The Resurrection and The Life

If you’re anything like me, there are times when you read the Bible and by the time you’re done reading it, you can’t even remember a significant portion of what you’ve read. Sometimes I get caught up more in trying to check the box of reading the Word rather than trying to spend time and let the Word marinate in my heart.

One practice that I’ve found recently that helps me is to slow it down and begin to ask questions about what I’m reading. What is happening in this particular book of the Bible? Who is involved? What time period are we dealing with? What has happened just before this passage?

The book of John may be my favorite book of the Bible (if that’s allowed, haha). It covers the ministry of Jesus from a different perspective than the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke).

John 11 is such an interesting passage to me. It covers the death and resurrection of Lazarus.

So to set this up, let’s quickly go through what has happened to this point with Jesus in the book of John.

John highlights Seven Signs of Jesus in his gospel, which will conclude with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. What were those signs?

  • Changing water to wine (John 2: 1-11)
  • Healing the official’s son (John 4: 46-54)
  • Healing the invalid at Bethesda (John 5: 1-15)
  • Feeding the five thousand (John 6: 1-15, 25-69)
  • Walking on water (John 6: 16-21)
  • Healing the man born blind (John 9: 1-41)
  • Raising Lazarus (John 11: 1-44)

Obviously, as John points out at the end of his book, there were way more signs and miracles that Jesus performed in addition to the seven that are highlighted here. So why highlight these seven?

In short, John’s goal is to show his audience that Jesus is the Savior of the world they had been waiting for. John highlights that in John 20:30-31 when he says “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

So let’s pick up in John 11, which begins with Jesus receiving word from Mary and Martha that Lazarus was sick. Jesus hears this and says “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now, Jesus loved Mary, Martha and Lazarus very much.

Jesus and his disciples then stay two more days where they were before heading out to see Lazarus. Jesus had just been threatened to be stoned in Judea and now was planning on going back there to see Lazarus. Picking up in John 11: 11-27:

He said this and then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.” Then the disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.” Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought he was speaking about natural sleep. So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died. I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away). Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother. As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her. Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”

So, what stands out here to you? To me, it’s a few things:

  • First, who says the Bible can’t have a little humor? The disciples not understanding that Jesus was saying Lazarus was dead and Jesus having to point it out bluntly was pretty funny to me.
  • Why did Jesus wait two days before going to see Lazarus? Why did he wait until he had already been dead four days to go? Why did he go at all? We already know that Jesus didn’t have to be physically present somewhere in order to perform miracles. Well, he tells us why earlier in the passage when he says “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” He already knows he’s going to heal Lazarus. But he wants to make sure the disciples are there so that they will believe. He says “I’m glad I wasn’t there so that you may believe. But let’s go to him.”
  • Why did Martha come immediately to Jesus but Mary remained seated in the house? I don’t know if I know the answer to this, but my guess is one of the reasons is that she was overcome with grief and remained in the house. Think about what Jesus is walking into. Mary and Martha know his power. But they think they’ve just lost their brother. It had to have been a very somber occasion.
  • Martha displays her faith in Jesus even when her circumstances (she thought) weren’t going the way she had hoped.

Let’s pick back up from John 11: 28-44:

Having said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, saying in private, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” As soon as Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. Jesus had not yet come into the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house consoling her saw that Mary got up quickly and went out. They followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to cry there. As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and told him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked. “Lord,” they told him, “come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t he who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would 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 know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

This is an incredible thing that Jesus had done, raising a man from death to life. There’s so much here that stands out but I’ll pick out one:

Why did Jesus weep? Have you ever thought about this? He obviously loved Lazarus and his family. But as we talked about earlier, Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead for his glory. Was he really sad over Lazarus’ physical death? In a way, I think yes. I think Jesus has great compassion for Mary, Martha and the others there who were in pain. He felt their pain, just as he feels and knows our pain. I also think he was moved and angry that death was in the world because of sin. And this miracle that Jesus was about to perform would help set off a chain of events that made the religious leaders determined to kill him. This was just days away from Jesus on the cross.

Many believed in Jesus because of the miracle he did for Lazarus but it came at a cost. Jesus had a target on his back as he entered Jerusalem in the week leading up to his death and resurrection.

But this miracle really drove home that he is, as he put it, “The resurrection and the life.” He has full power and authority over death. And he was exercise that power and authority days later when he was resurrected himself.

There’s so much here just in one chapter in the book of John. Pray that the Holy Spirit teaches you how to read the Word and absorb what the Lord has for you in it. Ask questions. Think about the context. And if you do those things, I think you’ll experience the Bible in a way you never have before.

Overwhelming goodness of God

It’s been an overwhelming time for me as of late to take a step back and appreciate the goodness of God.

I know for my own life, that has been something that I have overlooked or taken for granted far too often, even if not intentionally. It can be easy to appreciate God’s faithfulness and goodness when He does “big” stuff for us, right? But what about the “little” things that we don’t even think about?

