How often have you helplessly desired to take the place of a friend or loved one is going through an extremely difficult ordeal, knowing it is not possible? I read where during the Watergate scandals in the 70’s, the governor of Minnesota, Al Quie, offered to do Chuck Colson’s prison time. The law did not allow it. He knew that Colson’s family was already in crisis and would suffer even more once he was in prison. He felt that, since Colson had committed his life to Christ, he would better serve the Lord as well as his family now that his life had been transformed.
Two particular thoughts crossed my mind when I read that story. First: Can you imagine someone loving you enough to be willing to suffer for you so that you don’t have to? Yet, this is what true love really is. Jesus said: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And this was not a mere expression for we all know that Jesus proceeded to lay down His life for all of us. Second: Christ did what you and I can’t. He took the penalty of death that sin had imposed on us. He suffered the pain and anguish we were destined for. Bottom line: He took our place!
The next time love causes us to want to take the place of a suffering friend or loved one and leaves us feeling helpless because we can’t, lets remember there is Someone who can do so much for them than we ever could. Let’s remember that the One who loves us can do all things. He can heal, comfort, encourage, even relieve the pain or eliminate it altogether. Better still, that kind of help is available 24/7. May your heart be comforted today with the thought that when we are frustrated because we can’t do more for our suffering loved ones, all we need to do is lift them up to the One who will.
God’s promise for today: (Psalm 10:14) “But You have seen, for You observe trouble and grief to repay it by Your hand. The helpless commits himself to You; You are the helper of the fatherless.”
The message of salvation in Christ by God’s grace has been attacked and discredited ever since it was first proclaimed. The Apostle Paul’s fiercest opponents, just like Christ, were the Jewish religious leaders of his day. Even those who believed and embraced his message of salvation in Christ were more than reluctant to abandon the things pertaining to the old Mosaic Law. Wherever Paul established a new church, new teachers would appear once he left that would insist that new believers keep many of the rituals of the law, even asserting that they could not be right in God’s sight without them. Paul said some of these were false believers who had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. (see Galatians 2:4) In other words, they wanted to subject new believers to continue adhering to some of the features in the law of Moses which clearly was never intended to save anybody in the first place. That is why Paul also wrote: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”(Romans 3:20)
Two thousand years have transpired since the message of the gospel was introduced, yet we still have many “believers” today who sincerely believe we should still be bound by the old law, in particular worshipping on Saturday. (Sabbath) Referring to this, Paul also wrote: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (Colossians 2:16) The truth is that, in Christ, we have the liberty to choose to gather for worship in any or on all days of the week. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the time has come when all that the Father wants is that believers worship Him in Spirit and in Truth, no matter where or when. (See John 4:23)
One of the reasons I felt compelled to write on this subject is that I have been reminded lately of how often Christians get “schooled” or corrected by those who still believe in complying with many of the mandates of the old law. Their church has convinced them that Christians who don’t believe the way they do are dishonoring God. They often succeed in making them think that they are also out of God’s will or are missing out on many of His blessings because of it. They did that to new believers in Paul’s day and they are still doing it today. Dear child of God, please keep this in mind: If you are in Christ, you are complete; you’re not missing out on anything and the only way you can dishonor God is by willfully choosing to do so. You are also free in Him to serve or honor Him as His Spirit leads you, and not in the way that others choose. To me, law says “I have to” and grace says “I want to.” I bet you’re in the “I want to” group.
God’s word for today: (Galatians 5:1) “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
It has been said that a lot can be known about a person by the things that makes him or her happy. In a devotional from a favorite pastor of mine last week, I read about a man of modest income who told his wealthy friend “I have more than you have.” The rich man said “How can that be?” He answered “Because I have all I want, and you don’t.” Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) I know some of you may have a hard time believing it, but all of you are happier than most millionaires because money alone will never make anyone happy. A well known comedian once said “Money isn’t everything, but it is way ahead of whatever it is that’s in second place.” It may have been a funny line, but there is no truth in it. Jack Ma, the richest man in China told a luncheon crowd in New York in 2015 that he was happiest when he made 12 dollars a month. Think about this: If you had one pick, would you want to be rich or would you want to be happy?
Solomon, perhaps the richest man the world has ever known, had everything a heart could long for in this world. Yet, he wrote: “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled; and indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2:11) The Amplified Bible (AMP) says it this way: “There was no profit (nothing of lasting value) under the sun.”
