I Have Seen the Lord

I have watched two people die. My grandmother and my mother-in-law each died in the past 10 years, both of cancer. I was in their rooms, with a sprinkling of other family members, with both women as their breathing slowed and the air grew still.

Never did I feel more like an adult than when I was welcomed into the hospice room of my grandmother with the understanding that I would stay once it “happened.” Never did I understand more the responsibility of a wife than when I held my husband’s hand as he watched his mother die and he whispered in my ear, “Do you think she knows I’m here?” She did. I am sure of it.

It is both a strange and bewildering experience to watch a person die. “What is happening? What is ACTUALLY happening?” I wondered. And the questions didn’t stop there: “How did it feel? Did she know what she was leaving behind? Did her life really flash before her eyes, and if it did what did she see?”

In the case of my grandmother her complicated relationship with her children (including my mother) made the occasion of her death mostly sorrowful. How do you feel a sense of peace about a woman who gave her children none?  In the case of my mother-in-law the sadness came from an untimely death that robbed her of seeing what would have given her immeasurable joy— she would never hold her grandchildren and watch her only child become a father. Death is complicated and despite our hope in eternal life, the reality is that death separates us from those we love. Yet in death there is the promise of redemption. We are redeemed through death.

Jesus did not die in a hospital room but in a cruel and public space. He was beaten and mocked. His untimely death was brutal, humiliating and necessary. We rejoice that the story does not end there. We rejoice that the story does not end. Jesus’ death and resurrection is an explanation of true redemption—of Christ’s wholeness and power through his ability to conquer death. Yet, his redemption is confusing, even unrecognizable to those close to him.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” 

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.” 

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!”

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Immediately, Mary Magdalene doesn’t recognize her savior, her friend. He is redeemed. He is Jesus, but his broken body was transformed.

This transformation is what is promised to all of us. Death separates us, but it is not the end. Jesus’ resurrection is a glimpse into what it means to be redeemed and what it means to be restored. “I have seen the Lord!” she shouts. “I have seen the Lord.”

Elizabeth Smith Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA

Breath of God

I have been blessed (or cursed) with a very acute sense of smell. I am the one who knows something is rotting in the refrigerator before anyone else. I can detect brewing coffee from miles away. Smells hold memories for me and make them almost real all over again.

I remember the smell of my mother’s lap when I was young child, held close and rocked. I remember the smell of peppermint mints used to keep my mouth full, and therefore silent, when I was in church and too young to choose to listen. I still remember the sweet smell of my newborn children snuggled up with me late at night, their breath milky and baby shampoo scented hair.

There is also a smell to this time of year that fills my soul with joy. The combination of pumpkins cooking and cinnamon and family packed into a house, a fire burning, and leather in our gloves and shoes.  This smell feels like home and grace and laughter and belonging all rolled into one.

But there is a distinct smell of fear. It smells like adrenaline and sweat and muscles ready to fight. This is the smell I imagine was present in that room on the evening of the third day described in John 20. The disciples were afraid of the Jews and maybe all out of tears to be cried for the death of their friend. The women had returned with tales of a risen Jesus but all the men had seen was an empty grave. Death, in the form of misused power, had won already. The Jews were victorious and all the disciples had left was fear. 

And then Jesus was there.

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 20:22

He breathed on them. That strikes me as so very odd.  Why does John record this detail when no other gospel bothers?  Why does John want us to know this very strange fact? He breathed on them.

In a room full of fear, Jesus breathed deeply enough to blow breath onto his disciples. Have you ever tried to breathe deeply when you are panicked? It doesn’t usually work so well. But Jesus wasn’t afraid. Jesus breathed in deep and full, his lungs intact again. And he breathed on them.  I wonder what his breath smelled like? I wonder if it smelled a bit like heaven…home and grace and laughter and belonging and joy all rolled into one.

John reminds us of Genesis 2 when God breathes the breath of life into Adam, creating a living being. Humans are animated by the very breath of God! And when Jesus breathed on those terrified followers, he was breathing out life all over again. It was new life; God-with-us life. A new Eden; a new ‘together in relationship’ with God.

When your world is full of fear and the smell of it drips off your skin, take heart. Jesus breaths on us the Holy Spirit, as well. The smell of heaven lives in you and through you and around you.

Breathe it in. Yes, really. Right now. Take a deep breath.

Feel it fill your lungs with life. This isn’t just oxygen. It’s God, it’s life!

Trace its path from your nose

to your lungs

to your heart

to your toes

to your fingers

and to your brain.

The very being of God courses through your veins and arteries. This life-giving force of relationship moves in you and through you and around you.

And it smells a little like home and grace and laughter and joy and belonging and wholeness all rolled into one.

Rhesa Higgins Spiritual Director and Founder: Eleven:28 Ministries Highland Oaks Church of Christ Dallas, Texas

By Name

Allusion. Numerology. Metaphor. Personification. For some, these words conjure a spinal chill from the scratch of chalk on a green English Composition chalkboard. Few enjoy analyzing texts for poetic devices. It’s what English majors do. And Biblical scholars. I, in unabashed nerdom, am both. I could swim in the ocean of the fourth Gospel’s literary layers for days and not once miss the prudence of texts that are far more plainspoken.

Like Mark.

John however, was a writer-a literary giant who has been compared to Homer. John did not only seek to write that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (20:31), but John sought to get you to that place of faith by experiencing life with Jesus through the power of the written word at its finest. If inspired writing is God writing through the best of one human’s ability, inspiration is brought to a whole other level in the fourth Gospel.

Well, that’s my opinion anyway. You might be the type who prefers Mark.

Every word is ruminated in John; every weave is intentional. Themes come back around and symbols recur. Sevens dance and metaphors collide.

For example, in John 10:3 Jesus compares himself to a shepherd and explains He [the Shepherd]calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

In the Hebrew Bible, God called a few people by name. He yelled, “Abraham!” to test a man’s faith who would father nations (Gen. 22:11). When a humble man from a broken home paused to look twice at a burning bush in the wilderness God shouted, “Moses! Moses!” (Exod. 3:4) It’s rare, but when God had big plans for people-revolutionary plans- He called them by name.

Many years later, in John 20, a woman goes on a walk in the darkness of an early Sunday morning searching for a dead savior.

John’s account doesn’t explain why this woman seeks Jesus’ tomb. Joseph of Arimathea had already prepared the body for burial. Yet, even so, any grieving person can imagine the scene. Here is a woman plundered by a fallen acacia tree of grief that is resting on her lungs. She’s not sleeping; she’s wandering the streets of Jerusalem, numb. Empty. Unable to remember to gasp for air.

Then, after wandering all night a homing dove in her soul leads her to the tomb of her beloved where she can at least collapse onto the cold stone that seals his body. Her fingertips can desperately clutch the granite that encases him.

Yet, as she reaches out in the night to grasp the stone, her hand meets air, and she stumbles into the darkness. More emptiness. There is nothing there to steady her. It’s as barren in that tomb as it is in her heart, and this realization breaks her in two. She collapses back out of the hole in the wall, and weeps (John 20:11).