Each moment we get with our loved ones is a blessing from God. Each day we get with our good health is a blessing. Each time we’re able to wake up and go work a job and help provide for our families is a blessing. And yet, those have been some of the things that most of the time I don’t even think about.

God has done some pretty amazing stuff in the life of my wife and I over the course of the past seven days. We closed on our first house last week after a complicated process where it looked like there was going to be no way to get it done on multiple occasions. And yet He provided for us when it looked like there was no way.

We found out last week that our little dog had a cancerous tumor on her chest that was going to require surgery to try and remove it. She had that surgery today and there were no visible signs of the cancer spreading throughout her body and the tumor was completely removed. We’re still waiting to hear back from the lab results, but today’s portion of that battle could not have gone much better.

I’m so grateful to God for those things. He did not have to provide a way for us to get our house. But He did. He did not have to guide our dog through surgery and come out of things looking great on the other side. But He did.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize more and more that it’s not all about me. God can do great things regardless of anything that I bring to the table. He doesn’t need me in order to do those things. And yet, He also is gracious enough to allow us to be an active part of His plan.

One thing I’ve also come to know is that sometimes it’s really hard to understand what God’s plan is. There are just simply things that we’re not going to understand on this side of heaven. And you know what, that’s OK because He’s God and we’re not.

The comfort from those situations, though, is that God is always in total and complete control. He is working all things together for your good if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ.

I came across a radio program recently that highlighted a pretty good example of God being totally in control that I had previously never considered. In the book of Genesis, Joseph has been sold into slavery and has ended up in prison in Egypt.

After this, the king of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guards in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guards assigned Joseph to them as their personal attendant, and they were in custody for some time.” – Genesis 40:1-4

This is, at first glance, a seemingly meaningless detail in the story. We don’t know exactly what the cupbearer and baker did to offend Pharaoh, but whatever happened was significant enough to land them in prison with Joseph. While in there, they both have dreams that Joseph is able to correctly interpret through God’s help. That later leads to him interpreting Pharaoh’s dream and becoming basically second in command in all of Egypt.

It was God’s sovereignty that put the cupbearer and baker in prison. If they weren’t in there, Joseph would’ve never interpreted their dreams. If he never interpreted their dreams, he would have never been summoned by Pharaoh to interpret his. And then he would never have risen to power and ultimately have been reunited with his brothers and father.

It’s a simple yet effective reminder that God is always working. Sometimes seemingly meaningless details can be God weaving together a beautiful tapestry.

I hope you will always remember to thank God for what He does in your life on a daily basis. He is so, so good.

‘But ultimately in His plan, it brings glory’

Sometimes things happen in life and there’s simply not a human explanation as to why.

What good could possibly come from this? Why would God allow something like this to happen? Why do bad things happen to people have faithfully served the Lord?

These can be very difficult questions to answer. Many times, we don’t really have an answer. At least not an answer that makes anyone feel much better.

Those questions started circling through my mind again over this past week during a very challenging week for our church family at Long Hollow in Hendersonville, TN.

Chris Swain, who was the Disciple-Making pastor at Long Hollow and dedicated his life’s work to serving Christ in whatever capacity was needed. Swain and Robby Gallaty, the pastor at Long Hollow, were practically inseparable and were best friends. They were planning on going to a baseball game together on the night of Friday, July 9 and Swain was taking his dog, Emmitt, to the mailbox around 5:30 p.m.

The neighbors later found Swain by the mailbox and he was unresponsive. They immediately began to perform CPR and called for paramedics. After nearly a week in the hospital, Swain passed away at the age of 47 on Thursday, July 15. He is survived by his wife, Melissa, and their two children.

How do you even begin to process something like that? Chris was a healthy guy who was in the prime of his life. He had a wonderful family and was experiencing revival in his ministry and at our church at Long Hollow. Why would God allow something like this to happen to someone like Chris?

It was the revival that we had all experienced together that I thought was going to make this story have a happier ending. When we came together as a church family on Sunday, July 11, we knew that Chris’ prognosis wasn’t good. Robby, our pastor, had asked all of us to pray for Chris and was going to the hospital to pray over him and anoint him with oil at 2 p.m.

I’ve always known and believed that it’s possible for God to heal. Intellectually, that has always been something that I’ve been able to process. But man, I really believed we were going to see it happen with Chris. I mean truly believed it. With every fiber of my being. And in a way that I’ve never experienced before. And I wasn’t alone. We had thousands of people praying across the world for Chris Swain to be healed.

In order to understand that, you’ve got to understand what God has been doing at our church this year. We’ve seen more than 1,000 people get baptized since the end of December in 2020, including my wife. We’ve seen people who were addicted to drugs be set free. We’ve seen people who used to worship Satan be radically transformed by Jesus. We’ve seen wayward sons and daughters come home. We’ve seen a passion for Jesus sweep through our church in a way unlike I’ve ever experienced before. It’s been like something out of the book of Acts.

I just truly believed that God was going to heal Chris Swain. And then He didn’t. And then all of those questions start to creep back into your mind.

