Tag Archives: death

Fighting the Real Enemy

The friendly snowman in my photo reminds us all to “Stay Safe”.  This has become one of the mantras of our time. For many, the COVID-19 virus is the lurking enemy of their nightmares, exposure to the virus is their worst fear, and a vaccine has become their only hope of salvation.

One of the devil’s classic strategies for keeping humans locked into a cycle of endless strife is to get them fighting the wrong enemy. In the early years of our marriage, Marion and I had our share of marital discord. For a time there seemed to be no way out of this cycle. Thankfully, those years are long gone. We have learned to live in harmony with each other.

One of the keys to peace was the insight that our marriage partner was not the real enemy.  It was our own pride, selfishness and self-will that lay at the root of almost every conflict.

I don’t want to get COVID-19 any more than you do. But I am more concerned about the impact of fear-dominated thinking than about the impact of the virus itself.

No-one wants to suffer needlessly. Avoidance of suffering is a basic survival instinct, and the fear of suffering and death holds great power for many. Yet the New Testament depicts this fear as a form of slavery, and holds out for us the prospect of a life that is no longer ruled by this fear. Jesus willingly entered into suffering to set humanity free.  He overcame the fear of death by looking to the One who could save him from death.

Many see Jesus as an inspiring example. But are we willing not only to admire him but to embrace the cross as He did? His counsel to us who still battle the fear of suffering and death is simple. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.

If we make it our highest goal to save our own life – to stay safe, to avoid pain, to avoid all risk, to somehow escape suffering and death- then there truly is no hope for us. That way is a dead end. We will have a miserable, self-focused, love-starved, fear-addicted life and die defeated, without hope. In the end we will lose our life and inherit eternal death.

If we want to live a life worth living, we must honestly reckon with our fear of death and then overcome that fear by entrusting our lives to the One who overcame death for us. Jesus, the Prince of Life, gives us the power to live by a different standard. Through Him we can overcome our fears, live in hope and continue to walk in love, choosing to serve others and hold out His light in the midst of the gathering darkness of this age.

I don’t especially want to get COVID-19, or pass it on to others. But I have a greater fear than the fear of getting COVID. I don’t want to waste my life. So I will take reasonable precautions to avoid getting sick, but my main focus will be on loving and serving the Lord, and loving and serving others in His name. That’s the only way to live a life that’s worth living – a life ruled by love, not fear – and stay safe for eternity.  It’s the only safety that really counts.

Stay safe – stay close to Jesus.

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Nuggets of Hope 25 – Jesus in your boat

The boat pictured here is a replica of an ancient fishing vessel whose remains were discovered by a couple of amateur archaeologists in the Galilee region in 1986.  It’s thought to be much like the type of boat that Jesus and his disciples would have used.  It’s a sizable craft, capable of being either sailed or rowed.

Among Jesus’ disciples were several seasoned fisherman, familiar with the Galilee waters. Still, on more than one occasion the gospel narratives relate that they ran into trouble with high winds and waves. One evening, after a busy day spent helping Jesus meet the needs of a crowd of over 5000 people, they set off to cross the lake in a boat much like this one, while Jesus went off for some solitary prayer in the hills surrounding the lake.

This wasn’t just a pleasure jaunt for the guys in the boat. The boss had told them to meet him on the other side of the lake, and they were doing their best to follow his instructions. But they were having a rough go. The wind was against them and they weren’t making much headway.

Quite possibly they were having conversations something like this.

Can this trip really be God’s will? Maybe we didn’t hear him right. Jesus can’t want us to be having all this trouble, can he? I thought he cared about us. Maybe we shouldn’t even be doing this. I think this whole adventure was a bad idea. I’m not sure how much longer I can go on.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the next thing they knew, they had another problem – a really big one. The high winds and waves were a problem, but at least they were a familiar problem. They knew what to do about winds and waves. But then things got really scary.  They thought they saw a ghost.

We’ve all had moments like those. We’re already beyond exhausted – at the end of our rope – but at least we have a plan and we know what we are dealing with. Then things just go to a whole other level and we have no idea what to do next.

What a relief to hear Jesus’ voice. “It is I. Do not be afraid.” The gospel of John records that when they heard his voice, they realized who it was, and let him into the boat; and immediately (as it seemed to them) they reached the other side.

