There is the curious story of Lazarus, a contemporary and good friend of Jesus of Nazareth, who became gravely ill, died and was raised from the dead by Jesus. In the gospel of John Chapter 11, we learn, in a just a few words, just how close they were:
1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
As gravely concerned as the sisters were, the only message they knew they needed to send was basically ‘You better come see your friend, he’s not doing well.’ That’s tight! That’s relationship! There were no a panicky overtures, or a detailed account of what as wrong with Lazarus from his sisters, such as we sometimes do ‘Lord have mercy, I do not know what we are going to do; Lord, it’s crazy right now; Lord, where are you??!!, Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord, Lord!!!!???’
Mary and Martha knew to whom the message was directed and all that was required was a simple heads up. What a great prayer: “Lord, the one you love is sick.” Period
Isn’t it good to know that, if it’s God’s will, just a short message, acknowledging an established, loving relationship, is all it takes to get a move of the power of God in your life.
However, the answer to the sisters’ prayer did not come in what they thought was a timely manner. Can I get a witness?! John 11 continues:
v5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Well, Jesus’ disciples, all of whom had been on the road with him for at least a couple of years now, didn’t think another road trip to Judea was such a great idea. John 11 continues:
8 “But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?”
Translation: ‘Are you nuts?!’ They thought, if Lazarus was just sick, he would recover and be back on his feet in no time, so why risk the trip? John 11 continues, a few verses later:
14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”
Not having received any further messages from Lazarus’ sisters, Jesus knew, apparently in the spirit realm, that Lazarus had already died, and Jesus had a secret plan to use the death of his good friend to make a larger point. Jesus and company arrived at Bethany four days after Lazarus died and were greeted by his sister Martha. John 11 continues:
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”
Such faith! At that moment, Martha’s words put her in the pantheon of the faithful for all time. Then, they sent for Mary. John 11 continues:
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied
35 Jesus wept.
The ubiquitous, two-word bible verse, that for countless generations has been a lifeline for ‘many a’ backslidden Sunday school student. Moreover, it is good to know that when Jesus’ loved ones hurt, he hurt too, just like us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
Then Jesus rolled up the sleeves on his robe, rubbed his hands together (ok, not really) and went to work in the spirit realm. The problem with Jesus’ timing was a buzz-killing Jewish tradition that said the soul of a dead person hung around the grave for only three days, but after that, you were irreversibly dead. John 11 continues:
38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb.
Man, Jesus sure loved this guy—perhaps,a childhood friend? John 11 continues:
It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
As we used to say, in our old neighborhood, Lazarus was ‘dead and stinking.’ John 11 continues:
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said,
“Father, I thank you that you have heard me.42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Jesus’ prayer begs no interpretation from me, but it is interesting, to me, that he “looked up” when he began to pray.
I wonder why he would do that because as we find in Luke 17:20 Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, 21 nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
But yet, he “looked up.” Anyway, I am leaving that alone. John 11 continues:
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus’ act of resurrecting Lazarus from the dead, with all of its spiritual/prophetic symbolism, did as much as anything in the natural realm to assure his own death at the hands of the religious elite. Stay with me, I believe this is going somewhere. John 11 continues:
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. 47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
Ahhhh, a church meeting! Ever been to one? Here’s what it was like (I can almost hear the discourse of the congregates.) John 11 continues:
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
The passage says “they asked,” which suggests everyone is talking at once, utter chaos abounding. What is needed here is Levitical leadership. John 11 continues:
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all!50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
What staggeringly blind, but, at once, prophetic logic! If we turn back to the book of Genesis, chapter 50, when the son of Israel, called Joseph, was sold into slavery and delivered into the hands of his enemies, by his envious brothers, he ended up becoming a prince in Egypt and, as recorded in verse 20, he says: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
The entire biblical narrative is a tread culminating in the prophecy, incarnation, life, sanctification, temptation, ministry, passion, death, resurrection, ascension and promise-to-come of the reign of Jesus, which winds its way from Genesis to the Book of the Revelation of John on the Isle of Patmos. Now, as this narrative connects back to John 12, with reference to the high priest, Caiaphas:
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. 53 So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
From that point forward, in the flesh realm, things went downhill pretty quickly for Jesus. Nearly everyone who would likely read this would know about Jesus’ proverbial “Last Supper” with his disciples—but how about Jesus’ last supper with Lazarus, Martha and Mary? Let’s pick up the story, at the beginning of John 12:
1Six days before the [final] Passover [in his earthly life], Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.
