Gen-X Rising on Mark Driscoll

Read this article on Mark Driscoll by Andrew Thompson over at Gen-X Rising.  I agree with Andrew’s assessment of the implications of Mark Driscoll (and other young Calvinist preachers like Matt Chandler) for those of us who are Methodists.

If you are a Methodist, all this has some implications. First, stop worrying about the mind numbingly mundane “church programming” approach to to Christian discipleship and start getting serious about salvation. Read the Bible (everyday) and pick up a collection of Wesley’s sermons… Realize that the culture has infected the church to a degree that we need an exorcism. But realize, also, that Driscoll’s Calvinism isn’t the answer…

It’s high time that Wesleyans got serious about the gospel God raised us up to preach. We’ve been playing at dolls far too long.

Amen Andrew, Amen.

“You’re Invited to a Feast” A Sermon on Jeremiah 31:7-14

This year, my wife and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary. As I look back over the time we’ve been married, I think about all the important lessons I have learned. Some of those lessons began even as we were planning our wedding. Some women, like my wife, look forward to their wedding from the time they are young girls. As they eventually near the real thing, there are wedding books and magazines that are three inches thick to help guide them through the entire process. Everything from the wedding ring to the flowers to the invitation has to be just right, and these guides ensure that the wedding will be perfect. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a book…so I had to learn all of this the hard way.

It happened as we were picking out our invitations. When you’re announcing the biggest moment of a bride’s life, you simply cannot send out just any old invitation. Of course, I had no idea how important this was! So, after the first hour of looking at invitations I made a terrible mistake. I said to Nanci, “Can’t you just come back sometime and look by yourself?!” Since this is Sunday morning, I won’t try to recreate the look I received, but I will tell you that I quickly heard in no uncertain terms, “This is your wedding too Matthew Judkins…and you will have an important part in making the decisions for it.”

So, being the wise person that I am, I stayed and helped pick out invitations. And in the process of picking out invitations that afternoon, I learned a couple of very important lessons. First, a groom simply cannot be too careful in pre-wedding preparations, and second I learned that invitations are very, very important.

As we enter 2009 here at Church of the Servant, we are going to focus on the second lesson I learned that day. Invitations are very, very important!! They simply cannot be taken for granted. In fact, for the coming year we’ll be focused in a variety of ways on a single word: INVITE.

As simple as the word invite sounds, in practice it can be a little complicated. To what are we inviting people and who are we called to invite? Today’s Scripture begins to give us the answer to both of these questions as we see the prophet Jeremiah inviting people to an incredible celebratory feast.

Throughout Scripture we have extraordinary pictures of what God has in store for those who trust in him. Many times words failed to capture the magnitude of what God was doing, and so the prophets had to resort to images and metaphors to capture the full picture of God’s work. One of the central images that the prophets returned to again and again was the image of God’s Kingdom as a joyous and abundant feast – more like a wedding banquet than anything else they could imagine. When ancient Jewish people though of a wedding banquet, they didn’t think of dresses and flowers; they thought of one big party. Wedding feasts were the richest, most lavish celebrations of the ancient world: the best food and wine, non-stop music, singing, and dancing. Old and young alike, celebrating together at full throttle!

Now, hold that image in your mind as we start to think about the people to whom Jeremiah was inviting to the celebration feast. They were not in a partying mood. Imagine for minute what it would have been like to be in their shoes at this point in history. You live in a small nation on the brink of utter ruin. Powerfully destructive enemy forces have invaded your country, and you don’t know anyone’s family who has been untouched by the national disaster. Brothers and sisters have been sent into exile. Fathers and mothers have been killed, and sons and daughters have been taken as prisoners of war. Your leaders have also faced death and deportation. It’s the kind of environment that kills hope and makes the future uncertain at best. Celebration, in that environment, is beyond imagination.

