Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to find out who God is, what is He like, and how to partner with Him now.

Delayed due to illness

My apologies, I have not been well lately. This is also why most of October consisted of “Flashback Favorites”. I hope to get back on schedule soon, but the next post for my current study is not ready yet. So, instead of a Flashback Favorite, this time I will simply give you the passage I have been dwelling on while I am not feeling my best:

2 Corinthians 4:15-18
Indeed, everything is for your benefit so that, as grace extends through more and more people, it may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.

For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


A malfunctioning body can be difficult to deal with…and yet, Paul confidently states that God will use everything for [our] benefit.

How will we know when our unwanted difficulties are actually beneficial? When we see the glory of God. Then, together, we can give thanks for everything we’ve gone through.

Therefore we do not give up. Illness is temporary, and we’re to be focused on the eternal.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Love grows

We often say that our “love grows.” 

When we put these two words together, we generally mean that we want our feelings of affection increase or that we want the bond felt between us to become stronger.  We recognize that a loving relationship isn’t a static, one-and-done feeling, that it does develop…but I think we’re a little squishy when we try and describe exactly how this happens.

Sure, we’ll say that love grows in a variety of ways: over time, through shared experiences, and being together in the ups and downs of life.  If you talk to others about growing in love with their spouse, their closest friends, or with a group of people, what is usually identified as the main driver of growth seems to be surviving a long time without abandoning one another.

In his letters, Paul often told his readers that he was praying for them, but it wasn’t a generic “I’ll be praying for you” platitude.  He didn’t just ask God to “help” them with their “stuff”.  We’re going to take a close look at not only what Paul told the believers in Philippi that he was praying for them, but also the reasons Paul gave for making his specific prayer requests.

So for starters, let’s look at the beginning Paul’s prayer request:

Philippians 1:9
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment


Immediately, we see that Paul wants their love to grow in two specific areas.  We’ll take a look at the outcome of this kind of growth in a later post.  First we need to understand what he means by knowledge and every kind of discernment.

The Greek word for knowledge refers to a full, intimate understanding of a subject.  Similarly, the Greek word Paul chose for discernment speaks to how we perceive something or someone.  The word refers to something deeper than just a sensory perception – sight, touch, smell – instead this discernment relies on the intellect.

Blind love or a love that is dependent upon our emotions is not ground for the growth of a relationship.  As our feelings ebb and flow, we can end up doing more harm then good.

True Christian love isn’t shallow or squishy.  It is grounded in an clear understanding and has an intelligent direction.  This shouldn’t surprise us, because, after all, that’s exactly how God loves us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Sharing our prayers

One last Flashback Favorite before we jump into the next series. This earlier learning provides a great prequel to where we’ll be going.

Sharing our prayers
originally posted on July 15, 2015

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Flashback Favorite - In need of peace

I’m still clinging to lessons already learned. New posts are coming, I promise. But given our current world-happenings, I think this post needs to be revisited.

In need of peace
originally posted on July 13, 2016

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace in the world right now.

So many problems that are not easily resolved, and the feelings heaped on top of the issues make them that much harder to sort out.  Hurt.  Injustice.  Anger.  Hatred.  Hopelessness.

There are also many competing ideas on how to solve these issues and the feelings attached to them.  We hear a steady stream of suggestions: some advocate that the government should pass additional laws, some want retribution and violence, some want more of God, others are calling for less of God, and others still are looking to smaller ‘gods’ to escape – like money, stuff, isolation, the appearance of safety, anything to find what we are all deep down really looking for:

Peace.

I hear people say we should ‘Pray for Peace’ and send our ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who need it now.  I also hear those who complain that ‘thoughts and prayers’ haven’t fixed anything, given that the tragedies keep coming.

So how’s a Christian supposed to handle all of this?  Once again, Paul’s direction to Timothy for the believers in Ephesus is helpful.  Notice that Paul recognizes our desire for peace in this life, but also look for what he says accompanies it:

1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

The goal of our prayers for all those who are in authority is so their leadership will follow God and His design for human government.  The end result of that kind of leadership will heavily influence our ability to lead a tranquil and quiet life.  However, while the Ephesian believers are to pray for these things, Paul also expects them to live life in godliness and dignity.

Godliness can best be thought of as “God-like-ness” where we mirror the characteristics of God that He has shown us.  Things like mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – when we understand what those words mean and how God shows them to us, then we can mimic those traits in our own life.  Being godly is displaying God-like traits to those who are completely undeserving of that kind of treatment, just like God has done for us.

When we imitate God this way, it doesn’t guarantee that everything goes perfect for us – or that we should pretend that everything is going perfectly, either.  When life goes sideways (and it will), how well we are connected to God is on full display.  Being godly and acting with dignity is sure to stand out in the turmoil going on around us.  We need to actively pursue God-like-ness while we pray for those same characteristics to show up in our leaders.

So don’t give up.  Take Paul’s advice to Timothy and make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.  Not because the act of praying changes anything.  Do it because you know the power of the One you are praying to. 

And then let’s get out there and reenact the qualities that God has shown us – mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – for people that don’t deserve it…because, like them, we didn’t deserve it, either.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Flashback Favorite - A progressive relationship

There are a lot of moving parts in my life at the moment. Sometimes, life moves at an easy pace. Sometimes, it feels like you’re at the bottom of the dogpile. When things feel more like the latter, I’ve found it’s best reconnect with God through through two things - going to the Psalms and grounding myself in truth God has already taught me.

With the parts of life I’m working through right now and as I’m sorting through the next post series, I need to go back to these truths I learned all the way back in 2015. I hope this reminder is as helpful to you as it is for me.

A progressive relationship
originally posted on May 20, 2015

The Creator of the Universe is a God who values order.  There was order and progression when creation took place – light first, then ground, next plants, followed by animals, and lastly humans.  We refer to the predictable steps of any process as its “lifecycle”.  We understand that every activity we encounter will have a beginning and then subsequent phases that are passed through, one after another.  Similarly, there is a natural progression in our relationship with God.

