The Evidence of Intimacy

“Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe.’ ” – (John 11:14-15)

I first met Tony, a tall handsome man with a greying beard and the air of a wizard about him, through a small group bible study I had been leading. Our meeting ultimately led to a friendship in which we not only had the opportunity to worship together in the same church, but to also work together professionally in the same company.

Tony’s friendship and mentorship became a very influential and guiding force in my life. His wisdom, integrity, humor, and deep walk with the Lord all conspired to help me grow at many levels.

Working for the same company also afforded us the daily opportunity to get our exercise in through lunchtime walks where we would converse over all manner of topics. Over the years he would regularly challenge me both professionally and spiritually. He often shared with me the importance of living life within the framework of biblical truth with Jesus as the principle foundation.

I will always remember that fateful day when Tony shared with me during one of our walks that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He was so matter of fact about it, like it was just another topic on our daily walking agenda. From the outset he completely trusted in the Lord for whatever the outcome might be.

Over the next two years he was subjected to all sorts of treatments and surgeries. I had occasion to visit him in his home and in the hospital at times. Those visits often left me saddened as I watched the body of this once great and wise friend wasting away as the disease progressed on its relentless course.

Yet Tony’s faith in our Lord remained.

All during that period many, myself included, prayed fervently for a healing miracle from God. But none would be forthcoming.

I received the news of his passing while at work. I left my office and walked a short distance along a small trail that led to a picnic area on a lawn covered hill near our office. The area offered an overlook of the hills that surrounded the valley we were situated in.

I prayed through the tears and sorrow that befell my heart on that day. It seemed so final, yet I knew that he was in Heaven, in a far better place, but I also wondered why God had not healed such a humble and faithful servant.

I remembered in his book “If Ye Shall Ask,” that Oswald Chambers shared that God always answers our prayers. Even Jesus said; “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” ( Matthew 21:22 (ESV) )

Both were bold statements!

In the months that followed, I was in somewhat of a spiritual struggle, contrasting the words of Jesus against the reality of Tony’s death. On the surface it seemed as though God had not answered our prayers for healing.

In the end, I found myself faced with one of two possibilities:

  1. Prayer was not real, it’s just a nice vehicle to help us through some difficult times.
  2. Prayer is real and God always hears and answers our prayers.

I concluded that if one presumed that prayers were simply feel good actions on our part that served no greater purpose, then one must also conclude that God was not real, and by inference, the scriptures were not a reliable source for understanding God and his plans for humanity.

On the other hand, if God is real, and if I can trust the scriptures as reliable, then I must also presume that God’s intent in his answers must serve a higher purpose, perhaps even a purpose for which I may not fully grasp.

I worked through both possible outcomes and concluded that the evidence overwhelming supported the reality of God. Furthermore, I also knew that the reliability of the scriptures stood on very solid ground. And to be sure, I also appreciated from firsthand experience in my own life, that the God who loved me first is a personal being that desires only to give me His very best in this life.

For a time the topic of prayer and the experience I had with Tony’s death was never far from my mind. One evening as I was reading the scriptures, I came across a story about a guy named Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus.

It seemed that Lazarus was also the brother of Martha and Mary, two sisters whom Jesus had befriended during times when he and his disciples stayed in Bethany, a small village on the Eastern slope of the Mount of Olives in Judea. The village itself was about a mile and half East of Jerusalem. Even today the town is called el-Azariyeh (the place of Lazarus) by its resident Arab population.

Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem at the time he heard that his friend Lazarus had become very ill. The scriptures record that upon hearing of his friend’s condition, Jesus elected to stay in Jerusalem for an additional two days. At the end of this stay he told his disciples that Lazarus had died. But then he said; “...and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” When I read this statement I thought to myself; “what puzzling thing to say to his disciples.”

With my interest peaked, I continued to read and learned that when Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, it was revealed that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. (John 11:17) In other words, Lazarus likely died the same day that Jesus was told of his illness by the messengers sent by his sisters Martha and Mary. (John 11:3) Yet Jesus delayed his return and did not heal his friend from what would ultimately become a terminal illness.

When Jesus arrived at their home it was Martha who initially came out to meet him. Of the two sisters, Martha had a history of being the anxious one. We know this from what Luke recorded in the scriptures.

Luke noted an earlier incident when Jesus was visiting in Bethany with his disciples; evidently Martha was busy preparing and serving food while Mary was sitting around and listening to Jesus teach. (Luke 10:38-42) Martha complained to Jesus about this apparent inequity. Jesus responded by sharing that Martha should not be so troubled and should spend more time doing likewise.