That’s the situation Jeremiah was facing. What do you do when hope dies, when celebration is impossible, and when the future is in serious doubt? What do you do? It’s not too hard to relate to this, is it? Maybe you’re going through a divorce. Maybe you’ve just buried the love of your life. Maybe you’ve lost a huge chunk of your family’s wealth. Maybe your plans have been wrecked in one way or another. Maybe you have a family member going through things you never dreamed were possible. If any of those things, or countless others, can describe your situation today, you’re just the kind of person who needs to hear Jeremiah’s invitation today.

Jeremiah stared the darkness and hopelessness of a shattered world right in the face and offered God’s words…and of all things he offered a party invitation. He described, of all things, a party in God’s Kingdom – singing, dancing, the best drink, the riches foods – a miraculous party, and everyone is invited. It isn’t a party for the people who feel like celebrating, it’s a party for everyone. Jeremiah paints a picture of people streaming back home from the land where they’ve been deported – blind people, people who struggle to walk, and women who are pregnant. The people who are the least prepared to move, those who have the lowest expectations of celebration, are the ones who leading the march back to God’s homecoming feast!! Jeremiah’s invitation is a invitation to transformation. Mourning turns to joy. Sorrow melts into gladness. Jeremiah’s invitation was God’s invitation, and it was made out to everyone: no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’re facing, you’re invited to the greatest feast of all time.

If it isn’t clear yet that this is our invitation too, let me point out a few more things. These people were called by streams of water. Their lives would be like a well-watered garden. They were coming from whatever they had faced to a feast of grain and wine. Both young and old were coming together to an incredible feast of celebration!! Is it an accident that we’re here today in a place we call the Celebration Center? Is it an accident today that we’re gathered for worship in a beautifully watered garden? Is it an accident that we’re looking at a table piled high with a feast even as the sound of water falls on our ears? This is that feast, and the invitation is yours…no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what you’re facing….it’s not an accident at all.

God offers the same invitation to each one of us that he offered to Israel so long ago. James Moore once told a story about a minister in San Diego. One of the custodians called him into the sanctuary early one Sunday morning. There on the Lord’s Table he found a strange offering. There were a pair of brown corduroy pants, a belt, a pair of boots, a white T-shirt stained with blood, and a note which read, “Please listen to God,” followed by a name and phone number. The minister hurried to his office to dial the number, sensing that someone might need help. A 19 year old man picked up the phone, and told the pastor his story. The young man had run away from home and had finally hit rock bottom. He spent most nights drugged out of his mind, drifting from one palace to another, getting in trouble at every turn. Just the night before, he had been in a fight on the street, and both men came out bloodied and broken. After a trip to a nearby emergency room, he found the church’s door unlocked and he stumbled into the sanctuary. Once there, he stayed all night, crying, praying, and thinking. He asked for forgiveness and direction from God. In the darkness of the sanctuary, he told the minister he felt God’s presence like never before. He literally felt forgiveness go through his entire being. He sensed a peace that he had never known before, and he committed his life to this God he barely knew. He felt clean and fresh, as though his entire future lay before him. To symbolize this new life and commitment, he took out some new clothes from his bedroll, left the others as a kind of offering, giving God his old life. He walked out the door early that morning as a new person, with a new hope, a new future, and a new beginning.

As we begin this year, many of our thoughts turn to new resolutions and new beginnings as well. Like that young man, we’re invited to make a fresh start. We’re invited to leave our dirty clothes behind. We are invited to leave our mistakes and disappointments as well. The invitation God offers assures us that we aren’t defined by our weakness, our worst moments, or our disappointments. You aren’t defined by your addiction. You aren’t your divorce. You aren’t destined to grieve forever. You aren’t the mistakes of your life. You are a beloved child of God, and as such your invitation has been written out and I’m giving it to you this morning! You’re invited to a feast of grace and forgiveness; you’re invited to leave your dirty clothes behind. You’re invited to turn from your mistakes. You’re invited to a new beginning. And if that isn’t reason to celebrate, then nothing is!!

But, I have to warn you! Even though this all-you-can-eat gourmet feast of grace is free….it isn’t cheap. It will end up making a claim on your entire life. The invitation you open this morning, will be the invitation you will want to offer to everyone you meet! When I find a great little out-of-the-way restaurant, I tell everybody about it and you probably do too. When you find the greatest feast of all time, the feast of God’s grace and forgiveness, the party of parities, keeping it to yourself simply wont’ be an option. There’s no such thing as a feast for one!!

