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“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Many of you are familiar with is what commonly referred to as “the seven ‘I am’ statements of Jesus.” They are pregnant with meaning about who Jesus is and who He claimed to be. Simultaneously they create awe and bring us great comfort. Here is a list of them as they appear in the Gospel of John:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 6:48)

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5)

“I am the door” (John 10:7).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-14).

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5).

Given this is the Easter season, I would like to focus on the 5th of these: “I am the resurrection and the life.” To understand this we must look at the context (Isn’t this always the case?). In John 11 we see what appears to be a tragedy. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, is dying. They send a message to Jesus telling Him of his sickness (11:1-3). Jesus was not startled but quickly told His disciples this illness was not going to end in death but ultimately demonstrate His own glory (11:4).

Strangely, the Great Physician tarried for 2 days without going to Lazarus’ bedside. By the time He decided to go (11:7) his friend had perished (11:11, 14). He arrives at a grieving household, making his entrance with the claim that Lazarus will be miraculously raised from the dead after 4 days (11:23). And on what basis did He make this claim? He tells them plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He points to Himself – not the dire situation, the suffering family, or the stench of the deteriorating body. He says, “I am!!” He has the authority to overcome death and life and soon proves it (11:43:44). Based upon the command of Christ – “Lazarus, come out” – the dead man lives.

I could go on about the implications of this event in light of our being born again or regenerated. How dead men don’t make decisions and the power of God alone awakens us from our spiritual death (see Ephesians 2:1-10 if you want to examine the correlation) but I choose to focus on the physical aspect of this display of God’s power through the glory of the Son. As Jesus said to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And I believe this is true both spiritually and physically.

As we celebrate Easter, Christ’s willful death and eventual rise from the grave, it makes us ponder a painful reality of living in a fallen world; physical death. It is all around us and, as we age and have more experiences in life, we know that inevitably it will be our turn. If we don’t die from a terrible disease or accident, our bodies waste away, slowly eroding through toil and the passage of time. We have also lived through the grief of loved ones passing away, just like in this story. And their death and the prospect of our own can create an ominous outlook that begins to shape our thinking and our living.

The good news? Jesus is telling and showing us here in John 11 that through faith in Him we can physically live forever. Oh yes, His children will die an earthly death, but it is a transport not a termination. Because of His mercy and might, He will once again shout “come forth” to all those who believe and we will be raised and given new bodies (for more than a dash of comfort and hope, see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We will be healed and whole, spiritually and physically, for all of eternity. And we will be forever joined with Jesus and family and friends that have put their trust in Him, the Lord over death and life.

Do you believe? This is what Christ requires. This is what He told Martha – whoever believes in him, though he will die, will live on in Heaven – and this is what He is telling us. This Easter I urge you to surrender to Him so that what we celebrate, Jesus’ resurrection, will guarantee that His victory over the grave has been applied to you by His grace and faith.

If you don’t understand what all this means, please send me a note and I will gladly follow up with you. Or reach out to a trusted follower of the risen Jesus and ask them to help you. I’m sure they, like me, will be thrilled to do so.

It’s so hard to fathom – 2012 is upon us. Where has the past year gone? How quickly the pages of the calendar turn. Given life’s brevity, here are some thoughts on what our focus should be as we enter into a new year and, hopefully, a new season.

My son was born just yesterday. Not literally, but figuratively. He’s 23 now – grown, mature, and independent. But it seems like just a second ago that I held him for the first time and smelled the newness of life. As joyous as it has been, my time with him has quickly vanished. But, if you think about it, all of our lives are rapidly disappearing – just like a mist. The years have sped by and picked up steam as they have progressed.

That is what James is referring to in the 4th chapter of his epistle to the scattered believers of the 1st century:

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4: 13-17).

