Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for the ‘Prayer’ Category

Anyone Seen Lazarus Lately

I was studying the book of John, and came across this in chapter 11, verse 33:  33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within Him, and He was deeply troubled.

Then, in verses 35-37, the Lord’s humanity is beautifully depicted.  The words are important.  He was more than sympathetic.  He was deeply moved.  He felt their pain and grief even though He would soon relieve it.  Look at this:

35 Then Jesus wept.  36 The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much He loved him!”  37 But some said, “This Man healed a blind man.  Couldn’t He have kept Lazarus from dying?”

The question has been asked since time began.  “Why didn’t God …?”  You can fill in the blank.  Or, “Where was God when ….?”

God hates death.  Death was and is the wage of sin, and it terrorizes the human family.  Sin wasn’t God’s idea, and the impact sin has on our world and our individual lives wasn’t God’s desire.  His desire has and will always be a loving relationship with each one of us.  But sin did come into the world, in spite of God’s warnings.  (We won’t go there now, but have you ever thought why the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was put in the Garden.  In a phrase, “No tree, no choice, no freedom to choose, no life [only existence as a puppet or robot], and no real love.”  Think about it, and we’ll talk about it some other day.)

Paul wrote in Romans 3:2323 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”  Then he wrote in Romans 6:2323 For the wages of sin is death …”

Eventually Lazarus is raised from the dead by Jesus.  But even after being miraculously raised from the grave, Lazarus would still be held in death’s power.  He would die again.  We know that.  Has anyone seen Lazarus lately?  Where’s Lazarus?

Jesus is not a passive bystander in this Death narrative of Lazarus … or of the human race.  He came to destroy the works of the devil.  The worst result of Saran’s work is Death.  This enemy (Death) and Jesus are standing face-to-face in this chapter.   And see it!!  He is deeply moved.  And He’s angry.  But He’s not at Lazarus, or his sisters, or the mourners.  His strong feelings are reserved for Death, and behind Death, Satan.

Take a look at the original language version of John 11:33.  Iησους ουν ως ειδεν αυτην κλαιουσαν και τους συνελθοντας αυτη ιουδαιους κλαιοντας ενεβριμησατο τω πνευματι και εταραξενεαυτον

Enebrimesato (ενεβριμησατο) is from the classical Greek, and it is a word used to describe the snort of a horse in war or in a race.  When it was used for humans it was usually translated as outrage, fury, or anger!  It’s a word that’s typically used to indicate an outburst of anger.  When you add the word etaraxen (εταραξεν), Jesus was not only outraged but “troubled!”

And He was troubled heauton (‘eαυτον) in Himself!  No outside force is acting on Him.  He was stirring Himself, from way down deep inside … down in His spirit.  He was stirring Himself to battle Lazarus’ enemy, Death.

In John 11, the long struggle between good and evil comes into focus.   The many years of Satan’s assault on the human race troubled Jesus in His spirit and He desired to put an end to the horrors of Death which plagued and plague the Human Family.

The war … the conflict began in the Garden of Eden!   The struggle involves every man, woman and child from Adam on.   No wonder the Lord groaned and snorted and was troubled!   He feels the sorrows and pains of His children … His friends … His followers … and the whole human race.  In effect, Mary and Martha’s trouble became His own.

Friends feel each other’s pain, but Jesus is more than a friend!  He took and still takes upon Himself the sorrows of all of us!   Take a good look at Isaiah 53:3 – 6: 

He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.  We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.  4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;  it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins!  5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed.  6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Lazarus’ enemy, Death, was also Jesus’ enemy!   But Lazarus, Martha and Mary could not stand on their own before Satan and Death.   They had no power to stand against the power of such an enemy.  Satan’s opposition to Lazarus was another of his efforts to destroy God’s creative purposes.   The enemy of man is in reality the opponent of God!

Satan uses darkness, deception and death.   Jesus combats him by the power of the Resurrection.

The next time you wonder, “Where was God when this innocent child was abused?” or “Where is God while all these people in Somalia are ruthlessly starved by warlords?” or “Where is God in my battle with cancer?” and a thousand other questions … read John 11.  God is there!  Present.  And His solution to Death and evil and disease is always the same:  Life!  Resurrection!  But resurrection and life may not come in the way you thought, or even hoped.  But it will come!