But God is the same God today as He was when our revival began. And He never promises that the road is going to be easy.

Hebrews 11:32-40 lays it out perfectly.

And what more can I say? Time is too short for me to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the raging of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, gained strength in weakness, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead, raised to life again. Other people were tortured, not accepting release, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Others experiences mockings and scourgings, as well as bonds and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they died by the sword, they wandered about in sheepskins, in goatskins, destitute, afflicted and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and on mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these were approved though their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.”

The first part of this group of verses talks about champions of the faith who were rescued and experienced miraculous events that only God could provide. The second part shows that some were not rescued. Some struggled. Some were not released. Some died. And ALL were approved through their faith.

I had several conversations with Chris over the course of the past couple of years even though we only met together in person just a few times. The first time that I ever met him I felt like I had already known him for years. He and Robby did a weekly podcast that had become my favorite thing to listen to.

In my first meeting with Chris, he and I sat down for about 30 minutes and recorded an interview for my podcast on discipleship and why that was so important in today’s church. During that interview, I asked Chris how he would explain the impact that his relationship has had on his life. Here was his response:

“I would say that it’s radically changed by life,” Swain said. “I would say that the life that I had prior to Christ, where it was headed, is nothing like the life that I have now. I’ve been a believer for 27, 28 years now so it’s been a long time. In the midst of that, I looked at who I was before Christ and what God has done in my life after I began to follow Jesus and be a disciple of Christ, I’ve seen many of the same mistakes of people who don’t follow Jesus make. But at the same time, always present with me, is knowing that Christ is working in my life to do something that is going to bring him glory. It’s constantly been one of those things that even in the midst of tough times or struggles, I’ve had all of the same issues and problems and struggles that everybody else has had, but in the midst of all those it’s knowing that as a believer there’s something more and there’s something different beyond just what we are experiencing and what we have. I would say it’s been a radical shift and change in my life in pursuing and following Christ, but just experiencing life differently.

“It’s looking at things knowing that there’s a much bigger picture and knowing what God is doing and what he’s bringing about is so much more critical and important than the small and……I don’t want to say insignificant because I think that can belittle some people……but compared to what God is doing, insignificant things in essence. But He loves us and wants the best for us. The challenge for us is we want what we think is the best for us when in fact God knows what’s best. And it may not be something that’s awesome. It may be a tough and difficult and challenging life. But ultimately in His plan, it brings glory. It’s knowing and finding hope in that I think that has been the biggest difference.”

The final part of that quote hit me right in the face today as I was writing this. “And it may not be something that’s awesome. It may be a tough and difficult and challenging life. But ultimately in His plan, it brings glory.”

As I sat today at Chris’ funeral service, it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Sure, there were tears. And sure, there was sadness. But man, was there so much joy and hope in knowing exactly where Chris is right now.

We laughed. We sang together. We prayed together. And we worshipped the Lord. Just like Chris would’ve wanted us to do. There is so much freedom and joy that comes with being able to rest in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Chris Swain knew that well.

Acts 13:36 reads:

For David, after serving God’s purpose in his own generation, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers and decayed….”

That’s not typically a verse that comes to mind when you think of somebody’s “life verse.” But that was Chris Swain’s life verse. He was all about serving Christ and His purpose. And one day we’ll get to see him again in the presence of the Lord.

We may never know exactly why Chris was taken from this earth at the age of 47. But after a week of wondering why, today I came to the realization that, you know what……I don’t need to know why. “But ultimately in His plan, it brings glory.”

That was good enough for Chris Swain. And that’s good enough for me. I will trust in the Lord, who is the same yesterday, today and forevermore.

See you soon, Chris.

Shifting from worry to trust

It seems like it’s getting harder and harder to decompress nowadays and get away from the craziness that is the news cycle in America.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 has been one of the more memorable years of our lives for pretty much all of the wrong reasons. From the COVID outbreak that has affected millions and cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States to the political unrest that is seemingly at an all-time high in our country, it’s hard to get away from it all.

And yet I continue to find that the perfect escape from it is our Lord.

It’s been interesting to watch what’s happened in our country this year and try to look at it through the lens of what God is trying to show each of us on an individual basis. One of the things that has stood out to me is that our country needs more people displaying the love of God.

For those who don’t know, my line of work is in sports. I do a radio show on ESPN 102.5 The Game in Nashville from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. CT Monday-Friday and also do some writing for different sites covering mainly football and hockey. One of the things that comes with that is having a pretty consistent presence on social media, specifically Twitter.

I’ve thought for a few years now that Twitter is just an awful place. And many times I still have those thoughts. But one of the things that the Lord has shown me in 2020 is that it doesn’t have to be an awful place for ME.

As I think back at how social media has impacted our lives, it’s honestly getting harder and harder to remember what life was like before it was around. It has totally saturated our society and largely occupied our free time. I often sift through different Facebook memories and realize just how immature I was in my late teens and early 20s. I legitimately may have been the most annoying human being on the planet from 2009-2014.

