“Lord, If You Had Been There…”

“Lord, if you had been here…” These are the words of Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus in John 11. There, at that moment in time, when death was cruel and vile and heartless, they stood before what seemed an undefeatable valley of darkness. They wrestled with grief, and the grief was unbearable and unbeatable because grief can never be beaten, only experienced.

And so when Jesus came to them, they said it, “Lord, if…” It is the perfectly human response of a heart that is broken because hopes have been dashed and their world shattered. Someone they loved has been taken away. Life as they knew it was now different. They stood on the cliff of that dark valley and peered into the blackness and thought, “Lord, if…”

Where was Jesus? He was there in the darkness of that tomb. And before raising Lazarus, He was with Mary and Martha, weeping with them! Where is Jesus? He is forever in the midst of our darkness, in the black caverns of our life. He sees the grieving widow. He sees the grieving father and mother. He knows the pain of the journey.

Isaiah said, “He is a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). It is comforting to know that our sorrows are His sorrows and that He knows the aching sense of loss and grief. God never promised to remove our grief, only to give it purpose. Mary and Martha were united with Jesus in sadness, the grief of loss. And Jesus entered into that grief.

Many who read this article have stood on that same cliff. They have suffered the loss of someone dear. They have battled, or even are currently battling, the unmerciful giant called grief and, like Mary and Martha and every human soul who has waged that battle, we are losing the battle. There is no guarantee of tomorrow for any of us or for those dear to us.

So when darkness falls in our lives where is Jesus? We ask, “Lord, if I must walk through this valley of grief, where are you?” Scripture answers the question this way; “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me, and the light around me to become night – but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are both alike to you.” (Ps 139:8-12)

For Mary and Martha, the darkness and grief for Lazarus was temporary. Jesus allowed it so that His power over death could be made known at the resurrection of Lazarus. Jesus was there, orchestrating His plan. Out of the darkness of that tomb came a foreshadowing of his own resurrection, which would give light and hope to the entire world now that death was defeated.

The Difference Between Condemnation and Conviction

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin…” (John 16:8). “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). The topic of this article is the difference between conviction, condemnation, and repentance.

Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. Conviction always comes from God. Conviction is always specific (you lied, you made a wrong choice, your attitude is wrong, your motives are impure, etc). With conviction there is always a solution (repent, take responsibility, make restitution, etc). And conviction always produces hope and restoration (God is making a difference in you so He can make a difference through you).

God uses conviction to get our attention, to remind us of areas of our lives in need of His transformational touch, to lovingly discipline us, to restore us, to draw us closer to Himself, and ultimately to make us more like Jesus in our behaviors, attitudes, motives, and intentions. God wants to use conviction to give you life to the fullest (John 10:10) by setting you free to be all He has purposed you to be.

Condemnation, on the other hand, never comes from God. Condemnation is usually very general (you are a failure, you can’t be forgiven, you will never get out of this mess, etc). Condemnation never has a solution (you can never change, you deserve this pain, you will never be free, etc). And condemnation always intends to produce despair, depression, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

The enemy uses condemnation to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). Satan wants to destroy your hope because he knows that without hope you will not even make the effort. The enemy wants to use condemnation to keep you beat up, discouraged, afraid, and imprisoned by his lies and deceitful ways.

Repentance is the turning away from one’s sin. Repentance should be our response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is goes far beyond mere agreement with God that you have sinned. Repentance implies change. The best way I know to define repentance is as a change of mind, a change of direction, and a change of purpose. Repentance means to change one’s mind, disposition, and behavior toward God by acknowledging personal error and turning toward God’s universal, objective, constant, absolute truth as found in Scripture.

God uses repentance to help us maintain proper relationship with Him…to help us walk out the practical side of forgiveness and to follow-through with the spiritual development and life-change process….as well as to give us spiritual renewal, restoration, and refreshing.

Bottom line: If Jesus is your Savior, you no longer have to cope with condemnation. Jesus died on a cross to set you free from condemnation. Every week I remind people that ALL of their sin, shame, and guilt was nailed to the cross. When the Holy Spirit convicts you…reject condemnation….choose repentance…. and God will restore you and give you renew your hope!

Seven Biblical Responses to Difficult People

Do you have some difficult relationships? I have heard it said there are basically nine types of difficult people we will face throughout our lifetimes.

