Sunday, February 24, 2013

Remembering Stories

This morning I went to worship at a church other than my home congregation.  I went with a friend who is a member there, to hear one of their guest speakers that they had invited for the weekend.  I enjoyed visiting at that congregation; class was very practical, and the sermon was very encouraging.  But I also have to say that part of what I enjoyed there this morning was the communion meditation.

The man leading the communion thoughts began by mentioning the fact that when we remember people, we like to remember particular stories about them.  He talked about remembering his grandmother and the time he spent with her when he was in high school, the times that she would send him books, etc.  He transitioned from that into why we do what we do each Sunday--because we want to remember Christ, and we want to proclaim His death and resurrection (I Cor. 11).

So before we took communion this morning, he encouraged us not just to remember Jesus, but to remember a particular story about Jesus, our favorite story about Jesus.  He even gave us a few seconds to flip open to it, so we could have the particular story to meditate on.  Now, I'm a pretty indecisive person; it's usually pretty hard for me to pick a "favorite" anything, much less a favorite story of my Savior, about whom there are so many incredible stories, which I each love for different reasons.  So if you were to ask me tomorrow what my favorite story about Jesus is, I might give you a completely different answer.  But today, the answer came from John 11, and I wanted to share it here: 

John 11

New International Version 1984 (NIV1984)

The Death of Lazarus

11 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” 5 Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
7 Then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world’s light. 10 It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light.”
11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”
12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
16 Then Thomas (called Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Jesus Comforts the Sisters

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was less than two miles[a] from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
27 “Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe that you are the Christ,[b] the Son of God, who was to come into the world.”
28 And after she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.
35 Jesus wept.
36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

Jesus Raises Lazarus From the Dead

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 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.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Just a few things I wanted to point out as reasons I love this story:

1.  We get to see more of the human side of Jesus.  Jesus was God in the flesh.  And with all the stories of all the miracles, signs, and wonders He performed, I don't have any problem understanding the first half of that sentence.  Jesus was God.  It's the second half--that "in the flesh" part--that is mind-boggling to me sometimes.  It's difficult to imagine the God of Heaven living on this earth, going through the day-to-day, experiencing feelings and dealing with situations that we as humans must experience and deal with.  But He did.  And we see examples of that in this story.  It says that Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus.  When Jesus arrives, Martha goes out to meet him; later it says that He was also asking for Mary.  It's evident that He cared about these women and their brother.  Twice, it says He was deeply moved; it says His spirit was troubled; it says He wept.   There's a lot of speculation about why He wept that day, but I prefer to believe that it's because He loved these women, and they were hurting.  As I once heard a minister put it, "The things that break our hearts break His heart."  I believe that, and I believe Jesus was hurting for His dear friends.

2.  We get to hear one of the best "I AM" statements of Jesus.  At least, in my opinion, it's one of the best.  He says, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."  Amen, friends?  As God, He is the Author and Giver of all Life, and as our sacrificial Lamb, He made resurrection possible for all who believe in Him.

3.  I love Martha's practicality.  Alright, I'll admit, this is the bit of comic relief in the story, but I love when Jesus says to remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb, that Martha tries to remind Him, "But Lord, he's been in there four days's gonna stink!" (my translation).  Jesus just reminds her to believe, and promises her that she will see the glory of God.

4.  A dead man walked out of his grave!  Yup.  Jesus said, "Come forth,"  and a dead man, who had been wrapped in linens, enbalmed, and sealed in a tomb four days literally breathed again, got up, and walked out of his grave.  I can't imagine what it must've been like for all who were there that day.  But my all my faith is riding on the fact that this happened, and it happened again when Jesus rose from the dead, and it'll happen again at the Last Day. 

"Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."--I Cor. 15:55-57

How about you?  What would be your favorite story to remember Jesus by?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Praying Continually...

"Don't back down.  In future generations, your story will be the one that encourages someone else to follow hard after God."--Priscilla Shirer, Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted

Last week I began a new study on the book of Jonah.  So far, I've really enjoyed it, and last night as I was doing my studying/homework for today's early-morning discussion, I tweeted several quotes (at least one from each day's homework) that really spoke to me or inspired me.  But this particular quote by Priscilla Shirer is one that I've not been able to get out of my head all day. 

Perhaps because it reminds me of the impact my "blogfather", dear brother Keith Brenton, has had for me.  For starters, I'm sitting here at nearly midnight, writing on a blog.  I didn't really know what a blog was until I stumbled upon Keith's, about seven years ago.  There I've seen where he's written and read, questioned and answered, wondered and responded, and participated in dialogue with friends online, based mostly on his faith.  (I say "mostly" because there may be a small handful of his posts that are not particularly spiritual/religious in nature.)  While I'm sure there are plenty of his life experiences not documented there, a lot of his story is, quite literally, an open book there.  So for the past seven years, his story--with examples of his faith, his circumstances that have brought him to his beliefs, and his reasoning for those beliefs--has been one that has encouraged me to follow hard after God.  That's why he's my dear brother.  That's why I call him my "blogfather." 

Also, though, perhaps this quote makes me think of him because he and his family have been on my heart for awhile now.  I began praying for Keith and his family occasionally, at his request a few weeks ago, though I was unsure why.  Sunday evening, he sent me a message similar to the one he's posted here.  Since then I have been, per the instructions of the Apostle Paul in I Thessalonians, praying continually for Keith's & his family. 

I know that scripture teaches that "the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."  Well...I am not a man. :)  And the only righteousness I can claim is that of Christ Jesus.  But I know that His grace is sufficient.  So I approach His throne of grace with confidence, praying that God will help in this time of need.  And I ask you to join me in that effort, on behalf of my beloved blogfather and his family.