You may have suspected that the idea of invitation is related to evangelism, inviting others to Christ, and you would be right! But inviting isn’t about manipulation or coercion; none of you would be motivated to invite someone to misery or guilt, and neither would I! But, I can definitely invite someone to a celebration of forgiveness and grace, and I know you can too. A wise Christian once said, “evangelism is simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread,” and that’s still true today! It’s about one confused person telling another confused person where to ask their deepest questions. It’s about one lonely person telling another lonely person where to find relationships. It’s about one hurting person telling another hurting person where to find care. It’s about one person who has feasted on Christ’s forgiveness and grace telling another person who needs forgiveness and grace just where it can be found. You don’t have to have all the answers. All you have to do is invite people into God’s presence, the one place where the answers to life’s hardest questions will always be found.

You’ve received your invitation to the feast. It’s a place to start over. It’s a place to find the grace and forgiveness we all so desperately need. It’s place to commit your life to Christ. It’s a rich garden, where celebration is not only possible, it’s expected! It’s a place to invite your friends, because this feast never ends…no matter who they are, no matter what they’ve done, no matter what they’re facing. Come to the feast, and then go and invite everybody you know, because as I learned a long time ago, invitations are very, very important.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pick a Preaching Style, Any Style

Lately, I’ve been reading through Brian D. Russell’s work on missiological readings of Scripture.  I can already see how these articles will seriously affect the way I teach and preach in the future.

As I was reading, I found this interesting quote from Erwin McManus.  Brian asked him if there was a particular style of sermon that connected best with others, and this was his enlightening response:

Brian, in a lot of ways, I think what it comes down to is one simple thing: Does the person listening view you as the kind of person that they would like to in some way become? If the answer is no, no new approach of preaching is going to help you. If the answer is yes, it’s amazing how much people will adapt to your style.

Joe the Saint

You’ve heard about Joe the Plumber, now hear about Joe the Saint.  This is from a sermon I once preached and an old post here on the blog – just in time for All Saints Sunday!

There is a classic story about one of these saints told by Tony Campolo. There was a man named Joe who was addicted to alcohol. By God’s grace he was converted to the Christian faith at a mission in one of the worst parts of New York City. Before his conversion, Joe was known – at best – as a dirty hopeless wino with no future. Following his conversion, something profound happened. Joe became the most caring person that anyone associated with the mission had ever known. He spent his days and nights “happening by” the mission to do whatever needed to be done. There wasn’t a single task that was too lowly for Joe to take on. There was never anything he was asked to do that he considered to be ‘beneath him.’ If a bathroom needed to have vomit mopped up, Joe was the man. If a toilet needed scrubbing, Joe was the man. Joe did anything he was asked with a kind smile and gratitude for getting the chance to help. He could be counted on to feed those feeble men who wandered into the mission off the streets, and to carefully prepare those for bed who were simply too far gone to take care of themselves. One evening, the director of the mission held a worship service and spoke to the usual crowd of still and sullen men with drooped heads. One man looked up, came down to the altar, knelt to pray, and began to sob. “Oh God, I’m ready to change.” The repentant man kept shouting, “Oh God, make me like Joe! Make me like Joe, dear God! Make me like Joe; make me like Joe!” Finally the director of the mission came, and knelt down beside the man to pray, “Son…I think it might be better if you prayed, ‘Dear God, make me like Jesus.’” The man looked up with tears in his eyes and a puzzled expression on his face. He asked, “Is he anything like Joe?”

That’s what it means to be a saint. We need to be like Joe! When people are around a saint, they know it. Saints are those people who follow Jesus so closely that he starts to rub off. When you look at a saint, there is something joyful and worthwhile about them – they embrace the world with one hand and God with the other. They’re people worth imitating.

