Saturday, November 21, 2015

From the Dead: Lazarus Part One - Special Treatment



I don't actually use the word "special" that much. I realized it while trying to right this blog; I have no idea why, but "special" is just not a part of my day-to-day lexicon. But, after checking out its official definition, I know that I have a desire for special treatment.

Special - better, greater, or otherwise different from what is usual.   
  • When I start dating someone new, he better make me feel special
  • At work, you want to stand-out as an especially valuable employee and get that raise/bonus/employee-of-the-month plaque.
  • On February 14, couples go do something special!
Why do we love that so much? Well, because it feels good! Special treatment is all about making the object of that treatment feel good. Special treatment is a perk of particular types of relationships. Special treatment almost signifies that a close relationship even exists! Parents treat their own children better than somebody else's children. Your BFF can walk into your house, eat your food out of your refrigerator, make messes in your house, and otherwise act like everything is theirs. New friends have to keep to decorum. This difference in treatment is the indication that a different kind of relationship exists. And once you're in a special relationship, you have a reasonable expectation of special treatment.

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” 
- John 11:1-3

Why this particular exposition? Why this extra detail about exactly who Mary, Martha and Lazarus are? I think John wants us to know that there is history here:

And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 
- Luke 7:37-38
Lazarus is the brother of that Mary.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. 
- Luke 10:38-42

Looking at the way they have interacted. Looking at the way they speak to Jesus and the way Jesus speaks to them. It's clear: these are not just Jesus' disciples. These are His friends! When Jesus goes to Bethany...this is where He crashes. This is where he'd have Friendsgiving if they were kicking it in 2015. So, when they send notice that their brother is sick...when they send notification that the person that Jesus loves is sick...what is the expectation? 

That Jesus comes running! The expectation is "special treatment."

But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

The underlined sentence kills me. Jesus loved them so He waits. 
... 
Jesus loved them, so He waits?! He waits two days when He's already a two-days journey away from Bethany. He purposely creates a four day delay! Not because He was unconcerned. Not because He didn't care. Not because He wants to hurt them. He did this because He loved them! 
 In reading this passage of scripture one huge truth kept pressing down on me: 

whaaaaa? I don't understand!
"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. 
- Isaiah 55:8
God simply does not do things in the way we would do it. It's hard to imagine, but that four-day delay...was the special treatment. And it's so outside of what we would do or expect that we have the audacity to get mad at it. We get incredulous and we question it. This special treatment turns the excited new believer exclaiming "Jesus loves me" to this person who stays at home angry on Sunday morning thinking "God hates me!" Because He didn't come running to clean up your mess the way you thought He should. Because He didn't fix it as fast as you felt your relationship with God demanded. We simply don't understand. It's confusing!

What happened with Lazarus is incredibly curious! Why did Jesus wait for him to be in the tomb for four days? Why did he let His friend go through that? And believe me, they went through something. Lazarus died of an illness, so that includes time that he's in pain. Time that he's suffering. And his sisters are at his bedside. Nursing him. Praying. Waiting for the life-saving arrival of their friend Jesus. They're believing in Him to do something. They're never giving up hope. Until...Lazarus breathes his last. And even then...since they sent word to notify, they're probably watching the door, waiting for Jesus to pull off a resurrection miracle like He's done before. But no one comes. No one comes. So they do what they have to do: they wash Lazarus' body, they anoint him with perfumes, they bind his body in cloths, and they bury him in his tomb. Lazarus is dead. 

So then, way late, Jesus shows up. Martha and Mary both tell Jesus respectively that things would have turned out differently if only He had been there (John 11:21 and John 11:32). And then this is the part that people have explained in different various ways: 

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to Him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. 
- John 11:33-35  


We have an accidental way of painting this picture of "heartless Jesus" or "heartless God." This cosmic "bigger picture" in which was are just cogs in the wheel of God's really huge machine. But, at the same time, we know...God cares about even the sparrows (Matthew 10:29). He is concerned with the lives of His friends. When Jesus saw them weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled. I used to think He was troubled because of their lack of faith. Some theologians say He was moved and troubled by His contemplation of sin and its consequences. But I think...and I could be wrong...that Jesus was moved and troubled because He made them wait. He made them go through this, and it was sad to see them so distraught. He could have given them the special treatment they wanted, but His desire to show them something even more special was greater than the stress He felt from watching cry miserably at His feet. 

These days, we don't have the opportunity to see God cry for us. I wonder what you would think if you saw Jesus cry at the sight of your personal grief. These people saw Jesus cry, and immediately they broke into two camps of thought:

So the Jews were saying, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?”- John 11:36-37

They broke into (1) See how much Jesus loved him?! and (2) He saved other people, why not his friend?

And I think because we don't Jesus cry for us, we default to #2. He saved other people! He helped other people! He healed other people! But...what about me? And we start to question our special relationship. But, in every single one of our situations, our relationship is still intact. Jesus isn't questioning it. We are!
 