There is the “Sherman Tank”, they will run right over you. There is the “Star Performer”, who feels they are entitled to your preferential treatment. There is the “Megaphone”, who will talk your ear off. There is the “Bubble Buster”, who deflates everyone’s enthusiasm. There is the “Volcano”, who has temper like Mt. St. Helens. There is the “Crybaby”, who is a chronic complainer. There is the ”Nitpicker”, who is an unpleasable perfectionist. There is the “Backbiter”, who is a master of the calculated rumor. There is the “Space Cadet”, who is simply on a different wavelength than everyone else.

Personally, I think I can make that list a little longer. Can you think of other labels you would give the difficult person in your life? That might be fun, and even therapeutic! Here is what I know about difficult relationships. Everybody has at least one. Everybody can become one to someone else. We cannot change them but we can learn to relate with most of them. We will not get along equally with everyone. We get along best in our relationships when we mature spiritually and emotionally. It is not personal; hurting people, hurt people.

Let me share seven biblical responses to difficult people.

  1. Realize you cannot please everybody. Even Jesus could not please everyone. (John 8:31-47)
  2. Refuse to play their game or get drawn into their drama. The Pharisees tried to catch Jesus by pitting him against the government. He refused to play, “But knowing their evil intent, Jesus said, “Why are you testing me, hypocrites?” (Matt 22:18-20)
  3. Never retaliate. “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” (Matt 5:38-39)
  4. Pray for them. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matt 5:44-45)
  5. Control your temper. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:19-20)
  6. Be quick to forgive and even quicker to ask for forgiveness. “For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.” (Matt 6:14-15)
  7. Remember that everything and everyone, even a “difficult person”, has God’s fingerprints on them. “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.”

Difficult people are common. Choose a response to them that is uncommon.

Does Your Basement Leak?

Why do basements leak? We can blame it on the rain, or on the crack itself, but truth be told, neither the rain nor the crack are completely to blame. Pressure is the real problem. Let me explain. When it rains the rain is absorbed into the ground. As the ground becomes saturated the pressure builds and as the pressure builds it forces the water into the path of least resistance, which is usually the crack in your basement wall. Therefore, your basement leaks because of the pressure.

“Cracks” in our lives are exposed the same way. The “rain” of life falls. As our lives become saturated the pressure builds. As the pressure builds, and builds, and builds, if looks for the path of least resistance to escape. We actually use the following phrase, ”I just needed to blow off a little steam”.

The pressure of life exposes the “cracks”, or weaknesses, or unresolved issues, or unhealed wounds of our lives. The “rain” of life sometimes becomes so over-whelming and builds up enough pressure that the cracks of our lives are exposed and begin to leak. The leaks look like; anger, fear, depression, over-spending, broken relationships, insecurity, un-forgiveness, prejudice, complacency, health issues, emotional issues, perfectionism, apathy, moodiness, over-sensitivity, negativism, doubt, gossip, fatigue, and so on….

Sometimes we try to fix the crack in their basements but no success. If the cracks are “fixed”, but the issues that caused the pressure to build are not also resolved the weak spot in the basement wall will always be under pressure from the rain.

Our lives are the same way. Sometimes we try to fix the surface issue (the rain) without resolving the root issue (the pressure). Surface issues are what we see, for example we see someone’s anger, defensiveness, insecurity, or addiction. Sure, we can clearly see the surface issue. But surface issues are only able to survive due to the root system that feeds them. If anger is the surface problem that we can see in a person (or ourselves), then maybe the root system that continually feeds the anger is some event that occurred that has never been resolved, or maybe it is a wound that has never healed, or maybe even fear, therefore we use our anger as our defense mechanism so we feel more secure.

Back to the leaky basement concept for a moment; Many times as the pressure of live builds up we “leak” through our surface issues. Once we begin to “leak” due to the pressure it can affect all the areas of our lives. For example, marriages fall a part most the time due to the pressure that has cause the relationship to spring “leaks”. Rather than resolve the root system issues, we tend to manage the surface level issues until they overwhelm us, then we give up.

There is hope. The gospel is about God’s message of hope and restoration. It is about God reconciling people back to himself. There is no wound God cannot heal. There is no event God cannot resolve in and though you. There is no fear beyond God’s ability to give courage. Whatever the surface issue you struggle with, whatever the root system that feeds it, God has a plan to offer you hope and restoration.

