We decided to do something wild and crazy. We rented a car in Florence and spent two days driving around Tuscany. We wanted to see some of the little towns not so accessible by bus or train. The adventure took on epic proportions for Linda. Because my license had been stolen in Rome we had to rent the car in her name and she had to drive. We did do the smart thing and rent a GPS. She was the pilot, I was the co-pilot, but we were both taking our cues from Mr. Garmin.
Now Mr Garmin is a smart fellow and knew exactly how to get us from point A to point B. The problem was that we were not so good at following his directions and got confused at times – which caused us to get off course, frustrated, angry, and emotionally distraught. At times we felt like we were traveling in circles and wondered if we would ever get where we wanted to go.
A parallel can be made to the Christian life. God has given us His Word to teach us, to direct us, and to equip us for the journey. He knows how best to get us from point A to point B. If we listen carefully, pay attention, and follow His instructions explicitly then we will avoid a lot frustration, anger, and heartache.
When we got to our final destination in Tuscany there was much rejoicing. It was gorgeous; it fulfilled our hopes and dreams; it provided rest for our weariness and gladness for our hearts. This is the experience of believers who trust in God, seek Him, and listen to His Word. Our final destination is going to be awesome.
A few thoughts about our Tuscany adventure:
– We would have been utterly lost without the help of the GPS. As strangers in a strange land we depended on ” the voice” to get us where we needed to be. Without it we would probably somewhere in Germany right now.
– “The voice” did not always take us on the quickest route. Sometimes it was the scenic route. Sometimes it was a route designed to avoid trouble.
– We didn’t always like the route that “the voice” took us on but it did always get us where we needed to be.
I think you can make the obvious parallels to these thoughts.
We enjoyed a fun, full two days in Tuscany as we got spent time in Gaiole in Chianti, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca, and Pisa. More adventures on the horizon.
Florence was the epicenter of Renaissance Italy and Michaelangelo was the dominant figure of the Renaissance. Born in 1475, Michaelangelo is considered one of the greatest artists in all of history. He was a prolific painter, poet, and architect but his real passion was sculpting. When we were in Rome we saw 2 of his major works: Moses and The Pieta. Here in Florence we stood in line over an hour to enter the Accademia and see his most amazing work – David.
It took over two years for Michaelangelo to complete this 17 foot tall work of art, finishing it when he was about 28 years old. It is amazing to me to think that he started with a block of marble and kept chiseling away until he had this incredible masterpiece. Such detail. Such definition. Such imagination. And as great as the sculpture is I came away thinking how awesome the sculptor was.
And then this verse came to mind: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10). God is in the process of chiseling away all the excess stuff in my life – working diligently day by day, perfecting little by little the masterpiece that He calls Shay. And He is doing the same in your life. Sometimes the chiseling is painful. No doubt it is a slow process. And often we can’t figure out what God is up to. But the end result, as we allow God to do His work, will be something beyond our imagination, crafted by God, that others will marvel at – but who will stand back and exclaim what an incredible artist The Lord our God is. May it be so in my life!
The thing that strikes me about this passage is what is NOT recorded. If I was at that dinner with Jesus and Lazarus, given that I am by nature a question-asker, you can bet that I would be peppering Lazarus with questions. Here are a few that I would love for him to answer:
Describe what you experienced during the 4 days that you were “dead”?
What is heaven like?
Did you see people that you knew? Did you get to talk to them?
Did you see God? What was that like?
What about angels? What do they look like? What were they doing?
What is it like to be in a place where there is no sin or suffering?
What were you thinking when you heard Jesus’ voice calling you back into this world?
Given what you experienced, how has it changed you now that you are back on earth?
What do I need to know now that will better prepare me for “death”?
Are you going to write a book about your experiences? Are you planning a speaking tour?
That last question was written in jest. Not only am I a question-asker by nature, but I am also skeptical by nature. I have always been skeptical about books and people who claim to have had afterlife experiences. But if I had been sitting at that table, and if I had watched Lazarus die, and if I knew that he had been wrapped up in grave clothes and been 4 days in the grave, and if I had been there when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” then I would have been hanging on every word that Lazarus said. And I would also have been talking about it with everyone that I met. I love verse 17:
“Now the crowd that was with Him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word.”
Now, since the resurrection of Christ is the cornerstone of my faith, the question for me is this: Do I not just believe that Lazarus was raised from the dead but that Jesus was raised from the dead – and if so to what extent am I spreading the word.
“Father, thank You for the reminder that my faith is founded on the fact of the resurrection. And would You empower me to spread the word with passion and enthusiasm.”
