Lord of Life

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There are lots of names in the Bible that are popular today, but not Lazarus. You know a Noah and an Elizabeth, but do you know a Lazarus? Probably not.

Lazarus is a name that is associated with life and death. Jesus brought Lazarus back to life at the peak of his ministry. Like all the other signs that Jesus did, this miracle was designed to reveal something about our Savior.

Jesus brought Lazarus back to life in front of three different groups of people. These groups all had there one question for Jesus. These questions help us understand this pivotal event.

Why would you risk your life? (John 11: 1-16)

Jesus had developed a close relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. When Lazarus got sick, the sisters sent word for Jesus to come. This prominent family lived in the village of Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem.

When Jesus announced his plans to go to Bethany, his disciples questioned him (v. 8). The Jewish establishment had tried to kill Jesus twice before he escaped to the other side of the Jordan River. The disciples knew that it would be very dangerous for Jesus (and them, v. 16) to go near Jerusalem.

The disciples were also confused about Lazarus’ condition. The message they received only said that Lazarus was sick.  Jesus said that Lazarus was sleeping, which didn’t warrant a life-threatening mission to Jerusalem.

Why did you wait so long? (John 11:17-27)

When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Martha came out to meet Jesus and question him (v. 21). She knew that Jesus had an intimate relationship with the Heavenly Father, but why didn’t he come two days earlier to heal Lazarus.

Jesus revealed that he was more than a healer, he was and still is “the resurrection and the life.” Jesus claimed to have power over life and death and he would soon prove it.

Why didn’t he do something? (John 11: 28-46)

Mary also came out to speak to Jesus followed by a large group of mourners. Mary’s family must have been well known because a large number of people came from Jerusalem to comfort her and her sister after Lazaurus’ death.

Mary took Jesus to the tomb where they laid Lazarus and she wept along with the crowd of comforters. Jesus also wept, overcome with emotion and his disappointment with the brokenness of sin.

As the mourners watched Jesus they questioned him If was a miracle worker, why didn’t he perform a miracle for this man and this family who he clearly loved? If he could help, why didn’t he?

Jesus commanded that the stone be removed from the entrance to the tomb. Martha objected because at that point Lazarus was definitely dead and the smell would be overpowering. Jesus prayed out loud for the benefit of all three groups that were present – his disciples, Martha & Mary, and their comforters –   and called Lazarus out of the tomb. As he stumbled out into the light, they unwrapped him from his grave clothes.

Jesus answered these three questions by defeating death so that…

  1. So that you would love Him. 

    Jesus risked his life to save the life of a friend he loved very much. Will you love him in return? John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

  2. So that you would glorify Him. 

    Jesus waited to visit Lazarus so he could perform a greater miracle. Will you welcome and worship Jesus as God in the flesh? John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

  3. So that you would believe in Him. 

    Jesus’ entire earthly ministry was about one thing – getting people who need to be saved to believe that he was their Savior. Will you accept him or reject him? John 20:31 says, “But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

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A Test of Faith

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Fathers can be excellent examples of faith. Martin Luther King Jr. father, a pastor, and a civil rights activist. He once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” This fits very well with the Bible’s definition of faith found in the book of Hebrews 11:1: “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB).

Abraham is a father in Scripture that stands out as an example of faith. Abraham stepped out in faith when God called him to leave his homeland and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-3). That blessing included a new land and family to pass that land to (Genesis 13:14-18, 15:1-4). Abraham’s faith was tested many times as he and Sarah passed out the childbearing years without an heir. When the finally had a son of their own, Isaac, it was a confirmation of their faith in God.

In Genesis 22, Abraham’s faith is tested one last time. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son on an altar. As we follow Abraham along this particularly hard part of his faith journey there are three lessons we must learn if we are going to walk by faith.

Genesis 22:1-6 describe the toughest test as Abraham’s faith was tested by God. A test is simply a way for God to reveal obedience, produce reverence, and discover authenticity. For Abraham, it looked back to the way His relationship with God began, and it looked forward to the way his family would relate to God in the future.

God told Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to Mt. Moriah and offer him as a burnt sacrifice.  The next morning, Abraham rose early and made preparations for the trip. After three days, Abraham arrived at this destination and left his helpers at the base of the mountain. As he climbed to the place of sacrifice, Abraham carried the torch and the knife and Isaac carried the wood for the fire.