Are you under pressure from the rain in your life? Are the cracks in your “basement” being exposed? Maybe you just have no idea how to stop the “rain”. Maybe it isn’t possible to stop the “rain” right now. Is the pressure building to the point you feel overwhelmed? Do you find yourself being reactive all the time, instead of proactive? Do you feel like there is no hope?

I have good news for you; there is hope! Exposing the “cracks” of our lives is a part of how God works in us to give us opportunities to seek Him and allow Him to transform us. A tendency most of us have is that when we are feeling ten foot tall and bullet proof we have no need for God. We tend to seek God more like a emergency 911 call for help than as an everyday necessity as our source of hope, peace, grace, and power.

The gospel is about God’s message of hope and restoration. The gospel is about a real God who send His real Son to die on real cross for the real sin of all mankind so that they could experience real forgiveness, real peace, and real joy through a real relationship that transforms and empowers them to carry our the God’s real purposes for them. It is about God reconciling people back to himself. There is no wound God cannot heal. Whatever the surface issue you struggle with, whatever the root system that feeds it, God has a plan to offer you hope and restoration.

As with a plant, if we kill the root system, the plant will die. If doesn’t matter how big and strong the tree is, if you kill the root system the tree will also die. Likewise, if doesn’t matter how big and strong your surface issue is, if you kill the root system that feeds it, allow the wounds to heal, resolve the issues, etc, your surface issue will also die.

The gospel is great news, not just about salvation and eternity in heaven, but the gospel is also great news about living life today. God wants to give you hope. He wants to transform you. Allow Him to search you. Be honest with yourself. Stop making excuses for the “self-medication”, for the denial, for the coping mechanisms, for the seeking to numb yourself to the pain, for avoiding the issues, for the broken relationships, for the outburst of anger, for the mood swings, etc.

Instead, take responsibility. Come to God who already knows. Who cares and will restore you and transform you. God knows the pain and pressure you feel. He knows about the rain in your life. Come to Him with all your burdens, and all your regrets, and all your baggage, and He will give you rest. He will forgive you and lavish His grace and mercy upon you. He will transform you from the inside out.

Be Kind. Be Generous. Be Grateful. (or Stop Being a Jerk)

Like many people, I am thinking “Its 2017 already?! How did that happen?” It is amazing how fast every year seems to fly by as it marches to the never-ending cadence of time. Time is the one thing we have no control over. It just keeps on marching along. We will blink and it will be summer. Throughout history time has continued to march on at a unrelenting pace.

2016 was a year of greatly increased social media negativity. I suppose partly due to the election process, but more due to people just being jerks. Just because you can rant doesn’t mean you should rant. Even if you were right, you were just a jerk who happened to be right.  Some people should keep their opinions on divisive topics to themselves. All their rant did was create more unnecessary drama and damage, and make them look bad in the process.

Their rant didn’t empower them, it only displayed their weakness.  It did not enhance their personhood or meaningful influence, it only lessened both.  Any dingbat can create drama. What we need are peacemakers and unifiers willing to work through hard issues together for a common good.

As we enter 2017, my plan for myself, and my wish for you in this new year is simple. Amidst the hustle and bustle of life, spend time thinking and evaluating our lives, and then that we intentionally express our gratitude and love to those in your circle of relationships. I wish you the ability to slow down enough to remember, think, and love.

As we move into 2017, I am filled with hope. I could list so many things that I see on the horizon in my personal life, my church’s life, and in the life of our community. I would not consider myself an eternal optimist, but I am filled with hope.

To boil it down to a simple thought, my hope for the new year is that we all choose to be kind, work together for the common good, and give credit to others. I hope 2017 is a kinder, more unified, more generous year.

It sounds so easy, but many in our society at the national level, and at the local level, have forgot how to simply be kind to one another. Our nation needs healing, not more verbal wounds right now. We can speak life or speak death. We get to make that choice. I hope we just remember how simple it is to be kind.

I hope we remember how important it is to get along and work together if we want to accomplish anything that matters. Those who seek to divide us are not our friends. They have self-serving personal agendas that they place a higher value on that the health and well-being of our community.

I hope we remember the importance of giving credit to others. None of us succeed without countless “others” helping us along the way. Needing credit or taking credit is not attractive. It’s actually a sign of weakness.

Get some rest. Spend time thinking, evaluating, being kind, and being generous. I am filled with hope that 2017 is going to be an amazing year!