When Glory Meets Disappointment

The story of Lazarus is one of the most popular stories in the Bible.  Jesus’ friend Lazarus had come down with some illness and word was sent to Jesus.  Jesus had just healed a man who was born blind.  That miracle had never happened before, and surely if Jesus could heal some stranger of a birth-defect, he would heal a friend from a disease.  But Jesus didn’t go.  He told his disciples, “This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it,” (John 11:4, ESV).  Of course, Lazarus did die from the illness.  But Jesus’ argument was not that he would not die, but that the illness would not lead to death; it’s destination was not death.  Death was simply a layover on the way to its true destination.

But can you imagine the heartache that this layover brought to everyone who knew Lazarus?  His sisters are two of the main characters in the latter half of the story.  Martha came to Jesus first when he finally showed up, while Mary stayed home in her grief.  “Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,'” (John 11:21, ESV).  Slow it down a bit, and concentrate on those words.  Hear the brokenness.  Note the blame.  It would seem that in Martha’s heart, the death of her brother laid squarely at the feet of Jesus.  He dawdled.  He lollygagged.  He didn’t move when he should have.  Lazarus’ death was not due to illness.  It was due to Jesus’ inaction.  Check out what Mary said when she finally came to see Jesus, “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,'” (John 11:32, ESV).  Wow! Same exact words.  Grief-stricken, both sisters become brutally honest with Jesus (God the Son!) about their feelings.

Jesus had disappointed both of them.  These were good friends of Jesus.  Mary and Martha threw Jesus a party and Mary listened to him sitting at his feet while Martha served.  These were followers–people who loved Jesus, and people that Jesus loved.  Why would he not come?  Why would he ignore their plight?  If he had been there, Lazarus would not have died.

I’m sure that you and I have never been angered or disappointed with the action–or should we say, inaction–of Jesus.  We’ve never experienced grief and heartache, left to wonder why Jesus never stepped in to save the day.  We’ve never questioned Jesus’ motives or response time.  At least, many of us would never admit to it.  But we’ve probably all been there at least once in our lives.

Notice Jesus’ response to Martha and then to Mary:  “Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’  Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’  Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this,'” (John 11:23-26, ESV)? To Mary: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.  And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?  They said to him, ‘Lord come and see.’  Jesus wept,” (John 11:33-35, ESV).

To Martha Jesus spoke words of comfort.  To Mary he cried tears of sorrow.  Not one word of rebuke, but sympathy and empathy.  He reminded Martha of the promise of resurrection, refocused her tearful eyes upon himself as he was the resurrection and life.  Upon Mary’s heartache it was time to fulfill the promise.  Jesus was deeply moved.  The Greek used here means a disturbance deep within.  It often manifests itself in sternness, but in this case it manifested itself in tears.  The heartache that others were feeling, he felt himself.  But while they were powerless to end the pain, Jesus was not.

Jesus had planned on ending it before it ever began.  Remember what he told his disciples: “This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it,” (John 11:4, ESV).  Death would be a layover, but not the destination, and subsequently, neither would the grief and disappointment.

In the midst of despair, sorrow, grief, disappointment, and heartache, we believe that it will not end.  We are stuck in the middle of darkness, unable to see the light.  Like Martha and Mary, we tend to look for someone to blame, and since God is almighty he could have kept our hearts from being broken.  In our hearts and mind he is worthy of the blame.  In these times we must remember the promise of glory, the promise of resurrection.  Thus Paul wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8:18, ESV).  He told the Corinthians, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:17, ESV).

Jesus told Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God,” (John 11:40, ESV)?  In all three of these verses, the truth is that the pain comes and is real, but if the pain is that real, the glory is exponentially more real and exponentially greater than the pain…if we believe. So, the stone was rolled away and Jesus called upon the name of Lazarus to come out.  Lazarus, who had died four days before, came out of the grave bandaged in burial clothes.  Glory met disappointment that day.  It will meet it again.  In fact, it does often in smaller ways, to give us a taste of what is to come.

