I recently sat listening as a pastor simply reviewed the incredible story found in John 11… Lazarus.
I am very sure that he said some wonderful, meaningful things. But, the best thing he did for me was to create space… a place in time where our Father could grab my attention and remind me of something bigger than myself, and absolutely critical to spiritual quest and Church Health!
First, let me summarize the big stuff God used Bob to remind me of, then I’ll get to my point…
- The story started with Jesus’ promise, “…this sickness will not end in death.” That’s good news! I like that. It is comforting. Even if I had been there, and didn’t understand it fully, it would still be good to hear.
- The story ended with the realization of that promise, “Lazarus came out bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth.” That’s great news! Jesus was telling the truth… the story didn’t end with death! In fact, the story ended with a never-before-seen victory over death.
- But in between the promise and the realization was the route… and the route went straight through the middle of death valley! That’s the pits… at least it was for Lazarus (who had to die) and for the 2 people who loved him most in the world, Mary and Martha (who watched him die and grieved that unspeakable loss).
The operative word in Jesus’ promise, it turns out, was the word end… the sickness would not end in death.
Over the years I have known a number of people of authentic faith who were facing physical death. Almost all of them expressed a similar sentiment: “I am not afraid of being dead, but I am certainly not looking forward to the process of dying.”
I completely resonate with that notion. I think it’s a pretty common, human feeling… that survival instinct. I embrace Paul’s observation that being absent from the body is to be more fully present with the LORD (whatever that might mean). But it’s the process of dying that I seem to resist.
That brings me to God’s wake up call while Bob was talking to our group… if I am going to become one with Jesus (like He is one with our Father.. see John 17 for more on this), I will have to be dead (a state of being) to a lot of stuff about me. And, if I’m going to be dead to stuff, I’ll have to die (a process) to it.
I don’t relish that process – I don’t run toward it – not without resolve. It is a process that demands a demonstration of an abandonment faith that I too-often refuse to give in to.
This concept also applies to the journey toward health for a local expression of the Bride of Christ – a local Church. If we are going to be a better mirror of our Groom to those around us, we will have to die to a lot of stuff… not just be willing to die to it, but actually die to it.
And, just like my stuff is often what I previously have thought of as me, the same will be true in a local Church. There will be stuff that, at one time, defined my Church and yours. But, the only way I can move forward on this journey is to die to it and let Him call me out of the grave I find myself in. We will have to go through the process of dying if we are going to waddle out of the grave toward His calling Voice!
So, the promise is Good News… a lot of comfort there. And the end-realization is filled with hope of never-before-seen victory… that’s exciting, risky, challenging and motivating. But the in-between calls me to a faith quest – a journey through a process that requires surrender, trust, abandonment… the kind of stuff I’m not very good at. It is a route right through the middle of the valley of the very shadow of death.
I am so glad that He is with me. Aren’t you?