FamilyLife Today®

Understanding the Story of Lazarus

with Ed Underwood | June 11, 2009
Play Pause

Are the brokenhearted near the Lord? Absolutely, according to pastor Ed Underwood, a man who has battled a rare and chronic form of leukemia. Today, Ed tells how he seriously contemplated suicide as a way out of his debilitating pain until he began to study John 11 and the story of Lazarus’ death. Join us to hear what Ed learned from that story about praying dangerous prayers.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Guest

  • Are the brokenhearted near the Lord? Absolutely, according to pastor Ed Underwood, a man who has battled a rare and chronic form of leukemia. Today, Ed tells how he seriously contemplated suicide as a way out of his debilitating pain until he began to study John 11 and the story of Lazarus’ death. Join us to hear what Ed learned from that story about praying dangerous prayers.

Are the brokenhearted near the Lord?

Understanding the Story of Lazarus

With Ed Underwood
June 11, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Ed Underwood:  It was a Friday night we call it Black Friday.  Our family does.  I’m dying and they can’t figure out why.  Every system is failing.  I remember thinking for the first time in my life somebody ask God for something here.  Please just ask him for something.  And this old guys, Charlie White he’s in heaven now…our elders walked in and Charlie’s a retired pastor in his late 70s walked in on a cane…he took one look at me and dropped that cane and like a prophet of old he laid across my bed and he begged for my life.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 11th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. When God leads you through the valley of the shadow of death there’s a lot to learn about life, about yourself and about him. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us. You know the Bible says that the Lord is near the brokenhearted but sometimes we wonder are the brokenhearted near the Lord or does that broken heart really cause you to wonder is God really there?

Dennis:  Right and sometimes it takes a lot to break our hearts and we have a guest with us who has experienced pain to such a degree and ultimately broke his heart and almost took his life.   Ed Underwood joins us again on FamilyLife Today and welcome back.

Ed Underwood:  Thank you very much great to be here.

Dennis:  Ed is a pastor.  He is a former officer in the U.S. Army and a fire fighter for the U.S. Forestry Service and he and his wife Judy live in Southern California.

Bob:  I just have to ask when the fires hit in Southern California these days.

Dennis:  When you smell the smoke.

Bob:  Do you want to go and put on the suit?

Ed Underwood:  Well, I’m too old.  I know I’m too old to do that but in my old guy fantasies we had a fire right behind our house and I sat out there in a lawn chair and I really thought I could do better job than they were watching them fight the fire.  They should have put the line there and Judy said you know you’re just wearing me out with all this stuff.  Yes, I’ve been on every mountainside in Southern California and when I watch it again I kind of feel like I’m there.

Dennis:  Well as we’ve already heard this week Ed has written a book called When God Breaks Your Heart: Choosing Hope in the Midst of Faith Shattering Circumstances.  And you'd received a diagnosis of cancer that was ultimately acute lymphoma that attacked the skin.

Ed Underwood:  It attacked the skin.  It had escaped.  Apparently I had this a long time which happens a lot with chronic lymphomas.  It had escaped into my blood which was the reason

that it was 100 percent  involvement of my skin.  That’s one of the ways that they can tell if you're in stage four by the rash.  If the rash is 100 percent then you’re stage four with this particular type of lymphoma.

 Bob:  You said that as you read Job you wonder if he had the same kind of skin condition that you had? 

Ed Underwood:  I do.  In fact there are a number of skin diseases that are like this and one of them is called Job’s disease and I don't have out but I think that they got wrong.  I think Job had called caesurae(sp) syndrome being an expert on the Bible and not on medicine that’s my analysis

Bob:  In the middle of all of this the diagnosis of leukemia and the skin rash over your whole body and doctors not knowing what to do or how to fix all this there were really two things you you begin to wonder is there really a God?

Ed Underwood:  Right

Bob:  And there was also at least one point were you thought I don’t want to will live anymore.

Ed Underwood:  Oh, yes.

Bob:   Did you actually go through the mental process of thinking how you would end your life?