If the goals we set for ourselves are on things that are good and reasonable, it won’t be that hard to find happiness. If we want money or material things, will we ever have enough? On the other hand, if things such as giving what we have, or helping others, or spending time with our family and friends, or accomplishing simple chores make us happy, there will be a lot of happiness in our lives. Sometimes we are blessed enough to have all of these events on the same day. My wife and I had one recently. That night, during my quiet time with the Lord, I just couldn’t stop thanking and praising Him for it. Oh happy day! I believe these are the things a genuine child of God looks for in this life in the first place, and I also believe that few people in the world can be happier than us. And I also believe this is what David had in mind when he wrote: “Happy are the people who are in such a state; happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Psalm 144:15) What makes you happy? Whatever it is, child of God, I hope you will see many, many happy days.
God’s word for today (Proverbs 16:20) “He who heeds the Word wisely will find good, and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he.”
I read in one of my favorite pastor’s devotional page recently, his take on this verse: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2) Because it is one that, like many others, bible readers often take out of context, I highly suspect that this verse may be tough for many Christians to accept. It is understandable if some will say “How can I be joyful about the hard trials I have been experiencing lately?” If you read the verse carefully, however, you will note that James did not say we should be joyful when we’re going through trials. What he did say was that we should “consider” these times to be pure joy. The first thing that popped into my mind when I wrote the previous line was this verse: “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2) Clearly, this last verse is a reminder that, although Jesus was in the middle of His painful and agonizing trial, He “considered” it a joy. He knew the glory that would follow shortly thereafter.
Bible verses are best understood when we know these three things: Who wrote it? To whom did he write it, and why? First, the writer: It was James the brother of Jesus. As with all writers, much can be known of him simply by the things he writes and the way he expresses himself. Think about this: In his letter, he never mentioned being the Lord’s brother. Instead, he humbly introduced himself as a “servant” of the Lord, Jesus Christ. I’ve often said from the pulpit, probably to the point of boring our congregation, that although it is a great honor to call ourselves God’s children, it is even greater to be able to say “I am a servant of God.” Secondly, who was he writing to and why? These were fellow Israelites who, because of their new found faith in Christ, had to flee their homelands because of persecution. If any would find it difficult to be joyful when going through hard trials, it was this group of believers. To them originally, and by one of their own, was the advice to consider this affliction a joy.
My better half is known to usually be the first one to recognize that when we, or anyone else we know, are going through a hard trial, it means that a great blessing is on the way. I agree 100 percent. It is like the scarecrow illustration I’ve shared before. Most birds see the scarecrow as the “man” that wants to do them harm, but the “wise birds” know that if the stick man has been put up, it is because there is some mighty good eating down there. If you have been going through a tough stretch lately, I pray you will open your eyes of faith today. As a child of God, expect to see something very good shortly. Therefore, “consider” your trial a pure joy.
God’s word for today: (Romans 8:18) “For I reckon (consider) that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
This past Sunday, we had an experience at our church some of you may have seen at your church as well. We had a prophet of gloom and doom, along with a sign carrying sidekick, stationed at our parking lot entrance, preaching to our members and visitors leaving our first service and those arriving for the second to repent. When personally confronted by some of our members, the “prophet” hinted that he also took exception to the message I had written for our church marquee which read: “So what if you’ve lost a round or two? In Christ, you’re going to win this fight.”
I can understand how some hard line believers can mistakenly interpret the message to suggest that our church doesn’t take a stand against sin, but I wrote it with the purpose of encouraging those in the family of God who have suffered a spiritual mishap or two, reminding them that ours is a God who forgives and restores, One in whom we will eventually be victorious. If the street prophet took offense to that, it is apparent that he preaches a condemning, “you better get right or else” message. Long before Jesus came into the world and the message of grace through Him was introduced, David had written this about God: “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities.” (Psalm 103:10) People, if God disowned us every time we sin, none of us would stand a chance, including that street preacher. Psalm 130:3 reads: “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
One more thing: On Sunday night, one of our members asked me “Why did we not take the preacher and his assistant some bottled water to drink? It was hot out there.” Upon hearing that, I asked myself “Why did I not think of that?” In such cases, our first impulse is to retaliate in kind. That’s all part of being human. As God’s children, however, we have a greater force within us, the Holy Spirit Himself. When we let Him direct us, we react as Christ would react. To be sure, the love and kindness approach will not always work on everybody but the Bible says: “Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” (Romans 12:20) As I stated before, this method won’t work on everybody but its worth a try before we have to go to plan B. And if we should be revisited by this same street prophet and his friend, and you happen to pass by, resist the temptation to lash out. Smile and be friendly instead, but don’t engage in conversation with him. To try to reason with folks like him is virtually impossible. One last thing: someone asked: “Who sent him?” The answer is pretty obvious, don’t you think? Clue: It wasn’t God.
