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friend

She’s small and often shy.  She flies up to the clouds and sits with the sun whenever unimportant words are spoken.  She gazes off.  She runs away.  All her life she waits for an opening in the conversation.

He’s strong.  He’s loud.  He gets his matter-of-fact bluntness and good judge of character honest.  He’s street smart.  He falls in and out of fury over that which is most important.  He drives every conversation.

She’s small.  He’s strong.  She’s shy.  He’s loud.  She flies.  He’s blunt.  She gazes.  He’s street smart.  She runs.  He falls.  She waits.  He drives.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

She’s zealous.  He’s zealous.  They both have a fire that rages against all odds and opposition.   She’s inconsistent.  He’s inconsistent.  She fails.  He fails.  She cries.  He cries.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

She hurts.  He hurts.  She’s bitter.  He’s bitter.  She prays.  He prays.  She forgives.  He forgives.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

She rides on.  She wades through an ocean of pain.  Her white dress is tattered, wet, and dirty.  Still, she sings.  She searches.  She learns.  She loses.

He waits.  He wavers.  He wonders.  He moves on.  He heals.  “Onward,” he commands, “knock loudly upon yonder’s door.”

She rides. He waits.  She wades.  He wavers.  She sings.  He wonders.  She searches.  He moves.  She learns.  He heals.  She loses.  He commands.

They love.  No matter what, they love.

The secret to life is not winning.  It is not pleasure or pain or wisdom or knowledge.  It is not favorable circumstances or power or position or wealth.  The secret to life is love.  Knowing so allows us to love the men who hate and expel us with the same tenderness we do our own children.  Let it be said of me that no matter what men may do to me, I will refuse to love them any less.

No matter what, love them anyway.  For that is all that matters in all things at all times.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. ~Galatians 5:6

Jesus Wept

jesus

In John 11 we find a friend of Jesus, Lazarus, falling ill and Jesus working a great miracle.  In between, we find some principles we can apply to our own experiences with trouble, hostility, and grief.  Let’s consider John 11:5-11.

“Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.”11 After saying these things, he said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him.” 

When Jesus finds out Lazarus is ill, he waits a couple days before he goes to him.  He does this first for a reason.  He knows he must wait until death occurs before he can go and work the miracle that will bring Him glory and prove his authority over death.  Jesus, when he does go to Lazarus, knows well that he is walking into a lion’s den.  That is why his disciples react by reminding him of what happened last time they were in Judea and essentially asking him if he’s crazy.

Really Jesus?!  You’re going there again?  They are trying to kill you, Jesus.  They hate you, Jesus.  They hate all of us.  You’re really going back there???!  Are you sure?

Jesus is more than willing to go to a very hostile place in order to resurrect a dead man and bring glory to his Father.  He proved as much in the manger.  This is Jesus’ way.  It should be our way, too.  Jesus had a call.  He had a mission.  He wasn’t about to let religious hypocrites tell him where he could or couldn’t be.

How does Jesus answer his disciples in their fear and anxiety about returning to this hostile area?  He answers with a seemingly strange spiritual metaphor.  He says, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day he does not stumble because he sees the light of this world.”

He’s reassuring his disciples by telling them that their days are numbered.  God is sovereign over all things, including their very lives.  He is saying that with obedience to God’s call comes confidence and surety with every step of the way.  If we are walking in the light and obedience and faithfulness to God and His Word and His Spirit’s leading, we will be given a faithful guide in all our doubts and a powerful guard in all of our dangers.  We need fear no evil when we are walking in faithfulness.

Jesus’ don’t worry speech is not meant to assure us that hardship, persecution, hatred, violence, and even death will not come to us if we obey Him.  It is meant to assure us that though all of those things may indeed happen to us that he will be enough for us to endure in those times.  We need fear no evil when we are walking by the Light of Christ. It is only the men who love darkness who will stumble and fall.

Next, Jesus confirms Lazarus’ death.  Thomas thinks they are all going to die with him because of the hostility and hatred already exhibited toward them in the place where they were going with Jesus.  Jesus has an exchange with Martha and then with Mary about their brother’s death and both say the same thing to him: “If you had only been here…”  If you had only come in time, Lord, he would not have died.  Now it’s too late.

Their grief moves him because he is compassionate.  He sympathizes with those who are hurting and grieving as we ought to do.  Matthew Henry says, “Tears of compassion well become Christians, and make them most to resemble Christ.”  In other words, we look most like Jesus when we care about other people’s pain.  Not when we dismiss it.  Not when we discount it.  Not when we ignore it.  Not when we pass judgement on them for it.  No.  We look most like Jesus when we care about other people’s pain.

