Truly Alive

“The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.'”  John 11:44

Can you imagine this scene?  After Jesus’ audacious command to a dead man to return from the dead, get up, and shuffle out of the tomb, this crowd actually saw it happen.  Now I have to confess that if I had been one of those individuals in the crowd, I would have turned and run away even faster than I run when I am chasing an ice cream truck.  After all, dead people don’t just get back up after being in a tomb for four days!  But this impossible feat is exactly what this crowd witnessed.  Many of them had even helped roll away the stone the blocked the entrance to the tomb, so there could be no accusations of some elaborate trick.  They had heard Jesus’ prayer.  They had heard His command.  They had likely wondered about what kind of crazy Jesus had to be to actually believe that a dead man could heed his command.  And then it happened.  All of a sudden a man came into the light from the darkness of the tomb shuffling his feet because he was still wrapped in his burial attire.  Jaws must have it the ground.  Some must have run away in fear.  Doubtless, dozens stood there with blank looks on their faces.  All tried to understand the incomprehensible miracle they had just witnessed.  But Lazarus was not raised to merely be gaulked at.  He was raised for life.  So Jesus commanded those nearest Lazarus to help him remove the grave clothes so that he could genuinely experience the life to which he had been raised.  It must have been an incredible sight to see the dead return to life.

While I confess that I have never seen a tomb opened and someone walk out alive, I have seen the dead receive life.  In fact, I was once one of the dead, but now I am alive!  You see, the Bible declares each and every person without a relationship with Jesus to be dead in his or her sin.  But you need not be frightened.  God loved you enough to send His Son Jesus to die in your place so that you could experience the life and relationship with God for which you were created.  Though you may be spiritually dead, you can receive spiritual and eternal life.  All you must do is to ask Jesus to forgive you and come into your life as the boss of your life.  Then you too will have become one of the living.  Perhaps you began a relationship with Jesus years ago, wonderful!  But who do you know who still needs to receive eternal life?  Who do you know who needs to know about Jesus?


What Kind of Crazy

“When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!'”  John 11:43

When Jesus called out Lazarus from the tomb, he did so in a way that all could hear.  For all those near the tomb, there could be no doubt how this incomprehensible miracle had taken place.  There were no smoke and mirrors.  There was no doubt about who said what.  There was no quiet scheming off to the side.  There was only Jesus, who after praying to His Father, cried out and commanded the dead man to get up and come out.  What must have gone through the minds of those who heard Jesus in the moment after this audacious command but before they see Lazarus shuffling out of the tomb?  Surely, they must have thought Jesus had lost His mind.  After all, Lazarus was dead.  In fact, he had been dead for four days.  What kind of crazy is this man that He honestly thinks that He has authority over death?  What a shock it must have been to discover that even death was no match for Jesus!

I wonder at times if we do the same thing when we bring our problems and circumstances to Jesus.  I wonder if we come to Him with the resignation that He cannot do anything except comfort us, when all the while He wants to do something much greater.  To be certain, there have been many times in my life when the only way that I made it through a circumstance was because of the comfort of God.  But there have also been other times when all I wanted was comfort, but all God wanted to do was to display His glory.  How would your life be different if rather than resigning yourself to those mountains that seem immovable you focused on asking God to display His glory through those mountains.  Perhaps He will choose to reveal His glory by removing the mountain.  Perhaps He will reveal His glory by simply calming your spirit.  Regardless of how exactly He will do so, you can rest assured that if your goal is for God to demonstrate His glory your goal will be fulfilled.

“Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths.”  Proverbs 7:25

You and I really do what we really want to do.  I know that seems to be a pretty simplistic statement but it is true nonetheless.  The reason that I have not lost as much weight while on my “diet” as I had hoped is that I have wanted to eat more than I have wanted to exercise.  The reason that I have not finished my dissertation is that I really don’t want to work on it.  It is not really that complicated.  I know that I should exercise more and eat less.  I know that I need to work on my dissertation.  I have a laundry list of things that I know I should do or that I need to do.  But somehow I find that those aren’t the things that I find myself doing.  Why?  Because either I don’t want to do them or I simply want to do other things more.  Oh, by the way, I know you have the same kind of list as well.