The journey through life can feel like a tough assignment sometimes. As if our pre-COVID life weren’t challenging enough, the pandemic confronts us with questions to which nobody really knows the answers. Are we going to make it to the other side? What will “the other side” even look like? Where are we headed? Will life ever be normal again?

Here’s a different question. Do you have Jesus in your boat?

If you do, all the other questions might still be there, but suddenly everything looks different. Jesus is master of the situation. He knows the way through. Breathe deeply. You are going to be OK. You don’t have to be afraid.

The Apostle John, looking back on this event many years later, summarizes their feelings this way: Then they were glad to take him into the boat. 

What about you? Is Jesus in your boat?

 

 

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Nuggets of Hope 16 – Hidden with Christ

Waiting.

For those of us whose main assignment is to stay home, the waiting is one of the hardest things about the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many Christians, this pandemic exposes our drive to be rescuers. Surely there’s something we can do! Surely we can fix this! If only we hold enough online prayer meetings, gather enough online worshippers, fast enough, we can turn this thing around.

For the more activist-minded, this can take other forms. If only we can sew enough face masks and disinfect every surface within reach, we can fix this thing.

Of course I believe that God can be in all these activities. I have been blessed many times by online worship, and I have prayed for the online prayer meetings held by others because I believe that God can use them to reach desperate people. And I have great appreciation for anyone who is investing time and energy finding ways to serve – including making face masks. But I have a confession to make. Two confessions, in fact. I haven’t made a single face mask. I also haven’t followed most of the online prayer meetings to which I’ve been invited, as excellent as they no doubt were. If I had, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up. And as I myself have sought the Lord, the direction He has given me is to quiet my soul, to wait on Him, and then do what He shows me to do – which may not be what He has shown someone else to do.

What if that’s the first and most important thing God is asking of all of us, all the time? What if that’s always what He has been asking of us, not only during COVID-19?

Jesus had quite a lot to say about this. He said that He could do only what He saw His Father doing. And in case anyone should think that method of operating only applied to Him, He also had this to say.

My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
John 10:27

What was Jesus doing between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday? We know that His Spirit wasn’t dead, because of what He told the repentant thief. In the midst of his own agony, Jesus promised this broken man,

Truly, I say to you,
today you will be with Me in Paradise.
Luke 23:43

He was waiting. He was waiting in a good place, in a heavenly place, but He was waiting until the time set by His Father, when the three days would be fulfilled. The grave was still sealed. His body was still in the grave, awaiting its resurrection. And even after His resurrection, and the outpouring of the Spirit, He is again waiting for another time that has been set by His Father, when He will return for His Bride.

The same thing applies to every believer in this age. We are waiting. We aren’t just waiting to go to heaven. As wonderful as heaven is, it’s not our final destination. We are waiting for all things to be made new.

For you have died,
and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 

When Christ who is your life appears,
then you also will appear with him 
in glory.
Colossians 3:3-4

In the same vein the Apostle John assures us,

Beloved, we are God’s children now,
and what we will be
has not yet appeared;
but we know that 
when he appears
we shall be like him,
because 
we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2

Our flesh – our old nature – doesn’t like to have to wait for things. We like everything to happen right away. But in the rhythm of Easter weekend, there is a pause between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday that mirrors, in a small way, the long extended pause in which we currently find ourselves, between the Day of Pentecost and the Day of the Lord. We have hope, we know Jesus is alive, we know He is with us, but we are still waiting.

All of us are waiting eagerly for the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. That will be a day of great rejoicing, but those who belong to Jesus are awaiting something far better. We are waiting for the redemption of our own bodies, and we are waiting for the restoration of all things. We are waiting with hearts full of hope, because we have a promise. We are promised that when we see Him, we shall be like Him.

O Happy Day!

 

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Nuggets of Hope 15 – Crucified with Christ

I am writing this on Good Friday morning. Four weeks ago today, my five-year-old granddaughter Madison was scheduled to come for a sleepover with Grandma and Grandpa. Marion and I were looking forward to this, but a couple of days before she was to come, public concerns about COVID-19 began to multiply, and that weekend businesses and schools began to close. We haven’t had that sleepover yet. It will have to wait.

