words of life

Today marks 5 years since cancer took my friend Esther. Last week, I learned of another college friend who walked from earth into eternity. The list of people I know who have passed away grows at a rate that I’ll never be comfortable with. And I hate it.

We always want to say things, anything, that might offer comfort in times of loss, but the reality is that it’s often little solace. Pithy statements like, “he’s in a better place!” and “she’s with Jesus” do not take away the sting of death. They are well-meaning and true words, but they do little to change the situation. I am reminded of the limitations of my words every time I try to console a grieving friend. Every time a friend tries to offer me words of encouragement. Our best words cannot undo sin and its end product: death.

There is one place that I’ve found comfort and hope, especially when dealing with death, and that’s in the words of Jesus. You can chalk it up to religious sentimentality or fanciful feelings, but there is a very real peace in the red letters. Almost as if they have power.

After all, when Jesus spoke, people were healed and demons went scrambling. When Jesus spoke, the winds and the sea obeyed him. When Jesus spoke, a dead man walked out of his grave. John 1 tells us that Jesus was the very Word by which all things were created out of nothing back in Genesis. Jesus has power. And the power was displayed when he was resurrected from the dead, the firstfruit, proving our spiritual resurrection and future bodily resurrection.

We also know that the Bible is God’s revelation to us, so that that when it speaks, God speaks. Thus, it makes sense that reading Scripture would bring peace, because it is the power of God working in you, not just your brain processing the words on paper.

The words that I have been resting on today are some of the last words in the Bible. They describe a vision of what is to come, a reality that draws nearer with every passing day.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 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.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.  – Revelation 21:1-5

This is what we look forward to. Not for a future of floating around playing harps, but a future where heaven is on earth, where death and crying and pain will be a thing of the past. It is a place where the dead in Christ will live with God in newly restored, resurrected bodies. Esther. Patrick. Ronnie. Ommar. Christ the Redeemer will return to finish what he began and redeem everything fully. The earth. Our bodies. Our lives. He is working all things toward this redemption.

Jesus said it, and they are true because the One who spoke it is Truth. He is God.

Behold! Jesus is making all things new!

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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.

oh my God

Where were you? I was at work when I heard the heartbreaking story that has given us all heavy and somber hearts. On Friday, a man walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire, killing 20 students and 6 adults.

In a culture and time where violence and tragedies of this sort are becoming alarmingly more frequent, this event struck especially home. Maybe it’s because I remember being in elementary school and the warm nostalgia that I get from memories on the playground and the ways my teachers strove to make learning exciting. Maybe it’s because I saw my younger brother and sister go through those years, excited about birthday parties and first crushes, a classroom full of friends and toy pigs. Maybe it’s because I have many friends who are parents to young children, and I know how deeply my own parents love me. Maybe it’s because many of my friends are under-appreciated teachers who pour their lives out for the young lives we entrust to them. Perhaps it was the fact that the helpless members of our society that look to us for protection were betrayed, and futures were snuffed out before potentials were reached. Anger, sadness, shock, frustration, confusion, helplessness, worry. All of these thoughts and emotions washed over me as my grief lead me to tears and to silently pray, “come, Lord Jesus!”

These are trying times. The world we live in still lays in the fall out of sin, and we daily feel the effects of it, maybe more so tonight. It leads us to cry out in anguish, “where are you, God? Why did this happen? Why didn’t you stop this?”

There’s a song that tugs at my hearts in moments like this, a haunting song that recognizes the brokenness we all feel and experience. I encourage you to listen to it all the way through:

If the world was how it should be, maybe I could get some sleep.

What we need now are not cute answers with bows on them. In the next few weeks, we will have many discussions about gun control and the level of safety at our schools and public places, and those discussions certainly need to occur. But what we need tonight is to lament. It is a very biblical response to times such as this. Lament that evil is a reality and we still experience injustice and brokenness and pain. Lament that tonight there will be empty seats at dinner tables and drenched pillows. Lament that sadly, this may not the be last time we hear of tragedy like this.

