the whole shebang over the Falcons in the first-time-ever Super Bowl overtime. Shocking, I know.

The wrong envelope was handed to Warren Beatty and then Faye Dunaway read “La La Land” as the winner of the Best Picture at the Oscar Awards ceremony. Only “La La Land” wasn’t the winner, “Moonlight” was. What in the world?

Has anyone else seen the chickens pecking around down near the curve on Wichman Street? I saw them earlier this week and thought to myself, “Well, that’s odd.” For a brief moment I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere down the road. It might make sense on dirt road out in the country, but on a paved road in town?  Is this really happening?

Later that same chicken-sighting day, I hurried home after work to do a few chores before heading back out to church for choir rehearsal. In the half an hour that I was home, I gathered up the trash and rolled the bin out to the street, tended to the cat, sorted the laundry and tossed a large load of whites in the washing machine. I added the detergent, turned the knob to start it, and then headed out the door.

A couple of hours later that evening when I returned home, I opened the lid to the washing machine to find that the laundry that was white when I put it in was now brown. Wait. What? How bizarre. It was completely the opposite picture of what I expected to see when I opened the lid. I was so confused.

After some investigating I learned that the fire department had been flushing fire hydrants earlier in the day which resulted in some kind of sediment in the water lines. Who knew?  At least it’s one peculiar incident, in a string of many, thankfully with an explanation.
Teenage Joseph had been waking up as his father’s favored son, over eleven other brothers, his entire life. He must have woken up with that what-in-the-world-just-happened confusion the day after his brothers threw him in a dry well and then sold him into slavery. Although he was prone to wild and crazy dreams, this is new slavery reality was something he probably never dreamed would happen to him.

Joseph made the most of his slave days. He worked hard and was good at his job, so much so that he was given charge of the entire household of a government official. He probably felt that stinging tase of confusion again when he was accused of making the moves on the official’s wife and was unjustly thrown into prison.  First a pit, now prison, both of which he ever expected and both because other people wanted what he had. He was smart, handsome, skillful, and adept.

He met some other dreamers in prison who were, eventually, his get out of jail free card. Upon his release he again made the most of it, was successful at his work and again ended up in charge. I imagine his knack for dreams helped him envision how things should be done.

Yet, in all his wildest dreams he probably never thought he’d actually see his brothers again, but years later they showed up and they were hungry. Wait, what? The same brothers that sold Joseph into slavery now wanted Joseph to feed them. In the end, Joseph was able to take care of his brothers and their families and had the grace to tell them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

The number of circumstances that cause me to be stunned, startled, surprised, flabbergasted, taken aback, confused, dumbfounded, astonished, or whatever words you want to use, seem to be piling up these days. Sometimes I find an explanation, but for the most part I find myself still shaking my head wondering what in the world is happening in our world.

I tend to associate the good things that happen as blessings from God, but it may not always be the good things that give us what we need. There were a whole string of nearly unbelievable negative circumstances that Joseph faced. In the end he realized that God used all of them to help not only him, but many others as well. More specifically, not merely helping but actually saving their lives.

I may never know why or how, but based on Joseph’s experience, I believe that God can make something good out of all the craziness. God can use it to save lives, maybe even my own. 

The was originally posted March 19, 2017 on the Press and Standard website.