hope and the death of death

Nothing causes us to pause and consider our own mortality more than the death of someone we know. I wasn’t thinking about the brevity of life, the brevity of my life, a few days ago. And then I heard the news that a friend had passed away. All the concerns, worries, anxieties of life suddenly were suspended in air as the world began moving slower and time slowed down to a crawl with it.

Patrick Maruthmmottil was a friend. I don’t have the honor or privilege of calling him “best” friend or a very “close” friend. But with Patrick, I don’t think I need an adjective added to “friend” mostly because I think most people that crossed paths with him became friends with him. He wore a genuine smile that was warm and had a servant heart that was pure and humble, and reflected the heart of His Savior. He was a talented musician, thoughtful thinker, caring friend and passionate follower of Jesus Christ. I’m honored and privileged just to be able to have known him and call him “friend.”

On June 4, 2013, Patrick was involved in a car accident that ended up taking his life.

Death is a crummy thing.

I could go on and on about the ways death affect us, but at the end of the day, we all know that death is a crummy thing. We can feel it in our mourning and sense of loss, as well as our valiant efforts to ward death off with health and medicine. We know that in a very real sense, death is our enemy. But we also know that a sovereign God sits on His throne and rules over everything. Nothing catches Him off guard or causes Him to go back to the heavenly drawing board. A loving and just God who is sovereign over everything means that He is in charge. This means there are no early deaths. We may scratch our heads and we may push back against the idea, but the fact is that God rules over everything, death included.

But why? we may ask. Why would God take someone so young, someone who was so passionate about pointing people to Jesus? And I don’t know the definite answer to that question. What I do know is that we’re given life and placed on this earth in our specific eras in time and specific geographic locations for a specific purpose. What I do know is that Christians are given a specific message and mission to be salt and light in their contexts, through their lives. When Jesus transforms us, our lives aren’t about us anymore. They’re about Jesus and making Him known. Our jobs, our friends, our families are ultimately about the Kingdom of God, not just about making us happy. I can only assume that when we’re taken, it’s because our work for His Kingdom is done.

But he could have been so much more effective if he was still alive! we may say. So many more people would have come to know Jesus and trust Him if our friend was still alive because of his life! Maybe that’s true, but we don’t know that, do we? All we have is the time that is given to us right now.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

When our work for the Kingdom is done, God calls us home, and we can celebrate Patrick’s life that is a continuing testimony to the grace, mercy and love of Jesus. The wonderful irony is that even in his death, my friend proclaims even more boldly than ever the power of the gospel. And so even in death, the Kingdom of God is growing.

Nonetheless, we still mourn with grief, and it is not a shameful response. In fact, in the gospel of John, Jesus wept before the tomb of His dear friend Lazarus, even though He knew that in a few minutes He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Grief is not weakness or sinful, but our response to the fact that death isn’t natural. God didn’t create us to be beings that died — but through sin and the fall of humanity, it is our unfortunate inheritance. We mourn and lament, yes. But we don’t mourn as those who don’t have hope! We don’t mourn in wretched hopelessness that death is the end of everything. Rather, we mourn as those who know that death does not have the final word. We grieve and lament with the knowledge that Jesus has overcome death in His resurrection, and that means that one day we too will be resurrected to life in a new heaven and a new earth where everything will be restored. We mourn with the hope that one day, we will see our loved ones and friends again.

And we mourn, knowing that one day, there will be no more death. We will all be raised, God will sit on His throne, and death will be defeated.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a Man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. — 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

“For thy mortal self shall die, but from the grave we will arise… And death will be described as a paper ghost.” — Courrier, “Paper Ghost”

So until we see Patrick, and all our loved ones, again, we celebrate their lives and live our lives on mission and in determination as Patrick did: for the sake and advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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trickers and treats

I never went trick-or-treating as a kid. My parents were convinced that it was the Devil’s own day and the sure-fire sign that Jesus was coming back soon. When I was young, my mom would tell me there were demons running around the neighborhood, going door to door. I would nervously peek out the blinds because I wanted to see these demons who were terrorizing my neighborhood. I saw Elmo from Sesame Street.

My folks would turn off the front light when the kids came out in their costumes so that hopefully they wouldn’t ring our doorbell. And even if they did, we wouldn’t open, even though the trick-or-treaters (and their parents) could probably hear our TV and smell the scents of curry as my mom cooked. We may or may not have been egged once. Or several times.

This year, I decided I would buy the candy myself and hand it out to all the costumed kids that came by. I bought 6 jumbo bags of chocolate candy, turned our porch light on, and sat by with a book, waiting to happily dish the candy out. After 45 minutes, I had my first trick-or-treater!

It was a 17 year old in a hoodie.

I complimented her… costume, and let her have 2 pieces of candy. The next visitor came 20 minutes later. Two hours and 1 trick-or-treater later, I realized I had a lot of candy to get rid of. By the fourth child, a 3-year old in an astronaut costume, I was eagerly urging him to take all he wanted, coaxing him to take more and more. His mother stepped forward, grabbed his hand, curtly said “Thank you,” and walked off. I heard her hiss to him, “Don’t you touch any of that candy!” I guess something about an overly-eager, frantic-eyed, bearded brown man urging her toddler to take more of his candy unsettled her.

I literally had 6 people come by the entire night. And I still have enough candy to give Venezuela a cavity.

Halloween has always struck me as a bit peculiar. We teach kids their entire childhood to be themselves and no one else, witches are bad, and don’t ever take candy from strangers. And in one night, all those rules go out the window.

