Don’t Be Fooled By The Stink

I feel like I have started off multiple blog posts by saying something like, “let’s try a little experiment,” and yet, here I am doing it again. (I am obviously incredibly spontaneous and creative.) Over the last few weeks, I have been mentally wrestling with the Bible story I’ve felt God leading me to address and the specific points within it that I hoped to make. I had too much I felt I needed to discuss; a good problem to have, but with a story that spans more than 45 verses, it was clear I had to figure out a more reader-friendly approach. CALM DOWN. I came up with a solution. I mean, who has time to read 45 Bible verses when all those unseen Facebook posts await, am I right?! (insert good-natured eye-roll emoji here)

In this post, I’d love for us to spend some time going over the story of Jesus resurrecting his good friend Lazarus, which can be found in John 11. So in order for us to dig deeper into the goodness of these scriptures, we’ll consider today a “Part 1” if you will, with “Part 2” to follow soon. Sound okay? As I told you…I’m super creative.

At the risk of repeating a story many of you already know, let me take a quick second and summarize our main characters and the situation taking place as we enter the 11th chapter of John.

We are back with our friends Mary (of feet-washing-with-her-hair fame) and Martha (of griping-about-her-sister-not-helping-in-the-kitchen fame), and they are urgently reaching out to their dear friend Jesus, asking for his healing help for their dying brother Lazarus. Because Lazarus is literally on his deathbed and because Jesus is the Messiah and because they are all three very dear to Jesus’s heart, they contact him for his help, fully expecting his immediate arrival and subsequent answering of prayer.

Verse four tells us, “When Jesus received the message, He said, ‘This sickness is not to end in death; but [on the contrary] it is to honor God and to promote His glory, that the Son of God may be glorified through (by) it.'” (Side note: Have a seriously sick friend? Are you dealing with a scary, challenging illness? This is a FABULOUS scripture to pray over it!) Now to me, this sounds exactly what I would expect Jesus to say. I mean, after all, his dear friends have reached out to him, asking for his healing, which he can easily give, and it’s all in an effort to save someone very special to him. I read a reply like that and think yep, Jesus has got this. But wait! In verse 6, it clearly says that although Jesus was aware this was a dire situation, he still remained TWO DAYS longer in the place where he was. Do what?! WHY???? Maybe Jesus knows something we don’t? (Um, yes, always true.) Maybe ole Laz isn’t quite as sick as his over-reactive sisters made it seem? Sadly, no. In fact, it was serious. It was VERY serious. “So then Jesus told them [the disciples] plainly, Lazarus is dead” (vs. 14).

Unfortunately, I know exactly how Mary and Martha must feel. They had been faithfully praying and praying for God to hear them, for Jesus to show up and heal, to prevent the death that was getting more and more eminent. And yet nothing. No arrival of Jesus. No healing of Lazarus. Only death, with its dark cloak and sharp scythe appeared at the door of their dusty home.

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who knows what this feels like…to watch things within our lives that once were so full of life, so healthy, wither and practically die. Let me tenderly ask you today, because man does this subject often hurt, what in your life has that look of death, that feeling of hopelessness? Let me guess…

*your health?                *your marriage?               *your ambition?

*your career?                *a particular relationship or friendship?

*your self-worth?         *your will power/self-control?

*your relationship with God?               *God’s favor over you/your life?

*your future?                *a particular dream you’d held onto for years?

*your will to live?

Friends, Lazarus was IN THE GRAVE dead when Jesus finally arrived. In fact, he was so very dead (four days dead…with ZERO embalming fluid, might I add) that when Jesus approached Lazarus’s grave, which was basically a cave with boulder against the entrance, and demanded that the stone be rolled aside, the Bible says “Martha…exclaimed But Lord, by this time he [is decaying and] throws off an offensive odor…” (vs. 39). In all her grief and upset, Martha is so aware of the finality of her brother’s condition that she warns Jesus: What are you thinking, Lord? He’s gonna stink so bad! Amen, girl! This sounds like some common sense I can get behind.

What is your marriage, your career, your self-worth smelling like these days? Are you convinced that Jesus didn’t get there in time to save whatever it is you’ve been begging him to heal for so long? Mary and Martha felt just as you do, as I have. You’re too late, Jesus. I cried out to you, and you delayed getting here and now look! I’m too sick. The love between my husband and I is too far gone. My current circumstances have completely killed my dreams and plans. You’re too late, Jesus. It’s dead.