This pandemic has been much harder on some than on others. Marion and I have had no real hardship, and we are profoundly grateful and humbled for what we can only view as God’s protection and provision for us. Yes, we’ve had to defer some plans, we miss our children, grandchildren and friends, and our finances will probably be affected long term, but we are well and safe, and very conscious of the kindness of God to us.

Still, the pandemic, coupled with the recent death of my friend Jerry Wallace, who succumbed to cancer 10 days ago, has led to some sober reflection. Why should some be spared and others not? Why should I be alive and well when my friend – a devoted servant of God, younger than I – has come to the end of his earthly journey, leaving behind a grieving family?

The only answer God has given me is that my life is not my own. It belongs to Jesus. He purchased me on the cross and paid the ultimate price so that I could be free from the bondage of living for myself and live instead for him. I don’t get to decide how long or short my life in this age will be. I’ve been set free from worrying about those details. I do get to decide whether I am going to spend the years I have left focussing on myself or living for Jesus and His Kingdom.

The Apostle Paul summed up the Christian life this way.

I have been crucified with Christ
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.
The life I now live in the body,
I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
Galatians 2:20

COVID-19 should not really be a shock for a disciple of Jesus. This pandemic shows us that we are not really in control. It is a reminder that we live in a dying age. Our hope is not in this age but in the age to come.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get sick or die any more than the next person, and I certainly believe that it’s an important mandate for Christians to help relieve suffering and provide care for those in need as we are able. In doing this, we follow the example of our Master. But our motivation should not be fear of suffering, but hope in the age to come and the promise of resurrection.

Jerry Wallace’s passing has been a strong and compelling reminder to me to live my life in view of eternity. Because of the cross of Jesus, I have hope for this life and for the age to come. I know that my sins are forgiven and I know that I have an eternal inheritance awaiting me in a world made new. I don’t have to be ruled by the fear of sickness, death or economic hardship. I am free to serve God by serving others, without worrying about how things will turn out for me.

Whatever happens to me in this life, I can live with my eyes fixed on the One who went to the cross for me and is seated at the Father’s right hand. So can you. If you believe in Jesus, you are free to live in hope. No matter what happens to you, it will be OK in the end. Everything in this age is temporary. His Kingdom is coming. All things will be made new, and you can expect to live with Him forever.

If you don’t yet share that confidence, this is a great time to surrender your life to Jesus and ask him to give you a new heart, a new spirit and a new focus. If you already share my hope in Jesus as coming King, then let me encourage you to use this COVID-19 crisis as a great opportunity to find ways of serving and encouraging those around you. Ask the Holy Spirit what to do. He’ll be glad to show you.

God bless you.

 

 

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Finishing well

Working Out

The other day I was working out on my exercise bike. When I’m on my bike, I set a goal, and I try to push myself and fight the temptation to quit. I was getting winded, and so I asked the Lord to help me finish well.

I often return to this prayer theme during exercise. It speaks to me on two levels. At one level  I am focussing on a very practical, physical goal. I am asking for strength to persevere in doing the things I need to do to stay fit. It would be easier just to quit.

But there’s another level to this prayer as well. Why bother exercising if your life isn’t going anywhere? I work out because I have hope and a purpose. I have hope for this age and for the age to come.  So, it’s my goal to finish well.

My mother in law passed into the presence of Jesus a little over six weeks ago. Since then, three people who are close to me have said good-bye to their mothers for the last time in this life. Two others have received cancer diagnoses. This has reminded me of my own mortality. When you’re young and energetic it’s easy to think that death is a long way off. But the older you get, the less you can convince yourself of that particular delusion.

The passing of Marion’s Mom completed a process that began with my Dad’s death thirteen years ago this month. Marion and I no longer have earthly parents to look up to. We do have great memories and much to be thankful for, but our parents have left this life, left the family circle, and we are now the ones that our children and grandchildren look up to. We’re the old folks now, as our good friend John Herweyer used to put it.

I know that I have entered the last major phase of my journey in this life. I might stay healthy for another twenty years or more, but unless Jesus returns first, my life on this earth will end in my death, and that date is drawing closer with every breath. But I don’t want to live out my remaining years worrying about what might happen to me. I’m not afraid to die. I’m in good health and enjoy a reasonably active life. My health is a blessing. But even if my health should fail, and even as my strength gradually wanes as I age, I want to run my race with perseverance and joy.