One quick last note: I only looked at the first part of what Martha said, “Lord, if you had been here…”  I didn’t deal with the second part of her statement, “But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you,” (John 11:22, ESV).  We don’t know what Martha was inferring, but it is obvious she didn’t expect Lazarus to come back to her.  What we see though, is in the midst of her disappointment, she still believed.  She didn’t give up on Jesus even when she seemed so hurt by him.  Mary is the same way.  While there was no second part to her statement her actions tell her faith: “Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet…”  Perhaps she collapsed in grief, but the indication is she fell not collapsed at his feet, as if submitting to his will, though he had not come and done as she had wished.

In the midst of grief and disappointment, may we learn from these two ladies.  Though they did not understand Jesus’ plan, and though they strongly felt that he had caused them such pain, they still believed and they still submitted to his will.  “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”  And so we shall.  We shall see the moment when glory meets disappointment.


3 Reasons “Bad Little Johnny” Needs to be In Church

I have heard this about a dozen times since being a pastor and every time I hear it I’m baffled.  It goes something like this: “Johnny’s been bad today, so I’m not letting him come to church/church event.”  I try to hide my confusion, but I’m not sure how well I do, because it usually starts the person on further explanation.  No explanation can assuage the heartache that I feel when I hear those words.  I’m not sure parents have thought through why this is such a detriment to their children.

I want to give 3 quick reasons I believe that it is a big mistake to keep little Johnny from church as a punishment.

  1. If Johnny has been bad—if he has sinned—then he needs to hear the gospel. If he is not yet a believer, he needs to hear that sin has more consequences than being grounded or spanked. Sin has the consequence of hell. He needs to hear that Jesus paid the penalty for all who believe, and that if he will trust in Jesus, he will be saved from sin and hell, and will have a relationship with God through Jesus, indwelled by the Holy Spirit.  If a parent deprives little Johnny of that message, it is to all of their detriment, but especially little Johnny’s.
  2. Little Johnny needs to know that even when he is bad—even when he has sinned—he can still go to God. If a parent keeps their “bad” child from church, it very well could lead to the idea that when they are bad they cannot go to God at all. Even if these words are never spoken (“God doesn’t want bad children in ‘his house.’”) the meaning very well may be conveyed.  Little Johnny needs to know that God is always willing to receive the humble and repentant.  He never leaves nor forsakes.
  3. Little Johnny needs the church members to be examples to/for him. The writer of Hebrews wrote that we are to remember our leaders and the outcome of their lives and imitate them (cf. 13:7). If Johnny is kept away from the church, he is kept away from godly mentors and examples.  There are men and women who will help teach him why his actions were wrong (if you let them know).  His teachers/pastors care about him; let them show you and him.

Perhaps you are thinking that your church doesn’t share the gospel; all they do is have fun.  If that is true, then you not only need to keep him out that one day, but withdraw him.  However, before doing that, speak with the teacher. Ask if the gospel is presented and how often.  Perhaps you request that it be done more often.  If it isn’t done at all and the leader/teacher refuses to do so, then go to an elder/pastor.  If there is still nothing done, investigate the church as to its faithfulness to the gospel.  Is this the only place that the gospel is abandoned or are there other places?  If no/little gospel seems to be the norm, then it may be time to leave altogether and find a gospel-centered church.  But whatever you do, don’t keep Johnny out of church due to punishment.

Am I wrong?  Let me know.  Perhaps there is a side of this of which I have not thought.  I’d love to have your comments.

How I Do Sermon Prep

I was at the dentist office yesterday, when asked about what I do for a living.  When I told them I was a pastor, I was met with a little bit more enthusiasm than I can honestly say I was expecting.  The dentist asked me how it was that I prepared my sermons, so I quickly explained my process to him.  I love to hear how other pastors prepare, and the fact that he seemed genuinely interested in my preparation, made me think that maybe I am not the only one interested in that sort of thing.  So here is my process:

I try to translate the text on Monday morning.  I am still learning Greek, and I have all but forgotten Hebrew, so it takes me about an hour to translate about 15 verses or so.  I try to go through the original languages and get as much out of it as I can.  That doesn’t mean that I turn into an Amplified Bible, but simply look for specific tenses, moods, voices, etc.  I want to try and grasp the truest sense of what the author is saying.  Thus, if I am translating and I see that it is second person plural, I will write out “you (all).”  Sometimes this makes a difference and sometimes it doesn’t make much of a difference at all.  There are typically three words that can be translated as “but.”  One in particular is used with emphasis, as in “not this, but that.”  If that word is used, I underline it twice; if not, I leave it be.

