Monday, March 28, 2016

 THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE

Yesterday, we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He came into this world, destined to suffer misunderstanding, judgment, insults, taunts, brutal beatings, lashings, and eventually an undeserved and cruel death. Yet He willingly sacrificed all for us. The story of Lazarus reveals the struggles that the disciples and followers had with believing and seeing Jesus as The Resurrection and The Life.

Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, became sick, so his sisters, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus, asking Him to come. When He received the message, He said to His disciples, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." So, He stayed two more days in the place where He was (John 11:1-6). Then Jesus said, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.” Not understanding what Jesus was saying, the disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get well”  (vs. 10-13). Jesus said, “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless, let us go to him” (vs. 14-15).

Jesus had previously explained to His disciples that He was the Son of God who would suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and then be killed, but on the third day, He would rise to life (Matthew 16:21). It was for the unbelieving disciples' sakes and for those who would be present at the burial site that the Lord allowed Lazarus to die. He wanted all to believe in Him and to fully understand that He was the Messiah, The Resurrection and The Life. 

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she met Him and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You” (Vs. 17-22). Jesus said, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha responded, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” But Jesus said, “I Am The Resurrection and The Life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Vs. 23-26)  Jesus was telling her that The Resurrection and The Life was standing before her, but she still didn't understand.

Martha's sister, Mary, also went to Jesus and fell at His feet, saying, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her weeping, He groaned in the spirit and was troubled" (vs. 28-33).

The Greek translates groaned as "embrimaomai (em-brim-ah'-om-ahee)," meaning "to have indignation or to sigh with annoyance or displeasure." The root of the word (brimaomai) literally means, "to snort with anger." Jesus was offended, annoyed, angered, and exasperated with those around Him and with the disciples, because despite all that they had previously witnessed and known, none understood that He was The Resurrection and The Life.

He then asked, “Where have you laid him?” They said, “Lord, come and see.”  Jesus wept (vs. 34-35). Although Jesus loved Lazarus, He was not weeping for Lazarus or for his family. He was grieved because of their unbelief. They didn't understand who He was. They addressed Him as Rabbi and Teacher. Did they only see Him as that? Just as Jesus grieved for their inability to see His deity, He had grieved and wept over Jerusalem and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes (Luke 19:41-42), because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (vs. 44). In other words, they did not recognize their long awaited Deliverer and Redeemer King while in their midst.

He was not recognized then, nor was He being recognized by His followers standing nearby, who said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?” (Vs. 36-37 NLT) Again, Jesus groaned in Himself, as He approached the tomb and said, “Take away the stone (Vs. 38-39)

Jesus is again annoyed and angered by their unbelief. Martha adds to His annoyance by saying, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days” (Vs. 39). She didn't comprehend the deity of Christ and what was about to happen, so Jesus said, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (Vs. 40).

Haven't we all, at some point in our lives, been like Martha, Mary, the disciples and the onlookers, who doubted and questioned God. Maybe hopes and dreams were shattered, a relationship ended, a job was lost, an illness challenged faith, or a child abandoned their faith. However, what often appears as lost forever is really an opportunity to trust and grow in faith. A dream that died can be resurrected. A failed marriage can be restored. An illness can be impeded. That prodigal can return to faith in God. There is resurrection power available to us in all circumstances, if we believe.

The stone was removed and Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me (Vs. 41-42).

Remember, Jesus had told the disciples early on, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it" (John 11:4). Again, Jesus tells all those present that what He is about to do is for their benefit so they may believe on the One whom God sent. But did they comprehend His words?

Jesus' delay was not His denial, for His ways are above our ways and His thoughts are far above our thoughts. When we think that God has not heard us, all we need to do is to remember Lazarus. God always intended to raise him from the dead so that a greater purpose could be accomplished. That purpose was to transform lives from not believing to believing that He was and would always be the Resurrection and the Life.

God often waits to answer our prayers so that our faith may be tested. He is more concerned with our hearts then He is with our flesh. Sometimes the flesh has to suffer in order for us to see the level of our faith and what we really believe.

Jesus had demonstrated His power over death by raising people from the dead on numerous occasions (Luke 7:12-15,22; Mark 5:22-43, John 11:37). Mary and Martha and the disciples knew of these things. Yet they and the rest of the family and friends were weeping and mourning the loss of Lazarus, distressed that Jesus hadn't arrived in time. What had happened to their faith? Why did they not trust Jesus? How was it that they couldn't believe Him? Do we do the same thing, when it appears that our prayers are not being answered? When a family member or friend is suffering? When we are the recipients of pain, sickness, and suffering?

