Tag Archives: faith

FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: Elisabeth

#FacesoftheChristmasStory
 
“Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men.”
Luke 1:25
 
She had grown up watching women get pregnant and giving birth, fantasizing about when she would do the same. She had probably even helped change the diapers of some relatives’ babies on occasion. She got married and couldn’t wait to have a baby. But she didn’t. As the months passed, the questions started coming. Aunts were all too willing to give their unsolicited advice on ‘successful baby-making’. At first it was amusing, until it became frustrating. The months turned to years. Her friends’ babies grew into adults, got married, and were having their own babies already.
The questions dwindled, soon replaced by whispers. Soon those whispers were replaced by silent furtive glances. Everywhere she went, she could feel them. Sure, the people respected her, but it was the things they didn’t say, the things she knew they were thinking, that stung the most. She was the barren old woman from down the street. Barren. A name she had never thought would be hers.
God knows how many times she prayed. Were they being punished for their sins? Her husband was a priest, and she was a direct descendant of Aaron, the first high priest. That alone should have given them points before the Lord, but still no babies came.
Was God hearing her? Was He even there? Questions she didn’t dare put to speech. After years of agony and sadness, she settled for what they had. After all, His ways and thoughts were higher than theirs. They served God faithfully still.
One day her husband returned abruptly from the Temple without sending prior word. Literally too, because he had no words, since he had been stricken dumb. Hours of panicking and frantic sign gestures later (and the mental note to learn sign language ASAP) she was finally able to get him to write down what had happened. Long story short, the Lord had sent an angel to tell them that they would have a baby. A son. (Why couldn’t he speak? You can read about it in yesterday’s post, or better yet, check out the real account in Luke 1:5-22)
It was hard to believe. It took her a while to accept it all, but in the days that followed, she knew. She could feel it … HIM … she could feel him forming in her. “Oh dear God! So this is what it feels like? I really am having a baby?”
It’s not that she had forgotten she had a womb, it’s just that she had not needed it or even had a reminder of its presence in over a decade! But this was new. This was…different.
What would she do? How would she live, taking care of her silent husband and nursing a pregnancy? How could she, a post-post-menopausal woman, move around town with the prominent bump leading the way, an embarrassing reminder that she was carrying something that was not for people her age? She felt ashamed. The rumours would only reach a fever pitch. She couldn’t dare go out again.
But in her heart, she was hit by the reality that God had blown the barriers she had settled for and invaded her space. Prayers she had long stopped praying were being fulfilled, right in her own body. Not her neighbour’s body this time, not a woman from the stories of the days of the patriarchs … but her. “Me…?” And it gladdened her heart. “So this is the extravagant way God wants to take away my shame?”
For Zacharias it was a son, but for her it was personal. She carried the pregnancy. God had done something in her body. Her own body.
It was a miracle. For a long time, miracles were just the stuff from the Scriptures. Like the Lord parting the Red Sea, or stopping time for Joshua’s armies to prevail, or making Aaron’s dead rod bloom. They were the stories she loved hearing as a young girl. But now, a miracle had been wrought in her own life – in her own body. The Lord had chosen her.
 
