Many Sundays, I sit in the pew of my church and hear messages from our senior pastor, saying to myself, “Man, I wish I had thought about that message….”. So, one of the challenges for me for these weekly devotionals is to come up with some original thoughts of how scripture is speaking to me. Heavy comments for a Wednesday, I know.
Today, however, I am taking a slight deviation from that path. The message last week from my pastor was compelling enough and very relevant to what I sense and feel from many. We have a ton of hurt and pain in our country; and equally a lot of that in our own neighborhoods.
We watch the news, read stories on the Internet and can’t help but have a feeling of loss. Violence in our schools, shootings at entertainment events, and fears across the board from all political sides of the spectrum. And beyond all that, here locally in Charlotte, many have or are currently dealing with the personal loss of friends and family members. I feel like I’ve been to a few more funerals than I ever expected this year and last.
In all of this, it’s natural to say, “Where is God in all of this?”. It’s an age-old question that gets answered many times throughout the years. But I find myself saying, “Yes, but it that really the right answer to Where is God in all of this...”
And, finally, last weekend, I think I heard it as best as I’ve ever heard.
Remember the story of Lazarus? (Side note….there’s actually two Lazarus-es in the Bible. I’m talking about the one who was a close friend of Jesus.)
From the 11th chapter of John, we recall:
32 Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. 34 And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” 35 Jesus wept. 36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” JOHN 11: 32-37
How many of us, like Mary, immediately blame God when things go wrong? As if to say in this case, “Lord, if you had been here, things would be alright.” But if we truly believe in an omnipresent Father, then perhaps we’d realize that God is there all along.
Now, this is also not to say that things will always go right. Pain in our world and in our neighborhoods is testament that bad things continue to happen. And that really stinks, right?
Years ago, I had a brick ranch home in Atlanta. And the city had taken over a few blocks of homes that were otherwise slowly being abandoned. The city decided to buy the block of homes, tear them down, and create a large park/green-space, thereby making better use of the land. Great idea, except for the notion that much of the rodent population that had infiltrated those abandoned homes, was now being displaced when the bulldozers came to knock down the homes. One such critter found a comfortable home in the duct systems beneath my home in the crawl space. I noticed the animal when a fowl smell started to erode through the vents in the house. Yuk!
I called a critter exterminator….one of strangest guys I’ve ever met…but in his field of work, that was probably a job prerequisite….not kidding! Within five or ten minutes, he found the dead animal in the crawl space and removed the smell.
That smell was pretty bad.
Now, back to our story in the book of John:
39Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ JOHN 11: 39-44
When I heard pastor Joe Clifford reading this passage last Sunday, emphasizing the word “stench” as I have here, my thoughts drifted back to that rodent caught in my duct system. I can only imagine how bad the smell might have been from a human being, dead for four days, in the heat of the Middle East, in the summer time. Simply unbearable.
Yet, as Joe shared, Jesus shows up when things really stunk….literally and figuratively. Jesus shows up in the stench of four days and, maybe, the stench of many years and months for others in the book of John.
And if God shows up during the stench of our lives, I know He’s there when things are smelling very rosy as well. And while there is some comfort in knowing he’s there in both scenarios, I am especially grateful He’s there with me and with you in the stench of our lives.
It’s been nearly a week since Joe’s sermon and I hope you’ll see why I felt it was important to share his message about the “stench”. It took a weird critter exterminator to remove the bad smell in my crawl space. But it takes our loving Father to remove the stench of our lives. Thanks be to God for that.
Prayers this week, continue, for our world, our nation, and our neighbors here in Charlotte.