Jesus cared deeply about these people.  He cared about their pain.  He cared so much that the text says he was “deeply troubled” when he saw their grief.  He asks where Lazarus had been laid and then Jesus wept.

Why?  What made the Savior of the world cry?  Some speculated in the text:

So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” ~John 11:36-37

Some thought he was crying because he loved Lazarus so much.  Jesus knew he was about to bring him back to life, though.  Some thought he was impotent and had no power to do anything about it.  We know that is false.  It is likely that he was most grieved because of their hardness of heart.  He was weeping over how severely they doubted and dismissed every single thing he ever did; how quick they were to forget every miracle he had already done that had been meant to draw them to repentance.  I believe Matthew 23:37-39 are the very sediments in his heart as he wept over his own people who so rejected him and the only truth that could save them:

 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

Jesus longs to be reconciled and restored to his people but they will not.  They refuse him time and again.  They pretend not to see him.  They refuse to see him because they love their sin, their positions, and their darkness so much.  This is why Jesus weeps.  Jesus was going to have Lazarus back in an instant.  Furthermore, he knew he’d spend eternity with his friend.  Jesus weeps over the stubborn, willful refusal of his own people – the Jews.  Their refusal to know him, to trust him, to recognize him for who he truly was instead of who they had deceitfully made him out to be, to be reconciled to him, and to be saved.

There is nothing more troubling or sorrowful than religious people who refuse to know and love the God they profess.  I, too, weep for these.

 

hate

 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. ~Matthew 10:1

Jesus is still calling disciples.  He is still giving his disciples authority over evil spirits, disease, and every kind of affliction.  What are his instructions for his disciples?  What are Jesus’s instructions for those whom he calls?

In Matthew 10:5-15, we find that Jesus sends his disciples first to the Jews.  They were the religious people of his day.  Interestingly, he calls them “lost sheep.”  These were the descendants of Abraham.  They were “God’s people.”  That’s where he sends his guys.  Go preach to them he says.  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.  In other words, all the things they have been seeing Jesus do, he tells them to go and do as well.  He then tells them to give the gospel freely and to take nothing extra with them when they do.  Essentially, give and trust me for your return and your provision.

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. ~Matthew 10:11-15

Jesus’s disciples were instructed by Jesus to be discerning of how they were received.  When they are not welcomed, Jesus tells them to leave and he assures them that severe judgment – judgment worse than that that will be poured out on Sodom and Gomorrah! – will come to those who do not accept them.

The next thing Jesus does is warn his disciples.  He does not pull any punches.  Jesus is not a used car salesman.  Jesus never baits and switches.  He tells his guys right up front what they will face and it is not their best life now.

He tells them to be wise and innocent.  In verses 17-18 he tells them this:

Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.

Hey guys, you’re gonna go to court – kangaroo court, that is, just like he did.  The court proceedings will be a mockery with no valid charges and no justice.  Still, you will be charged.  Disciples, don’t be surprised when you are dragged into court as guilty men.

Nextly, you are going to be flogged in their synagogues.  You will be abused, beaten, and injured, where?!  In the synagogues.  In the very place they call my house.  Disciples, don’t be surprised when you are mercilessly abused by men who profess religion most loudly at a place they claim is God’s house.

You will be dragged before governors and kings for my name’s sake and to bear witness to them and the godless.  Disciples, don’t be surprised when your legal authorities question you.  This is for God’s glory and a witness of the gospel to them.

Do not worry, disciples.  The Holy Spirit will give you words to say.

 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. ~Matthew 10:21-22

Disciples, don’t be surprised when even your own family members want to kill you.  Do not be surprised when everyone hates you simply because you love me.  Everyone will hate you.  Everyone will turn their backs.  All men.  Don’t be surprised.

Think about that.  I don’t think we think about the magnitude of this until it actually happens to us, and when it does, we are surprised.  Jesus told his disciples that this was what they should expect.  This is what we sign up for when we follow Jesus wholeheartedly.  So what is Jesus’s advice for his disciples after he tells them the hardship and rejection they will face?

Persevere.  Persevere, disciples, persevere.  Keep moving on to another place and another place and another place when you are cast out and abused for telling my truth.  Do not give up.  You are my mouthpieces; my witnesses, my sufferers here on earth.  Do not worry.

He reminds them that he did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  It is the false prophets that thrive on false peace saying, “Peace, peace.  Comfort, comfort.  Prosperity, prosperity.  All is well, all is well” when all is not well and there is no peace.  He says instead, I have come with a sword.  That sword is the Word of God and it divides.  The truth hurts and it divides the true followers from the false followers, the light from the darkness, the real converts from the false professors of religion.  He adds that if we love anyone or anything more than he, we cannot follow him.  How’s that for an altar call?  This is Jesus’ call.