So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Remove the stone.” Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
- John 11:38-40

This has become my favorite part. Lazarus isn't even raised yet, but this is my favorite part! Jesus, still really deep in His feelings, goes to the tomb and says "remove the stone." And Martha, who was just exclaiming that if only Jesus had been there earlier tries to stop Him! She thinks it's too late for special treatment. The special thing that she wanted from Jesus...the time for it has passed. Her brother is dead. And his body is decaying. He stinks now. But then Jesus says something amazing: 
 

Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?

And that is it. THAT is the special treatment. To see and behold the glory of God! It's not a commonplace thing. It's not a for-everyone-to-see thing. 
 
It's something extremely special. It is a special treatment.
 
And it's reserved for friends.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

From the Dead: No Laughing Matter

Anyone who knows me knows I love to laugh. I laugh long, hard, and loud. Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night to realize I was laughing in my sleep. And then I just lay there trying to remember what I was dreaming about so I can laugh again (I can never remember).

Laughing is so natural. There's something so easy about it, but we all know from personal experience that laughter is never just one thing. There are so many different types of laughter. I read an article today called 10 Different Types of Laughter. From 10 all the way down to 1, I know what they're talking about. But the subject of this blog is number 1:

Cruel Laughter.


 Now, the next resurrection miracle is interesting because it is recorded in three of the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). And each one is a little bit different. Not different in a way that changes any of the major points, but rather in a way that changes how I'm personally impacted. So for my purposes, I'm going to use the gospel of Mark; however, you can see a comparison of all three here.
 
One of the synagogue officials named Jairus came up, and on seeing Him, *fell at His feet
and implored Him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death; please come and lay Your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” And He went off with him; and a large crowd was following Him and pressing in on Him

--PAUSE--I'm about to skip like 10 verses. Four years ago, I wrote a blog on a portion of this story. It was called Miracle, Interrupted because Jairus' urgent situation is literally put on pause while Jesus performs another miracle and commends a woman for her great faith--UNPAUSE--
 
While He was still speaking, they came from the house of the synagogue official, saying, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher anymore?” But Jesus, overhearing what was being spoken, said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid any longer, only believe.” And He allowed no one to accompany Him, except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the synagogue official; and He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing. And entering in, He said to them, “Why make a commotion and weep? The child has not died, but is asleep.” They began laughing at Him. But putting them all out, He took along the child’s father and mother and His own companions, and entered the room where the child was. Taking the child by the hand, He said to her, “Talitha kum!” (which translated means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl got up and began to walk, for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were completely astounded. 
- Mark 5:22-42 (with some verses skipped)

There is so much in this passage. Like, I could write about the fact that almost no one comes to Jesus when their loved one is already dead. Why? Because If they're already dead...why trouble the Teacher anymore?


I could write about Jesus saying "Do not be afraid any longer, only believe" which means the entire time Jairus was shaking in his boots, as Jesus chatted up other people...Jesus was totally aware of it! He was aware of his fear. And then told him there is a time for fear to end, and for the only thing left to be your faith.

But what I'm talking about are the people at the house. And their cruel laughter.

Except...I wouldn't really define it as "cruel" laughter. The article was close...but I don't think they quite touched on what I've always known as derisive laughter. And to break that down, derisive laughter is laughter that is characterized by contempt, with contempt meaning "beneath consideration" or "worthy of scorn." Contempt is also disregard for something that should be regarded. 

And these people laughed derisively at...Jesus.

Honestly, I think it's something that I do often.  Not on purpose, but naturally in a reactive way. That's how I think it happened with these people (can't be sure of course). But just imagine you're the people on the scene of the death of this child. These were likely the same people who were just nursing her. Just praying for her. They witnessed her last moments. They held her mother's hand. I say this because when Jesus arrived "...He saw a commotion, and people loudly weeping and wailing."
this is how they looked at Jesus

That was them! And Jesus basically says "stop all that crying, she's just asleep." 

Jesus' words seem contemptuous. Like He has disregarded their very real grief. And their basic intelligence. They know dead when they see it. So they lost it. But...if they only knew! If they knew that Jesus had the power to call her spirit back... If they knew that Jesus was the resurrection and the life...they wouldn't have laughed. 

But they only knew one thing: the girl is dead. So they believed in that. And Jesus put them out. 
Her parents, Peter, James, and John knew two things: the girl is dead. And Jesus has power. And they believed in that. And Jesus brought them in. 

Please understand that you can believe in two things: the truth of your circumstance--the struggle is real! And the truth of God's power--He is able! 

But that's hard. Those two things seem so mutually exclusive that one of those realities gets held in derision. 




Why is that God stuff always hits the chopping block first? Suddenly, we can be immersed in derisive thoughts. Derisive thoughts about prayer. Derisive thoughts about faith. Derisive thoughts about hope. And...those thoughts need to be put out. 

This is why Paul says, 

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. - Ephesians 4:8

And it's difficult, because we're so busy derisively laughing at such. Why? Because there are so many false, dishonorable, wrong, tainted, ugly, despicable, terrible and/or bad things that steal our focus. And when we focus on them, we drown out the good. And we destroy our faith. 

Jairus could have fallen out in the street when they said: "why bother the teacher any longer." And maybe he would have, but Jesus didn't let him. He gave him the encouragement that strengthened the faith that gave him access to the room where a miracle would take place.  


This is no laughing matter.