I have friends who went to South Africa two years ago when Tony was in his mid seventies and L-A was approaching her sixties. They have been serving young South Africans in one of the townships in the Western Cape. They inspire me. It hasn’t always been easy for them, but they have run their race with joy, creativity and purpose. I am inspired by people who live their senior years in conscious devotion to the goodness and purposes of God, relying on His nearness and power to sustain them and give them hope. That’s how I want to finish out this life. In the words of a classic worship song,

This is my desire – to honour You.

When I draw my final breath in this life, I want to enter Jesus’ presence having lived my last years on earth in wholehearted obedience to my Lord who gave me life, and who redeemed that life and gave me a purpose. He is worthy of whatever I have to give, and much more. I recognize that good health and energy are a great blessing, and I want to honour Him by enjoying my remaining years. I believe this gives God more honour than living a miserable, fearful, self-obsessed life. I want to be a blessing to my children and grandchildren. I want to support missionaries and help the poor. I want to be a good steward of the bit of land I have, and the time, energy and finances that have been entrusted to me. I want to use my spiritual gifts to serve others and help them turn to God with their whole hearts. And if health and strength should fail, I am still determined to close out my days with my eyes on Him who gives me hope for eternity.

Lord, give me strength and grace to finish well.

All my life you have been faithful
All my life you have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
I will sing of the goodness of God.

Jenn Johnson.

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Racing through life

Life is short.

It’s a common observation, but one that leads people to vastly different conclusions.

A couple of weeks ago, at a family gathering, I was chatting with my niece Kyla who is only a few weeks away from the birth of her first baby. Kyla commented on how quickly the months of her pregnancy were racing by. As she looks forward eagerly to the birth of her child, she wants the months to fly by – despite the pain of childbirth that she knows is coming – so that she can hold her baby.

All of us can relate to her sense of anticipation. When you are looking forward to some eagerly-awaited event – a wedding, a new baby, graduation, a new job, a trip, a move, the Olympics, the coming of spring – you can hardly wait for time to pass. 

But what about the rest of the time? What happens after the wedding is over, the baby is born, the job has become routine, the trip has become a photo album, the Olympics are history, spring has become summer and then fall and then winter again? How do you stay motivated on the race through life? 

The wedding becomes a marriage, the young couple becomes a middle-aged couple and then an old couple, the baby becomes a child and then an adult, trips become memories, seasons change, medals lose their glory. Yet we continue to race through life, trying to keep ourselves motivated with new goals, because a life that is only about survival is a life that hardly seems worth living.

All of this can be good, but in the end, none of it satisfies. That’s because we were made for eternity.

Sooner or later the harsh realities of suffering and death will put an end to our hopes and dreams. Like it or not, eventually our strength will fail and we will have no energy left for new goals, new projects, new accomplishments. Even the love of family will not be enough to sustain our hope when the energy of our life fails, and our capacity to dream new dreams runs dry.

There is only one hope that will not fail when our strength is gone, only one vision that will stay bright when all else fades into obscurity or dusty memories. It’s really the only hope worth living for, the only dream worth pursuing, the only vision worth cherishing.

Most of us are very self-focussed in our race through life. We look for satisfaction in pleasing ourselves. In the end, that way leads to eternal pain, frustration and loss.

But there is another way. Instead of seeking to please ourselves, we can look for satisfaction in loving the One who has loved us first – the One who has suffered and died for us, the One who conquered death for us, the One who is seeking us out even now.

Reflecting on the goals he had once pursued before surrendering his life to Christ, the apostle Paul had this to say (Philippians 3:7-11):

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider … everything else [as] worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him…. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

All of us race through life. The real question is, what goal are you racing towards?

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Farewell, old friend

One of my high school buddies passed away a week ago today.  I was invited to speak some words of remembrance at his funeral, and counted it a privilege to be given this opportunity. Marilyn (his widow) told me that she wanted me to do this because there would be people there who don’t know Jesus, and she wanted them to hear the gospel. Even in her grief she was thinking of others. What a blessing.

What follows is the message I shared at my friend’s leave-taking yesterday. Even the best words are inadequate at a time like this. Nonetheless, I pray that these heartfelt thoughts will encourage you in your own walk with the Lord. That’s what Dan would have wanted.

I first met Dan when he and I sang in the high school choir together. That was 45 years ago, when I was in grade 12. I guess that makes me an old friend.