Finally, in verses 40-42, converse to the severe punishment and judgment he has spoken over those who would reject his disciples, here he promises reward and blessing for those who would receive and welcome them.

Matthew Henry says this: “Persecutors are, in this respect, worse than beasts, that they prey upon those of their own kind…It is very grievous to have men rise up against us, from whom we might expect protection, from professing men, men that have a form of godliness, and make a show of religion.  They will scourge you in their synagogues, their places of meeting for the worship of God, and for the exercise of their church discipline: so that they looked upon the scourging of Christ’s ministers to be a branch of their religion.  Paul was five times scourged in the synagogues.”

They will falsely charge you and malign you severely, disciples.  They did it to me.  They will do it to you.

If Jesus calls you, you will face much trouble in this life – with neighbors, with friends, with the state, with the country, with the law, with the church, with family, with everyone.  Jesus promises that.  If they called Christ “Satan” how much more will they malign those of his house.  The scripture asks that rhetorical question.  Jesus asks it of his disciples to expose the truth.  The answer is much, much, much more!  We will be maligned and hated because of our love and allegiance to Christ and his Word.

Blessed are we when this happens said Jesus!  Great is our reward!  Be encouraged, faithful disciples!  Do not lose heart!  Persevere.  Amen!

 

 

If you do not attend church regularly or at all, can you take a minute and message Tim Quinn Rodeheaver at rodeyhotrod@gmail.com  or I at witnesschic@hotmail.com and share your reasons. We are listening and well aware of the likelihood of validity of your abstinence. 

We are praying about how to reach those who have disdain for the organized church and we want to start by asking you what you have seen, experienced, or need in order to be better served and loved by the people of God. 

If you have been hurt or abused by the church in any way, big or small, let us be the first to say that we are so, so sorry and that we are not ok with it. 

Also, anyone who would like prayer or just needs to talk about what you’re going through, we are listening.

run

I have been running most of life.  I ran the bases when I was six.  I ran the soccer field all through high school and my early 20’s.  I ran my first triathlon when I was 24.  I ran my first marathon when I was 26.  I have been running for what seems like my entire life.

I love to run.  Even though it is harder now to find time, I do.  Even though it is harder now to really compete, I try.  Running is often painful, but it is always beneficial – physically, mentally, and spiritually.  Run time is often prayer time, think time, and find peace time for me.

I have run countless races over the past dozen years.  When I first started, my husband would come to a lot of them and cheer for me.  As time, change, and kids crept up on us, it became increasingly harder to find Mr. Rodeheaver attending my races.  While I am overwhelmingly thankful that I still get to run races often, it is very rare that I ever have any fans encouraging me at a race these days.

The truth is that when you love something – be it a sport or a hobby or a job or a calling – encouragement is nice, but it is generally not necessary.  When you love what you are doing, the reward is the privilege of doing it.  Getting to do what we love is our motivation.  No one has to remind me to set my alarm to wake up early.  No one has to shake me and roll me out of bed.  No one has to tell me to get dressed and feed me protein bars or pep talks in order to motivate me to go outside.  I do it simply because I love it.  Even still, when encouragement is offered, it is a rare and treasured blessing.

As I ran a little race this past Saturday, my cheerleader made a rare appearance.  My husband and I were away celebrating our anniversary and I found a 5K to run for fun.  I told him he could fish while I ran, but he insisted that he wanted to watch.

Throughout the entire race, he sent running memes, pictures, videos, and words of encouragement to me.  I could see him cheering from what seemed like mile from the finish line all the way to the end.

Truly, we should all learn how to be cheerleaders.  We should all be cheering for one another and encouraging each other in whatever good we find to do.  Encouragement is always helpful, motivating, and inspiring.  I often wonder why so few encourage excellence.  But then I remember Jesus.

Jesus was the most excellent person who ever lived.  He did all things absolutely perfectly.  Still, there were more than a few people who despised him for his excellence.  So much so, that they not only hated him, they sought to kill him for it.  Consider the words of John:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”…”Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples.” ~John 11:47-48, 54

Jesus’ own people were so jealous and insecure when he did the things his own Father (God!) sent him to do that they hated him completely out of town.

Jesus did not receive much encouragement from men even when he did what was absolutely perfect.  His encouragement was from His Father, God.

The truth is, I want the well done.  I want it with everything in me.  It matters nothing at all to me if men hate and despise me.  It hurts, but it does not change who I am or what I will be found doing.  If I am doing what pleases my Father, I will wait patiently for him at my race’s end.  All the years I spend running alone will be worth it when I see him clapping from a distance because he is the One I love more than life itself.

