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Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Dena Johnson Martin

Crosswalk.com blogspot for Dena Johnson of Dena's Devos

This week, I was reading the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from death to life. As I read, I was struck with the realization that Scripture never records Lazarus’s reaction. To my knowledge, we never hear anything from Lazarus himself—only his sisters. Here’s the first passage about Lazarus following his resurrection:

Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. John 12:1-3

As I read these words, I began to wonder what Lazarus would have said. Obviously, anything we think about Lazarus’ reaction is all speculation since we don’t have anything from his point of view in scripture. But, I also believe there’s nothing wrong with using our holy imagination to conjecture what Lazarus might have experienced.

I have spoken in the past about how I have experienced my own resurrection from the dead. When I was going through my divorce, I felt as if my life was over. I even contemplated ending my life. The pain was unbearable, and I couldn’t understand how God would allow my marriage to fail. It was as if God had waited until He knew it was too late before coming to my rescue (see John 11:5-6).

As I languished in my own grave of pain and devastation, I wondered how I would ever find life again. Jesus Himself said He came to give us an abundant life (John 10:10), but I felt as if my life was over. As I wept over my marriage, God wept with me (John 11:35). He was truly near the broken-hearted even as He promised (Psalm 34:18).

Then, He called me out of the grave (John 11:43-44). He promised my death would be for my good and His glory (John 11:4). He told me to throw off my graveclothes holding me down and live my life to the fullest.

And that’s exactly what I have experienced—the opportunity of seeing my life resurrected from what I felt was certain death.

So what would Lazarus say to us today if he were walking amongst us?

It was dark and lonely. Have you ever been in that dark, lonely place? Have you felt as if you were never going to see the beauty, the abundant life God promised? Have you doubted His promises—maybe His ability or maybe just His willingness to set you free from the darkness? Maybe you have wondered if God truly is good—or if He is good, how could He allow something like this could happen to you?

We don’t know what happened to Lazarus during his days in the tomb. Was he in heaven with the Father? Was he in a place of darkness, isolation? Since scripture doesn’t tell us, we can only guess. For us walking the earth today, it is the places of darkness and isolation that leave us longing for an earthly death. Maybe that’s what God allowed Lazarus to experience in those days in the tomb.

I thought my life on earth was over. Have you felt that way? Have you wondered if you would ever experience the beauty, the promise, life once held?

As much as our heads know and understand that heaven is far greater than life on this earth, we also recognize how much pain death causes those here on earth. As you read John 11, you see the pain and grief from Mary and Martha, Lazarus’s sisters. You hear the anger in their voices as they tell Jesus things would have been different if only He had shown up earlier.

Death, although we have the promise of an eternal future, leaves a hole here on earth and I’m certain Lazarus felt that way.

Jesus called me to take off the graveclothes. As Jesus called Lazarus out of the grave, His command was simple: take off the graveclothes. So many people walk around today wearing their graveclothes, paralyzed by the pain and devastation of whatever circumstances have caused them to experience a death of their own. We walk around carrying around the baggage of our past failures and pains.

If Lazarus was here, he would tell us that life was meant to live in abundance. He would remind us that He was once dead, but now He has a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). He eats and drinks with those he loves. He enjoys the simple things in life. He put off the baggage of his past and embraced the present. He chose to live a life filled with the best things in life.

Jesus has the power of life and death. There’s no doubt God is all-powerful. He raised Lazarus from the dead. He raised Jesus from the dead. He holds all the power necessary to bring your life back to death, too.

There’s no reason to doubt God can change your life, take the old and make something new and beautiful and better. He has the power and the desire to make all things new for you.

Coming from death to life brings intimacy. There’s something amazing about experiencing God in the hard times. We get to know Him, His character, His goodness, His grace, His provisions in ways we never have before. We experience an intimacy we never dreamed possible.

And it’s something we can’t keep to ourselves. We see this as Lazarus’s sister, Mary, falls at Jesus’s feet and anoints them with perfume. Her love and gratitude for who Jesus is, for all He has done, is obvious as the tears fall from her face and drop on His feet. When we experience a resurrection, all those around us have the joy of experiencing more of the Father.