Elisabeth’s story is a picture of what Israel was going through. Their history was full of accounts of God’s miraculous intervention time and again. But for the past 400 years or more, precious little had occurred beyond the ordinary. Reality overshadowed them as foreign nation after foreign nation invaded and took over their land. Even the prophets seemed an order of the past, so there was little if any hint of divine intervention. Where was the arm of the Lord? For many, even if they did not admit it, the miracles were a thing of the past. Those historical accounts were little more than myths to some. God and His ways were probably just a coping mechanism, just in case. Still, Israel felt abandoned.
But God had not forgotten them. He was coming to them, and He was coming in a BIG way, in a way that would be so grand it would be embarrassing.
Like a soldier returning from war to meet his fiancé after years of separation, who lavishes her with lots of gifts, lots of money, a new car, teaches her to drive, and spends quality time with her … all on his first day back. Her friends are watching, bewildered as they whisper among themselves about all the attention she’s getting. And just when his fiancé has gotten embarrassed enough, a troupe of mariachis that he’s paid comes out of hiding to serenade her (she loves Mexican music … Why is it always Mexican music?). Her family has been in on the surprise, and they join the circle of onlookers with knowing grins as her Romeo drops to his knee, pulls out a ring and asks her the question…
“Will you … go see The Last Jedi with me?”
I’m just kidding. He asks her to marry him, while everyone stands in awe, literally going, “Aw…” The lady wipes a tear. (Hey, was the ring an onion ring?) You get the picture. He is with the love of his life, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. He will ‘spoil’ her with enough to make up for the lost years, and enough to set up their new life together. Enough to show her his boundless love for her and his delight in her.
This was God’s promise to Israel. He’d said, through His prophets, that He would not only save them from their enemies, but would also lavish them with His goodness, would give them a great kingdom with a great king, so that all the world would see His faithfulness. And He came to save, not only Israel but all the world, totally overshooting the ‘save-them-from-their-enemies’ bit, giving a new life and an inheritance to all who receive His salvation, making them part of His endless kingdom, where He is King. He is awesome like that, always doing exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think. He saves to the uttermost.
That’s the big picture, and I’ve not even come close to describing it.
But Elisabeth’s story shows us something even extra special. “God has come, for ME.” The blessing of God, in the form of her son, was a flashing neon sign to everyone around that God had done something supercalifragilisticexpialidociously AWESOME in the life a woman well past her prime. Everyone knew her as Barren. Now she was Fruitful. God had visited her life and left His fingerprint for all to see.
It’s the gift of God being with us, among us, in us, coming into our very situation and changing it with the peace and blessing of His very presence. Immanuel. God in the life of a person changes everything, setting things right.
It’s what He did in salvation. It is a blessing upon many, and a blessing upon each one that receives Him. A blessing upon you. That men will see His awesomeness in you as well.
It’s what He can do in your life. If you’re His child you are so much more set up for His hand to work wonders in your life.
And He does. Though our lives may seem to define ordinary, He has set things in motion on your behalf.
Sometimes we don’t think we see His miracles because they don’t all seem spectacular. How wrong we are. I think it was Max Lucado that wrote, “A coincidence is a miracle where God chooses to stay anonymous.” You walk into a building and the first person you meet gives you the information you need to avoid unnecessary stress. You feel a prompting to take a certain route on your way home from a stressful workday, and on that route you meet an old friend whose presence lifts your spirits. Sometimes miracles are like that.
Some miracles are a little more direct. Let’s go back to Elisabeth for a moment.
Remember she’s expecting a baby and supporting her mute husband. She’s going to need a lot of help. So what does God do? He’s set up Mary, her younger cousin, to come down all the way from the other end of the country to visit her (Luke 1:36-40). Mary stayed there until the Elizabeth’s baby was born. Many times, just like this, God uses people to help us. He may use someone to call you with words of encouragement at a moment when you’re feeling down. Someone else may be ready to mess up your day with an annoying Whatsapp chain message, but that person is suddenly distracted by joy at the news of his daughter finally gaining admission to the university of her choice. Wheels within wheels, God is working miracles just beyond our sight.
He may even use you in the working of a miracle in someone else’s life. He did that with Elisabeth. Mary had just been told that she too would have a baby that would be the Son of God. The young lady was still going over the ramifications of this when she entered Elisabeth’s house. Suddenly, the baby in Elisabeth’s belly leaped and she, suddenly spoke words that confirmed what Mary had heard from the angel, further establishing her confidence in God’s promises. God used them both to encourage and build each other’s faith. That’s His desire, to use us to bless one another. But first, like He placed the babies in the women’s wombs, He must give you His kind of heart. That is the kind of person He can use to do His will and be blessing. That’s what Jesus’ coming was all about, to make you that kind of person.
And, yes, God does overt miracles too, through the hands of His children. You can be used of God to heal the sick, cast out devils, and even raise the dead. These are the qualities He’s promised to all who believe in Him and His work of salvation (Mark 16:15-18). If you are Christ’s, this is your nature and ability. It’s all His gift to you.
 
There is so much more we can learn from Elisabeth’s story, but I’ve kept you here long enough. It was not an accident that the writer of the Biblical account told her story together with her husband’s, Zacharias (spoiler alert: he gains his speech back in the end). While Elisabeth’s story shows us that God can do great miracles, even the impossible, in our lives, Zacharias’ story teaches us about faith in God, even in what looks impossible. Needs are a very common part of the human experience, both those that can be met and those that are a bit harder to meet. In all things, let your faith be in God, and you will see His hand at work in your life.
Don’t let your heart get weary. Miracles are not alien to God’s children.
After all, they are our Father’s specialty.
Remember that, this Christmas.
 
May you grow stronger in faith, established in the knowledge of His faithfulness in Jesus’ Name.
Amen.
 
 
“…blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of the things that were spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth speaking to her young cousin, Mary, in Luke 1:45
 