One thing I’ve tried to do during this pandemic and time of unrest in our country is to use social media as a place that people can see the words of Jesus. It’s nothing special that I’m doing in my own strength. It has nothing to do with my brains or talents (thank goodness for all of us). I just feel like now is the time where people just need to hear from the Word more than ever before.

I look at what people have gone through this year and been exposed to and it’s just sobering. There’s so much division. There’s so much hate. There’s so much fear present today in our world. I can’t really fathom what it would be like to go through all of that without the hope and security of a relationship with Jesus Christ. And yet, many people are doing that right now. What an opportunity we have to point people in the direction of Jesus that have otherwise never known Him or maybe even heard of Him!

I often revert back to the Sermon on the Mount, which I believe is the greatest sermon ever preached in the history of ever. Jesus says in Matthew 6;25-34:

“Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Consider the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add one moment to his life span by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Observe how the wildflowers of the field grow: They don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these. If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t he do much more for you—- you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

What a reminder that no matter what circumstance you are facing in your life, God is still sovereign and he’s still in control. I think we hear people say that all the time and gloss it over without actually taking the time to think about it……but just think about that for a moment. There’s nothing that has happened, is happening or will happen in your life that takes God by surprise.

One of my favorite parts about the passage above is that Jesus illustrates how valuable every single one of us is in the eyes of the Lord. If you’re struggling right now, you have access to a relationship that is above all others. You have access to the creator of the universe. And the best part is that he wants to have a relationship with you as well.

We’re knee deep in a toxic political environment that only figures to get worse as we move closer to November 3rd. If you are a follower of Jesus, regardless of which side of the political spectrum you fall, your allegiance is not of this world. It’s not to this country. Your allegiance is to Jesus Christ.

How much more of a difference could we make for the cause of Christ if we spent half as much time sharing the love of Christ as we did sharing what our political opinions were? My guess is it would make a huge difference.

I’m not saying politics aren’t important and that this country shouldn’t be something you love. It is important and I do love this country. But we should never place either one of those things ahead of our Lord.

It’s so easy to get sucked into the toxic environment that social media platforms can create. But…..what if we didn’t let that happen to us? What if we used it as a way to share God’s word? How much of a difference could that make in our lives and the lives of those we interact with?

There’s only one way to find out. Be that light in a dark, dark place.

One touch that spoke louder than any words

I was thinking about this today when preparing to write this piece…..how often have we read the Bible and come across a passage where a miracle was performed and just glossed right over it without thinking about it?

It probably happens more than we realize. At least it does for me.

One such example was recently brought to life for me in a new way. I was watching “The Chosen”, which was a wonderful show that I really enjoyed that focuses in on the life of the apostles as they discover who Jesus is and begin their walk with him. One of the scenes in the show is where Jesus heals a leper.

I’ve either read or heard about this story dozens and dozens of times but in truth I’ve always just read it and thought to myself “Wow, that’s really cool. Jesus just heals him right there like it’s nothing and he goes on his way.” But there’s a lot more to it than that.

The encounter is described in Matthew 8:1-4 after Jesus had delivered the Sermon on the Mount:

“When he came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Right away a man with leprosy came up and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Then Jesus told him, “See that you don’t tell anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Where Matthew picks things up here in chapter 8, Jesus has lots of people following him, many of whom have just heard him teach the greatest sermon of all time, the Sermon on the Mount.

I think to really understand the impact of what happens next, you have to understand exactly what it meant to have leprosy during those days. Leprosy was a debilitating disease that had no hope of improvement during that time. It slowly ate away at people’s bodies, leaving ugly scars and rashes and blisters. It could last many years and eventually lead to death.

Lepers were treated extremely poorly during those times. People shunned them. You were to stay six feet away from them at least (sound familiar?) and they were basically seen as subhuman. Leprosy was viewed as a punishment and a representation of sin.

This man had no hope in his life. He knew that nobody wanted to associate themselves with him. He knew that there wasn’t anything that doctors could do about his condition. And yet despite being surrounded by people who viewed him as the scum of the earth, he recognized Jesus for who he was.

His faithfulness and hope that he placed in Jesus is amazing to me. “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” This man knew full well that Jesus had the ability to heal him. But he didn’t demand that Jesus do this for him. He humbly submitted to the will of his Savior.

The next few words of what Jesus did next seem so mundane, but I think they are some of the most powerful words in the New Testament and sum up exactly who Jesus is. Matthew says, “Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him.”

Think about the WEIGHT of that. Nobody wanted to even come close to this man, much less touch him. Jesus didn’t care about any of that. He willing reached out his hand to touch the man and cleanse him of his disease.

It’s no accident that Matthew used that phrase to describe the action that Jesus was taking. By touching the man, Jesus was showing him that he had power over his disease. He was different than those in society who looked down on the man and scorned him. Jesus did not have to touch the man to heal him. He’s God. He can heal him in whatever way he wants. But he purposefully chose to reach out and touch the man and show him that he was truly cleansed.

That’s an illustration of the compassion that our Savior has for all of us. Even someone who was a total outcast to the world around him was shown love and favor by Jesus Christ.

