Posted in Living this Life

The One where Jesus Weeps

Maybe I’ve read it too many times. Do you ever do that? Reach a grand, sweeping story in the Bible and just skim through it like an old sitcom re-run? “The One Where Jesus feeds 5,000 people”… “The One Where He Walks On Water” … you know what I mean, right?

That’s what was happening when I tripped over these two simple words. Truth be told, it’s an oft repeated verse around these parts – my boys say it’s their favorite verse to memorize in Scripture. That might be because it’s known as the shortest verse, and what would a proper boy be if he wasn’t looking for the easiest opportunity to get out of a memorization assignment? So there I was, entering into the “One where Jesus raises someone from the dead” episode, when it stopped me in my tracks.

“Jesus wept”, it says. Yeah, I know we’ve read those words before. Maybe even talked about it. But I’ve never read those words in the context we are now enveloped in throughout our world. Muddling through. Confused by. This “squinting-to-see-truth -through-the-haze” kind of world we are in. So I backed up – and I read it again as if I’d never heard the story. Go there with me…

Jesus receives news that His good friend Lazarus is sick. His sisters, Mary and Martha, are begging Him to help. After all, He is God, right? And He does love them, right? And how does Jesus respond? He waits.

Hold it right there. The story is already hitting too close to home. This is perhaps the most frustrating and confounding of God’s responses to my cries for help. “Will you just do something, God?” I chafe. I try to “help” Him out. I reason with Him, explaining how easy it would be for Him to fix everything … as if He needed to hear how to do His job better. I beg to hear an answer. Even a no – just a something. Some indication that you know I exist. That I need you. That you care. Something, God!

And yet Jesus waits.

Long enough to ensure the worst possible scenario. Lazarus, His friend, dies – and then Jesus decides to show up. His disciples are confused. Jesus makes parodoxical statements that seem to clarify nothing – and then He marches resolutely towards Bethany. It seems to everyone that He’s just a couple days too late at this point.

That’s when this moment that makes time stand still takes place. Jesus is still on the outskirts of town. He has a plan that no one knows. He intends to display God’s glory and power. He knows that the death of His friend will end in resurrection. In a victory that no one can fathom or would dare to predict. He carries all this in His heart as He enters Bethany.

Yet, there stand Mary and Martha. Weeping. Feeling the crushing defeat of death and grief, abandonment and betrayal – they ask all the questions… Why? Where were you when we needed you? You could have saved our brother – why didn’t you come when we called?

Do you feel the weight of those questions today? We all experienced this last year – differently, perhaps, but the loss was there. Confusion permeated the air. Life happened and God has been faithful, but almost like the ongoing horn of a car alarm, there has been this underlying tension that has frayed the nerves and changed us all. Where were you, God?

It’s almost like we can taste the very human saltiness of those tears.

As Jesus stands before Mary, Martha, and the questioning crowds, you’ve gotta wonder what He’s thinking. He knows the end of the story. He knows He came to raise the dead – how easy it would be to slap them on the back, laugh a little, and say “Don’t cry, girls! Come and see what I’m going to do!” He could so easily point to the victory ahead, remind them of all the good days to come.

But not my Jesus. He stands there, holding resurrection in His heart, looking into their grieving souls, and He weeps.

Right there, in that staggering moment, I see Jesus with new eyes. He is my Savior who holds victory in His whisper and promises of hope with every tomorrow – but right now, in this present place, He simply sits with us and feels with us.

My friend, do you feel that? I don’t know what kind of pain, grief, anxiety, or other challenges you face. I am grateful to know that on the other side of it all, there is more in store for us than we could ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20) But right now, in the middle of it all, don’t we really need to know that Jesus is in it with us? Crying with our sorrows, hurting with our confusion, laughing in our joys, and cradling us when we feel so lost?

I take a deep breath, and let my soul rest in this. This beautiful reality that my Jesus knows. He may not be answering all my questions right now – and honestly, that may not help. Answers may calm our minds, but our heart needs more. It needs Jesus’ presence now – comforting us in our pain. Walking with us in our sorrow. Giving us the assurance of His faithfulness in our questions. Lifting us in our joys.

But I love that the story doesn’t end here! Jesus didn’t stop there, on the outskirts of Bethany. He didn’t build a camp around their grief and sink into the trench of sorrow with them. He moved forward – and brought them with Him. Jesus said, “Show me where he (Lazarus) is”. He goes boldly, unafraid, to the source of their grief. And then He heals.

He has the victory in hand. When we sit in silence, He knows. While we wait, He prepares a way. While we are weeping, He weeps with us. And then He gently takes us to the source of our pain and offers healing. Resurrection power.

My friend, our resurrection will look different than we expect. It may not be the resurrection of what has physically or emotionally died. It may take longer than we expect and we may not fully understand it until we see it on the other side, but it is no less real.

His promise of resurrection leads to victory. It gives us a road out of grief, helps us carry our tears to a place of hope, carves new vision for tomorrow. We can trust His promises. All of them. Even when He is silent. Don’t let your confusion shut Him out. Don’t let your grief dull your senses. Feel His tears alongside your own. Let His presence with you bring you comfort. And then fight for hope. Fight for victory.

Listen to Him say, “Lazarus, come out!”

Posted in Living this Life

the e-mail

I could tell by the subject line that I didn’t want to open the e-mail.

Yet, I knew by the subject line that I just had to open the e-mail and read the words I didn’t want to read.