God’s word for today: (Romans 12:18) “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
I want to thank each one of you that took the time to email me with your kind words of encouragement and support after my announcement last week. My three life priorities are God, family, and ministry, in that order. The third one is the tricky one for me because within that bracket, I also have to properly prioritize sermon and study preparation, visitation, and church business. I consider writing, an extension of my ministerial calling but lately, because I love to do it, I had been committing more time to that than the previous three. I will continue to write as often as time allows it but because I also need to be more physically active, it may be far less than before, or maybe not that much, we’ll see. Nevertheless, I plan to keep on writing because, as the prophet Jeremiah said many centuries ago: “His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jer. 20:9) As a confirmation to me to keep on going, I saw an old-timer like me last Friday with a T-shirt which said: “Retired, not expired!” Once again thank you all.
PS: If any of you feel some of these blogs are worthy of publication, by all means go for it. You have my permission.
The great American General, Douglas MacArthur, was most known for a quote he made in 1951 that he actually borrowed from a popular barrack ballad of his day which said: “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Well, since I was never drafted, I was never a soldier. Consequently, I will never be given a military funeral and no member of my family will ever be given a flag and hear the words: “It is my high privilege to present to you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country, and to our flag by your loved one.” I think about this often when I conduct or am present at a military funeral. Nevertheless, I choose to believe that I have been, and am now, an old soldier of the Lord. Unlike MacArthur’s quote, this old soldier of the Lord will die some day and in the hearts and minds of many, I too will eventually fade away. Written words, however, can live forever. So I pray that many years from now, someone, somewhere, will still be getting some benefit from one of these old blogs, That is, if some of you have saved one or two.
Sometimes I consider myself the Red Skelton of blog writers because I probably get more out of writing these meditational thoughts than you do reading them. It has been a honor and a treasure to have had a relationship with you by way of these blogs. My hope from the beginning was that, through this medium, I could encourage, comfort, or strengthen you in your faith. I suspect that at times I may have made you laugh, caused you to shed a beneficial tear every now and then, even made you angry. In return, your words of encouragement and kind remarks kept me believing that I was not writing these blogs in vain. For that, I will forever be grateful to you and especially to God.
Today was my last official day writing these blogs but I would not be surprised if I resume writing on a regular basis sometime in the future, especially because all I may be able to do one day soon will be to write. For the time being, I have to attend to those things I have neglected at church and at home but because I love to write, you may still get a blog here and there. Besides, I’ve spent more time than I should have in front of this computer and have to be more physically active than I have been. I will still write a blog if and whenever I can and I pray that I will still be able to stay in touch with all of you.
God’s word for today: (Philippians 4:1) “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.”
In an interesting story found in 2 Samuel, Chapter 9, King David, responding to the leading of his heart, one day said the following: “Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan's sake?” (verse 1) Please keep in mind that apart from being David’s main persecutor and tormentor, one who stalked him unmercifully with the thought of killing him, King Saul had committed some horrific crimes against many innocent people in Israel. Because of it, many members of his family as well as his followers were extinguished. Of course, many of these died at the hands of men but it is also safe to assume that God’s justice had been served upon them. In fact, when David was king, a terrible three year famine came upon God’s people. When David enquired of the Lord, he was told: “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.” (2 Sam. 21:1)
Lets go back to what David said about his desire to show kindness to the house of Saul. He could just as easily desired to execute judgment. Instead, he chose to show kindness, mercy if you will, and he did it for Jonathan’s sake. He remembered his best friend’s words the last time they saw each other: “Be kind to me as long as I live. And after I die, don’t ever stop showing your kindness to my family.” (1 Sam. 20:14-15) The one family member that was found was, in fact, Jonathan’s son whose name was Mephibosheth. He was crippled for life since the day his nurse dropped him when he was still a child. To Mephibosheth was restored all the land that had been taken away from all of Saul’s family. Not only, that, he would be an honored guest at the king’s table for the rest of his life. When found, he expected death. Instead, he found life.
