Dead Not Dead: Your Friend is Sick

“Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’ ” (John 11:1-3)

Spoiler alert! To really get all the heavy stuff in the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead, you’ve got to know the ending before you start. But it’s right there in the name of the story, so it’s not a huge surprise. And you’ve probably heard it once or twice anyway.

deadnot_350Still, we’re going to spend a week or two getting to know it better. And the first thing we should get is this: Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary. Okay, yes, Jesus loves everyone. But he was friends with this family. He often stayed at their place when he was in town. He seems to have liked them a lot.

And they liked Jesus, too. They knew about his miracles. They believed he was who he said he was. They knew he could heal sick people at will. They probably expected him to come and save their brother – before he died.

Think: If you are a Christian, you have a close relationship with God because you are “in Christ.” Do you ever expect him to answer your prayers in specific ways? Is it wrong to expect God to respond according to our desires? Why or why not?

Pray: Thank God for Jesus’ relationship with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Ask him to help you to understand him better through studying this story during the next week or so.

Do: John mentions Mary as one who washed Jesus feet with expensive perfume and her hair. Read that story in John 12:1-11.

Identify: Say It Feel It

” . . . And be thankful. . . . with gratitude in your hearts to God. . . . giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:15-17)

Yes, that’s a lot of ellipses in that verse up there. Actually, that’s how each of the three verses we studied during the last three days end: “be thankful,” “with gratitude in your hearts,” and “giving thanks.”

identify_350Is Paul being redundant? Did he get lazy and just decide to end three verses in a row in the same way? Doubtful. Taking on the identity of Christ must have a lot to do with being thankful people. In fact, saying thanks and feeling grateful must be one of the most important parts of being Jesus’ hands and feet in our own lives.

Being a grateful person requires at least three things: Discipline, humility, and the ability to enjoy. It takes discipline because we’re not naturally thankful people; we’ve got to give thanks on purpose and on a plan. It takes humility because saying thanks to God is admitting that he gave something to us and that we didn’t do it ourselves.

And it takes the ability to enjoy good gifts in order to feel thankful. That’s harder than it looks on soda commercials. Many of us take good gifts for granted or simply collect them and immediately start looking for the next one. Enjoying the gift in front of you requires that you stop wanting something else for a few minutes.

Think: What makes it hard for you to say thanks or to feel grateful in your heart? What makes it easier? What plan could you make to tell God thanks on purpose three times a day every day for this next week (not counting meals)?

Pray: Ask God to help you to give him thanks, to have gratitude in your heart toward him, and to give thanks to him in the name of Jesus.

Do: Start of a list of good gifts you’re thankful for and add five things to it every day for the next week.

Identify: Get Word Rich

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

Do you have a strategy? A plan? A system? What are you doing to let the word of Christ live inside of you “richly”? How are you going to get it off the pages of the Book and into the hallways of your heart and mind?

identify_350I’m not asking in order to pressure you or make you feel guilty. Honest. I’m asking because you’re smart and creative and this is a challenge you can totally conquer. Some people read the Bible on their iPhones. Others listen to audio podcasts. Others memorize chunks of it and then mull them over when they’re just lying there in the dark at night.

What will you do?

The verse gives two starting places: First, join a club. That is, get in a group that is all about teaching each other the word all the time. You teach some. I’ll teach some. We’ll always be getting richer. Second, use music. Of course! Nothing sticks in your head (forever) like a song. Sing the Word in all kinds of different ways.

What will make you more like Jesus than having his Word in you?

Think: What are some of the best techniques you have found for getting the Bible in you? What are some new things you could try?

Pray: Ask God to help you to let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.

Do: Ask three Christians you really respect what they do best to get the Word of Christ in them.

Identify: Put on Love

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14)

How many people spend their whole lives waiting to “fall in love” or waiting for love to “find them”? From the Bible’s perspective, you’re more likely to get “found” by the swine flu than real love. It’s like waiting to get found by a promise. Promises don’t find you; they’re given to you.

identify_350Or – even better – you give them away to others. Look at the power in this command Paul gives to all of us who are becoming like Jesus: “Put on love.” Do you realize what that means? In God’s power, we can be “in love” at any time we wish, just by putting it on like a big coat over all the other virtues.

