Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Relationships”

Tombstones and Death Wraps

In John 11, we find the story of Jesus raising dead Lazarus to life again. Lazarus, a good friend of Jesus, had been seriously ill. Jesus delays coming to his aid, even when Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, send an urgent plea for Jesus to help.

Lazarus dies.

Finally, three days too late, Jesus shows up. The girls let him have it. Had Jesus cared enough, He could have healed Lazarus and spared them all of heartache.

Jesus shares their grief, but is undeterred in His intentions. He has a method to His apparent tardiness. He’s laying the groundwork for something big, something that will catalyze faith in those involved.

Jesus doesn’t allow their emotional reactivity to distort or rattle His sense of self. “I’m the resurrection and the life, here and now. Lazarus’ death doesn’t change any of that. The story isn’t finished yet. If you dare to believe it, a resurrection is about to take place.”

Mary, Martha and the disciples look on, understandably perplexed by the events unfolding before them. Jesus tells the crowd to roll away the stone covering Lazarus’ tomb.

Martha can’t keep silent at this point. “It’s been three days, Jesus. What are you doing? This is ludicrous. It’s not proper. Don’t toy with us like this. There will already be the stench of death.”

Jesus holds His ground. Their doubt doesn’t become His own. He pushes them to trust, to dare, to see beyond the conventional. “Believe and you’ll see the glory of God here.”

The stone now out of the way, Jesus calls Lazarus out of the tomb. Once out, Jesus turns His attention to the onlookers, “Unbind him, and let him go.” Belief breaks out in the crowd.

While this is one of the all-time great stories, for a long time it made me uncomfortable. It goes back to an experience in college.

I was involved in a charismatic student group that was caught up in the hyper-faith teaching. We were told that faith was measured by results. You pray, you get exactly as you pray–an obvious indication you have faith that God rewards. You’re successful.

You pray, you don’t see prescribed results–well, a faith-failure. God is not pleased.

This put large amounts of pressure on the members of our group to compete with each other over our levels of faith. My hunch is that we faked each other out for the most part. After all, who would really know if we actually paid our school bill on time, or if we got that prime parking spot we prayed for?

But something happened one fall semester that threatened to expose my faith for the sham I feared it was. A friend of mine got married the summer before. One weekend, he and his new wife were in a head-on car wreck, and his wife was killed instantly.

I grieved for my friend for his unspeakable loss. But a thought began pestering me. If I really had faith, I would be able to raise my friend’s wife from the dead, just like Jesus did with Lazarus. In fact, not only could I, I should do it. I had a responsibility.

I sat through her funeral, tormented. A real man of faith would stand up in the middle of the funeral and create a Lazarus moment. But I stayed glued to my seat, immobilized by fear and doubt.


Shame taunted me.

Thankfully, I’ve since grown through that stage of my Christian formation. My theology has matured. I now understand faith differently.  But the Jesus and Lazarus story has always carried a level of discomfort.

I recently experienced a new insight on the story. I was visiting with a man who was describing the impact his abusive childhood is having on his life. He has bought into a belief system that says he possesses little personal value, is not allowed to voice his opinions, and cannot state what he wants and needs. He’s adopted a life pattern of placating those around them, particularly  his spouse and family members.

It dawned on me that this person is wrapped in the grave clothes of false beliefs and ineffective life strategies. This bondage limits his capacity to experience the joy of loving and being loved. The stench of death hangs heavy on him, snuffing out each flicker of life.

But like Lazarus in his death wraps, the person God created is still in this man, buried under his pain, beliefs of worthlessness and ineffective relational patterns. God continues to see his value and potential. The real person, the authentic expression of who God made this man to be, waits to be released, set free to live.

Jesus uttered three commands that play into the release of new life and freedom.

“Remove the stone.”

“Lazarus, come forth.”

“Unwrap him, and let him go.”

There are layers upon layers of meaning here, no doubt. In simple form, I see this as a dual process.

One, we have a role in setting others free. We help remove their tombstone and undo the death wraps of false beliefs, pain, unworthiness and bitterness. We carry the privileged responsibility of speaking words of life and healing. We offer practical, hands-on assistance where appropriate.