How To Amaze Jesus

How To Amaze Jesus

I don’t think that it comes as a surprise to us today that people coming in contact with the unique Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, were amazed by Him.  The miracle worker, healer, and teacher extraordinaire consistently amazed the crowds.  Here’s one example.  In Matthew 7:28-29 you’ll read, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”

But this is a stunner:  on two occasions the Bible says that Jesus was amazed!  That’s right, Jesus was amazed … as in astonished, astounded, shocked, surprised, flabbergasted, dumbfounded, staggered, and the always brilliant Shakespearian King James version … taken aback!

Have you ever pictured Jesus with a stunned look on His face?  A look that says, “Wow!”

Look at Mark 6.  (Second book in the New Testament, sixth chapter)

1 Jesus left there and went to His hometown, accompanied by His disciples.  2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were amazed.

There it is again.  People were amazed … even in His hometown of Nazareth.

“Where did this Man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given Him, that he even does miracles! 3 Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him.

4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”  5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them.   (Matthew 13:58 says, “And He did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.”)  6 And He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Jesus was amazed!  He was amazed at their lack of faith.

How you view Jesus will dramatically effect your confidence in Him, your beliefs about God and truth (Jesus claimed God was His Father, and that He – Jesus – was the Truth), and your opinions on miracles and healing (did they, and can they happen in real life?).  Your perspective of the Carpenter of Nazareth will, according to Jesus Himself, determine whether or not you have a soul-saving, life-changing relationship with His Father (John 14:1-14).

The people in Nazareth saw Jesus as ORDINARY!  No one special.  They were familiar with Jesus.  He was just one of the guys.  Just one of Mary’s children.  A carpenter … and the son of an ordinary carpenter.  So …

What do expect from ORDINARY?  What do you expect from a carpenter’s son?  (Furniture … or maybe farm equipment?)

Here’s a lesson in human nature:  The tendency is that if you grow up with someone, and you compare them to your ordinary self, you’ll tend to expect little of them … or yourself, or your peers.  That’s why all of us are surprised when one of the gang makes it big.  All of us are surprised when someone we perceive as “like us” does something beyond us.

And that’s when our ego responds.  Psychologically … we get offended … and the reason we do is because the peer that rises above us brings awareness to our lack of accomplishment.  Because we’re in the habit of comparing ourselves with ourselves and our peers and our relatives … when someone outdoes us, selfish-humankind that we are – we get offended.

And why do we do that?  Because we’re made to feel small in our own eyes.  The Greek word here for “offended” means “to be repelled because of unmet expectations.”  (The Nazarenes had low expectations of Jesus  – so they were repelled by Jesus’ wisdom, His teaching, and His power to perform miracles!)

Jesus was amazed one other time in His life.  Take a look at this (Luke 7 – third book in the New Testament, seventh chapter):

1 When Jesus had finished saying all this in the hearing of the people, He entered Capernaum.  2 There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die.  3 The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to Him, asking Him to come and heal His servant.  4 When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with Him, “This man deserves to have You do this, 5 because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.”  6 So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to Him:  “Lord, don’t trouble Yourself, for I do not deserve to have You come under my roof.  7 That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You.  But say the word, and my servant will be healed.  8 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.  I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

9 When Jesus heard this, He was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following Him, He said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.”  10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Because the Centurion grasped WHO Jesus was … and that all the power of heaven was behind Him … and because the Centurion understood that Jesus had power in and of Himself (!!) … he knew that all Jesus had to do was COMMAND the sickness to leave his servant’s body – and it would be done!

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had power.  The Nazarenes thought Jesus was ordinary.

The Centurion recognized that Jesus had authority. The Nazarenes thought Jesus was “upity.”

The Centurion recognized that faith in Jesus was the key.  The Nazarenes thought their disbelief was the smart (or safe) position to take.

So … Who do you have more in common with, the Centurion or the Nazarenes?  Are you willing to stand alone, with confidence in Jesus?  Or must you stand with the crowd where it’s safe?  Taken to the extreme:  Is Jesus God in the flesh, the Savior of the World … or was He another insane false messiah?

