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“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” – 2 Corinthians 4:15-16 (NIV)

Thank you God for your infinite love and grace, for giving us renewal. Take time today to give thanks to the Lord God for the blessings he has given you. If you are so inclined, make a comment on something you are thankful for this week

There I was in another funeral home with another friend grieving over the death of a family member. There was no warning. She died suddenly, leaving behind a husband, young children, family and friends. I gave him a hug and told him how sorry I was, but it felt so inadequate. I felt helpless. Nothing I could do would take away the deep sorrow he felt at such a devastating loss.

It’s a painful experience being separated from those we love. There’s a feeling that it just isn’t right, that this is not the way it should be. I cannot help but think if this is how God felt when Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden after they sinned? In Genesis 3:22-23, God sends them out of the garden and separates them from the tree of life. From that moment on, death becomes a part of life.

It is that thought of separation that has often had me wondering what made Jesus weep in John 11:35. Was it his full divinity weeping over the separation of humans from God or was it his full humanity weeping over the loss of his dear friend Lazarus? Either way, moments later Jesus points us to our true hope when he commands, “Lazarus, come out (John 11:43-44)!” John then tells us that Lazarus emerged from the tomb.

In the midst of our grief, we can find hope that resurrection awaits those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God. As Jesus told Martha, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe (John 11:40, NLT)?” In that hope we can give praise for Jesus’ death and resurrection that has given us the hope of eternal life. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting (1 Corinthians 15:55, NLT)?”

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 12, 2011.

#WednesdayWalk Through the Bible — an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a family member in Rahab’s house based on Joshua 2:1-22 and 6:1-25.

I sat in the room with my parents, siblings, inlaws, nieces and nephews. We all barely fit in the small house situated along the outer wall of Jericho. I wondered why I had listened to Rahab. Honestly, what credibility does a prostitute have in knowing about spiritual matters? Yet she insisted we remain in her house if we wanted to survive the impending attack. When I asked her how she knew, she refused to explain as if to protect her source.

We were all scared, melting with fear at what seemed like an inevitable attack on our city. Years ago we heard how the God of the Israelites dried up the Red Sea for them to cross and drowned Pharaoh’s army. Recently word came that they totally destroyed Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan. Now they had crossed the Jordan and were at our doorstep.

I stared out the window and watched the scarlet cord blow in the breeze. I wondered who Rahab was signaling with this impromptu flag. I felt vulnerable looking out the window perched high on the wall as I watched the Israelites approach the city again with priests carrying a golden box and trumpets made of ram horns. Armed men in front and back of them escorted the procession of priests.

I checked the marks I made on the wall to keep track of each time they marched around the city. This would be the seventh time. I tired of this game they were playing with us. I was done hiding in this cramped house with my family so I made my way to the door. I reached for the latch, but a hand stopped me. I turned to see Rahab looking at me with an intense stare. She didn’t have to say a word. She told us when we first entered the house that we could not leave — that the door was all that stood between us and certain death. She told us the God of the Israelites is Lord God in heaven above and on the earth below.

I stood a moment at the door with my hand on the latch. All eyes in the room were upon me. No one said a word as we heard the priests blow the trumpets once again as they circled the wall. The city gates were shut tight, the wall that enclosed the city stood between us and the Israelite army. I thought about who I had more faith in, this God my sister the prostitute talked about or this fortress called Jericho where I lived most of my life.

Suddenly I heard shouting coming from the group of Israelites who were marching around the city. This startled everyone in the room. Several members of our family went to the window to see what was going on. Then I heard a rumbling sound, at first distant, then growing louder. Soon I felt the whole house shaking. Someone shouted, “The wall is crumbling! It’s coming down!” I panicked, “This house is part of the wall!” I reached for the door latch to flee the inevitable.

Rahab stopped me again and looked into my eyes. The sound of the crumbling wall was deafening. We could hear the shouts of the Israelite army entering the city. Judgement day was upon us. If Rahab said something to me, I could not hear it. I stared back at her and nodded. I had to trust; I had to have faith we would be saved from certain death.