Sorrento is a gorgeous little town that sits as the gateway to the Amalfi peninsula. It is a fun place to use as a hub to see some other places in the area. And we did just that. On one of our days we went to the ruins of Pompeii and the other day we went to the island of Capri. My main takeaway was from Pompeii.
The city of Pompeii was an ancient Roman town near modern Naples. Pompeii, along with Herculaneum was mostly destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
August 24, A.D. 79 started out like any other day in Pompeii. But before it was over an estimated 16,000 people had lost there lives. I was reminded of how fragile life is and that we really have no idea what might be in store for us tomorrow. Life can change in an instant. Jesus therefore says “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness… Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
I confess that I get caught up in my own world much of the time. I do not tend to be a worrier, but neither do I seek His kingdom first. I am too busy building my own little kingdom. And yet I know that for my life to have eternal influence it needs to revolve around God and not around Shay.
Perhaps the visit to Pompeii will remind me in the days to come that I need to be much more intentional about seeking God’s kingdom first. I pray that it will.
“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.”
As time permits and as we have internet availability, I hope to chronicle some things from our sabbatical that we are learning along the way. Our first stop was Rome.
Here are few things I was reminded of and learned…
1. The depravity of man – We landed early on Wednesday, got settled into our B&B and hit the town running. Our first stop – the San Sebastián Catacombs. The catacombs were a series of underground tunnels established by the early Christians both for refuge from persecution and for burial of their dead. There are miles and miles of tunnels. Linda and I took a metro train and then a bus to the site. Because we were still learning our way around we got off at the wrong place and then had to walk about a mile+ up the Appian Way… in the rain… to get there. I paid, we went in, saw the catacombs then boarded a bus to head back into town. It was not until later that realized I was missing my wallet. We had been told to be careful of pickpockets in Rome – evidently I was not careful enough. Gone on our first day was my wallet, drivers license, 2 credit cards and about $200 in cash. Not the way I wanted to start the trip. But it was a lesson I was reminded of. Man is depraved – morally corrupt and wicked and desperately in need of God. I should not be surprised by the theft. I should really be surprised that it has not happened more often because the basic nature of man apart from God is not goodness but wickedness.
2. The value of good friends – One of the things we had been looking forward to about this trip was the opportunity to spend 3 days with our friends Tom and Sonya Holloway who are missionaries serving in Slovakia. They flew down to join us and we spent 3 very full days walking the city, talking, dining at various trattorias, seeing the sites and eating gelato. It was fun to reconnect with them, picking up where we left off the last time we saw them. Good friends are a great blessing from God.
3. The difference between religion and a relationship with God – On our first day with the H’s we spend much of the day down around the Coliseum. So much to see around there as it is the area where the city of Rome was originally settled and established. One of the places we visited was the building next to the Church of San Giovanni which houses the Scala Sancta – or the Holy Stairs. Tradition says that these were the stairs that Jesus walked up and down upon his visit with Pilate prior to the crucifixion. Supposedly, Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, had them moved from Jerusalem to Rome in the 4th century. Today pilgrims ascend these steps on their knees praying as they go, hoping that this will win them favor with God. Martin Luther reputedly had an “AHA” moment as he made a pilgrimage here in 1511. As I watched hundreds of very sincere people work their way up the steps I was again reminded how grateful I am that I don’t have to do anything to curry favor with God. He sought me out, He rescued me, He gave me new life, He poured out His grace and mercy and forgiveness upon me. I was dead. He made me alive and initiated a relationship with me that is meant for my good and for His glory. I don’t have to do a bunch of religious stuff to have right standing with God. This is what He did for me through Christ.
4. From time to time it is good to “contemplate our own mortality” – On our 2nd day with the H’s we did the Borghese Gallery, Spanish Steps, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Hadrian’s Tomb, and The Jewish Ghetto among other things. The Spanish Steps have been a popular hangout for romantics over the years. The British poet John Keats ” pondered his mortality” here and then died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. So I took a cue from him and did some pondering as well, which I am famous for anyway. In some respects I believe I am living on borrowed time…but then aren’t we all. God has graciously given us Today. It behooves me to make the most of it as THE day draws near. Having recently celebrated yet another birthday (#56) I am keenly aware that life is fleeting. May God grant me wisdom to live the rest of my days with joyful intentionality as I look forward to the future.
5. The Christian walk is a great adventure that is joyfully exhausting – We only had 3 days in Rome (which was plenty) but spent most of those 3 days walking… and walking… and walking. I had just gotten a Fitbit for my birthday – a social networking gizmo that measures how many steps you take in a day – so I was somewhat motivated to walk. But maybe not quite as much as we did. I was exhausted at the end of each day. But glad we had seen so much and experienced so much. The Christian life is described as a walk. It is for movers, not sitters. And joy in the journey comes from a daily, steady, deliberate, intentional walk. Those who sit around and do nothing would have a hard time finding joy in the journey – because the journey would be non existent.