One of the main things I take away from this story is the submission to Jesus’ will by this man. He had the head knowledge that Jesus had the ability to cleanse him. But what really separated this man was his heart. He fully submitted himself and his future to the will of Jesus.

How many of us have the head knowledge of what Jesus can do and who Jesus is but don’t follow that up with a heart for submitting to the will of the Lord? How much more fruitful could our lives be if we submitted to the will of the Lord on a daily basis?

There will be times in this world, especially in today’s age, where people look down upon you because of your faith. They will scorn you. They will mock you. They will attack you for your beliefs. But the chief concern for those of us who follow Jesus should be to submit to the will of our Lord. Every time. And trust that his will is always greater than anything we could hope for on our own.

 

May I have your attention, please?

God is trying to get the attention of our nation. The question we all must answer on an individual basis is: Has he gotten your attention yet through this pandemic?

As I sit here and gather my thoughts on what we’ve witnessed in the United States since the outbreak of COVID-19, my brain drifts back to the sovereignty of God. It drifts to the illusion that all of us fall victim to in our own lives….the illusion of having control.

Think about what’s been happening. Many of the things that have consumed our daily lives in America for years have been uprooted during the past few months.

That job that occupies so much time, energy and devotion in our lives? Many have lost that job. Trust me, I know.

Those sporting events, teams and athletes that we idolize? Totally put on hold.

Even something as seemingly simple as gathering together to worship the Lord in a singular location with other believers, something that we in the United States take for granted in a big way, was stripped away for many of us.

Some of us haven’t even been able to spend time with loved ones in months because we don’t want to potentially endanger those who may be vulnerable.

All of these things that were once a routine part of our lives that we didn’t even think about have been drastically changed almost instantaneously. Aren’t you grateful that we serve a God who never changes? Could it be that God is trying to teach us something through this pandemic?

This isn’t the first time a pandemic has swept the globe and it probably won’t be the last time. The loss of life that has been inflicted by COVID-19 has been tragic. But even if you haven’t known anyone who has contracted the disease or you haven’t experienced it yourself, this should be a time for deep introspection into your own life.

Have your priorities shifted at all through this? What has the Lord shown you during this time? I think about those two questions in my own life, and I come back to the word “control.”

As Christians, we always say that we believe God is in control. If you’re like me, you believe those words but are still guilty on almost a daily basis of trying to control as much as you can in your own life. I want the best for myself in my career. I want the best marriage that I can possibly have. I want to be able to make decisions that control which direction my life is headed.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I’m learning — and I mean truly learning — is that when it really boils down to it, I don’t have control of much of anything. I’ve often been guilty of moving too fast in life, not taking the time to slow down and appreciate the many blessings that the Lord has given me in my life.

I hope that as we continue to move forward through this pandemic that I’ll grow in my appreciation of what the Lord has given me in my life and also realize that his grace is what sustains me. And he is the one who is truly in the driver’s seat in my life. All that we need to do is follow his lead.

What is the Lord showing you during this pandemic? If you don’t have an answer for that, maybe it’s time to slow down and shift your perspective. Ask God to make clear to you the message that he has for you.

Don’t let it be said of us that we got to the other side of this pandemic and remained unchanged.

Hamhuis not defined by his career but by his identity in Christ

For Nashville Predators defenseman and 16-year NHL veteran Dan Hamhuis, discovering what it meant to have a true relationship with Jesus Christ has laid the foundation for every aspect of his life.

Hamhuis grew up in a Christian home and regularly attended church throughout his childhood. Even when he left home to continue his hockey career at the junior level in Prince George, church was still a normal part of his life.

After being drafted by the Predators and beginning his first year of professional hockey with the Milwaukee Admirals in the 2002-03 season, Hamhuis found himself at a point of deep spiritual introspection. He had more freedom than he’d ever had before, being on his own in a new city that was far away from where he grew up. That presented challenges that allowed him to grow in his faith.

“The biggest transition for me was when I went to play pro hockey my first year in Milwaukee,” Hamhuis said. “That’s when it really struck me. Now I was living on my own far away. No one was going to know if I went to church or not. Up to that point, I would say I was religious in the fact that I thought going to church was what was important. I think it was in that year in Milwaukee I started to question like ‘Hey, no one will know if I don’t go.’ And I started to asking myself questions, important questions like ‘Why do I go? Why is this important to me? Is it important to me?’ And it was a perfect combination of a lot of self reflection and asking big questions. What’s my life purpose? Why would I want to believe in these things?

“Having our chaplain, his name was Iggy Cofaro, in Milwaukee kind of led me through those questions. He was patient but also direct with me in that, knowing how I grew up and that I needed to decide and understand this for myself. It was a year that really was transitional in my faith where I took it upon myself. That’s where my faith became my own, not something that I did because we just go to church every Sunday and that’s what my parents brought me to. I think it was in that year that I developed that personal relationship with God and understood more of what that looks like. I’m still trying to understand that more today, but that was really making it less religious and more of a relationship where things really changed for me.”