Think about it.



Living Proof

I like seeing a fresh coat of paint on things, so I thought I’d give this birdbath that we have on our deck a nice coat just a few weeks ago.  The problem was … is … rather than taking a wire brush or sandpaper to it, I just spray painted over the old paint.  I got lazy.

Now that it has been out in the weather for a few weeks – in the rain and the heat – I am starting to see little flecks … the imperfections and bubbles that indicate that the rust didn’t go away on its own.  There’s evidence the “cover-up” didn’t work.  I know that it’s only a matter of time before I’m going to have to paint again!

Isn’t that a good snapshot of how most of us have lived since we decided to become a Christ follower?  You know, content to just spray-paint over rust?  We … me included …  just sprayed a coat of religion over our old selves and called it good.

If you did what I did, we were just kidding ourselves.  Since then we’ve learned, haven’t we, that we can go to church, sing the songs, say “God bless you,”  think we’re okay … maybe even righteous … but … WHEN stuff begins to happen … real life … when someone rubs us the wrong way, or says something we don’t like – suddenly that coat of paint begins to chip off and the real person underneath the cosmetic cover rises to the surface and attacks back.

The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, that we need to let Christ sand us way down to the bear metal, in order to cover us with His way of thinking and acting.

Shouldn’t there be a difference between a person who says they are a Christ-follower and a person who is not following Christ?  When somebody … you or me, for example … chooses to do life God’s way, shouldn’t our lives look and sound like He is the primary Influencer of our thoughts, attitudes and actions?

According to Paul, there should be a stark, even sobering difference between those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus, the Savior, and us!  But how do we go about the daily business of living for Jesus?

Here’s what Paul wrote (Ephesians 4:17-31):

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this:  Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.  18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against Him.  19 They have no sense of shame.  They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ.  21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from Him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.

25 So stop telling lies.  Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body.  26 And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.”  Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28 If you are a thief, quit stealing.  Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need.  29 Don’t use foul or abusive language.  Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, He has identified you as His own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.  32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Have you ever noticed how many times the Scriptures tell us that if we want Jesus to transform our lives we must allow Him to transform our minds?  Read it for yourself in Romans 8:7 –  “That the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God.”   The mind is the battle-ground for our actions – for how we live.  Our constant challenge is found in Colossian 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”

If we are committed to living a Christ-centered life, then we must make a choice to surrender our mind, our thought-life, our decision-making processes to God.  We don’t “dumb down.”  Christ-followers change their minds.  And for our minds to change we must make a decision.  In verse 17 of Ephesians 4 it says, “Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.”  We are asked to make a decision.  We are being encouraged to not only make a decision to love Jesus … but to live for Him as well.

You do realize that even the devil believes in Jesus?  Wrap your mind around THAT!  In fact, Satan is smart enough to tremble at the mention of His name while many people take His name in vain, or use it as a curse.

Believing in Jesus is not enough.  Our belief of Him and in Him should lead us to make a decision that WE WILL CHANGE!  WE MUST CHANGE!

The source of our changed life is God’s power let loose in us (vs. 23), but the goal of a changed life is the positive way we treat each other.  How we care for and treat others is a measure of living a life of love … living a life for Jesus.  Remember, He said, So now I am giving you a new commandment:  Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are My disciples.”

Our lifestyle is supposed to be “living proof” that we love Jesus.

Think about that!

The Bridge

The Bridge

The Bridge - to Christ, Spiritual Maturity, and Hope to the World

The Bridge.  A new name, a new vision, a new pastor, a new approach to ministry, a new congregation.  By the way … I’m that new pastor.  I took the position in October, and it’s been great!  I love the people – “the survivors” is what I call the folks who made it through the turbulence of transition from former pastor/former church to new pastor/new vision.

Maybe you noticed the logo caption.  We, the people at The Bridge, want to be a bridge to Jesus.  We will never change the message!  It’s Jesus Christ, the Lord, Son of God, born of a virgin, lived in Palestine, taught disciples, was crucified, dead, buried and RISEN!  And coming King!

While we’re orthodox in our beliefs we will tend to be unorthodox in our approach to reaching out to the “dechurched” and the “unchurched.”