Dan and I spent a lot of time together during our college years. I was involved in Dan’s wedding and he was involved in mine.

I lost touch with Dan when he moved out West. Then he showed up again a little over twenty years ago. He had moved back to Ottawa and had met a woman that he wanted to marry. I had also moved back to Ottawa, and was leading a small church that I had planted. Dan wanted to know if I could conduct the marriage ceremony for him and Marilyn.

In the course of preparing for the marriage, Dan told me that he and Marilyn had both had an encounter with Jesus through the witness of Marilyn’s son Brian. I had also had an encounter with Jesus, and had surrendered my life to Him. So I was thrilled to learn that Dan was now my brother in the Lord. It was as if I had a brand new friend. We could pray together and talk about the deepest issues of life. This was truly wonderful to me.

Dan had always been a gentle, quiet and thoughtful man. But now that Jesus was in control of Dan’s life, I saw a peace in him that hadn’t been there before.

Since then I have prayed with Dan on many occasions, especially after his health began to decline a few years ago. Dan had a very simple, childlike faith. He was very receptive to the moving of the Holy Spirit. This made it easy to pray with him for healing. Dan knew that God had been good to him far beyond what he deserved, and he was always full of hope and gratitude to Jesus. He took great delight in the beauty of God’s creation. He loved music, fall colours, the flowers in his garden, his dog, his motorcycle, camping trips, his friends, his wife Marilyn, and their children and grandchildren. Most of all he loved the Lord.

I remember when Marion and I visited Dan and Marilyn a little over a year ago. It was a beautiful warm September day. Dan told me that the doctors had given him three months to live. He said that he wasn’t afraid to die, but he didn’t think it was his time yet.

Dan’s words proved to be true. The Lord gave him another year, and it was a good year. He and Marilyn were allowed to walk together through another cycle of the seasons of this life – winter, spring, summer and fall. Dan posted many photos of garden flowers, and he and Marilyn enjoyed a camping trip on Thanksgiving weekend. What a blessing.

Dan’s symptoms began to recur around the middle of November, and by the end of the month he had died. We are sad that Dan is gone because we will miss him. But we must not be sad for him, or say that his life was too short. He is now with the Lord, and his life has only just begun. Dan had placed his hope in Jesus, who died and rose again and now lives forever. “I am the resurrection and the life”, says the Lord. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”

That was Dan’s hope and that is the confident expectation of everyone who has put their hope in Jesus Christ. It can be your hope too.

Thanks be to God.

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Don’t be satisfied with the appetizers

Amy Winehouse, an enormously talented and deeply troubled singer, was found dead in her apartment yesterday at the age of 27.  Though no official cause of death has been cited, family and friends agree that her early demise was undoubtedly the result of years of binge drinking and drug abuse.

This iconic young woman was part of my children’s generation.  I found her story compelling in its stark tragedy.  Here was a passionate and profoundly damaged soul who took the wrong prescription for her inner pain.

The real tragedy, however, is not that she died young.  It’s that she died without Jesus.  Had she laid her grief and torment on His shoulders, she could have been a free woman, a daughter of the resurrection.  Instead, she died a miserable and seemingly pointless death.

In our church we often talk about how Jesus is the answer to life’s problems, the one who brings joy, peace and restoration to our souls.  And of course all this is true.  Had Amy Winehouse met Jesus and surrendered her life to him, she could have found rest for her soul, and she could have lived a longer, more peaceful and productive life.

She would, however, still have died.

“Of course”, you say.  “Everyone dies.  That’s just the way things are.  Death is natural.”

No, it’s not.  Death is a usurper and an intruder.  We were created to be eternal beings.  That’s part of what it means to be created in God’s image.

In the Christian cultures of the West, the traditional view has been that death is the moment of liberation, the time when the souls of the faithful, who have had their sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus, are set free to fly away to their eternal home.  This way of thinking is often seen as a Christian belief, but it’s actually contrary to the Biblical message.  The Bible nowhere states that heaven is our home.

More recently, a view has sprung up that when Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God coming on earth as in heaven, he was saying that what God really cares about is giving us a better life on this earth, in this age.  According to this view, the good news of the Kingdom is that we can have transformed lives — forgiveness, peace, healing and prosperity — and transformed communities — social justice and even renewal of the created order — now, in this age.