There’s always more to come, and God always has the last word. There’s no doubt that as long as we have a relationship with the Father, He is still working. Even when we don’t see it. Even when we don’t feel it. He is still working. When we can’t see His hand at work, we need to trust His heart—the perfect goodness and grace that is who He is.

When God is in us, we can be assured there is always more to the story.

I don’t know where you are today. I don’t know what pain and experience is in your life. But I do know my Father. I know His goodness and grace. I know His love, a perfect love that can only emanate from Him.

As we enter this Holy week isolated and alone, don’t forget there’s more to the story. God is still alive. He is still on the throne. He is working to make all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). In the end, we will have 20/20 vision that looks back and sees His sovereignty woven throughout our lives, our circumstances.

Keep holding on. Jesus is on His way. He will set all things right. He will call us from the grave. He will bring the power of resurrection

Hang on. We may be living on Saturday today…but Sunday is coming.

And we will shout, “He’s ALIVE!”

 

Covid-19. Coronavirus. These are terms with which we have all become familiar in the last few months, in the last few weeks.

Covid-19 strikes fear in our hearts and in our minds. We have learned new terms such as social distancing. We find ourselves going back to the basics, learning how to entertain ourselves in our own homes without the normal entertainment opportunities.

Theories about this virus abound. Is it something that was destined to happen at some time similar to the great plagues of the past? Is it a conspiracy to take out the United States, to make us dependent upon our government so they can take over our healthcare system, our lives? Is the government truly working for our good? Is the media fueling the chaos with its reporting? Is it truly as bad as they lead us to believe?

So many questions and so few answers. But there is one common theme amongst us: FEAR.

I am a Registered Nurse Case Manager at a small orthopedic hospital in Oklahoma City. I would say approximately 90% of our surgical cases are elective. The surgeon general recommended last week that all elective surgeries are canceled until this pandemic is over.

Yesterday, I went to work as I normally do. Shortly after I arrived, I received the word that all elective surgeries would indeed be stopped for the time. That means the hospital doesn’t need a full staff, can’t afford to pay a full staff. My co-workers and I will be rotating our days and taking paid time off (PTO) for the foreseeable future.

I only have enough PTO to get me through about two weeks.

At the end of two weeks, I don’t know what will happen. I hold out hope that our government will pass the stimulus bill that will provide funds for small business to continue to pay employees like me, but they can’t seem to get past their partisan politics and come together for the good of the country. If the hospital would lay me off, I could at least draw unemployment benefits. Right now, I am simply in limbo, not knowing what the future holds.

There’s no doubt as a registered nurse, I can FIND a job. However, my current job has me in a very low-risk environment. Although I can find a job making really good money, it also puts me on the front lines of fighting this virus. Not only will I be exposed, but I will no doubt be exposing my family, putting them at risk. I will be forced to isolate myself from them until such as time as I can be assured I have not contracted this virus.

Fear.

It is alive and well in my heart, in my home.

Yet, I hear my Father say, “Faith over fear, my sweet daughter. Faith over fear.”

Oh, those sweet words whispered by my Father! Yes, our faith must be strong enough to carry us through this pandemic, through the chaos that swirls around us. Our faith must carry us through the unknown as we navigate these waters. We must again learn to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

So, how do we walk by faith and not fear in this new world?

Remember God’s past faithfulness. I was actually enjoying our sheltering in place life before my finances were impacted. My oldest is suddenly home from college. The younger two are out of school. (Sadly, my senior is missing the last quarter of his senior year and all of the big events that go along with it.) But, we are making the most of our time together. We are playing games together as a family. We are sitting down at the table together in ways we haven’t been able to do. We are talking about life, about our past, about our future. We are doing things we wouldn’t normally do—things such as Roy allowing Cassie to shave him bald.

We are laughing together and remembering what it is to be a family.

So why did fear suddenly overtake me when our finances were impacted? I don’t know why money is such a security issue for me, but that’s where fear hits me…. every single time.