Suddenly the door flung open. I turned to see two Israelite men standing in the doorway. “Rahab!” One said. “Have your family follow us.” We exited Rahab’s house and followed the men. As we climbed over the debris of the city wall I glanced back at the chaos, the screams of people and the rising flames. Tears filled my eyes as I realized how close I had come to being part of that death and destruction. We followed the two men to a place outside of their camp. In the distance we could see the dark smoke rising from our former life.

“Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,

Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,

Obed the father of Jesse,

and Jesse the father of King David.” Matt. 1:5-6 (NIV)

Anyone who has stood inside a majestic cathedral and gazed up at the towering stained glass windows can’t help but stand in awe at the beauty. The intricate detail of all the pieces precisely aligned create amazing images illuminated by sunlight. It’s a breathtaking feeling that gives us a sense of the infinite magnificence of our God.

But this week I had a different view of stained glass windows. I thought of all the small glass pieces laying on a table in random piles; pieces carefully cut with precision by a master craftsman. To the casual observer, all those pieces look like a bunch of shattered glass, broken and useless. But the craftsman has the full picture in mind and knows how to assemble the pieces to create an inspiring image illuminated by the light.

Sometimes your life might feel like all those pieces of colored glass scattered on the table. All you can see are shattered pieces all over the place and nothing makes sense; broken pieces full of pain and suffering. Mixed within the assortment are blackened pieces of glass that block the light; dark pieces Satan tries to wedge in to create a false image of your life; dark pieces that block the light. In the middle of all these shattered pieces you need to rely on God to help you put It all together.

God is the master craftsman who has a purpose and plan for your life. He sees all of your brokenness and the scattered pieces of your life. He knows how to bring it all together to create a life illuminated by the light of Christ Jesus; a life that can inspire others with the Spirit of God. He can remove the dark pieces and the false image of your life if you humbly submit to the work of your creator; letting go of your efforts to piece your life together so God can form you in his image, illuminated by his light.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:17 (NIV)

My days have passed, my plans are shattered. Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near. Job 17:11-12 (NIV)

England 2012 (594)

“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it.” – 1 Peter 2:11 (MSG)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published July 1, 2010.

On a recent trip I watched people coming and going from the hotel where we spent the night. It was morning and it was apparent we were there for different reasons. Some dressed for a wedding; some carried baseball equipment for a tournament game; and some were on their way to a family reunion. Some were there for a brief stay and checked out that morning while others were there for an extended period of time. While many of us headed in different directions, the one thing we had in common was that for one night we all shared this temporary home.

Life in this world is a lot like that hotel. We all share this temporary residence called earth. Like the hotel, we come and go each day for different activities and events like work, weddings, school, ball games and family reunions. Some of us are here for a brief stay while others will stay for an extended period of time. No matter how hard we try to make this hotel feel like home, we cannot deny the fact that it is a temporary residence. One day we will all check out and stand before God.

As Christians, it’s easy to get caught up in this world and act as if this hotel we call earth is our permanent home. When we do that, we attempt to build a palace for ourselves on earth instead of focusing on building God’s eternal kingdom. I Peter 2:11-12 tells us “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives (MSG).”

If we start thinking this hotel called earth is our permanent home, we risk investing our lives in things that will not last. We become vested in the world. 1 John 2:15 warns us to not “love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.”

We must get to the mindset that our real home is with Christ, a mindset that focuses on living for Christ and not ourselves. This is the mindset that helps point the way for others to walk with Christ to our eternal home. As Paul reminds us in 2 Cor. 5:6-7, “So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Wednesday Walk Through the Bible, John 11:1-45, particularly verses 29-45 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who went to mourn with Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus.

I arrived at the house to help console Mary and Martha about the loss of their brother Lazarus. A somber mood greeted me as I entered the crowded home. As I made my way through the front room, I tried to locate Mary and Martha. A few minutes later I spotted Mary near the doorway and watched as she quickly left the house. The room emptied out as everyone followed Mary. It appeared she was going to the tomb where her brother was buried.