Both these views distort the Biblical gospel, even though they both contain a kernel of truth.  It is true that there are many benefits in this age for those who have put their hope in Jesus, and that communities can experience a significant degree of transformation when the gospel is widely accepted.  It is also true that those who have put their hope in Jesus can be confident that they are going to be with Him when they die.  But neither of these truths represents the full scope of the salvation for which Jesus offered up His life.  What we need to ask ourselves is why Jesus went to the cross. What goal did He have in mind?  Why exactly did He willingly die such a horrible death?

He didn’t die so that at the end of our earthly pilgrimage we could leave this “vale of tears” and fly away to our true eternal home.  Neither did He die so that we could have a somewhat improved life, with signs and wonders, joy and peace, and improved communities, on an earth where death still prevails.

He died so that we could share in His resurrection, have glorious new bodies, and live forever with Him on a fully restored earth that will be full of His glory and ruled over directly by Jesus.  When Jesus rose from the dead, even though He was still the same person, His risen body was so glorious that His disciples were afraid of him and at times they didn’t even recognize him.   We are destined for a degree of glory that is difficult for us to imagine.  Let’s not become distracted by waiting, and settle for thinking that our true destiny must be in this age after all.

On the same day that Amy Winehouse died, Isak Wall and Allison Brailsford were married.   They are a wonderful couple who love living life with Jesus, and their wedding was a joyous celebration.

While the bride and groom were occupied with photos and the guests were waiting for the wedding feast, appetizers and cold drinks were thoughtfully provided for the wedding guests.   The appetizers and drinks were great – I was glad they were available.  They helped to fill the gap between the wedding ceremony and the feast.   You could think of them as a sign or foretaste of the feast that was to come.  They were not, however, the feast itself.  When the feast began, the appetizers were forgotten.

When we speak of the gospel as though it’s all about the joys of living life with Jesus in this age, or the joys of being with Jesus after we die, we are focussing on the appetizers instead of the wedding feast.

Is our life improved by coming to Christ?  Of course.  We have a new identity, and the Holy Spirit lives within us giving us peace, joy and power.  But the New Testament is clear that these things are signs of what is to come – like the appetizers before the wedding feast.  Not only that, our life is also made more difficult by coming to Christ.  The gospel does not exempt us from suffering in this age – in fact, for some it leads to a life of increased suffering, and for all of us it means laying down our own will so that we live for the purposes of the One who called us.  But in the age to come, all that will be done away with.

Don’t get me wrong – the sacrifices are worth it.  But if we try to tell people that they should come to Christ because their life in this age will be so much better, we are not preaching the Biblical gospel.

So why is the reality of eternal judgment, the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things no more than an afterthought in most presentations of the gospel?  If we believe these things, why do we so rarely talk about them? Our culture is so preoccupied with the works of man in this age that it’s almost as though even in church we are a bit embarrassed to talk about the age to come – or maybe we just don’t really believe it’s all that important.  But that’s not how Paul saw things.  He said that if for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we have been deceived and are to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

We had a guest from Cuba at our Life Group meeting this week.  Orlando spoke powerfully of six foundational truths, listed in Hebrews 6:1-3, that every disciple of Jesus needs to have built into their lives.  He told us that in his church-planting ministry in Cuba, every new believer is taught all six of these things.  The fifth truth is the resurrection of the dead, and the sixth truth is eternal judgment.  In other words, of the six foundational beliefs laid out in Hebrews, fully one third have to do with the end of this age and the life of the age to come.

Should disciples of Jesus seek to influence the world around them?  Of course.  Should we be confident that if we die before the Lord returns, we will be with him? Of course.  But neither of these is our hope.  Our hope is in the resurrection of the dead and the Kingdom that Jesus will establish openly on the earth when He returns.   The other blessings are foretastes,  signs, appetizers.   They’re good, but they aren’t the wedding feast.

Maybe we need to rethink our priorities in how we present the gospel.  Maybe we need to talk more about the feast and less about the appetizers.

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Standing against the seduction of death

In this blog post I want to highlight the work of a man of integrity and conviction.  I also want to start a new series of posts that will highlight the views of other truthspeakers – people who speak truths that go against the grain of what is popularly believed in our society.