It was true. Another place closing. Another place that I love – gone.

Thing is, this isn’t just another place. I drove by one of my favorite restaurants the other day and saw the for sale sign. That was a bummer. This was different. This hit deep, and I suddenly didn’t know how to process it.

It’s one of those places that I have never been able to get out of my soul. One of the first places I understood the word “home”. In a life of feeling perpetually out of place, this was a place that welcomed misfits like me and gave us a sense of belonging.

It was my sophomore year of college – that summer when I walked through the doors of a The Shelter, a youth hostel in the middle of the city of Amsterdam on the edge of the red light district.

I had no idea God would forever change the trajectory of my life that summer. That He would show me who I was created to be and that I would never be satisfied settling for anything else.

I went back after college and spent a year in those walls – eager to learn, eager to meet people from around the world, eager to share my Jesus with them. God used that place to forever alter my life.

You may say it’s just a building surrounded by a multitude of other buildings. But it was on that rooftop I would pace when I felt my world crumbling around me – I would pace back and forth – praying and pleading with God for His Truth.

It was in that dining room where I would eat with people from around the world – Laughing, singing, talking, doing life together.

It was in that kitchen where I learned to make Moussaka and Boerenkool. But it’s really the place I learned that the simple act of spending a day cutting onions and peeling mounds of potatoes can carve out quiet places to let the Spirit in.

It was in that snack bar where I would discuss the beauty of my Jesus with a Spanish traveler who had just from a Tibetan monastery. Where I would pore over the Scriptures and rest in the peace of the Psalms with my friend Jess, a gay prostitute who was desperately hungry for balm for a hurting soul.

It’s where I learned not to fear the questions – for if you keep looking you will find the Truth. It just takes a lot of courage to face the real questions and a lot of persistence to uncover the answers. It’s where I saw that we aren’t really all that different under the surface – where a smile has the power to transcend all cultural, racial, and political differences. And sometimes when trying to register a group of 20 travelers who don’t speak English, a smile is all you have.

It’s where I learned to love shoarma and frites with mayo. And I learned the value of knowing how to ask for coffee with whipped cream in Dutch (Koffie met slagroom, alstublieft)

So I read the e-mail, and as the truth soaked in that they were having to close their doors due to the current condition of our world, the tears started to fall. Not just for all the faces I saw, the people I had come to love, the memories I cherished… I wept for the loss of a place to return to.

Oh how the heart longs to remember what fades so quickly! How often we long to return to places that matter because they remind us of who we were. More importantly, of who God is and what He has done. And I don’t have many of those places…

Growing up in the jungles of Africa was an unmitigated blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But my home no longer exists – the ravages of war destroyed my childhood village many years ago, and I will never be able to take my family to the place I grew up. I can show them the country as it is, but it will forever be a different place than the home I knew.

So all these years, my heart has clung to this special place on the edge of the red light district in Amsterdam. I longed for the day I could show my family the place where God changed the course of my life. Where I learned how real He truly is and discovered that He really will catch us when the world crumbles around us. I have walked through those old hallways with my family so many times in my mind – just waiting for the day it could become reality.

And I wept for the loss of that opportunity.

God has placed eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11) – and yet we try to fit this small earth around that. We grasp for the ideal of an unchangeable good – a place where our hearts feel safe. But buildings crumble and heroes let us down.. What do we do then? Construct new idols? New mirages of control or illusions of contentment? Or do we reject the stuff of earth and place all our hope firmly and only on heaven?

We’ve all experienced loss this year. And I know my story is light compared to the life changing loss many have endured. But we all share this one thing – longings for something we may not be able to return to. It comes out in grief, sorrow, rage, cynicism, depression… and I wonder – what do we do with all these feelings?

When the longings start and we are torn between what is and our nostalgic memory of what was … we often think we have to choose between the two. Instead of rushing past the callback, why don’t we linger a couple more minutes and let it bloom into something of beauty? What if we’re experiencing a foretaste, a promise, a shadow of what is to come? In His moments of greatest agony on earth, Jesus looked to the “joy set before Him”. (Hebrews 12:2)

Do you see it? Can you smell it? The welcoming notes of the fresh baked bread? The delicate aroma of flowers we have yet to discover? We blush and call it childish nostalgia – but could it be so much more?

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” CS Lewis

So today i don’t think I’m going to wipe these tears away too quickly. I think instead I’ll try to just rest in the magic of the mystery. To let the ache in my heart intensify my longing for heaven – that great unending good that will never be taken from us. That we will never outgrow, move away from, or lose. This is the gift.

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14

Posted in Living this Life

Leaves and other stuff…

I had to run out for a couple minutes today, so I grabbed the old car that gets parked under a tree, swept away the mountain of leaves that the weekend had left us, and hit the road.

As I rounded the corner, I gasped a little, because the sun hit my windshield and there, glowing like the most brilliant artwork, were imprints of all the leaves that had piled up on my windshield.

Imprints … stick with me for a minute.

Because then I saw the darker less artistic splotches – you know, those that the friendly neighborhood birds had deposited alongside those beautiful leaves. And it made me ask myself – what sort of imprints am I leaving behind? In the middle of this pandemic and social unrest? The day before a highly contentious election? How about the day after said election?

What do you see when the sun (Son) reflects off my life? We don’t get to choose many of our circumstances – but we do get to choose what we do with them.

We all leave a trails behind us – may ours be filled with beauty and grace and wonder