Matt Chandler (Google Matt, and look for him on You Tube as well) describes the dechurched as people who attended church when they were younger (pre- and even post-adolescence) but, for a ton of reasons, decided church wasn’t their thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion, after years of observation myself, that the dechurched may have thought attending church was pointless, irrelevant, dead/lifeless, populated by hypocrites, and constantly wanting more and more money.  The dechurched may have been hurt in a plethora of ways while attending church, and they’ve decided, “Who needs this!?”  Unfortunately, they may have seen hypocrisy in their own home and decided, “Why go to the trouble of going to church on Sunday morning when there are better things to do?”

The dechurched, after years of wandering the planet, wondering if there is a personal God that’s as sick of “church” as they are, believing that Jesus Christ is who He said He was, and investigating every spiritual nook and cranny there is have finally decided, “If I can find a group of REAL Christ-followers – authentic, transparent, loving, kind, other-centric, missional and more – I’ll check it out.  If I can find a group of Christ-followers who are honest about their imperfections and don’t make excuses for their misbehavior (they actually ask for forgiveness and want to make things right), I might check it out.  If I can find a diverse congregation that does not try to be politically correct but (instead)  tries to love each other the way Martin Luther King dreamed, I might check it out.”

It is my hope that The Bridge will be all those things!  I want to hang out with people like those I described above.  I want to build relationships with honest-to-God and authentic people who get the Gospel, believe it, and want to live in a community that looks and sounds a lot like Jesus if He were living here, and now.

Sounds idealistic?  Sounds impossible?  I don’t care what it sounds like – this is the vision I have for The Bridge.  Before my life is over I want to be with a group of people who want to do “Church” the way Jesus intended it to be.

Give me some feedback!  What did I leave out of my vision.  That’s an honest question.  I want to know.

The Signs of the Times

I don’t know for sure that I’m living in “the last days.” I suspect I am, in the biblical sense. For sure, I’m living in MY last days!

I was just telling someone today (oh, and when I did, I wasn’t thinking, “hmmm … this might make a nice post”):

“Let me tell you where I’m coming from … why I’m pastoring The Bridge. I think it’s information you’ll appreciate. When I was asked by my good friend to help out by speaking at Emmanuel Tabernacle from time to time, I saw doing so as temporary. Just for a few months. But it turned out that I really liked the people … and that “like” opened my heart to love them. The crew that was at the church at the time was beat up … bruised. The fights over petty things, and the power plays by some of the leaders, left people shellshocked. My protective instincts kicked in. I wanted to see, with my own eyes, a healing take place. It wasn’t long when they asked me to stay on. In October of last year I felt I had a green light from God to do so. I was on my face (literally on the floor of the former pastor’s office) asking Him, “What am I doing here?” and I felt I heard Him say, “Lowell, I love these people … and I WANT you hear.” It wasn’t a question of what I wanted to do – whether I felt sympathy for them or not. Didn’t matter. God was telling me, “THIS is something I want you to do for Me.”

“I’ve pastored/lead ministries since 1970, but I’ve never felt called to pastor. I have always felt called to do whatever He wanted me to do, where He wanted me to do it, and for how long. That, by no means, makes me an expert on followership. But all that time has allowed me to see and experience a lot. Also, being a preacher’s son, and seeing the ungodly underbelly of the Church from time to time from that perspective (how some in the family of God behave) has also been a part of my life experience, too.

“I haven’t always done so, but early on in my ministry life I decided/determined to be honest, and as transparent as I could be without being shameful or stupid. While I was experiencing the death of my first wife, that approach to ministry was dramatically reinforced. “Life’s too short to mess around” was the big message God gave me during her dying process.

“So … that candor that you heard last Sunday has been “purchased” – I’ve paid for it with the currency of my life. Forty years worth of life.”

I want to be candid without being harsh, and transparent for the sake of others … not because I feel this need to flush my junk out of my system.