My mother died a little over three years ago, after suffering the gradual decline of Alzheimer’s disease over several years, followed by a debilitating stroke which eventually resulted in her being unable to communicate verbally.  She passed from this life about a year and a half after her stroke.

In many ways her passing was a relief.  Yet, although my mother was unable to speak for the last eighteen months of her life, and needed help for the simplest of bodily functions, I do not believe her final months were wasted time.  A couple of weeks after her stroke, Marion and I had the opportunity to pray with her and help her entrust herself to Jesus.  We asked her if she wanted us to ask Jesus to take her fears away, and she nodded perceptibly.  After we had prayed with her, she seemed to relax and her anxiety level diminished greatly.   Not long after this, her ability to speak vanished completely.  But because humans are made in the image of God, I knew that even though her body and mind were damaged, her spirit was still fully alive.   In this conviction I sang her songs and hymns whenever I visited her during the next eighteen months.  Others found other ways to show love to her.  These final months provided many opportunities for my mother’s loved ones to care for someone who had been a generous, openhearted benefactor to her children and grandchildren – as well as many others – over many years.

At one point, several months before her stroke, Dad told me that in her frustration and fear, Mom had told him she wanted to die.  His response to her was that it was not his place to make the decision to end her life.  Although in his latter years my father did not consider himself a Christian, I am grateful that his choices were significantly influenced by Biblical beliefs about life.

Had she been living in her native Netherlands, events might have played out quite differently.  In that nation, euthanasia has been legal since 2002, but has been practised with increasing acceptance since the early 1980s, and it is now not uncommon for victims of early-stage dementia to be euthanized.

Notably, wherever euthanasia has been legalized, it becomes more and more common for doctors to make the decision to euthanize the patient without anyone’s consent.   This is well documented.

The culture of death is seductive.  It sneaks up on us in seemingly innocent guises, clothed in what appears to be compassion.  Yet a society that legalizes euthanasia – even in the name of compassion – opens the door to much potential abuse.  As a believer in Jesus, I am convinced that every human life has eternal value, and therefore it is morally wrong for doctors to end the lives of their patients.   But one does not have to be a Christian to recognize the risks inherent in legalizing euthanasia.

Consider the recent Rasouli case that was judged by the Ontario Court of Appeal.  Mr. Rasouli, a mechanical engineer who had come to this country from Iran, had been diagnosed with a non-malignant tumour.  After surgery, he suffered brain damage due to bacterial meningitis, and is now in what doctors describe as a vegetative state.  His family believes he can still communicate with them, yet the doctors at Sunnybrook contended that further treatment was futile, and wanted to be allowed to withdraw further treatment and move him to palliative care.  Although this would not be euthanasia in its narrowest definition, it is a step down that path, as it implies that doctors have the right to decide unilaterally who continues to be worthy of treatment.  His wife – who had herself practised medicine in her native Iran – intervened to oppose such a move.  With the help of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), she won her case.

The Rasouli family are Muslims.  They believe that life is a gift from God.  They also believe that there is still hope for the recovery of their husband and father.  I do not share their Muslim faith, but I do share their conviction that life is God’s gift.  I am grateful that the EPC took the risk of intervening in this case.  I have the utmost respect for the EPC and its founder, Alex Schadenberg, who since 1999 has dedicated his considerable energies and talents to opposing euthanasia and assisted suicide.

After my mother’s stroke, the family made a collective decision that she should not be resuscitated if she stopped breathing.  This is not the same thing as euthanasia.  After her stroke, the hospital did everything possible to treat her, and she was not moved to palliative care until the family gave its consent.  Once she had been moved to a nursing home, she continued to receive the best care available while she lived.

Consider the implications of living in a society where doctors have the unilateral right to decide who may live and who may die.  In Nazi Germany, many who were not perfect specimens of Aryan supremacy (not only Jews, but the mentally and physically disabled) were put to death.  Others were made the subjects of horrific experiments.

You may think such things could never happen in Canada.  Although I disagree with that assertion, I will choose not to debate the point, but will turn to another, perhaps more believable scenario.  Consider the pressure of finances on our medical system.  One can easily imagine that under the pressure of finances, medical practitioners might feel compelled to decide that treatment is no longer justified, effectively pulling the plug on someone’s life.  However, neither medical nor financial perspectives provide an adequate basis for assessing the value of a human life.

