Jesus and Lazarus

John 11:35
Jesus wept.

This is the account of the death of Lazarus recorded in the Gospel of John. John 11 verse 5 is the shortest verse in all the Bible, yet it is a powerful description of the depth of God’s love.  Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. It was because of His love for his friend Lazarus that he wept when He was led to the place where Lazarus was buried. Jesus experienced the same sadness and sorrow in his heart we feel when we lose a loved one. He felt sadness and sorrow even though He had the power to bring Lazarus back from the dead, and even though He knew ahead of time that he was going to do so. Still, Jesus wept. I believe this gives us insight into how deep the love of Jesus Christ really is. Jesus wept even though He knew all along that He was going to bring him back.

Not only does this tell us how deep God’s love is for us, it also tells us something else. It tells us how highly God treasures human life. Even though the death of Lazarus would only be temporary, his life was so important to God that Jesus wept.

The love that God has for our lives extends beyond this world. In the Gospel of Luke, chapter 12 verses 6 and 7, the word of God tells us how important we are to Him:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Every life matters to God, so much so that He does not want anyone to be lost to the eternal death that awaits those who reject His son. So great is His love, He gave us a way out of death through our savior, Jesus Christ. Through the experience of Lazarus, we are assured that Jesus does indeed have the final say over death. Praise be to God!

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Faith in the Face of Disappointment

The Faith of the Canaanite Woman

 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”  Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”  He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”  The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.  He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

At first glance, Jesus’ response seems puzzling. Did He not care about this woman’s daughter? Was He really showing contempt for Gentiles? On the surface, it may appear that way, but let’s look a little closer.

According to Matthew Henry’s commentary, it’s most likely that Jesus was testing the woman’s faith, but for other than usual reasons. Jesus already knew what was in her heart, how strong her faith was, how persistent she was prepared to be, and that she was faithful enough to overcome discouragement. So why test her that way? Perhaps, as Matthew Henry speculated, it may have been that there were some lessons His disciples needed to learn.

It’s interesting that the woman answered the way she did. After being ignored initially, she renewed her plea for mercy, which showed the strength of her faith. And after being compared to a dog, she responded in humility. A lesser person might have taken that remark as an insult and stormed off in a huff. But she didn’t. She had a need, and in her heart she knew only Jesus could meet that need. When it came to dealing with the Canaanite woman, Jesus knew what He was doing.

You see, her response tells us something else about her. In plain language, she said to Jesus, “Yes, but even Gentiles will benefit from the blessings that God has bestowed on the Jews.” She showed a level of understanding that the disciples had not yet achieved, though they had been with Jesus for quite some time. And that more than anything was a lesson the disciples would have to eventually learn. As only Jesus could do, he pulled that response out of the Canaanite woman for his disciples to see.

Through her example, we learn the right way to respond when God does not answer our prayers right away. When we understand who God is, as much as that is possible, we know we don’t have to shrug our shoulders, give up, or walk away when a prayer goes unanswered. We do what the Canaanite woman did. We persist in our faith. We pray with more determination and conviction. And we pray in humility, knowing that only God can meet our needs.

A proud person would have protested and walked away. But her understanding of God’s plan for salvation manifested itself in humility and strong, unwavering faith. It was that faith that got Jesus’ attention, and her daughter was healed. That’s a lesson for us. Faith will always get God’s attention.

Just One Man

I’m sure all of us have said to ourselves at one time or another: “I’m just one man. What difference can I make?” I’ve thought that to myself a few times when I’ve faced challenges that seemed nearly impossible to overcome.

But our history is full of reminders of times when one man did make a difference, when one man changed the course of history.

In modern history: Neil Armstrong was one man. The words he spoke as he stepped out onto the surface of the moon are forever immortalized.

Martin Luther King was one man.  He championed the cause of civil rights in a way that earned respect from people of all races.