Read though this section of Psalm 119 and look for the active verbs used to describe how the psalmist interacts with God:

Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statues.
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.
I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.

I have sought…I have treasured…I proclaim…I rejoice…I will meditate…I will delight

When we look for it, the natural process of a relationship with God clearly stands out.  The verbs are flowing through past, present, and future steps as the author describes his interaction with God.

Where do you find yourself in this progression?

I have heard many well-intentioned speakers tell me that I need to be rejoicing in the Lord and that I should always delight in Him.  While I agree that those actions are great things to do and I would love to be able to whole-heartedly rejoice and delight in God always…the progression we see in the psalm reveals why I’ve likely struggled with doing them or felt guilty about not feeling completely genuine when I try to do them.

Before the psalmist rejoiced, or even got to delight, can you see where he started?  He sought God with all of his heart.  Next he purposely treasured God’s word in his heart, in order to avoid sin and the damage that sin would cause to the relationship.

It wasn’t until after he had pursued God and valued God that the psalmist was ready to proclaim all the judgments from God’s mouth.  He wasn’t able to communicate God’s decisions until after he knew God intimately.  Historically, the American church has pushed its people to make sure they are “spreading the gospel” and “sharing their story” instead, the church’s focus should have been making sure we’re actively seeking God and valuing His word.  Telling others about Jesus will be easy if we already have the relationship in place, but it’s nearly impossible to explain the decisions and motivations of a person you have no relationship with. 

From there the psalmist found joy in the way revealed by God’s decrees, even to the point that he now looks forward to meditating and thinking about God’s ways.  The delight that he takes from God’s word then isn’t something he’s drummed up from within himself, rather it is the culmination of a deep-seeded relationship with his Creator.

If you’re not where you’d like to be in this relationship timeline, take a step back and ensure you’re developing your intimacy with God by seeking Him and purposely treasuring His word.  The rest will naturally progress from that investment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What's pursuing you?

What’s pursuing you?
originally posted on May 18, 2017

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our]life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The big serve

I recently watched a documentary about a Make-A-Wish event for a young cancer patient.  When he was 18 months old, he was diagnosed; however, his family waited to do the Make-A-Wish event until he was five, so it could be something more memorable and meaningful to him.

It started out as a simple plan to let him play the part of his favorite superhero for a day, but it quickly grew into a large-scale, city-wide event.  As word got around that a young cancer-survivor wanted to be Batman, people began offering their skills and connections to make the day as realistic as possible.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the people who got involved:
A boy donated his replica Batman costume and let the cancer survivor keep it afterwards.
One guy offered his black Lamborghini to be the Batmobile.
A local anchorwoman prerecorded the news broadcast that started the event.
The Chief of Police prerecorded messages to give out the day’s missions.
A social media company handled all publicity leading up to the day.
Actors played the roles of Batman, Penguin, and Riddler.
A local eatery provided their lunch.
During its busiest time of year, the opera house tailored all costumes.
A famous musician provided theme music.
A company overnighted a specialized computer chip to run the communication device.
A baseball team gave permission to use their mascot and stadium.
A social media expert provided official Twitter updates during the day’s events.
City Police, many of them on their day off, ensured the planned city route was unblocked and safe.
The mayor ended the day by presenting the key to the city.
A wealthy couple covered the city’s extra expenses for the day.
And many, many others donated their time and effort in both big and small ways…

On top of all this, roughly 14,000 people showed up to witness the events as Batman and Batkid went all across town to save the day.  While they brought supportive signs and cheered him on, the sheer volume of people presented a huge logistics problem – one the police are all too familiar with.  Safely managing a mass of humanity that large always presents a formidable challenge.  However, the officers found something different that day – whenever they would ask people to move back and give Batkid some space, people in the crowd would turn around at start helping them move the crowds back to make way.  No one grumbled, complained, or mouthed off at the officers.  Additionally, there was no complaint of crime or problems from within the crowds at each of the event’s locations.

While the day of the event was hugely successful (it was done on a Friday), those involved said there was a curious spillover to the event that lasted well into the next week.  In general, people were happier; people were friendlier.  It was described as an afterglow to the efforts to take care of this young cancer survivor.  No one expected it, but for a little while, the citizens gained something they didn’t have before.

But why did the crowds and city act this way?  Because they put the needs of the little boy ahead of their own.  Although this wasn’t a church-sponsored event, the participants provided a real-life example of what the Apostle Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Philippians 2:3-4
in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.  Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.


Whether they had donated a Lamborghini or held up a homemade sign of support, each person’s focus was helping this one child.  For a single day, they stopped their own agendas, let go of their personal worries, and they focused on someone else.  No one did anything they would consider extraordinary – they all stayed within their skills and abilities – but when they did it together, something big and beautiful happened.

Does your small group or members from your church get involved in your community?  Mine does, and I absolutely love it.  We don’t go out to protest or yell preachy things from the street corners.  Instead we follow this example:

Philippians 2:5, 7
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who…emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant


When we empty ourselves of our pride, our agenda, our schedule and serve others with the skills and abilities God has given us – big and beautiful things can happen.  In humility consider others as more important than yourselves.  Get out among non-believers and serve – isn’t that what Jesus did?

However, the afterglow of our efforts will last longer than just a few days…instead, it will echo into eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Clarity in a cloud

Ever feel like you just gotta get out of the house?  You have no idea where you will go or what you will do, but if you stay indoors much longer, you’re probably going to lose your mind…can you relate?

Well, that happened to me and the Mrs. on Monday evening this week.  We just needed o-u-t, OUT.

Not wanting to waste money or gas, we ended up at a park next to a reservoir, not too far from home.  She sat down in a pavilion to sketch, but I felt like strolling.  I wandered down to a large wooden platform at the water’s edge.  I found that I could sit on the platform and my dangling feet would hover just above the water.  The sun’s rays were warm, the slight breeze was cool, and sound of city traffic was barely above the level of a quiet hum.  That’s when I saw it.