#9DaystoChristmas
Advertisements

Faces of the Christmas Story: THE PROPHETS

‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.’ Hebrews 1:1

When we think of the prophets, much of the time we imagine old men with flowing beards bellowing words of doom with glazed eyes, ready to rip their clothes at the slightest hint of blasphemy from their audience. Well, some of them were like that. But some of them were kings like David and government officials like Daniel.
Whenever God wanted to let His people in on what He was doing, He spoke to His prophets who would then speak to the people. So, no, these prophets were not ‘fortune-tellers’.
The people of Israel lived through some of the worst times. From slavery to finding a homeland, to raising a kingdom, to occupation by invading armies, to a scattering and an exile and the plundering of their land, to their return to that land, to another invading army coming in … phew! Talk about a rags-to-riches-to-even-more-rags story! But in all this time, God did not leave them alone to face it. He had His prophets among them, men who would speak to them exactly what God needed them to hear. Sometimes theirs were words of judgment, sometimes they were words of comfort. But one thing the people of Israel knew was that God had not abandoned them. These prophets were given to God, faithful to Him so that they could be effective mouthpieces for Him to inspire His people.
In the midst of their prophecies and teachings, the prophets were inspired of God to utter and write about His Big Plan: God was going to save them! God was going to raise someone who would bring them to a prosperous place, a King that would bring them home and restore their glory. While these prophets had glimpses into these plans, they did not fully understand it, but they wrote the prophecies as they were inspired by God. Some had their contextual interpretations, but they did not fully know.
They told of how he would be born from the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:8), from the family of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) and a descendant of King David. They told of a ‘son’ that would be born to rule them in a peaceful and never-ending kingdom, who would also be the ‘Mighty God’ (Isaiah 9:6-7). They told of how He would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
What they didn’t realise was that they also spoke of the same Person when they prophesied about an anointed one that would be killed for the sake of others (Daniel 9:26), a suffering servant that would be scourged to bring healing to others, be rejected and despised, stricken for the sins of the people (Isaiah 53). They probably thought they were describing their own pain and agony when they wrote about someone that would be forsaken by God, be pierced (long before crucifixion was even invented), and whose clothes would be gambled over (Psalm 22). They probably didn’t even link it all together when they wrote about someone who God would not leave in the land of the dead, but would raise to life (Psalm 16:10). They didn’t know this was all God was talking about when He talked of giving them new hearts so they can always do what is pleasing in His sight (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
Only later, by the inspiration of God’s Spirit, would the apostles look back and see the road map God had prepared long before, telling of what He was doing. They could look on this, gain more understanding, and edify one another, confident in God’s faithfulness to His Word. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
The Prophets lives were not wasted, however, because in the time before God would become a Man and set things right, these were the people He used to bring comfort to those around them. Telling them that God was still with them. They too were human with their failings and doubts, fears and questions. But God used them. And they knew there was something more coming, and they looked forward to it.
And God fulfilled His promises, by Himself. He became a Man and fulfilled all He had promised He would. Just as He had said.
Like these Prophets, the circumstances around us may seem to cloud our understanding of God’s Word. They may even make us doubt if He is even there. It may look bleak, like we are all on our own. But we are not. The grace they prophets looked forward to has arrived in the Person of Jesus. He has promised to never leave or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), and He is true to His Word. He is alive in you, making you who He wants you to be. His promises for you are true, and He makes sure they come to pass.
Even when it doesn’t look like it. He is faithful and reliable, and you can trust Him, and in Him. Trust in His Word, in what He has said.
You don’t have to be in the dark about His faithfulness to you anymore. He won’t leave you in the dark. The Light has come. This was what the Prophets looked forward to. Now God can be known by all. Everyone.
Even you.
Trust Him.
The more you experience His love, the more it becomes a part of you beyond facts, and the more you can be a blessing to others. And they will see Him in you. That’s a life fulfilled.
It’s what God intended.

‘Going through a long line of prophets, God has been addressing our ancestors in different ways for centuries.
Recently he spoke to us directly through his Son…’
Hebrews 1:1 and 2

#FacesoftheChristmasStory

Why so Puddleglum?

Puddleglum-COLOURED_labelled

What do you do when all you’ve ever known to be true suddenly doesn’t feel so true anymore?

NOTE: If you want to read about the Art of Puddleglum, i.e. the picture up top, you can follow this link.

Puddleglum is a character in The Silver Chair, the sixth book (or fifth, depending on your point of view) in C.S. Lewis’ series, The Chronicles of Narnia. He was a marshwiggle, a weird creature who lived by a swamp, and had a mildly amusing pessimistic outlook on life. In the story, he joins Eustace Scrubb and Jill Pole on their quest to find the lost Prince Rilian, following a set of clues given to them by Aslan.

I would have told you the story, but I feel that it’d be a mega-spoiler (and you’re like, “C’mon! The book’s like 50 years old already!”). Let’s just say that by the time they find the prince, he’s the brainwashed prisoner of the evil Lady of the Green Kirtle. They release him, but then the Lady walks into the room.

She doesn’t snap at them, but she cheerfully hypnotizes using the enchanting tune of her harp and the whiff of a secret powder she dumps on the fireplace.  With every word she speaks, with every strum on her harp, she almost fully convinces them that everything they’ve known to be true was made up, all in their heads.

First, they knew that they were in the kingdom of Underland (yes, it was literally miles underground). They knew they had come from Overland, the land above the surface. Or had they? Were they really sure there even was such a land among the rocks and mortar in the roof of the cavern? (Another character later comments on how weird it would be to live in a world like ours, a world without a roof, with just open sky above) She made them believe there was nothing beyond the dreadful world underground that they could see at the moment.

Then they asked about the Sun. About Narnia. About Aslan the Great Lion. And she convinced them that those concepts were merely flights of fantasy based on things they could see around.

