Why did Jesus not come? (part 3)

So how shall we react?

When Jesus decided to go to Bethany, his disciples tried to dissuade him because of the danger there, but Jesus said ‘Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe’. He was going to demonstrate his glory – so that they would believe. He wanted his disciples to to grow in their faith in him. And when Jesus was standing at the tomb, he prayed these words to his father: ‘I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.’ That was his whole desire – that people would believe. And at the end of the story, we are told ‘Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him’. People witnessed his power over death. And many of them believed. He was glorified.

So Jesus is unpredictable. He doesn’t always do what we expect. But he does always love us. He is greatly troubled and deeply moved by our sorrow and grief. But he is up to something far greater than we can imagine. He wants us to believe. He wants us to trust him.

When Jesus asked the sisters and their friends where they had laid Lazarus, they said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’. And when Jesus saw the tomb, He wept. This was not what He had intended. This was not His plan for His children. In my mind, I had laid my dad in the bed in the care home where he died – that was what I remembered when I thought of him. But Jesus reminds us that He is the resurrection and the life. He has conquered death forever. So our loved ones are not in the graves where we buried them. There is a far greater story. Jesus came to bring life. Jesus died to bring life. And so our loved ones – and we – have become part of his story. There is something far greater going on than the story that we are aware of. Can we believe that? Can we trust him?

Jesus does come – not always when we expect him to – but his delay does not mean that he doesn’t love us.

He may not answer all of our questions – but he weeps with us and is troubled when we are troubled.

He may not do what we ask him to do – but he is up to something far greater.

Can we trust him when we don’t understand what he is doing? Can we believe that he is good? A friend recently shared with me her story of perplexing loss and told me that she had come to believe in the ‘mystery of God’s goodness’.

I like that. I think I can believe in that – the ‘mystery of God’s goodness’.

(If you want to read part 2, click here; and if you want to read part 1, click here.)

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Why did Jesus not come? (part 2)

Tales from Taughlumny

Mary and Martha are disappointed with Jesus

Jesus eventually does come – but he’s too late. Lazarus has died. And of course the sisters are disappointed. Martha goes to meet Jesus when she hears he is coming and she says to him, ˜Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.

Those words portray her faith in the power of Jesus – she knew that he could have saved Lazarus – but they also portray her disappointment that he didn’t come earlier.

Mary meets Jesus next and she says exactly the same words to Jesus: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. Both sisters had wanted only one thing – one thing that they knew Jesus could give them – but he didn’t give it to them.

The fact that Jesus doesn’t do what we expect does not mean that…

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Why did Jesus not come? (part 2)

Mary and Martha are disappointed with Jesus

Jesus eventually does come – but he’s too late. Lazarus has died. And of course the sisters are disappointed. Martha goes to meet Jesus when she hears he is coming and she says to him, ˜Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’.

Those words portray her faith in the power of Jesus – she knew that he could have saved Lazarus – but they also portray her disappointment that he didn’t come earlier.

Mary meets Jesus next and she says exactly the same words to Jesus: ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’. Both sisters had wanted only one thing – one thing that they knew Jesus could give them – but he didn’t give it to them.

The fact that Jesus doesn’t do what we expect does not mean that He doesn’t care

We see the humanity of Jesus in this story in a way which we don’t see often in the New Testament. “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. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see’. Jesus wept….Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.” There are just a few other places in the NT where we read of Jesus being troubled: in John 12 his soul was troubled as he contemplated the cross; and in John 13 he was troubled as he contemplated his betrayal. Here he is ‘greatly troubled’ and ‘deeply moved’ when he sees the sorrow and grief of his dear friends.

So it wasn’t that he didn’t care about what had happened to them. When Jesus saw them weeping, he was deeply moved and greatly troubled. When he went to the tomb, he wept. Death was not how it was meant to be. God never intended that we would have to stand by the graves of our loved ones. When we weep, he weeps with us. He is moved by our sorrow and he is troubled by our grief. Isaiah 53 tells us ‘Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’. 

Somehow that helps a lot. To realise that Jesus does come and that He does care, even though He doesn’t do what we expect Him to, brings me comfort and reassurance. He weeps with us. The fact that He doesn’t do what we expect Him to is not because He doesn’t love us.