Above the pavilion my wife was sitting under, I saw a large puffy cloud that loosely resembled a bowler hat.  While the breeze at my level was light, you could tell the air at the cloud’s level was moving quickly.  So I watched.

Admittedly, I do not give much thought to clouds – unless they’re going to drop some rain.  And if I happen to think about clouds, I tend to imagine them making their trek across our sky as an unchanging blob, just a fluffy block of moisture.

But as I sat and watched, that’s not what I saw.

What I saw was a mass that was constantly changing shape as it moved.  It wasn’t uniform.  It wasn’t symmetrical.  The cloud, as a whole, was moving in a direction, but it was vigorously forming and reforming as it proceeded across the sky.  In order to really see and understand how it shifted from one movement to the next, I had to focus on one small part of the cloud at a time.  When my eyes moved to a new section – I could only tell that it was different, but I had no understanding of how the cloud made its new edge.  All the while, my previous focus-point continued to roll into new areas of the atmosphere.

What really stood out was the cloud’s depth.  As the cloud would billow and expand, stretching and reshaping, it was obvious there was a lot going on beneath the cloud’s surface that I was not able to see, understand, or predict until the movement happened.

Then it dawned on me…creation was giving me a lesson about our Creator.

God is on the move.
We are privy to the overall direction where God is moving history.
While history is happening, God doesn’t move in ways we expect.
When I try to take in the grandeur of God, I cannot see the beauty in His intricate details.
When I focus on an intricate detail, I am blown away by what He reveals.
While I am focused in, God is still moving in other ways that are outside my vision.
I am unable to keep up with all of God’s details.
There is a depth to God that we are not privy to.
We cannot fully see, understand, or predict how and when God will move, proceed, or pull back.

While even the best of analogies will breakdown (for example – God moves as He pleases, not because He is forced to, like the wind and sun move the clouds), creation can tell us much about our Creator.  Both David and Paul wrote about this:

Psalm 19:1-2
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.


Romans 1:20
For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

In order to have this teachable moment with creation, I had to sit down, be still, and think. After all these realizations had flooded my mind, I was convinced that I had sat there too long and my wife was likely waiting on me to come find her. I looked at my phone to see how long I had been there:

Not even 15 minutes.

In less than 15 minutes of looking up at the sky, God used His creation to remind me of His greatness, His beauty, and His depth. Day after day and night after night, the lesson was there, ready for me to learn – but I wasn’t looking or listening. For certain, I am without excuse.

Will you take 15 minutes today to look at creation…and see His eternal power and divine nature?

The heavens declare the glory of God, so let’s take just a few moments…and look up.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hurricane on the doorstep

Hurricane Florence is barreling its way toward the East Coast.  We’re in central North Carolina, so we’re inline for some weather.  No one really knows how bad it’s going to be or where the worst will end up happening, but we’ve been preparing all week as best as we can.

I’d like to share with you some of the things (among the many thoughts) I’ve been thinking these last few days:

·       On a daily basis, we are rather careless with our words, aren’t we?  This was the best dinner ever made.  That was the worst meeting in the history of meetings.  She’s clueless.  He’s stupid.  This Netflix show is the greatest thing ever invented.  However, for the aftermath of Hurricane Florence…the word “devastation” will not be an exaggeration.  That’s a tough word to say.  It’s tougher to witness.  It’s a word we’re afraid to live through.


·       For some people…eternity will begin this weekend.  No matter how many precautions we take, the unpredictableness and utter ferocity of the storm will certainly lead to people losing their earthly lives.  We’ve been preparing for this massive storm…seeking out information and supplies, and then making our best decision based upon what we’ve found.  But are we prepared for the most important event of our lives?  How have we responded to Jesus’ claims of being the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Me [John 14:6]?  Our acceptance or rejection of Jesus is the most important preparation decision we can make.

·       I keep coming back to the most famous line in Moses’ psalm:

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.


·       We may lose possessions when, or even after, Hurricane Florence makes landfall.  However, everything we own is ultimately destined for a garage sale, the garbage dump, or the recycle bin.  Our things won’t last, hurricane or no hurricane.  Even if we lose everything we own…there is a higher, more impactful, purpose for this life.  Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for us to see from that vantage point.  I wish it didn’t.

If you are not in this storm’s path, please petition God on our behalf.  Pray that He will be seen in the way His children handle this event.

If you are in any way affected by this storm – be wise.  Paul wasn’t directly discussing natural disasters, but his direction still applies:

1 Corinthians 10:31, 33
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God…not seeking [your] own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.


How can we ride out, survive, shine, and rebuild from Hurricane Florence for the glory of God?  After all…everything means everything…even the hard circumstances.  So be wise and number your days carefully.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite: Tired hearts

Tired hearts
originally posted on April 10, 2015

As Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in psalms that David had written.  A psalm has the distinction of being both poetry and a song.  When David wrote a psalm, he was not afraid to bear his raw feelings, thoughts, and fears to God.  David’s topics ranged from great celebration of what God accomplished all the way down to personal, deep feelings of despair. 

It’s during one of those low times that David wrote the following psalm.  Although his circumstances were dragging him down and he felt like his own heart was without strength, David clearly believed that God was able to handle his difficult situation.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me, 
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

David’s request is as simple as it is profound – Lead me.  David sought God’s guidance and direction to see him through the trial in front of him.  When we find ourselves in trouble, our first inclination usually isn’t a desire to be told what to do next.  We want to find our own way out, and if we can’t find a path…then we figure it’s time to blaze one.  So how is it that David is able to muster the response of actually wanting God to lead him? 

The answer is found in the verses immediately following his request.

David can confidently ask God to lead him through his present problems because he remembers how God has provided for him in the past:

for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

David recalls the previous times when God was both his rescuer and his strength.  Essentially, he’s telling God “When I relied on you in the past, you came through; so I trust you to lead me now.” 