When you peel back the layers of what it means to be a professional hockey player, particularly at the highest level, it’s easy to see the outer layers of the fame and money that comes with the territory. However, there is more to it than that.

There’s lots of pressure in a win-at-all-costs type of business where the stakes and money are so high. And the swing in emotions throughout an NHL season can range from utter euphoria to complete devastation and everywhere in between.

Hamhuis believes his faith has helped him stay grounded through it all and has constantly reminded him of his identity in Christ.

“It’s been huge for me, and I think it’s helped me to actually play better too,” Hamhuis said. “Knowing that hockey is what I do and doesn’t define who I am. My Christian faith, my relationship with God, who I am in that defines who I am. That just takes a lot of the pressure off. Living and dying, the ups and downs of the hockey world, especially at the NHL level, the ups and downs are very high and very low. To be able to understand that I’m not defined by those things, I’m defined by a bigger thing out there, I think it allowed me to not get too high in the success and not get too low when things weren’t going well. It allowed me to play better. It took a burden off my shoulders. And it’s easy to say that. I still get caught up in focusing too much on results and what people are thinking, opinions of others. And when I do that, I just feel a burden growing on my shoulders. To play when I could find that balance of knowing that that’s not all it was about, I played free. I played light. I played my best hockey.”

We all struggle with different things in our lives, sometimes without even fully recognizing the depth of our struggles. One of the most challenging parts of staying spiritually engaged while being an NHL player is simply time…..or more specifically, the lack of it.

“There’s so many distractions, and not just the ones that you typically think of like road trips and bars, girls and that stuff,” Hamhuis said. “I feel like the distractions are more subtle and trickier to stay in the right mindset spiritually. Being busy. Being busy staring at your phone all day, not allowing time for that stillness is such an easy trap to fall into. I like to be productive. I find myself that that’s sometimes where I get wrapped up. It’s not a terrible thing, but it takes my mind. I find I lose my time for stillness and that reflection period for perspective.

“We’re fortunate to have really good chapel programs throughout the NHL. Hockey Ministries does a fantastic job, Professional Athletes Outreach, Athletes in Action…..there’s so many great resources for athletes that allow us to find a spiritual connection out there because they adapt to our schedule. Sundays don’t mean a lot in the NHL. We play games at any time of the day and any day of the week and any holiday so we have to find other times. Nashville has such a fantastic chapel program here with Pike Williams leading it since its inception in 1998. It’s great as an individual to connect and learn and be reminded of what the Bible teaches and what God is teaching us, but also it’s really encouraging to do that with other guys and understand that other guys are also Christians and have struggles and share in high moments, too. And then understand that there’s other guys on other teams that are also Christians. I find that that whole program is really encouraging.”

Our world today is a challenging one for many of us, particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic that has basically shut down the world as we’ve known it. However, Hamhuis is reminded that as followers of Jesus Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that God has a plan for it all and, most importantly, is still in control of it all. Just as he always has been.

“There is a lot of tough situations out there,” Hamhuis said. “We’re not doing what we’re usually doing and our routines, and I’ve really enjoyed the time to have time to be still and reflect. I think being a Christian throughout this has given me a sense of peace, a sense of comfort. When things aren’t going well, those type of words are kind of what you’re wanting and looking for. The Christian story and the relationship with Jesus, that’s what it is. I think it’s given me the ability to have a bigger-picture perspective of where we are going, not just the steps ahead of us. I like the idea of these times in this [pandemic] of maybe God is preparing and challenging and getting us ready for something that could be ahead.

“Just to have that confidence that He’s in control and He has a plan and whether it’s going to be through some difficulties, as Christians God has promises in the Bible that He’s always working on our behalf for good. Our definition of good is sometimes interesting. It’s not always material things. Sometimes it’s maybe restoring a relationship or building patience in us or building some sort of quality or fruit of a spirit that wouldn’t happen otherwise in our busyness. It’s certainly not always material blessings. Sometimes it’s the blessing of peace or a relationship or something that maybe is a little more unexpected or growth, mental toughness, resiliency. I think to have that perspective as a Christian, you start to look for those growth opportunities in the struggles because you have that trust that God has a bigger, better picture for us.”

Hamhuis trusts in that bigger and better picture. While realizing that being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to bad things happening in life, there’s a comfort level and a reassurance that this life is not the end of the story. There’s hope for tomorrow because we know who is in control of tomorrow.

So when things get tough, trust the Lord. When things are going well, trust the Lord. In all things, trust the Lord. And you’ll be amazed at where he will take you.

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m always fascinated when I come across things in the Bible that are connected. I’ve come to find out, with the more that I read, learn and study, that pretty much the entire Bible is connected.

We’re going through a “Bible study” at Long Hollow Baptist Church with pastor Robby Gallaty that is essentially focusing in on how to read and interpret the Bible from an Eastern perspective. As Western, American citizens, we learn, read and interpret things much differently than people did in Jesus’ time.

