A Matter of Life and Death

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.

John 5:21

Our world fails to understand the gravity of sin.

Then again, as The Book says, there is nothing new under the sun1. My Lord lived in the same world. The dates were different, the world population was smaller, and the day’s technological marvels would fail to impress the hyper-stimulated modern cynic.

Yet people haven’t changed in the slightest. From the temptation of Eve to the very second you read these words, human beings have underestimated the horror of sin.

To illustrate my point, Mark 2:1-2 tells of a time when four friends lowered their paralyzed buddy through the roof of a crowded building so he could see Jesus. Upon seeing the unfortunate fellow, Jesus declared to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

But the crowd wasn’t impressed until Jesus spoke again and the paralyzed man regained the use of his body.

In a similar way, our prayer requests often reflect a deeper fear of physical suffering than fear we will be guilty of gossip. We are afraid of being murdered while murdering people with our tongues. And yet the truth is, unless we accept the Son of God as our Master, we are already dead.

As it’s been said, Jesus didn’t come to show us how to be good. He came to breathe life into our animated corpses. This life and death dynamic is what I’ve been mulling over after reading and re-reading John 5 a few days ago.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5:24

Friends, Jesus stepped down into a world ruined by sin and took a stand against this great death-bringer. For a time, He forsook His rightful glory and the joys of perfect union in the mysterious community of the Triune and lived as a man. He endured temptation as a man, but He alone never gave into it and so He alone was a fully living Man.

Because of this, His willingness to trade His singular purity secures value sufficient to cover our debt – for we have sinned and earned death; He refused sin and traded His matchless gift for our wages to any who will accept His offer2.

But we must choose to accept His gift of life.

Instead, we bicker and squabble over temporary concerns, pointing out specks in the eyes of others while ignoring the massive planks that blind us3. We pray for health and comfort while using both to drink down death, serving self instead of our Sovereign. In so many ways, we sin, and we do not see it for what it is – the truest and most horrible death. Because we are addicted to death, we refuse to submit to the One who came to offer life.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.

John 5:39-40

Don’t miss out on this chance, friends. As the days darken and the rumbles of war send tremors across every land, don’t forget that all sin is death.

Sin is a gilded cage, a poison that tastes like ambrosia. The happiness it promises is fleeting at best, a hollow satisfaction all too easily imploding under the least pressure. Sooner or later, the sweetest sin gives its captives a taste of hell on earth – the flavor of death to taint this life with the enemy’s own eternal destination, one he wants you to share.

Misery, as is said, loves company.

But sin isn’t the victor unless you allow it. The Son of Man still stands ready to receive all who belong to Him. Even now, the One greater than Moses says, “I have set before you today life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life…4

Turn away from your sin. You are only captive if you want to be. You can turn to the Son of God who came to give you life5 – a sweet taste of it here and now to infuse life’s sorrows with the essence of eternal joy in the presence of God. Jesus

Jesus alone can replace the musty tang of death with the delightful savor of life. But the choice is yours.

1Ecclesiastes 1:9; 2Romans 6:23; 3Matthew 7:3-5; 4Deuteronomy 30:19; 5John 10:10

Wisdom Seeker: Day 16

Proverbs 16

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.

Proverbs 16:25

Almost didn’t make it today! A 6:30 am prayer meeting, busy day, and a migraine nearly kept me from writing, though not from reading. Still, here I am…

Before I go on (and I will be brief today for sure – the migraine is caged but pacing it’s cage angrily), tomorrow is my son’s college move-in day and Sundays I tend to go unplugged. I might check in tomorrow but it depends! You can bet I’ll be reading, though. I’m a Bible addict. For real.

Anyway, just a quick thought or two about today’s focus verse. I know this one from my experience as an atheist. There were plenty of ways that seemed right to me at the time – worldly wisdom and all.

You know, partying with friends, the “enlightened” modern form of morality (which really is immorality), late nights, hook-up culture. All kinds of fun.

But it wasn’t fun. Not really. When I was alone and sober, there was a sense of reeling. Of incompleteness and purposelessness. A terrible, yawning blackness of sorrow which I tried filling with shallow friendships, long hours at work, and alcohol.

It was a little death. I grew tired of having the same conversations over a couple of shots and a beer. I grew weary of chasing the handful of times I actually had fun with a million nights of drunken nothingness. Frustration. Emptiness. Yuck.