‘Shut the front door!’ I am sure you could have knocked the neighbors over with a feather! Lazarus is kicked back in his house, having dinner with his main man, Jesus, having recently been raised from being four-days dead—how many times have you said that about somebody? You have to know that people would have been staring at Lazarus as he went to work, to the store, to church, taking out the trash, getting his mail, as if he were a giraffe with two necks.
They likely whispered about how “different’ he was, how he had ‘changed’ saying all manner of things about Lazarus, who was now breaking bread with his formerly ‘cold, dead hands’ with Jesus. I’d want to ask Lazarus where he was for those four days and what he did. You know SOMEONE must have asked him—surely his sisters would have asked. Isn’t it conveeeeenient that Q&A is left out of the gospel account?
The only clue we have here was given earlier in John 11:11 when Jesus said “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” (There is theology there that we could go into, but it is so tedious!) John Chapter 12 continues:
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
Of course, what a spectacle! Judas Iscariot could have sold tickets to make money for the ministry treasury! “Tonight Only, A Pre-Passover Powerhouse, Standing Room Only, The Messiah and The Corpse, Breaking Bread in Bethany Before Bedtime, Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, Step Right Up and See The Greatest Show on Earth!” John Chapter 12 continues
10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
Man oh man, Lazarus can’t win for losing. Just days after being raised from the dead by the power of God, the church leaders are seeking to eradicate the miracle of the resurrection done by Jesus, by killing Lazarus again. Nonetheless, the party rolls on:
John 12 continues:
3 Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4 But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5 “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” 6 He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.
7 “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.
And the rest, my friends, is history, by way of the cross at Calvary.
Why would Mary, sacrifice something so precious, worth a year’s pay? Why would not Lazarus go into hiding? Was their inspiration the miraculous gift of a life that had been temporarily given back to them?
How much more grateful then or of service should I be for the gift of eternal life given to me, in that “God so love the world [and me] that he gave His only begotten son [Jesus] and who ever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16)
That one verse has been used so much, from face paint at football games, to bumper stickers, that it may sound cheesy to some, to me too, at one point.
Until very recently, I had totally disconnected myself from anything spiritual in my life. Most of the people with whom I have regular contact, at this point in my life, have only known me since around 2004 (not all, but most of my current associates), which happens to be the year I lost my faith.
I would venture to say that most of my new world of associates don’t know that I was a minister of the gospel, who had a daily radio ministry on CBS Washington Radio, co-produced by my wife and two others over time, with guests ranging from Ann Coulter, to Jackie McCullough, Carlton Pearson, Patrick Morley, Tony Campolo, Cynthia Tobias, Thomas Weeks, Benny Hinn, to my own pastor Clarence W. Turner III (RIP). I was making weekly conference appearances and/or church speaking engagements. Who knew I was/am the husband of an evangelist and the son of pastor and minister of music/music educator?
I can assure you, nothing in my comportment or “colorful” use of language, from the time since my faith-break until very recently, would betray my unspoken secret background. A few colleagues at my jobs on Capitol Hill and elsewhere might have picked up on my being able to, on the fly, expound on some biblical concepts, chapter and verse.
There was no defrocking, or scandal, I just became spiritually sick, disillusioned with the institution of the ‘Body of Christ’ and I allowed something to inside me to die. I walked away and forfeited my active covering and ministerial outreach—and, more critically, I left my family spiritually uncovered, I believe, and was not living in a way that was pleasing to God.
What was the sickness that led to my spiritual death? I suppose while I was busy doing church, I left my spirit-man unattended and let it starve to death. I had no prayer life, the bible study I was doing was mostly on, or for, my radio show, or to prepare to teach others, not for my own edification. I could do church by rote and basically from memory through the things I learned as child, with an exceptional memory, sitting at feet of my father and mother, Pastor James Oliver Allen Sr. and Dr. Ruby L. Allen.
My faith became frustrated because I had not developed my calling into a loving relationship with God. That allowed familiar vulnerabilities to again take root in my mind and manifest in my life.
In 2004, I began to feel lukewarm about the whole “religion” thing and walked away—radio show, church, everything—and being the type of person who is all-in or all-out, my life eventually devolved into active rebellion against God, to the point of agnosticism, bordering on atheism.