Our story is not that much different than Mephibosheth’s. Before Christ, we had been crippled spiritually by the sin in our lives. Because of that sin, God’s justice called for our death and our eternal separation from Him. With us too, God didn’t execute justice. Instead, He extended grace and mercy, granting us forgiveness and eternal life. Why did He do that? He did it for His Son’s sake. He remembered the promise given since the beginning of time when He hinted of the future Redeemer who would crush Satan’s head. (see Genesis 3:15) In fact, to redeem mankind through His Son was in God’s heart and mind even before the world began. Revelation 13:8 says that Jesus was “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Are we blessed or what? May we never forget who we were, who we are now, and how we got here. Praise be to God!
God’s word for today: (1 Corinthians 6:11) “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”
ANNOUNCEMENT: In this life, whether good or bad, all things come to an end. Tomorrow will be the last day I will write this blog. I need to devote more time to my pastoral obligations as well many neglected home chores. Besides, at my age I have to be as physically active as I can. See you tomorrow.
A man was watering his lawn one afternoon and noticed his neighbor’s little boy riding his bicycle around the block over and over again. Curious, the next time the boy came around, he asked him: “Jimmy, what are you doing?” When the boy replied that he was running away from home, the man said, “But you’re just going around the block!” To that, the little boy responded, “Well, that’s because my mom won’t let me cross the street.”
That illustration reminded me of the day when many of Jesus’ disciples left Him. The day before, he had miraculously fed a multitude using a boy’s lunch of five barley loaves of bread and two small fish for starters. Remembering that delicious lunch, a large group of people followed Him to the other side of the sea of Galilee hoping He would feed them again. This time, however, Jesus decided to feed them spiritually telling them that He was the Bread of Heaven who could give them life. That group did not like the response so they walked away from Him on that day. John 6:66-67 reads: “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” In response to this question, Peter said: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Just like Peter, and just like the little boy in our illustration, many of us have, at one time or another, contemplated “running away from home.” Soon after, we realize there is nothing in our life before Christ that is worthy of our return. Oh, there are some who will get angry with God or find some other reason to walk away. That is common. What is not common, however, is for God’s true children to walk away from Him and not come back. Therefore, don’t think, if you’ve ever been angry, upset, confused, or disillusioned enough to contemplate giving up in your walk with Christ, that you’re the only Christian who has ever felt that way. In fact, if you’re feeling that way right now, I’m sure you will soon say, just like Peter: “Lord. To whom can I go? You have the words of eternal life.”
God’s promise for today: (Psalm 139:8) “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
(This is an amplified version of the meditational word in yesterday’s church bulletin)
In one of His many confrontations with the religious leaders of His day, Jesus told them: "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life."(John 5:39-40) I’ve often told you that everybody is looking for something. Sadly, more often than not, people are looking for the wrong things. These religious leaders were searching the scriptures, which was a good thing. However, they were not looking for God. They were only searching the scriptures to draw out from them anything that supported their way of thinking. Why? They did so because, as Jesus pointed out, they "were not willing" to come to Him.
It is no different with those who foolishly declare that they no longer believe in God because of this or that. They will use the same worn out lame excuses many people use as the reasons they no longer believe or serve Him. This, of course, includes no longer attending church. Even when they won’t directly admit it, they just got angry or gave up on God because of what someone or some church did to them, or what they saw in the life of a certain professing Christian, as if it were God’s fault. The truth is that, just like Christ’s religious opponents, they don’t want to draw near to Jesus. All this time, many of them were just looking for an excuse to stray from Him, much like the beaten boxer who is just waiting for the right time to hit the canvas. It may come with the next punch from his opponent that looks halfway decent or he may fake an injury as the reason he can no longer continue.
Besides faith, coming to Christ is a matter of the will. In fact Jesus said that those who seek will find. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God said basically the same thing centuries before Jesus’ birth. He said: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13) Again, this is a matter of the will. Those who are looking for excuses will never find God. The next time you hear someone make some excuse for not believing, remind them that if they sincerely seek the truth, they will find it in Christ.