Two angels, who she is too soul shattered to recognize, ask her why she’s crying and she answers in desolate monotone, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where to find him.”

This is a woman incapable of functioning because of separation from God.

She’s driven to irrationality, braving the first century night alone, a woman, in search of a dead body. She’s desperate for Him. The living Him. She’s aching for his touch. Her heart is screaming to hear his voice. Her steps were set in the rhythm of his steps for years, and now that those footprints are swooshed from the sand she can’t find her way home.

All the men went home (John 20:10).

Then this woman, in a lineage of strong Biblical ‘daughters of….’, ‘second wives of…..’, and ‘beautiful in form and fair’ maidens, turns around and seeks God one more time.

She implores of the gardener, “Tell me where you have laid him!”

And her Jesus, the Shepherd, says to her, “Mary.”

Not, Mary, wife of John, or Mary, daughter of Elijah. Not Mary, beautiful in form and fair. Not woman.

Simply, Mary.

(He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out-John 10:3).

Rabboni! She cried.

(They know his voice-John 10:4).

She clung to Him. Do not hold on to me, He said to her. Go to my brothers and tell them. Tell the brothers the Resurrection Story. Tell the brothers the first Gospel message.

Mary, you are the first called out by name. Go tell the brothers.

(There will be one flock, and one Shepherd-John 10:16).

Not one word in the 4th Gospel was penned without deep literary significance.

But it’s not just a well-written story. The Resurrection Story is Good News because this same Good Shepherd knows your name. Others may call you, “Jacob’s Grandmother,” or, “Alex’s Wife.” Your inner voice may label you, “Barren,” or “Broken.” The world may classify you as “The Black man,” or “Elderly.” But Jesus, Jesus knows your name, and He is calling you into something important. He’s calling you into the Resurrection story. Let us be called out and declare together, as we experience the Living Christ, in the words of Mary Magdalene, I have seen the Lord! (John 20:18).

"Mary!” Jesus said. She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”). “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them,“I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message. (John 20:17-19)

Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC

Seventy-five Pounds of Spices

John chapter 19 is one of those places I am tempted to skim. I know the story. I understand it. I believe it.

I am so thankful for it.

But it’s details are a relentless read.

It hurts so much—all that chaos and cruelty.

Such bloodlust stirred on that Preparation Day.

The Friday the Jewish leaders worked frenzied to make all the silence of Saturday possible.

His own people.

Screaming for his death.

They wanted him gone.

They eventually succeed but not before Pilate tried to set Jesus free.

He found no basis for the charges.

He couldn’t believe what all those religious people were asking him to do.

In defense of Caesar? Really? Did anybody buy that?!

Pilate’s disdain for this whole matter seems evidenced in his sign.

“Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

There. For all who passed by and viewed the humiliation and cruelty of crucifixion. Pilate proclaimed in his posted sign that this man represented the very Jews who demanded his execution.

And then.

The Jewish leaders pester further, after Christ’s death, wanting their mess cleaned up completely so they could offer their next day to the Lord.

The marching mass of religious outrage storming satisfied to their own quiet Sabbaths with tables laid to break bread and pour wine remembering the Giver of All.

It is entirely possible to honor God’s law zealously while completely missing the point.

Just like I’ve read chapter 19 my whole life and missed a most fragrant point.

“Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus…He was accompanied by Nicodemus. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds.”

The victorious leaders of God’s people slip off to their homes as Friday evening falls, while two of their own set a sepulchre stage for the greatest Sunday morning in all of time.

Two Jewish leaders came to clean up the mess created by their brothers. Their community. Their church.

Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.

With 75 pounds of spices.

Seventy-five pounds?

As if seeing it for the first time, this gives me such pause. When we travel internationally we spend some days weighing and repacking our bags to meet airline restrictions. Currently we are allowed 50 lbs per bag but in our early days of missionary travel we were allowed 70lbs per bag.

I became very adept at judging the weight of 70lbs. If I could just barely lift it off the floor, we were near 70lbs. I can lift 50lbs with more ease, but 70lbs makes me strain substantially and I could certainly not carry that weight very far at all.

Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of spice. From his home? Or a shop?

He carried all that weight from a distance.  Not smallish bags tucked into pockets.

75 pounds!

A very heavy load of aromatic scent lugged through town to settle around the broken body of an executed man.

An extravagant and obvious outpouring.

Two wealthy Jewish men, who did not even dare to openly proclaim their adoration of the living man Jesus, now blatantly grieving all the mess of that Friday with their honorable wrapping and setting into place and tidying of the oozing cruelty.  They must have had large households and servants, but they did not send others to do this job for them. They made themselves unclean (Numbers 19:11) by doing it themselves.

With 75 pounds of sweet telling spices announcing them as they moved to do so.

“…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if…”

Joseph and Nicodemus, in that defeated and crushing hour, finally stepping up to the plate.

Finally standing pungent into the mess around them exuding testimony.



Sunday’s dawn hadn’t crept over the horizon yet, but it was winning already.

Two previously secret believers now reeking loud with all their smelly devotion.


Where are your spices?

That moment when it becomes ALL and EVERYTHING and EXORBITANT.

That moment when He steals your whole, whole heart.

When it doesn’t matter if they smell you coming. If they know of your radical passionate love.

In chapter 19 we agonize at the cruelty and we grieve in the sepulcher, but it’s not just Sunday’s dawn that eases us into hope.

Reconciliation and redemption were already streaming as two leaders settled the cloths around Jesus broken body.

The love scent overwhelming.

This chapter will remain very hard to read, but I must hear it and absorb it and smell it anew.

That brand new burial cave holds a treasure.

Meet me there.

Don’t be afraid.

And bring your spices.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Cheryl Cash Missionary Fort Portal, Uganda

What is Truth?

I can’t recall all of the devotionals and Bible lessons that I participated in during High School, but a few do stick out. Our Youth Minister asked, “Is the Bible true for those who believe it is true, or is the Bible true?” We wrestled with it. We asked, “What is the difference?” and our Youth Minister really tried to bring home the fact that the Bible was true for everybody everywhere. The High School version of myself found that theology to be just a bit over my head, but I have found myself still wrestling with from time to time when it comes to my mind.

I do agree with my Youth Minister, the gospel is true for all, not just for Christians. Do I believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life? Yes. Do I believe that no one will get to the father except through Jesus? Yes. But it is still a valid question to ponder in today’s time. Those people who aren’t millennials may not understand, but my generation struggles with there being an overarching “truth”. People my age tend to think that their own truth is good for them and that someone else could have a different truth, but it doesn’t change mine. I honestly think that is why this generation is more accepting. We aren’t convinced that our own truth is true for everybody. We know too much and it confuses us. We millennials have infinite access to the world through a pop tart size super computer in our pocket.