God has always been so faithful to me, providing the manna I need just when I need it. He took my finances from non-existent to doubling, tripling my income in a very short time when I became a single mom. He provided a place for my kids and me to live when we didn’t have the money to keep a roof over our heads. He’s provided the unexpected $100 to pay for the kids’ activities at just the right time. He sent an unexpected generous gift that was the exact amount needed to pay for my daughter’s braces.

He has been so incredibly faithful. Never once have we had a need He didn’t meet. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17). He was faithful yesterday and He will be faithful today.

I will choose to remember His faithfulness, His character that promises to always care for the needs of His children.

Focus our minds on the truths of God’s Word. So often, I find my mind wandering, focusing on the circumstances around me. That’s when my heart gets anxious, when I allow fear to overtake faith.

God’s Word brings peace. When we focus our hearts and minds on the Father, on His words to us, we find His perfect peace floods our hearts and minds (Isaiah 26:3). When we meditate on things that are lovely and noble and true and right and excellent and praiseworthy, His peace that surpasses all understanding overtakes our lives and chases out all fear (Philippians 4:6-8). When we choose to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, we find God’s good and perfect will (Romans 12:2).

What does this look like in a practical way? When I find myself thinking about the circumstances around me, I must repent and turn to God. I can pray and ask Him to renew my mind. I can choose to quote scriptures in my head or say them out loud, scriptures that encourage faith over fear. I can think about God’s past faithfulness in my life and recount the stories of how He has cared for me. I can change the things I think about so that my mind is encouraged in the present.

Maybe we need some notecards with scriptures placed in strategic places. Maybe we need to carry those cards with us so we always have them available. Maybe we need an accountability partner to remind us to think the way He wants us to. Whatever it takes, replace the fear with the truth of God’s Word and His character.

Seek a new perspective. The media would have us believe we are all doomed, life will never be the same. It’s easy to get so bogged down with the news that we are being fed 24/7/365. We hear the media’s perspective, but is it the only perspective?

I’m trying to find the good in this chaos. I’m trying to find ways this sheltering in place can bring good things because we known all things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

I possibly have some extended time off work which I haven’t really had in a long time (unless I was having surgery). What will an extended vacation do for me?

It gives me time to slow down and focus on God and family.

It’s a time where I can learn to put financial security in its proper place rather than making it an idol in my life.

It’s a time to focus on my hopes and dreams rather than being consumed with work and the cares of this life.

When I told my kids about the change in our finances, they immediately focused on using the time to grow my ministry. Ultimately, the financial aspect of my ministry is in God’s hands—just as I said in my blog post two weeks ago. Honestly, the timing of all of these changes are not lost on me as I wonder how some recent financial issues He has placed on my heart recently are intertwined. Perhaps God is working in this chaos to do something only He can do.

While this is definitely a time of uncertainty and change, I am firmly convinced my God is still in control. As we navigate these waters of chaos, I encourage you to remember how He has always been faithful. I encourage you to turn your heart and mind toward Him and the promises in His word. I ask you to look for a new perspective, His perspective, in the midst of your circumstances.

We will see His faithfulness again. We will live to see the Promises fulfilled on the other side of the wilderness.

Father God, this is a time of such fear and uncertainty. We know you are not the author of fear but of peace. As we walk through these tumultuous storms that are impacting every part of our lives, help us to remember you are the same forever and always, you never change even when the world crumbles around us. I ask for an extra dose of your perfect peace for every person reading these words. I pray you would show us your perspective in the midst of the storm. Give us the courage to face the storm and walk through it until we see your promises fulfilled on the other side. You are God and you are still in control. And for that, we praise you.

I Still Believe

Maybe God has chosen something bigger for me…something I wouldn’t have chosen for myself.

Have you ever had that thought? Have you ever encountered circumstances you didn’t want for yourself and wondered if maybe God had bigger plans for your life?

This very thought was the one that gave me courage to move forward in the midst of my painful divorce. As I read the beginning of Job, I wondered if God had talked to Satan and said, “Have you considered my servant Dena?” I will never know this side of heaven if that conversation took place, but I know it was the very thought that gave me a new perspective on my circumstances and the vision I needed to let God do a mighty work in me so He could do a mighty work through me.

And He has been so incredibly faithful.