Granted, this isn’t just romantic love (though it can be the purest form of that). It’s even more powerful than attraction and reaction. This is Jesus-style, “I’m going to die for you” love. This is God’s version of “you can’t make me take it back no matter what you do” love.

And as Christians, we can put it on and start giving it away right now. Don’t wait for it to come looking for you.

Think: Do you think the word love is overused in our society? How would you define God’s kind of love, the kind we’re told to “put on” in this verse?

Pray: Ask God to help you to put on his kind of love over all the other virtues listed in Colossians 3.

Do: If you haven’t for a while, read Paul’s definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Identify: Forgive as Forgiven

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)

Do you think of yourself as a forgiven person? I’m not asking if you believe God has forgiven all of your sins. I know you believe that if you’re a Christian. I mean, do you tend to think of yourself as someone who has been forgiven for great and terrible sin?

identify_350I’m asking because those of us who became Christians as kids – and never got around to rebelling in any obvious, public way by trying out some of the “big sins” – we can have a hard time really thinking of ourselves as sinners. What have we done that’s so wrong, after all?

That thinking is a problem. Every sin is an offense against the character of our Father, reason enough for us to go to hell, and for Jesus to die on the cross. Our pride is no better than sexual immorality, fits of rage, or public drunkenness.

Here’s the other problem: If you don’t think of yourself as a forgiven person, it’s much harder to forgive others. And when you do, you think of it as a big favor instead of seeing it as the least and most obvious thing you could do as someone who has been forgiven for a stinking, seething mountain of ugly sin.

Think: On a scale from 1 to 10, how often are you aware that God has forgiven you for great sins you were helpless to pay for yourself? How hard is it for you to forgive others? Do you see a connection between those two things?

Pray: Ask God to help you to bear with others and forgive everyone just as God has forgiven you.

Do: Read Matthew 18:21-35 to hear a story Jesus told about a guy who refused to forgive a small debt after he’d been forgiven for a big one.

Identify: Get Dressed Already!

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Does it feel chilly in here to you? After taking off our old selves last week – along with all the sins, practices, and labels attached to a life without Christ – we should put something else on. It’s going to get drafty.

identify_350Our new threads – custom-made for those in Christ – come with some new tags: “chosen,” “holy,” “dearly loved.” That describes how God thinks of us. Really! Right now!

And he wants us to wear these:

Compassion: Working at feeling for people who are hurting or happy. Kindness: Doing something about how we feel for each other. Humility: Making our idea of ourselves lower than our idea of God. Gentleness: Making ourselves lower, even, than each other. Patience: Agreeing to wait on God and others even when I’ve got important things to do or say.

Trust me; these will look great on you.

Think: Of these five character qualities for those who live in Christ, which comes most naturally to you? Which is hardest for you to “put on” and keep on?

Pray: Ask God to help you to clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Do: Write down those five words on five separate 3 x 5 cards or post-it notes and put them up in five different places in your world where you’ll have to look at them for the next week or so.

Identify: Ditch Your Labels

“Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

Band geek. Brainiac. Hispanic. Teacher’s pet. Jock. Preppy. Church kid. Dyslexic. Autistic. Poor. Princess. Black. White. Rich. Baptist. Evangelical. Good girl. Bad boy. Fat. Skinny. Popular. Nobody. Bus kid.

identify_350We’ve got a lot of ways of identifying ourselves and each other. Some labels we put on ourselves. Others get stuck on us – or we stick on other people. Paul wants Christians to ditch them. He listed a bunch of labels from his culture and said they don’t apply to those who are in Christ.

To be in him means to trade in all of our other identifiers. Other people may still throw them our way, but we refuse to catch them, to be labeled by any other name but his. He is the most important part of us.

Think: What labels are you stuck with that bother you? Which ones are you proud of? What will it cost you to stop identifying yourself by those labels and start identifying yourself first and above all by having Christ in you?

Pray: Thank God that your most important identity is being in Christ.

Do: Make a list of cultural labels that would describe you. Then cross them all out and write “in Christ” at the bottom of the list.