Ed Underwood:  I went through it and it scares me today and I understand suicide more than I ever did before.  With lock step logic I planned it one night.  I believe in eternal security and I remember thinking okay good I’m going to heaven.  I can't stand this anymore.  It was hard on Judy.  The kids are all grown all walk with God.  I just remember thinking I don’t want to wake up tomorrow.  I want to be with Jesus tomorrow.

Bob:  So were you calculating in your mind?

Ed Underwood:  I was calculating.  I had it all figured out.  I’ll take three or four of these and three or four of these.  I didn’t want Judy to find me.  I didn’t want that to happen.  So I thought what I would do is I would call a good friend from church I would take these pills and this person I knew would come at ten and I had it figured out.  I would be dead.  They would find me and that would be it.  I wanted to wake up in heaven.  I did not want to go through this another day.

Bob:  Did you have the day and time planned?

Ed Underwood:  I had it.  I was up by myself at night it was two o’clock in the morning and I went downstairs and I figured it all out.  I had it all planned out.

Dennis:  So what turned you from those thoughts?

Ed Underwood:  Once again prayer.  All these people have been prayed for number of months by then that please let Ed live and serve.  And I think it was an answer to that prayer.  I believe with all my heart that the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said what about Jackson?  Jackson is my grandson.  I could picture it in my mind Jackson at 13 or 14.  Tell me about grandpa.  Oh he was a preacher he loved God.  What happened to him?  He killed himself.  Then I put up the pills.  It absolutely seared my mind against suicide.  But I believe it was an answer to prayer.

Dennis:  Your legacy of your grandson literally turned you from death.

Ed Underwood:  Right.  I did not want my grandson to doubt God because of what I did and that turned me from suicide.  That was it.

Dennis:   It wasn't long after that that you were able to get some relief because of the medications you're taking and you cracked open the Bible and turned to John chapter 11.

Ed Underwood:  Right.

Dennis:  And it was the reading of the story of her famous story in the Bible that ultimately gave you the perspective that brought the hope and the perspective back your life.

Ed Underwood:   Dennis I don’t even know why I turned to John 11.  I’d been teaching in John a couple of years before and I turned to John 11 and I noticed the same sentence coming from Martha and Mary. 

Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died and that was the initial attraction.  I always thought it was the story of Lazarus.  Now I see at the story about Mary Martha.   And I thought that's my line.  That's what I've been saying why didn't you show up?   Suddenly I identified with them. 

We stayed in our home.  We protected you.

Bob:  We thought you loved us.

Ed Underwood:  We thought you loved us.   We’ve seen you heal complete strangers.  So I thought there must be something for me.  There must be something here for me and I started meditating on John 11 and the story just resonated with me.  And I saw that’s it.  That’s my story. 

Dennis:  Tell the story to our listeners. 

Ed Underwood:    Well, in John 11 it begins with Jesus is in Peria.  He has to get out of Jerusalem out of Judea the province that where the Jewish authorities had power.  So he goes east of the Jordan to Peria where they had no power and he’s got this flourishing ministry in Peria and here are Mary and Martha with Lazarus and Lazarus is sick. 

 And they send runners takes a day to get to where Jesus was they send runners and say you tell the Lord that the one he loves is sick.   Then I believe if you look at the timing of it because Jesus came back and he’d been dead four days.  So it’s one day there it says in the text the Jesus stayed there 2 days after he received the report and then one day back again to get back to Bethany.  I believe that they walked back in the house and that day Lazarus died.  I believe that they would do the same crisis that I was going to through right then. 

A couple of crises—One is how could Jesus let this happen and two why didn't we ask him for more.  I would suspect they were going through the same debate we all go through. Well we cannot ask Jesus to come back to Jerusalem we got to take care of him.  So they just said he’s sick.  Tell him that he’s sick.  That wasn’t what was on their heart.  What was on their heart was Lazarus is dying Lord, help me. 

We had to go through that.   Anybody who's honest to God you get to the point where you actually asking for what you want.  A guy named Charlie White taught that to our church asking that I could live and serve that was the prayer.  That was the desperate prayer that we prayed.  I just so identified with that.  And they would Jesus came back…

Bob:  I want to  stop you and ask about that prayer because if I understood what you r saying right you’re saying that too often when we go to Lord in prayer…

 Ed Underwood:  Right.