What’s also interesting is that as he remembers his past experience with God, David’s trust isn’t limited to his immediate problems.  He’s already committing his future to being under God’s protection.

I will live in Your tent forever,
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Based upon God’s history, David trusts Him with the present issues as well as any future ones that he can’t see yet.  This is an excellent example for us.  When we struggle with letting God lead us through today’s trial, all we have to do is remember the times when God has previously protected and defended us.  Keeping that in mind makes sure that we aren’t overwhelmed when the low times come and our hearts are without strength.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

Nothing in human history “just happens”.  There’s always a backstory, a winding of paths that leads up to the moment when the whole world is captivated by an event.  Think about the recent history of the USA, and how everything seemed to stop for events of both greatness and tragedy: a man lands on the moon or an underdog hockey team wins gold at the Olympics and we’re in awe of what’s possible; yet when a terrorist attack is committed or a space shuttle explodes due to an unexpected malfunction, we stand in stunned silence.

There are always dots to connect, paths to retrace, and decisions to evaluate…all leading up to “that moment when…”.  However, as we live through the days leading up to the event, we are often unaware of how connected everything truly is.

The events of the Scriptures are of the same nature – nothing just spontaneously happened.  But to the people living their lives throughout the times of the Bible, going about their daily business, they didn’t know what was coming next.  They couldn’t predict what God was doing in their time.

One event in Jesus’ life has always seemed to me, well, a little weird.  I know, I know…Jesus’ life was full of unique experiences and happenings – He is the Son of God, after all.  All four gospel accounts recorded it, and we celebrate this particular event every year, like clockwork.  Our calendars have this day marked out for us, just like it has Christmas and Easter.  It was a huge event in the life of Christ, but up until this recent study, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened.

I’m talking about the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in churches each year as Palm Sunday. 

The Passover was the biggest event on the Jewish calendar.  It was the annual remembrance of when God used Moses to rescue His people from their cruel Egyptian masters, and sent the children Israel on the path to having their own land.  Due to the Roman occupation in Jesus’ day, the Israelites would have held this ceremony especially close, since God had promised that He would send someone like Moses – the Messiah – to come and rescue them again…and the Messiah would be the one to set up the Jewish kingdom to rule, forever.  Of course, there were rumors that Jesus was God’s Messiah…but people weren’t quite sure…

John 11:55-57
The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover.  They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think?  He won’t come to the festival, will He?”  The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

Jesus did come.  But first, He went to visit His friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  His visit happened not long after He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Of course they were excited to see Jesus, and they threw a big dinner party for Him to say THANK YOU.

John 12:1-3, 9-11
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair.  So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.

Can you feel the tension?  The Jews has been oppressed by Rome for nearly 100 years at this point.  The Passover was coming.  The religious leaders feared the nation was on the verge of revolt, with Jesus (and Lazarus) being the tipping point.  And then…this happened:

John 12:12-14, 17-19
The next day when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting:

“Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”

Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.  This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.  Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see?  You’ve accomplished nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”

No Facebook event page, no mass text, no TV commercial, no news broadcast coverage…and somehow, a parade breaks out?  While the people’s shouts may have contributed to the crowd swell, did you notice who John said was spreading the news of Jesus’ arrival?  The crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.

Lazarus’ pain, suffering, and death was what connected others to witnessing him being brought back to life.  These eye-witnesses were the ones who connected to an entire city, testifying that the one the Jews had heard about was, in fact, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  Jesus’ Triumphal Entry didn’t just happen.  God had been coordinating events that were seemingly unconnected, all in the background, until His Plan was brought to light. 

His plan was that the world would stop and see Jesus for who He is – our Messiah, our Savior, our King.

But in order for the Triumphal Entry to happen and for Jesus to be revealed to an entire city…it cost Lazarus his life.  Christians often point to God’s willingness to send Jesus to the cross as proof that God will go to any length for us.  And that is absolutely true, God loves us that much…but the flip-side scares me, and no one ever talks about the flip-side: If God is willing to have Jesus die on a cross, then nothing in my life is untouchable or off-limits. 

Am I more valuable than Jesus?  Absolutely not.  If that’s the case, do I trust God when life hurts?  Do I believe He knows what He’s doing…even as my body fails me?  Am I willing to let God tell His story, even if He expects me to make a Lazarus-level sacrifice?

Am I willing to let my suffering set up Jesus’ Triumphal Return?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the rejection

Once a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, one of their early struggles comes when they observe those in the world who flat-out reject a relationship with God.  The Christian’s thoughts often fall along these lines: Why don’t others believe in Jesus?  Why can’t they see that this is what we, as humans, were made for?  Why would someone reject a relationship with the One who knows us the best, and Who offers to make us eternally safe?  Why would anyone pass that up?

Most of the time, when we talk about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we focus on the miracle. We have learned a lot by doing so.  But looking at what happened afterward can help us think through our current question.

The people who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead had one of two different reactions:

John 11:45-47
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs?”

The religious leaders didn’t discount the signs and miracles.  Honestly, they couldn’t.  There was a crowd of eye-witnesses that saw a dead man walk out of a tomb.  If it were just one or two people, perhaps the Sanhedrin assembly could scare them into staying silent or even convince them that they had been mistaken in what they “thought” they saw.  But could they prevent a crowd from spreading the news of a resurrection?  Not a chance.

But let’s think about this…why try to stop Jesus?  If He truly is the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for…for thousands of years, generation after generation watching, waiting, praying for God’s deliverance; IF this “Jesus” is the promised Redeemer, then why are they rejecting Him?  Here’s what they said:

John 11:48
“If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

They would have to give up control.  They were concerned they would lose their current position of influence and status.  They were comfortable in their arrangement with Rome.  Sure, they were not the top-dog-in-charge, but they had the ruling freedom to do – and get away with – most whatever they wanted.

Keep in mind that within the previous 200 years, others had come, claiming to be the Messiah.  And obviously, those claims had been wrong.  But Rome would not tolerate any form of authority outside of its own, so Caesar stood ready to crush any attempt at rebellion.