Maybe Pilate would have been a great Millennial. He sure asks the right questions. John 18:38 says that Pilate asked this question of Jesus, “What is truth?” Like the world today, Roman soldiers had more knowledge than anyone who had ever gone before them. They traveled farther, had more access to different cultures, and thought they were pretty amazing for it.

He asks this question after  Jesus says, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18:37)

Pilate had been exposed to many wrongs. The Roman culture was full of lies created by the enemy. In today’s time, I have to work hard to discern the difference between right and wrong, but also between right and ALMOST right. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

Satan hopes that we will lean on our own understanding. He hopes that we don’t use the light of truth to judge everything by. Jesus is saying, if you are on the side of truth you will listen to me. But that statement can be reversed too. If you listen to Jesus, you are on the side of truth.

In today’s world we have to be on the side of truth. Yes, The Truth. Jesus’ Truth that God loved the world so much that he sent his son to die for it. Anyone who believes in him will not die, but will live eternally.

Without Jesus’ truth - an unqualified standard, we have nothing to compare evil to. We become blinded without the authority of truth when everyone is regulated by their own principles.

This type of truth would have been crazy to a man like Pilate, and some days it is crazy to a woman like me, but this truth “sets us free” (John 8:32)  and when we walk in this truth, ordering our actions and decisions according to it, it makes a difference. It disarms the enemy’s influence and his impact on our lives.

“In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” John 18:37

Holly Racca Middle School Youth Minister Southern Hills Church of Christ Abilene, TX

Telling the Truth

Her name is “Lynn” and she is 14 years old.  She was raised going to church most of the time.  She goes to youth group activities, she has a teen Bible and she learned the books of the Bible at age five. She is an accomplished artist and creates beautiful dragons with deep, intelligent eyes.  She has a heart for special needs kids. She is kind and funny and desperate to be loved.

Her mother began at an early age to make sure Lynn knew that she was not valuable. Her mother taught what she had learned from her own mother and as the years went on the message became clear: “No one loves like they love your brother.  No one cares if you are here.  In fact, you are only a burden to me.”  Over and over it was proven through emotional and physical abuse. Her mother did not protect her from others in the home and Lynn believed the mantra that she was less. Her mother did not allow Lynn’s father to play much of a role in her life and told her that he did not want her and his family did not love or care about her. 

And this is the hardest part for me about Lynn’s story because Lynn is my niece.  She has been told so many lies about me and my love for her.

As Jesus is praying in John 17 I think he knew all the lies that had and would be told about Him. 

His children are told that He does not care about them.

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us..”

His children are told that they are not wanted.

“Father, I desire that those also, who you have given me, may be with me where I am”

His children are told that they have no value and that they are not truly loved.

…so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

On the night before Jesus gave His life for us, He is praying that we would know how much we are loved and be united in the knowledge that God’s greatest desire is for us to be with Him.

The world is so good at twisting that truth so that we cannot even see or believe that we have a God willing to give us his very self so we can know to whom we belong. God loves us with a deep and abiding passion. And there is nothing, nothing that can separate us from His love, not what we do, nor what has been done to us, not even what we have done to others. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus.

I need to hear that. Lynn needs to hear that. You need to hear that.

My niece and her dad (my brother) will come to live with me on Saturday.  It is time for the truth of His love to set us free. Tomorrow is a new, unwritten day, and the day after that, and the day after that; a new chance to see and feel His great love and to rewrite the mantra of our lives.

I am loved. I am wanted. I matter.

Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.  I made your name known to them, and I will make it known so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:25-26)

Jennifer Porter Lubbock Texas Children’s Minister at the Broadway Church of Christ

Never Alone

“All this I have told you so that you will not fall away.  They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.  They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.  I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.  I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you.  But now I am going to him who sent me….But very truly I tell you, it is good for you that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:1-5, 7)

Jesus is warning his disciples of things that will happen when he leaves them, and tells them that he will not leave them alone; he is going to send them the Advocate — The Holy Spirit.  This is not the first time Jesus tells his disciples about the Holy Spirit. 

“All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  (John 14:25-26)

I often separate Scripture by chapters, but John chapters 13-17 is really just one long conversation between Jesus and his disciples, but mostly with Jesus telling them everything they will need to be prepared for because he realizes that it is time for him to leave this world, and so the time has come for him to prepare his disciples for his departure.  He washes their feet to teach them to serve each other; he comforts them, and assures them that even though he is going away, he is preparing a place for them so that one day they can go where he is going; he reminds them that he is the only way to the Father; he promises them that he will send The Holy Spirit to take his place; he tells them that they must remain in him like a branch must remain on a vine to bear fruit; he warns them that they will be hated and persecuted; and once again, in chapter 16, he reassures them he will send someone to them — the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth — The Holy Spirit.  So, twice in one conversation, Jesus tells his disciples about the Holy Spirit. This must be pretty important.

Jesus needs them to know that things will not be easy for them; they will be persecuted, they will be killed for their faith, but he really, really needs them to know that they are not alone.  He is going to send them the Advocate.  Some translations of Advocate are “Comforter” (KJV), “Counselor” (NIV), and “Helper” (NASB), according to Zondervan’s Illustrated Bible dictionary.  Jesus was going away, and things were going to get very difficult, but Jesus was going to send one who could meet their every need.

The disciples didn’t quite get it at first, but when they received the Holy Spirit, they remembered what they had been told, just like Jesus told them they would.  Peter addresses the crowd, from the prophet Joel, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18).  Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins.  And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

Growing up, I learned all about the Father and the Son, but I never heard anything about the third member of the trinity, the Holy Spirit.  When I had finally heard about the Holy Spirit, I didn’t quite understand how he works; but then, I experienced the Spirit of God for myself.  Nothing has been the same since.  Why would we hide such a promise?  How can we be effective Christians if we are not relying on the power, comfort, counsel, and help of the Holy Spirit?  It is a hard world we live in, we face troubles, we lack peace at times… Life. Is. Hard.  But Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Karisa Madera Executive Assistant Central Church of Christ Del Rio, TX

In a Little While

My five year old asks the same question every morning on the way to school. “When is Halloween?”

My answer is usually a number, “20 days,” but sometimes it’s more elusive, like, “soon.” It doesn’t make much difference to him though because “soon,” “18 days” or, “in a while” are all measured by the length of a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode. If the anticipated event will occur in ‘one Mickey Mouse’ or less, it’s ‘soon’; beyond that, it’s an event that will occur sometime in the chaos of the unknown future, for he’s too young to grasp time.

I know a man who received an ominous diagnosis. The doctor told him that the disease in his heart, eventually, would kill him. “How long is ‘eventually’?” he wanted to know. “Days? Years?”

“In a little while.”

For my son, September days that rushed like flood waters now drudge through October, a stagnant, muddy mess that crawls its way to Halloween.

For the man with the heart condition though, time is moving at break-neck speed. He’s on the white water raft in a river called chronos begging for a tidepool that will stop the current, if just for “a little while.”