The word for mist in this passage is a picture of when we breathe out on a cold winter day. There is a vapor that forms but speedily dissipates and vanishes. Right before our eyes – it is there and then it is gone. Once we exhale this mist, it forms and evaporates before we can get our hands around it. Such is life – fleeting, temporal, and picking up its pace. It is here today and gone tomorrow and we never seem to quite catch up to it before it has left us behind. Subconsciously, we want to believe that this life will go on forever but, in reality, we know that our existence on this earth is quickly moving toward its final scene. Suddenly, we are more than half way through our life expectancy (if we should even consider such a thing) and we begin to ask some very serious questions. To name but a few:

  • Is this all there is to life?
  • Is this but a dress rehearsal for eternity?
  • What will we be able to present to our Lord when we do meet Him?
  • Has our life been spent (wasted) on the trivial and temporal?
  • Have we pursued our own earthly pleasure and comfort above eternal rewards?

The conclusions we reach can be quite sobering. Thus James gives us great insight as to how we are to live in these fleeting days of our lives. He says:

  • Don’t plan based upon what we want but, instead, be led by God’s plan.
  • Don’t let money dictate what we choose to do and be in this life.
  • Only God knows our earthly future and we must trust Him in all things.
  • This life passes with such rapidity that we must have our eyes focused on eternity.
  • With eternity in mind, we must always do the right thing and not the most comfortable or convenient thing.

And, by the way, the correct answers have little to do with “us” having “purpose” in our life but they have everything to do with finding pleasure in Him and glorifying Him. Finding Him as the end and not just the means is the only suitable paradigm for those who want to have meaningful and true answers to these compelling questions. The real issue, in view of the magnitude of eternity, is not wasting this life given to us by and for Him. Paul says:

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:15-18).

That is why, given this critical issue, I’m drawn to the words of Jesus, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). May we all be compelled to lose ourselves and our vanishing life here for His sake. May we surrender to storing up treasures in Heaven for His glory. An eternity of joy awaits those who do. Let’s choose this now – before this life is gone and we face the Savior who laid down His life for us. That meeting will be here before we know it.

Today (12/16/11) the passing of Christopher Hitchens, at the age of 62 from throat cancer, was announced. A famous (or infamous) apologist for the atheistic faith, his voluminous writings included the best-selling antitheist (which is how he categorized himself, not as an agnostic or an atheist) manifesto entitled God is Not Great. Whether you celebrated or cursed Hitchens, were an advocate or an adversary, this is significant. No doubt, he fomented strong emotions and opinions on both sides of the God debate, as well as contemporary religion, philosophy, politics, ethics, and society. There is much that can be said in disrespect towards Hitchens’ beliefs, elitism, condescension, and vitriolic demeanor. His legacy is that he did much to resurrect and popularize historic atheistic ideologies. Although not really new, his version of the Enlightenment was dubbed “The New Atheism.”

However, as much as we would disagree with him, followers of Jesus have no grounds to be a “Hitchens-hater.”  For he was a man with an eternal destiny, a person, like the rest of us, who desperately needed Jesus. And, despite his antagonism towards God and religion in general, there is much we can learn from him.  Hitch, as he was often called, passionately proclaimed his faith, his faith that there is no God. He vigilantly defended what he believed in and stood by it until the end. He was bold in promoting the belief system he based his life on, his worldview. Although I believe Hitchens was dreadfully wrong and disastrously deceived, we all could use more of his fervor and valor. Oh, that we would all trumpet our faith just as publicly and intensely. And do so until we have breathed our last.

Today, tragically, many professing Christ-followers will cheer his death and demise. For many so-called believers, it is difficult to estimate the total amount of collateral damage he has done to Christianity. I believe, however, the advance of God’s kingdom is unhindered no matter the efforts of Hitchens and his antitheistic counterparts. As Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). God has not moved and His plan has not changed. He still sits on the throne of the universe and does as He pleases, despite the unbelievers’ rants to the contrary.

Nevertheless, let’s look at Hitchens’ life (and death) as depicted in a couple of quotes about him found in news articles concerning his passing:

The Associated Press’ Hillel Italie:

Eloquent and intemperate, bawdy and urbane, he was an acknowledged contrarian and contradiction—half-Christian, half-Jewish and fully non-believing; a native of England who settled in America…He was a militant humanist who believed in pluralism and racial justice and freedom of speech, big cities and fine art and the willingness to stand the consequences.

