Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Jesus Wept John 11:17-44

the-raising-of-lazarus-2069644_1920We know the story of Lazarus but I want to pose a question: Why did Jesus weep? He knew what he was about to do, that very soon Lazarus would walk out of that tomb, so why did he weep?

In the very next chapter (12) we have the extravagant anointing of Jesus by Mary, 'for the day of my burial,' said Jesus. It is in chapter 12 we read of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem. These events are that close to Easter. When we think of God's love we consider the events of Easter it's clearest expression, 'For God so loved the world...' (John 3:16)

When we speak of God's love to the world that God so loved, this question arises:

How can there be a God who loves when we look at the state of the world? The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah asks, “Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy?” (Jer.12:1)

The psalmist writes:

“I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind...Behold these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence...” (Ps.73:3-8)

Sound familiar?

There are three things we must know as we approcah Easter:

1. We were created for better.

Man, in his original state, was made to reflect the image of God. In Genesis we read:

“God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let him rule over the fish of the seas and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen.1:26)

The Psalmist asked:

'What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands...' (Ps.8:3-9)

This text has been used, and quite correctly, as prophetic of Jesus. But in its original context it speaks of mankind in our original creation..

Jesus, of course, is described as the image of the invisible God (Heb.1:3) The difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus is God in the flesh, the exact image, the very imprimatur of God, while we are creatures, made originally to have a history with God that increasingly reflects his image as we grow, multiply and are fruitful on the earth. We were created for better.

We were made to be stewards, co-regent, with God, of the earth. To rule, as described in Genesis, means to enjoy delegated sovereignty under God. Stewardship means being responsible for those things placed under our care. This is the creation mandate. This is who and what we were made to be. We were created for better.

We were made to represent God on the earth. That means running things as he would run them if he were directly in charge. Doing things his way. Again, Genesis reminds us we are to be creative, fruitful, productive, living and reigning according to his rule. We were made to relate to each other in a way that is honouring to God and to each other. Adam says of Eve, “This is now bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh...” so to harm her is to harm himself.

John Donne famously wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Paul describes the church in a similar fashion in his letter to Christians in Corinth, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor.12:26-27)

The church is meant to be a reflection of this original plan, to show God's purposes to the world and tell people there is a better, a godly way that fulfils us completely. To demonstrate that to be authentically human is to reflect God's image, be God's representative on the earth, to grow in the things of God, to relate correctly to each other, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos. By contrast our society has brought chaos out of order.

When we see where we have fallen from then we can see how far we have fallen. If life disappoints us it should, and this is why; we are a fallen people, and we were made for better.

2. We have fallen far

We must realise we are not simply the playthings of the gods, as some societies would have us believe. Neither are we helpless pawns in the hands of a blind and capricious fate. Nor are we the products of a mindless evolutionary process. Mankind was made for relationship and responsibility and we – are – responsible....What of our part in this tragic drama of life?

We have fallen far. It is not simply a question of punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous-there are no righteous! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:9) It is a case, rather, of restoring the order, fulfilling God's original purposes. In this restoration we are yet to be stewards of God's new creation, those who reflect his image and glory, represent him on the earth and bring order out of chaos like our Creator/God. But how do we get from here to there?

We have fallen so very far and the problem is more than skin deep. Jesus tells us:

"What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." (Mk.7:21-23)

We are so blind to our own part in this, we make the problem of sin too small. We call what the other person does “sin,” but when we do it we call it something else; weaknesses, faults (who hasn't got them?, we ask, not realising our question is a confession), being human we say but, as we have seen, being truly human is something else altogether.

The idea of sin is not the product of a less sophisticated, more superstitious time. Sin is a disaster of epic proportions. It lies at the root of everything that is wrong with this world. A massive problem, all-pervasive, staining and spoiling everything. Like putting a red garment in a white wash. Every depravity, every injustice, every cruel act, every lie, theft, betrayal and defamation results from the influence of sin in our lives.

When children are abused it is sin destroying the kind of relationships we were created to have; when a driver speeds his passengers to a terrible death it is sin corrupting his judgement and bringing chaos out of order; when people in positions of power face charges of corruption it is sin taking stewardship and twisting it into exploitation and unrighteous dominion.

It is sin that brings death and death stalks our every waking moment, invades our nightmares and assures us of its eventual victory; the death rate in this world is still 100%. Paul reminds us, “The wages of sin is death” (Ro.6:23) We laugh at sin today, mock it, regard it as quaint. We make death something regrettable but natural and manageable. God sees these things quite differently and he offers us real and sure hope.

We have a sure hope

And so we come to the tomb of Lazarus. Jesus had raised the dead before; the daughter of Jairus, the widow's son at Nain. He knew beforehand what he intended to do for Lazarus, yet he wept?

Were these tears of sorrow? Perhaps so, Isaiah prophetically called Jesus, “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.” (Is.53:3)

Were they tears of empathy as he saw the inconsolable grief of Mary and Martha, Lazarus' bereft sisters? Again, perhaps so, Matthew tells us in one place that, “when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.” (Mt.9:36) Jesus was, after all, fully human and capable of fellow feeling.