Sunday, October 4, 2015

From the Dead: Expect the Unexpected


This past week, citizens of the United States of America were hit with the news of yet another school shooting. This time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. President Obama said these types of events have become "routine" and that we are almost "numb" to it. Both Jeb Bush and Donald Trump (while acknowledging the horrific nature of these events) pretty much said "these things happen." And honestly...they kinda do. "S$%^ happens" is real! We've had a ton of insane mass killing events in the 16 years since the Columbine tragedy (and a ton before it as well). So much so, that the unexpected has become...well...expected. In a really bad way.

the good surprise face
And I hate that! Remember when "expect the unexpected" was a turn of phrase that meant something good? Remember when something unexpected was a ridiculously pleasant surprise? Now, the unexpected thing is a bomb at the Boston Marathon. Now the unexpected thing is an active shooter at a calm community college in Oregon.

But there was a time when the unexpected thing wasn't a tragedy. It was a miracle.

I took a long time writing this next blog for two reasons:
  1.  My mom was in town for 3 weeks in September, and I was really focused on her; 
  2.  I had a hard time with the next resurrection miracle because it felt...boring.
That second reason took me aback a little bit. It wasn't that I didn't understand the passage, or that I didn't get the importance of the miracle. But...to me...at first...it seemed a little bit unexciting.

This next resurrection is the first of its kind in the New Testament. This is Jesus' first time raising someone from the dead, but it didn't seem amazing to me. Why? Because as a Christian, this was just the kind of thing that Jesus does. It was totally expected. Which is ridiculous. How can it be expected that someone who is dead comes back to life?!

Have the miracles of Jesus become "routine" in my mind. Am I "numb" to the awesome display of His power?! I'm not. But then again, I am. But then again, I'm not. I think sometimes we become so used to these bible stories that we lose the awe and wonder that should automatically accompany them. And so, I'm going to go back over this story looking for the unexpected.

Soon afterwards He went to a city called Nain; and His disciples were going along with Him, accompanied by a large crowd. Now as He approached the gate of the city, a dead man was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a sizeable crowd from the city was with her. When the Lord saw her, He felt compassion for her, and said to her, “Do not weep.” And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” This report concerning Him went out all over Judea and in all the surrounding district.
Luke 7:11-17

Unexpected thing #1 

Jesus says "do not weep" to this woman. From her perspective, and that of all the onlookers, this was unexpected. A widow. One son. He's dead. This is a weeping occasion. So to tell me not to cry is...not only unexpected. It's unexpectedly rude. Unless...you can give me a reason not to cry. 

And isn't that expected. There are so many things worth crying about in this world. If you just turn on the news you can find a reason to cry. If you think intently about your past, you'll find yourself in a puddle. And yet Jesus tells this woman not to weep, and to me it's a precursor to: 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." - Revelation 21:4

Can you even imagine what that will feel like? To have the old order of things pass away and having nothing to cry over? It's foretold of in Revelation, but I bet it'll still feel wholly unexpected. 

Unexpected thing #2  

Jesus touched the coffin. This is unexpected because the coffin and everything having to do with that body is unclean, and Jesus touching it exposes Him to ritualistic uncleanness. But guess what? I don't really care about that. Jesus does unexpected things like that all the time. What gets me is that the pallbearers STOP. Pallbearers have to know that people can/will do crazy things out of grief, and that you can't respond/react to that. You have to keep it moving. Because what can a person do besides scream and cry and hold up the procession? But they stop for Jesus. Perhaps his reputation precedes Him and they know what He can do. Or maybe they're so shocked by Jesus exposing Himself to ritualistic uncleanness that they simply halt. But whatever it was...Jesus got their attention. 

The unexpected can catch your attention. But I feel like my focus has been drawn away to so many things that I no longer notice the subtle touch of Jesus' hand on the coffin of my dead way of living. Sometimes I don't catch that Jesus just put his hand on the coffin on my dead way of thinking. Sometimes I don't realize that Jesus put his hand on me, when I was dead and trespasses and sins. I just go about my life. Walking myself outside of the gate, far away from the land of the living. Sometimes you have to stop and take note of that touch. Pay and attention and see what happens next. 

Unexpected thing #3

 Jesus raises this guy from the dead. 

Now, to us believers, this wasn't unexpected. But to everyone standing near this was an insane moment. This wasn't expected....not even of Jesus. As I stated earlier, this was Jesus' first resurrection miracle. People expected miracles of Jesus, but not one of this type. Why do I say this? Well, in my mind I'm contrasting this miracle with another one Jesus performed: 

Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” The royal official *said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” - John 4:46-50


This guy was begging Jesus to hurry up and heal his son...before it was too late. Mary and Martha were crushed when Jesus came 4 days after their brother had died. We hold God to an expected timeline, because we expect nothing after our internal, human, deadlines have passed. But Jesus shows up at this guy's funeral. He's so late that no one is even asking for His help! This widow is not prostrate at Jesus' feet asking for a miracle. She's taking her son's body outside of the gate...but God doesn't always have to be asked for His help! I serve a God who can look at your situation and in the absence of your expectation, and in the absence of your request for assistance can have compassion. And then...do the unexpected. 

And when I think of it like that, I realize: I love this story! I love it. 