Second, in our own Lazarus experience we’re to exercise personal responsibility. When Jesus calls us out of our grave, it is ours to respond.

It’s this second area that I’ve been working with lately. I’ve come to realize that I can stay in my tomb of shame, refusing to let the wrappings of failure to come off. Or, I can dare to experience resurrection, leave my tomb and step back into living, with all the joys and risks involved.

I’m realizing anew that once we taste the death of failure or pain, we can allow our tomb and grave-clothes to define us. Yet underneath is the person God created long before the death of failure, pain and shame got its hold on us.

That’s how He defines us.

That person is the real us.

He intends to set that person free.

When that person comes out of the tomb and is unbound, we discover we’re good enough.

Dare we latch on to Jesus’ promise that He is the resurrection and the life–right here, right now?


Easter Sunday.

As I meditate on the Easter story, I’m drawn to the disciples’ shock that their Jesus was no longer in the tomb. Obviously, people don’t normally vacate their graves. But on several occasions Jesus had given the disciples the heads up on what  was to happen.

Still they were surprised.

In the past I chalked this up to their thick-headedness.

Yet in the many ways we experience our own resurrection, we are no less shocked. God provides us with unexpected income to take care of a bill. We are the recipients of forgiveness and a relationship is restored. The sun comes up after a particularly painful dark night of the soul.


But isn’t this what He promised? It’s not like we haven’t been told and reminded over and over again.

God resurrects.

The sting of death is defeated.

It’s not over with yet.

Hope prevails.

He continues to write our story.

Life wins.

It leaves me wondering where life will spring forth next? What surprise of resurrection does God have in store?

A Driving Force in Relationships

Genesis 1:1-2, 26-31; 2:18-3:13

The foundation of relationship is laid out in creation. In this story we discover the essential element for healthy, vital and high functioning relationships. We also see the basic roots of conflict and relational.

It all begins with God. Before time, before creation, God was. Have you ever wondered what God was up to before all this? This is more than mere speculation. The answer points to the essence of God’s existence.

We get a hint of the answer by the wording in the creation account of mankind, “Let Us make man in Our image.”

Before all time, before the foundation of the world, at the center of God’s nature is relationship. God exists as the Triune God—Father, Son and Spirit. His moral attributes flow from and must be understood in the context of relationship

This relationship is marked by other-centered love, respect, honor, enjoyment and validation. It’s the perfect relationship. The Triune God is perfectly whole, sufficient, comfortable and secure. There’s no lack, no need, no desperation, no demanding-ness, no jealousy, no forcing one’s way over the other.

Out of this relationship God creates. Much like a couple decides to create out of their love for each other, decides to create another to share in this relationship, so God creates us to share in this relational dance.

This defines the purpose of creation and is loaded with all kinds of meaning. One thing is clear, that being made in the image of God we are designed for relationship—relationship that reflects the Trinity.

However, we soon see a breakdown of this relational quality. And in this we come to realize what drives much of our conflict and relational struggles.

Things break down quickly when the man and the woman take the forbidden fruit. First there is hiding—from each other and from God. The openness and transparency are gone. Intimacy breaks down. The sacred trust and honor that the Father, Son and Spirit share are shattered.

Shame drives them to hide. The enemy succeeded in convincing them that it’s not safe to be with God when one disobeys. This leads me to believe that there had been more conversation between Adam and the serpent than the text cites. Adam and Eve already have a severe case of insecurity with how God handles disobedience.

Second, there is blame and conflict. Eve at least tells the truth. She admits she was deceived. She takes ownership of her downfall.

Adam, like many males, becomes defensive. He makes a startling accusation in his shift of blame. He not only blames the woman, but he attacks God.

“The woman YOU gave me. She tricked me and persuaded me to eat the fruit. This is Your fault, God. You’re not really good after all. You cannot be trusted.”

He sounds a lot like he’s siding with the serpent. Adam no longer has clear and accurate thinking about his Father. Adam no longer trusts. Adam no longer believes he’s fully and unconditionally loved. Adam no longer is convinced that God is truly good.

With that kind of thinking, insecurity, fear, jealousy, and shame take over. Adam resorts to blaming. He dishonors and dismisses and marginalizes Eve—the one created to be his soul mate, her companion, his lover and his helper.

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