After Lazarus’s death, when Martha saw Jesus arrive, her first words where not words of greetings, but words of underlying disappointment and frustration with Jesus. She told Jesus that “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Clearly she understood and believed that Jesus had the ability to heal others and knew that her brother’s death was preventable. In her defense, Martha did ultimately conclude that Jesus could bring her brother back from the dead, and Jesus confirmed that with her. But in the moment she thought that he was speaking of the end times when all believers will be resurrected in their new bodies. After affirming her belief in Jesus as the expected Messiah she alerted her sister Mary of Jesus’s arrival.

Jesus spoke with Mary and together they all walked to where the tomb containing the body of Lazarus was located. Jesus requested that the stone seal be removed and the tomb be opened. Martha, the ever anxious one, still did not understand fully what was about to happen, instead she was worried about the terrible odor that would come from the tomb should it be opened after four days. (John 11:39)

Nonetheless they did remove the stone seal. Jesus looked up and prayed to his Father and then yelled in a loud voice; “Lazarus, come out!” Immediately Lazarus came out from the tomb, with his hands and feet still wrapped in strips of linen. Jesus told those around him to “take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Many of the Jews that had come to visit Mary and Martha, and to mourn with them saw what had happened and immediately placed their faith in Jesus. They realized for the first time that He was much more than a teacher, but he was their expected Messiah!

Scriptures would later record that it would be these same Jews and others that would greet Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on that fateful Passover week prior to his crucifixion. (John 12:17) The Jews who had witnessed Lazarus being raised from the dead not only became believers, but they also spread the word to many others.

As I finished reading about this incident, I pondered how the outcome might have been different had Jesus simply healed Lazarus and not allowed him to have died. Many Jews would not have known of Christ as their Messiah. The story of Lazarus would not have been recorded in the scriptures to give us further evidence of Christ’s power over death, and the very town where the event took place would not today bear the name of Lazarus some two thousand years hence, still testifying to the power over death that Jesus demonstrated, even before his own crucifixion and resurrection that was yet to come.

I concluded that sometimes when our prayers don’t seem to be answered, that God has in fact answered them already, but His answer speaks to a higher purpose for which I may not fully appreciate or even understand in the moment. Therein lies an element of my trust and continued faith in His promises to me.

The prophet Isaiah said; “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In the end Chambers reminded me that I must always keep in mind that prayer is to bring glory to God, and that what appears to be silence is in fact the first sign of His intimacy.

 

Mr. Fish

“Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:10 (NIV))

When our kids were young we would take them to the local County Fair which arrived for about two weeks each Summer.  They loved the fair and would enjoy the rides, the food, and all the fun activities.

Many of the fair booths would offer prizes to kids for succeeding in certain events, such as tossing a small ball into a hoop, or coins into bottles and bowls.

On one occasion, my son won a goldfish.

We had little hope that this “Fair fish” would survive for long, it looked rather skinny and listed to one side. Nonetheless, our daughter set out with great determination to ensure that her little brother’s fish would survive. We started by locating a large fishbowl that had been purchased at a garage sale some years before. After a trip to the pet store, we had an inexpensive air pump, fish food pellets, and some water conditioner in hand.

For the first week or so our Fair fish seemed to remain somewhat on the fence about survival, but then it suddenly seemed to take to its new home. Each morning he got a few pellets of food and he continued to thrive. In time he matured into a large handsome and very bright orange fish.

Days became weeks, months passed and then years.  Our Fair fish is now over seven years old and is as healthy as ever. Somehow over the years I became his de facto caretaker. Mr. Fish resides in our kitchen on the counter, his bowl only a few feet from our coffee pot.

Each morning as I pour my first cup of java, Mr. Fish slurps the top of the water in his bowl loudly and splashes his tail to remind me that it’s also mealtime for him. I obligingly drop in several pellets of food, which he hungrily devours. He spends the rest of his day poking around his bowl looking for anything that he may have been missed in the morning.

Periodically his bowl needed to be changed with fresh clean water. This used to be a process whereby I would chase the poor guy around the bowl with a fish net, and then transfer him with a plop into a  small temporary fish bowl (Actually a small plastic food storage container) until I finished cleaning his bowl.

Over the years however, this entire process became much less traumatic. In time there developed this unspoken trust, that when I needed to clean his bowl, all I needed to do was to gently cradle Mr. Fish in my hand, lift him out of his bowl, and place him in his little container until the cleaning was done. Once his home was cleaned and ready to occupy again, I would do the reverse and put him back into his bowl.

During this transfer activity, Mr. Fish remains extraordinary still and at peace as I make the quick, but smooth transfer from one environment to the other. Any normal fish would have every reason to be frantic, because absent the environment of his water, he is totally helpless. He can’t breathe, he can’t swim about, and it’s all about trusting that I’m not going to harm him in the process while I clean his home so that he remains healthy and strong.

One morning as I was having my coffee and watching Mr. Fish I found myself thinking about matters of trust and how rare real trust actually is.

Life for you and I offers many of its own challenges. We have every reason to find little trust in anything or anyone. Our news is filled daily with horrible stories of people taking advantage of one another.