As a result of “the Lazarus Incident” Jesus vaulted to the top of the Sanhedrin’s Ten Most Wanted List. He was now a marked man with a death sentence hanging over His head. (v. 53)
What I find interesting about this passage is the different reactions that people had to what they saw happen right before their very eyes. Verse 45 tells us that many of the Jews saw what Jesus did and put their faith in Him. But some (verse 46) were so outraged they went to the Pharisees and told them what they saw.
You would think that having seen Jesus raise a man from the dead would inspire awe and belief not anger and unbelief. How is it that people can see the exact same thing and come to two very different conclusions? Here are a few of my thoughts…
When it comes to Jesus, people have already made up their minds about what they will believe or not believe – Jesus is very polarizing. He always has been and I suspect He always will be. Whether it is because of their upbringing or a “bad religious experience” or because of a hardened heart, a lot of people have made up their minds about Jesus and have determined they will not be swayed in any way. No matter what they might see with their own eyes.
For many people, truth is relative – The argument goes like this… I have my truth and you have your truth. You saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead. I saw a really cool magic trick. You believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want and we’ll get along just fine. Just don’t try to make your truth better than my version of truth or try to make me believe that my truth is not truth at all. All truth is relative. There are no absolutes, of this I am absolutely positive.
Many people value position and power and prestige more than they value what is right or wrong – The Pharisees were worried that this Jesus cult was going to keep growing until it usurped the power of the Sanhedrin. They were worried that Rome would strip them of their authority over religious matters concerning the Jews. They were worried that their prestige as the Jewish elite would be taken away. So it did not matter what they might have seen Jesus do, they would have nothing to do with it.
Jealousy is indeed a monster – Some people just can’t stand to see other people succeed. It’s as if their success somehow diminishes them. When life is all about “me”, then other people are a threat. And when I feel threatened I get angry. And when I get angry people get hurt. The only way the Pharisees knew how to deal with the threat of Jesus was to get rid of Him. That way they could maintain their status and keep up their charade of success in the Jewish community.
“Father, would You open my eyes so that I can see and understand truth. And would You soften my heart so that I value what is right more than I value what others think of me.”
“I’m not afraid of death because I don’t believe in it. It’s just getting out of one car, and into another” ― John Lennon
It is interesting to see how people think and react differently to death. In this passage we see a lot of different reactions to the death of Lazarus.
Thomas – v. 16 – Thomas certainly does not seem concerned about dying. He is ready to go and “die with him.” Thomas kind of gets a bad rep as a doubter. He actually seems to have a boldness about his faith and is ready to follow Jesus anywhere.
Martha – v.21 – With Martha there seems to be some disappointment coupled with hope. I see this kind of reaction quite a bit among believers. There are the questions that often come up like “Why did God not do something?” or “Why did God let this happen?’ – But then the questions are coupled with a confidence that they know the one who died is with God and in a better place.
Mary – v.32 – Mary is emotionally torn up. She is experiencing deep grief – so much so that it overshadows her faith and hope at this point. I also see this among believers. It is not that they have lost faith, it is just that they are so overwhelmed with grief and it will take some time for them to recognize that God is still in control.
“Some of them” – v.37 – Some of them seem angry and are looking for someone to blame. This is a fairly typical reaction from unbelievers. Especially those who believe in God but don’t have an authentic relationship with Him. They want to lash out at someone and God seems an easy target.
Jesus – vs.4, 33-36 – Jesus has several different kinds of reactions. First we see that He does not seem overly concerned even though He knew that Lazarus was going to die. His confidence was rooted in God and He knew that God was in control and would bring glory to Himself even through the death of one who loved Him. But then we see real genuine grief. “Jesus wept.” I think He was grieving for several reasons:
He hurt for those who were hurting. His friends were sad and missed their brother and their tears moved Him to tears.
But also He grieved over the consequences of living in a fallen world. He hated what he saw sin had done to destroy God’s “very good” creation. He knew the way God had intended it to be and it was painful to see it otherwise.
I would hope that my reaction would be more like Jesus. But as I look at this passage I think it is more often like Martha. My faith is not shaken by death but there are often questions that creep into my mind. What about you? How do you react to the death of a loved one?
Father, thank You that You are indeed “the resurrection and the life” and that in You I can have complete confidence that You are in control of both of life and of death.