From early 2011 through September 2012, I was a director of news and media services at the American Institute of Physics (AIP), traveling around the country attending important scientific and technical conferences, presenting on topics such as “communicating science to the public” to major scientific boards and organizations, which included, for example, the physics adviser to the television show The Big Bang Theory, ghostwriting for a brilliant physicist/executive and was closely associated with other Nobel-prize winning and other noted physicists, including on my own staff.
While there, I got a vision to create the InsideScience.org multi-media news platform and was given the resources by AIP and had an exceptional team to accomplish it. A component of that initiative was underwritten by a previously existing, but splintering coalition of 13 scientific society underwriters, each of whom the team and I personally courted to continue their support of this worthy venture, to promote STEM research and education and the role that science, scientific researchers and the scientific method play in our everyday lives.
I am so grateful for the experience in that world and the few friends and many acquaintances I made there, but that was not what I was called to do. On December 21, 2012, I had, let’s say, for the sake of this exercise, a life-altering encounter, that came complete with a set of instructions on the role I had to play in the everyday lives of people:
“If you are not giving or looking for a way to give, you might as well be dead. If you are not in service you might as well not exist.”
As vague as that might seem to some, if I never hear another word from God, as such (heaven forbid!), my marching orders are now clear—and yours may be quite different from mine, but there is nothing like having clarity.
From the time I was a child, I believed I had something to do ‘for God,’ but it never was quite clear to me for what I was being equipped.
If I had received my instructions 40 years ago, when I first asked for them, they were so simplistic they would not have made sense to someone of my tender years and limited exposure.
Perhaps I would have never ended up as a director at AIP, or playing bass guitar for Stevie Wonder, or being homeless, or interviewing Rosa Parks, or touring the Sydney Opera House with Sheryl Crow as my guest, or being in the Rose Garden for the swearing in of a Supreme, or a television commentator, being divorced and remarried, or a political columnist, or lived through the various pathologies which I allowed to creep into my life as a teenager—from which I have learned tremendous lessons, paid a tremendous price, and can now speak of on a first-hand basis.
I believe what it says in the book of James 1:2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
All of a sudden, over the past weeks, I am not doing columns on straight politics any more, I am writing about God and life and liberty in Christ, in an interpretative manner and style, which I never did before, and cannot fully explain how, now. Just this past week, I put in a request for a new category to write for Examiner.com, “Religion and Spirituality,’ because I was originally engaged as a political columnist.
Not unlike at the time of Lazarus’ resurrection, I am sure a number of my more-recently acquired associates are understandably asking about me, ‘wasn’t he dead, just a few days ago?’ And the answer would be ‘yes,’ I am not exactly the same person they knew. But the people who knew my father and know my mother are likely not so surprised.
I was spiritually dead and lost, but looking quite prosperous and successful, by the worlds’ measure. I have or have had all of the material things and temporal experience anyone could ever want or imagine (or not want or find unimaginable, in their renewed minds)—for better or for worse—may God forgive me, where applicable.
Jesus said in Luke 16:15 said…“You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.
But I was not really dead, but, like Lazarus, just sleeping. And what is made clear to me through the story of Lazarus is that God can take a set of apparently cold, dead hands, even such as mine and Lazarus’ were and make them quick and able again in His service—because He loves me and we have a close relationship—closer than ever.
Now I am actively working on daily building my relationship with God (praying, even on the fly, and doing daily bible study) even as people may be gawking at what appeared to be a formerly dead man partaking of the bread of life with Jesus the Christ, and looking for ways to give and serve, as I have been directed.
I have learned that if you dive in with God, you cannot tread water in the baptismal pool of grace, because as soon as you stop pulling yourself forward, you can sink and drown in your own anointing.
Like Lazarus, I too am one of His friends and all I had to do was send a short message:
“Lord, the one you love is sick.”
And now, I am alive forever. It sounds crazy, even to me. Trust me. And, if I am honest, right now, I’d probably rather not be this person, because of the isolation I feel. But, it is what it is and I think the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth sums it up nicely, for me:
1Corinthians 1: 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.
Note: Today, I tried to write about the time I played host (in a professional setting) to Charleton Heston (RIP), America’s fictitious Moses from the movie, The Ten Commandments, and one-time president of the NRA who made legendary the phrase “from my cold, dead hands,” referring to his rejection of any government attempts to take away his guns. Although I mostly finished the piece, I was shut down in my spirit about publishing it and was compelled to do the above ‘cold, dead hands’ testimony. Perhaps, I will feel free to do the former some other time.