Her words (however enchanted they were) made them reconsider their beliefs in these things; things they had always accepted to be true. Sure they had fleeting memories of daylight, of their home world, of the Lion, and of words spoken to them before. But these memories were fading as she spoke and strummed on her harp (or maybe it was a ‘lyre’ … see what I did there? 😉 ), the mist of the ‘Decepto-powder’ filling the room.

Until Puddleglum stomped out the fire and ended the enchantment, to the Witch’s horror.

Here’s that part of the story and what he said:

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

Wow.

 

I like Puddleglum because of his decision to believe in the Truth –to fight for it— even when his mind did not agree. Even when he was being convinced otherwise, he still held on in faith. It was not easy, but he did.

Life may present us with a couple of facts. But that’s what they are: Facts, and nothing more. But don’t let them make you doubt the Truth. The facts are like holograms, translucent 3D images in space. They last for a while, but they only appear under certain conditions. They would change with time. They look real, but they are not necessarily real. We may feel them, but our feelings are really subjective neural experiences (OK, enough geekspeak from me).

The Truth, like Ted Dekker (one of my top favourite authors) loves to say, is just beyond the skin of this world. Beneath and beyond all we can see is another realm where everything is the way they really are. It’s the Kingdom of God, a world where everything is in obedience to God. You’d see that something actually happens when you pray, that something happens when you speak, and that there’s a lot more going on around us than we can see with these eyes.

Jesus is the Truth, and what He says is true. No matter how the facts appear, don’t make the mistake of thinking the facts are the Truth.

You may have no family with you now (FACT) but that does not mean you’re abandoned.

You may not have money in your pocket at the moment (FACT), but that does not mean you will never be successful in life, financially or otherwise.

You may have failed a course or two … or more (FACT), but that does not mean you’re a failure.

You may have prayed for the sick and nothing seemed to happen (FACT) but that does not mean Jesus was lying when He said you would pray for the sick, and they would recover. It doesn’t mean that your salvation is inferior, either.

I guess Faith counts when its feels like there’s no reason to believe. That’s when it counts. And that’s when it’s hardest. We can’t do this on our own. We weren’t made to. Hang on. Ask for His help. He will help you. You’re not alone in this.

I should know. I’ve been there. A lot of times, actually. One of such times I cried and cried for strength, but it didn’t seem to come as suddenly as I expected. I was too scared to let anyone in on what was bothering me, so I slapped on my trademark smile. I didn’t want my doubts to bring them down too. I felt so alone deep down, desperate to scream, to breathe. Trusting in God suddenly felt futile. I know I encourage others to remember that He is always with us, but I didn’t feel Him near right then. I didn’t feel Him at all, period. I felt like a fraud, like I was just going through the motions. I gotta tell you, it was scary.

But He was there. Is here. Man, He is. He’s been here all along.

You know what? I guess I got used to feeling that way. I preferred to ignore God. And when I didn’t, I felt as though I was the one person in all history that He had wronged. It felt easier to ignore Him and His things. But He had not wronged me. What had just happened was that, like the kids in the story, my ears were filled with the wrong tune and that’s what I was listening to. The Liar’s lyre.

So what did I do? I don’t know, really. I’m supposed to tell you that I prayed more and studied the Bible more, and that that’s I got more strength, but that’s not what happened. To be honest, I didn’t feel I’d get anything from praying. When I read the Bible, it was as if there was no life. That’s where I was. I was supposed to stir up strength from my spirit within, but I felt too weak. Worn. Tired. And because my mindset was warped, so were my decisions. And, sure enough, somewhere deep inside, I blamed God for all of this. To most readers this scenario may sound weird, especially to those that know me personally. But I hope there’s someone out there that understands. Even if no one does, it’s OK. You don’t have to go through that. Just keep your mind on the right stuff. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I thank God for exposing me to the right words. Like that verse that talks about how God is our Hiding Place, Who surrounds us with songs of deliverance (Psalm 32:7). Though I was blinded to see His faithfulness towards me, I could see His faithfulness toward others, so I knew He was still out there somewhere. It’s like being in a dark basement, with a few pinpricks of light stealing in through cracks in the wall. I sought those spots where the light was peeking through, ‘cause that’s where I felt safe.

I realized that though I may be special, I’m not so special that His loving kindness would extend to all except me. I was hearing His words, but I wasn’t listening. For the longest time, I wasn’t listening. But He got through. Ha! He made sure He did. No matter how long it took, He hung on.

Why did it drag for so long? I guess I was a hard nut to crack. God did not leave me be. He kept making sure His words broke through the thick clouds around me, until I could finally really hear His songs of deliverance again. His words of Truth and encouragement.

He was trying to get to me all along.

That’s the annoying thing about Grace. No matter how hard we try to earn points on His scales, He shows us that He’s the One that gave us whatever points we’ve got. He’s the One helping us up.

I still have lots of questions, I won’t lie. I still do. But I’m learning to trust.

I’ll trust.

Man, I don’t usually get so personal in my writing. I prefer using a character in a convenient story to pass the message across, but I guess I just wanted to do this. Hope it’s worth something, though.