Jesus is up to something far greater than we can imagine

Jesus was up to something far greater than the sisters or anyone else could imagine that day. When he had heard that Lazarus was sick, this is what he said: ‘This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ What did he mean – this illness does not lead to death? Of course it led to death – Lazarus was in the grave. But Jesus was going to raise him from the dead – and God was going to be glorified.

Then, as they stood at the tomb and Jesus asked them to take away the stone, Martha, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor’. But Jesus asked her: ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?’ That was it – it was all about the glory of God that day.

Jesus could have gone right away, as soon as he heard that Lazarus was sick, and could have healed him. He healed many people when he was on earth and Lazarus could have been just one more. But because he loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus, he waited – and then did something far greater for them. He didn’t just heal Lazarus – he raised him from the dead. He allowed this family to witness an amazing demonstration of his power over death – for he is, as he said, ‘the resurrection and the life’. He wanted them to see his glory, to witness his power, to know for sure that he had conquered death – forever.

(If you want to read part 1, click here)

 

 

Why did Jesus not come? (part 1)

Why did it have to be this way? Why did Jesus not come?

My dad died last year after suffering from a particularly distressing form of dementia. He had loved and served God all of his life. The end of his life was hard. There was confusion, there were hallucinations, there was loss of mobility, added to loss of eyesight and loss of hearing. At the end, he didn’t know us any more. Somehow this was not how I expected it to be. How could a man who loved God end his days like this? How could God leave him to die like this? Why didn’t God answer my prayers for him? Why did Jesus not come? As my dad was dying, I just couldn’t deal with my questions. So I put them in a box and put the lid on. I told myself that it was OK to have questions which I had no answers to – because God was God and I wasn’t.

But in the year after his death, I began to realise that, while I had put my questions in a box and closed the lid on them, they had impacted by relationship with God. Yes I still trusted Him – but I wasn’t sure what He would do next. Maybe I wasn’t really sure that I could trust Him. Or at least I couldn’t trust the God I thought I knew.

For several months, I was drawn back again and again to the story of Lazarus in John 11.

Jesus loved Mary and Martha and Lazarus

At the very beginning of this story, the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus saying ‘He whom you love is ill’. That puts the story in the context of a relationship. This was a man whom Jesus knew and loved. And he was ill.

Furthermore, the story goes on to say ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’. So this was a whole family whom Jesus loved. In fact, we have more than one instance in the New Testament when we read of Jesus staying in their home in Bethany. He was a friend of this family, He was welcome in their home, He often ate there and it could have been that he stayed in their home from time to time, after being in the busy city of Jerusalem, for Bethany was just 2 miles outside Jerusalem.

But Jesus is unpredictable

So there was a strong relationship between Jesus and this family. How startling therefore it is for us to read these words: ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.’ Now that doesn’t make any sense at all to us. If we were writing the story we would say something like this: ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he rushed to his bedside to heal him’.

These words are perplexing for us. It’s not what love looks like to us. Jesus isn’t behaving the way we expect him to. We are left wondering what he will do next. He is unpredictable. As Mrs Beaver said about Aslan in CS Lewis’s book ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’: ‘he’s not safe but he is good’. Is He safe? Is He good?

‘When Jesus didn’t answer the pleas of Mary and Martha, they probably realised they didn’t know Him as well as they thought they did. Because as the hours of waiting turned into days, Jesus did not meet their expectations. And He may not meet ours. In the story of Lazarus Jesus redefines normal for us. The lingering Jesus does not offer a guarantee that things will work out as we think they should.’ The Lazarus Life by Stephen W. Smith.

(to be continued…)

Back-to-school

Will I fit in? Will the work be too much for me? Will I be able to keep up? How did I get here? Am I doing the right thing?

back-to-school-4

I work at BBC  (not the corporation, the college – Belfast Bible College) and tomorrow is the first day of Orientation Week when we welcome our new students; then on Tuesday all of our returning students join us.

The staff have been preparing for this day for weeks. Some of us are feeling a little anxious, others are feeling a little giddy, all are feeling excited to get the new academic year going at last.