Three weeks ago I thought it was boring...and now I love it. And even that was completely unexpected. 

And though we live in a world where bad things happen, we don't have to accept it. We don't have to expect it. In the here and now, we need to pray about these situations and think about what God is calling us to do, and what laws He might be calling for us to change. But even if we just have to wait for the tears to be wiped from our eyes on the Last Day...

Let's try to make unexpected good again. 

Friday, August 28, 2015

From the Dead: Life by Association



In recent weeks I have been going to work out at 5:00 a.m. And for all intents and purposes, I go feeling...sort of...dead. My alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m. and I think: "I can't do this." But I trudge on, through the doors of OrangeTheory Fitness where I am greeted by a crazy person. The trainer. This guy is really UP for 5:00 a.m. He's giving you high-fives, and scrolling through his iPhone for his perfect playlist of jams. He yells randomly and roars in your face.

I remain deadpan.

But...I do feel the beginnings of life. I set my treadmill jog pace at 4.5. Effort = "I don't care." But then I look over to the girl next to me, and she's already at 6.0. I tick the speed up a little bit. More life. And after a few minutes, I am completely alive. I'm working out at 100% and the hour just flies by!

This is not a commercial for OTF. It's been 2 months since I joined, and I haven't really lost any weight (note: I've been eating the world), and I don't think I have tons of new muscles (but perhaps a few). But I'm in a routine now, whereas before I may have been in a rut. I came in contact with a lively trainer, and a lively/bustling group of people...and it revived me.

Life by association.

 ...Is that a thing? Maybe.

Elisha died, and they buried him. Now the bands of the Moabites would invade the land in the spring of the year. As they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they cast the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet. - 2 Kings 13:20-21

This is perhaps the most random section of scripture I've ever read. And what makes it random is that 2 Kings 13:1-19 and 2 Kings 13:22-25 are not even remotely related to his occurrence. This account is seriously out of nowhere! But, this is the third recorded account of a resurrection from the dead. 

There are a couple of ways I could go with this: 
  1. Create a "read-between-the-lines" metaphor-type blog that you might hear in a charismatic sermon somewhere. It goes something like this:    
    When your friends and your family gave up on you...when they left you for dead, God had the power to bring you back to life. Sometimes, people are beyond hope. But even in death. Even in the tomb, God can work a miracle. God can take the hopeless person who is dead, in a hopeless place like a graveyard, and give life. Can I get an "amen?" Or, 

  2. I could try to figure out what happened in this scripture.
But, honestly, even that is reading between the lines, because it's two verses. But I break the two verses down like this (in my mind):
  • Elisha died, and he was buried. 
  • Another man died, and in haste (because bandits were coming), they threw the man into Elisha's tomb.
  • When the man's dead body touched Elisha's dead body, the man came back to life. 
1 dead person + 1 dead person = 1 alive person?

We've see instances where 1 alive person has brought 1 dead person back to life. If someone drowns, they can breathe into your mouth, do chest compressions, and that person sometimes comes back. We've seen (in real life if you're a doctor, on TV if you're not) someone flat line, and someone charges up the paddles and shocks someone back into a heart rhythm. Who was gone.

But if both people are dead...? I'm thinking: it's chopped.

And so I've decided (and I may be wrong): there was something alive in Elisha's tomb.

And the man's dead body came in contact with something that, though it looked dead, was very much alive. And that man was revived. Life by association.

But what do I mean that Elisha, though dead, was alive? Well, I think scripture says eternal life is gained, while we are living:

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 
- John 5:24

When does forever start?! It starts at hearing and believing the Word of God. And that happens, while you're still alive. While you're walking around, while you're going to work, and while you're trudging in to 5:00 a.m. workouts. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8) in both the New Testament and the Old. Elisha was a man of intense faith in God, so I think it's fair to say he had already crossed from death to life before he was ever laid in a tomb. And when that dead thing came in contact with that living thing...life spread. By association.

Which is why, those of us who have already crossed over from death into life, should try to get as close to dead things as we possibly can. This is the charge of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19). It is getting close to dead things that Paul prescribes, in order to save some of them:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.
1 Corinthians 9:19-22

So, be careful who you associate with. And I mean that in the opposite way of how we usually mean it, but be careful who you associate with, because you might be able to show light, and therefore give life...by association.

Monday, August 24, 2015

From the Dead: Hold it In

 

Have you ever had a situation where you had to "hold it in?" Like something crazy sad just happened, but you have to hold back the tears. Or something is super scary, but you have to hold back your fear and move forward in fake (or mustered up) courage?

I'm terrible at doing that. At the first sign of disaster, I'm a wreck. The disaster doesn't even have to occur for me to breakdown. Just imagining it. Just thinking about it, can put my nerves on fray.

But there is a time to hold it in. There's a verse in Exodus 14:14 that says:

"The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still." 

Moses says this to the people when they're backed up against the Red Sea with Egyptian chariots barreling down on them. "This is a panic-worthy situation, but don't panic...this is a time to run, but don't run." Hold it in. Wait. Hold it in. Trust in the Lord.
This next story is so similar to the last, that they're are often confused with each other. But the players have changed. Instead of Elijah, we have Elisha. And instead of the Widow of Zarephath we have the Shunammite Woman. And we have a situation where someone "holds it in."