Once I translate the text, I go back to the ESV and compare.  Rarely are they the exact same wording, but most of the time they are close, and usually they express the same thought in differing words.  I look at the two translations and seek to understand why I chose a word or translation that the ESV translators did not.  I will go back to my lexicon and work through the variances between what I wrote out and what they wrote. I make corrections, when I deem necessary to my translation. This typically takes about another hour or so.

Once I finish here, I give my brain a rest.  I do something that doesn’t involve thinking so much for about 15-20 minutes.  When I come back I begin to write on the margins of my translation on thoughts about what I just read.  I will write out illustrations, draw pictures at times, cross-reference verses, etc.  Sometimes nothing comes to mind and so I will go to my first commentary.

At present, I am preaching through James.  My first commentary that I read is usually The New International Greek Testament Commentary, published by Eerdmans.  I find these commentaries unbelievably boring, but also extremely helpful as it walks one through the nuances of the translation and why certain people will translate a word or phrase one way while another group will translate it slightly different, all the while giving the strengths and weaknesses of both.  As I read, I may at times alter my translation again, but usually not.  However, I may make additional notes in the margins.  This usually finishes off day one.

From here I seek to read a translation a day of the text for Sunday.  Generally I will read sermon prep.jpgthe HCSB, NIV, NASB, and yes, I read the NLT.  That’s only one a day.  By day two the text has been marinading for some time and I have even more thoughts for the margins.  I read more commentaries (about 6-7 throughout the week), and work through their thoughts and wrestle with my own.  I typically do not read straight through a commentary, though some I do.  Often, I am seeking to read about a particular verse or set of verses.

On Thursday morning, I begin my actual manuscript.  There are times where this isn’t the case, but usually it is.  I sit down with my sheet of paper that has my translation and notes and begin to type.  Over the past few months, I have sought to have an opening line that will grasp a person’s attention.  I don’t start with jokes or illustrations, but a sign of what is to come.  For instance, my first sermon on James from a few weeks ago started with: “Trials are God’s way of taking away what we think we need to give us what He knows we need: Himself.  He is moving us away from that which is unstable to that which is stable.”  Week two began with: “As long as we, as believers, look to our present circumstances rather than our God-given eternal promises, we will continuously be tempted to abandon our faith, willfully giving up our birthright for a bowl of soup!”

I work through the sermon, usually with alliterations.  Sometimes they just don’t fit and so I try not to force them to do so.  I’m sure I have though.  I am an expositor and I seek to go through the text in expository fashion.

All in all, my sermon prep takes about 10-12 hours in a typical week.  If you preach and/or a pastor, I would love to hear about your sermon prep.  Send me a comment.  I’m always eager to learn.

Top 10 List: Favorite Verses

Back when I pastored the Fellowship of Christ in Hammond, IN, there was a running joke about my favorite verses.  Almost weekly, I would mention a verse of Scripture and make the claim that it was my favorite verse, or one of my favorite verses.  So I figured enough is enough; it’s time to list my top 10 favorite verses* (and why).

10. 2 Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

This was my favorite verse as a child.  I discovered it sometime around the age of 11 or 12.  It gripped me because of its blatant claim.  There was no ambiguity or equivocation.  It was a simple statement of fact.  Because I am in Christ, I am not the person I was.  Who I was, is gone.  I am new.  I may do old things at times–things of which I am, or may be, ashamed–but that is not me.  I’m made new.

9. Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

This just follows up with the previous verse quite nicely, doesn’t it?  I am not who I should be, or who I will be (but I am not who I was).  I’m on a journey, and the destination is set.  I know where I’m going, and I know what kind of person I will be when I get there.  Until I arrive, I know that God is growing me (even when I am not aware how He is doing it).  When I arrive, I will be the man I’ve always hoped to be.

8. Colossians 2:13-15 – And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

I know, this is three verses, but it is one thought.  I–who rebelled against God–was dead to God.  My sins separated me from Him (death is separation from something; physical death is separation of body and soul, spiritual death is separation of person from God).  Yet though I was dead, God resurrected me with Jesus.  In so doing, all my sins were forgiven.  Everything that separated me from God was forgiven.  The ledger book with all my debts was erased.  In its place was “paid in full” (John 19:30).  By Jesus’ resurrection, all the demons and devils of hell (rulers and authorities) were defeated.  Thus, I have nothing with which I need to worry.  Christ’s victory is my victory (1 Cor 15:57).  Which leads to the next two verses.