In the minds of the Pharisees, they had three options:

1.       If Jesus was not the Messiah: Rome would put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  And if the Jewish religious leaders had put their support behind Him, they would also be considered an enemy of the state.  If the Jewish religious leaders had not supported Him, Rome wouldn’t discriminate.  Rome would definitely come in and forcefully remove them from their position of leadership and their attempt to protect what was left of Israel.  And by “remove” it was likely be all of them being put to death.

2.       If Jesus was the Messiah: Rome would still put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  But even if Jesus was able to remove the Roman authority and governance and rescue Israel…the Pharisee leaders and entire Sanhedrin assembly would not be in power any longer.  How often had they opposed and tried to undermine Jesus?  Why would the Pharisees expect Jesus to keep them around?

3.       Find a way to get rid of Jesus.  This would maintain the status quo and their own control over the situation.

They chose #3.

John 11:53-54, 57
So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.  Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and He stayed there with the disciples…The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

They chose to be comfortable in what they knew, instead of trusting Jesus with who He said He was.  For most of the Pharisees, they decided that the cost of believing in Jesus was too great.  They were willing to remain subservient to their cruel Roman occupiers in order to keep the status quo, rather than let Jesus rescue them.

When we get right down to it, we find a similar attitude in wealthy 1st world societies.  We look at our careers, our house, our cars, our hobbies, our toys…and…we’re comfortable.  We’re not the top-dog, but for the most part, we can do – and get away with – what we want to do.  People who measure life only by what’s in front of them will never risk losing the amount of control they currently enjoy.  They are hesitant to venture into a relationship with Jesus, because it requires putting their trust in someone other than themselves…and they don’t want to risk being wrong, because being wrong would cost them everything.

We can’t choose for them.  So what’s a Christian to do with those who reject or are even hostile toward God?

Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:43-45
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor” [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Aftermath of a miracle: the response

“Seems like the only time we ever get together anymore is weddings and funerals.”

Sound familiar?  It’s certainly true of me and my extended family.  We’re not only scattered across the entire US, but there are a few of us who live in distant countries at the moment.  It takes a big event to get everyone to coordinate schedules and finances such that we can all be face-to-face for even a couple of days.  If someone has a serious illness or accident, we will call and text to check in on each other.  A few of us that are regionally close to each other might get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but for most holidays, birthdays, and graduations our communication is through technology and not in-person. 

But a wedding or funeral?  It would take a lot to keep us from showing up to one of these events.   And our drive to be there in-person isn’t just for our immediate family, but when our friends experience these milestones, as well.  While some might decry this as a negative result of modern society, I don’t think it is the case.  It takes a huge moment of celebration or tragedy to get everyone’s attention and bring people together.

And that is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die.  Many friends and family showed up for his funeral in his hometown of Bethany

John 11:18-19
Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

Something tragic had to happen in order to bring everyone out of their normal-daily routine, to ensure they were aware – and present – for the revelation of God’s authority and power that was about to take place.

Jesus had a distinct purpose in the steps He took as Lazarus’ situation would unfold.  Throughout the account, John records several statements Jesus made about His motivation.  Look at what He says:

John 11:4
When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick], He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

John 11:14
So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus had died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.”

John 11:40-43
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”


Did you notice what Jesus included in His prayer?  Because of the crowd standing here.  Would the crowd have gathered if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus died, when was still sick?  Most definitely not.   A few may have shown up out of concern, but, realistically, Jesus would have performed a healing in front of the disciples, the sisters, and an on-looker or two.

Instead, Mary and Martha had to experience their worst nightmare – helplessly watching their brother waste away and die.  Even worse, Lazarus painfully experienced his body failing him…all the way through death.  By allowing these personal tragedies to run their course, a crowd of people became eye-witnesses to the greatest miracle up to that moment in human history.  At Jesus’ command, a man that they all knew was without-a-doubt 100% dead was suddenly restored and standing among them.  As eye-witnesses, how did they respond?

John 11:45
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.

A short while later, Jesus returned to Bethany; and look at what happened:

John 12:9-10
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead… he was the reason many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus.


The “Tragedy of Lazarus” had become the “Glory of God” that Jesus predicted…but Lazarus still had to suffer before getting there.  If Jesus can use a death to draw others to Him, I’m certain that any disease can also be used for God’s Glory.  This includes my younger brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, my debilitating migraines, your terrifying cancer, your uncontrollable anxiety, and any painful unexplainable failing of our bodies. 

I cannot promise that God will heal any of us.  It is certainly acceptable to ask: He may say yes; He may say no.  What is clear from Lazarus’ story is that Jesus places a higher priority on God’s Glory and drawing others to Him than we do on our current status.

But if we’re talking about changing the eternal destiny of those around us – ones who otherwise would not be eye-witnesses to God’s Glory and Power, if not for our personal tragedies – we can trust God with our sufferings, our illnesses, and our frail bodies.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

First day jitters and the start of a new life

Remember that first day at a new school?  Those feelings of being nervous, curious, not quite sure what was going to happen?  Or how about your first day in a new job?  Probably had flashbacks to being the new kid in school…

Being a rookie, at anything, is rough.  Everywhere you look, you see people who look like they’ve been successful for years.  You definitely don’t want to interrupt the way things seem to naturally flow, and you certainly don’t want to be in the way.  It’s easy to allow the doubt to creep in and cloud our thinking – Do I really belong?  Will they think I’m stupid or ignorant?  Will I mess this up?  Will I even know that I messed something up?  How many times can I mess up before they don’t want me around anymore?

Whenever we venture out into something new, no matter what it is, there’s always one thing we’re hoping for: someone kind enough to help us out and show us around.

We all have vivid memories of that first person to befriend us when we were feeling more lost than we cared to admit.  Their willingness to reach out to the newbie made it easier for us to find our place and figure out the rhythm to our new settings.