We demand of the woman behind the ticket counter, “When will another flight arrive?”

“In a little while.”

We beg with broken backs, “God, when will You take away this burden?”

“In a little while.”

A mother cries to the government, “When will Boko Haram release my daughter?”

“In a little while.”

The disciples mumble, “When are you going to the Father? When are you coming back?”

Jesus answers, “In a little while.”

And God bless them, they retort with the question we all have, “What does that MEAN, ‘in a little while’? What are you talking about?” (John 16:16-18).

Unfortunately, Jesus’ answer is not any clearer than the doctor’s diagnosis. In poised relativity, Jesus speaks of the pain of childbirth that lasts “a little while” and then is gone, replaced by such joy that the pain is forgotten.

That may be true, but the pain of ‘the little while’ is torture.

The disciples must have been near panic. To go from living and eating with, breathing the same air as God in flesh for years, and then to be left alone for an indefinite time, apart from the countenance of God’s face shining upon them must have been suffocating. Terrifying. Lonely. Surely they asked themselves each morning, “How long is ‘a little while’?”

But that’s the trouble with a conversation about time with an eternal God. God-the Alpha and Omega for whom a day is like a thousand years, and to whom our life is but a breath. Time is relative.

The weeping, the mourning, the anxiety, the suffering, the pain. “Lord, when will it end?”

“In a little while.” That’s the best answer we get.

Though, there is hope. Jesus introduces the Paraclete five times in this upper room conversation with the disciples over dinner.  This Comforter will be with them forever, abide with them, in them (14:16). This Helper will tell them what they need to know to get them through (14:25-26).

The Spirit is mercy in the waiting.

Moreover, the disciples had help in each other. Fellowship may not sound like much when the pain sets in, but it is much to these girls who endured the horrors of terrorist kidnappers together, and found the courage to run away together. Fellowship is much when you’re mad the plane to your high school reunion is late, but you meet a woman who is missing her grandmother’s funeral while waiting on the same delayed flight. Spiritual companionship is much when the baby just won’t come, no matter how you far you walk or how hard you push, but a compassionate soul holds your hand and says, “It’ll all be over, in a little while.”

“A little while” ends with joy. Every time. The joy may be elusive, and it may not come to completion in this life, but it’s there with us, in us. Though we have trouble-unspeakable trouble, Jesus whispers through the Spirit and our friends, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” Take heart, beloved; you are not the only one to have had this agonizing conversation with the Lord.

“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.”  Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”  They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” John 16:16-18

Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC

Take Heart!

Kelly Gissander is executed by lethal injection for a murder committed by Gregory Owen, who will be eligible for parole next year.

A two year old Syrian boy’s body washes up on the shore, a visual image of a much larger crisis.

A 30 year old mother of three (and children’s minister to hundreds more) is diagnosed with cancer. Again.

Headlines and twitter feeds are filled with crises galore, to the point we look away. It’s too much to take in, too painful to process. There is no quick fix or spiritual band-aid that can repair the mess of this world in which we live. Joining hands to sing kum ba ya around the campfire won’t bring peace or solve problems.

Consider the irony of timing when Jesus tells his disciples I have overcome the world! He is heading into Gethsemane for prayer before his trial and execution.

In retrospect, of course, we know the end of the story – his execution is the very means by which he does overcome the world. But at the time of the last supper, it must have seemed a bit premature. Reading John 16:33 without using the previous chapters for context does a disservice to his bold statement.

You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me. (12:8)

Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. (12:35)

I have washed your feet…I have set an example that you should do as I have done. (13:15)

Where I am going you cannot follow now, but you will follow later. (13:36)

Do not let your hearts be troubled. (14:1)

Peace I leave with you – my peace I give to you. (14:27)

If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (15:18)

All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. (16:1)

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. (16:33)

In this world you will have trouble.

Trouble is here. Amen, sister!

We’ve been sold a bill of goods. A prosperity gospel that promises much and delivers little. An assumption that God sends rain on the unjust but blesses Christians with “the American dream.” Success without suffering. Satisfaction without sadness.

But we all know trouble. Whether it’s a fatal diagnosis, a financial setback, a failed marriage, or family dysfunction, trouble finds us whether or not we check that day’s Facebook news feed.

And peace seems illusive.

Maybe that’s because we think of peace as the absence of trouble.

Yet when Jesus speaks of peace, he knows the extent of trouble that lies in front of him. His peace is neither absence of trouble nor lack of conflict. His peace is found in his present circumstance.

In the presence of God.

I am not alone, for my Father is with me. (16:32)

When Jesus speaks of offering us peace, he knows the extent of trouble that lies in front of us. This peace is neither absence of trouble nor lack of conflict. This peace is found in our present circumstance. Because it is in the presence of Jesus.

Peace I leave with you…my peace I give to you.

I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.

Perhaps this is why Jesus spends so much time in John 15 reminding his disciples to remain in him, like branches remain on the vine. Our ability to experience peace in every circumstance is directly related to our remaining present with Christ.

Joyce Eiler wrote a short song that includes these lyrics:

Go ye now in peace and know that the love of God will guide you Feel his presence here beside you showing you the way.

In your time of trouble, when hurt and despair are there to grieve you Know that the Lord will never leave you, he will bring you courage…

If you often sense God’s presence through music, you won’t be surprised to know that Kelly Gissander, moments before her life was taken away by lethal injection, was calmly singing

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”

Through her difficult years in prison, the opportunity for theological study, and even in the legal troubles of the past year, Kelly was able to find peace by remaining in Christ.

Our peace is not in the absence of trouble, but in the presence of Christ.

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

Dawn Gentry Johnson City, TN MDIV student at Emmanuel Christian Seminary Member of Grandview Christian Church

Love: A Command Performance

“This is my command: Love each other.”  John 15:17

She rolls into the church building every Sunday morning on her scooter as if she owns the road. She breathes her daily complaints with a smirk on her face. At 75 years old she reminds us she is not homeless, she is displaced. Her worn-thin, hand-me-down scooter serves as a mobile home on the streets of a city of more than 2 million people. She wears her long, white-blond hair tied back from her toothless face, a face that crinkles as she speaks.

She bugs my husband to no end.

While he is trying to make Sunday breakfast, a weekly ritual at Heights, she talks non-stop. That is until a homeless person, anyone on the fringe, a young person, or someone with a dog shows up.  She transforms into this gracious, attentive and generous person.  Gone are the smirks and the complaints. In plain sight is the Christ-image holding a cup of cold water in his name.

Recently, our love was tested.  A man in his early thirties sauntered into the kitchen for breakfast. Because his running shirt bore streaks of dirt, she presumed he was homeless. She scrounged around in her personal stash of junk food and offered it to him. Next, she plowed into her black garbage sack for her clean, never worn red sweatshirt. She cut the sleeves off, making it cooler. She handed it to him so that he could have a clean shirt.

He took her food and crumpled it into a pile of dirty coffee cups and napkins, creating a grand mess of it. He grabbed donuts by the fistful, drank from the coffee creamer, and strode around glaring at everyone with a borrowed cigarette lighter in his mouth. 