Resonant Preaching

Seth Godin’s blog is one that I really enjoy reading.  Today, in a discussion about politics, he makes a statement that I believe is a good conversation starter for thinking about preaching.  He writes,

Start with the truth. Identify the worldview of the people you need to reach. Describe the truth through their worldview. That’s your story. When you overreach, you always fail. Not today, but sooner or later, the truth wins out. Negative or positive, the challenge isn’t just to tell the truth. It’s to tell truth that resonates.

Does this sound like preaching you’ve heard (or done) lately?

Sunday Sermon: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28

As usual, a sermon never quite reads the way it “preaches” for a variety of reasons.  With that in mind, here is my general manuscript for the message I preached this morning.

In 1962, a recording company executive heard about a new band coming on the British scene. He had serious doubts at the possibility of their success and said, “We don’t think the Beatles will do anything in their market. Guitar groups are on their way out.” Thomas G. Watson was the chairman of the board of IBM in 1943. With all the confidence in the world he once said, “I think there is a world market for about five computers.” A man named Lee DeForest invented the cathode ray tube in 1926, and when asked about the possibilities for that invention he remarked, “Theoretically, television may be feasible, but I consider it an impossibility – a development which we should waste little time dreaming about.”

Each one of these men looked at their current situation and assumed that was pretty much the end of the story. In a way, I can’t blame them. Their read of the data, their read of the situation, simply didn’t seem to suggest any other possibilities. World history is full of dreamers and scoffers. We know stories of countless optimists who dream about an unknown future and see possibility when the situation seems to call for skepticism, and we know countless pessimists who feel that we shouldn’t waste our time with dreams, visions, or thoughts about the future. To make matters even more complicated most of us are not fully one or the other! Most of us have no difficulty moving from one extreme to the other!

The story we find in Genesis 37 is one of the most important parts of the story of Joseph, one of the greatest dreamers of all time. Joseph’s history is enough to make a good soap opera. His father Jacob worked for his future father-in-law for seven years to win the hand of Rachel in marriage. After all that time, he was tricked into marrying her older sister Leah. And even though he ended up married to both Leah and Rachel, Leah was the wife who gave birth to six sons before Rachel ever became pregnant. Joseph was the firstborn of the beloved wife Rachel. Eventually, Jacob fathered twelve sons in all, and as you might imagine there was just a little bit of sibling rivalry between Joseph and his brothers. After all, Jacob doted on him. The coat of many colors we’ve heard about over the years was a symbolic mark of distinction and favoritism that generated all kinds of jealousy.

It certainly didn’t help matters that Joseph was a dreamer who couldn’t keep his dreams quiet. In between the verses we’ve heard read this morning, Joseph tells of a dream he has in which he and the family are out in the wheat fields. His wheat sheath stands up and all the others gather around and bow down to it. Of course, they are all a little outraged. “Do you mean to tell us we’re all going to end up bowing down to YOU?” Not understanding diplomacy or tact, Joseph says, “Well I had another dream too. In that one, the sun, moon, and eleven stars are all bowing down to me.” At this point, they’d all had enough and went off into the sheep pasture, probably to get away from Joseph and all of his annoying dreams.

Jacob, who may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed, sent his youngest out check on his eleven brothers wearing his fancy “I’m-better-than-all-of-you” coat. Well when they see him off in the distance, they are not happy. You can almost see the brothers seething with jealously and hatred as they see him coming off in the distance. So, they plot to kill him. By God’s grace, somewhat more reasonable minds prevailed and Reuben the oldest brother says, “Maybe we shouldn’t kill him outright, let’s just throw him in this pit here,” thinking he might rescue him later on. So they strip off his coat to trick their father, and throw him into the pit. But like any good angry mob, things kept spiraling and they decided on a different plan. They ended up selling Joseph to a foreign caravan of traders on camels heading to Egypt. And the last thing we see in this passage is Joseph heading off to Egypt.