Bob:  We soft sell the situation.  We try to…

Ed Underwood:  Oh yeah we pray these take care of God aren’t I an impressive Christian prayers and I prayed them all my life and then I realized big difference between standing next to somebody’s deathbed and lying in yours.  So here we are in University Hospital and I’m dying.  It was a Friday night we called it Black Friday our family does.

My son had flown out from Fort Benning he’s there with his bride my other daughter was coming down, my wife is sitting there.   My youngest daughter Celeia is there she’s still in high school and I'm dying.  They can't figure out why.  Every system is failing.  People would come in the Lord we know you're a sovereign and Ed knows that you are sovereign and I'm fading in and out. 

I remember thinking for the first time of my life somebody ask God for something here.   Please just ask for something.  This old guy Charlie White he’s in heaven our elders walked in Charlie a  retired pastor he was in his late 70s then walked in on a cane he took one look at me and he dropped that cane and like the prophets of old he laid across my bed and he begged for my life. And he closed his prayer by saying God I love this boy.  I love this boy.  We need him at Church of the Open Door.  His family needs him.  Please let Ed live and serve.  

Dennis:  How old of a boy were you?

Ed Underwood:  I was 50.  I had just had my 50th but I was a boy to him.  And that’s how I identified with Mary and Martha.  They didn’t send the request to Jesus they sent a report.  Think about it.  Jesus Lazarus is sick.  You might want to think about that.  When their heart was saying you can’t let him die.  You just can’t let him die.  I just believe that we to get to that point

not a demand.  Notice we weren’t demanding.  We weren’t saying God you’re going to heal him because we have faith.  We just said, please let Ed live and serve.  And that’s my prayer.  I even put it in the book.

Bob:  But you know some of us I think of myself.  It takes some courage to pray that prayer

Ed Underwood:  Right.


Bob:  Because God may answer no.

Ed Underwood:  He may answer no. 

Bob:  And then what'll I do.  I begged God and he said no now I have the same crisis of faith that you were dealing with wondering why you were sick. So I’d rather pray the safe prayer so that if things don’t go the way I hope they will I at least prayed the theologically astute correct prayer you know?

Ed Underwood:  Right.  And that’s if I care more about my reputation than I do about my heart but here's the thing I don't think it’s the same.  I don’t think it's the same if someone dies and I have just poured my heart out to Jesus please let them live or if my marriage fails and I begged God for the marriage to work I think it's better to beg God and hear him say no than to take care of God.  Because you’ll always have a doubt in mind Jesus said you have not because you ask not. 

We have a friend that you all knew well John Campbell.  We begged for his life I saw him I was last pastor to see him, he and Peggy.  We went over to their house and claimed John 11 for them pray those prayers begged them and I left there pretty sure that God was going to say no to my prayer. 

So I know what it feels like he was a dear friend and if anybody deserved to live because of his impact on the world it would've been him.  So I do not understand this stuff I just know what it is like in real time and I'm so thankful that people begged for my life.

Bob:  As you talk about that what comes to mind and in my own mind is David begging for the life of his son.

 Ed Underwood:  Yes. 

Bob:  And weeping and pleading with God and when God then says no…

Ed Underwood:  That’s right. 

Bob:  It was not like they've had a crisis of faith.  He got up and went on serving God. 

Ed Underwood:   Yes, but he also didn't say well I guess that’s the way it goes.   I think he had it in his heart.  He's a father.   We just have to trust him to give us his best but he wants to know and he wants to relate.  He loves it when his children cry out to him.

Dennis:  One of the passages of Scripture that has so ministered to me in this area is Philippians chapter 4 verse six where it commands us to let our requests be made known to God.  Up until the time I heard that passage of scripture I'll have to say a lot my prayers were kind of fog filled snowy prayers.

Where I someone thought I was snowing God with all the God talk and all this spiritual language   that can fill the pews as well as the pulpits.

Ed Underwood:  Exactly.


