I hate death. In fact, death (I will not honor you with a capital letter, even though John Donne did) – go to hell.
We’ve lost another teenager in our community, this time to a bizarre, untimely death – a 16-year-old died in his sleep. Our son and his friends have been wrangling with the matters that matter, and they’re winning the battle.
They know that indeed, their friend, is ‘in a better place,’ which is more than a place and so much better than better, more like – beyond best – a new beginning in the glory of being with Jesus. These young people value their salvation more than ever, , not just as a ticket to “get in,” but as a way of life, of being part of redemption and restoration until their day comes.
Still, their broken hearts are wrestling with deep questions, questions with no easy answers:
• What do we do with our pain, with our loss?
• What about our friends who do not trust in Jesus for salvation? We know that hell is a reality, for ‘the Bible tells us so,’ but what do we do with the fact that we can tell them, we can plead with them, we can love them, but we cannot force them to believe? What do we do with their struggle to grasp eternal existence when so many have been taught from their earliest days that there is no such thing? How do we make them see?
They are asking the hard questions for which we will only find complete rest when our minds are fully redeemed. For these dear hearts broken for their friends, I offer a few thoughts from Scripture that comfort and encourage me:
1. You can’t (make them see). That’s the Holy Spirit’s job (Romans 8:8). But you can live the real story, the gospel story in a way that its scandal is undeniable. You can pray without ceasing, and wait to see how God moves. And you can tell it and show it and most of all, listen to their stories and help them see the hope of the gospel.
2. Hate sin all the more. For indeed, it is sin, death, and evil whose source is Satan, the flesh, and the world that seek to kill and destroy hope both here, and hereafter.
3. GRIEVE. Weep, tear your clothes, and gnash your teeth. You are right – it does matter where your friend spends not only the next part of this eternity, but also this part. And know that until that day we go home, we will always yearn with a holy longing for the reconciliation of all things. That’s the image of God in us.
Through sin, death has entered the world, ravaged hearts, and destroyed life. (Hebrews 2:14)
By God’s extraordinary grace, Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. In this true story is the great reversal of death.
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” I Corinthians 15: 55-58
Artists go to museums and sketch the great paintings, I think, hoping some of the genius will seep into their bodies and souls. In a similar way, I sometimes type out great books, but the added benefit is I have files on my computer with wonderful writing on matters that matter. Today I discovered my Bringing Heaven Down to Earth file. I love the way Nathan Bierma brings together lots of different authors writing about THE STORY, explaining the whole of Scripture and using the language of shalom. Here’s a great quote on “a BIG gospel.” How do you see Jesus?
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Col. 1:16-17
“When we live in the hope of a big gospel, we see Jesus Christ not just as a serial intruder on people’s souls but the one in whom ‘all things hold together,’ in the words of Colossians 1. All things – not just people’s hearts but the infrastructure of nature, culture, and relationships. So the hope of a big gospel is not just going to heaven to be with God, but a vision of the new earth and the heavenly city as the place where God’s authority over all of life is made complete. Living in the hope of heaven means seeing glimpses of such a place already, and wanting more.” Bringing Heaven Down to Earth
4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
5 On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6 They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
7 They shall pour forth the fame of your rabundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
Yesterday, I posted an album on Facebook. I did it for my husband. One of the themes over 29 years of marriage (yes, we were young. No, children, we don’t recommend dating for a few months and getting engaged, married only a year after you met:),)…
As I was saying…the theme, publicly declaring celebration – my husband loves to do this; I feel awkward, not wanting anyone to think we’re bragging or to make anyone feel bad. (Extrovert, introvert…half full, half empty…yes, 29 years of merging two very different fleshes.)
So, as an act of humble repentance, I shared these photos, declaring my gratitude to him, and even more, to the Lord our God, for the marvels of our marriage.
Since we’re at that point that some people ask us, “How have you done it?” and I never know the answer, except God has done it, I realized that there have been two key components to growth in our marriage:
Celebrating the glorious moments. There are pictures in our album that represent pure, sweet shalom – hikes in the woods – both before children and after; long days spent windsurfing and the conversations of falling and flying afterwards; cold, windy spring vacations when my husband dug a hole on the beach so I could take a little sun home…
Celebrating the awful moments. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we’ve pretended disastrous moments were lovely. There are words we both wish we could have back – but we can’t. The days when one or the other of us would have easily traded the other in for an imagined life of ease on the proverbial, greener side of the fence. There are some memories so ugly they will never look pretty, but they may look hopeful – in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Even in the worst moments of our marriage, we marvel, knowing that if it weren’t for God’s steadfast love working in and through us, something beautiful, something holy, something created to bring God glory, would have been destroyed.
Sorry folks. I removed the photos from Facebook. I could only stand the glory for so long. I’m going to put them in an album, along with some of the stories, and give them to my husband (one of the things we agree on is that we can celebrate these important occasions on any day that suits us and gifts can be ongoingJ).
I’ll leave you with the story of the one photo I left, captured in New Orleans, the year I was pregnant with our fourth child. I love it – we look young, fresh, happy, and we were. The hidden story, the struggle part of it, that you don’t know, is that I have always struggled to show this kind of affection – hugs, pats, putting my arms around my husband. So while you might see, “happy beautiful couple in perfect harmony,” I see, “God doing something impossible and creating beauty out of pain.” God is making all things new, and we have the marriage to prove it.
The house that Kirby built after a hurricane created the opportunity.
Praise be to the Lord my Rock,
who trains my hands for war,
my fingers for battle.
2 He is my loving God and my fortress,
my stronghold and my deliverer,
my shield, in whom I take refuge,
who subdues peoples under me.
12 Then our sons in their youth
will be like well-nurtured plants,
and our daughters will be like pillars
carved to adorn a palace.
There will be no breaching of walls,
no going into captivity,
no cry of distress in our streets.
15 Blessed are the people of whom this is true;
blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.
I made a bad decision this morning. I checked email before getting out of bed. (Granted, I was looking for some news from my newly-collegiate daughter, but still.) There were at least four mails that drew my heart to cry, “Make a way, Oh Lord.”
A glimpse of the news later in the morning announced more chaos – financial twister rides, barbaric rioting in the world’s most civilized kingdom, and drug-resistant organic chickens.
And then I read this Psalm.
We need warriors. I thought of one warrior, our son in his youth like a well-nurtured plant, who turns 22 today. As I thought of his life, I remembered – God is working, and He who began a good work will finish it.
The same strong-willed and tender-hearted young man I mentioned in Monday’s post, he came into this world discontent with broken life, eager to stretch the limits of possibility. From the time he built a treehouse in the vacant lot after a hurricane knocked down trees and made building scraps available, to this very day on a college campus where there are faulty systems that could run more smoothly, God has used him to bring beauty to this broken world. His life makes me remember and draws me to live into this hurting world with greater hope. Happy Birthday, Kirby.
The mission of Living Story is to draw people to learn deeply, live freely, and love passionately in the gospel story. We offer authentic and engaged teaching and leading, excellent materials and resources, and compassionate, gospel-centered coaching. Learn about the Living Story C-5
Begins January 10, 9:15 a.m. – 11 a.m. 12 weeks Book:Bravehearts All women are invited for good community, excellent Bible study, and general fun and fellowship. FREE childcare available by reservation: 850-433-0063 Use contact form for any questions.