Now this is the point where I hope you’re thinking, “OK, so Joseph is an annoying little brother with big dreams and he gets thrown into a pit and sold to foreign traders and hauled off into Egypt. How inspiring!!” I hope you just might be wondering why that is where the story stops this Sunday. I believe that it’s an important place to stop reading because it shows us something profound. Even the most optimistic, hope-filled, forward-thinking dreamers sometimes end up in a pit. It doesn’t matter who you are or how bright and cheery you are, there are simply times in your life when everything seems to crash in on you. I know this happens to you, because it happens to me! You lose loved ones, things get complicated in your family or in relationships, things change at work or at church, financial problems develop, you deal with unexpected losses, someone swerves into a parking space in front of you at Wal-Mart (ok, maybe that’s not so bad), but there are a hundred things that can begin to test even the most optimistic hope-filled people in the world. These things happen to the pessimists among us too! The only difference between an optimist and a pessimist is that the pessimist assumes the worst before the fact so they don’t have to face risking disappointment! Trust me, I come from a long line of pessimists and the pessimists’ motto is, “If I assume the worst, anything positive is icing on the cake.” No matter if you’re an optimist or a pessimist, there are simply times when you think the pit, the struggle, and the bad news is the end of the story. I imagine Joseph felt that way as he was tied to the back of a camel and led down into Egypt.

In 1993, the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League were in a pit. They were playing the Houston Oilers in the AFC wildcard game. Midway through the 3rd quarter, they were down 35-3. They were in the pit. It would have been easy for them to give up. They could have looked up at the scoreboard and looked around at the long faces and said, “Well, this is the end of the story. We’re bound to lose.” But that wasn’t what they did. They realized that the end of the story hadn’t happened yet. They were just in the middle of the story. Frank Reich, the backup quarterback who was playing in place of their injured starter had been in tight spots before. He had led the Maryland Terrapins to one of the greatest comebacks in college football against the Miami Hurricane, so he knew that it wasn’t over until it was over. He confidently led the Buffalo Bills up and down the field never giving up. At the end of overtime, the scoreboard read 41-38 as the Bills upset the Oilers in one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

Joseph could have looked at the scoreboard and seen brothers 35, Joseph 0. He could have thought about his ripped up coat and the long trek to Egypt and said, “It’s over.” But he didn’t. He was a dreamer. He knew that by God’s grace, this was just the middle of the story. Those of you who know the story realize what ended up happening. Even though things got even worse in Egypt, Joseph eventually became the right hand man of the Pharoah in Egypt, overseeing all the grain production in the entire land. Using his gifts for dreaming and vision, he stored up grain before a long famine and eventually even ended up saving his own brothers and family. By God’s grace, Joseph’s story was transformed from despair to victory.

An interesting map is on display in the British Museum in London. It’s an old mariner’s chart, drawn in 1525, outlining the North American coastline and adjacent waters. The cartographer made some intriguing notations on areas of the map that represented regions not yet explored. He wrote: “Here be giants,” “Here be fiery scorpions,” and “Here be dragons.” Eventually, the map came into the possession of Sir John Franklin, a British explorer in the early 1800s. Scratching out the fearful inscriptions, he wrote these words across the map: “Here is God.”

Like Joseph in the pit, we don’t know what the future holds. But like Joseph we do know the one who holds the future. We know the Giver of all good dreams, we know the One who provides our vision, and we know that in whatever future we all move into, God is already there. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” No matter where you are or what you’re facing, you’re just in the middle of your story. You may look into the unknown future and say, “there be giants,” “there be dragons,” or “there be pits,” but by trusting in the One who holds that future you can look straight into the unknown and say, “There is God.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Fun with Wordle

There’s this really cool website called wordle (h/t Hacking Christianity) where you can create your own word-clouds from any text you choose to paste in the site.  To try this out, I pasted my recent D.Min. paper on Job.  Here’s the result:

Just to see what else I could come up with, I pasted last Sunday’s sermon:

I actually think this is a really helpful tool for preaching. If you want to see what your focus is, at least by the amount of times you use certain words, paste it in wordle. See what you get. Just for fun, I’ll leave you with the first sermon I preached as a commissioned Elder!