There are all sorts of connections made, particularly by Jesus, to the Old Testament in much of his words in the gospels. We often fail to realize this because we don’t know the Old Testament like we should, and we also don’t really understand the culture or customs of the Jewish world that Jesus lived in. Those connections are called a “remez” and there are many of them that can be found in the Bible.

Matthew 27 is a very familiar passage for many of us. Jesus has been beaten, has made the journey to Calvary and is on the cross. Matthew 27:45 reads:

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. At about three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

If you’re like me, for years you’ve just thought that Jesus was crying out to the Father on the cross because he who knew no sin had become sin for all of us. While that is certainly true and accurate, there was a deeper meaning to that phrase that his followers and other Jewish people around the cross at that time should have picked up on.

To understand that connection, you must first understand how the Jewish culture learned Scripture. Remember, there were no numbered verses of the Bible or even books back in those days. They learned Scripture in school and were so well-versed in it that they knew much of it from memory.

They would memorize Scripture by the teacher reciting a line of Scripture and then they would recite the remainder of that set of Scripture from memory based off of that. When Jesus said on the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”, He was also making a connection back to Scripture.

If you go to Psalm 22, you’ll find that the first line of the chapter written by David reads: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”

Pretty interesting, huh?

Remember, Jewish leaders would teach by reciting a line from Scripture and the students would recite the rest from memory based off of that first line. If you read the rest of Psalm 22, I think you’ll be blown away.

It essentially describes the Messiah and what he’s to deal with in suffering on the cross. In Psalm 22:6-8, it reads:

“But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: ‘He relies on the Lord; let Him rescue him; let the Lord deliver him, since He takes pleasure in him.”

Isn’t it interesting how that’s describing being “scorned by men and despised by people.” It describes the Messiah being mocked, just as Jesus was on the cross when he was told: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!”

In Matthew 27:42, the chief priests are mocking Jesus by saying “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! He is the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.”

There are descriptions and connections to Jesus’ crucifixion all throughout Psalm 22, including in verses 14-16 that read:

“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet.”

I would encourage all of you to read the entirety of Psalm 22 yourselves and make the connections with what is happening to Jesus in Matthew 27. It’s truly one of those things that will absolutely blow your mind. The Bible is the living Word of God. Jesus knew it so  well because he was the Word.

There are so many of these connections throughout the New Testament. I look forward to sharing more with you!

Grimaldi guided by faith

For Nashville Predators forward Rocco Grimaldi, his faith in Jesus Christ has always been an intrinsic part of his life.

That faith has helped shape him in to the hockey player, and more importantly the person, he has become.

“I came to know the Lord when I was just a little kid,” Grimaldi said. “I was four years old when I accepted Jesus into my heart. Grew up in the church, grew up in a good Christian family. Mom and dad showed what a good mom and a good dad are supposed to be, what a husband and wife are supposed to look like. They modeled the Christian way for us. Both of my parents are police officers, so growing up they worked a lot to provide for us. So I would stay with my grandparents quite a bit. My grandma is one of my spiritual warriors, my prayer warriors. I’d be over at her house, my mom and dad would be working, she’d be teaching me stories and praying with me.

“She used to call me ‘her little David.’ She still does to this day. I got it from a really young age. A lot of people might say ‘Oh, you were too young to really accept.’ But I don’t believe that. I think if God calls you at two years old, three years old, 25 years old and you hear it, then that’s it. Four years old, my mom asked me if I wanted to accept Jesus into my heart to be my Lord and savior and I said ‘absolutely.”

Many Christians struggle with setting time aside on a daily basis and being intentional about spending time with the Lord and getting into the Word. That can especially be difficult for a professional athlete who spends so much time traveling and honing in on their skills, as well as dealing with the normal day-to-day personal lives that all of us have.

Grimaldi has felt called to make spending time in the Word and with the Lord a part of his daily routine, despite the business of an NHL schedule.

“I think one thing for me that I’m actually really good about is reading,” Grimaldi said. “I’ve been reading my Bible just about every day since I was in third grade. I think I was like seven or eight years old and I just felt the Holy Spirit just telling me that it was time to get to know Him besides hearing the stories in church, besides what other people have told me. And I think that’s really important. The Bible talks about it, I believe it’s in Acts, that there’s a town that Paul was preaching in and the people heard the word that was being preached. They didn’t hear it for themselves but they heard it from another person and they believed it, but then what they did is they searched the Scriptures for themselves to see if it was true. And I think God wants us to do that as well.

“We can’t just trust any person that we hear, any pastor, no matter who it is. We have to search it out for ourselves and discern what’s true and what’s not. I think that’s something that’s been engraved from a young age in me from the Lord pulling on my heartstrings to read for myself, to get to know him for myself but also from my parents, my family and my grandma telling me to search it out for myself.”

When you read the Bible, the contents of it can be very counter-cultural to what we experience in modern-day America. We want all of the answers and we want them now. We want everything given to us on our timetable. Most of the time that’s just now how the Lord operates.