So why do I tell you that story?  The answer is simple.  If those things that are on our “should do” or “need to do” list can somehow find their way off of our lists and into our hearts then those things will be accomplished.  Take for example the teaching of the author of Proverbs.  In the verses preceding the verse quoted above a young man falls victim to temptation.  Why?  Because he wanted temptation more than he wanted wisdom.  He knew that he should not fall.  He knew that he should not succumb.  But he did.  Did he know what he should do?  Probably.  Did he know that temptation’s story sounded fishy at best?  Absolutely.  So why did he do it?  For the same reason that you and I do.  We want temptation more than we want holiness.  Now that creates a pretty big problem since we know we should seek holiness and we know that we need to chase after God.  But so long as your and my relationship with God remains something on our list and not something in our hearts we are doomed to fall.  If your and my relationship with God truly becomes our heart’s desire, then we will faithfully pursue holiness and godliness despite all the allures of temptation.  After all, we really do what we really want to do.

“‘Take away the stone,’ he [Jesus] said.  ‘But, Lord,’ said Martha, the sister of the dead man, ‘by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.’  Then Jesus said, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’  So they took away the stone.”  John 11:39-41a

Lazarus had been dead for four days.  By all accounts no one thought there was anything that anyone could do.  Though Jesus had hinted around at His plans, understandably no one really thought that He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead.  So when Jesus tells the Jews who had followed them to the tomb to roll away the stone, Martha was understandably disturbed.  After all, in the Middle Eastern heat the body would unquestionably stink.  Not to mention that close contact with a dead body would mean that those involved would be ceremonially unclean and unable to worship at the temple.  According to Martha’s way of thinking, there was simply no good that could come from moving the stone.  So she objects and reminds Jesus that her brother was now a lost cause.  After all had Jesus wanted to heal Lazarus, it would seem that He arrived about four days too late.  Yet, Jesus reminds her of what appears to be a conversation unrecorded by the gospel writer.  Jesus reminds her that if she will only believe she would see the glory of God.  Remember only a little while earlier, Martha had made a profound declaration of faith.  Now was the time that her declaration of faith would be tested.  Will she trust Jesus even when trusting Him really doesn’t make sense to her?  Because the next verse declares that they took away the stone, we can easily understand that Martha eventually conceded and allowed the stone to be moved.  Of course, you must realize that the stone was really no obstacle to Jesus.  The only thing that really needed to be removed was Martha’s unbelief.

At times I believe it is easy for us to be critical of Martha despite the fact that we do the same thing.  No I don’t mean that we protest when Jesus prepares to raise someone from the dead, but I wonder if we do not protest when His command contradicts our “common sense.”  After all, who ever heard of someone raising a man from the dead four days after his death?  I wonder today if we believe that Jesus has that same power at His disposal to address the circumstances of our lives.  I wonder if we really understand that the obstacle hindering Jesus displaying God’s glory in our lives might not be the circumstance, but our lack of belief in Jesus’ ability to display His glory through our circumstance.  How much different would the story have been if Martha had persisted in her objection?  How much different would your life and my life be if we stopped protesting and simply trusted?  I don’t pretend to know all the circumstances of your life.  But I do know with absolute certainty that before you see God demonstrate His glory in your circumstance you will have to trust Him completely with your circumstance.  I know it is hard, but God has always proven Himself trustworthy.

“Jesus wept.”  John 11:35

Yes, I know you may be thinking, “This guy must want a day off to write a devotion over Jesus weeping.”  But hold on for a moment.  Through these two simple words we learn something profound about Jesus Christ.  We learn that He really is fully human.  Wrap your mind around this for a moment – Jesus Christ wept!  The same God who spoke all of creation into existence wept!  This ought to tell us a couple of things about God.  First, God is not an aloof and uncaring person simply looking down on us with His arms folded in disgust.  So many people look at God as though He is simply “out to get them.”  God loves you and He created you to be in a love relationship with Him for all eternity.  In fact, He demonstrated this love by sending Jesus Christ to die in your place.  He is not aloof.  He is not uncaring.  He has demonstrated His love for us – even to the point of weeping.  But Jesus’ tears tell us something else about Him.  Those tears tell us that Jesus Christ was fully human just as you and I are.  He knows our pains, our sorrows, and our fears.  He is familiar with everything about us that makes us truly human.  He knows what it is to hunger.  He knows what it is to be thirsty.  He knows what it feels like to be betrayed.  He even knows what it feels like when it seems like God is a million miles away.  He knows everything about what it means to be us – and He loves us still. 

