Friday, May 15, 2015

Day 8 - 14 The Lazarus Experiment Devotions 2015

Day Eight Devotional ‪#‎tledevo‬
The Bible describes death as the final enemy to be destroyed.
But the Bible also says that Jesus Christ has already defeated death, and that his followers can live in freedom from death.
Nobody knows what this feels like like Lazarus.
In the years we've been doing The Lazarus Experiment, I've had people suggest that maybe Lazarus was not happy about being brought back to life. Maybe he was miffed. After all - he may have been in heaven, or on his way there, or at least in a holding pattern. Was life on earth better? Factor also that, once the reality of his new life had settled in, Lazarus was facing off with another death. He would join the very exclusive club of those who have died twice.
As logical as all that sounds, I'm not convinced. The most compelling evidence, I think, is that Lazarus was Jesus' close friend. If raising Lazarus from the grave was something bad to do, and the only reason for doing it was that Jesus would wow the crowd, it seems contrary to the love Jesus had for his friend.
Plus, it is God's firm stance that life is good. It is very good! And death is an enemy, a beast, born from the pit of wickedness. To reverse death is always a good thing!
That is why I believe the overwhelming attitude that carried through every day of Lazarus' second life, for as long as that life lasted for Laz - the thing that stuck in his heart and stayed there forever - was joy.
Laz knew joy from the perspective of one who knew grace. He didn't deserve what happened; it was Jesus' gift. That alone would make you smile for a long time.
Laz knew joy because he learned the value of family and friends. He realized the marvel of relationships, intimacy, and love. That would set you up with a light in your heart that could not be extinguished.
Laz knew joy all around him: in the earth and sky, in the stars and clouds. His post-death eyes fairly beamed with the joy of creation and breathing and the pump of adrenaline when you ride a roller coaster.
OK. He didn't ride a coaster. But he knew the joy of living. Because he got to do it over again. And he would have determined to never practice joylessness again.
Did he have bad days? Of course he did. But the bad days were always eclipsed by the thought, I am brand new. As bad as it may get, it's still true that he rescued me.
I wonder - do you know joy?
You've been brought back from death. You have tasted new life in Christ. Behold, everything is brand new. As bad as it may get, it's still true that he rescued you.
Joy is not passive; it screams action. What action will you take out of the sheer joy of being alive in Christ?
I love this quote from Octavius Winslow, known as "The Pilgirm's Pastor" -
"The religion of Christ is the religion of JOY. Christ came to take away our sins, to roll off our curse, to unbind our chains, to open our prisonhouse, to cancel our debt; in a word, to give us the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Is not this joy? Where can we find a joy so real, so deep, so pure, so lasting?
"There is every element of joy - deep, ecstatic, satisfying, sanctifying joy - in the gospel of Christ. The believer in Jesus is essentially a happy man. The child of God is, from necessity, a joyful man. His sins are forgiven, his soul is justified, his person is adopted, his trials are blessings, his conflicts are victories, his death is immortality, his future is a heaven of inconceivable, unthought-of, untold, and endless blessedness. With such a God, such a Saviour, and such a hope, is he not, ought he not, to be a joyful man?"
Suggested Scripture For Today: Psalm 47
Suggested Ideas:
1. Make a joy list. Write out in long hand all the things that are reasons for joy in your life. Post it where you can see it for a week.
2. Go through one entire day smiling at everyone. Don't just tell us about your resolve to do it. Tell us about what happened after you did it.
3. Take a slow hike.
4. Joy is a turn-around emotion; it has the power to turn things around. Find an object that can be a joy trigger. It could be a Bible, a picture, a trinket, a bracelet, a hat. When you encounter things in your day that threaten your joy, use the trigger to remind you of God's immense love for you and your new life in Jesus.
Joy to you today,