Even as I look to the Bible I saw that one of Jesus’ closest and trusted disciples, Judas, traded him in for the equivalent of about six months’ pay.

What exactly is “trust” anyway?

In the context of relationships, the word trust means to have complete certainty when it comes to the character, ability, strength or the truthfulness of an individual. The reality is, no matter how well meaning, there’s no human being that we can hold with complete trust. That’s because the Bible tells us that all of humanity simply falls short, (Romans 3:23) we would have to be a perfect being in order to convey perfect and complete trust.

In a world of shifting values and uncertain times, where then do we anchor our trust? Over the years I have found that the only reasonable place to secure complete trust is in Jesus Christ. He has always been and will always be. (Revelation 22:13) The character and integrity of God is unchanging (Hebrews 6:17) and can be completely relied upon for all of the ages. Only Jesus possesses the character traits that have stood the test of time. He is the only one who has lived a life that is perfect and untainted by the effects of sin, a condition for which no one is immune. (Matthew 5:48)

Perhaps today as you read this you’re facing issues of trust. I don’t know what specifically they might be, but I do know this; you can trust our Lord for all of time, He is the one constant and certainty that you can reliably anchor to. He is an unmovable rock, the firm cornerstone that you can confidently build your life upon.

If you choose to follow Christ, to lay your complete trust in Him, you will also experience the peace and the joy of a deep inward satisfaction knowing that you are eternally loved by your creator. For the first time you’ll have a lasting purpose and you will know for certain that your presence in this life is not an accident, it was intentional in every respect.

Will this trusting relationship cause conflict or challenges in life to go away? Nope. But it will allow you to prevail with a hidden strength that will carry you through the storms of life with confidence and trust, knowing that the outcome of your life is in God’s loving hands.

 

Copyright FullLifeWord 2016

Our Source for Strength, Courage, and Action

“Then David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and courageous, and act; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20 (NASB95))

There are those rare moments in life where we must face a seemingly impossible situation that requires us to engage, to be strong and to act in the moment. In those times we must  replace our fear with courage, and our inaction with action. Such was the case of Lenny Skutnick, who on January 13, 1982 was one of the many who witnessed the heroic first responders rescue efforts to save survivors of an airplane crash into the icy Potomac River in Washington, D.C.  During the rescue operations a helicopter tried to rescue a stewardess struggling in the icy river:

“Twice she slipped from the rope dropped to her and fell back into the icy Potomac. Seeing that her strength was gone, Skutnick shed his coat and boots, jumped into the water, and swam thirty yards to her rescue. Questioned by the press afterward about his motivation, Skutnick replied: “I had been there all that time and nobody was getting in the water… It’s something I never thought I would do, but in looking back, I guess I did it because I didn’t think about it. Somebody had to go in the water.”

Solomon, King David’s son, faced his own fears as he begin to grasp the magnitude of the legacy and responsibility of leadership that his Dad was entrusting him with.  King David recognized that he would not be the one to see the vision fulfilled of the temple being built in Jerusalem, rather he chose to entrust the building plans for the temple to his son to complete.

David recognized that God has a role and plan for everyone in this life. His was that of a solider, not a builder. His was that of a visionary and not that of an administrator that would carry out the details of this enormous project. Not only would Solomon be charged with building the temple, but he would one day be King. The legacy of his father would be on his shoulders. David understood this, and he understood the pressures of leadership. But he wanted to give his son the most valuable piece of advice he could, and that was to remind him that God would be with him, that it was through God’s hand that David had been able to successfully navigate and manage the duties of the kingdom that God had charged him with.

Most often we don’t face the life and death moments that Lenny Skutnick faced, nor will any of us likely be handed a kingdom to reign or the plans to a temple to build. Yet as believers we are called upon to live out our lives with courage while depending upon God for the strength to act as his ambassadors in this life.

I have found in my life that real courage is needed to simply face each day that life offers us. Life is hard. It takes courage, strength, and a will to act in order to face the challenges before us. The challenges are different for each of us, but the source of our strength and the power to enable us to act is common to all those that believe and have placed their faith in Christ as their personal savior.

In this life we need not live in fear, even in the face of fearful circumstances. The disciples understood this concept many years after David was gone. They experienced firsthand what it was to have fear, and at the same moment to see how God overcame their fears and enabled them to complete the tasks that God had planned for their lives.

Be  encouraged to trust God in the midst of your circumstances, allow Him to be the source of your courage, strength, and ability to act while trusting Him completely for the outcome.

The Key To Knowledge

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” (Luke 11:52)

Marie Curie was a brilliant physicist and chemist that conducted some of the most fundamental and significant research in the study of radioactivity. Her efforts made her the first woman to win the Nobel Prize; not once, but twice!