It was like dying slowly without the mercy of an end. Then again, my end would have been far from merciful if I’d been snuffed out in those days – alone and without God. I lived a little hell. Death would have ushered in the real thing.

That is why I am so sold on God’s way now. Ironic, isn’t it, that in my youth when I had my health and freedom, before migraine robbed my strength and my days, that I had no joy. None. There were moments of happiness, but no underlying joy. Just that horrible blackness waiting to suck me down in a single, undistracted instant.

But now, with frequent pain and so many things to do each day that I sacrifice sleep to spend time with my Lord and in prayer, I have so much joy.

Then, I had only myself to serve. It gave me nothing but sorrow.

Now, I have my husband, my three biological kids, my countless part-time, semi-adopted kids, friends, dogs, a cat, a job, and health issue. And I have joy.

Pure, undiluted, lovely joy that comes straight from knowing my Savior Yeshua, being loved by Father, and being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Wouldn’t trade this life for the old one for ten billion dollars. True story.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalms 16:11

Good Friday Reflections

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15:17-19

If Good Friday were the end of the story and the Man on the cross merely died, the way I’ve lived my life for the last 17-odd years has been nothing more than a waste.

Without the Resurrection, the sacrifices I’ve made, the pain I’ve endured, the hours spent in prayer and Bible study, the money gifted to the Church and missions – wasted. Useless. Meaningless.

But don’t ask me. Ask Moses, a Ugandan man who’s been run out of his home along with his wife and 6 children because of his decision to follow Yeshua instead of Mohammed.

Or Sukbati whose husband was murdered for his faith and who now must support five children in the midst of her grief. Yet she has said she will not give up on Jesus.

Without the Resurrection, Good Friday is no longer good. It becomes just a day that another man died – one of billions. And Moses and Sukbati and millions like them suffer needlessly – giving up ease in this life for no reason at all.

Worse yet, without the Resurrection, we are all still in our sins. Me, Sukbati, and all believers. Believe it or not, friends, that’s worse than any persecution or pain this life can throw at us.

It means an ancient and creeping death sickens our hearts and decays our spirits, destroying any hope of restoration with our Creator and making mockery of the innate desire for immortality we all hold deep within. That is what sin is, and how rightly we should feel horror at it.

But the good news of Good Friday is that it did not end when Yeshua declared, “It is finished,” and gave up His spirit.

Firstly, His death was an act of purpose – He gave up His spirit; it was not taken from Him. He died on purpose, giving His perfect life in payment of the debt we have all incurred by our rebellious ways.

Then, on the first Easter Sunday, God raised up His one and only Son, so that the final victory over sin and death has been won. Sin brought death into the world; the sinless life of Yeshua Messiah, Christ Jesus my Lord, took on death and defeated it by His return to life.

Now we who are in Christ live a life of self-sacrifice – not because we are good people or for some hope of self-improvement – but because we are grateful for the Man who bought back our souls from death.

The life I live, I do not live for the praise of others but out of sheer thankfulness. If He gave His perfect life for me, I can certainly give my broken mess right back to Him. It may not be much, but it’s all I have. And I give it willingly, grateful even if I am ever called to suffer the rest of my years for His sake, because He already suffered for mine.

The hope of Easter is not a hope for today or for any earthly good at all. It’s a hope for a future far beyond today; a hope that in 100 and 1000 and countless years beyond, those of us who follow Jesus now will be following Him still, rejoicing in His presence, forever freed from sin, death, and despair.

Forever adoring the One who first adored us so much that He gave up the life of His one and only Son that we may join Him in eternal worship.

Hallelujah! He is risen!

The Funny Thing About Hell…

In truth, there is nothing whatsoever funny about hell. Nothing. It’s more serious than a heart attack, more gnawing than cancer, and unlike both of these, it is eternal and spiritual, not temporary and physical. Hell is not funny in the least.

But people do have some funny ideas about hell.

When I was a young atheist, I remember discussions about how much more fun hell sounded than heaven. The thought process went something like this: “If I got to choose, hell is the place I’d go. I mean, if all the fun stuff you’re not supposed to do isn’t found in heaven, then it must be in hell, right?”

Well, to be blunt: No. No it isn’t.

But the good news is that we do get to choose. Either we choose Yeshua who is the Way to heaven or we choose hell by default.

Make no mistake: Satan is not the ruler of hell, nor is he the life of some fiery party. He is in misery already because of his rebellion, and his mission is to take as much of the clay creatures stamped with the image of God – that is, humanity – into eternal misery with him.