Going back a few decades, one man gave a one word reply when a German commander demanded the surrender of the troops who were defending the strategically vital town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge: “NUTS!” With that one word, the under equipped, half frozen, half-starved troops found new strength and dug in and fought off what turned out to be Nazi Germany’s last ditch effort to turn the tide of the war in Europe in their favor.

And ladies, none of this is exclusive to men. This was originally written in January of 2013 to the men of my church in Grapevine, Texas on behalf of the men’s ministry department, but this applies to you as well. You’ve probably asked how one woman can make a difference. Well….in modern times again, consider a woman like Rosa Parks who wanted nothing more than to be treated with the respect that any human, man or woman, deserves! Look at what she started!

And then there are the biblical accounts of women who made a difference, women like Deborah who ruled Israel for forty years in a time when women didn’t hold such positions.

There was Ruth who demonstrated the love of God in a way that could still serve as model of Christ-like love today.

There was Ester, whose courage saved her people from annihilation.

There was Rahab the prostitute, who protected the Israelite spies who had been sent to scout out Jericho. She acknowledged the God of Israel as the one true God, and because of what she did for God’s people, God intervened and changed her life forever.

And there was Mary, the mother of our Savior. After being told by the angel Gabriel, “…you have found favor with God!” Mary replied, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

God uses men and women both to accomplish His plans. There was one time in particular when God’s anger burned against the Israelites so much so that He was prepared to destroy them all. But one man stood between the Israelites and God.

From Exodus 32 “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people.  Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “O Lord,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?  Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.  Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’”  Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

One man favored by God saved a nation.

And of course, our savior Jesus Christ was one man. This one man bore the sins for all mankind. He changed the course of human history. He changed our perception of who God was.  He was God, and He was man. He has changed millions of lives. He has saved what otherwise would have been lost. He loved us when we rejected Him. He accepts us as we are. He stands before the Father on our behalf as Moses stood before God.

He was just one man. Yet I don’t recall reading anywhere in the Bible where Jesus said, “I’m just one man. How can I make a difference?”

But when you think about it, that’s not a bad question to ask God when we pray. “Lord, I’m just one man (or one woman). How can I make a difference?”

Ask God. He’ll show you how.

 

 

It is Finished!!

From Matthew 27

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”  So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

Judas, like so many others who lived during that time, failed to understand the significance of what was about to happen. Seized with remorse, Judas reached a point where he decided to be his own judge, jury, and executioner. He threw the money he was paid into the temple the Bible says, and then he went and hanged himself.

If only he had waited just a few more hours. There was no need for Judas to hang himself because Jesus would soon hang for him. Jesus would soon take the punishment for him, just as He took the punishment for all who put their trust and faith in Him. Judas could have been restored just as Peter was a few days later. He could have been reconciled to God as all of have been because of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

We’re all going to mess up at some point. It’s not a matter of if. But when we do, and when we admit our mistake and take ownership of it and bring it to God, that’s it. It’s settled. We don’t have to punish ourselves. In fact, there is nothing we could do to ourselves in the way of punishment that would match the sufficiency of Jesus’s death on the cross. As Jesus said with His dying breath, “It is finished.” All we need to do is accept His forgiveness. The punishment has been meted out. The price is paid. Jesus paid it for us.

If only God would……….

All of us at some point in our lives have heard someone begin a sentence with these words;  “If God would just………………..” 

or,

If only God would.………….”

So let’s fill in the blanks and examine some of those statements.

Number 1 on the list: “If God would just reveal himself, then I’d be able to believe He exists.”

In his preface to the Greek New Testament, the Greek scholar Erasmus wrote:

“These holy pages will summon up the living image of his mind.  They will give you Christ Himself, talking, healing, dying, rising, the whole Christ in a word.  They will give Him to you in an intimacy so close that He would be less visible to you if He stood before your very eyes.”

All scripture points to Christ. Jesus Christ was fully man and fully God, and when He walked on the earth, He was a living breathing flesh and blood human being, as real as you and me. So First and foremost, God revealed Himself through his Holy Word and through the person of Jesus Christ.