For one night, we can be someone else. We spend our lives creating the character we want people to perceive when they see us — we create an identity — and then we play the role, mask and all. We project an image and strive to ensure that the image is maintained because it wouldn’t do for people to know who we truly are. I’ve often pondered that life sometimes feels like a show you’re putting on, and every day you choose the mask you want to wear. But on Halloween, we have the opportunity to ditch the everyday mask and be someone totally different and unconventional. We can break societal expectations and appear sinister, holy, provocative, silly, ambitious, sensual, sacrilegious and everything else we can’t be the other 364 days of the year. The sorority president on the Dean’s List can be a scantily-clad Playboy bunny, the nerdy Electrical Engineer can be a very un-Twilight-esque vampire, and the  worship leader who is a Biology/Religious Studies major  can be a compelling Jack Sparrow pirate. We take off our everyday costume and slip on the thrilling costume of the temporary escape.

For one night, we can be someone else. And for one night, we can get away with it.

“which mask will you wear today
how about the one with the pretty smile
to you it’s just another day
in a life you haven’t lived in quite awhile”   – Lifehouse, “Just Another Name”

Few people see us as we really are: broken, messy, and maybe slightly crazy.We call it vulnerability, taking off the surface mask and letting your truer, weaker self be known. It’s not something that our culture or society applaud because we’re taught to not show weaknesses or flaws. Survival of the strongest, right? We can hide behind the mask and no one has to see how ugly, scarred or scared we are.

But maybe we were made to be known. Maybe that’s where true community happens and friendships are forged. Maybe being vulnerable and honest about our brokenness, our struggles, and our fears can lead to healing, strength, and victory. Maybe we don’t have to be perfect. Maybe we don’t have to be alone.

It’s something I’ve learned over the years. I’ve been blessed to have friends who have seen me at my best and very worst, who have encouraged me, rebuked me, laughed with me, laughed at me, and prayed with me. People who point me back to Christ. People who remind me that in my weakness, Jesus Christ is shown to be strong.

In Scripture, we are reminded of the reality of a new identity in Christ. It is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. (Gal. 2:20) Indeed, Paul tells us that if we are in Christ, we have put on Christ (Gal. 3:27) so that we who are broken, sinful and shameful now wear the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Sure we were broken, but now the Holy Spirit of God lives in us! We who are new creations don’t have to live behind the masks we create, but can live as children of the Most High God, citizens of an eternal Kingdom, co-heirs with Christ. Now that’s a provocative identity!

We’ve ditched this year’s Halloween costumes. Now Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are on the horizon, and family get-togethers, friendship reunions, and holiday meals claim spots in our calendars. Maybe it’s time to ditch the costumes we wear the other days of the year. Maybe we can be honest about who we really are to those we care about. Maybe we can live in our identity in Christ.

The Disappearing Friend Trick

We’ve all been there.

You’re best pals with someone(s). You hang out, you talk, you text, you tweet, you call, you Facebook each other. You share joys, pains, jokes, complaints, and stories. You think, “What was life like before they were in my life?” And you can’t remember.

And then, presto shazaam, abra cadabra, they’re gone.

Poof.

Maybe it wasn’t that dramatic. Maybe it was gradual.

[Cue the sad music] You started texting each other less. Less Facebook stalking. Less calling. And even less hanging out.

And who has time? You have your new friends to hang out with, friends that share your interests now. Friends in the here and now. Friends that don’t ditch you. And hey, life moves on, friends or not.

And if you can identify with any of the above, rest assured that someone has felt the same way about you. You’ve blipped off someone’s radar, enough for them to notice. And miss you.

But life get’s in the way. Sometimes it may seem unavoidable.

You move. Work takes up your time. Your interests or priorities change. Drama/conflict. You go to a different school. You grow up. Insert excuse here.

Perhaps it’s not that you’ve found a new group of friends, but you’ve pigeon-holed yourself into a hermit-like loneliness. You’re trying to do life on your own and you think you do it just fine. And you complain that everyone has ditched you.

I can look back at my life, and especially the last 7 or 8 years and think of many friends that I had that simply aren’t in my life any more, or have taken a far lesser role in the production that is My Life. Friends from high school, from church, from college. Most recently, when I moved back to Dallas from Austin, I experienced this. This sense of loss as everyone, myself included, moved on with their life.

At first, I felt myself as a victim, thinking that all my friends had forgotten about me or made new friends. And then I realized that some of them may have felt the same way about me, that I had gone MIA.

And no one is to blame here. Life got in the way. Circumstances change situations. Sometimes I sit and think, “Whatever happened to what’s-his-name?” And I leave it at that, just thinking.

Have you ever felt like your relationship with Christ is something like that? That maybe you’ve grown distant? That you guys don’t talk as much, that maybe you and Jesus aren’t on best terms? That you constantly seem to screw it up?

But what does the Savior do? He pursues. He doesn’t leave you be, but if you are His, if you have known Him, He will not let the embers of relationship grow gray. He stirs your heart to remind you that He is still there. That God is still there.

Shouldn’t we emulate this in our other relationships?

Sometimes, we blame others for burning bridges and being “shady.” But truth be told, sometimes we’re the shady ones. What effort have you made lately to keep in touch with a long lost comrade? How fervently do you pursue them?

But today, I challenge you to do something else. Don’t play the sleight-of-hand in your friendships. Today, call up someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Text them. Arrange to meet up with them and hang out.  Rekindle a relationship.

Well, what are you waiting for?