This is real life, man.

But, enough about me. Back to the point.

 

Sometimes the lies look like facts. Sometimes it’s easier to accept the lies than to fight to listen to God’s Voice of Truth.

We may be walking in caves as dark as Death with no light in sight (FACT), but we must not let that make us forget that there ever was a Sun. That there is still a Sun out there.

Don’t let circumstances make you forget that there’s a Son, either. And He’s not just ‘out there’, He’s ‘right here’ with you. The Son of God that died and rose to make you fully free – free to live, free to be! He’s alive! He’s broken the chains and blown the prison doors and nuked the concentration camp and placed you in another country, so you have no excuse for allowing the tunes of the Liar’s lyre to become your reality. God is holding you up, so trust Him. Let His words, His songs, break through to your heart. They are working on you. He’s working on you.

You may not feel it, but He’s after you. He’s surrounding you. Ah, if you could see His hands around you, trying to squeeze the darkness away. If your eyes could be opened so you can see what’s really going on!

There’s a battle going on, my friend. A battle for your soul. There’s a wooing going on, and each side is desperate for your heart.

One in seduction, One in Love.

One for destruction and One for Life.

The Liar wants to keep you shrouded in a cloud of darkness. The Truth wants to make you free, and truly free at that.

His words are real and true. Let them be your reality. Keep on studying what He’s said, and talking with Him. It’ll change your mindset.

Your feelings may not all change in an instant. But they also could. But whether they do or whether they don’t, you’ll be fine. Even when you mourn, Jesus says you will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). It’s not His desire for you to mourn, but even if you do He’s got you covered.

You see, the lies may be like those holograms. Holograms are particularly crafted to appear through some optical hijinks, subject to the directed lighting in the room. But the Truth has always remained. It’s the Pure Light that drives away all illusions.

And the Truth is that God loves you, and He’s got you. He would not let any evil come to you, and He would help you make an impact so great it would blow your mind (in a good way J ). His plan is for you to be satisfied and fulfilled in life. To thrive, not just to try to survive. What’s waiting beyond is so much better than anything there’s ever been. We can’t even imagine it, but He reveals it to us by His Spirit in us, His children.

So trust Him. He can be trusted.

And when you do, that’s when you’ll find the strength to stomp out the lies and shine Light into the Darkness, to encourage and comfort others.

To remind them that our Father has never left us. He’s right here.

Even in the deepest throes of Underland.

 

‘Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

If I ascend into heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there…’

PSALM 139:7, 8

THE JOHN 11 STORY: FAITH

<<INTRO

<<Episode 1: LOVE

John 11_faith

We did not set out for Bethany until two days later. Lazarus was, no doubt, dead by then. Mary and Martha were in deep mourning by that time.

When my disciples were gathered I told them. “We need to get ready. We’ll be setting off for Judea today.”

To say they were astonished would be like saying the Jordan is wet.

“But, Master … Judea?! They’re out to kill you over there. It’s not safe to go now.”

“We’re just coming from there.”

“Can’t it wait?”

I turned to them. Yes, there were logical grounds for fear in Judea. But fear is never a good option. “Wouldn’t you rather walk in the day, when there’s light?” I told them. “Or would you prefer to walk in the night, when there’s no light? That’s an invitation to stumble.” Besides, I needed to be in Bethany. I wanted to get to my friend.

But they could neither see it, nor understand it. Not yet.

“Our friend, Lazarus, is asleep. I’m going over there to wake him up.” Oh, what a glorious sight it would be. Sickness thought it had its day, but Lazarus would not stay dead.

Andrew perked his ears at that. “Oh, so you’re saying he’s better now?”

“Uh…”

“I mean, if he’s asleep, then he must no longer be sick. He’s alright. That doesn’t require a visit now.” The others nodded in agreement.

“Wisdom is profitable to direct,” Thomas counseled. Interesting. “These times are dangerous in Judea.”

I eventually had to use the ‘D’-word for them to understand what I was saying. I wanted their faith to be strong enough to see these things the way I saw them. But for now, it’s just one step at a time. “Lazarus is dead.” The room fell silent. “And I’m glad that I was not there earlier, for your sakes. You’re about to be given new grounds for your faith.”

The silence lingered for a moment.

“He’s dead?”

I stood. “So it’s settled then. Let’s get ready to tell the others. We’ll leave after lunch.”

I could feel their stares as I walked out of the room.

“He is serious … isn’t he?”

“Does anyone understand the Master these days?”

“You did see him leave the room. He means to leave now!”

“Sometimes I worry about him.”

“He’s been talking about dying and stuff. Now this?!”

“This is trouble, I tell you. Is he suicidal?”

“Don’t say that! You know who he is…”

“OK, alright. But still…”

“We’ve sworn our lives to him.” A loud sigh. “We might as well go and die with him.” That was Thomas’ voice.

I shook my head. Not even my closest friends could trust me on this. They just couldn’t see the Bigger Picture. They however trusted me enough to come along with me.