We lament knowing that our cries reach out to a God who hears his people, who loves them, and is willing and able to act in incredible ways. Indeed, God the Father experienced his own anguish as he sent his Son to a culture that unjustly murdered him. The Father looked down as Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” before he died. This same Father of the now-risen King Jesus now sends the Comforter through Jesus to us who are now his children. Our God upholds the needy, embraces the destitute and comforts those who mourn. Friends, he does care. He most certainly loves us. And this breaks his heart as much as it does ours.

We don’t know why this happened. But it’s not right. Evil is real. So is our God, and he is strong. As we pray for the children, parents, teachers and school officials, and those who are ministering to the wounded, broken and hurting, we also mourn and lament as we look forward to the day when our King returns to restore everything. When tears and sorrow will be no more.

Come, Lord Jesus, come!

sorrow saturday

They shifted around listlessly. Through the walls they could hear the soft sobbing and occasional wail of the women in the next room, and the men would look at each other briefly before ashamedly diverting their eyes.

How could they be so wrong? Everything had seemed so right.

Peter dabbed at the corner of his eye, but even he did not have any words for the moment. He sat and ruefully ruminated on the events of the the last day. In the same amount of time, he had witnessed his hope, his confidence, and his future literally die.

Thomas’ voice cut the silence. “What do we do now?”

Peter broke out of his trance and stood up. “I’m going fishing,” he said as he gathered his cloak. “You guys can sit here, but I’m going crazy staring at these walls.”

“You can’t leave!” exclaimed John, “Everyone knows we were with Him. You’ll be ridiculed by everyone who sees you! The High Priest may even be looking for us!”

“John is right,” James chimed in,  “We should lay low and stay here until the dust settles. Let everyone forget about last night, about us. Some new scandal or news is bound to crop up soon enough. In the meantime, we can think about what to do next.”

“Next?” retorted a bewildered Peter. “What do you mean next? The man we followed and devoted our lives to the last three years is lying in a grave. Jesus is dead. We move on, that’s what we do next! Maybe there’s a Messiah yet out there.”

I’m not altogether sure this is what happened the day after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, but this is the scene that plays in my mind. A band of disheartened, broken disciples sitting around, asking themselves, what happened? How did things go wrong so fast?

Just earlier in the week, Jesus had ridden into the city heralded as a King and now He lay wrapped in strips of cloth and returning to dust. Just 2 days earlier, they were confident they were following the Christ, the One who was to rescue Israel and establish His throne over the earth. Now He was just another teacher, a prophet maybe, and a failed Messiah. Messiah’s don’t die before they accomplish their purpose.

We who live in the future know the outcome of the story, what happens soon enough: the glorious resurrection of Jesus and His ascension! The fulfillment of numerous prophecies, the theological implications of the death of the Son of God, and the realization of where His Kingdom was. We have 2000 years of theology and study and speculation. The original disciples did not.

The feeling of defeat is something that is familiar. We know what it means to be broken, to be disappointed, and have our dreams and hopes crushed. We set our expectations high, and down and down they tumble from their lofty place. Things don’t always turn out as we thought they would.

A lost job. Failed relationship. Disease. The death of a loved one. Natural disaster.

And hopelessly, we cry out, Why? What do I do now?

What do you do when hope has hidden herself from you and despair blankets your heart? When depression and disappointment become your late night bed buddies? Sorrow certainly may come with the night, but sometimes joy doesn’t show up with the morning. Or the morning after.

For the disciples, “Friday night” must have been a night of shock and tears and bewilderment. But “Saturday” would have been when the reality of the death of Jesus and the heaviness of defeat sunk in. “Saturday” was when they had to face each other and figure out how to pick up the pieces of their lives.

Amidst the darkest of our nights, we must press on, knowing that though we don’t know what the morning brings, God on high does. When we’re bitter and lonely, heartbroken and upset, we trust in the sovereignty and goodness of a faithful Father.

It’s a lesson in patience and trust. And patience and trust are hard.

We may not know what the future brings…. but the story does not end with Saturday.