He implied he was homeless and mentally ill, not realizing that we know a few things about mental health and poverty.  Like for instance, homeless people do not wear $500 glasses. Nor do they have many teeth; let alone beautiful teeth straight as a gleaming white picket fence.  The homeless don’t have sculpted muscles. They cannot afford hair styled so sharp you could slice bread with it. Never has anyone intentionally acted so rudely or as obnoxious.  Yet, we did not tell him any of this. He was a guest in God’s house. Love covers a multitude of sins. 

He tossed her favorite sweatshirt in the trashcan outside. She simply said, “He wasn’t who he pretended to be.” She wore no smirk nor voiced no complaints.  Her love extended to him as if unto the Lord.  Why?  Because we are those called to give a Command Performance before the King of Kings.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12

It is as simple as that.

Ann Bayliss Preacher, Heights Church of Christ Houston Texas

Pruned for Growth

When we bought our house 7 years ago, there was a dead bush in our back yard. We had intended to just chop it down but never got around to it. One morning when I went to let the dog out, I noticed green branches and beautiful purple flowers growing on this dead bush. I went outside and started cutting off every dead branch. Once I was done cutting off the dead branches, I was left with such a beautiful purple flower bush. This process really brought this Scripture to life for me: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more… Remain in me and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.” (John 15:1-2)

“Yes, I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a useless branch and withers. Such branches are gathered into a pile to be burned.” (John 15:5-6)

We were created to bear much spiritual fruit, just as a branch on a grapevine was created to produce grapes. Spiritual fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Gal-5:22-23). It is the evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives to change us into the likeness of Jesus; the evidence of a life changed by God’s grace, our spiritual growth chart, if you will. A life that does not produce spiritual fruit and reflect Jesus will be cut off, and while a life that does produce fruit and reflect Jesus will remain, it still needs to be pruned.

As I write this, the phrase from the hymn “Nailed to the cross” just keeps coming to mind, “He is tender and loving and patient with me, while He cleanses my heart of its dross.” The definition of dross is “Worthless or dangerous material that should be removed.” That is what the pruning process does, it removes things from our hearts that do not belong there, and keep us from bearing fruit. And unlike plants, which have no choice but to be pruned, we often fight God, yet he is tender, patient, and loving. Sometimes we hang on to hurt, anger, pride, bitterness, unforgiveness, gossip, guilt, sorrow, sin, etc., and if we do not allow God to prune those things from our lives, they will only grow and take over the branch (us) until it becomes non-bearing.

One thing that I have learned about pruning plants is that they always come back stronger and more bountiful during the next growth season. For us, the pruning process may be difficult and painful, but it makes us stronger and able to bear more fruit. Are we willing to allow God to help us rid our hearts of the things that keep us from bearing fruit?

What I learned from pruning my dead bush is that with God, all things are possible. God is in the business of bringing bead things back to life. I thought that bush was dead until God showed me the beauty it could become with just a little pruning. Do we allow ourselves to see people that way? Do we look for the beauty that could be? Do we see people who appear spiritually dead and cast them off as though there is no possible way they can become alive again? As long as they have breath, they have a chance.

Karisa Madera Central Church of Christ Del Rio, Texas Executive Assistant

If You Really Loved Me…

I have been spoiled with love my whole life. My parents showered it on me; my teachers praised me, my friends looked up to me. This may sound conceited, but I say it in the most grateful way: I know that I have always been loved. This hasn’t stopped me from always seeking it; there are many people I love very deeply, and being loved by other people brings me unspeakable joy. I see that my husband loves me everyday in the way he treats me, speaks to me, laughs with me, serves me, and trusts me. But sometimes he says “I love you” and I ask “Why?” Part of me wants to hear some cute reason I have never heard before. Another tiny, insecure part of me wonders, “Does he REALLY love me?”

John was the gospel that my parents asked me to read when I wanted to be baptized. I think they wanted me to know God’s entire story so that I could fall in love with him. By the time we get to John 14 we have seen some incredible things. We know who Jesus is. If I was a disciple and living next to Jesus every day, I think I would have first fallen in love with him when he offered living water to the woman at the well. My love would have grown as he welcomed children into his presence, and by the time he wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus, I would have realized that I had never really known love life this before.

Which is why I find it interesting that, in chapter 14, he says the words “If you really loved me...” so many times (John 14: 9, 15, 21, 23, 28). If Jesus was speaking to me, I feel like it would insult me. I would say, “You know I love you!” just like Peter does in John 21.

Jesus must see in his disciples what I see. They say they love him but they don’t always act like it. They are always afraid. They sin all the time. They are quick to be angry and to judge. They rely so much on what other people think of them. Oops… that sounds a lot like me.

Jesus says, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (vs. 15). It’s easy to like Jesus. He stood for the weary and the sick; he loved the oppressed and the broken. But to love someone is different. God wants us to be real. Saying we love him is not enough, we have to show it. Just like I know my husband loves me by the things he does, God knows we love him by the things we do. If we REALLY love him we act differently. We love our enemies and help the needy. We are people of peace and joy. We don’t fear or judge or condemn.

The love Christ deserves is infinite. Bob Goff, in his popular book Love Does, says, “That's what love does - it pursues blindly, unflinchingly, and without end. When you go after something you love, you'll do anything it takes to get it, even if it costs everything.” That kind of mad love is what God is looking for. It’s the way he expects you to love. It’s the way he loved you.

How will you love our savior?

“Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.” John 14:21

Holly Racca Middle School Youth Minister Southern Hills Church of Christ Abilene, TX

By Their Love: The Brutal Truth

Her words were well-timed, well-aimed, and they cut deep. Emotionally hobbled, I left embarrassed, ashamed, and accused. In her opinion, she was right, I was wrong. She wasted no effort in telling me so. My sister in Christ turned away from me, confident and assured of her own convictions.

Some of the most hurtful interactions I’ve ever experienced have been inflicted by members of a church. Christians, who defend their position – whatever that is – to the death. Debating, arguing and accusing.

Within my own church, I’ve encountered envy, gossip, slander, judgment….even bullying. It’s a hard, shameful thing to even put into words. But, it’s true.

Conversely, some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever known are not members of any church. They are kind and generous simply for the sake of being so. A friend of mine recently told me of her neighbor, an unchurched unbeliever. When this woman’s daughter encountered bullies at school, how did she respond? She sought out their parents, of course. And, she invited them to her home. She organized play dates and other encounters, cultivating a friendship where there was once animosity. She turned her daughter’s enemies into allies. She taught her daughter that, more important than having friends is being a friend.

We claim intolerance for tolerance, under the guise of our righteous sword, and we slay those “sinners” who are trying to do what we should have done first….loving the outliers, the disenfranchised and broken of our society.

At what point, did we forget and start to get things wrong? At what point did we begin reading Jesus’ words as a call to point fingers, accuse, and judge?