God’s word for today: (Psalm 9:10) “Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”
I saw an item on the internet early this morning that reminded me of a prophecy in the book of Daniel concerning the end of the age. In the vision, the Lord told him to write: “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.” (Daniel 12:4) Knowledge has indeed increased and we see things today that many of us didn’t think were possible just a decade ago. The particular item I was referring to was a story about the Boeing corporation’s plans to soon start developing a completely computerized, pilot-less airplane.
Well, though today’s electronic age amazes many of us, I am equally amazed that when a store’s computers are down, everything comes to a standstill, something that never happened in the “old” days. This reminded me also of this corny joke I heard a few years ago. Ironically, it was about a new pilot-less airplane. The passengers were all directed to their seats electronically and once they were seated, the seat belt automatically secured them and the seat automatically inclined to a comfortable position. Once the plane took off, a voice came over the intercom saying: “Welcome to the new, completely computerized, pilot-less airplane. Relax and enjoy your flight and brace yourself for your best flying experience ever. You are in good hands….you are in good hands….you are in good hands...you are….”
Yes, many things have changed but there is one which will never change, namely people will be people and they will all need God in their life. We may never be as brilliantly minded as those in the coming generations but I pray that there will still be many around that will be wise enough to spread the message of the gospel with their words and actions. In fact, The Lord told Daniel in this same prophecy, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3) As the prophecy declared, knowledge will continue to increase, yet the Lord will continue, nonetheless, to seek those who are wise enough to share Christ with the world. May we all be in that group.
God’s word for today: (Matthew 24:14) “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
You’ve heard the expression “actions speak louder than words”, right? Well, it also applies to sharing the gospel or the love of Christ with others. Many of God’s children are frustrated and often come down hard on themselves because they do not have the “gift of gab” and have not won anybody to Christ because of it. Are you one of them? May I remind you that more people are drawn to Christ by the actions and deeds of God’s children than by their words? Paul wrote: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)
The best thing you can ever do for your friends or loved ones in this world is to drawn them to Christ, but if you, like many others, just can’t speak to them for whatever reason, how are you going to do that? Permit me to be blunt: Do things for them or give them things. Assuming that, because you love Jesus, you will do it in love, you may be surprised at the great results you will see. Do you agree that the easiest person in the world to share intimate and personal things with is your best friend? Do you ever wonder why, besides being the Son of God, Jesus was able to draw so many people to Himself? He befriended them first! And how did He do that? He did it for two basic reasons. First, it was apparent to them that He loved them sincerely. Secondly, He did something for them, whether it was healing, feeding, encouraging, or comforting them. Bottom line: He always gave them something.
If you have a dear friend or loved one who you know needs Jesus in his or her life, I hope that you understand that you might even be able to win them for Christ without saying any words at all. Of course, words are important, but if you just don’t have any, your actions and deeds will work just as well. Here are just a few examples: a warm hug, a pat on the back, a word of comfort or encouragement by way of text, email or conventional mail, a gift card, a special favor or running an errand for them, etc. The list could go on and on. Can you win people to Christ by your deeds? Indeed!
God’s word for today: (James 5:20) “Let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”
In a very well known biblical account found in the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus freed a wild, uncontrollable man from a legion of demons. Since the evil spirits that were driven out of him entered into a herd of swine which proceeded to dive into the sea and drowned, the terrorized and confused local folk asked Jesus to leave the area. When the ex-demonized man, now back in his right mind, asked the Lord if he could go with Him, Jesus told him: “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 5:19)
Can you imagine the fantastic story this man had? The truth is that all of us who have had a life changing encounter with Jesus, also have a story to tell. And if Christ wanted the ex demon possessed man to share it at every opportunity, He undoubtedly wants us to do the same. Many Christians I know shortchange themselves thinking their experience with Jesus is boring and uneventful. Not so! I feel slightly uneasy whenever I hear a child of God say something like: “When I gave my life to Jesus, I wasn’t that bad a person. Because of it, I don’t have much of a story to tell.” To begin with, those who think this way must not be convinced that, before Christ, they were just as lost and in need of God's mercy as anybody else, but listen: many ex alcoholics, drug addicts, thieves, and others who were amazingly transformed, will actually feel a bit envious of those who can say they were brought up in church and never got into trouble. They will wish they had that story instead.