Four days in the tomb, Lazarus' body had begun to decay, along with the faith of the disciples, Martha, Mary, and all present. But Jesus' delay was to accomplish a greater miracle...the conversion of their hearts and a lesson in faith.

The number four in scripture means to rule over the world; a kingdom, dominion, creation, and all things in Heaven and earth. On that fourth day of Lazarus' entombment, Jesus was revealing to them that not only had the Kingdom of God come, it was standing before them with all authority, power, and dominion over life and death.

As the Lord approached Lazarus' tomb, He again groaned in Himself and reproved His disciples: "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (John 11:40.) Still annoyed with their lack of faith, He thanked God for hearing Him, and said, "‘I knew that YOU always hear Me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that YOU sent me.' When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!'"

Resurrection power and life are in the Word of God. Jesus is the Word incarnate. If He had just said, "Come forth" every corpse would have been resurrected. In John 5: 28 we read, "...all that are in the graves shall hear the sound of His voice, and shall come forth." Therefore, He specifically called for Lazarus by name, and the dead man came out, bound with grave clothes. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go” (John 11:42-44).

Psalm 107:10-16 speaks of being in darkness and gloom, a prisoner in chains. Without Christ, we were in a tomb of darkness and gloom, a prisoner bound in grave clothes of unbelief and sin. But on that day, when we cried out to the LORD in our distress, He brought us out of darkness and broke those fetters of sin and bondage. We then received His resurrection power that allows us to be freed from bondage to deception, unforgiveness, unconfessed sin, addictions, immorality, lusts of the flesh, disobedience, lying, sickness, etc. "Christ has set us free. Therefore, we stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Galatians 5:1). Yes, choices, contrary to God, can enslave us once again.

That day at the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus revealed to those present and all those to follow, that He was and is The Resurrection and The Life. This event would be a precursor to His death and burial. Although Jesus had foretold all that would happen before and after His death, the disciples still didn't believe, so after He had risen from the dead, "[He] appeared to the Eleven as they were eating [and] rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen Him after He had risen" (Mark 16:14). Even Thomas refused to believe that the Lord was alive until he touched the wounds in His hands and side.

Resurrection power was not just for Lazarus and those whom Christ had raised from the dead. Nor is resurrection power limited to Christ's resurrection. Jesus wanted His followers and all those who were afar off, to understand and believe that He is The Resurrection, and The Life. As followers engrafted into His branch, if we believe, we then have access to His resurrection power that enables all to be resurrected into eternal life. That same power resurrects families, relationships, health, dreams, goals, and whatever else that we thought was lost forever. For Jesus is The Resurrection and The Life. All we must do is believe.








Monday, March 21, 2016

THE GOD OF DETAILS


The other day I was reading through Numbers 28-30 in the Old Testament. God detailed in length, the laws regarding sacrifices and offerings that the Israelites were to strictly follow. As I pondered over His charge to the Israelites, the Lord spoke to my spirit and said, "I am The God of details!"

My mind shifted quickly to all the characteristics of God that are expressed throughout His creation: the universe, the planets, the sun, moon, stars, the deserts, mountains, oceans, every living creature, and the greatest expression of God's love and creativity...us.

The human body, made in His likeness, is an intricate, interconnecting and interacting set of systems that is controlled by a brain that weighs just three pounds and consists of approximately 15-33 billion neurons. There are anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 synapses (neurotransmitters or cell-to-cell communications) for each neuron, 100,00 miles of blood vessels, and is considered the fattest organ in the body with 60 percent fat. While awake, the brain generates between 10 to 23 watts of power, or enough energy to power a light bulb. The function of the brain is to utilize centralized control over the other organs of the body. Neuroscience treats the brain as a biological computer that gathers information from the surrounding world, stores it, and processes it in a variety of ways. We may be amazed over God's creation, but even more amazing is the specificity of His Word and our ability to use our brain to process its truth.

“All Bible Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right”(2 Timothy 3:16). Specifically, the Word teaches us how to pray.

God is very specific and intentional in all that He does and all that He says. Therefore, we should be specific and intentional in our walk with the Lord and detailed in our prayer life.

How many parents have said something like, "Bless my children."  The Lord asks, "In what way do you want Me to bless them? Be specific."
           
The Word tells us, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). We see the perfect example of how and why we should clearly state our prayer requests, when we read the exchange between Jesus and Bartimaeus, the blind man.
            "As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving [Jericho], a blind man, Bartimaeus, was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.
 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road (Mark 10:46-52 NIV).