From Chreaster to Preacher

Jason Byassee is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers over at The Christian Century. I just stumbled across this blog post, and I think you might find it interesting. It’s Amazing how an observation from the original Greek of the New Testament has stayed in his mind years after hearing it in a sermon. This reminds me, and I hope it reminds you, to speak with great care when we stand to preach each Sunday.

From “If Only,” to “Only Jesus.”

On Thursday, Nanci and the kids went to the high school state basketball tournament in Oklahoma City. Basketball players from across the state were there trying to win a state championship and reach their ultimate goal. To get to state, you have to make it through three levels of tournaments, working through district, regional, and then area tournaments. It takes years of hard work and endless hours of practice to reach this level. High school players dream about winning state, and yet only one boy’s team and one girls’ team from each class can say they attained that dream. Every other team in the state falls short of that goal, and has to learn about disappointment. That’s where my high school basketball experience comes into the story. Even after those same years of hard work and endless hours of practice, my high school team finally made it to the Area tournament my senior year…only to lose out. But don’t worry; I’m over it. There’s no bitterness about being beaten by even though I can remember Turner beating us in the gym at EOSC….thirteen years ago!

We learn about disappointment from situations like these, but as we get older far too often our disappointments go with us. It seems that no one is immune from disappointments, and some of the most famous leaders and artists from history lived and died with disappointment: Alexander the Great was one of the most successful military commanders in history, and undefeated in battle. Yet, after Alexander conquered Persia he broke down and wept because his troops were too exhausted to push on to India. The most powerful man in the world was broken by disappointment. Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous author, only had these words for his own epitaph, “”Here lies one who meant well, who tried a little, and failed much.” John Quincy Adams was the sixth president of the United States, but in his diary he recorded these words, “My life has been spent in vain and idle aspirations, and in ceaseless rejected prayers that something beneficial would result from my existence.”[1] All of this goes to show us that disappointment is no respecter of persons. Even the most powerful, popular, and prosperous people in the world are subject to the same experience of disappointment as anyone else.

In today’s Scripture passage, we see the incredible miracle of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead – an unbelievably amazing event. However…I want to draw your attention to how this miracle came about. This incredible miracle wasn’t born out of the soil of fulfilled expectations and joy; it was forged in the heart of disappointment. Let me show you what I’m talking about.

Jesus and his disciples had just left Bethany when they received word that Lazarus was deathly ill. Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were three of Jesus’ best friends, and this was terrible news. Of course, they sent for Jesus because they believed he could heal him. For the disciples, this wasn’t good news for more reasons than Lazarus’ health. In fact, it put them in quite a bind because just a few days earlier, the people in that area tried to kill Jesus!! The sisters wanted Jesus to come back immediately to heal their brother Lazarus, and the disciples were worried that if Jesus returned he would be attacked and killed.

I think Jesus’ response to this situation teaches us something very, very interesting. Somehow, Jesus’ managed to disappoint both groups! The Scripture tells us that after hearing about Lazarus’ illness, he stayed where he was for two days, which of course disappointed the sisters. And then, after waiting two days, he got ready to go back, even though there was a serious threat of danger, thus disappointing the disciples!! In a situation where he could have chosen a way just to disappoint one of the two groups, he ended up disappointing them both!! The disappointment of Mary and Martha and the disappointment of the disciples really teaches us what disappointment is all about.

Disappointment is the feeling of dissatisfaction that comes when our expectations are not met. The sisters expected Jesus to come back and heal Lazarus immediately, and they were disappointed when he waited two days. The disciples expected Jesus to stay out of danger, and they were disappointed when he decided to return after two days even though Lazarus had already died from his illness.

In a way it’s easy for us to relate. We offer similar requests to God. Many times we pray for people to be healed, only to be disappointed when our expectations aren’t met. Sometimes we pray to be kept from danger and difficulty, only to be disappointed when we end up going through the very thing we hoped to avoid. When Jesus got to Bethany, he was met by Mary and Martha. Martha came first and said, “”Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary came later and said the exact same thing, “”Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” The words if only are the two essential words in the language of disappointment. If only I had done things differently. If only I had worked harder, prayed harder, tried harder, and on and on.