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13: 34-35

Every Wednesday night, I sit out on the patio with a few other women and we study the stories of Jesus. Every week, I am left with more questions than answers. Every week, I see a Messiah who did not accuse, did not judge. He did not reprimand, or chastise, or castigate.

He stopped in his tracks. He touched them. He looked them in the eye. He interacted, personally and intimately, with the bottom-dwellers, the lowest of the lowly. The scoundrels, thieves and prostitutes.

If only we could treat each other the same way. We look at those who don’t look or act like us, who believe, or parent, or worship a little different, who interpret and infer a slightly different scriptural meaning and we scream, accusing finger pointed: “You can’t love my God like that!”

I guess we're all a little afraid that if God's presence is there, then it cannot be here. It’s one thing to pat ourselves on the back for our efforts in Africa or Haiti. It’s entirely another to embrace a fellow believer along with all of their flaws, failures, differences and inconsistencies. To accept that they are really, no different than we. Not better, not worse. Still sinners. Still saved.

The word for love in John 13 is from the greek “agape”. Strong’s explains agape as of the love of person to person; especially of that love of Christians toward Christians which is enjoined and prompted by their religion, whether the love be viewed as in the soul or as expressed.

Perhaps when we begin to agape our fellow Christians and all mankind, then, and only then, will the world know that we are His disciples. We will preach the good news with our actions, not our words, and they will know.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light.” ~ St. Francis of Assissi

Adelle Gabrielson Assistant to Children’s Ministry Campbell Church of Christ Campbell, CA

Dying to Live

Even now, three months later, I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I stood at the entrance to my flight departure gate at LAX airport, backpack slung over my shoulder, passport in hand. I waved goodbye to my parents and turned around, just in time to hide the tears forming in my eyes. They weren’t tears of sadness as much as tears of change. I knew I’d made the right decision, and was confident God would take care of me, but I also knew this moment marked a drastic change in my life. I say so because this moment signaled the death of my old life in this world and the start of my new life in Christ. And here's why. The plane I boarded was bound for Hildesheim, Germany, where I would spend three months working as a youth intern for a Church of Christ. My job responsibilities included investing in the middle school and high school aged youth group members, planning events, attending summer camp, and helping fill any of the church’s needs. And while I felt extremely fulfilled and content with my work, I also felt extremely uncomfortable at times. Living in another country is a lot of things, but comfortable is certainly not one of them.

Going into the experience, I spoke hardly any German, was unfamiliar with the cultural subtleties, and knew a total of two people. The first few weeks were full of doubts, fears and frustration. I constantly found myself in awkward situations, such as accidentally buying sour creme instead of whipped creme, or calling someone pregnant instead of beautiful! In my defense, the words sound incredibly similar.

But slowly God began the process of melting me down and reforming me to be stronger than ever. He led me outside my comfort zone and used my discomfort to shape and retrain me to be fully reliant on Him. I often fought the process kicking and screaming, as I tried to lean on my own understanding and failed. Previously trivial tasks like grocery shopping or holding a conversation with someone in German, became huge victories that I had no choice but to give God the credit for. In this reshaping process, God also revealed to me that I have a serious lack of self confidence, and showed me that the only lasting source of self confidence I will ever find flows from the cross.

With time, I started to notice that the further outside my comfort zone He led me, the more confident I felt. He blessed me with deep friendships, wise female mentors, and travel experiences I will never forget. He showed me how capable and worthy I am to do the work laid before me.

Jesus too had to die to this world in order to live again. In John chapter 12, he enters Jerusalem on a donkey to celebrate passover, and is greeted triumphantly with palm branches and praises from the adoring crowd. A short while later, Jesus predicts his fast approaching death and ultimate glorification in front of the people, saying, "The hour has come for the son of man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My father will honor the one who serves me” (verse 23-26).

Before my experience abroad, I was only a single seed, serving no one but myself. I had to fall to the ground by saying goodbye to my southern California life and everything I knew, in order to produce more seeds. The conversations I’ve had with the youth group members here are not more than seeds at this point, but I’m confident they will one day grow and bloom into beautiful plants.

If we claim to follow Jesus, then we are obliged to actually follow Him, whether that be to another country or right next door. The statement, "Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be” has never rung truer. I was called to follow Him half way across the globe because, contrary to what I sometimes believe, Jesus is not American. He is universal, and is actively working in every heart, in every country.

Friends, I encourage you to examine your life today. Is Jesus calling you to follow Him in some new direction? Does it make you uncomfortable? Thats probably a good sign you’re headed down the right path! Jesus does his best work when you are completely and totally reliant on Him. Maybe that looks like asking someone you usually don’t converse with out to coffee, or signing up for that mission trip you’ve been thinking about. Perhaps you need to die to part of yourself in order to bring glory to Christ, and that death is precisely the place you will find new life.

Micah Lambert Student - Pepperdine University

Jesus Wept

I have so much sorrow right now. My grandfather is on hospice care and will likely die soon. My sister-in-law feels like the world isn’t a safe place to raise her black son. My best friend’s husband lost his job. Churches are burning and communities are being torn apart by hate. All of this fills me with sadness. A lot of sadness. I wonder if you feel the same way. After the horrific slaughter of nine people in Mother Emanuel AME church, I find myself weeping a lot; lament is all I can muster. Not the lament that ends in praise. My lament is the pits of despair lament. The no sight of hope lament. At first, I wondered if it was sinful for me to feel this way.

Am I a bad Christian for feeling lament, anger, and loss?

But sometimes life can be really horrible. And when life is truly horrible, I think that lamentation is actually a beautiful and natural response to God. My professor, Dr. Denise Dombkowski Hopkins, talks about how laments belong in the book of Psalms because questioning, anger, and doubt are actually praises to God. The anger-filled shout to God is an honest communication and it still demonstrates faith.

Crying to God in a time of need is a statement of belief in a God who cares.

In John 11 Mary and Martha lament the death of their brother Lazarus. These beautiful women have so many deep emotions about the death of their brother and they just want to know where Jesus is and why he didn’t prevent Lazarus from dying. Martha says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Martha is conflicted. Her words remind us of the Psalms of lament. She doubts Jesus’ timing and yet still has faith in the power of Jesus to resurrect. We know this dynamic well - the tension between death and life, grief and faith.

Later in the chapter Martha’s sister Mary says the same thing. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I’ve heard sermons about how Mary and Martha should have trusted Jesus and not doubted Him. Some tend to be critical of these women for “trusting their feelings” instead of trusting Jesus.

But there’s another way to see them. Perhaps they were communicating with God in the most beautiful, honest, and vulnerable way. Perhaps, in that moment the pain was all they had and they needed an encounter with Christ. They needed to communicate their hurt to the Lord. They needed the perfect and all consuming faith of Jesus. They needed the comfort and assurance of the Lord — the one who knows them to the core of their being.

“God where are you and why won’t you stop this?” is a holy conversation. Lament conversation acknowledges God’s goodness and power without forsaking the pain we all feel in a very broken world.