Y’all there is NEVER an absence of hope, of possibility, when it’s Jesus who’s in charge. You and I? We are Mary and Martha. We can pray all day and beg and plead, but ultimately, we have no power within ourselves. We can’t heal, and for those circumstances having already crossed over into the grave, we certainly have no ability to resurrect. But let me hook you up with someone who does. When you and I allow Jesus to handle our dying parts in His way, with His power, He fixes things that we swore could NEVER be fixed.

“Jesus said to her, I am [Myself] the Resurrection and the Life…” (vs 25). What in your life desperately needs The Resurrection HIMSELF? You see, for us, things look dead. For us, things even smell dead. But for Jesus, death is no big deal. He’s already overcome it. How can Jesus, who mastered death and for whom death holds no power, be limited by it? He. Isn’t. He. Cannot. Be. Don’t stop praying and expecting! Don’t stop taking to Him your marriage or your career or your zest for life simply because in your human weakness you have decided it’s past the point of help. Lazarus was dead for four solid days. He was buried and starting to literally stink. His skin would have been beginning to decay. But then Jesus arrived. Mighty, mighty Jesus. And he simply spoke, “He shouted with a loud voice, Lazarus, come out!” and out walked Lazarus (vs 43-44). Whatever you think is dead and buried, friends, it is not. There is nothing too far gone for The Resurrection Himself to breathe life back into.

And for those of you going through something like this, I’m sure you’re feeling hurt and frustrated and confused about why God is even allowing something like this to happen to you, to your family, to your body in the first place. Mary and Martha certainly were. When my marriage was all but dead despite our praying and our counseling and our trying (see previous post), I felt so abandoned. I felt like God had turned His head and His ear; I felt like, instead of coming to help in response to my urgent requests, He was staying those extra couple of days where He was, just letting death win. But He wasn’t. He just wasn’t on my schedule, and Satan used that to whisper doubt into my heart and my head. The same was true for Mary and Martha, and the same is true for you.

You probably feel like screaming WHY WOULD HE LET THIS HAPPEN?!, and I get it. I’ve been there. Chances are, I’ll be there again someday. But God knew we’d feel this way. In fact, if you read this Bible story carefully, He even explains Himself to us.

If you look back at verse 15, before Jesus ever leaves to go to Mary and Martha’s, after telling his disciples that Lazarus is already dead, he says to them (and he says to us, too), “And for your sake I am glad that I was not there; it will help you to believe (to trust and rely on Me).” My friends, God is most interested in our relationship with Him. If when we have a problem, we pray, He snaps His fingers and all is set right, we don’t develop much character and we don’t develop a very deep relationship with Him, do we? It would make us happier and it would make our lives easier, or so we think. But you know what? Sometimes God isn’t interested in only affecting you and your family through your challenges.

The Bible tells us that others’ lives were changed when they witnessed Lazarus’s miracle. Mary was changed, no doubt. Martha was changed, for sure. And there’s zero debate that Lazarus was completely changed. But a number of other lives were affected for God as well. “Upon seeing what Jesus had done, many of the Jews who had come with Mary believed in Him” (vs 45). Whether you realize it or not, people are watching you. They’re watching your decisions and your life and your faith. Because you are Jesus’s friend, because you are a joint-heir to the throne of God with Jesus Christ Himself, you are a testimony to His power and His love. Yes, Lazarus was dead. Yes, it appeared Jesus was too late. But God is never late. He’s never without the ability, and He’s always able to use any situation, any circumstance, no matter how stinky it might be, for His glorification. Will you let Him use you? Will you stop declaring a time of death and prepping for a funeral and instead let Him breathe the breath of life back into your life? Keep your faith, friends. Don’t be fooled by the stink.

Dear Lord, thank you so much that I can ALWAYS count on You, that I never have to believe that it’s too late for Your power to work. Father, I bring to You today those parts of my life that I’ve mistakenly declared dead. I ask that You do what only You have the power to do: resurrect them, please. Help me to keep my faith, to trust that You’re at work even when it’s impossible to detect. Use me, Lord, use my life and my situations so that others may witness You and Your goodness and grace. Father, help me to remain patient, to stand firm when challenges and trials don’t get resolved as I’d like. Heal my dead parts, Lord. May all I go through in my life ultimately bring You glory and honor. I love you, God. Thank you for hearing my prayer. It’s in Jesus’s mighty name that it’s offered. Amen. 

