Saturday, March 24, 2007

Peace and the Long Perseptive

I've been reading today in my bible study preparation in the book of John, chapter 11, where Jesus goes to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. There's a couple of things I want to note before I go to bed that I think relate to how I need to relate to Jesus when I'm praying and bringing my requests to God.

First is that Mary and Martha sent Jesus a note telling him that their brother Lazarus was sick. All the note said was "Lord, your dear friend is sick". No big details, no great pleadings, no weeping and gnashing of teeth. Just a note, telling Jesus about something that was troubling them.

Understand, the women were likely very worried about their brother if they sent word to Jesus regarding the illness. This was not a cold or the flu they were talking about, and they didn't just put a stamp on an envelope and drop it in the mail, or fire off a short e-mail. They send a messenger on a full day's journey to find Jesus and relay the message. They were concerned that, as it turns out, Lazarus was very near his deathbed. But in that note they didn't plead or demand anything of Jesus. They knew that Jesus could heal the sick, and they trusted that their beloved Teacher could heal their brother, if only he was made aware of the illness in time.

I think that says a lot about how we should approach God with our prayers and requests; trusting that God will take our requests and concerns and do the right thing with them. The faith part comes in trusting that whatever God does will be the right thing.

Mary and Martha had faith, without question, but their faith was limited in its scope.

Jesus waited 2 days before taking the full day's journey to Bethany. In total , four days had passed since Mary and Martha sent word, and it turns out Lazarus died soon after the messenger left. By the time Jesus arrived in town, Lazarus had been dead four days.

Martha met him and showed her grief and limited faith (the little faith of which I sometimes wonder if I have), and told Jesus that, had he been there in time, she knew her brother would have survived. Martha knew that Jesus had power over illness. She didn't yet grasp His power over life itself. Her scope was still limited.

Jesus declares that Lazarus will rise again. Martha, still not quite comprehending, takes the long view, which is not the wrong view but in this case a limited view, that indeed Lazarus will raise in the last days with all God's children at the last Resurrection.

Jesus then knocks Martha's socks off by stating "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die; and those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this, Martha?"

Martha, in her wavering sorrow and mourning over the loss of her brother, seems to begin to understand, and confesses her belief in Jesus by saying, "I do believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who was to come into the world." Imagine being there, on the dusty outskirts of town, probably on a hot, dusty road or field, standing next to Martha, who was torn with grief over the loss of her brother, watching her look into the eyes of Jesus, a teacher from Galilee, and telling him that she thinks he is the anointed one from God sent to save her.

What a moving moment! But.... Martha, for all her profession of faith, still doesn't quite get it. She's getting there, but has one last step to take.

A few minutes later, Jesus, moved by his love for Lazarus, Martha, and Mary, and His desire to glorify God and show those around that Jesus indeed had authority over life itself, went to the tomb with Martha and the others and told the people to roll the tombstone away from the entrance.

Martha, still not quite comprehending what Jesus was saying, that he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead right now, tells Jesus, "There will be a bad smell, Lord. He has been buried four days!" She assumed Jesus wanted to see the body or something other than raise the dead man. Her faith was still limited to the scope of what she was able to understand. She had that one last step of faith to take.

Martha's last step to take was a step of obedience. Jesus had commanded the stone be rolled away. Martha objected and did not want to roll it away. Then Jesus said to her, "Didn't I tell you that you would see God's glory if you believed?" Martha still hadn't grasped Jesus' true nature and power over life and to forgive sins because of who he was.

Martha and Mary, along with those present, took that step of obedience, and moved the stone. Jesus told Lazarus to come out, and Lazarus staggered out of the tomb, still wrapped in the burial linen, but healthy and whole.

It is through obedience that faith grows. Even in the times of our worst loss, and our worse tragedy and sorrow, obedience to God, and faith in Jesus our Lord, are essential to joy through the sorrow, and peace through the grief, and to understanding that God is working things always in our best interest and to glorify Himself.

Knowing that Jesus is not only Lord of my life, but has the power to give me eternal life, and that in Him I have my treasure which is not perishable is an ever present comfort.

In my life I've not experience great losses, for the most part. I've not had to put my faith through the fiery test of depression and anguish that comes with losing very close loved ones. What with the aging of my parents and family, I am poised to experience such loss in the not to distant future.

I have, however, experienced marriage problems, separation, and will go through the actual divorce very soon, and I've experienced the loss of an intact family and the horrible disruption that causes. Through it all, I found that is was my faith that sustained me. Having the long picture, the "leaning on the everlasting arms" perspective, helped sustain me and keep me going.

Having that "long perspective", that Jesus lives and has granted me an eternal life, gives me faith and hope, which in turn gives me peace, continues to make life not only worth living, but a joy to live.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Word About Kindness

Lately, kindness has been at the very heart of my experience with Jesus, in His call to me to be a kind person in my own life. Not that I'm perfectly kind and gentle in all things, or have laid complete hold of the attribute of "kindness", but Jesus has definitely put a call in my heart to BE kind, and I'm doing the very best I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit changing my life.

Broader than being kind, though, is a call in my heart to live a life worthy of Jesus' sacrifice, and to be obedient to God, and to be an example the type of life that Jesus commanded us. After all, "they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another."