7. 1 Corinthians 15:57 – But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

While, this verse is eschatological (dealing with Christ’s return), the hope is for now.  Because Christ had victory over the grave, we shall have victory at His coming.  Sin will not be victorious over me (v. 56), but I will be victorious over it, but only because of Jesus’ victory is also my victory.

6. John 19:30 – When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

The atonement for sin had been paid.  It is finished.  Those words would be marked at the end of a ledger of debt once it was paid.  Imagine writing the last check (or having the last direct withdrawal) for your mortgage.  What an exciting day!  It is finished!  No more house payment.  It’s yours!!  So it is with Christ’s death.  For all who believe (trust) in Christ’s payment, the final payment was made.  There is no more payment for sin.  The record of debt with all its obligations (legal demands of do this and do that, say this and say that, don’t do/say this or that) is cancelled.  Jesus paid it all.

5. Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

No condemnation.  It has been said that Romans 8 begins with no condemnation and ends with no separation.  And that is so true.  Because the record of debt was paid by Christ in full, I cannot and will not be condemned by God.  What news could be better than that!?

4. Philippians 2:12-13 – Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

This ranks high, because it simply goes to show that while I cannot earn my salvation, I still am called to work it out.  God has granted me salvation.  He has declared me not guilty by condemning His Son who paid my debt.  That’s what we call justification (a declaration of not guilty).  But there is also what we call sanctification (or as I like to say: saint-ification).  This is what Paul is referring to in these verses.  It is the process of becoming more and more holy (more and more saintly).  God is at work in us to will and work for his good pleasure.  So we are to take what God is doing in us and work it out.  I picture it like toothpaste that is inside the tube.  When you go to brush your teeth, you squeeze the toothpaste out and onto your toothbrush.  At the end of the tube, if you’re like me, you go back to the bottom of the tube and squeeze hard, and maybe even start folding up the tube to get every microgram of toothpaste out of the tube.  God is at work in you, putting holiness into the heart, but we must work so that it come out in our actions.

3. Hebrews 2:18 – For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

This verse is similar to its popular cousin: Hebrews 4:15, but I like this one even more.  Christ suffered when tempted.  He knew what it was like to say no to the body and have his body punish Him for saying no.  I think of the addict who has a hard time saying no because it means suffering beyond belief to them.  To those who do not understand they offer little help or sympathy, but to the one who has been there and done that, they are there to help.  Jesus has suffered by saying no to temptation.  He knows what it is like, and he does not abandon, but rather, He helps.

2. 1 Peter 5:8 – Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Not the most exciting of verses.  A little terrifying actually.  However, I loved this verse as a kid.  Between this one and 2 Corinthians 5:17, I was excited to see what Jesus was up to.  Jesus was working on me, and the devil was after me.  I actually wrote a recent blog about this verse a little while ago, so I won’t go into great detail, but suffice it to say that this reminds us that we must be on the look out.  Satan is always waiting for our guards to be down so he can make his attack.  We must be ever-vigilant.

1. 2 Corinthians 5:21 – For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus became my sin.  He didn’t just bear my sin; He became my sin.  Thus when Jesus died, my sin died with Him.  So if my sin is dead, then there cannot be any condemnation because there is nothing to condemn.  Why did he do it?  So that I would become the righteousness of God in Him.  The word “might” there throws a lot of people off.  It seems to lean towards an uncertainty: maybe, maybe not.  That’s not what it means.  It means that what was once impossible is now possible.  There is not an ounce of uncertainty in this statement.  God declared us (believers in Christ) righteous (not guilty) at the death of Christ (thus, the death of our sin), and those who believe in Him become God’s righteousness.  So He became our sin, and we become His righteousness.  How could God condemn His own righteousness?  He can’t and He won’t.  (Just remember, we are becoming holier and holier; this final act of becoming God’s righteousness is just that: final.  We will not be fully righteous until Christ returns – Philippians 1:6.)

So that’s it.  Would you agree with me?  Disagree?  What are your top 10 (or top 5; or top 1)?  I’d love to read your comments.

*All verses are from ESV translation published by Crossway Books.