ABC News’ Joel Siegel:

Hitchens became the public face of atheism. Critics assumed his cancer diagnosis, in 2010, would lead Hitchens to relent and embrace God. But he remained a proud non-believer to the very end, as he made clear in an early October 2011 speech at the annual Atheist Alliance of America convention in Houston, as he accepted the Freethinker of the Year Award. His body gaunt from the ravages of cancer, Hitchens said, “We have the same job we always had: to say that there are no final solutions; there is no absolute truth; there is no supreme leader; there is no totalitarian solution that says if you would just give up your freedom of inquiry, if you would just give up, if you would simply abandon your critical faculties, the world of idiotic bliss can be yours.”

How does that strike you? For me, it makes me both sad and sober. But why?

Sad because Christopher Hitchens, it seems, died without knowing the hope and joy found only in Jesus. I’m heartbroken that so many, maybe not God-haters in the same sense, are drifting off into an eternity that is as real as this life. And they are doing so without embracing Christ as their Redeemer and King.

Sober because death is a reminder we live in a fallen world filled with fallen people. None of us can escape eternity. Therefore I pray we are prepared for it. The news of Hitchens’ death causes my lighthearted mood to turn intensely serious because “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27).

Christopher Hitchens is now dead and has faced his Maker. This is sad. We too will do the same. This is sobering.

Are we ready? Have we surrendered to Jesus and found new and eternal life in Christ, the One who is ” the way, the truth and the life?” These, not our opinions about Hitchens or his legacy, are the real questions for today.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

In our Life Group we were studying this passage – probably the best known in all of Scripture. The study breaks down this verse by its critical components: God loved, God gave, we believe, and we live. If this sounds familiar, it is based upon Max Lucado’s 3:16: Numbers of Hope guide. Although admittedly not a huge Lucado fan, the lessons stimulated some lively discussion. And rightly so: this verse is pregnant with meaning often overlooked because we are so familiar with it. The 4th session turned to the word “believe” found in this powerful text.

What doe the word “believe” here mean? Unfortunately, there are masses that simplistically interpret this word as a mere acknowledgement of Jesus, that the phrase “believe in Him” suggests mere intellectual assent and nothing more. But the Greek word used here, and is often translated “faith” in many biblical texts, is much richer than that. Here are a couple of examples of the depth of the word pisteuo:

“To be persuaded, therefore to place one’s confidence and trust, signifies reliance upon and not mere credence” – Vine’s Dictionary.

Lexicographer J. H. Thayer, an authority on the Greek New Testament, defines pisteuo as being, “used especially of the faith by which a man embraces Jesus, i.e. a conviction, full of joyful trust, that Jesus is the Messiah – the divinely appointed author of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God, conjoined with obedience to Christ” (Greek-English Lexicon, T. & T. Clark, 1958, p. 511).

The point of our discussion was that a misunderstanding of what “believe” means is dangerous in our efforts to evangelize, employing the full truth of the Gospel, and detrimental to our walk with God. The word “believe” here clearly indicates something more potent than “head knowledge.” The faith that saves is one of not only placing our hope in Christ alone for our redemption but also one that bows to His lordship. It is dynamic, transformational, and dependant upon Him for our salvation and our sanctification. It is a trust that produces a desire to be obedient to Christ and is compelled by a holistic surrender to who He is and all that entails. The “believe in Him” of John 3:16 changes our hearts because He has changed our minds (repented) about who and what He is. Romans 10:8-10 clarifies this: “But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that we are saved based on anything beyond faith. But saving faith changes us. This type of belief is the kind of trust and surrender that inherently alters who we are. Why? Because this faith is the conduit that accesses God’s grace, produces redemption, unites us with Christ, summons the indwelling presence of God in the person of the Holy Spirit, and secures our eternal destiny. This faith is a gift from God that triggers all of the promise and provision of God that is found “in Him [Christ].” As Paul shared in Romans: “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as  righteousness.” Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…” (4:3-5). And this is so that God, and God alone, gets the glory for this miracle of new birth and everlasting life that “believe in Him” secures.