Encouragement has it’s place.  I wish that we would all become more like cheerleaders for one another because, let’s face it, life is hard enough and good words are often hard to come by when you’re living out your calling in life.  But if we are sold out and surrendered to the work we get to do here out of love for He who gave us the work in the first place, encouragement and earthly approval is very secondary.  Encouragement is only a perk – an added bonus if and when it elusively appears.

All I really want is the well done.  I want to truly be the good and faithful servant.  I want the well done at the finish.  I will gladly forfeit every false and phony accolade that compromise and complacency would bring for the proud words of my good and faithful Father.  I can wait for the well done because the One who will say it is worth every lone and heavy step taken towards Him.

 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. ~1 Corinthians 9:24

running

Most of us know the story of Jonah and the big fish.  Jonah was sent to a wicked city called Nineveh and he did not want to go.  He got scared.  He got mad.  He was not willing.  He was like, “Anywhere but there, God.  Anyone but them.”  These were not people Jonah was at all interested in helping or teaching.  They were not nice people.  They were the worst of the worst.

So, Jonah runs away.  He gets on a boat going the opposite direction from where God called him.  He causes a big storm to come upon all those who were around him because of his rebellion.  He gets thrown overboard and God’s mercy catches him in the mouth of a whale.  Rather than letting Jonah drown in the ocean, God saves him, dusts him off, and sends him right back to the place he was running away from.  Jonah ends up in Nineveh preaching. Jonah grudgingly goes out of sheer obligation.  He is hoping the people he so dislikes do not repent.  But they do.  Jonah is not happy.  “Those people do not deserve grace!” is what he is thinking.  We know it by his words in Jonah 4:1-2

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.”

Jonah’s argument is that these people don’t deserve mercy or grace.  God’s argument is that neither does he.  God cares about sinners!  And it is his business whom he chooses to save, not Jonah’s or mine or yours!

Nineveh repents.  They listen to the prophet.  And some generations live in grace and mercy.  But they repent of their repentance eventually.  100-150 years after Jonah was sent and they repented, another prophet speaks a word of judgement against Nineveh.

Nahum the prophet was not sent to Nineveh, just to speak a prophetic word of judgement and coming destruction.  Nineveh had again become corrupt and very wicked and evil.  Nahum describes them this way:

Woe to the bloody city,
    all full of lies and plunder—
    no end to the prey!
The crack of the whip, and rumble of the wheel,
    galloping horse and bounding chariot!
Horsemen charging,
    flashing sword and glittering spear,
hosts of slain,
    heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
    they stumble over the bodies!
And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute,
    graceful and of deadly charms,
who betrays nations with her whorings,
    and peoples with her charms.

Behold, I am against you,
    declares the Lord of hosts,
    and will lift up your skirts over your face;
and I will make nations look at your nakedness
    and kingdoms at your shame.
I will throw filth at you
    and treat you with contempt
    and make you a spectacle.
And all who look at you will shrink from you and say,
“Wasted is Nineveh; who will grieve for her?”
    Where shall I seek comforters for you? ~Nahum 3:1-7

Matthew Henry says this of them: “Nineveh had with her cruelties been a terror and a destruction to others, and therefore destruction and terror shall be brought upon her.  Those that are for overthrowing all that come in their way will, sooner or later, meet with their match…Note, Those that showed no pity in the day of their power can expect to find no pity in the day of their fall…Nineveh had been told that God is against her, and then none can be for her, to stand her in any stead; yet she sets God himself at defiance, and his power and justice, and says, I shall have peace.”

This was a fortified city.  It was a strong city full of strong men.  Their walls and gates and strongholds were secure.  But God says he will break them down in an instant.  (Nahum 3:12-15)

Interestingly, Nahum begins his prophecy of destruction by saying the same words Jonah said in his protest after the people of Nineveh repented at his preaching.

“The Lord is slow to anger and great in power,
    and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty.
His way is in whirlwind and storm,” 
    and the clouds are the dust of his feet. ~Nahum 1:3

Nahum reminds them how slow God has been anger.  He reminds them of God’s patience and their longstanding rebellion.  Nevertheless, Nineveh falls.  Forty years later, Judah – God’s people – falls at the hands of the same enemy – Babylon.

All of this teaches us that we have absolutely no room to exclude people from the gospel.  We have no place to tell God who we will and won’t disciple and preach the gospel to.  That is God’s business and if he sets a person within our sphere of influence, that is our job.  Being deserving is not the prerequisite.  No, they do not deserve mercy.  No, we do not deserve mercy.  We all deserve judgment and only God determines who, when, and how he will judge the living.  Our job is to share the truth and love them until that day comes.  Amen.