Honestly, the Christian life isn’t any different.  Being a newbie is a little scary.  We’re unsure of what to say or what to do next.  Everyone around looks like a spiritual veteran, like they’re a half-step away from perfection…and we’re just sitting here, surprised that God let someone like us into His family.

So, how is this supposed to work for a newbie Christian?  Since Jesus brought us into the family, why doesn’t He immediately take away all the junk and bad habits left over from our previous life?

Tucked away in John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is a six word command where Jesus clues us in:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Not to make too much out of a minor detail, but I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t unwrap Lazarus from his burial cloths.  Lazarus didn’t unwrap Lazarus.  Instead, Jesus instructed those closest to the resurrected man to “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Jesus had just brought a man back from the grave, but He gave others the responsibility of helping Lazarus remove the remnants of his old life.  This wasn’t going to be a task Lazarus could do on his own.  He needed someone who was willing to reach in close and help deal with the dirty death-rags left over from his previous life. 

Let’s be clear:
If you were a world-class jerk when you met Jesus and accepted His offer of eternal life, you’re still going to have a lot of jerk-ness that needs to be dealt with, even after being saved. 

Anyone who tells you that you should be immediately perfect after encountering Jesus hasn’t read their New Testament in a while.  Instead of placing perfection-level expectations on a brand-new Christian, us veterans need to be willing to get our hands dirty.  We need to show them around, help them see the rhythm and flow of living a Christ-centered life.

Also note that Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to go ask someone to help him remove his burial cloths.  Us veterans shouldn’t wait for a newbie to come up and ask for assistance.  We approach them, help them, and then smile as we watch them go in their new, life-long adventure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Is God ever late?

When I was a kid, I remember the preacher telling us “God is rarely early, never late, and always right on time.” While I don’t think the math quite adds up in his statement, the truth is that “being on time” is a matter of perspective.

But, if you had asked anyone…this time, Jesus was late.

After Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, asking Him to come heal their brother.  When He receives the news, Jesus waited two days before heading out on the several-days-long journey to where Lazarus was in Bethany.  When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died and had been buried for four days.  Both sisters lamented that if Jesus had made it in time, their brother wouldn’t have died.  Friends and family who had come to mourn witnessed Jesus weeping with Mary and commented:

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

The rabbinic custom said that a body had to be identified by family and/or friends within three days, or else the decay of a person’s face would leave them unrecognizable.  Additional rabbinic belief of the time said that after 3 days, there was zero hope of a person to have been “mistakenly” declared dead and for them to come back to life.  At four days out, Jesus was well-past the time to heal His friend from his illness.

John 11:38-41
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

“Remove the stone,” Jesus said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone…

While Jewish burial rituals used spices, they did not embalm the corpse, like the Egyptians did or us modern folks do.  A body will naturally decay rather quickly.  Between 24-72 hours, all organs have decomposed.  By the end of 5 days, the body has become bloated and…well, if you want to know the full details, feel free to google them.  They’re not pretty.  Suffice it to say, though, Martha was quite right when she told Jesus not to remove the stone covering her brother’s cave-tomb, saying “Lord, there is already a stench”.

Jesus was too late to perform a healing miracle.  He wasn’t too late for a resurrection, though – in fact, Jesus was right on time:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”


There would have been no resurrection without the death happening first.  Where a healing would have been another great display of Jesus’ power and authority – a resurrection was irrefutable proof that God the Father was the one who sent Jesus into the world.

So yes, Jesus was too late to do what Mary, Martha, and even Lazarus so desperately wanted.  But He was on time to show everyone who was there to mourn the glory of God…so that they may believe.

Has it felt like God is running late in your life?  Has society wandered too far away from God’s design?  Are you feeling like you’re out of hope? 

If life seems like that, it’s probably time to adjust our perspective.  Instead of lamenting on ‘what God should have done’, let’s expectantly watch for the greater thing God has in store.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A question of belief

Can I be open and honest with you?

Throughout my decades as a follower of Jesus, I have had several mini-crises of faith.  Times of struggle or tragedy in my own life (or in the lives of those that I love) have caused me to pause and wonder a number of different things, like:

·       Does God really care what happens to us?
·       Is living the Christian life really worth it?
·       Do I really believe all this “Jesus stuff”?

These are hard-core questions, and our pride may make it difficult for us to admit to other people that we wrestle with these kinds of thoughts.  But we wonder, just the same.  And it’s hard to reason through these kinds of questions.  Our feelings can be all over the places, especially when life goes sideways.  Throw in the daily struggle with sinful desires, and we can easily start a mental tailspin.

As our feelings ebb-and-flow and our actions are typically tainted with at least some level of selfishness, we can’t rely on ourselves to answer these questions and doubts.  This is where it is helpful to look at what Jesus explicitly said about us and about Himself. 

John’s record of a conversation between Jesus and Martha can help as we deal with our questions and doubts:

John 11:17-27
When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.  Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give You.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”


Martha was going through what was likely the toughest time of her life – her brother had fallen sick and she watched over him as he died.  God hadn’t answer her prayers to heal Lazarus.  Jesus didn’t arrive in time to rescue Lazarus from the pain he was suffering.  Martha had been grieving for four days when Jesus arrived.

Martha was looking toward future events for comfort, instead Jesus directed her to look at who was standing next to her.  What Jesus offered was Himself.  It is in this conversation that Jesus states one of His greatest “I am” statements: I am the resurrection and the life.  If we believe this statement, then Jesus guarantees that even if our bodies experience physical death, we will still live – forever.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to clean up our lives and then He’ll give us eternal life.  He does not tell Martha to examine her life to see if she really does believe in Him.  He also does not tell her to make sure she continues to act a certain way.  In fact, Jesus does not tell Martha to look at herself, at all.

Jesus said that those who believe in Him have eternal life, no matter what else happens in this life.  Based upon what Jesus said, our hope and eternal security are found exclusively in Him – not in our circumstances, not in how we feel, not in how we behave.