Looks like it’s just You and me, Father.

—–

For as long as sin has existed, man has been subjected to death and the pain it brings. I’ve seen and felt that pain many times. I should know … my father on earth, Joseph Bar Yacov, died years ago. The pain of separation can be gut-wrenching, from this side of heaven. Death has been holding humanity in its grasp, bringing fear, oppression and despair in its wake.

But there is another side to these things. I am the One that brings life to the dead. There was Jairus’ daughter back in Capernaum; and there was also that young man in Nain. I brought them back to life.

But one day, I will be the death of Death itself … by my own death. It sounds crazy to the human mind now … but the Father knows what He is doing. We know the evil principalities will orchestrate my death, not knowing that they are bringing Life to Death’s very doorstep. It will be painful … torturous … the pain of the punishment for millennia-worth of the sins of men … Sometimes I wonder how I can go through it all. But I trust my Father to give me the strength when I need it.

In many ways, this whole experience reminded of me of my own coming sacrifice. Like Lazarus, I too will die. But I will rise. My friend has been given a front row seat on one of the greatest stories of all.

By the time we approached Bethany, Lazarus had been dead for four days already. We were still about a mile away from the village when I noticed the woman in black coming down the path towards us. Even from that distance I could tell who it was. Martha. The news of our coming had reached her already. I hurried ahead of the others, extending my hands for the embrace. She just stared at me as I approached, her face quivering. She had cried so much, her eyes were red. She willed herself not to cry anymore. With Lazarus gone, she and her sister would be at the mercy of their relatives. At least, that’s what she probably expected. Oh, Martha…

“It’s OK,” I whispered as I embraced her.

“Four days, Master,” she whispered into my shoulder. “Four days. If … if you had been here … my brother would not have died.” I stared into her face. What could I say? I knew waiting would hurt them, but I could not have done otherwise. If only she knew the great miracle waiting ahead. Would she understand? She inhaled deeply. “But I know that God will still give you whatever you ask.”

She still believed in me? Underneath all that pain and hurt, could she see what was really going on? Or did she think God was unfair in granting my requests but not healing her brother? “Your brother will rise again,” I told her.

She avoided my gaze. “I know. I know that he’ll be raised up too at the Resurrection at the end of time, when all the dead will rise—“

“Martha! Don’t be afraid to get your hopes up. You don’t have to wait for the end! I am —right now— Resurrection and Life. Even if they’re dead, if anyone believes in me they’ll live! And everyone who believes in me while they are still alive will never ultimately die. Do you believe this?”

It must have been hard for her, I know, demanding such faith. But it’s the truth. After all this, she would be able to believe in God for anything. That’s what I want. She nodded. “Yes, Master. All along, I’ve believed that you were … are the Messiah, the Son of God come into the world.” She knew and believed all that, but now it probably just felt like nothing but words. Was she reassuring herself? Did she really believe? She inhaled deeply. “Ah … I must go, get the house ready … please excuse me—“

“We’ll go with you—“

But she was already hurrying back into the village, desperate to keep the tears from falling in our presence. It was definitely not going to be easier. There was so much fear and doubt out here. It hurt that my friends had to go through so much pain. Was it necessary?

Father, thank You because in the end … it is all worth it.

“He really is dead, isn’t he?” Peter said behind me.

I turned and nodded. My disciples, the ones that would be my witnesses when all this is over. “For your sakes, I’m happy I waited.”

“You said so before. But…”

“Trust me,” I said. “This is so that you all –everyone— can see what my Father is capable of. Through me.”

We waited for the others to catch up. We had barely left that very spot when Mary came hurrying toward us. Friends and family, all in mourning, accompanied her. Many halted when they saw my friends and I. But my attention was on Mary alone. She did not hide her tears. She had believed in me for so long, and I had not come when her brother was ill. How should I expect her to feel?

She fell to her knees at my feet, crying. “Master! If only you had been here, my brother would still be alive!” No, she was definitely not happy.

“Mary –“

“It’s too late! Now my brother is dead. He died, Jesus. Lazarus is … gone.”

This was more difficult. She was crying. The pain… It was as though we were swallowed by this barrage of wails, as the mourners raised their voices with her. Dear Father…

Father, they’ll know this was worth it in the end. Let their faith be strengthened.

The fear and gloom and despair out there left a bad taste in my gut. Death had left its footprint, and it was a painful sight. Death, you will be the last enemy I will defeat.

I felt a lump in my throat when I asked, “Where was he laid?”

“Master, come and see,” one of the mourners said.

And they led us to the graveyard outside the village limits. It was a bare wasteland that reeked of loneliness and gloom – the opposite of what I have come to give humanity. These were my enemy’s stomping grounds, and my friend had been brought there as its trophy. Just like all humanity.

Lazarus in a grave.

Before I knew it, I was crying. I let the tears fall. I let the sobs turn to wails. Pent up feelings gushed out to the surface in that instant … and I wept. My disciples were troubled to see me cry, but I couldn’t help it. This was man’s lot because of sin’s curse. Death. So far, so opposite from what We intend for them.

