Caskets shouldn’t come in size small. Life shouldn’t be able to end before it really begins. As our community mourns for a sweet little boy, questions surface and we find ourselves asking, “why?” Who is at the receiving end of this question? Well, God of course, the only one who has the power to allow or prevent such painful occurrences and therefore the only one adequate to provide an answer.
God tell us in Isaiah 55:8, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.” We are not able to understand the mind of God; he is infinite and has infinite knowledge. While we only see the small portion of time that we live in at the moment, God sees all of time at once. He knows what is best because he knows every possible scenario in each of our lives.
I understand some do not believe in God. Even though the design of the universe screams intelligent order and our inborn sense of right and wrong provides us with evidence (Romans 1:19,20). If there is not an ultimate standard of good then we are a people without hope. Then there is no reason for children dying and people suffering as they do. If that is the camp you fall in then pitch your tent and sleep in it yourself.
For those who have eyes to see truth and believe in an all-powerful and loving God, our perspective is remarkably different. We are told we do not have to “grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13). But the question remains…why? Why is there so much pain in the world?
Well the simple answer is sin. Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, creation’s first couple. They thumbed their noses at God and decided they wanted to be their own masters. They ate the fruit and the curse came down (Genesis 3) and we have been suffering for it ever since. Sin continuous to wreak havoc in human hearts today. We are a world that has thumbed our collective noses at God and have declared ourselves to be masters of our own hearts. So evil runs rampant on this earth and causes pain, suffering, and death. Sin is the easy answer to the “why?” question.
The hard answer is this: God allows hurt because he loves us. If we belong to God, he will use whatever he decides is necessary to make us more like his son, Jesus. To purify our hearts and cause us to be closer to him. Closer to God in Christlikeness is always the direction we need to be moving in. It is the best thing for us because it is there that we find truth, peace, joy and all things good.
We live to bring glory to God, that is our purpose for breathing. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” (Romans 11:36). Therefore, God has written our lives in such a way that he will be magnified through the events that take place in them. So even in pain, we can be fully confident that God is in control and has a purpose for the pain. Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” This verse should bring great comfort for those that are his.
Now for those who do not believe (or if you are one of the many who are faking it), God may use painful times to draw you to him; he may allow you to be sent to your knees begging for a Savior. In that there is mercy, for if God really is God and our only hope, then the most loving thing he can do for us is to make us know him even at the cost of great pain. Then you can experience true comfort as one of his children.
Christians have hope like no one else can because we understand that life does not end here on earth. Sin came into the world through humans, but God, in order to display his great grace gave up his only son to save us from the death of sin. He allowed Jesus to die on a cross to pay for the sin we are not able to pay for. Through his sacrifice we are able to have a relationship with God and spend eternity with him after this life is over. In this there is great hope - Jesus did not stay dead, he destroyed death and lives forever. He made a way for us to do the same if only we have faith and believe. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23.
If anyone understands the pain of a son dying it is God. The only arms safer for a precious child than his mother’s are those of God himself. Though we mourn for a time here on earth, we trust a God who knows all things and has divine purpose in all he does. We look forward to a day when our tears are wiped away and the joy pours in as we spend our days in the perfect presence of our Savior.
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” 1 Peter 5:10 and Romans 8:18
Dementia is a hideous condition to witness. Those who suffer most are the ones who must watch the dismantling of their loved one, memory by memory. The person they knew crumbles before their eyes and is replaced by a shadow, confused and helpless.
Grandma June was dying of cancer, it had spread to her brain and was wreaking havoc. Grandpa could not take care of her and she was moved to a nursing home where she would stay for the next year of her life. I would often travel with my mother to Pleasantville, Iowa to visit and help care for her. Mom made the long trip once or twice a week for months. An example of love and self-sacrifice in itself.
For his own purposes God decided this strong woman I have been describing to you this past month, must spend her last days as a deteriorated human, unable to care for herself or think properly. I remember my mom’s tears overflowing as she frequently wondered out loud why her mother, who had had such a difficult life (I have only told you portions) now had to also have a lengthy, difficult and undignified death.
But was it undignified? We must always remember that our lives are not our own. The reason for life being placed in bones and flesh is not for the benefit of the bones and flesh. What a pointless waste of a soul that would be! We live to display the everlasting glory of God, our lives should point to God. “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43:7.
In the last year of Grandma June’s life she displayed a beauty that I will never forget: the Word of God remained in her. It was an amazing thing. She couldn’t brush her own hair or remember the faces of her family, but she remembered God’s Word.
During church services held at the nursing home, the pastor would mention a scripture reference and Grandma June would recite it out loud, word for word. The pastor would ask a question about the Bible and Grandma June would respond. I remember one pastor saying with a smile, “June always knows it!” God’s Word had not left her heart and it still came out when nothing else would.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah 40:8. Grandma June was a human example of this verse. The dust that was her body was failing, the Word of God which is eternal stayed, a magnificent gift from God.