Do you believe this?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with not knowing God's purpose

Last time, we saw how Jesus’ disciples struggled to trust His plan, even after He explicitly told them what He was planning.  Now we’re going to look at the other side of the equation, the one we’re much more familiar with – struggling to cope when we do not know how God’s plan is going to unfold.

But first, a quick recap of the situation:

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings who live outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany.  They also are very close to Jesus.  The Scriptures say repeatedly that Jesus loved them.  One day, Lazarus becomes so sick that the sisters send someone to make the several-days long hike to find Jesus and bring Him back so He can heal Lazarus.  As soon as He gets the news, Jesus says “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God” (John 11:4).  So that means He immediately gets up and leaves for Bethany, right?  Nope.  Instead, He waits.

John 11:6-7
So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They didn’t get to hear Jesus’ response.  They just knew someone had gone to get Jesus.  Surely, He would come to Bethany as quickly as He could.  Probably only stopping to sleep, definitely moving as quick as possible during the daylight.  I can easily imagine the sisters trying to encourage their brother:

“Just hang on, Lazarus.  Jesus is coming.  When He gets here, he’ll make you better.  Just hold on.”

But what’s going through Lazarus’ mind?  He can feel his body giving out.  He’s likely in pain and suffering.  He wants to hold on, so Jesus can fix him…but he’s not sure how much longer he can keep on holding.  Does he worry about dying?  Does he worry about what happens to his sisters if Jesus doesn’t arrive in time?

And then…Jesus doesn’t arrive in time to perform a healing.  Lazarus dies.  His family and friends go through the Jewish burial ceremonies, prepare the body to be buried, and then put him in a cave of a tomb – sealing the entry with a large rock.

Their emotions had to have been all over the place.  They watched, helplessly, as their brother died.  Did the messenger not reach Jesus in time?  Was He delayed?  Why did this happen?  Why were their prayers unanswered?  They grieved and processed these questions for several days…and then Jesus shows up.

As if their world wasn’t topsy-turvy already, now a new round of emotions flooded over them.  Frustrated, surprised, angry, bewildered…how would you have felt?  While the sisters separately approached Jesus, they both had the same mindset:

John 11:20-21, 32
As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”…As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

I believe they were 100% right.  Based upon other comments Jesus makes in this chapter, I am certain that had He been there, Jesus would have healed Lazarus.  Even though it wasn’t what Mary and Martha wanted…He waited, and it wasn’t because He didn’t care:

John 11:33-35
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was deeply moved in His spirit and troubled.

“Where have you put him?” He asked.
“Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.”

Jesus wept.

This moment answers the questions we often struggle with: “Where is God when bad things happen?  Where is Jesus when everything is wrong?  Where is God when it hurts?”

His timing may not be what we would choose, but we’re not abandoned.  He’s not cold and distant.  Jesus is deeply moved and troubled as He sees us struggle.  Jesus weeps right along side of us. 

Jesus cares deeply about what we’re going through.  Jesus weeps at how we are affected by the consequences of sin.  He knows that without Him, both physical and spiritual death is inevitable for all of us.

And although we struggle to see it, He knows exactly what He’s doing.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with knowing God’s purpose

We often want to know EXACTLY what God is up to.  We look around at the state of the world, or even at a struggle in our own lives and think, “Man, if only God would tell me WHY this is happening, I think I could deal with it all.

The truth is, we may be giving ourselves too much credit.  I’m not so sure that we could ‘handle it’ even if God was blunt and spoke plainly to us.  After all, take a look at the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ revealed plan for Lazarus:

John 11:5-10
Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.  So when He heard that [Lazarus] was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

“Rabbi,” the disciples told Him, “just now the Jews tried to stone you, and you’re going there again?”

“Aren’t there twelve hours in a day?” Jesus answered.  “If anyone walks during the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if anyone walks during the night, he does stumble, because the light is not in him.”


The disciples are trying to get Jesus to make a “business decision”.

If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s a straight-forward concept.  A “business decision” usually comes when people want to ensure their own safety, even if it means they end up taking a short-term loss, or even potentially end up neglecting others.  One modern-day example is sometimes seen in college football: a sure-fire top-10 draft pick decides to sit out of his team’s bowl game, because a good performance won’t help his stock any, so playing one last game isn’t worth the risk of injury to his future career.  Similarly, a few years back in the Super Bowl, a team’s starting Quarterback opted to not reach out for the football that was fumbled near him.  Why?  Because there were six 300 lb men also nearby, and they were all diving for the ball at the same time.  He didn’t want to risk injury, even if it meant the other team would recover the ball.  In that split-second, the QB made a “business decision”.

With the disciples, we really can’t blame them for bringing up what happened the last time they were in Jerusalem – the Jewish leaders did try to kill Jesus.  And if they’re ready to kill Him, then they would have no issues killing a disciple, either.  So, I understand their “business decision” argument.  Their line of thinking could have easily gone like this:  Jesus said that Lazarus would get better, and we’ve seen Him heal from a distance before, so why risk death when we don’t have to?  Instead, Jesus rebuffs their argument, reminding them that they will be fine as long as they are walking with Him.  Then Jesus tries to gently break the news to them about Lazarus…but they don’t quite understand:

 John 11:11-16
He said this, and then He told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.”

Then the disciples said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.”

Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought he was speaking about natural sleep.  So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.  But let’s go to him.”

Then Thomas (called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go too so that we may die with Him.”

Even after explicitly telling the disciples:
where He was going,
why He was going,
and what He was going to do when He got there…

Some of the disciples were still convinced Jesus’ actions were not going to end well.  Just like most of us probably would, Thomas uses sarcasm to cope with and even cover for his fear: “Well, since Jesus is on a death mission, we might as well march along with Him.  What else are we going to do?”

So here we have God telling them EXACTLY what He was up to…and they tried to talk Him out of it.  The important thing to note, however, was that after Jesus confirmed to them that this indeed was the direction He was going – the disciples still went with Him, even though they had reservations, because they trusted Him.  And because they followed, they witnessed the biggest miracle they had ever seen.