God tests us for our benefit. Sometimes our faith is strengthened like a muscle under pressure. Sometimes, we reconnect with the purpose for which we were made: to listen to and to enjoy a personal relationship with Him.to enjoy Him forever. Tests aren’t always pleasant, but they are effective.

Genesis 22:7-8 describes the longest walk as Abraham and Isaac approach the place of sacrifice. Isaac saw the wood and the fire, but he asked where the offering was. Abraham responds with a tremendous amount of faith explaining that the Lord would provide the offering. According to Hebrews 11:19, Abraham trusted God to work out the details of the sacrifice and to raise his son from the dead if necessary to fulfill His promises.

God wants us to trust Him in spite of the benefits we may experience. I wonder if some people would trust God if heaven or hell wasn’t hanging in the balance. I wonder if some people would still pray if their prayers weren’t answered. I wonder if some people still give to the Church if there were no tax incentives.

Genesis 22:9-14 describes a last-minute pardon as the Angel of the Lord stops Abraham at the last minute. Abraham had built the altar, arranged the wood for a fire, and tied Isaac up on the altar. As Abraham raised his knife high over his head to kill his son, the Angel of the Lord cried out, “Stop, now I know that you fear me!”

As Abraham caught his breath, he noticed a ram caught in a nearby thicket. He took the ram and offered it up in place of his son. Abraham called that place Jehovah Jireh, or “the Lord Will Provide.”

God cares for the long-term and day-to-day issues of life. God provides an eternal home in heaven for his children when they graduate from this earthly life (John 14:3). God also provides for the ongoing needs of our current reality (John 10:10). I like to think about it as the “here and the hereafter.”

Father Abraham’s test of faith teaches us about our faith as well. I hope it encourages the fathers to be men of deep faith and conviction. I also help it encourages others to pay attention to their examples of faith.

That You May Believe

john-sermon-ppt-title-bEveryone has a story to tell.

The Apostle John told his story about Jesus Christ. From everything we know, John was the only one of Christ’s original disciples that who lived into old age. John used his time to minister in the church and write Scripture. John wrote three Epistles, the book of Revelation, and the Gospel that bears his name.

Recently, we started a new sermon series at the church where I serve as pastor on the Gospel of John. Instead of starting at the beginning of the book, we started near the end where John reveals the purpose of his writing. In John 20:30-31, John identifies the keys unlocking his story about Jesus Christ. He writes first about his himself, and then about his mission.

1. The Man: John wrote from his own personal experience (v. 30).

John was transformed by his time with Jesus. He learned to balance and spiritual maturity. In his book, Twelve Ordinary Men, Pastor John MacArthur outlines three ways that John changed. First, John learned the balance of love and truth. Second, he learned to balance ambition with humility. Third, he learned the balance of suffering and glory. The old adage is “a leopard can’t change its spots,” but that wasn’t true for John. He grew from one of the “Sons of Thunder” into the Apostel of love (Mark 3:17).

John also witnessed Jesus perform many signs and wonders. John describes seven of those miracles in the first half of his Gospel. He focuses last half of his Gospel on Christ’s most incredible miracle, his resurrection from the dead. John tells us that Jesus did many more signs and wonders than were recorded in the pages of Scripture.

The only other place in the Bible where signs and wonders are so widespread is in the story of the Exodus. In Exodus 10:1-2, we read that God performed many signs through Moses so that the people would recognize God as God and come to know Him. John was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was God in the flesh because he saw him perform so many signs and wonders.

2. The Mission: John wrote for a special purpose (v. 31).

He wrote his story about Jesus so that his readers would exercise faith in Jesus. John uses some form of the verb “believe” 10 times more often than any of the other Gospel writers. In John’s story about Jesus, almost everyone that comes in contact with Jesus is faced with a choice to either believe in or not believe in Jesus.

He also wrote so that his readers would experience eternal life. Eternal life is a gift we receive from God by faith. is the gift we receive in return. Eternal life is a quality of life as well as a quantity of life. It describes life walking with Jesus day by day, either on this earth or in heaven.

In summary, John wrote his Gospel so that you would believe in Jesus Christ and eternal life.