Jesus, who is God and knows all things, knew that Bartimaeus would be sitting on the side of the road. At that time in history, a blind man was at the mercy of those who would take pity and give him alms. They didn't have government programs to support those who couldn't work. For all who were present, this was going to be a demonstration of faith, compassion and the need to make our requests known to God.

Bartimaeus had called out to Jesus twice, "...Son of David, have mercy on me!" Though he had Jesus' full attention, his request was vague. In what way did he want Jesus to extend mercy? Jesus then asked him, "What do you want Me to do for you?" (In other words...be specific). Everyone could see that the man was blind, but Jesus wanted this man to tell Him precisely what he needed, so that his faith could be increased. Jesus also wanted the crowd, who rebuked the man, to learn a lesson in compassion for their fellow man. Can you imagine the surprise and delight that Bartimaeus must have felt when, despite the jeering of the crowd, he was called to Jesus?

Our Lord already knows what we needed. Jesus knew that Bartimaeus had a greater need than just seeing. He needed a personal relationship with the Lord. That's why we read that he followed Jesus after he was healed.

Our Lord not only wants to answer our prayers, He longs for a personal relationship with us. He wants us to give thanks and tell Him our specific needs so we may grow in faith, fully expecting that He will answer us. When He answers, we then cannot say it was fate or "luck."

I prayed a very specific prayer for someone, who when God answered that prayer, said it was a lucky break. Although they knew I had prayed, they did not acknowledge that God had met their need. However, knowing that God had answered my very specific prayer for them, served to reinforce my faith that God hears and answers my prayers.

A widow woman's son had died, so the Prophet Elijah stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried out to the Lord, "O Lord my God, I pray thee, let this child's soul come into him again. And the Lord heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived" (Kings 17:21-22 KJV).

God hears our prayers. We don't have to be a prophet to be heard. "In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry came before Him, even into His ears" (Psalm 18:6).  God is not looking for lofty prayers. He wants us to approach Him with an open and humble heart; He wants us to come to Him as a little child.

Children are very direct and know how to ask their parents for things. However, there are times when parents choose not to give their children what they want because they know either the time is not right, it's not appropriate, or it could bring harm to them. God's Word cautions us, to ask with right and pure motives and not for our own pleasures (James 4:3). We want to make sure that we are aligning our prayers with God's will and know that He only wants the very best for us.

How do we know that what we are requesting is God's will? The answers are in His Word. If we still don't know His will, then we surrender our will to the Father and say, "Lord, I don't know what to pray, but I trust You and surrender my will to You and ask that Your will be done in this situation." If we do that, we can rest with all assurance that God will deliver the very best outcome.

Children are also notorious for asking multiple "why" questions. We, like our children, want to know, "Why can't I have this?" "Why have You not answered my prayer?" The questions can be endless, but we can approach our heavenly Father without fear of rejection or recrimination and present our questions, concerns, needs, and requests before Him. We can be confident that He hears us, and He will answer.  

Just as Jesus asked Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” the Lord is asking the same question of us. What specifically are you asking Me to do for you? He is just waiting for us to have that conversation with Him. After all, He is the Almighty, omnipotent (powerful, unconquerable), omniscient (all-knowing, all wise, all-seeing), omnipresent (everywhere, infinite) God of details who is also our loving and compassionate Abba Father.

“Ask, and it will be given to you;
Seek, and you will find;
Knock, and it will be opened to you.
For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds,
And to him who knocks it will be opened (Matthew 7:7-8).

ASK is the acronym for Ask, Seek, and Knock

                                               
 





Monday, March 14, 2016


A TREASURE TROVE


“The fear (reverence and awe) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

Reading the Bible can be daunting. Often we are tempted to use the Bible as a smorgasbord, picking and choosing only information that is relevant to our lives at that time. I admit that I had followed that pattern as well. However, that endeavor could be compared to jumping into the middle of any book and trying to understand it when we have no knowledge of the beginning and how the middle relates to the beginning or to the end. For that reason, the Bible continued to perplex me. Then one day, the proverbial light bulb went on and I concluded that reading God's Word from Genesis (the beginning) through Revelation (the end) might be the better way to connect the dots. Yes, I bravely jumped headlong into the Old Testament.