We live in a society that has increasingly jettisoned its Christian roots and embraced humanistic and naturalistic assumptions.  As Paul states in Romans 1:21, this inevitably leads to a truncated perspective on life – a sort of “tunnel vision” which is really a form of blindness.  Although Alex Schadenberg does not use theological arguments in his battle to protect the rights and dignity of the dying, his viewpoint is thoroughly theistic.  He is a catalyst for opponents of euthanasia around the world, as well as others who defend a Biblical perspective on various social issues.   He has also been willing to pay the price of his convictions and has stayed the course for over twelve years.  He does not draw attention to the pressures of this work on himself and his family (financial or otherwise), but they must be considerable.  The EPC has not yet paid the full legal bill for its intervention in the Rasouli case, and now faces the real prospect of an appeal from a euthanasia lobby that is well-funded and quite popular among the media and the liberal intellectual elite of our society.  If this post motivates you to support the work of the EPC, I’m sure Alex would be glad to hear from you.

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In memory of Rob Hall

When I wrote in a recent post (Reality Check) that life is short and fragile, I had no idea that within a couple of weeks, Rob Hall’s untimely death would offer a graphic reminder of the truth of those words.

But there you have it.  A good man has gone to be with Jesus, leaving his wife Kate, three children, and an army of family and friends around the world who clearly miss him deeply but who just as clearly were inspired by his life.

I never got to know Rob well.  I am much better acquainted with his father Ken, who was a mentor and spiritual father to me for a couple of crucial years about a decade and a half ago when I was walking through an agonizing yet transformational period of transition.  I will always be grateful for Ken’s wisdom and unassuming yet authoritative shepherding which provided an anchor for my life at that crucial time.  Marion and I and our four children were part of Ken’s church for a season, and I got to know Rob a little bit, partly through talking with him directly, but mostly through my chats with Ken, who evidently loved his sons dearly and had fathered them well.  At that time Rob was a young man in his early twenties, and was already involved in co-operative community gardening, combining faith with practice in compelling ways.  Before long Marion and I moved to Russell to be involved in planting a DOVE church there, and I never saw Rob again.  I knew from Ken that he had been serving as an associate pastor in the Cambridge Vineyard but did not realize that he and his wife and children had left for mission work in Zambia.

News of Rob’s death earlier this week, just a  few days shy of his 39th birthday, came as a shock.  I couldn’t stop thinking about Ken and Lois, and of course Rob’s wife Kate and their three children.  The web site and Facebook page that have been created in memory of Rob have drawn my attention like a magnet, opening my eyes to some of the core passions that fuelled Rob’s life, and introducing me to a vast network of people who knew and loved him.

A few things I have learned about Daniel Robert Hall :

o He loved Jesus, his wife Kate and their three children, people, and God’s creation.
o He was an authentic servant of God, a good listener who knew how to draw out the best in others.
o He could speak truth into situations and get a hearing because he could be truthful without being arrogant, and because he really cared.
o He served with integrity and passion wherever he went.
o He had a bold, entrepreneurial approach to life.
o He had a great sense of humour.
o He loved the King and his coming Kingdom.
o He echoed the values of the Kingdom in his living here and now.
o He had counted the cost of being a disciple of Jesus, and invested his life willingly in God’s enterprises.

A few things I have learned (or been reminded of) this week about living as a servant of God :

o God places high value on integrity and humility, and loves the heart of a genuine servant.
o We often have more impact on others than we know.
o Whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:8).
o All of us in a fallen world are under the sentence of death; therefore pain is inevitable.
o Pain is not the worst thing that can happen. Having a deadened heart  (living without vision, purpose, or knowledge of God’s call) is far worse.
o Jesus gives life to the dead.  Those who trust Him do not need to be afraid of death.
o Hold those you love closely, treat them well, and entrust them to God fearlessly.  They don’t belong to you and you don’t know when you may be required to release them into the hands of their loving Father.
o Our hope is in the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things.
o Those who love Jesus are called to serve the poor in His name and do works of mercy and justice on the earth.
o Everyone needs to know that Jesus loves them.
o Weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5).

Rob, thank you.  I am deeply grateful for your example.  Your life has had more of an impact on me than you would have guessed.  You are now one of the great cloud of witnesses, spurring me on and calling me forward to finish my race well and to live faithfully, my eyes on the King and his coming Kingdom.

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