Yet for all the knowledge she acquired during her research, she missed a critical element of knowledge that would ultimately take her life.

Specifically, the knowledge she lacked was the knowledge that the human body will die if exposed to sustained high levels of radiation. This fact was not known in her day.

She would often carry test tubes of radium around in her pockets while conducting research. She was also exposed to excessive levels of radiation in her early work with mobile X-ray systems that she was creating. Sadly, this brilliant scientist died in July of 1934 from a condition called aplastic anemia, which we know today is frequently brought on by excessive exposure to radiation.

Knowledge can make a significant difference in our lives. As Marie Curie unfortunately discovered, the inverse is also true; a lack of knowledge can also have terrible consequences. Had she known about the dangerous characteristics of radiation, she would have no doubt made different choices in terms of how she handled radioactive samples in her research.

Today, when students study radiation in labs, they are led by teachers that incorporate knowledge on how to safely handle such materials. It would be unconscionable if a teacher ever withheld knowledge on the dangers of radiation to new students.

Education and understanding of knowledge is not a new thing. At one point in his ministry, Jesus had been invited to a meal with several  religious leaders of his day. It was clear that they intended to use their mealtime to promote themselves and their knowledge of the scriptures. Jesus saw through their shallow agenda and spoke truthfully and honestly to them. The Pharisees (Religious leadership) were very offended. The scribes (Legal experts in religious matters) quickly jumped to their defense.

In the end, Jesus made his position clear. In his view, the religious leaders had not only withheld knowledge to the average person that attended church, but intentionally hindered the transfer of knowledge that would lead others to an understanding of His role as the Messiah and to eternal life.

He didn’t mince words with these guys either!

In the verses immediately  prior (Luke 11:51) He made it clear that as holders of such knowledge, these teachers would be held directly accountable for not only taking away knowledge, but for hindering those that were actively seeking to understand the key to eternal life, namely  a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

When I find myself in a role teaching scripture, be it teaching adults or children, I am very mindful of the weight of responsibility that teachers bear. We must always be on guard to fully prepare ourselves and to understand the lessons we teach. Care must be taken to not interpret scriptures in a way that is anything other than what the scriptures are teaching.

We must never do or say anything to hinder someone from coming into a right and eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. Whenever we teach or share information about the scriptures to others, we need to do so with the aim of helping others to grasp the “key of knowledge,”  knowledge of Christ that would permit them to to receive Christ into their lives.

Even if we are not teachers in our church, if we are simply a believer in Christ attending church, we must never shy away from sharing with those that God brings into our lives the knowledge of salvation. While we might not be scholars, our daily conduct, our heart attitude of love towards others are often the only tools we might have to communicate the message of salvation through Christ.

If you’re reading this devotion and have never encountered the living Christ, let me take a moment and share with you what the scriptures tell us about Christ’s love for you and about our mutual need for Christ.

The scriptures tell us that Christ loves you and I to the point of death. He willingly gave his life for me and for you. (John 3:16) The same scriptures also remind us that we are impacted by something called sin. It’s a condition that exists in our world and will keep us separated from God.  Everyone is impacted,( Romans 3:23 ) and unless I take personal steps to address this condition, the condition will result in eternal separation from God when our bodies die. (Romans 6:23) But not to worry, the scriptures share some great news! Jesus has given each of us the opportunity to receive the gift of eternal life. This gift is unmerited and cannot be earned in anyway. (Ephesians 2:8-9 )

So what must one do to receive such a gift!

Admit: Admit that I have sinned and fall short of God’s expectations. The scriptures are clear that all of humanity is impacted by the presence of this sin condition. (Romans 3:23).

Believe: Believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins (John 3:16 and 1:12). Jesus is uniquely qualified to meet God’s standard for entering Heaven. As such, He chose to allow himself to be a substitute for me, to suffer the ultimate consequences of sin, separation from God,  so that I would never have to experience what that might be like. His motive…love.

Conviction: There must be genuine conviction of the need for repentance, confession, and baptism. Our hearts must truly desire to change; we must want to live our lives in a manner that honors God as an ongoing expression of our gratitude for the gift of eternal life, obtained through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9).

How do I do communicate my desire to follow Christ?

We do this by prayer.

Prayer is simply talking to God using our own words. There is no special formula. It’s not magic, its just communicating. Simply pray from your heart to God, and He will save you. If you feel lost and just don’t know what to pray, here’s a prayer of salvation that you can pray:

“Dear Lord,

I admit that I am a sinner. I have done many things that don’t please you. I have lived my life for myself. I am sorry and I repent. I ask you to forgive me. I believe that you died on the cross for me, to save me. You did what I could not do for myself. I come to you now and ask you to take control of my life, I give it to you. Help me to live every day in a way that pleases you. I love you, Lord, and I thank you that I will spend all eternity with you. -Amen”