I followed the crowd for a ways when suddenly everyone stopped. That’s when I spotted Mary bowing at the feet of a man. I asked the person next to me who Mary was bowing to and was told the man was Jesus. I had heard about this man and his miracles, but had never seen him in person.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I heard Mary say to Jesus. She began to weep. Indeed, if it was true he could heal the sick, he could have prevented the death of Lazarus. But now it was too late for him to do anything. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the pain on Mary’s face. “Where have you laid him,” I heard Jesus say with a troubled look on his face. There was murmuring in the crowd as some responded, “Come and see, Lord.”

For a moment we all stood stood still, silent as we watched the tears stream down the face of Jesus as he wept with Mary. It was obvious that he loved Lazarus. Some people in the crowd were saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” I thought the same thing, but now there was nothing he could do. Who could overcome death?

A moment later we made our way to the tomb. I noticed it was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. That’s when I heard Jesus say something that shocked us all. “Take away the stone,” he said. Martha being the practical one advised Jesus, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” To which Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

What did he mean, “if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Then, to my surprise, against Martha’s advice, they actually took away the stone. I held my nose as I watched it roll away, prepared for a strong stench. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 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.”

For a brief moment we all stared at the open tomb. I would not have believed what happened next if I had not seen it myself. To my amazement Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Then the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. I stood frozen as Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” I could see it was indeed Lazarus as the cloth was removed from his face.

I whispered to myself the words Jesus said only moments ago, “that they may believe that you sent me.” Could this be the Son of God as some people had told me before this day. How could I not believe in him after seeing him raise Lazarus from the dead?

Wednesday Walk Though the Bible, Matthew 5:1-12 & 7:28-29 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an occasional exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who encounters Jesus teaching the Beatitudes.

It was another hot day. The dust swirled around my sandals as I hurried along the path. Small stones crunched under my feet as I walked on the barren dirt. My mouth was dry from the heat as sweat dripped down my forehead and back. I was focused on fetching the baskets my father needed when I caught a glimpse of a large crowd on a hillside. I stopped and noticed the people were gathered around a man. “Why would so many people stand and listen to this man in heat like this?” I asked myself.

I hesitated a moment, curious as to why the crowd had gathered around this man. I knew my father was expecting me back soon with his baskets. “It will only take a moment,” I finally convinced myself as I moved up the hillside and pressed into the crowd. I strained to get a look at the man, but the mass of people made it difficult to get closer. I could barely make out what he was saying to the crowd. I thought he said something about being comforted. I tried to push my way forward, but the people were packed in too tight for me to move any further.

I listened as best as I could, concentrating on the words I could make out. The tone of his voice was gentle yet forceful. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Did I hear that right? How could the meek be blessed? How could they inherit the earth? His words became clearer as I closed my eyes and listened.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Those words resonated within me. Oh how I hunger for righteousness in this unjust world.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” How could I receive mercy for being merciful? I processed his words. “Who is this man?” I asked myself as I continued to soak up his words.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” How could a mortal man see God? My heart began to long for more of what this man said. I had never heard anything like it.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” How could someone like me, someone of such low status, be considered a child of God? That’s when I noticed a man adjacent to me, wearing fine clothes, staring at my ragged appearance with disapproving eyes. I closed my eyes and listened for more.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Persecuted for doing what is right? That happens everyday around here, yet he said those who are persecuted for righteousness would inherit the kingdom of heaven. How could that be?

Who is this man who speaks with such authority? I strained to get a look at him. My soul stirred deep within me. For the first time I felt that perhaps there was hope for a poor, forsaken person like me.

Wednesday Walk, Acts 27:13-28:10

Today I introduce #WednesdayWalk, an occasional exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of another prisoner shipwrecked with Paul.