Was the end of Grandma June’s life undignified? Certainly difficult, yes, but not undignified in the way that matters. To be used as a conduit of God’s living Word is a blessing; truly a treasure in a very broken jar of clay (2 Cor. 4:7). He did not have to allow it, but he did. Grandma June provided evidence that she had spent her life well. She had spent it pursuing her Savior and treasuring his word in her heart.
What will be the evidence of a life well lived when your final days come? Will you be surrounded by worldly treasures and trophies, with the accolades of others ringing in your ears? Or will others around you be able to observe that you have spent time with God? The choice is made every day and every minute. Live for God… or live for dust. Which are you doing at this very moment?
Grandma June lived for God and all the trials she faced are long gone now. She would be among those who heartily agree with 2 Corinthians 4:16-17:
Grandma June’s life displayed God’s glory, not in a way that she (or any of us) would have chosen, but in the way that God chose for her, therefore the best way possible. She is now reveling in that sweet glory for all eternity. She lived her life on earth for the life to come, not for the life that was. It is evident in the words she would write in the Bibles she gave to others: “Read this, obey it and meet me in Heaven. We’ll sit under the tree of life a thousand years and eat the fruits and drink of the living waters flowing from the throne of God.”
I look forward to singing beside Grandma in Heaven someday soon. I can’t help but wonder if God gave her a perfectly tuned voice to sing his praises when she got there… or if it had been perfect all along.
This Sunday we celebrate Easter. We will attend egg hunts, church services, and family gatherings. These events are fine, but do we realize the true immensity of what we are celebrating?
Easter is a holy holiday commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death to life, but how many of us are living as if he is still dead? Do our lives reflect the power of his triumph over sin and death?
This man who was called Jesus lived on this same earth nearly 2000 years ago. He was sinless and perfect because he truly was the Son of God. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14.
He fulfilled the prophesies of the Old Testament, he was the waited for Messiah. He came to love and to show us how to love. He healed, taught and proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God. Yet the more he loved the more he was hated by the religious rulers of the time. They cared more for their rules, traditions and order than for the truth.
They tried many times to capture Jesus, but he evaded them because it was not yet his hour. Finally, the time had come. Jesus had been eating with his disciples in the upper room, teaching them, washing their feet and preparing them for what was to take place. Jesus led them to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. What did he pray for? For himself, for his disciples, and for you and me. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you were on his lips that night, read John chapter 17.
The mob came for him, a band of soldiers and officers of the priests ready for a fight carrying “lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’” John 18:3-4. When told they were there for Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus replied, “’I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.” John 18:7. This detachment of trained soldiers with swords in hand could not even stand in the presence of this holy man Jesus, the power of his word was too much for them to even stay on their feet.
Jesus gave himself up in obedience to the mission given him by his Father. They bound the Son of God and led him off to be judged. After a bogus trial where he was actually found innocent, the Pharisees stirred up the crowd to demand his crucifixion. Pilate finally relented, valuing his physical life over his eternal one.
Jesus suffered greatly as he was ridiculed, tortured, whipped and finally raised above the crowd upon a cross. Held to rough wood by large metal stakes driven through his flesh. He hung, he bled, he died. Why? For you. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” - Isaiah 53:5
There was no other way. Sin has to be paid for, the price is death. We sin, we die, separated from a holy God forever who cannot tolerate sin in his presence. What hope do we have then? Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus is our hope, our only way (John 14:6). Jesus stepped in to take our place and died for us. A sinless, perfect sacrifice bearing the wrath of God against the sin of the people, our sin. That was his mission on earth, to pay your penalty and redeem you to be his own.
The lifeless body of Christ was laid in a tomb and sealed, but nothing has power over God. Not soldiers, ropes, a cross, or a sealed tomb. Jesus rose from the dead on the third day just as he told his followers he would. He defeated death and remains alive today and forever.
This is why we celebrate; we have hope of eternal life through Jesus if we accept what he did for us on the cross and fully surrender to his kingship in our lives. This event of death and resurrection was witnessed by hundreds and is recorded in all four gospels: Matthew 27 and 28, Mark 15 and 16, Luke 23 and 24 and John 19 and 20. Don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself. Read it to your children!
The tomb is still empty today; don’t live as if Jesus is still there. He remains alive and is seated at the right hand of his Father God (Luke 22:69). Are you living as if Jesus is King and has full authority? If we belong to God, our lives should reflect this truth.
Happy Easter, I enCOURAGE you to truly celebrate Jesus this weekend. We can be full of hope because the tomb is completely empty!
The Christmas season is a wonderful time of year. We decorate our homes, gather with friends and find ourselves singing Christmas carols anywhere and everywhere. There is more food, more fellowship and more joy. But what truly makes this time of year so great? Jesus of course. Most of us know that the true reason we celebrate Christmas today is because a special baby boy was born over 2,000 years ago to a young and weary couple in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.