But I will end this.

I will surely end this.

It is worth it, Father.

“Aw, he must really miss his friend,” someone said. “See how he loved him.”

They did not know that it was because I loved him that I had delayed my coming.

“Love, schmove! If he really loved him, why couldn’t this ‘Healer’ make his friend well before he died, eh? But call him to make a blind man see and he’ll show up. But for his friend? Meh!”

Not on a day like this. Not adversity now; not today. It will be worth it, my friend. It will all be worth it. You may deny me now, but this is for you too. Your faith will be energized.

No one saw what I was seeing, or expected what I was expecting. But in the midst of the doubt and adversity, the fear and gloom – I held on to my Father’s words.

Lazarus, I’m bringing you to life today.

When we got to the grave I lifted my eyes. “Thank You, Father! Thank You because You have heard me!”

 

To be concluded… in Hope

 

NOTE: I understand that this interpretation of the story may cause some questions. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. I’ll also share mine. Thanks! 😀

The John 11 Story: Love

<<INTROJohn 11_love 2

We were all refreshing ourselves – that’s me and the Twelve, and many of my other followers— by the banks of the Jordan. I love these guys. Many of them have left their families to follow me. Some have brought their whole families along to join us. These people received the words of life into their hearts like bread, and I hoped that they would digest it. Just like we were digesting the meal we were eating at that moment. And it was a very refreshing one, I remember, especially after hours of teaching.

Andrew brought a young man to me. “Master, this is Ethan,” he said. “He brings news from Mary and Martha in Bethany.”

I recognized Ethan from the brief times we spent in Bethany. “Peace be to you, Ethan.”

“And to you, Master.”

“All the way from Bethany? You must be exhausted from the journey—”

He shook his head, barely blinking. “Your people have been very kind to me, sir. But I could not eat now, even if I wanted to.”

I nodded. “And why would you not want to?” I noticed the shadow over his features. Andrew knew it too. He had mentioned only Mary and Martha. “And how is my good friend, Lazarus?”

Ethan looked up at me. “That’s why I’m here, Master. Lazarus, your friend, is terminally ill. He needs you. Master.”

And that was the moment. The moment that altered the rest of the week.

Lazarus…

With a word I could have healed him in that moment. Human logic and emotion required me to. I would have loved to. Lazarus. He has been a faithful man, taking care of his parents’ estate since their deaths. No ordinary suitor could take his sisters, not while he was around. And his generosity is overwhelming. His doors are always open to my disciples and I every time we pass through Bethany. Always willing to understand my teachings, Lazarus is a man I am glad to call my friend.

Healing him would bring joy to his sisters. They’ve been troubled long enough because of this sickness.

But…

But I am never alone in these matters. My Father and I go through them together. He knew what was going on. He knew when the foul spirit of sickness took my friend’s body, and His ears were not silent to his cries and those of his sisters. But He had a much better, much Bigger plan.

That was how I knew that Lazarus, my friend, would die.

But the story would not end there. Like I said, We had a Bigger plan:

We would raise Lazarus to life from the dead! 😀

It would be amazing. This would build faith on a grand scale. Especially for Lazarus. He would have a front row seat on Resurrection before most people would. How great his faith would be at the end of all this, for all to see!

This will turn the eyes of many up to my Father, a big boost to their faith. They will see how awesome He is, and what He can do; that He can do anything! They will believe in me, the one He has sent. And my disciples, people like Andrew and even Ethan too, will be stronger witnesses of me and the Life I have come to give.

In the end, this would be best for Lazarus.

But to Ethan, Lazarus was still sick. He still stood there, staring at me, waiting for a response.

“This sickness would not end in death,” I said to him. “But it will be an opportunity for everyone to see how awesome God is, and what He can do. And His Son will be glorified as well.”

“So … you’ll come and heal him then?”

I smiled. ‘Healing’ would not cut it. Just not in the way they were expecting. Ethan bowed and left with a finality, sure that Lazarus would be fine, wondering why I did not follow him.

Mary and Martha would not be pleased at first. Death has always brought pain and despair, especially to the families of those it takes. It would no doubt bring more here. We take no pleasure in that. I am here to bring an end to Death’s tyrannical rule over mankind. But until then, the pain would still linger.

I know there is a glorious end to these things, but the journey to that end would be painful for me and for my friends. For Mary and Martha.

But my Father loves them much more than any human could. The pain and disappointment this death could cause were temporary and inconsequential compared to the Greater Glory waiting beyond this. When God is glorified, what they’ll have is much better than if it were another healing. I loved him too much to settle for that. Something much greater awaited him. There’s a Bigger Picture here.

I love my friend, Lazarus.

And that’s why I waited and let him die…

…For a time.

 

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. [They were His dear friends, and He held them in loving esteem.]

Therefore [even] when He heard that Lazarus was sick, He still stayed two days longer in the same place where He was.