How are our students feeling? I suspect that for some of our new students, the questions are these: Will I fit in? Will the work be too much for me? Will I be able to keep up? How did I get here? Am I doing the right thing?

For some of our returning students, the questions may be different: The work is going to be harder than last year – will I make it this year? What am I going to do when I have finished? 

Actually at BBC we are all learners. Whether we are staff or students, we want to know God better, we want to love Jesus more. In church today, the theme of the morning’s service was that we want to be with Jesus, we want to be like Jesus and we want to do the things Jesus did. Jesus calls us to be with Him. Jesus calls us to be like Him. And Jesus calls us to do the things He does.

When some of the first disciples first met Jesus, they asked Him where He was staying and He said ‘Come and see’ (John 1:39). He invited them home.

You may know that Jesus did the same with Zacchaeus, the unpopular tax collector, who climbed a tree so that he could see Jesus as He was passing by among the crowds of His followers. Jesus stopped under the tree and told Zacchaeus he would like to go home with him – He wanted to share a meal with him.

Brennan Manning, in ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’, explains that for Jesus to invite himself home for dinner meant that he was saying that he wanted to enter into friendship with Zacchaeus.

It was always God’s purpose to live in us, to live with us, to enter into friendship with us. Way back in the Old Testament, when God gave instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, he said, “I will dwell among he people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exodus 29:45-46)

Then in the New Testament, God comes to live among His people in the temple. But ultimately – with the death of Jesus Christ for us – God comes to live within us! We become the temple of the Holy Spirit. God has always wanted friendship with us.

Manning says, “That’s good to recall, by the way, every time you receive communion. Jesus Christ is the Host and when He invites you to come to His table, He is declaring, ‘I want to enter into a deeper friendship with you.'”

So, whatever questions we have this week, and whatever questions we will have to answer this week, this is the most important thing: that we will learn what it is to be friends with Jesus.

Plum tart

When we lived in Switzerland, we looked forward to the month of September for its plums and plum tarts.     plum tart

Here is a great recipe I found on the BBC Food website.

For the pastry (though I cheated and used frozen ready-made pastry)

For the frangipane

(I actually used half of this and found it absolutely enough)

For the tart filling

  • 5-6 ripe plums, each cut into eighths, stones removed

To serve

  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • whipped cream or crème fraîche
  1. For the pastry, sieve the flour and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Tip the cubed butter into the bowl. Rub the butter and the flour between your thumb and fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.

  2. In a jug or small bowl, beat the egg together with four tablespoons of ice-cold water. Pour into the flour mixture.

  3. Slowly bring the ingredients together with your hands to form a dough, being careful not to overwork it.

  4. Knead the dough lightly on a clean, floured work surface, then wrap it in cling film and refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes.

  5. For the frangipane, beat the butter and sugar together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Crack the eggs into the bowl one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the ground almonds and mix well until combined. Set aside.

  6. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Dust the work surface with flour and roll the chilled dough out thinly. Use it to line one large 25cm/10in tart ring or 6-8 individual tartlet rings 8cm/3¼in in diameter. Trim away any excess.

  7. Spoon the frangipane into the tart case so that it comes about halfway up the sides. Smooth over the surface with a spatula and cover the frangipane evenly with the plums.

  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes (15-25 minutes for the tartlets), or until the pastry is crisp and golden-brown and the fruit is tender.

  9. Remove the tart(s) from the oven. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm with whipped cream or crème fraîche.

Chicken curry

This recipe is taken from the Milk Marketing Board recipe book, ‘A Touch of Natural Goodness’.

500g uncooked, chopped chicken       curry

50g butter

1 onion, chopped

1 piece root ginger, chopped

30 ml tomato chutney

285ml chicken stock

145ml dairy cream (optional)

Parsley, chopped

Seasoned flour

50g plain flour

1 tsp paprika pepper

1 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1 dsp turmeric

1tbsp hot curry powder

salt, to taste

  1. Mix together all the ingredients for the seasoned flour in a plastic bag, add the chicken pieces, seal and shake to ensure chicken is well coated.
  2. Melt butter, lightly brown chicken pieces until well sealed, add onion and ginger and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add chutney and stock and bring to boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Stir in cream and heat through.
  6. Garnish with parsley and serve with rice.