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. 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. 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 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.