In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the Corinthian church, "We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry. In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God." (2 Cor 6:3-4a)

This "we" Paul talks about about is not only the "ministers", or in his case himself, the other apostles and other leaders of the early church, but every single member of the body of Christ. Every believer is called to be a "minister". We should be ministering to each other day in and day out. We all have different roles, some teach, some preach, some serve, etc.... but we all "minister". That's the way the body works.

So then, each of us... every single believer in Jesus, is called to live a life such as Paul describes - in everything show that we are true ministers. Now, I know that's tough. I'm not claiming to have laid hold of anything close to living "so no one can find fault", but I do feel a desire, a tug on my heart, to strive in that direction.

I once heard a description of holiness as "tilting your life toward God in everything you do." Not perfection, since I am imperfect and will never be perfect in my human form, but having a yearning for God and His glory in all things, and letting His strength and perfection be made perfect in my weakness.

I've thought also about how hard it is to be "holy" in this world; to live a life such as Paul describes. I think, "It's just so hard sometimes!" Then I read on a little further and see some of the things Paul and his followers went through:

"We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We have been beaten, been put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit." (2 Cor 6:4b-6)

Ok, that puts to shame my "hard" life here in California. I hang my head that I ever think of my life as "hard" at all, when I think about it in this context.

Yet, through it all, Paul and the disciples prove themselves, and thereby their message of Christ, by their purity, understanding, patience, kindness, and love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Which brings me back to the beginning of this post, and kindness. I believe that kindness - a gentleness of spirit toward, and an empathy of the heart for another - is an absolutely key attitude for a Christian to have. Without kindness, love, and patience, there is no message in my life for an unbeliever - only condemnation and guilt.

So, my prayer is for me to have patience and kindness in my own life to serve as an example to those that see me and are closely examining my claim of Christ in my life. My prayer for you, dear reader if you are a believer, is the same. That you would have patience and kindness in your life, because those that hear you claim Christ are watching closer than you may think.

I know I was before I accepted salvation from Jesus.

The adage is true: No one cares what you know, until they know that you care.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jeremiah and Peter

I've been reading the past few weeks in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. Poor guy, seems he could never catch a break.

He kept telling the Israelites of all tribes, all of whom refused to listen, to turn from their wicked ways and turn back to the Lord in order to forestall the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. God was so tired of all the Israelites going to the temple, going through their motions of worshiping the Lord, and then going back to their homes and lives and worshiping of the idols they'd made or bought.

Seems the Israelites had this odd thing for idols. Go figger.

But even though they were going through the motions of making a good show in the temple, of making the sacrifices and giving the tithes that The Law demanded, God knew their hearts. Who did they think they were fooling? There were actually other "prophets" in Israel, saying they had received messages or dreams from God, saying "Don't worry! The LORD says you will have peace!", and to those that stubbornly follow their own evils ways, they were saying "No harm will come your way!". (Jer 23:17).

But God says through this poor guy Jeremiah, "Am I a God who is only in one place? Do they thing I cannot see what they are doing? Can anyone hide from me? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" (Jer 23:23-24)

God knew the thoughts and desires of the Israelites better then they knew themselves. What I'm learning out of Jeremiah is that God knows all my thoughts, my desires, my dreams and my fears. I have been redeemed, set aside, and now have a relationship with the Living God, and I don't want to be like the other "prophets" of Israel who claimed to have visions and messages from God, hearing and knowing His will, but actually were lying to themselves and others about God's message.

Peter says, "Be obedient to God, and do not allow your lives to be shaped by those desires you had when you were still ignorant. Instead, be holy in all that you do, just as God who called you is holy. The scripture says, 'Be holy because I am holy'. " (1 Peter 1:14-16).

Holiness is a lofty goal, and unattainable on my own. Only through a relationship with God, depending on the Holy Spirit and keeping my eyes on the Living Hope that I have in Jesus can I hope to live a holy life. That comes through obedience to God. I can no longer live in or claim ignorance of that fact.

For this I'm both grateful and, like the prophet Jeremiah, sometimes almost dismayed because, although I'm wonderfully and awesomely thankful for the grace and mercy God has shown me in calling me aside and saving my eternal life, it's not an easy life to live, and sometimes I find myself thinking, I wish there were an easier way! But nothing worth having is easy, and nothing worth earning is cheap.

Not that I've attained this holy life, but I am running the race. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, there is now no condemnation for those who live in Christ. There IS no price I can pay or amount of work I can do to earn that.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New Directions

After much deliberation and trepitation, I've decided to restart blogging, but with a more focused goal in mind.

I still want to use my blog to recount important, fun, or significant events in my life, and to comment on the silly or weighty issues of the day. But I want to use this new focus to comment on what I see as God's actions in world, and especially my own life.

I've come to the conclusion that God is there, despite what anyone may believe. My belief or disbelief does not alter the immutable truth - God exists.

In exactly what form?
I'm not certain.

What is God's plan?
I'm not sure.

Do I want to be a part of it, whatever it is?

How do I become a part of it, and get involved?
That's the journey of discovery I hope to take.

I've been a Christian for many years, but until recently my walk has been unsteady, and my spiritual depth quite shallow. My walk is becoming more steady, and the depth of my learning more substantial. I hope to use this forum to bring attention to, and glorify the works of God that I see everywhere.