Day Nine Devotional ‪#‎tledevo‬
Let's say Lazarus started a diary.
Day One. Hello diary. Today, Jesus called me out of that hole! After I got unwrapped I went around to everyone gathered for my funeral and hugged them. Lots of good food and good friends. We danced, partied, and generally had a great time until about 3:00 a.m. I'm beat!
Day Two. Dear diary: I love being alive! Today I couldn't wait to get out of the house! Me, Mary and Martha, and a small group of friends took a long hike with a picnic around Gallilee. (Peter could barely stand not being able to cast a net!). After we got back I dug up about a half acre of dirt in the backyard. I'm going to put in a garden!
Day Three. Dear Diary: Went sightseeing in Jerusalem - preparing for the festival. Jesus has plans to head down there - not sure that's a great idea. Worked all day doing errands for him, just to make sure he'll be safe. Haven't been to the city for a long time. Whew! Glad I went, but I'll sleep good tonight.
Day Four. Dear Diary: Decided to get up early and exercise an hour. Got to get this dead old body in shape! Don't want to die (again!) too soon! Had to finally get some work done, since somebody has to pay the bills now that I'm around.
Day Five. Dear Diary: A couple friends decided to pay me a visit and we went hunting. The old bow still performed amazing - I can take out an antelope from 50 yards out! Felt more alive than ever. But I need to sleep.
Day Six. Dear Diary. What a day! The air was crisp and cool, and it just demanded that I get some work done. So I finally went down to the crypt to clean things out. Scrubbed the walls with vinegar (oh man - the smell I left in there!) and cleaned up some of the spices and stuff that was left around. (Not sure that stuff works all that well!). Gotta get the place ready, just in case, I guess. My arms feel like they're going to drop off.
You get the picture.
Lazarus, I'm sure, was eager to live life. But somewhere during the first week or two, life reached up and smacked him around. His energy drained. His feet got sore. His back was stiff. It was time to rest.
At some point, Lazarus realized that his new body still needed respite care. After several days of pushing it - testing the very edges of the endurance of his new life - I think Lazarus crashed.
At some point, our Lazarus Experiment needs to factor in some rest. Some of you have already written about naps. That's great. But maybe a whole day of Sabbath is in order.
Since I'm a pastor, Sundays are not ideal for any kind of Sabbath-keeping. I sometimes have to force myself away from work and busyness to get quiet rest.
Lazarus would have realized, as we all must, that there will always - ALWAYS - be something on your to-do list that is urgent, necessary, and vital to your well-being and the happiness of those around you.
After the first week, Laz may have put his to-do list on hold, recognizing that life is too short to burn it out all at once.
Rest, friend.
Suggested Scripture For Today: Matthew 11:25-30
Suggested Ideas:
1. Schedule a day, soon, and attempt to accomplish nothing.
2. Take a day off from The Lazarus Experiment.
3. Turn off all electronic devises for one 24 hour period. No TV. No computer. No cell phone. No radio. No video games. Go tech-cold-turkey.
4. Spend half a day with God alone. Take only a Bible, a pen/pencil, a notebook. Get as far away from other people as you can. Make it your goal not to see another person except God for at least four hours.
I'm praying for each of you, by name, every day. We're doing great! I'm loving the posts and the new living I'm reading about. Keep it up.

Day Ten Devotional ‪#‎tledevo‬
For most of us, the Lazarus account is a very profound analogy of our new lives in Christ Jesus. Hardly any of us have really been brought back to life after four days of being really dead. If we had, we'd have written a book and made a movie.
At least I haven't. So I can only begin to imagine Lazarus' reactions and emotions. How did he feel when he heard his name? What was his reaction to being loosed from the strips of cloth that held him tight? And this question keeps coming to me: What happened when those who were tending to Lazarus finally began to unwrap his his neck, his head, his mouth, his eyes.
That moment right there.
The moment when the final wrap, perhaps with some padding, was undone from around his head, and his eyelids fluttered, and his pupils went ballistic at the daylight, and the blur of morbid sight cleared, and his eyes adjusted to life, and . . .
Eye to eye. Face to face. Jesus staring right into his brain, into his heart, into the core of him--now alive. Is that a smile on Jesus' face? Are those tears streaking his cheeks? Is that forgiveness in his features? Is that love--right there--in his eyes?
If Jesus had brought Lazarus out of the grave and then left the scene before the rags were removed, I think Lazarus would have been changed. He would have lived differently, and would have made the most out of his second-chance life.
But I think Lazarus was changed more by that one look than anything else that happened to him that day.
That look is powerful. Why do you think so many gospel songs talk about seeing Jesus? Having him look into our eyes. Telling us to look into his?
Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.
It's a nice analogy. But I think it's more than that.
We have spiritual eyes that allow us to see him. And that sight can change us forever.
Whatever this Experiment does--whatever changes you make, habits you start, alterations in attitude that result--the one thing that supersedes all else is seeing Jesus.
If it does anything, I want it to reacquaint me to that moment. I was blind, but now I see. I was in a pit, and he rescued me. I was poor and helpless and wounded and dead, and he called my name and brought me out. And I have looked him in the eyes, and I can never be the same.
Everything we do as a part of this exercise springs from that moment. What difference will it make to you?
Suggested Scripture For Today: Revelation 22:1-5 (Ask yourself - what does this picture remind you of?)
Suggested Ideas:
1. If Jesus were your sibling, or husband/wife, or very close friend, and he wasn't with us physically, we'd probably write him a letter, and part of the letter would include telling him how much we would love to see him in person. Write that letter.
2. Spend ten minutes with your eyes closed and imagine being Lazarus and opening your eyes to the wonder of Jesus' gaze. How would that change you? What would be different?
3. Someone helped get Lazarus out of the rags and into the presence of Jesus. Someone helped you, too, to see Jesus clearly. Have you thanked them, lately?
4. If you're artistic (and even if you're not), can you draw a picture, or take a photo, or write a poem, or a song, describing and illustrating looking into the eyes of Jesus? If you do, POST IT SO WE CAN SEE IT!
We are 25% into this thing! Don't get discouraged - you're doing great. Keep up your spirits, look to Jesus, and tell us about what's going on. The best way to get the most benefit from this endeavor is to interact with each other online. Don't worry about missing some days, just jump in when you can.