John was the only disciple that we know that was present at Christ’s crucifixion. In John 19, we read about him standing by the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother Mary and some other women. As Jesus was about to die, he asked John to take his mom into his home and take care of her. This tender moment paints a beautiful picture of belief and discipleship. John identified with Jesus at great risk to himself. John dedicated his life to caring for the people that Jesus cared about – His mom as well other disciples in the church. John also told his story of transformation with Jesus.

Just like the characters in John’s story about Jesus, you have a decision to make – what will you do with Jesus?

  • Will you identify with Jesus through repentance and faith?
  • Will you dedicate your life to caring for the people Jesus cares about?
  • Will you tell your story of transformation in Christ with others?

(Special thanks goes to Thearon Landrum for making a graphic for this post!)

Listen to the whole sermon at:

https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-01-15T05_33_43-08_00

 

Hope in the Face of Death

Scattered Cumulus Clouds in a Blue SkyRecently, I walked into a dimly lit nursing home room to say goodbye to an elderly friend for the last time.  He wasn’t able to vocalize any words with his lips, but his eyes spoke volumes.  As we sat together in the faint glow of the television, I held his hand and noticed the fragile rhythm of the pulse in his wrist.

Before I left I prayed with him and realized that things were not as dark as they might have been.  A few years earlier, he had opened up to me about one of his greatest fears: he was afraid to die.  He had been in church and around church for a long time.  He had made a profession of faith and was baptized years earlier, but he still wondered if he was really saved.  This lack of assurance haunted him as he thought about the end of his life.

As we talked, I shared what I hoped would be helpful words from 1 John 5:1-4.  One of the reasons The Apostle John wrote this letter was to encourage believers who were tentative and insecure about where they stood with God.  In order to find assurance, John asked them look at the effects of their  faith.  According to these verses, saving faith produces three loves: a love for God and His Son, Jesus Christ, a love for others, and a love for keeping God’s commandments.  Love is one of those things you can’t fake.  Sooner or later, your true feelings will surface.  One of the ways God’s children can be identified is by the way they love.

As my friend looked at this life from this perspective he gained a newfound confidence in his relationship with God and changed his perspective on death.  Not just because he had rediscovered his feelings, but because he was able to see God’s transforming work in his life, in spite of his sin.  His faith had produced love.

Maybe you or someone you know is struggling with your salvation.  You’ve come to the end of yourself and ask God to forgive you based on Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.  You’ve made a declaration of faith and maybe even shared it your family, friends, or church.  But somehow, you just don’t feel confident in your decision, especially when you think about death.  If that is you, or someone you know ask yourself the following questions: what is your faith producing?  Are you growing in your love for Jesus?  Do you treat other people with love?  Do you love God’s Word?  These are just three indications that you have been adopted into God’s family and sealed your fate for eternity.

Why Do I Have to Wait?

waitng by the roadWaiting seems like a waste of time.   It makes us feel unproductive, ineffective, and sometimes worthless.  It wears us down. Like treading water, waiting dulls our senses and saps our strength.

No one looks forward to waiting.  We pay large amounts of money and go to great lengths to avoid it.  We judge our satisfaction of products, places, and even people by how long they make us wait.  Patience may be virtue, but only in a bygone era.

Recently, I realized that waiting is a major theme in the Bible.  Many of the major characters in the Bible had to wait for days years, and even decades for their situations to be resolved and God’s promises to be fulfilled.

Noah waited for over a year on a boat filled with wild animals for the flood waters to recede (Genesis 7:6, 8:13-14).

Abraham and Sarah waited for 25 years for the birth of their special son, Isaac (Genesis 12:4, 21:5).

Joseph waited for two full years for the chief cupbearer to remember him and get him out of jail (Genesis 41:1).

Moses watched his father-in-law’s sheep on the back side of the desert for 40 years waiting for God’s plan to unfold (Exodus 2:23, Acts 7:30).

Job waited for seven days and seven nights for a comforting word from his so called “friends” and even longer for a comforting word from God (Job 2:12, 38:1).

<strong>David waited about 15 years to ascend to the throne of Israel (1 Samuel 16:1-13; 2 Samuel 5:1-5).  Mary and Martha watched their brother, Lazarus, die and then waited four agonizing days for Jesus to come to them (John 11:1-46).

The Apostles waited for three dark days before Jesus appeared to the them and commissioned them as witnesses (John 20:19-23).

The Apostle Paul waited for three years in the desert before starting his ministry to the Gentiles (Galatians 1:17-18).