JOHN 11:5, 6 (The Amplified Bible)

To be continued…in FAITH

 >> and HOPE

 

THE JOHN 11 STORY

A.D. 33 (give-or-take-a-few-months)

I remember that week in detail. It would not be the most pivotal week of my mission on earth, but it was memorable all the same.

Everything I do these days is to prepare the people –my people— for the Kingdom that I’m bringing. Many of the things I teach them are still unclear to them. But when I am ‘lifted up’ they will understand. The Holy Spirit will make it all clear to them in high definition. But for now, for them to get it then, I must make the hard choices. I must make the sacrifices. It will bring glory to my Father.

In that day, they will truly see.

John 11_banner_right now

Episode One: LOVE

Episode Two: Faith

Episode Three: Hope

Grave Robber

A Child’s Heart

‘…some day, you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.’
— C.S. Lewis to Lucy Barfield, at the beginning of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I recently asked my friends on Facebook to share some of the amazing, and ‘crazy’ ideas we innocently held as children. Hilarity ensued. I’ll share some of them here. I set the ball rolling with these:
‘I used to think that the money we gave in church as offering would be placed in a bowl, taken to a forest, and a beam of Light would flash down from heaven and take it all back to God.
I used to think that if you flew by plane into another country, you would see a ‘Welcome’ banner suspened in the clouds. Like a ‘Welcome to Kenya’ banner suspended over the Kenyan border.
One of my sisters used to think that filmmakers would ask, “Who wants to die?” Whoever volunteered would die in the movie.
I was almost certain that if I ate too many orange seeds, a tree would grow out of my head!’

But then my friends followed it up with these hilarious comments:

‘Yeah, about that dying in movies thing, I used to think exactly the same! And my niece, when she was told recently that an adult was going to school, … was
amazed at first, then asked, “Will she be wearing uniform???”
— Roselyn Enezeeyi Balogun

‘…I used to think a Bank was a place u could go withdraw money as much as u wished whether u saved it there or not…’
— Dare Ilesanmi

‘I used to think that I could take the chicken out of TV screen & eat it, only for my hand not to enter the TV screen.’
— Ajoke Adebisi

‘I used to think that by just turning to face the rear wind screen of a car, it automatically reverses!’
— Chika Amogu

‘Amazing! Now I know I had a normal childhood. Then, I always thought that by leaving the Coke bottle I just took for long enough, the bottle would fill up again.’
— Kayode Okikiolu

‘@everyone: Totally hiLARious!!! I still see the Man in the Moon! And I’m certain he’s got long hair too! 0_0′
— Me, trying to keep ’em coming ( 😀 )

‘Yupp! Man in the moon….still trying to decide if he’s really a woman carrying a baby on her back and pounding yam (as I thought back then) or just “the Man in the Moon…but that woman’s got my heart BIGTIME… :S’
— Roselyn Enezeeyi Balogun

Before I go on, I sincerely appreciate you guys for volunteering your amazing ideas! You made it interesting. It was really cool to know that there were other children like me out there with amazing ideas for those unanswered or erstwhile unasked questions.

The amazing thing about a child’s imagination is that it is largely untampered by that fella we call ‘Reality’. So we actually believed we could put cars in reverse by just staring at the rear windscreen (hehee) or take a piece of chicken from the TV screen, or withdraw unlimited amounts of money from a bank, or even get our Coke bottles refilled after leaving them for a while!!! Reading this now, you probably think they are ridiculous or downright comical. But, think about it, aren’t these thoughts the preludes to motion detection technology, or touchscreen technology, or … um … ahem, sorry, I still haven’t come up with something for the rest. But they all had something in common: Faith.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for OF SUCH IS THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.” (Luke 18:16, emphasis mine). The mindset and lifestyle of God’s kingdom–where everything is perfect, good has won, evil has lost, and nothing is impossible–is so fantastic, the rational logic of mortal intellect cannot accept it. The smarter we become in the things of this world, the more disconnected we are from the ideal. We begin to think and say things like, “no one is perfect,” “Everyone is corrupt”. When we see a miracle, we try to explain it away as mundane. This kind of mindset cannot live the kind of life God wants. But children, unaffected by these things, can appreciate what adults can’t … or simply won’t. They can believe in the ‘impossible’ simply because it has not been unproven to them. They believe what you tell them, because they trust you. They can believe that there is a time or place …or Person… that is much better than the present.
And who says they are wrong? This is the kind of trust God expects of us.
To trust that He’s got everything under control.
To see the best in people, not bashing them with their faults.
To believe in what mortals call ‘impossible’.
This is the kind of mind God can give mind-blowing ideas, because they will not reject them. People like Abraham, David, Samuel…
…and you.
As one of my favourites, Petra, once sang,
‘Don’t let your heart be hardened
Don’t let your love grow cold
May it always stay so childlike
May it never grow too old.
Don’t let your heart be hardened
May you always know the cure
Keep it broken before Jesus
Keep it always meek and pure’.

May God keep your heart, dear friend.