When I became a Christian, I was given a King James Bible. That particular translation thoroughly confused me, thus the picking and choosing. Then someone introduced me to the Living Bible and suddenly the Scriptures came alive. I began in Genesis and couldn't get enough of the fascinating journey. I would find myself oblivious of time and engrossed in the pages of history that read like a novel. Although there were many things that I didn't understand, I pushed on and slowly the Holy Spirit began to unravel mysteries that were hidden within the pages of the most enduring, historical document known to man...the Bible.

Years of continuous study have given me a better understanding and perspective of God's Word. Although I am far from being a scholar of the scriptures, I certainly know more now than when I first started. Now I feel comfortable in studying the King James Bible, considered the most authentic translation.

God wants us to know Him intimately, for He is all wisdom, holy, sovereign, perfect, infinate, perfect in knowledge, faithful, eternal, just, good, all truth, love, unchanging, powerful, Elohim (strong One, divine), Adonai (Lord), El Elyon (Most High), El Roi (the Strong One who sees all), El Shaddai (Almighty God), El Olam (Everlasting God), Yahweh (LORD "I AM"), and so much more. To know Him through His Word is to love Him completely. 

An excellent way to know Him is to study His Word through an intentional, organized, yearly study plan. Some are entitled, "Read the Bible in One Year" or "The Bible in One Year." In following a daily reading of the Word, discipline develops and keeps us on track, while imparting knowledge. As I have been doing this, it never ceases to amaze me how new things are revealed each time I read. That doesn't mean that I don't revisit other parts of the Bible. I absolutely do when I am writing or praying about a particular topic.

You might think, as I had thought in my earlier years, that reading the Bible is a tedious endeavor that needs to be left to clergy. However, God wants to minister to us in a very personal way and that happens when we read His Word. 

We all have to start somewhere, so it's okay if we don't understand everything we read. I've read textbooks, instructional books, and manuals that held puzzling and unclear information. However, what I didn't understand, I went to appropriate resources to bring clarification. I still follow that process of learning today.

The Bible is worth every effort that is put into studying and learning from it. When we reach a place that's clear as mud, we can dig deeper with appropriate resources, such as Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Naves Topical Bible, or Zondervan Handbook to the Bible, just to name a few. These books and others like them answer questions and help us to understand God's Word.

The Bible is a treasure trove of information that must be repeatedly revisited and studied. I have been studying the Word for 45 years and every time I study it, I learn something new and exciting. We only stop learning when we stop reading, inquiring, and studying.

I understand that not all of us love to read or enjoy studying. My husband readily admits that if he had studied in college, he would have been a B+, A student instead of a C student. His goal, at that time, was not so much to learn but to have fun and graduate. 

We often look at our lives with the same attitude that we just want to enjoy what we can now, without too much difficulty, and then graduate to our eternal home. However, that is not the abundant life that God planned for us while on earth. He wants us to live fulfilled and joyful lives by putting off the old ways and thoughts that belonged to our former way of life, and "renew our minds with [His Word] that we may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). 

How do we fulfill Ephesians 4:22-24? The Apostle Paul said, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). Paul was conveying to Timothy the need to understand the Word and to be watchful so that the meaning would not be twisted or misapplied.

Joshua 1:8 tells us that the Book of the Law must not depart from our mouths, but that we must meditate on it day and night and be careful to do according to what is written. For in doing that, we make our ways prosperous and successful. We are also told that if we do not forget His teaching and commandments, that the length of days and years of life and peace will be added to us (Proverbs 3:1-2).

The word "meditate," in the context of Joshua 1:8, means to ponder and think on God's written Word. He wants us to ask Him, "Lord, show me what this means." Don't be afraid to question Him, "Why did You do such and such?" "Why did You say such and such?" God always welcomes our questions.

God has called us to think differently than the world around us. The only way we can do that is to daily renew our minds with His Word (Romans 12:2). We know that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. It is valuable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that we may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

Our Lord calls us to seek wisdom and knowledge above earthly things (Proverbs 8:10) The wise person who stores up knowledge also loves instruction and knowledge. What kind of knowledge is the Word speaking of? God wants us to understand and comprehend His Word, so that we may know Him personally. Then our desires turn to following His "Roadmap," which leads to a full and well lived life.

God provides answers to all of life's questions, dilemmas, and needs throughout His Word. Whatever the struggle or difficulty, our investment of time in His Word pays off in great earthly and eternal dividends. 

If you haven't started studying the Word, I encourage you to begin your journey today and let God speak wondrous things to your heart. It's a journey that you will treasure and never regret.

Those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing. 
(Psalm 34:10)