God revealed Himself through creation. No man was there to witness creation, but we know it happened, otherwise we would not exist.

And God reveals Himself through the human conscience. In Romans chapter 2, verses 14 and 15, the Bible tells us: “Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right.” That innate sense of right and wrong did not evolve, it was instilled in you by God.

God revealed Himself through history, by way of judgments against wicked nations. Speaking through His prophets, God warned the nations time and again of their destruction. Their only hope was to repent and turn from their wickedness and turn back to Him. Those that failed to heed the warnings were destroyed. Those that repented were spared.

But still, people demand proof.

From John chapter 6:
So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe.

The demand for visible proof is nothing new. Jesus encountered it when He was here. We still encounter it today. The demand for proof will continue to the last days. The book of Revelation reveals to us the coming judgments of God, and of a people who will still persist in their unbelief in spite of all the dreadful things that will be taking place on earth. The signs will be staring them in the face and yet they will continue to ignore the signs.

I’ve heard some say,  “If only God would answer all my questions; if God would just appear before me and explain everything clearly in person, then I would be able to believe in him.”

Again, we do have the answers. They’re in His book. The Bible answers the questions that really matter to our faith and our relationship with God.  The Bible did not tell us how to build bridges or tall buildings or cars or airplanes. The Bible is not a geography textbook. It does not disclose the source of the world’s rivers or the locations of all the world’s mountain ranges or continents. God gave us the ability to make those discoveries ourselves in their proper course of time, and we did.  The Bible does tell us how to live and it answers the most important questions that relate to our salvation.

From W.A. Criswell, former pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas:  Now just briefly, first, the Book is God’s revelation to us how we can be saved.  You know, I used to wonder, back there in the beginning when God began to reveal His holy Word and when finally Moses wrote it down in about 1400 BC, why didn’t God reveal in that Word these things that we know today? Things that concern the atom and atomic energy; things that concern biology and all the secrets of the cells and the enzymes and the anatomical system, and why didn’t God reveal to us the secrets of chemistry and astronomy?  A thousand things in the scientific world that we are introduced to today, that God knew all about; He made them.  These things we’re just now beginning to discover, like penicillin, like nylon, like the atom, like a thousand other wonderful things, such as, propelling our airplanes through the sky with jet propulsion, God made all that.  Why didn’t He reveal it to us from the beginning?  Why is it that the Lord rather reveal to us things that concern the soul and our life in fellowship with Him?  Now as I begin to think about that, the reason is very obvious.

The most vital and fundamental and important of all of the knowledge to which we could ever be introduced in this world lies in the things of God, the soul, our relationship to Him, and the rest could come in their time and in their order.  First of all, is the knowledge of the revelation of God.  And that’s what God did in His Book.  He revealed to us first of all the things concerning Himself and our relationship with Him, and how we are to live and to walk in His presence, how we can be redeemed, how we can have fellowship with God and see His face someday and live:  that above all, then the rest followed in its order.

And last, “If God would just make us all good from the start, there would be no evil in the world.”

In the beginning God did make us good. God did not create evil. God does not tempt anyone with evil. But He did create the first man and woman with free will, and we still have free will today. He allows us to choose our own way, but with consequences that He made clearly known. Evil entered His creation through the sin of Adam and Eve, and we inherited a sin nature as a result. We’re the ones who choose to ignore that innate sense of right and wrong, not God. But God did give us a way out. He gave us a way of escaping the eternal consequences of our sins through His son Jesus Christ.

It’s not just cynics and skeptics and non-believers who make statements that begin with “If God would just…………..” Christians make them sometimes as well. Though we cannot understand everything about our salvation, everything we NEED to know is right there in God’s book, the Bible.

And that brings me to this point: When God hears someone say, “If God would just………”, I wonder if His response is, “If you would just………..read the Book.”