Background

The Shunammite woman and her husband routinely let Elisha crash at their place when he's passing through. They built an entire room for him, they cook him meals, they extend immense hospitality to the man of God. As a result, Elisha wants to bless them somehow, but she can't think of anything that she wants. So Elisha and his servant look at her situation: she's barren, her husband is old, she doesn't have an heir. So Elisha says:

“At this season next year you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.” The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her. 
- 2 Kings 4:16-17

This is not the crux of the story, but I have a few key takeaways from just this part:
  •  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us - Ephesians 3:20
She didn't ask for anything! She couldn't think up anything that she wanted...that was possible. A child is clearly something she yearned for, but it was in the realm of impossibility so she didn't even bother asking. This is limited faith. But, your limited faith doesn't necessarily stop what God has planned for you. Throughout scripture, we see God working with people; helping them build faith. I'm not sure why we think the ball is always in our court.
    The Shunammite woman's inability to ask for what she wanted? Faithless. Her reaction to the promised fulfillment of her unspoken desire? Still faithless: "Don't lie to me."
      She's like: "stop playing." She is really skeptical. As such, I feel this chick; I identify with her doubt. Because I'm never quite looking for the impossible. I'm generally looking for the "doable." God can do so much more than the doable. We really have to start thinking in God-sized terms. But we're afraid of that because the let down can be too much.

      Despite all this, she had a son, and then this happened:

      When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died. 
      - 2 Kings 4:18-20

      Her son just died in her arms. Time for panic. Time for weeping and gnashing of teeth. It really is that time. But this is what happened next:

      "She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.” He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well..." 
      - 2 Kings 4:21-23

      Then, when Elisha see her coming, he sends his servant out to greet her:

      When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.”
       - 2 Kings 4:25-26

      But when she gets to Elisha, she falls down at Elisha's feet, begs him to come heal her son. He goes, he prays over him, brings him back from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37). 

      Her son died. But nobody got to know it until she brought it to God (via Elisha). Everything was fine. Everything was cool. Until she could bring it to the Lord. It was there and only there that she unleashed her petition. 

      She held it in. All of her despair, all of her fear. It was suppressed beneath her faith that once Elisha heard her cry, that God would hear her cry, and her son would be restored. She didn't bother telling her husband...though some may think he had a right to know. She didn't bother telling Gehazi (Elisha's servant) even though he was in a position to relay her message. But she took it straight to where she knew her help could and would come from. 

      And the takeaway for me, personally, is sometimes I have to hold it in. I need to learn to hold in all of my doubts/fears/crazy and take it to the Lord in prayer. Why do I  first vent to my friends and family members? Why do I first bemoan my circumstance in the public sphere before God hears a word of it? Maybe I'm alone in this, but I think maybe I talk too much and pray too little. 

      God has already brought us this far. And everyone's distance is different, but wherever you are...God brought you there. God brought the Shunammite the son, and that was a miracle in and of itself. So she thought it no small thing that God could also bring him back from the dead. Even though that was in the realm of impossibility! It was more possible for her to give birth than it was for her son to die and come back to life. But the former thing she doubted, and the latter she believed wholeheartedly. 

      Why? Because God has already proven Himself to her, and from then on...all of her problems would be laid at his feet. 

      So why don't we do the same? Why aren't we holding it in until we can get to God in prayer? Maybe we've forgotten our former thing. And need to take some time to recall them. 


      **Watched Fear the Walking Dead last night. Gloria was not "patient zero." Just an unfortunate drug user who OD'd and then ate her friends. :(








      Wednesday, August 19, 2015

      From the Dead: Patient Zero


      Sunday is the premiere of Fear the Walking Dead which is a spin-off of my favorite TV show The Walking Dead. Admittedly, I have nightmares every Sunday night in the fall. But I've weighed the pros and cons and it is totally worth it! That show has so many dimensions. The scariest thing in the show isn't necessarily the zombies...it's the depravity of mankind. It's the loss of humanity in an attempt to preserve one's human life. And so, who's really dead? The zombies or the survivors?

      But alas, this has nothing to do with my blog. Except...the new show (per internet buzz) will show us "Patient Zero." How this person became infected? Why this person? What started it all? What happens now? Well, we know what happens: zombie apocalypse. But everything else we won't be told.  Why? The creator of the show thinks that is unimportant (though, I beg to differ).

      Well, for a long time I've wanted to write a blog series about resurrection from the dead (which is decidedly less spooky in biblical terms). However, there's almost no need for a series. I could just write one blog on Mark 16. Jesus.
      Is this Patient Zero?

      But...Jesus technically wasn't the first to rise from the dead. There were of course elements of His resurrection that are specific only to Him with impacts to all of mankind...but what about "Patient Zero?"

      And so I start with an account found in 1 Kings 17. This is the first recorded account  of  a resurrection from the dead:


       Now it came about after these things that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, “What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!” He said to her, “Give me your son.” Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. He called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, have You also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the Lord and said, “O Lord my God, I pray You, let this child’s life return to him.” The Lord heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.” Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”
       - 1 Kings 17:24

      There is a lot going on in these verses that makes no sense unless you read the whole chapter, so I'll have to refer to some earlier verses to clarify. But here's the breakdown:

      Son becomes sick and dies...Mom blames Elijah?