 

The Resurrection

Easter.   The resurrection.

Such a monumental event in the back-story of every Christian. If I’m being honest, trying to write a blog post about what this holiday means or should mean to those of us who consider ourselves Christ followers is intimidating and daunting. On top of my deep desire to convey the great display of love and forgiveness and sacrifice embodied in what this holiday represents, an interest in doing so in a way that’s not “same old” or simply a regurgitation of what we’ve all heard at church year after year makes it seem next to impossible. So, instead of stressing and fretting, I’ve decided to focus on just one of the positive reminders that Jesus’s resurrection creates for us, to keep it short and sweet (you’re welcome, Dad), and  leave the preaching to the pros. 🙂

If you turn in your Bible to Mark 15, you’ll notice that Jesus’s crucifixion and death are very detailed, down to the exact times when each event occurs. It states in verse 25 that it was 9:00 am when the crucifixion and torture began. In verse 33, we’re told that while the taunts and brutality continued, the sky completely darkened–it was noon. Take a second and just imagine what THREE HOURS of pain and torture, both physical and emotional, must have been like. How long those three hours must have felt to the man who was suffering on our behalf.

Then, after six full hours, at 3:00 pm, Mark 15:37 tells us, “Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last [breath].” It was over. Or was it?

Spoiler alert from Mark 16: Jesus didn’t stay bruised and broken and dead! Praise be to God, for three days later, Jesus rose from the dead having paid our debt in full, having conquered the grave, having fulfilled God’s promises to us, His children!! CAN I GET AN AMEN??!!

This Easter, I pray the Holy Spirit moves in you in a way that’s never before happened when you hear this story and consider its implications on your life. I pray that you feel Jesus’s love for you when you read about those nails, because with each pounding of that hammer, it was certainly His love for you that kept Him there. I pray that you experience something this Easter that you’ve never experienced before, that God whispers something to your heart and to your soul that heals you and inflames your passion for Him and His Word.

This Easter, consider a little fact that sometimes gets lost in all that happens in those chapters in Mark, in those descriptions and retellings of what our Savior endured. In the miraculous emptiness of the tomb. Friends, consider this great truth: so very much can change in just three short days.

I don’t know what death you’re facing: the death of your marriage, the death of your career, the death of a particular season of your life, the death of your will-power, the death of your motivation, etc. But I want you to think about this: if God completely defeated death for His children (that’s US!) in only three days, imagine what He can deliver you from. Our Jesus went from King to crucified in a few days’ time; then, He went from dead to risen, from hurt to healed, from broken to whole, from buried to being seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty IN ONLY THREE DAYS. Whatever it is you’re facing, whatever it is in your life that seems on its last leg, breathing its last breath, don’t count it out yet. Easter is a story of hope. Easter is a promise of God’s power bestowed upon our lives. Easter is a reminder that the mighty, mighty power of God, the power that literally made death a non-issue, is the same power available to you today to put toward whatever area you’re desperately trying to revive.

Happy Easter, my friends! Let’s celebrate! Won’t you let this holiest of holidays serve as your reminder that God’s love for YOU is so incredibly big, even death could not contain it. There’s nothing you’re facing, nothing you’ll EVER face, that’s too far gone for God; apply God’s Word to it and watch a resurrection of sorts happen in your very own life.

Father, it is almost too much for words what You did for me that day on Calvary. Because I know You know my heart, I know You understand that overwhelming gratitude there for Your sacrifice, Jesus. Thank you that I do not have to fear death because You have overcome it and I am Yours. Thank you for the reminders You’ve embedded into this Easter story. I pray, Father, that this year Easter and the celebration of it light this world of believers on fire for You. May Your Word affect us all like never before. Thank you for Your might, that I am able to apply it to those dead areas of my life and see life in them again. Help me to always remember that NOTHING is beyond Your ability. I love you, God, and I am so very grateful for the matchless gift of Your Son. It’s in His name that I offer my sincere prayer. Amen.