This significant and long prophesied birth was accompanied with remarkable events. Shepherds were visited by a choir of angels (the most ever mentioned in the Bible) telling of the birth of the Savior and exactly where to find him. Wise men traveled from the Far East to come worship this Christ child and bring him gifts. I love this story with all of my heart and read it with my children every year, you can find it in Matthew chapters 1 and 2 and Luke chapter 2 (my favorite). However, it still does not provide an adequate reason for why this birth and Christmas is so very great.
Children are born every day and some into very unusual circumstances. This Nativity story doesn’t even set Christianity apart from other religions of the world. Muhammad and Buddha were also born into this world at certain points in history. There has to be more to our God to make him worthy of our dedication and celebration.
Praise God there is! What makes the beginning of Jesus’s life so wonderful is what happened at the end of his life. The Bible tells us that we can never go to Heaven to be with God if we are not sinless and perfect just like him. Sadly, all of us are wretched sinners (see Romans 3:23). In the Old Testament, according to the law given by God through Moses, the Israelites had to provide sacrifices to atone for their sins. This was an arduous and truly impossible task. Jesus came and changed everything.
Jesus was the Son of God; he lived a sinless, perfect life and performed many signs and miracles and taught those who followed him. The spiritually blind, religious rulers of the time hated Jesus and wanted him dead. They tried many times but were not able to arrest him until his true hour came, Jesus then gave himself over to them. He was questioned and found innocent by Pontius Pilot, yet to appease the rowdy Jewish people Pilot handed Jesus over to be beaten, tormented and finally crucified on the cross. Why did this have to happen? Because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:22. Jesus gave himself up to be the ultimate and final perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins.
Yet again the story does not end there, Jesus rose from the dead three days later, just as he told his disciples he would. He was resurrected and is alive in Heaven with his Father God today; the tomb is empty. This is something no one else can claim. Muhammad and Buddha have graves their followers can visit, and they certainly didn’t sacrifice themselves for the people they claimed to love (one died of old age and another was supposedly poisoned).
Jesus Christ loved us so much that he came and redeemed us through his work on the cross. He did this so that we can also be resurrected from the dead and go to live with him someday. This is what makes Christmas so great and why we can celebrate this time of year with joy and passion. Jesus was a baby born to die for us.
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9. This is straight from the Word of God. If you believe in him and have received his gift of redemption, you have all you need to celebrate this Christmas.
I have already offended many of you with just with my title alone, but I don’t believe there is R.I.P. or “rest in peace” after death. This phrase alleges that after you die you can relax and take it easy after the busy or painful life you left behind. Like you can finally take that nice long nap you have always wanted. What a great picture for the rest of us left on Earth to imagine, it simply makes us feel better about this whole dying thing.
So here’s my beef, the Word of God tells us that there are only two options after death and neither involves nap time.
Option 1: Easy Street to Hell - This is the more popular option and many take this route. I hesitate to say (because it hurts) that the vast majority decide to take this option. This road is well paved and easy to travel on. It has been used many times before and will be very comfortable. You will have many friends and family traveling this road with you. It is nice and broad and can accommodate a wide variety of people. Don’t just take my word for it, Matthew 7:13, “…For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”
The main problem with option 1 is the final destination, which is Hell. Hell is a real place. Here are just a few descriptions you may find in the brochure:
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:9
In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 13:50
And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” Revelation 14:11
So if you go with option 1, there will be no resting in peace. You will be too busy weeping and gnashing your teeth in the tormenting darkness away from the Lord, never allowed to close your eyes in sleep again.
Option 2: Hard and Rocky Road to Heaven - This is a much less popular option and not many choose it. The path that leads to Heaven is narrow and difficult. Matthew 7:14 – “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” The trail is bumpy and usually doesn’t seem to make sense. There are twists and turns, ups and downs. Sometimes you feel like you are the only one on it. Your friends don’t understand why you would choose such a path; it doesn’t make any sense to them. Many times the path can be dangerous. But then there is the final destination…Heaven!
Now if you think you are going to rest in Heaven, you are oh so mistaken. The last thing on your mind will be rest. You will be so energized by being in the presence of your Savior that you will never want to close your eyes again. You will never be able to get enough of Jesus and you will be too full of joy, love and yes, peace to take a nap. Trust me…it won’t even cross your mind.
So there is no R.I.P. in the worldly way of looking at things; no naptime and no eternal slumber. But you can have rest from your struggles and know true peace by being with your Savior in Heaven. In Heaven there will be no more troubles, fear, pain, or cancer. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4. This is a solid promise from God, but only for those who are in Heaven. Only those who have travelled the narrow path while here on Earth.
So, how do you find the narrow path? Well, for starters, it’s not a place, it is a person. John 14:6 - Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. The narrow path we must travel is directly in step with our savior, Jesus Christ. We must believe in him and receive him and then are given the gift of being adopted as a child of God (John1:12). When you are part of the family you get to live where the Father lives, in Heaven.
Whether you know it or not, you are already on one of these paths. Check under your feet, are you planted on the solid rock of Jesus Christ or are you just “going with the flow”, agreeing with the world and strolling along Easy Street toward Hell? Choose quickly and choose wisely, your final destination matters.