It is tempting to think of this in this way, as a local incident evoking fellow feeling and sympathy. Jesus, who went about doing good, doing good for his friend Lazarus. But nothing Jesus did was incidental and this was an event of eternal significance. Jesus' tears were not primarily those of sorrow, or of compassion. We read in verse 33 of our passage, “When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled”

There is more here than sorrow or sympathy. These words could as easily be rendered, “He was enraged in spirit and troubled himself.” There is indignation here, a sense of outrage and the object of his wrath is death itself. The Prince of life walked the earth and death had the audacity to come this close. Jesus, moved to indignation by the unnatural and violent tyranny of death, advances to the tomb, in Calvin's words, “as a champion prepared for conflict.”

This is a clear demonstration of Jesus' conquest of death and hell. Not in cold unconcern but in flaming anger against the enemy of us all, Jesus strikes a mortal blow in Lazarus’ behalf. Jesus approaches our graves in the same spirit of outrage and divine determination. He suffered the same agitation of spirit, magnified many times over in Gethsemane as he anticipated Calvary and the cross on which he would pay the price for sin and defeat what Paul calls the last enemy to be defeated, death.

When Lazarus comes out from the tomb Jesus says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

Do you want to hear those words uttered for you? There is hope for you today if you put your trust fully in the Christ who saves and who, when he knew his time had come, said, “Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn.12:31-33)

Will you be drawn to the one who, in our passage, declared with confidence and divine determination, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (vv 25-26)

It is popular with some to believe the gospel is simply about getting us into heaven because of the blood of Jesus. It is so much more. It is the gift of forgiveness and of a new heart, a call to new life, to become authentically human through Christ’s sacrifice for you on the cross, to grow in the things of God, to reflect God's image, to be God's representative on the earth, to relate correctly to each other, to steward the earth, be fruitful and multiply – be creative like our creator, bringing order out of chaos.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

From Joseph to Jesus, a testimony


Book of Mormon 3Before I was taught by the Mormons in my teens, I only knew what I had learned at Sunday School as a small child and in R.E. lessons in school. Like many people, I thought that a Christian was someone who tried hard to do good things, read the Bible, and prayed to God.

I learned from my Mormon friends that Jesus had paid for the fall of Adam, so that we are all born sinless and are held accountable only for the sins we ourselves commit. Because Jesus died for my sins, I could work to be acceptable to God and hope one day to be judged worthy of heaven. It certainly sounded right, and I looked no further.

I was introduced to the Mormon church via a card through the door offering a free copy of the Book of Mormon. I had been asking a lot of questions about God and the purpose of life, so I sent it off. The book was delivered by two Mormon missionaries when I was out, so my mother made an appointment for them to come back and speak to me. Through their teaching, and visits to the church, my whole family were eventually baptised in March 1968.


I was eighteen years old when I first encountered the Mormon church. I have always maintained that the first thing that got my attention was the fact that they paid attention to me and valued my opinion. I knew nothing about religion although I had felt for some time that there must be more to life than the little I was experiencing then. This feeling had been increasingly distracting for me and so by the time the Mormons came along I imagine I was ripe and ready for picking.

I took the missionary discussions, all the time feeling quite embarrassed about my ignorance of spiritual matters. I had had no religious upbringing except the usual Sunday school and certainly my family were not churchgoers. This was an adventure and the missionaries presented answers to questions I had never considered. Everything was new and everything seemed right. So I joined on 29 September 1972.

I mostly enjoyed being a Mormon. I had experienced the "burning in the bosom" promised to all true seekers and, as a shy boy with nothing outstanding to boast of in my life, I felt special for having the inside track on truth. I was ordained an elder in the church on 25 February 1973 after over a year of study and faithful application, and had more reason to feel good as I was assured that I now had more authority than any of the so called spiritual leaders in the world.

It was through the church that I met Ann and we both had many happy times as Mormons. Our family started there and we found the church most helpful and supportive as we struggled with the usual difficulties encountered by young parents. Together we had gone to the temple and had been "sealed for time and eternity" and together we continued to enjoy the "blessings" of temple worship.

There were, of course, down times. However the church was always there for us. Looking back I feel perhaps we needed them more than most but they did not let us down and we have much to thank them for. Indeed it seems natural to ask, if it was so good why did you leave?


I didn't know that what I had found was not the real thing, but a counterfeit, a deception. It took me 18 years before I finally had the courage to admit that my faith wasn't working, and that all my efforts to please God only left me feeling inadequate.


For all the church had going for it there was one area in which it singularly failed me. I was looking for something when I joined and, with hindsight, I can see that it was the one thing the church was incapable of delivering. Peace with God. When Ann and I became dissatisfied we really did not understand why. We just knew - I knew - that something fundamental was missing from our spiritual experience. It was only as we began seeking with a determination we had never known before that we saw how radical would have to be the change in our lives if we were to go on with God. We were genuinely surprised to be faced with the choice of God or Mormonism.