“The way I look at is a lot of times, especially in our culture today and being a man, this ‘man’ culture, men are perceived as ones who don’t show emotion, that will always figure a way out of a situation, will always come through,” Grimaldi said. “When times are tough they’re just going to muck and grind it out and be a ‘man’. I think it’s interesting that the Bible is so opposite of that. When you humble yourself and you realize, on your own, life is so hard to figure out. There’s so many ups, there’s so many downs, there’s so many things that just don’t make sense. I think a lot of times when people are trying to figure out life, they’re trying to figure out if there’s a God or there’s not, I think they try to figure everything out.

“I’ve been in a relationship with Christ for over 20 years and I don’t know everything still and I never will. I think that’s something just to humble yourself to know, ‘You know what, I don’t need to know it all. I’m going to do my best to research it, to pray, to seek God out, to ask for his wisdom and he’s going to show up. And he’s going to show me things, but he’s God. Like he doesn’t need to tell me the whole story.’ Like you go to a movie or you go read a book, I don’t want to know the outcome of the movie before I see it. I want to see the whole thing. And I think that’s the same way with God. He’s sitting there and he’s got this whole movie of our lives, and I feel like one day we’re going to sit there in heaven and we’re going to watch this movie of our lives. And I don’t think he wants to tell us the outcome because where would faith come into that aspect?”

Grimaldi’s path to the NHL has been one full of tests and challenges. He became a full-time NHL player for the first time in his career during the 2018-19 season with the Predators after spending time with the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche organizations.

There were times where a path to becoming a full-time NHL player wasn’t always in view for Grimaldi. But he stuck with his dream, pushed through the adversity and is now an important member of the Predators. He uses that experience as an example of what the Lord can do through times of uncertainty when you have faith in Him.

“If I knew that one day I was going to finally get a chance to play in the NHL after four or five years in the minors, yeah it may have made things a little easier but where would my faith have been?” Grimaldi said. “Where would my trust be? Where would my work ethic be because of those times? I feel like those hard times made me who I am today, and I wouldn’t trade those for the world. I know God allows things that are tough to be in our lives, allows bad things to happen to us, but they’re just to grow us. They’re to make us rely on him, to humble ourselves, like ‘Yeah, I’m a man but I can’t do it by myself.’

“I think there’s a quote that says something like ‘People think you’re weak if you admit that you need God, but in reality those who are the strongest are the ones who realize they’re not strong on their own, that they need Christ in their lives.’ Really it’s a humbling process, and it’s a continual strip away of what you think and what you believe in your own mind and just trusting God and saying ‘You know what, I don’t know it all. But you do.”

Life’s Too Short

I always find it difficult to come to grips with the sad reality that sometimes it takes tragedy in life to offer the appropriate perspective of how short life is, how precious it is.

I’m as guilty as anyone else at taking the very concept of life itself for granted. We all make plans and walk through life with the assumption that we’re going to be here on Earth for a long time. The simple reality is that none of us know when our final hour will come.

Yesterday I learned of two deaths that took place in my community. I didn’t have a personal relationship with either of the two people, but it affected me as though I had.

It was a sobering reminder of the fragility of life. It can all be taken away in an instant, in a way that we don’t see coming.

How different would our lives be if we knew that we had one more week to live? How differently would we treat our relationships with other people? How differently would our attitudes toward the small, petty things become?

I think when we all truly think about those questions, we realize that many things would be different. The disagreements or strained relationships we have with others would seem so…….unimportant. Would we not do our best to mend those relationships before our time was up?

It’s a challenging thought to live your life as though each day is your last day. It’s one of the most cliche sayings that gets tossed around. “Live every day as if it’s your last.” We all hear that and get the meaning behind it, but rarely do we ever put that saying into practice.

The simple truth of the matter is none of us know when our final day on Earth will come. God has laid out a plan for each of our lives, and no two lives are ever exactly the same. And many times, it’s so difficult to ever be ready for our time to come to an end.

In the past 24 hours I’ve reflected about what ultimately I believe all of us as followers of Christ are here for, and that’s to bring the gospel and love of Jesus Christ to the world. What are we waiting for? Why do we not make that the top priority each day when we get out of bed? And again, how different would our lives be if we did?

It would be drastically different. It would change everything about us. And ultimately, that’s what Jesus does. He changes everything about us and makes us more like Him.

Look, there are going to be people who are never going to accept Christ as their savior and frankly have no interest in even entertaining the thought of doing so. That’s just the way it is.

But I also believe there are people who have been convicted by the spirit. They’ve been interested in learning more about God and have felt the pull to pursue Him. But they’ve pulled away because now just “isn’t the right time. I’ll do that later in life”, they say.

The problem with that line of thinking is that you don’t know that “later in life” is going to come around.

So if you’re someone today that’s been waiting to make a decision to follow Jesus, I encourage you to do so today. If you’re someone who is dealing with a strained relationship, mend it. Forgive. Love. Life is too short to spend it squabbling over things that ultimately don’t matter.

James 4:13-15 sums it up like this:

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”