Who is this man? Were it not for Paul I would’ve been slaughtered on the ship by the soldiers who wanted to stop us from escaping. Were it not for his words of wisdom, we would’ve all been lost at sea in that violent storm. Were it not for him, we would not have eaten anything on the ship and would not have had strength enough to make it to the beach. This Paul has knowledge of a god seemingly so powerful, yet so personal that he prepares him for future events. What kind of god shows such love and grace to a mere man?

I thought for sure Paul was a dead man when I watched in horror as a viper latched onto his hand as he tossed brushwood on the fire. Yet I watched in awe as he shook off that deadly snake from his hand, showing no panic or fear. He has such peace about life. It is a peace I long to have in my life. It is that lack of peace in my life that put me here with these other criminals.

After surviving the snakebite, then he cured the father of Publius who suffered from fever and dysentery for who knows how long. That in and of itself was astonishing enough to hear about. Of course word spread quickly and soon all the sick on the island came to Paul. I was skeptical as I watched the crowd of sick people form around Paul. I told myself, “There is no way he can cure all these people.” Yet he did.

Who is this man? Paul talks of a Jesus from Nazareth. He talks of Jesus being the son of God. How can a man be the son of a god and walk among us? He talks of this Jesus being crucified, dying and rising from the dead. I am a condemned man who boarded the ship in chains. Now this man Paul has shown me a different life, a different way. Could there be freedom for me even in chains?

I watched as she gasped for breath, struggling to talk. A warm summer breeze blew through the open sliding door and ruffled a few loose strands of her gray hair. Nearby a pulsating machine pumped oxygen to her through a small hose with the end clipped to her nose. Somehow she managed to prop up her frail, thin body in the living room chair.

She was dying and yet this feisty woman I had known for years was still very present. She didn’t care for the help hospice offered and she told the social worker to leave. She was tired of people asking, “How are you doing?” She was tired of people visiting her. She was tired and just wanted to be alone, yet she let me sit there with her and listen to her complaints.

This was often how my visits with her would go. Yet with each visit over the last six years she would open up a little more about her troubled past; about the trauma she experienced in her life. She would share her anger and frustration with family, friends and workers in the assisted living place. Sometimes we would talk about religion and faith, but she would always stop discussing it when it became personal. I could never quite get her to the point of talking about having Jesus in her life.

In these final moments of her life I longed for her to know the peace of Christ, but she would not have it. I hoped that in some way I was able to at least help her experience the love of God just by sitting with her and listening to her. After about 45 minutes she told me she was tired and apologized that she wasn’t better company. I told her it was okay, gave her aged and frail body a gentle hug and said, “Love you.”

Then this tough, old woman, who told me she would rather be alone, said to me in a strained voice, “Love you too. Thanks for stopping by.” I smiled and repeated, “Love you.” As I left the room I wondered if it would be the last time I would see her. I was sad that I was not able to get her to see that Jesus Christ could give her the peace she longed for in her life.

Later, when I talked about this visit with someone, they assured me that just being with her was showing the love of God. “But I have no idea whether she is saved or not?” That’s when she told me, “Salvation is not a formula. God is a much better judge of the heart. Just be glad that God invited you to join him in his work.” She was right. I only needed to be grateful that I was able to be there with her.

Show me, Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath, even those who seem secure. – Psalm 39:4-5 (NIV)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that reading through the book of Leviticus in the Bible can be a struggle. Yet this time through something struck me about Leviticus 14:33-57. In verses 34-35, God tells Moses and Aaron: “‘When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house (NIV).’”

At this point in the Bible the Israelites are living in tents, but God is telling them that they will take possession of Canaan and become homeowners. Here, in the midst of rules about how to atone for sinful behavior and how to handle unclean things, there is a future instruction on how to handle mold in a home. God isn’t just about their current condition, but he is very much about preparing them for their future.

To me this demonstrates that God is not just about the big things, but he is also about the smallest details of our lives. He is concerned about our current well-being as well as our future. As Jeremiah 29:11 tells us, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (NIV).”

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. – John 14:2-3 (NIV)

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