Dennis:  You know.  I finally came clean and was honest with God.  I said God this is what we passionately want.  This is what we care about.  And you know what, you may say no but I want to trust in you because you are good and you are God.  I’m going to ultimately lean on you at the end of the day as knowing what you're doing because I don't understand all of what you are doing.  But that’s the kind of prayer you’re talking about.

Ed Underwood:  I love that.  I love for you connecting that because that's exactly to pray a dangerous prayer.  I want to live my life as if he really exists and if he really hears my prayer. I’m going to beg him for things and let him sorted it out but I want him to know what's on my heart.   I want him to know what's on my heart.

Dennis:  if you had a good friend and your good friend was God

Ed Underwood:  And he is.

Dennis:  And he is.  And you didn’t ask him.

Ed Underwood:  Exactlly.

Dennis:  What would that friend think of us?  He has to scratch his head some days…

Ed Underwood:  Come on just tell me.  I know what you want.  Just ask for it.  You know when you're talking about those foggy prayers and it being impressive I think some of it had to do with deep down in me with a need to control.  The older I get and the more I read the Bible I think the opposite of faith isn’t sin but control. 

And sometimes I was praying those prayers because I somehow felt like that would control it.  I’d kind of surround God with so much theological precision that he’d have to do what I said…


When it would have felt so much better to say please God please have mercy.  Please you know my heart that’s what I want. 

Bob:  Ed I don’t know if I ever thought of this until I listened to you recounting the story of Jesus being away and Mary and Martha sending messengers to say Lazarus is sick.  I knew there was  this gap.  There were these days when Jesus could have come and he didn’t. 

Ed Underwood:  Right.

Bob:  I never stopped to think about what Mary and Martha must have been thinking on those days.  They knew Jesus was one day away

Ed Underwood:  Right he was one day away. 

Bob:  And so you send a messenger saying Lazarus is sick you would kind of expect the next day that Jesus would show up and he didn't.

Ed Underwood:  Or the other thing they knew was that it was a dangerous place for Jesus to be in.  I would suspect that they went through this thing well, no wonder he didn’t come back

Bob:  He doesn’t want to put himself in danger.

Ed Underwood:  So then after he’s dead four days later he shows up and I think they were thinking now you show up.  Where were you when we needed you?  Now you show up.  It’s way too late.  In fact that was when they both said the same thing when they met him.  If you had been here my brother would not have died.

 Dennis:  What was Jesus response to them at that point?

Ed Underwood:  Jesus refused to be taken in.  He refused to argue with them.  He turned first Martha he turned her to an eternal view.   That is when he began talking clearly about the resurrection that he was offering which was different than the resurrection…because you remember he said your brother will rise again and she…I think it was the Jewish Romans 8:28…oh yes I know that. 

She said I know he’ll be raised in the last resurrection and I think I really do believe that she was saying tell me something new.  Every Rabbi in town has told me that one.  And this is when he said, oh no, no, no.  I’m telling you he will rise and never die again.  And then he says Martha do you believe this?  And I think that’s the first time I can find where someone’s had the opportunity to trust in Christ as the one who would bring resurrection life.

Interesting that he used those circumstances to pre teach the message of the church.

Dennis:  And to that person today who's listening to our broadcast maybe they don't have the sentence of death caused by a physical disease but they do whether they realize it or not have the sentence of death caused by sin.

Ed Underwood:  Exactly

Dennis:  Jesus offers the same resurrection to them if they will but believe.

Ed Underwood:   If you believe.  If you believe.  Jesus said it over and over and over again.  It’s the gospel.  It’s wonderful.   It's glorious and I would have to say that on the day that I was diagnosed with cancer the one day that I remember most was that I believed in Jesus.  Someone told me very simply if you believe in Jesus Christ he’ll give you eternal life.  He took me to John 3:16 first time I'd ever actually read it where I understood it.  I believed then and I'm going to heaven because I believed in Jesus that he died for my sins and rose.

Dennis:   John 3:16 is?

Ed Underwood:   For God so loved the world to give his only begotten son whoever believes in him—believes in him—should not perish but have—present tense—eternal life.  The moment you believe you receive.

Dennis:  And the person who raised Lazarus from the dead.

Ed Underwood:   Exactly the one who announced resurrection life to the Martha.