Romans 8


A Christian friend asked us to read the book of Romans in the Bible, in a modern English version, and with no Mormon commentary. There we discovered the grace of God. I realised that the one thing I had never done in my life was to submit in obedience to Christ and ask Him to be my Saviour. I had believed in Him for 18 years, but I had been taught that the way to salvation was by obedience to the Mormon Church. They had effectively put themselves between me and God.

When I set out to read the book of Romans I was looking for a solution to the problems of my faith in the Mormon Church. I wanted to get right with God so that I could be a better Mormon. I certainly got more than I bargained for! Now I was faced with a dilemma. Could I give up some things that had been very precious to me, had been my whole life for 18 years, and leave all my Mormon friends? Or could I compromise and stay when I knew their teaching was false? You know, Jesus promised us abundant life, but He never promised it would be easy.

So many people think obedience is about the ten commandments and that sort of thing. Really it is about attitude. What really is the most important thing in your life? When I thought about it like that, there was no other choice I could make. I chose Jesus and the true gospel, and left the Mormon church. And I can honestly say that I have never regretted it. My life since really coming to know Jesus bears no comparison to all those previous years when I only thought I knew Him.


We made the right choice I believe and discovered a God who truly proves his faithfulness. So many scripture promises came true for us when we sought him and discovered that 'If you seek him, he will be found by you' (1 Chron.28:9). Coming from a system that saw obedience to law as the way to God we were brought to rejoice in the fact that 'a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify' (Rom.3:21). The law that had been written in books, that condemned us at every turn, was now writtern on our hearts, and we now knew the difference between conviction and condemnation.


The assurances of God's word were, and are, a blessing to us beyond anything we could hope or ask for. We know that through faith in Jesus we have eternal life as a present possession and a guaranteed inheritance (John 5:24).

I suppose the biggest surprise was that Christianity, far from being the hopelessly confused and frighteningly confusing religion painted by the Mormons, actually makes sense. In all its expressions and in every aspect it is a beautifully harmonious faith. If it is seen by the power of the Spirit, seen for what it really is, it is irresistible, and for honest seekers the Jesus we found is irresistible.

It was the friendship of a faithful Christian that opened us to the influence of the Spirit and brought us to Christ.

[Having moved from Josep to Jesus Michael is now Chairman of Reachout Trust, a UK Christian ministry founded iin 1982 by the late Doug Harris to reach out to those in the cults]

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The Cults, The Internet, and The Church

Shadow or RealityMany years ago a friend and work colleague gave me a copy of Jerald and Sandra Tanner's Mormonism, Shadow or Reality? It is a big, red hardback book which would have proved daunting for most people. But for me it became essential bedtime reading, a treasure trove I still reach for when researching.

I had no idea such a book existed. Indeed, here in the UK, I had barely heard of Jerald and Sandra Tanner. In the days before computers and the Internet, information was scarce if you lived remotely from the geographical/cultural centre of the organisation you had left. As a Mormon I had easy enough access to teaching manuals from the church but as a critic I had to send away for materials as I discovered them; and if you don't known what you're looking for how do you find it?

There was no Amazon, no browsing the Internet for the latest titles. There were no forums, or discussion groups. When you did find quality material you were in a small minority, becoming the one to whom others might look for a lead on what is 'out there' and how to obtain it. For many people, the only sight they got of good books and tapes (remember tapes?) was when attending conventions, where there might be a book table, or from reading about them in newsletters.

Today its all available, overwhelmingly, staggeringly, confusingly available. Through web sites, blogs, forums, social media, online book stores, self-publishing, paperbacks, PDF, E-publishing, the list seems endless. Where before the challenge was tracking down good material and reliable sources, today the challenge is sifting through the mountains of information, discerning the helpful from the hopeless. When you do find quality material you are still in a minority if you have gone the extra mile to find and identify it. Indeed, sifting and curating quality material is more than ever a major part of the work of information and teaching based ministry.

These developments have not changed the basic vision and purpose of ministry, but they have changed somewhat how ministry is delivered. Online newsletters are much easier and cheaper to produce, E-books have made materials more affordable. Web sites, blogs, and social media make the work more immediate. Ministries can respond almost instantly to breaking news, which news is itself readily accessible. Email makes 'conversations' more real time, as do social media and discussion forums.

Some things haven't changed. Nothing takes the place of speaking face-to-face, and nothing will ever take the place of the local church, where we find like-minded people and grow as disciples of Christ. When someone leaves a cult it is vital they find their way to a place where there is life, grace, and sound, reliable teaching from people you can come to know and trust.

The picture of Christian community painted for us in the Bible cannot be replaced but must be replicated. The writer to the Hebrews urged, 'Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.' (Heb.10:25)

Luke, in his second letter, describes the New Testament Church:

'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. all the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.' (Acts 2:42-47)

We must be more discerning than ever as we find and use the mountain of information available on the Internet. The best place to practice that discernment is among people with the experience and calling to teach and lead the church of Christ. By all means take advantage of the riches available to us today, but bring it to the test of Scripture, to the local church, and to prayer.

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