A Power Like no Other

Written October 27th, 2012

Job 37: 23 – 24

We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty;
but even though he is just and righteous,
he does not destroy us.
 No wonder people everywhere fear him.
All who are wise show him reverence.

Isaiah 35:5

And when he comes, he will open the eyes of the blind
and unplug the ears of the deaf.

Matthew 15:30-31

A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn’t speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and he healed them all. The crowd was amazed! Those who hadn’t been able to speak were talking, the crippled were made well, the lame were walking, and the blind could see again! And they praised the God of Israel.

Imagine what it must have been like to have lived when Jesus walked the earth. Put yourselves in that time and place for a moment. Of course, it was a different time. In that day nearly everyone lived in poverty. And out of that poverty I imagine there came ever present feelings of depravity and hopelessness. And living under Roman rule didn’t make life any easier.

Now imagine yourselves as one of the lame or blind, or maybe just someone in the crowd. Suddenly you hear a commotion. You look and see a crowd of people coming up the road. They’re following someone. Then, without explanation, that feeling of deprivation, the hopelessness, those feelings are gone. You do not understand what is happening, but you are drawn to the man leading his followers up the road.

So you join those following Him. Or maybe you’re one of the blind or lame and you cry out to Him. You don’t know why you feel compelled to do so, you just do it. You know there’s something about this man that makes Him different and you have to find out what it is. Though you probably don’t understand, you have just sensed the very presence of God. You felt the very power of God as this man Jesus came near.

People followed Jesus into the remote wilderness and on two occasions, he sat them down and fed them. As Peter exclaimed, His disciples left everything to follow Him. Jesus performed miracles, healed the sick, and changed lives. People were drawn to him because of the miracles, and because how He taught them. He taught as one with authority.

Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, the power of God is the same now as it was when Jesus walked the earth. We still see that power today in the form of miracles that come in the form of answered prayers. We see the power of God in the lives that are changed when people accept the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

God’s power is often unexplainable. Though we cannot fully understand His power, it cannot be denied. We have been saved by it. Our sins have have been atoned for and death has been defeated because of it. Like those who followed Jesus 2000 years ago, we also feel the presence of God in our lives when we witness one of His miracles or when we see a changed life, or when we’re touched deep down inside by something written in God’s word. That’s what the power of God does to those who surrender their lives to Christ. We know this because we felt it the day we surrendered to Jesus, and there is no other way to explain it! It is a power like no other!
In His Name…..

Spiritual Warfare

Written October 16th, 2012

“All war is based on deception.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

Ephesians 6
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.
 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul used the imagery of a soldier preparing for battle to describe the spiritual battle that is being waged by the forces of evil. Just to be perfectly clear, God has already won the victory and we live in that victory. But we still live in a world where  the power of evil is a dangerous force. We cannot  be complacent or passive. We must arm ourselves, as Paul said, so that we can stand firm against evil.

It is very dangerous to underestimate the spiritual forces of evil. The evil one is a despicable enemy without rules. If he cannot get to you, he will go after your children or your grandchildren. His main weapons are lies and deception. It’s been that way since the beginning.

I was listening to a pastor on the radio on my way to work one day a a few months ago. In his message for that day, he read something that was written by a 17 year old in Los Angeles, who wrote, “The devil is a “cool dude” who lets you do whatever you want.” On the other hand, this young man said, “God has too many rules”.

All war is deception, and this young man, without a doubt, has been deceived. The shame of it is, that young man, whoever he is, believes that God is real and that He exists. We can only pray someone will reach him with the truth of God’s word, that true freedom is found in faith in Jesus Christ.

I shared this with my Bible class this past Sunday and I felt a burden to share it with all the dads and grandfathers in our church. Young people today are being targeted like never before, young people like our kids and grandkids. Twenty years ago, it would have been almost unheard of for a 17 year old to think of something like that, much less put it in writing and have it published. We must arm ourselves, as Paul said, with the full armor of God. We must call on God’s strength to help defend against the ever increasing spiritual attacks against us and our families. We have a weapon too. Paul called it the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

Also, in the last verse of that passage from Ephesians, Paul reminds us to pray in the Spirit with all kinds of prayers and requests. In John 14, Jesus said, “You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.