      The woman's reaction to her son's death is rather strange, is it not? She says that Elijah showed exposed her sin, and as a result killed her son. If you believe that sin results in death (which it does), this is not so strange of a reaction. She identifies Elijah as the "man of God" but she doesn't identify herself as a "woman" of God. She is a Gentile. A heathen. A sinner. Without God. How do I know? Well, inference. When Elijah first shows up (during a severe drought) to ask this woman for water and bread she says:

      “As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.” 
      - 1 Kings 17:12

      She self-identified God as someone who had nothing to do with her. So here she is, a sinner, exposed in the presence of God's prophet. And her son dies. This must be recompense for her sins. A+B=C. 

      Elijah then...Blames God?
      So Elijah takes the boy up to his room to pray. And he puts everything on God. Everything. "Lord, you made him die." And then, "Lord, let his life return to him." I really love this phrase: "let the child's life return to him." It makes our lives sound alive even after they've left. Like it goes somewhere, and God directs its comings and its goings. And Elijah prays a prayer that acknowledges this fact. And the boy is revived! 

      Elijah takes him down and presents him alive to his mother.

      The Mom's Reaction

      Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.

      She just became a believer. I find this to be amazing because she'd already witnessed a daily miracle in her home. When Elijah came, she was on her last handful of flour. Her last drop of oil. She and her son were going to die, and Elijah asked for bread promising her that her flour and oil wouldn't run out. And so, unbeknownst to her, when she gave her finite resources over into the hand of the Lord...she gained access to an infinite resource. 

      But..."NOW" she knows? 

      Yes, because this is more than flour and oil. Now she knows that God is life. That God is the source of life. And that He commands life. And that's a huge deal. We often say that nothing is sure except death and taxes.

      ...what if it's just taxes? 

      Personal Takeaways

      Great story, but what does this have to do with me? Quick conclusion:

      We're a lot like the Mom

      But...there's a bridge. The Grace Bridge.
      The mistress of the house has already acted in faith by giving Elijah the bread and water, and letting him crash at her place. She's already experienced the miracle of the never-ending oil and flour. Yet, she still expects her sins to be her downfall and ruin. She still expects her sins to separate her from God and result in ultimate punishment.

      We are the same. We have already put our faith in Christ. We have already experienced His mercy, grace, and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And yet, we can get so discouraged by sins. We often still expect separation and punishment...when we've already been accepted.

      We need to be more like Elijah

      I like the idea of blaming God for everything. Not in an accusatory "how dare you?" type of way. However, I think we need to always acknowledge God's sovereignty and the reality of "The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away." The scripture says not a single sparrow falls from the sky apart from the will of God (Matthew 10:29)...so He's a hands-on God and is directing the comings and goings of your life.

      Yet, Elijah knows that prayer changes thing. I give up on prayer on a regular basis. But I try it again on regular basis too! He prayed three times, which showed some persistence, and belief that God could and would do this thing.

      And finally, it builds faith to read these stories. Just like the woman had faith firsthand, we can have it secondhand. Experiencing the resurrection of Patient Zero.

      Friday, July 31, 2015

      Treating people badly


      People treat people like garbage. All the time. It's sort of normal. Mean people are normal, but I find overly nice people to be a little "off." Something about the "super-nice" seems disingenuous. I absolutely love the word disingenuous; it's fun to say, but also, its meaning is incredible. It isn't simply being fake, but it's being fake by pretending to know less about something than you really know. So, in my opinion, people who are ridiculously nice are just pretending not to know: it's a dog eat dog world.

      Or...it's a genius strategy. You don't know I'm baring my teeth, because you think I'm just smiling at you.

      We live in the world Micah described, the one in which you can trust no one:


      Do not trust in a neighbor; do not have confidence in a friend. From her who lies in your bosom guard your lips. For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household.
       - Micah 7:5-6

      People are out for "number one." Society has decided that there are winners and there are losers. Leaders of the pack, and sheep. Devourers and those who shall be devoured. And everyone wants to end up on top. The question is: how do you treat people in your battle to the top? 

      “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets."
      - Matthew 7:12

      Ah the good ole "Golden Rule." This scripture is so cliche and over-used (by Christians and non-Christians alike) that it almost means nothing to me. But this past week I was studying the Sermon on the Mount, and came to this passage and thought: "but...why does it say 'therefore?'"

      Therefore is a tricky little word. It means that there was something written before this, that is the reason for this. Because of something else, I should treat people the same way I want to be treated. 
      Now...I never, even for a second, imagine that what I write is a new or original thought. It's not. SOMEONE has definitely thought this before. BUT, I've personally never heard this particular scripture brought in this way, so bear with me. 

      The scriptures immediately preceding Matthew 7:12 seemingly have absolutely nothing to do with this statement: 

       “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! - Matthew 7:7-11

      I think because this scripture seems wholly unrelated some commentaries have concluded that the "therefore" refers to the entire sermon previous (2 whole chapters that came down to this). That is a lot of ground to cover, and it might be true. But...me? I think the reason for the Golden Rule is Matthew 7:7-11. 