Day Eleven Devotional ‪#‎tledevo‬
One of the recurring questions that I've dealt with over the years as a pastor is, "How do I know that Jesus is for real?"
It's a great question. And it has millions of answers. You're probably one of them. One of the answers.
Lazarus was one of them. After being raised from death, Lazarus settles in for a nice quiet life in the Jerusalem burbs. But unfortunately, news got out real quick about what had happened. Someone went and told the Pharisees. Bad move.
John 11 tells us that the religious leaders were all aghast at Jesus' actions - the great Bethany Boo-Yah! - and they accelerated their plans for extermination of the pest. Jesus decided to take his closest friends on a camping trip to Ephraim to avoid the hassle. (I love that!)
But Passover was approaching, and Jesus knew Jerusalem was the final destination. John records that six days before the celebrations, Jesus brought his followers back to Bethany, and Lazarus and his two sisters threw a little soirée. Actually, it was a big barbecue, a "I'm-back-from-the-dead-and-here's-the-guy-that-did-it!" kind of party.
According to John 12:9 - "When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead."
Lazarus was now proof. Living, breathing, walking, talking, partying proof that Jesus was the real deal. Lazarus was dead. Now he's alive. Jesus did it. What more do you need?
Our lives - having been raised from the dead ourselves because of Jesus - are the proof that Jesus is who he claims to be.
I am all the evidence anyone needs to verify the accuracy of Jesus' claims.
Oh my.
As I sit here at my desk writing these words, it burns me that when people look at me they might see more death than life. They might notice more proof against Jesus than for him. I so want people to see that Jesus has redeemed my life from the pit. But often my life looks like I'm still living down there, wallowing in self-pity and wondering why life is so crappy.
At TLE, we've been pushing ourselves to live like we really are. If you know Jesus, and have anchored your whole life on him, you've been brought from death to life, just like Laz. Who knows this? Who is chasing you down to find out what happened? When is the last time you had a party at your place, invited Jesus and a few of his friends, and then invited the whole town over to tell the story again about your own personal BOO-YAH moment - your resurrection?
Here's an interesting thing: Lazarus never says a word. NOT ONE WORD. Because of that, I think Lazarus was a shy person. He let Mary do the talking, I think.
But I think Lazarus lived out the proof of Jesus' actions on his behalf every day of the rest of his second life. In fact, rumor has it that he eventually lost his head in France because he would not stop telling people about what Jesus had done.
The proof that Lazarus provided made the enemies of Jesus angry and frightened--so much so that Lazarus was added to their hit list. First, take out Jesus. But that's not enough, because as long as Lazarus is still around, there's undeniable proof. They decided to kill Lazarus "because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus."
Have you made any enemies of Jesus upset lately?
I long to have it said of me, "As long as Benson is around, there's undeniable proof that Jesus is the real deal."
What if that could be said of all of us on The Lazarus Experiment? We could change the world.

Suggested Scripture For Today: John 11-12
Suggested Ideas:
1. Write out the story of how you came to Jesus and how he saved you from death. Mail it to three people who may not have heard it before. Just tell them, "I really wanted to make sure you knew about this, because you're my friend." If you're really daring, post a short version on Facebook!
2. Host a Lazarus party at your house. Invite Jesus and a few of his friends, and invite some people who have never met him. You never know what might happen.
3. On the back of several Laz cards (attached in comment below), write out a one sentence testimony and your phone number. Leave them in places where people might find them. (Yes, this is risky. Lazarus would have taken some risks. In the past, TLE participants have put the cards in library books and on restaurant tables).
4. Answer this question by making intentional changes TODAY in your life: "What could I do to make my BOO-YAH new life more outrageously visible to others?"
Have you read these posts? Are you as amazed as I am about how God puts this group together and does His thing? You - yes you! - are changing lives through TLE. Your posts, encouragements, comments, and prayers are making an eternal difference. Keep living like Laz!