God’s word, and the power of prayer: Nothing else compares!

Blessings!

Living Water

Written October 11, 2012

Water is essential to all life. The locations of cities and towns all over the world were dictated by the availability of abundant sources of water. As American settlers moved westward, they relied on natural springs to replenish their water supplies. A look at a map of western states reveals a number of communities with the word “springs” in their names.

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman, she was drawing water from a well. In the account from John chapter 4, the woman was somewhat surprised when Jesus spoke to her to ask for a drink of water. Jesus required food and water like any of us. From that same passage of scripture, we also know He needed to stop and rest every now then, like anyone else. Jesus was fully man.

And at the same time, Jesus is fully God. He continued his conversation with the Samaritan woman, gently addressing her spiritual condition by saying to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

She was still thinking of the human body’s physical need for water. She asked “Where can you get this living water?”  She probably thought it would be great if she didn’t have to keep lugging water jugs to and from the well.

As they continued their conversation, she came to understand who was standing in front of her. She came to believe in Jesus, as did many other Samaritans.

So exactly what did Jesus mean when he said would give “living water”? In verse 14 of John 4, Jesus said “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Without water, plant life withers and dies. People and animals will suffer from dehydration and eventually die of thirst. We can live longer without solid food than without water. Water sustains life. Jesus said he would give living water, and whoever drinks it will never thirst again.

Just as water sustains life here on earth, Jesus sustains our very souls. Planting the seed of God’s word and all growth thereafter  must take place here on earth. That’s just the way God designed it. But the very power and love and presence of Jesus Christ is we all need to sustain us for all eternity. That is “living water”. It’s water we simply cannot do without.

A Short but Powerful Prayer

Written on October 4th, 2012,

Jesus was teaching his followers in the Sermon on the Mount when He spoke these words which are recorded in Matthew 6 verse 7:

And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.

Jesus was talking about prayers that really amount to nothing more than rituals. Ritual prayer can mean repeating certain phrases over and over, or reciting some prayer from memory in such a way that it really doesn’t help a person connect with God in a personal way. According to what Jesus taught, people who pray like are just babbling.

Jesus was not in any way suggesting we should limit our prayer time, or just pray short, brief prayers. When we as believers genuinely seek to make that connection with God, we pray as the Holy Spirit leads us and this might mean praying for an hour, or praying for a few seconds.

I prayed one of the latter a few years ago. In the spring of 2008, I learned that my former son-in-law was being deployed to Iraq. Being that he’s the father of my oldest grandson, I said a brief prayer on his behalf. I simply asked God to protect him and keep him safe while he was in Iraq. If that little prayer lasted ten seconds, it would be a stretch. It was probably more like five seconds. But what power there was in that prayer!

A few weeks after being deployed, I learned that he had been wounded in action. He was riding in a Bradley personnel carrier when it was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. The Bradley is a very lightly armored vehicle and usually when one of those takes that kind of hit, the survival rate for the soldiers riding inside is very, very low. On this day however, everyone inside this particular Bradley survived. There were injuries, but no one died. And as I learned later, the RPG hit the Bradley right beside the fuel tank.

My former son-in-law suffered second and third degree burns over a large percentage of his body and he was evacuated to Germany. From there, he was sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for further treatment and rehabilitation. UPDATE: He fully recovered and remained on active duty at Fort Hood until he retired in October of 2014.

When I heard he had been wounded in action in the early summer of 2008, I instantly recalled that short little prayer I prayed for him a few weeks earlier. It was a short yet very powerful prayer. I will go to my grave believing that this young man’s life was saved by the power of that brief and short little prayer! And, of course, more than anything else, by the power of God!