Think hard. If you love the Lord with all your heart today, there had to have been a time when you finally realized that He was indeed a big part of your life. Its okay if the change was gradual, what matters most is that you love the Lord today and that you know He lives in your heart. Don’t go around thinking you don’t have much of a story to tell, because you do.
The prolific hymn writer, Fanny J. Crosby, wrote many great hymns that are still going strong and being sung today in most churches even though she died over a hundred years ago. She was blind all her life so we must conclude that she had quite a story to share with others. Yet, in one of her best known hymns, she said that her story was “blessed assurance, Jesus is mine.” Therefore, if you have the assurance that Jesus is in your heart, just with that alone you have a story to tell. I pray you will share it with others.
God’s word for today: (Psalm 89:1) “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord for ever: with my mouth will I make known thy faithfulness to all generations.”
One of the most difficult experiences to endure in this life is the feeling of helplessness that comes upon us when a dear friend or loved one has been chosen to endure a traumatic sickness or affliction. I was thinking of that situation recently when I read again the story of the death of Lazarus in the 11th Chapter of John. Lazarus, as well as his sisters, Martha and Mary, were very dear friends of Jesus and the Disciples. It is reasonable to assume that they were often fed, lodged, and entertained in this family’s home in Bethany.
Because of their special bond with Jesus, on a day when Lazarus was very sick, his sisters sent out this word to Him: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (verse 3) Upon receiving the news, Jesus chose to stay where He was for two more days before going to Bethany. Knowing that Lazarus would die shortly thereafter and that He was going to later raise him up, He told His Disciples that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death but in glory to God. Apart from that, He made it clear to them that what they would see at Lazarus’ tomb would also be for their benefit, namely strengthen their faith in Him.
Here is where the exasperating feeling I mentioned at the onset comes into the picture. It surely came upon Martha and Mary. They could not believe nor understand why Jesus did not come to Lazarus immediately. They saw and felt their brother’s suffering and there was nothing they could do about it. The biblical account suggests that their hearts were wounded by their Master’s actions up until the time that He raised their brother from the dead.
It is safe to assume that we have all, at one time or another, been wounded because a dear friend or loved one is going through an exceptionally hard trial and there is nothing we can do about it. We must never forget that God knows exactly why all this is happening and that He has a plan that will end with Him getting the glory. And just as it did with His Disciples, in the end our faith and our hearts will be strengthened as well when we see the end result. If you are going through that type of experience today, take heart. God is in the middle of something great and you will soon be a witness to it.
God’s promise for today: (Isaiah 43:2) “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
As children of God, all of us are capable of either drawing people to Christ or pushing them further away. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, the people all perceived the religious leaders of the day as being God’s true servants. They were the ones who had the responsibility of teaching and ministering the word of God to His people. Yet, instead of drawing them to God, they were driving them far away from Him. That is why Jesus told them this in one of his many confrontations with them: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
For us, it is never appropriate to call anybody a hypocrite for two main reasons. First, we can’t do it because there is a little bit of hypocrisy in all of us, so that disqualifies us. Secondly, we don’t know the heart of the person because, unlike Christ, we can’t see what is on the inside. Why were these men hypocrites? Because in many matters of the law, the ones which could be seen outwardly, they were being faithful. They were tithing everything they had, even down to the spices in their possession. Yet, when it came to the matters of the heart, these they were neglecting, in particular, justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
If we get careless, we can be like them. In the eyes of many, we may be doing and saying the right things but still be forgetting the matters of the heart. Justice and righteousness go hand in hand. Do we treat everybody the same, show no bias, and have no favorites? Are we merciful with others when they need mercy, forgiveness, and understanding? Have we forgotten the mercy we have received and keep receiving constantly from God or do we just come down hard on those who fail Him? Do we exhort them but forget to comfort them once we have wounded them? When you spanked your children, did you not hug and console them afterward? I bet you did. And how about faithfulness? Are we being as faithful to God as we should be? If we are not, we have no business being impatient with those we deem less faithful than us. Every time I hear a pastor or teacher dishing out only the “don’t do this” and forgetting the “do this instead”, I recognize immediately that something is missing. I lift up a prayer for him as well as for myself that I never find myself so engrossed with the aim of telling it like it is, that I forget the other side of the issue, namely justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This is a seemingly impossible task, but a prayer we would all be wise to lift up to God is this: “Lord, please help me be more like Jesus every day.”
God’s word for today: (John 13:35) “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”