So what does this mean for you and me?  It simply means that when we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, we are not surrendering to an uncaring God who holds lightning bolts simply waiting for us to mess up.  No the God of the Bible is a God who is holy and righteous – to be sure – but also who loves us and is familiar with all our pain and sorrow.  We serve a God who knows what it is like to be tempted and to be hurt.  We serve a God who loved us enough to become one of us so that we could spend eternity with Him.  Now that is a God worth serving!

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?'”  John 11:25-26

During my final semester in seminary, I was faced with what Henry Blackaby calls a “crisis of faith.”  I had been sending out my resume in search of where God would lead us after finishing school.  In my resume, I noted my degrees and anticipated date of graduation.  As I was filling out my paperwork in February to graduate in May, a problem arose.  There was a complication with my total number of hours for me to graduate with both of my masters degrees.  Initially, I was told that I could graduate with one or the other but not both.  As you can imagine, I had some major issues with that information.  We ended up working everything out and I ended up taking an independent study course to fix the issue of hours.  But during that time between the problem and the resolution, I was faced with the task of calling the church with whom I was interviewing and telling them of the situation.  I confess I had no clue what to expect in their response.  The pastor’s answer was simple, “Do you think this took God by surprise?”  I had taken all the classes.  I had written all the theology papers.  But somewhere in the midst of my situation, I failed to truly believe the theology I had written.  The theology had not found its way from my head to heart.

In the verses quoted above, Jesus challenges Martha to move beyond her theology to focus on Him.  Martha believed in a bodily resurrection (see John 11:24).  Her theology was absolutely dead center.  If she were in seminary her professors would have been proud.  But she had not gone far enough.  Jesus did not want her hope, faith, and trust to be in theology.  He wanted her hope, faith, and trust to be in Him alone.  Theology is great because it is through theology that we sum up all that God has revealed to us about Himself, but it is not enough.  You can know all the theology in the world and still not have a relationship with Jesus Christ.  Don’t substitute the study of God for a relationship with God.  Jesus ended this discussion with Martha with a simple question, “Do you believe this?”  He asks you and me the same question.  All of this information we say we know about God is meaningless, unless we allow it to move from our heads down to our hearts.  Do you believe this?

Confirming God

“When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped God.”  Judges 7:15a

My children have a very annoying habit of asking me a question and then going to my wife to get confirmation of what I have just told them.  Now to be sure, I am blessed with a wife who manages much of our home life.  You can also be certain that she has a much better grasp of our family calendar than I do.  But asking me a question and then walking over to my wife and asking her the same question…  The funny thing is that my kids are not looking for a different answer.  They are simply confirming with their mother the accuracy of my answer.  I don’t understand, but I can assure you that when I am older and senile I will do the same thing right back to them.  As annoying as my kids’ habit is to me, I wonder if we tend to do the same thing to God.  I wonder if we do not clearly hear something from Him, but not truly believe it until it is confirmed by someone else.  Do we really need to have someone confirm God?

Gideon certainly was someone who constantly questioned God’s commands and assurances.  In the verses that immediately precede the verse quoted above, God again assures Gideon that He will be with him and deliver the Midianites into his hands.  Despite this assurance, Gideon is still afraid.  It is not until God confirms His assuring words through the dream and interpretation of Midianite soldiers that Gideon believes and worships.  Think about that for a moment.  Gideon hears from God and is afraid.  Gideon hears the same message through enemy soldiers and worships.  Does anything seem odd about this to you?  Gideon never moved his mind from the world around him to God’s plan.  Hearing from God was never enough for Gideon.  He always needed one more confirmation.  While Gideon finally chose to worship the God he had largely ignored, you should also notice that this is the first and only time that Scripture records Gideon worshipping God.  How sad!  God had spoken to Gideon so often and had even condescended to confirm his calling, but it was never enough.  Gideon worshipped, but I wonder how real and transforming that encounter with God must have been.  The same danger faces you and me.  When God speaks to us, are we familiar enough with His voice to listen to Him?  When we hear Him what is our response?  Do we ask others or do we fall down and worship?