This Sunday I look forward to preaching from John 11, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. We’re going to focus on three truths about the Lord :
- Jesus is always active.
- Jesus always has an answer.
- Jesus is always doing good.
Since I was thinking about those three themes this week, I tried to be more attentive to ways in which I thought I saw Jesus active in my life.
Here are a few things I saw, admittedly small, but nevertheless much needed and wanted.
It started off with my birthday last Sunday and an unexpected lunch out with quite a large group from our church. The point of the lunch was to thank and honor Bart Larson, a friend and hospice chaplain who has filled in for me at Emmanuel during the last stage of Diana’s illness and her going to heaven.
To be honest, sometimes it’s hard right now to be around lots of people or to carry on what used to seem like a normal conversation. (Thank you for being patient with me.) I wasn’t sure I would even go to the lunch, but how blessed I was by the good conversation and uplifting atmosphere our church family brought to the meal time. Lots of caring and laughter and meaningful discussion – just like it must be in heaven ! For me, the time was topped off by a specially-made (first time ever ?) birthday cake from the Chinese staff there : a tiny cream puff with a candle in it, stacked on top of two fairly plain-looking cookies on a plate decorated with orange slices and broccoli ! “Happy Birthday” was sung in English. I believe the whole idea came from someone in the church.
I wonder if Diana was laughing over the whole thing. Many times in the past — because she was so busy raising kids, and because I was usually such a grump on my birthday and impossible to satisfy — she didn’t have a cake for me but would get whatever was handy in the kitchen (a piece of candy, a cookie, a banana) and stick a candle in it. It became an ongoing joke in our family. Thanks to everyone who made #51 a special day. The Lord was actively involved, I believe.
Last Monday evening brought to a close the Grief Support Group I’ve been attending along with a few others from the church. It has been an enriching experience to share with other people in the grief process. It was interesting – and heartening – to experience a considerable amount of laughter within the group at this last meeting. One woman in the group (somewhat older than I am, I think) was sharing about the loss of her husband and, in particular, her belief that she would never marry again. “Besides,” she said, “I never go anywhere I would meet someone.” I pointed out to her that she was sitting next to two single men (myself and one other) right there in the grief group. She looked at both of us, then declared : “As I said, I will never marry again !”
As God would have it, I ran into two other members of the group later in the week – one person whom I had known just a little bit prior to the group, and one person I had not known at all. To be able to connect with them in a small way – to recognize, in each instance, that we knew a little bit of what the other person was going through – seemed to be a gift from the Lord.
For years, Diana and I wanted our family to have some sort of impact spiritually on the lives of people out in our neighborhood, Gascony Village. Sometimes it has seemed hard to develop relationships – maybe more for me than for her. This past evening, while I was out working in the yard, one of our neighbors came walking up to me with a request : Another neighbor up the road is going to marry his girlfriend and wants to know if I would perform the wedding. “He lives in the first big shed when you come down the hill,” she said. I recognized who it was, though I hadn’t ever heard someone call his home a “shed.” Yet, that is, in fact, the type of home he and quite a few others have in Gascony Village – a large metal building which is mostly garage (for boats, golf carts, etc.), and a small living area. The wedding will be held on a deck overlooking the Gasconade River. Pray that I might help this couple with their upcoming marriage and with other eternal issues.
Good News from the Faraway Past
I learned in a roundabout way this week that a young woman who nearly 20 years ago was a teenager in the small youth group of our church in France is now married and, with her Japanese husband, helping to start churches in the western suburbs of Tokyo, Japan ! How thrilling to learn how deeply the seed of God’s Word went into her heart and life, and is now producing spiritual fruit in a completely different part of the world. The Lord is always at work, isn’t He ? How easily we overlook small investments we make in the lives of young people.
I’m part of a really good Sticky Group (Home Group) where discussion is easy, free-flowing, and this week took us to the core of who we understand God to be, as we reviewed last Sunday’s sermon covering Isaiah 62-66. What would I change if I knew Jesus were returning this year (or within the next three years) ? What are the things I need to do in order to have a more vibrant, real relationship with God ? What keeps me from taking those steps ? I appreciated that one of our group members bothered to ask, “How are you doing ?” and wasn’t offended when I answered, “Not very good, but I’m a good faker.” I thank God for the wide variety of people He has put in my life, and for these people in particular who have opened up their hearts to me. See how active He is in our lives !
I listened closely to Bart’s sermons as he led us through the book of Isaiah. He stayed true to what he told us at the beginning of his series – that he was going to help us see God “in 3-D.” What great pictures of God he has given us from the Word, … perhaps as only an artist can. I’ve noticed in the past two or three weeks that Bart gave the Emmanuel family two specific challenges from his heart : one is a challenge to pray ; the other is a challenge to be involved in discipleship. I believe these challenges are God’s challenges to us, not just Bart’s. I wonder if, and how, we will respond as a church. Bart reminded us last week that spiritual growth does not come through “osmosis.” We have to actively take part in doing the things that help us grow with God. Attending church on Sunday morning alone may not necessarily produce that much significant growth. I remember hearing some years ago that the average churchgoer retains only three minutes of a thirty-minute sermon. You and I can probably attest to that. God is challenging us to prayer and to discipleship.
Encouragement from Diana
I came across notes from some talks Diana gave some years ago here at Emmanuel. At the end of one was this sentence which summarizes, in many respects, a part of her philosophy of life : “Don’t allow the frustrations of today to control you and make you lose sight of your long-range goals.”
Do you still have those long-range goals ?
How has Jesus been active in your life ? Where are you waiting upon Him to act ? I hope you’ll think about those questions between now and Sunday.
See you then,