Although this righteousness (salvation) is a gift (just like faith itself is a gift, as you will see in the next  scripture passage quoted), it is a gift that radically alters those who experience it. It is a heart makeover that redirects every aspect of our being. This is aptly tied together by Paul in his letter to the church at Ephesus: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works,so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:8-10).

So, is this the kind of belief that we possess? Is this the kind of belief that we proclaim as the true gospel? Or have we, in our personal lives or our proclamation of the message of eternal life, watered down “belief” into some kind of clinical acknowledgment of God that doesn’t necessarily change us from the inside out? It’s worth pondering – eternal destinies hang in the balance.

“At the end of that time I…praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.  All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” Now I praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just…” (Daniel 4:34-35, 37, NIV).


March 29, 2011

We have two friends, both who model their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, with serious liver problems. Sheila and Barry are similar in many ways – about the same age, faithful to their families and their Lord. Sheila has been waiting on both a liver and kidney transplant. Barry is suffering from liver cancer and was hoping for a new liver as well. Providentially, they are even in the same hospital. But in the space of just a few hours their stories diverged. Today, on the very same day, they got “the call.”   

Sheila’s call was one of hopeful expectation. A donor had been found and she was rushed to Vanderbilt hospital to await the donor harvesting and a next day surgery. This organ donation could give her restored physical health after years of dialysis and debilitation. Because someone had died with such grace, donating their body parts that others might live, she had reason to rejoice, even though it was with understandable anxiety.

Barry’s call was quite different. He had fought and waited, praying to see his youngest son grow into maturity. There was no transplant for him and it was too late. He had less than one week to live. The last time I talked to Barry, just after a Sunday school class, he affirmed his faith in a sovereign God and said he prayed daily that he would remain firm in his faith no matter what was in store for him in this life. Today we found out Barry was being called home. 

April 1, 2011  

From Sheila’s journal: 

“I [Sheila’s husband, Don] just got a phone call from Sheila’s nephrologist (kidney specialist) at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. This doctor, one of the few experts in Sheila’s disease has been following and driving Sheila’s care since the original diagnosis in 2007. The outpouring of love this week for Sheila (& me) has been enormous. Thank you to all the doctors and nurses who have been involved in Sheila’s care and to you all for your love, prayers and support. We couldn’t get through this without it. Sheila has enjoyed a mostly restful day and might move out of the ICU this weekend.”  

From an email updating Barry’s condition: 

“Barry’s ex-wife just called. They were preparing to take Barry home this afternoon, but his blood pressure continues to drop. So they are going to keep him at Vanderbilt and remove his IV’s and let him pass there.  That could happen any time today.” 

April 2, 2011 

From Don, Sheila’s ever-faithful husband: 

“Great news! Sheila is no longer classified as critical care. She’s just another average patient in recovery from surgery now, albeit one with 2 new organs in her tummy. Thanks for your ongoing prayer support.” 

The latest on Barry: 

The countdown is now calculated in hours. His family, including his two sons, has gathered by his side. His funeral service has been planned. Barry’s call will soon be answered and he will have a glorious face-to-face meeting with His Jesus. And he will soon exchange his worn out earthly tent for his “house from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2).


I know God is sovereign and I praise him for that, just like Nebuchadnezzar did in the 4th chapter of Daniel. It brings me great peace, hope, and joy that He is. But since I’m incapable of fully understanding or explaining Sheila and Barry’s story, may I be so bold as to take Paul’s words to the Philippian church and apply it to their situation? I hope this honors them and the sovereign God they serve – for to Him is all the glory forever and ever, Amen. 

[Sheila and Barry] – “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. [Sheila] – For to me to live is Christ, [Barry] –  and to die is gain. [Sheila]If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. [Barry]My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. [Sheila] But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:18-24).

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