I’m looking around me now … at my world … and I’m thinking, “How much longer can this insanity last? When will God say, ‘That’s quite enough!'” I’m watching TV like everyone else. I’m tuned into YouTube. I’m reading the blogs. It’s freaky. With all the reports of natural disasters, wars, the murder of innocents (and the killing of the ‘not innocent’), the economic uncertainty, the famines, etc., wouldn’t you think, “Yep, this is what Jesus, John (the saint/disciple), and the other prophets saw coming.”

Funny thing is, I’m not discouraged. I’m really surprised by that! I’m actually excited … and not because I’m some sicko hoping to see misery piled upon miseries, or like the rubber-neckers who slow down to see if anyone died in the accident. I’m excited because I feel I know what’s coming! And what’s coming will be tough, and will require sold-out determination, rock-solid faith, unwavering trust, and a depth of love I’ve never experienced or lived out but I’ve heard described in the stories of Jesus and His initial followers. But tough or not, it’s great! If … if you believe God’s in it all.

What are the signs of the times? Read Matthew 24, 25 and check out Luke 21. Then … you tell me. Comment. How do you interpret those biblical texts in light of what you’re reading and seeing and feeling right now. I’m interested in what you’re seeing.

April 2008 Update – Dancing With The Healer

Vicki QuallsFor all those who have been following the progress of my writing “The Vicki Book,” I have some news.  I’m really close to finishing the “creative stage” of the process.  Soon I’ll be entering the dreaded “editing stage,” where everything I’ve written is on the block.

I’d like to ask my blog readers for some input.  Please comment on the process I’m going to outline below – one that I believe I’ll follow in order to bring the book-writing to its proper conclusion.

Before I share that process I want to thank Caroline Eitzen-Cocciardi AGAIN for her encouragement to “stay in your creative mind, Lowell,” and not give in to the temptation to constantly go back to what I had already written and edit it (which I had done, time and again until she gave me her wise counsel).

I shared last month that my goal was to have the manuscript done before I went on vacation to Maui.  I didn’t make it.  Plain and simple.  But the goal helped push me like never before.  Now, I’ve set another goal – one that I think I will make.  I’m working on the last 75 pages of Vicki’s journal.  I’ve been able to do about 10 a day (on a good day).  Given that, I’m inside two weeks of coming to the end of the creative stage.  Then, I’ll read the manuscript from start to finish, trying to find any grammar/spelling mistakes, typos, and breakdowns in the flow of the story.  That’s probably another week or two.  Then, the gutsy part.

My intention is to share the manuscript with several close friends who have a writer’s background.  Some are published authors.  Others are journalism majors and masters.  One or two of my pastor-buddies will be asked to look over the theological content, and a few readers will be people who lived through much of what Vicki wrote about – family and friends.  I’ll be asking all these folks if they would evaluate my style, the flow of the story/book, and its content.

Whew!

Like I said at the start, anyone out there in the internet world is welcome to comment on the process I’ve outlined above.

And for those who have been praying for me and the book … please continue to do so.  I’ve seen that when I’VE been in prayer and close communion with the Lord, the process of writing the book becomes mystical and supernatural, and in turn, I’m able to produce much more than normally possible.

I could use some encouragement right now.  I’m tired.  I feel emotionally spent at the end of every day.  Thank God for Becky!  She’s been such a supporter and helper.  I can’t think of a day when she hasn’t been there for me.  But most of the time she’s been a single (lone) voice.  Is there anyone out there who could join her?

Well, back to writing the book.

By the way, the blogging has rarely (I can’t say never) interrupted my writing the book.  Actually, blogging has served to break tension, relieve emotions, and strangely – rest my mind.  Blogging has been like having a conversation with a friend who’s only purpose has been to listen as I vent or wade through issues that distract me.

Love to all.

Pray for Eliot Spitzer

12spitzer_600.jpgEliot Spitzer, 48, the Democratic governor of New York, a married father of three teenage daughters, and “Client #9” in a prostitution ring, made clear that his political career is over.  He is quitting as governor effective Monday.

“In the past few days, I’ve begun to atone for my private failings to my wife, Silda, my children and my entire family,” he said.  “The remorse I feel will always be with me.”

Let’s no throw stones, but pray for Spitzer instead!  “There, but for the grace of God …”

His wife and girls need our prayers, too. 

(Photo by Narayan Mahon for The New York Times)