      Here is how I came to this conclusion. 

      1. Why do I treat people badly? 

      Jesus tells me to treat people the way I want to be treated. This implies that previously people were getting treated like dirt. Why? Well there are finite resources on this planet. And I have to get them. If you get them, and I don't? Jealous. If we're both in a position to get them? Fight it out; to the victor goes the spoils. If I got some of them, but yours are bigger and better? Anger, disappointment, and again...jealousy. This results in bad treatment. 
      2. But I have to fight for the resources...there's no other way to live. Right? 

      James says the reasons for fights isn't the resources. It's because we didn't ask for the resources: 

      What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 
       - James 4:1-2

      James acknowledges the problem. You want things! But you don't have them. So you act up. But the reason why you have isn't because this other person is better than you. And it isn't because the other person was in your way. You don't have because...you do not ask. 

       And there is Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, saying: ASK! Ask. And I'll give it. But sometimes we're afraid of God. "I'll ask for a blessing, and I'll get a curse." This is the equivalent, of asking for bread and getting a stone. We have gotten in the habit of thinking that God gives us the useless thing (the stone) that we didn't want at all, when we need life-saving bread. Or we think that God will harm us (the snake), for asking for something more than bread (the fish). So we stay silent.
       
      And we try to get the bread and the fish for ourselves. Even if we have to snatch it out of someone's hand. Heck, I'll take the bread out of your mouth! Yank!

      But God says: you don't have to do that. 

      IF we believed that God was the infinite resource, we wouldn't fight other people for finite resources. IF we believed that God was on our side, we wouldn't manipulate people into our corner. 
      IF we believed...we'd be free to treat people the way we want to be treated. 

      We wouldn't worry about losing out. We wouldn't worry about how that person took the "last" of something. We wouldn't have to quarrel, fight, or have envy. We could genuinely be nice and in everything treat people like the kings and queens we believe ourselves to be. 

      If you go online, there will be tons of blogs and articles with "practical ways" you can live out the Golden Rule. But I really think there are just two: 

      Ask.

      And Believe. 

       

      Friday, July 24, 2015

      If You do the Crime...You do the Time



      I've been on hiatus since returning from Amsterdam. Post-vacation depression plus the quarter-end close (accounting lingo) means I just haven't the heart or the time for the blog. But last weekend, I went to a church conference. Sort of like a revival. I was asked to say a few words on Sunday morning, so I decided I would turn it into a blog.

      The conference had a theme: Christ the Mercy Minister - Micah 7:18

      I found this out weeks in advance so I had time to prepare. I opened up my Holy Bible app on my phone and tapped it to Micah 7:18 and it said:

      Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession? He does not retain His anger forever, Because He delights in unchanging love. (NASB)

      And I was like: I got nothing. 

      So I read all of Micah. I still had nothing. At least nothing that was worthwhile. God is merciful. This is known. Why is this a big deal, Micah? Why are you so shocked, Micah? 


      And it was kind of like Micah (or God...or my subconscious) said back to me: Why aren't you?

      Hmmm.

      Last month, there was a horrible shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. We all heard about it. Everyone was shaken. It was terrible. But then the families spoke publicly, declaring that they forgave the shooter. And honestly...I was shocked. It was simply too soon. And though mercy and forgiveness is stereotypically expected of Christians, in our humanity we often fail here and wouldn't fault those families for holding a grudge. We wouldn't think it strange if they hated the shooter, or if they cultivated a seed of bitterness that grew into a hatred for him. Is it Christ-like? No. Is it human? Yes. When this case has its day in court, many will call for the death penalty. Many will want this person to pay. Is that mercy? No. Is it justice? By most legal and civil codes...yes!

      Justice.

      It's a beautiful word. The idea of justice creates some sense of balance, fairness, and rightness in this chaotic, topsy-turvy world we live in. Justice is good...but justice is merely expected.

      But God doesn't do "mere" things. This is why Micah is so shocked and astonished, because Micah had a mere expectation of justice. The entire book of Micah up to this point describes how wretched and BAD the people are:

      The godly person has perished from the land, and there is no upright person among men. All of them lie in wait for bloodshed; each of them hunts the other with a net. Concerning evil, both hands do it well...Do not trust in a neighbor; do not have confidence in a friend. From her who lies in your bosom guard your lips. For son treats father contemptuously, daughter rises up against her mother, daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own household. 
      - Michah 7:2-6 (excerpts)

      Everyone is BAD. Real bad. Trust no one. "Hide yo kids, hide yo wife." And I love Micah, because he's not just sitting in judgment of bad people, but even he (as the prophet of God) counts himself worthy of only justice: 

      I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him... Micah 7:9

      He will bear the indignation of the Lord. He says I've done wrong and I'll pay for it. But then, in the same breath he starts talking about God bringing him out of darkness and into the light. He starts talking about God shepherding the people. He starts talking about forgiveness and deliverance for the same people who he just declared were expert evildoers. 

      Which is why Micah is so flabbergasted: Who is a God like You? 

      What kind of God lets the criminal go free? 