In addition, the prophets waited for God’s judgment to fall (Jonah 4:5).  The Wisdom literature contains repeated references to patience and waiting (Psalms 27:14, Proverbs 15: 18, Ecclesiastics  7:8).  Patience is even listed as one of the nine fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

So what lessons can we learn from this survey of waiting in the Bible?

1.  Waiting is normal.

Following God does not mean you will have a wait-free life.  In fact, it guarantees that you will have to wait as He works out His perfect plan for you.

2.  Waiting is beneficial.

Waiting builds character as you learn to depend on God and His promises.  Waiting brings perspective to your life as you view things from the lens of eternity.

3.  Waiting is difficult

There are no short-cuts to patience.  Waiting is hard work, even if it feels like no work is getting done. 

Can you name another lesson we can learn from tracing the theme of waiting through the Bible?

 

Trouble Shooting Your Prayer Life

prayer11The lights on the front of my garage are a mystery to me.  They come on when they want and go off when they want, no matter what I do with the switch.  I’ve checked to see if they are on timer and I’ve replaced both bulbs.  The best explanation that I have is that there is a disconnect somewhere in the electrical circuit that feeds the lights.

This reminds me a little of my prayer life.  Sometimes the lights are on and everything is great.  Other times things are dark and I don’t know why.  The Bible teaches that God hears and answers prayer, but I don’t always feel like my prayers are getting through.  Sometimes there seems to be a mysterious disconnect in my prayer life.  As I began to search for answers I found four prayer short circuits in the book of James.

1. LACK OF FAITH (James 1:5-8)

What sort of things inspire you to pray and what discourages you?  In these verses we see that expectation (or faith) is an essential part of prayer.  Our expectations can be bigger than our circumstances, because our God is bigger than our circumstances.  Those who lack faith are like the waves of the ocean that tossed back and forth by their circumstances.  They don’t pray with expectation because they are overwhelmed by what is happening around them.

The only way to fix this short circuit is to own up to it.  Like the man with the demon-possessed son in Mark 9:24, we must cry out, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” God is not offended by our lack of faith when we are willing to admit it and humble enough to ask for his help.

2. FAILTURE TO ASK (4:2b)

Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt; sometimes it breeds indifference and neglect.  My wife and I have been married for 13 years now.  On more than one occasion, I have had to ask her, “Did we talk about X, or did I just think about it?” God knows us better than our spouses know us.  He knows what we are thinking before the words come out of our mouths, but he still loves to interact with us through prayer.

This short circuit can be resolved by simply speaking up.   Either audibly or internally, God wants to hear from His children.  King David is a good example of this.  In Psalm 5:1-3, he wrote “in the morning I lay my requests before you (God) and wait patiently.”  Go to God with your wants, concerns, and needs and He will do want is best.

3. SELFISH MOTIVES (4:3)

The Apostle Paul included two of his prayers for the Ephesian believers in his book to the (Ephesians 1:15-18, 3:14-19).  What strikes me about these prayers is how selfless and spiritual they are.  Human nature drives us to ask God for things that benefit us.  It also moves us to pray for temporal things above the eternal.  But Paul seemed to be aware of James’ words here.

God’s plans for this world are much bigger than you and your needs and wants.  The way to repair this short circuit is to keep following Paul’s example.  In Ephesians 6:18 he offers prayer “for all the saints” as way to challenge us to look beyond ourselves.

4. UNCONFESSED SIN (5:13-16)

The book of James is a challenging book that addresses a long catalogue of sin.  In just five short chapters, James deals with apathy and inaction (1:26-27), partially and prejudice (2:9), an untamed tongue (3:6), jealousy and selfish ambition (3:14), arguing and murder (4:1ff), pride and boasting (4:16), and stinginess and extravagance (5:3).  In chapter 5, however, James urges his readers to “confess your sins to one another” (5:16).  This crucial for restoring broken relationships on a human level, but it presupposes confessing your sins to God as well.

The clear fix for this short circuit is repentance.  When we confess our sin and turn to God for forgiveness, He rushes to embrace us.  1 John 1:9 states, “He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”

When we don’t feel like God is hearing or answering our prayer, it is easy assume that the problem is with God, but that is not true.  Our connection with God can be interrupted by a number of things.  Which one of these short circuits have you experienced?  How did you overcome it?  What would you add to the list?