Dennis:  And then prove it by physically doing it.

Ed Underwood:   He's not talking about stuff he doesn’t know about.

Dennis:  That’s exactly right.  He is the same one that can say to the person listening right now I can promise you life everlasting.

Ed Underwood:  And Jesus is a promise keeper.

Dennis:  The ultimate promise keeper.

Ed Underwood:  He is the ultimate promise keeper.

Bob:  I can imagine there are folks listening who are going I am where you were, Ed.  I'm at a point where I'm beginning to understand spiritual truth and realities in recognizing my need to put my faith in Christ: I want to point them to our web site

We have a link there to a place on the web that will help them understand the two ways to live—apart from Jesus or with Jesus.  Again go to click the link that says two ways to live and it will explain to you very clearly what Ed has been talking about the transformation that took place in his life when he believed in Jesus.  It helps explain what that means. 

If you don't have access to the web call toll-free at 1 800 FLTODAY ask for a copy of the book Pursuing God.   It also lays out what it means to believe in Jesus and we’re happy to send it to those of you who are listening today and saying I want to put my trust in Christ.  I want to know what it means to be a Christian.

Call 1-800 FLTODAY and ask for a copy of the book Pursuing God or go online at and click where it says two ways to live and that lays it all out for you. 

While you’re on our web site there is also information about Ed’s book, When God Breaks Your Heart.  I want to encourage you to get a copy of the book either for yourself or maybe to pass along to someone you know who is walking through the valley of the shadow of death.  Who's going through a season of suffering. 

In fact in addition to Ed’s book  there’s a copy of the new book that your wife, Barbara, has written along with your daughter Rebecca which is called Symphony in the Dark that tells the story of the birth, the life, and the death of your grandbaby of a year ago at this time and the spiritual lessons that you learned in that season of suffering.

Again go to for information on any of these resources or call us toll-free at on1 800 FLTODAY.  1-800-358-6329 –That’s 1-800-“F” as in family “L” as in life and then the word Today and we will make arrangements to have whatever resources you need sent to you.

In  Psalm 34 the Bible says the Lord is close to the brokenhearted he saves those who are crushed in spirit.  A righteous man may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all.  And not long ago as our staff was gathered together Dennis spoke on Psalm 34 and gave a message on dealing with trials and tribulations finding encouragement, hope, and help in Psalm 34. 

We have a CD of that message that we want to make available this month to those of you who can help support the ministry of FamilyLifeToday with the donation of any amount. We’re asking you to either go online at or call 1 800 FLTODAY and make a donation to help support this ministry.

We are listener supported in your donations are what keep us on the air on the station and on other stations all across the country.   And this has been a particularly difficult year for us here at FamilyLife.  There's been a decline in donations we've had to make some adjustments and had to look at the possibility of a going off the air in some areas where we'd like to stay on.  So this is a critical time for donations to the ministry and we appreciate those of you who are able to help.  We’d love to send you this CD as a thank you gift when you make a donation of any amount this month. 

If you're donating online at just type the word trials in the keycode box you find on the online donation form or call 1 800 FLTODAY make your donation over the phone and ask for a copy of the CD  of the message from Dennis on Psalm 34 the message on trials.   Again we’re happy to send it out to you.  We so much appreciate your partnership with us and your support of this ministry. 

Tomorrow we're going to hear about the first Sunday morning when Ed Underwood went back to church.  That comes up tomorrow I hope you can be with us for that. 

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch and the entire broadcast production team. On behalf of out host, Dennis Rainey.  I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

We are so happy to provide these transcripts for you. However, there is a cost to transcribe, create, and produce them for our website. If you've benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?

Copyright © FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

When you make a gift today, not only will you receive a copy of Embrace Your Life, but your gift will be used to bring solid biblical teaching to families.



Episodes in this Series

Death And Dying Day 3
Reflecting God’s Glory
with Ed Underwood June 12, 2009
Where is God when it hurts?
Play Pause
00:00 00:00
Death And Dying Day 1
Trusting in the Truths of God
with Ed Underwood June 10, 2009
Where is God when we suffer?
Play Pause
00:00 00:00