But God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are not ours. In the middle of disappointments and doubts, even in the very face of death, Jesus words ring loud and true, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Only Jesus has the power to overcome disappointment. Only Jesus has the power to transform any situation. In these words, Jesus shows us that the power of death can only be defeated by Jesus. So standing in front of the tomb of one of his closest friends, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus come out!” And then we see the most amazing thing: Lazarus, dead for four days, comes walking out of the tomb.

Even though the disciples and the sisters were all disappointed, by trusting in Jesus and staying by his side, they ended up seeing something incredible. Only Jesus can overcome and transform the “if onlys” of our lives. We all have disappointments, regrets, and unmet expectations, and “only Jesus” can overcome them all. We all have “if onlys” in our lives. “Only Jesus” can transform them into something far better. Even though Lazarus was dead, his death became an opportunity to see the amazing power and ministry of Jesus. Instead of being a tragedy, Lazarus being raised foreshadowed the ultimate resurrection of Jesus himself.

These things are still going on in our lives and in our world today. In 1920, a young man went before an examining board for selecting missionaries. Oswald Smith had dreamed of being a missionary for years and years. He had prayed over and over, “Lord, I want to be a missionary for you. Please open a door of service for me. Now, at last, his prayer would be answered. Yet when the examination was over, the board turned Oswald Smith down. He didn’t meet their qualifications, and he failed the test. Oswald Smith had expected to be departing for the mission fields, but instead he was met with total disappointment. What was he going to do? Surely the “if onlys” flooded his mind. If only he’d done things differently, if only he’d been more prepared…but as Oswald Smith prayed, God planted another idea in his heart. If he couldn’t go as a missionary he would build a church which could send out missionaries. Only Jesus could transform disappointment into a new mission, a life-giving purpose. So that is what he did. Oswald smith pastored a large Church in Toronto, Canada which ended up sending out more missionaries than any other Church at that time. Just as Jesus transformed the tragedy of Lazarus into the miracle of new life, only Jesus could transform the disappointment of Oswald Smith into something far better. The life-giving Church that Oswald Smith helped begin sent far more people into mission than if he had been approved by the board.[2]

Do you have “if onlys” and disappointments in your life? Have you looked back and wondered how things might have been different? How does God want to use these for something far greater? How does God want to transform your disappointment for his greater purposes? Let Jesus enter your situation. Hear Jesus’ announcement that he is the resurrection and the life. Listen to him calling Lazarus out of the darkness of the tomb. Hear him calling you out of all the darkness, disappointment, and “if onlys” you’ve ever faced. Only Jesus can transform you. Only Jesus can bring new life out of disappointment. Only Jesus can give us the hope and life we all so desperately need.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

[1] Retrieved from, March 8th, 2008

[2] Retrieved from, March 8th, 2008

A Few Thoughts on John 11:1-16

Lazarus is deathly ill. Mary and Martha expect Jesus to turn around and hotfoot it back to Bethany. The disciples, on the other hand, seem to be concerned about all the angry folks with rocks waiting back over the horizon. Amazingly, Jesus doesn’t meet either of their expectations. First he waits, upsetting Mary and Martha. Then he returns, upsetting the disciples.

In all of this, I love Thomas’ response. Even though he was just as scared as everyone else about what would happen back in Bethany, he has a classic line. “Well…let’s go. We might as well die with him.” If you follow Jesus, you really don’t know where it will lead. He has this strange way of failing to meet our expectations, only to transcend them in the very next moment. And the only way we can follow him is like Thomas, scratching our heads, shaking our heads, and then following him come what may.

Sure, there will be times when we get tired. Thomas eventually got frustrated enough that he said, “How in the world are we supposed to follow you if we don’t know where you’re going?! (v. 14:5)” But Thomas was the one who loved Jesus so much that he just had to know Jesus had really risen.

I suspect Thomas’ advice to disciples would be this: just follow him. Don’t lag too far behind. Don’t worry too much about your questions. Don’t hold too tightly to your expectations. Just follow him. That’s enough. You’ll see.