Day Twelve Devotional ‪#‎tledevo‬
What are you afraid of?
Whatever it is that brings me fear has a finger on the control switch of my life. Whatever causes us to be afraid has power over us.
“I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease." Yann Martel, Life of Pi.
Awareness came to Lazarus, I think, in waves--like the strips of graveclothes being removed. The dawning of resurrection--the outrageous idea that he was alive-- followed the reinvigoration of his senses; touch first, then hearing, then smell, taste, sight. He came out of the fog in his brain, memories popping back into place, a lifetime of learning reestablishing the library of his intellect.
Put yourself in Laz's place, and imagine the process of coming back to life. Step by step, you emerge from the tomb on Jesus' command. Step by step you regain the elements of life - your breath, your heartbeat, your mind, your heart, your fears.
What about those? What would Lazarus do once he came to full awareness and remembered? All at once, his situation, his illness, his wound, his death -- all of that came rushing into his recollection. Including the fear. I should be afraid . . . Shouldn't I?
(Recollection. Interesting term. "Re-collection." Collecting again. As in, "I have a collection of fears in my life. And sometimes I lay in my bed, at 2:00 in the morning, and I collect them all again." Recollect.)
All the things that Lazarus had ever feared waited on the edges of his consciousness for his permission to enter and reclaim the power they once had. Just waiting. Just over there. All he had to do was say, "Come." And he gathered them all in, and re-collected.
We're not told what Jesus' first words to Lazarus were. Maybe he said, "Welcome back, friend," or maybe Jesus just whispered Lazarus' name in his new-claimed ear. Someday maybe we can ask Lazarus what it was Jesus said.
But I've got a guess. It's something Jesus said to other people on occasion. I think I know what Jesus would say to me, if he raised me from the dead. I think I know what I would want him to say, if I had been dead four days and then was alive again. I would want Jesus to look at me, right in the eyes, and speak.
"Ron, you have no reason to be afraid anymore. Do not be afraid."
And if Jesus spoke those words to Lazarus, what would be the proof that the words were true?
Life. New life. Life after death.
Look - once "death has been swallowed up in victory," is there anything to fear? If Enemy Number One has been put down, what else is there to be afraid of? All the fears of all of life from infancy to death are like so many dominoes, lined up across the landscape of our histories. And when Jesus screams, "Come out!" at the mouth of the tomb, all the dominoes of fear in your collection fall down, impotent and powerless.
At some point, Lazarus faced a choice: open the gate to all those Big Scary Things waiting impatiently to rush in and take control again of his life, or believe that what had just happened to him was the new reality, and allow Jesus to have the control instead.
If you've found new life in Jesus Christ, there is nothing to fear. You have a choice.
Listen. You have no reason to be afraid anymore. Time to stop the fear-collecting hobby.
Psalm 27:1
The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
Suggested Scripture For Today: Psalm 27
Suggested Ideas:
1. Make a list of things that you will be happy to not fear anymore when you're in heaven. Then identify which of those fears are worthy of your concern here on earth since you have new life in Jesus.
2. Do something that makes you scared. Public speaking, holding a spider, riding a roller coaster, what?
3. Write your fears with a permanent marker on a deck of playing cards. As you write on each card, stack it up, building a tower of fear. When it's high - take a picture to post for us here. Then smack it all down, just as if Jesus was in the room.
4. Fill in the blank: If I wasn't afraid of anything, I would feel great about taking a risk to ____________________ . Then go do it.
It is so cool to be learning about each of you, getting to know other people around the world. As you can see, The Lazarus Experiment has assisted in making some close lifetime friendships! Be sure and interact with all of us online, and you'll make some Laz-buddies for eternity.