      When I was studying for my message I had that exact thought: What kind of God lets the criminal go free? And then this verse popped into my mind: 

      ...he [Pilate] went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.  But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber. - John 18:38-40

      Barabbas was a robber!

      A criminal. And he was exchanged for Jesus. The people thought they orchestrated Barabbas' release. But God had already ordained that Jesus would take his place! Both naturally and supernaturally. Both literally and figuratively. The crime for which (by justice) Barabbas was about to pay, he side-stepped on account of mercy. 

      He deserved justice...but he got mercy. 

      Likewise, on the cross, Jesus is positioned next to another criminal. And as that criminal hangs there, dying...Jesus frees him too!  (Luke 23:39-43)

      It is only fitting that the first recipients of Gods grace and mercy, through the death of Jesus on the cross, are hardened criminals. These people aren't wrongly accused. They did these bad things! We DO bad things!  And we often think: you do the crime, you do the time. But no! This helps us face our own criminality against a holy and righteous God and have a praise because we get to go free! 

      And why does God do this? Why does He release the criminals? It's not that we're "getting over." It's because God delights in unchanging love. Unchanging. God is not sometimesy. He doesn't throw me over when I commit a crime. He releases me. Over and over again. Because His love trumps justice. His love trumps balance. His love trumps your sense of "rightness." 

      Love wins. Mercy wins. 

      ...and you should be shocked.  


      Thursday, June 4, 2015

      Prodigal Amsterdam



      Two days ago, we said goodbye to Prague. I can honestly say Prague is a beautiful city (see pics!). But, very chill. On the last night, I was able to experience absinthe in the traditional, I'm-a-fake-Ernest-Hemingway type of way at the Hemingway Bar. There was slow-dripping ice water, and a sugar cube on a slotted spoon. We sipped, we talked. It was a good way to finish out that leg of the trip.

      Prague highlights?
      • Street performers (as previously blogged about)
      • The Prague Food Festival (this is not "Taste of Arlington" people). This is true foodie-ism at a festival with a castle as the back drop...no big deal. 
      • The Alcron - This was our Prague Michelin restaurant. Where Hisop in Barcelona failed us, The Alcron made up for it. Our dessert...OMG! They even gave us macarons for the road! A place in my heart is reserved for that establishment. 
      We left Prague excited for the last leg of our trip: Amsterdam.
      Food festival chef

      But when we arrived, our airbnb was not up to our standards. It's hard to describe what was wrong with this apartment, but it was simply depressing. Well, I guess I could describe what was wrong but I don't want to gross you out. It was just BAD. I kid you not, we couldn't sleep in the bedroom, so we moved the mattress into the living room (revealing all sorts of crazy), and then proceeded to sleep on top of the covers, in workout dri-fit hoodies for warmth. The bathroom was sketch in a way that made us do our nighttime routines over the kitchen sink. 'Nuff said.

      The night was cold. And stressful. And I woke up in the morning with this thought: everything in a Christian's life is some version of the Prodigal Son.

      And He said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father... 
       - Luke 15:11-18

      Food festival fare
      Yesterday morning, I came to my senses. June is a late sleeper, so while she was catching zzz's, I was up battling the shower and brushing my teeth over a kitchen sink. And I thought: I don't have to live this way.

      I simply did not. I could live that way. But I didn't HAVE to. Newsflash: I'm a huge nerd. And if I don't know how to do something, I Google it. So, there was a point at which I googled these words: 

      How to Make the Most out of Bad Situation

      ...I honestly don't know how to do that! Buuuut, that is the subject of another blog and some future prayers, because at that moment God wasn't telling me to "tough it out." The answer was instantly available: so I redirected my Google search to hotels. And when June opened her eyes, I let her know: we're gonezo.

      If you've ever heard a sermon on the prodigal son, it probably wasn't "come to your senses." The prodigal son is a multifaceted story; it's like a crystal that light streaks through differently depending on how you turn it. There are so many different rays of truth in it, and one of them is: 

      Come to your senses!
      To "come to to your senses" literally means to regain consciousness. And to be conscious means to be 1) aware of your surroundings, and 2) responding to your surroundings.

      The Prodigal Son lost consciousness in verse 1 when he said: "Father, give me what's mine." He got to a point where he thought "I can do it on my own." All he needed was his money. All he needed was the means. But what he really needed was the Father.

      Going under the bridge in a small boat
      The Prodigal son continued to display unconscious behavior in subsequent verses:  And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating. He's doing something that makes him perpetually unclean in his culture. How can he go home after living this abominable lifestyle? But how can he stop this abominable lifestyle since he has to eat?! It's a Catch-22. He either is perpetually unclean or he starves to death. Those are his two choices. Those are his only two choices! 

      ...Except for they are not. He came to his senses and realized he had a third choice: I can go home!

      How often are we like the prodigal son: thinking we're too far gone?  We can get caught up in situations that seem like vicious cycles of "this sucks." And our choices start to diminish. And the way back seems impossible...

      But that's because we are unaware of our surroundings. We're unaware of WHO is surrounding us, and who is waiting for us.

      God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble. - Psalm 46:1

      A present help is instantly available. We just have to open our eyes to see it.