This quote did not come from me. This quote is from Melissa, Jeremy Camp’s wife in the new movie I Still Believe. It is the true story of a very young couple who chose to move forward in their relationship despite Melissa’s diagnosis of cancer.

It’s the true story of a couple who prayed for and believed God for total and complete healing.

It’s the true story of a young couple whose faith shone in spite of their horrific circumstances.

It’s the true story of faith under fire when the trials of life are crashing down around them.

Do you know what I love about this story? Most Christian movies have the Holly wood ending where the marriage is restored, the team wins the championship, the father and daughter reunite, the dad is changed by the love of Christ and builds a relationship with his kids.

The story of Jeremy and Melissa Camp does not have the Hollywood ending. They pray for and believe God for total and complete healing. Their faith endures through the toughest of times. They hold onto God and let their light shine as cancer wreaks havoc on Melissa’s body.

While I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, it is well known that Jeremy loses his sweet wife to cancer shortly after their marriage. They don’t get the miracle they pray for, they hope for. They experience the reality of this often painful existence on this earth.

After her death, Jeremy struggles with his faith. How can He believe in a God who took away a shining star, a beautiful young lady whose faith was so incredibly strong? Why does God answer some people’s prayers for healing but not others? Why do His blessings seem to flow over some people while others—whose faith is just as strong if not stronger—experience the devastation of pain and loss?

It is a common situation I encounter, one I have walked through on so many levels. Why didn’t God heal my marriage when I prayed and begged Him to make us whole, to give us a ministry of reconciliation? Why did the young dad have to die before he could repair the relationship with his kids? Why hasn’t God opened the doors for the ministry I have dreamed of for so long? Why didn’t he heal the young mom of her cancer so she could see her kids grow up?

When we, as Christians, encounter these situations, we find ourselves doubting God’s goodness. We find ourselves angry with God. We turn our backs on Him and run away.

In reality, it is in these times of struggle that God changes us. He makes us a new creation prepared to do greater works for Him. He gives us a passion we could have never had before. He uses our stories to comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1:4). If we can quiet ourselves before Him, we will find He is near the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18).

As Jeremy Camp says in the movie, “Suffering doesn’t destroy faith. It refines it.”

I know that is my story. The suffering I have endured has tested my faith. I’ve walked through the doubts. I’ve wondered why I should trust God and follow Him if all I get for my obedience is a life of pain and struggle.

But God…

God pursues me relentlessly. He fights for my affection. He reveals Himself to me in all of His goodness and grace. He reminds me whose I am and who I am. He does a mighty work in me so He can do a mighty work through me. He has never let my pain be in vain.

And as the story of Jeremy and Melissa shows, God is still faithful even in the unanswered prayers. You see, Melissa’s heart was that God would use her to change at least one life. Jeremy and his second wife, Adrienne, have been faithful to use Melissa’s story, to share her faithfulness to God. And Melissa’s life has changed many lives, including Adrienne’s. She is a star that shines brightly.

My life is not full in spite of the disappointments. It’s full because of them.

As Jeremy struggled with the loss of his wife, his dad talked about his own disappointments. It was the pain that made his life full, that gave him purpose in this life.

What about you? Can you look at your circumstances and wonder if God has chosen something bigger for you, something you would have never chosen for yourself? Are you willing to believe that suffering doesn’t destroy faith but instead refines it? Are you willing to believe God can use the disappointments to make your life more full?

Do you believe that when you get to the other side of this wilderness you can say with Jeremy Camp:

Scattered words and empty thoughts
seem to pour from my heart
I've never felt so torn before
seems I don't know where to start
but it's now that I feel Your grace falls like rain
from every fingertip, washing away my pain

I still believe in Your faithfulness
I still believe in Your truth
I still believe in Your holy word
even when I don't see, I still believe

Though the questions still fog up my mind
with promises I still seem to bear
even when answers slowly unwind
it's my heart I see You prepare
but its now that I feel Your grace fall like rain
from every finger tip, washing away my pain

The only place I can go is into your arms
where I throw to you my feeble prayers
in brokeness I can see that this was your will for me
Help me to know You are near

(Lyrics © Jeremy Camp)

Because of my trials in this life, I still believe…

 

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