Day Thirteen Devotional ‪#‎tledevo‬
Lazarus was one lucky fella.
I wonder if, on his last birthday, Lazarus blew out all the candles on his birthday cake with one breath?
Or, at the big Bethany Rosh Hashana party, did Lazarus dig into a Vasilopita and find a coin?
Maybe Laz carried around a rabbit's foot. Maybe he hung a horseshoe upside down over his front door to gather in the blessings. Maybe he grew a lucky bamboo.
After all, something was going Lazzy's way. Something tilted the scales of fate in his direction. Lazarus won the Beat Death Down Mega Millions Lotto. Maybe it was because he never stepped on a crack in the dusty roads between Bethany and Jerusalem. Or maybe it was because he always stepped on the cracks, and therefore, broke the devil's back.
I know you probably don't believe all that tripe.
But we sometimes catch ourselves thinking that if we only do something right, even something spiritual, in the right order, in the right way, with the right words, using the right scripture, sitting in the right place, and if we make sure we say, "In Jesus name," or "Lord willing," at the end, Jesus will magically appear, the bucket at the end of the rainbow will be full, and everything will turn out OK.
Actually, the story of Lazarus' death leads us to the exact opposite conclusion. We can't breeze past the obvious: Lazarus died. Mary didn't want that to happen. Martha knew it didn't need to happen. Even Jesus understood that it wasn't a good thing. We might say, "His luck ran out."
Martha seems to think that maybe if things had been different, Laz would still be alive. "If you had just listened and come when we called you, Jesus!" Sure, she plays the diplomat and tries to be all nicey-nice. But you know what she's thinking: "Hey! Pay attention next time, Jesus! My brother's dead and it's all because - why? You wanted to spend a little more vaca time with your buddies in the wilderness? The golf course was calling your name? It was more important to feed the nameless hoards some more bread and fish? YOUR BEST FRIEND IS DEAD, BUCKO! THANKS A MILLION FOR BEING HERE!"
(And then she made lunch.)
The thing is, this Jesus-life, it's not about the timing or the luck or the ritual or the manipulation of the stars and the universe. It's about leaning into him, in relationship.
Magic is when we do something religious to force the gods to do what we want.
Faith is trusting the One and Only God that whatever he does is the best for us.
Lazarus threw his rabbit's foot away after he died and came back. There is no need for luck when Jesus is in the picture.
Suggested Scripture For Today: Psalm 103
Suggested Ideas:
1. Do you have a lucky shirt? A pair of lucky shoes? Some kind of object that is a talisman--that you think gives you an edge? What would Lazarus do with that stuff?
2. Spend an hour with God, asking him to show you when you've traded a relationship with him for a formula for success. It could even be a spiritual formula. Ask God what he wants you to do about that.
3. Identify five rituals you perform routinely in your life. It could be the way you brush your teeth, or the route you take to work, or the phrase you use to your kids when they go to bed. It could be one of hundreds of things we do ritually, habitually. Pick out five of them and don't do them today.
4. Tell ten people today that it's Jesus who makes you smile.
It's time to step it up, out there! Don't just make a plan; don't merely describe your day (as good as it might be). Let's do some intentional, outrageous stuff over the weekend! And we want PICTURES! VIDEO! EVIDENCE!
This is truly amazing. I hope you're relishing these days.

Day Fourteen Devotional ‪#‎tledevo‬
As I write this morning, the boundaries of my backyard have moved. I did not make this happen. It was not my choice. I have no guarantee that the boundaries once established will ever return the way they were. We've had a flood.
Don't be concerned. It happens every year. And every year the majority of my yard goes submarine for a week or so. Most of the time, it returns to normal. But there are always subtle changes under there. Water just pushes things around.
Crises in our lives are like floods, pushing the boundaries around. Sometimes the changes are slow, and not dramatic--just gentle tucks and pinches here and there on the landscape of our relationships and our time.
Major turmoil, however, can completely dismantle the shape of things. Boundaries are rocked by earthquakes, seismic shifts radically alter where we say yes and where we say no. Storms and floods make changes in who we allow to love us, and who we decide to love, and how.
Death is the Great Boundary Shifter. Nothing rearranges the landscape of our personal lives like death. Except maybe for life after death.
The life-death-life reality for Lazarus must have disturbed his boundaries.
Boundaries are those places where we draw lines in our lives. They are the borders of where we can say "Yes - I can do that," and "No, I won't do that." Boundaries help us to determine "You can be an intimate friend," and "You are going to have to stay away."
Finding new life at the command of Jesus - like Laz did or like we did - means that a powerful force is now active and working and pushing things around. The boundaries will never be the same.
How have your boundaries changed because of new life in Jesus? What boundaries need to be changed still? If you were Lazarus, what boundaries would you re-do after you'd been brought back from death?
You're alive. Now. Maybe it's time the edges of your life reflected the truth.
Suggested Scripture For Today: Matthew 5:33-37
Suggested Ideas:
1. Push some edges of your life out as far as you can take them. Stop holding back.
2. Make a list of relationships. Score them on the basis of "Promotes new life in Christ," or "Diminishes new life in Christ." Where can new boundaries be established? Where can old ones be removed?
3. Try going through one day without saying "no" unless it causes you to sin. Say "yes" to everything else.
4. Do something today that you would do if today were the last day you were alive.
I prayed for you by name today. Tell me what the answer was.

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