A youth leader once asked me to share my favorite Bible verse with the group. Stubbornly I replied, “Jesus wept.” I said it because it was the shortest verse in the Bible and I thought this response would show everyone that I was too cool for youth group and the Bible.

But the more I weep, the more that youthful response becomes true. John 11:35, “ Jesus wept.”

Jesus joins in the sorrow and weeps. Jesus does not run from the pain but stays in it. God does not show anger at Mary and Martha but joins them in their vulnerability and sorrow.

In the Women’s Bible Commentary, Gail O’Day writes, “Jesus’s tears may be a sign of his love for this family, as some in the crowd suppose (11:36), but that is not all they signify — Jesus weeps also because of the destructive power of death that is still at work in the world. Once again one sees the intersection of the intimate and the cosmic: the pain of this family reminds Jesus of the pain of the world.”

Rev. Clementa Pinckney will never walk through the doors of Wesley Theological Seminary again. His children will grow up without a father. Sandra Bland’s mother will never see her daughter again. David Wyatt’s family will never get to hug him or hold him. I will never hold my grandfathers hand again or hear him laugh.

But God joins in our sorrow and God weeps with us.

Jane Adams MTS student at Wesley Theological Seminary Worships with National City Christian Church Washington, DC


Perspective. I sat in my empty bathtub and held the bulky mobile phone at a 45-degree angle to my ear. The year was 2002, and I was a recent college graduate working for a Rhode Island newspaper far away from everything and everyone I knew. The only way I could ever get a decent cell phone signal in my beachside apartment was to hold that position in my porcelain tub, so I did. Every night. That particular night’s phone call was to my sister, Jennifer. By birth she is four years my elder, but she has always been light years ahead of me in… just about everything.

During that particular phone call I was fragile, which probably translated to whiny. I was still reeling from round-the-clock 9/11 coverage, I was considering other job offers and graduate school options, and wondering why I didn’t have a clear answer. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. As I explained this to my sister she suggested I pray for a clear path. Thoughtlessly, I wondered out loud whether praying about it would really even matter, because it hadn’t seemed to help much so far. There was a steady pause on the other end of the line. Jennifer, who had recently suffered a miscarriage and was at that very moment in serious danger of having a second miscarriage quietly said, “Elizabeth, sometimes prayer is really all we have and sometimes it’s all we really need.” Where I saw hopelessness she saw hope. Perspective.

The major narrative in John 11 presents us with two very different perspectives: Mary and Martha who desperately want Jesus to heal their dying brother; and Jesus who seems to strategically wait out their pleas to fulfill a greater purpose. Jesus knows Mary and Martha (this is the same Mary who anointed Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair). The sisters plead with Jesus to come and save their brother from death—their faith is unwavering and their need is urgent. They are quite certain the end is near for Lazarus, and what could be more compelling than that?

But where Mary and Martha are desperate Jesus is steady. Instead of hurrying to be with Lazarus, Jesus says “The sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it” (11:4). In fact, Jesus waits two extra days to attend to Lazarus, and by that time he is good and dead. The timing is important to this story: Lazarus has already died, and the disciples are convinced that Jesus (and they) will be killed if they go to Judea. Yet, they go, indeed. Jesus encounters each of the grieving sisters, Mary and Martha, and eventually commands Lazarus to emerge from the tomb, “Lazarus, come forth” (v. 43). There is rejoicing.

This is not the first instance we see of Jesus healing powers in the book of John. In John 9 (1-34), we learn of a man who was blind since birth who is given sight by Jesus. This man who had been helpless is transformed into a fearless advocate for Jesus’ ministry, debating the Pharisees. Where once he was blind, he is now transformed by his healing. Perspective. In the case of Lazarus Jesus used his power to care for his grieving friends, to raise Lazarus, and to demonstrate God’s power over death. Funeral preparations became a joyous reunion. Let’s ask that in our own lives we seek God’s timing and God’s perspective not to raise the dead but to glorify the kingdom. Let us see that in hopeless situations, God can provide hope; in desperate circumstances, God’s power and glory can make things new.

“Did I not say that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.” (John 11:40-42).

Elizabeth Smith Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA

Two Worlds Collide

My favorite story about Jesus is when he raises his friend, Lazarus, from the dead:

A man named Lazarus was sick.  He lived in Bethany with his sisters, Mary and Martha.  So the two sisters sent a message to Jesus telling him, Lord, your dear friend is very sick. (John 11:1, 3)

Jesus did not go to them right away.  He and his disciples stayed where they were for two days before they made the journey back.  By the time they made it to Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.  Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” were the first words to come from both Martha and Mary as soon as they saw Jesus.  Martha went on to say, “But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask.”  She knew that Jesus could bring him back to life.  In all of the commotion, Jesus saw Mary weeping and everyone wailing.  Verse 33 says that “a deep anger welled up within him and he was deeply troubled.” Then Jesus asked where they put Lazarus, AND…. HE… WEPT.  Everyone could tell how much Jesus loved Lazarus.  So why didn’t he keep Lazarus from dying?  Two reasons are given:

1. So that the Son of God will receive glory for this (v.4)

2. So that the disciples will really believe (v. 15) 

Jesus shouted, “Lazarus come out!” And the dead man came out still wrapped in his grave clothes.  Then Jesus said, “Unwrap him and let him go” (John 11:43-44)

Lazarus was not the only person Jesus raised from the dead.  Jesus performed many miracles, and yet this is the only miracle he performed where we get to see such raw human emotion from him.   He knew Lazarus was dead, so why did he become angry?  He knew he was going to bring Lazarus back to life, so why did he weep?  One simple reason: because Jesus loved Lazarus and he felt the sting of loss.  Lazarus was not just another dead person he raised from the dead, he was his dear friend.  I love how in this story, we get to see his humanity and his deity collide.  Sometimes, the concept of Jesus being fully man and fully God can be difficult for us to understand, and it has been questioned since His very existence on this earth.  But when we read this story, we can see it.    We get to see that Jesus had real emotions and human connections just like we do as we see him weep over the death of a loved one.  And we also get to see his power and might when he tells a dead man to come out of his tomb, and the dead man comes out, fully alive.  The Bible doesn’t say this, but can you imagine Jesus’ reaction when his friend comes back to life?  The story ends with Jesus telling them to unwrap him and let him go, but I doubt that is really the end.  I imagine there was great rejoicing and celebration. 

This story reminds me that Jesus not only sees our hurts and disappointments, but has felt them himself.  And because he has felt them himself, he understands them.  Jesus was fully God, fully divine, and sometimes that makes the task of following him and being more like him a little daunting, doesn’t it? But He was also fully human and he struggled with much of the same things we struggled with.  He felt sadness, anger, pain, temptation, even fear.  Remember when he asked God to not make him go through the suffering of the cross?  He even struggled with obedience, yet he was still obedient.  There is nothing that we have felt that Jesus hasn’t.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  Then we also get to see the power and might of Jesus when he raises a dead man back to life.  Jesus can raise the things that have become dead in our lives; our ministries, our passions, our godly desires, our marriages, etc.  Sometimes, we become weary and allow those things die, but Jesus can breathe new life into them.  He can breathe new life into us! 