That’s our take home message here: Even when God’s chosen path doesn’t make sense, and we would have opted to take another route, we still follow Him because we trust Him. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A 911 call to Jesus

We’ve all been there.  At some point in our lives, the situation is so bad that we feel like we have no where else to turn.  Maybe it is a diagnosis, a car accident, or even a prolonged illness…but we’ve tried everything we know to do to cope, and the only thing left is to hope that God does a miracle.

That’s where we find the people in this story from Jesus’ life.  Two sisters and their brother, all loved by Jesus.  They have an established relationship with each other.  By all indications, Jesus has even stayed at their house, possibly several times.  But something bad has happened to their brother, and the sisters can’t do anything else about it:

John 11:1-3
Now a man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.  So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord the one you love is sick.”


Let’s stop here and think about logistics for a moment.  How did they get in touch with Jesus?  According to the text at the end of chapter 10, Jesus wasn’t in Bethany.  Instead, he was a couple days’ journey away.  Martha and Mary couldn’t text or call to ask Him to come to Bethany or to even find out exactly where He was at the moment.  Someone had to physically make the long journey to go to the last place Jesus was known to be, and then go searching for Him from there. 

How time-consuming and risky!  They would have no guarantee of Jesus still being where He was before or that the messenger would end up asking the right person who knew where Jesus and His disciples had gone to next.  Going to this effort only underscores how sick Lazarus really was.  Mary and Martha must have believed that their brother would not live without some sort of divine intervention.

But also keep in mind that Jesus had performed long-distance healing miracles before.  Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion without even entering the house.  Jesus then publicly praised the centurion for his faith in Jesus’ authority.  You can read about it in Luke 7:1-10.  Surely, the sisters thought, if Jesus was willing to heal a complete stranger, who was the servant of a leader in a foreign army that was occupying Israel…then without a doubt Jesus would heal a fellow countryman that He knew and loved, right?

We don’t know how long it took, but the messenger did eventually find Jesus:

John 11:4-5
When Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.

The messenger and the disciples likely thought Jesus’ statement meant that Lazarus wouldn’t die.  I’m sure they all took some measure of comfort from thinking this.  However, as the story continues, we will see that Lazarus did die from his illness.  Jesus was still right, though – Lazarus’ sickness did not end in death, but death was part of God’s plan this time.

We need to stop here and wrestle with a few observations, even if they are uncomfortable:

·       Sometimes, God allows really bad things to happen to people, even ones He loves.
·       Just because God healed someone else doesn’t mean healing is coming in the same way for us.
·       God performing healing miracles is more about the glory of God than it is about our preference for comfort.

We trust that God hears us when we pray.  We trust that He loves us.  However, just because those two things are true does not mean that He will swoop in and respond in the way that we think He should fix everything. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When disease hits too close to home

I’ve been dealing with some annoying health stuff for the last 9 months or so.  Nothing life-threatening, but I’m working with Doctors, changing my diet, taking meds and supplements, evaluating potential causes, blah, blah, blah…you know the drill.  Even though it’s not something that will kill me, it is frustrating that my body isn’t working as well as it used to.  I’m not that old, really.  But when you pile this recent development on top of my near-sightedness, my semi-frequent migraines, and a slightly unstable right shoulder…I get the feeling that it’s not going to get any easier as the years continue to pile up.

When I look around at my family, it seems I’m not the only one.  There’s high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, bi-polar struggles, and a long list of other maladies.  I’m sure you and your family could come up with a similar type of list. 

As we deal with these health issues now, it’s really easy to get frustrated.  I mean, God created everything…and could easily stop any of the health problems that we encounter.  So, why doesn’t He?

We can usually come to some sort of peace about this troubling question by reminding ourselves that we live in a fallen world, that Jesus will make everything right when He returns, and that we have perfectly good resurrection bodies to look forward to.  However, there are some situations when these answers fall short or feel hollow.  The one that really gets to me is my brother.  He has MS.  Wait…before going further, let me re-frame that for you:

My younger brother, who is in his mid-30s, has three kids under the age of 10, faithfully loves his wife, leads in a church that he helped plant, is active in his community, one of the hardest workers I know, a student of the Bible, works in end-of-life hospice care taking care of people who need help, loves Jesus and knows that he is loved by Jesus…he has Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a failure of the immune system to function properly.  Instead of protecting his body, his immune system attacks him.  He has made adjustments to his life, but the MS has already taken ground – and it doesn’t give ground back.  He could be fine today and be in a wheelchair tomorrow, or he may be fine for many years…but all MS patients end up in the same place.  His body, in the end, will destroy itself.

I can quickly move from frustration to anger over this.  Serious, indignant, vision-blurred-by-tears anger.  God could show up and fix this, RIGHT?  So…what is He waiting for?  Why delay healing my brother?  Why wait for the resurrection?


Did you know…when Jesus was on Earth, He was asked these same questions?

The questions weren’t part of a parable or found in one of His teachings.  Jesus was asked, straight-up.  Real life was happening.  They loved Jesus and He loved them – but they were looking right at Jesus for answers as they dealt with the most unfair moment of their lives.

I need to know how Jesus answered their questions, and there are a few more things I am wondering:

What did Jesus say?
Did He show any emotion?
Did He seem to even care?

We’ll look for answers to these questions as we launch into this next study.  For now, I am clinging to something Paul wrote many years later:

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.

Our current bodies are falling apart, and it is hard to deal with.  The diseases we encounter in this fallen world are vicious, malicious, and ruthless.  It’s especially difficult to helplessly watch the people we love succumb to them.  But no matter how heavy these moments are, God helps us keep the proper perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.


Today’s crushing avalanche will be nothing more than a light mist in comparison to the eternal glory to be revealed in us. 

Even if we cannot see it right now, because our eyes are blurred by tears.

Keep Pressing,
Ken