What were you once so passionate about, that you know the Lord was calling you to do?  Have you allowed those passions to die?  Do you believe, just like Martha knew Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life, that Jesus can bring those desires back to life?  Just ask him and he will do it!

Karisa Madera Central Church of Christ Del Rio, Texas Executive Assistant

Summer Camp Hangover

I am a youth pastor and it is summer time. That image alone, for those of us in ministry, provides enough context to envision a 30 year old athletic-build, chaco- wearing, bull horn sporting, energetic person blobbing teenagers and playing full court basketball (of which I did, all of the above). I just returned from summer camp. Post -camp I always have a “camp hangover.” Mostly this can be remedied with a hot bath, good beverage and at least twelve hours where I don’t have to interact. With anyone.  

But this year was different. This year it was harder to recover from the notorious camp hangover. This year the recovery was not from lack of sleep or too much dirt under my toenails. This year I struggled recovering from the stories I heard. After ten years in youth ministry I thought I had “heard it all.” But this year I experienced a fresh sadness, a fresh pain over how young the students’ stories of self-harm, bullying and sexual identity confusion peppered the sweet experience of blobs, kayaks and swimming pools. 

And so I approach John 10:11-15 with the pain and suffering of my students and I hear the words of Jesus.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees the wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” John 10:11-15

In this passage Jesus assumes pain and suffering. He assumes darkness, attack and scattering for his people. He assumes a sacrifice will be required. And he sets himself in this scene cast in a deeply meaningful role, especially for the Jews to whom He was speaking.

The image of the shepherd was a familiar one. It would have invited the Jews to recall images of God as Israel’s shepherd both personally (Psalm 23) and communally (Ezekiel 34:11-16). Jesus is placing himself right smack dab in the middle in God’s redemptive story in the life of Israel. This is a story wrought with pain, turmoil, darkness and betrayal. And Jesus is intentionally saying, in the midst of this,

I am good.

I am the sacrifice for you.

I will not abandon you.

I will protect you.

I care about you.

I know you.

I am the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

Contemporary readers can oftentimes miss the significance of biblical imagery because of the great divide that separates us from the ancient world in which Jesus lived.

A few facts on shepherds and sheep in ancient Israel:

The shepherd was most often the youngest or weakest child in the family (commonly could have been a young girl).

The terrain in which the sheep lived was dry, rocky and dangerous. The shepherd led the sheep on the mountainside where small patches of grass would sprout up similar to alfalfa sprouts.

At night, when the sheep were most vulnerable to attack, the shepherd would sleep right in the middle of the flock. (This is still the practice of Bedouin shepherds today).

Jesus is still placing Himself right in the middle of our stories wrought with pain, suffering, darkness and betrayal. His gentle calm voice says “I Am…” Not “I was” or “I will be.” But “I am the good shepherd.” And “I am leading you through this treacherous terrain.”

Jesus is the one who led us through the desert to the Promise Land. He is the one who was with us in captivity in Babylon. He is the one who led us back. He is the one with us in whatever darkness we find ourselves in today. He is right smack dab in the middle of us.

So like aloe-vera on a red, sun-burned peeling back, I will treat my camp hangover with this balm,

In the midst of self-hard, I am good.

In the midst of bullying, I will not abandon you.

In the midst of sexual identity confusion, I know you. I care about you.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees the wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep.” John 10:11-15

Kelly Edmiston Youth and Family Minister First Colony Church of Christ Sugar Land, Texas

My Sheep Know Me

Webster’s Dictionary defines knowledge in a few ways. One definition states that knowledge is the awareness of something or the state of being aware of something. I have the knowledge of my coffee cup because it is currently sitting to the right of my computer. I see that it is there, so I am aware of it. Another way that Webster’s Dictionary defines knowledge is: information, understanding, or skill that you get from experience or education. This form of knowledge allows me to go from awareness to a greater understanding. For instance, I am no longer simply aware that my coffee cup is sitting to my right, but I have also studied it, touched it, drank from it, and smelled its essence. I now understand that this coffee cup is white with four detailing ridges. It contains warm coffee with just the right amount of creamer. It has also provided for me a valuable amount of caffeine to get me through the morning, and for that, I am thankful.

In the first half of John Chapter 10, Christ conveys a beautiful metaphor about the relationship between him and his followers: the Good Shepherd and his sheep. He takes time to give a vivid explanation of the nature of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd calls his own sheep by name (v.3), he gathers his own flock and walks ahead of them (v.4), he is also the gate for the sheep (v.7), through him his sheep are saved (v.9), his purpose is to give life (v.10), he sacrifices his life for his sheep (v.11), he knows his sheep, (v.14) and only he has the authority to lay down his own life for his sheep (v.18). I am reminded of the old hymn, “I am a Sheep and the Lord is my Shepherd.” You know, the one where he “watches over our souls?” When the winds blow he is our shelter and when we’re lost and alone he rescues us. That hymn has a very powerful message as to who the Good Shepherd is in relationship with his sheep.

But, today I am curious. I am curious about his sheep. What does the Good Shepherd say about his sheep? The trend I notice is the Good Shepherd’s voice and his sheep’s ability to distinguish his voice. Verse three says that “the Good Shepherd’s sheep recognize his voice.” The word recognize is translated from the Greek word ἀκούει which is defined as to hear or to listen. Verse four says “they follow him because they know his voice.” Then, verse five goes on to say, “They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” How do his sheep distinguish the Good Shepherd from a stranger? The answer is simple: they know and listen to his voice. They have studied his word, they have drank from the cup, tasted the bread, and felt his presence.

What does it look like for his sheep to distinguish his voice from strangers today? We are bombarded with to-do lists, deadlines, natural disasters, terrorist threats, and mixed messages from both the media and religious organizations. It is very easy for me to not recognize his voice. Does his voice ever sound fuzzy to you? Does something that is not his voice ever sound like his voice? Or how many of us recognize his voice but cannot quite put a name to the voice? The Apostle Paul gives us insight on what it may look like to know the Good Shepherd’s voice in Philippians 3:10-11 “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!”

How can we know his voice if we do not participate in his sufferings? How can we know his voice if we are not buried with him and raised again? How can we know his voice if we are not daily sharing in his death? As Christians, many of us are aware that he suffered, that he was buried and raised again, much like I was aware of my coffee cup. But how many of us are truly listening for him? How many of us are studying him, taking in his essence, and allowing him to change our hearts? The Good Shepherd leads us and we follow, but we cannot follow him if we do not know his voice. Today I encourage you to ask yourself how you can better recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me.” John 10:14

Lauren Rutland Hightower Children’s Minister University Church of Christ Shreveport, LA