…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever…

…And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:10, 15

Whether the image of a lake of fire is literal or symbolic doesn’t matter. It isn’t a nice place to be. Hell is Satan’s torture chamber, and I believe his hatred of humankind is partly because of the redemption offered us and his own bitterness towards God.

Looking around this world – the suffering, the heartache, the pain – I can’t help but think there’s hell enough on earth. Why would anyone choose to continue suffering throughout eternity? Most, I think, simply don’t really believe in the reality of hell or heaven.

Now that I am no longer young nor atheistic, I can look around at many of those who embraced the mentality of hell as the “fun” choice and ran with it to its logical conclusion.

Some of them are heroin or meth addicts. Others have adopted a more legal drug dependence, but they have cabinets full of drugs – and drugs to counteract the side effects of drugs – just the same. Others are addicted to sex and shallow relationships or drink so much they don’t know they’ve had the same conversation 85 times. Still others are dead.

I guess the last sort know by now.

My heart breaks for the dead who didn’t choose the Lamb of God and whose names were not written in His book of life. I literally cry for some of them, and I weep and plead for salvation for those who still live and have not yet chosen the Way.

May my God draw them to Himself and may they choose to surrender to Him now. O Lord, please; let it be!

Hell is a far cry from an eternal party. Honestly, after watching the party scene for a few years and seeing the end results – addictions, broken relationships, broken lives – even if it was a party, I wouldn’t want it.

The sex, drugs, and alcohol party lifestyle is its own hell. Just ask any sweat-drenched addict as he pukes his guts out between fixes. Or anyone who is a prisoner of their own fear. Or anyone who age catches unaware after they’ve squandered life on shallow physical relationships and now face old age and death alone.

No, my friends, you do not want hell. I don’t want hell for you. And if I know you personally and you are not a follower of the Lord, chances are good I pray frequently that you will come to Him of Your own free will.

I so desperately want you to choose life. I so desperately want to keep you from hell. But you know what? As much as I want this for you, God wants it even more. He wants it so much, He paid the price of your sin with His own blood.

Please. Choose life.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose lifeloving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days…

Deuteronomy 30:19a, 20a, emphasis mine

Legacy

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Just over a week ago, a lady I have immense admiration for passed from this world. She was an absolute beauty and the wealth she left behind is a fortune of dizzying proportions.

But neither her wealth nor her beauty were notable by the standards of this age and culture.

In fact, her body showed the wear and tear of her 96 years. Small of stature, I doubt she weighed 90 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. The last few months saw her in much pain and often in a wheelchair, yet she was cheerful and had a smile and kind words for everyone.

Nonetheless, she was truly lovely. Hers was the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit – a beauty which has followed her and found its fulfillment in her permanent home with the Eternal God.

And her fortune… How can I describe it? It is one of the largest I have ever seen. A spiritual legacy spanning four generations. A wealth of faithful obedience to God and of love and compassion which staggers the mind. It is a fortune of far greater value and permanence than any dollar amount.

Her son and daughter-in-law, their children, and their grandchildren have all been heirs of this vast treasure. I see the same gentle and quiet spirit in them. There is joy and laughter and love all around.

Of course, there is pain and strife, too. But when error or rebellion rise up here or there in the family, mercy and grace abound. Within the family and for those who know them, there is not a soul who has reason to doubt that they are loved and important, not only by the family but also by the Lord.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalms 103:17-18

One of my close friends, a prayer and accountability partner, comes from this spiritual inheritance and so I, too, benefit from it. So do our daughters who are also close.

Of course there is mourning for the temporary loss of this precious woman of God. Yet I must say they grieve splendidly, for in the family’s grief, there is also a streak of joy – the joy of knowing she has arrived safely Home.

All of us, myself included, look forward to our own Homecoming. Some future day, we will see her again and once more worship the King of Glory together, but better than before. Then, we will no longer encumbered by sin, weariness, or pain.

And in the meantime, all of us have seen in her an example of eager expectation of the day the Lord calls us home and faithful, uncomplaining endurance if He leaves us here – even if leaving us here is the most difficult part.

So today, my prayers go out for these, my friends. But even more so, my prayers reach out for those friends and loved ones who do not have this hope. My prayer is for my Lord to draw all who are consumed by sorrow and despair to Himself that they may share in an inheritance beyond all imagining.

I was once one of these – hurting and hopeless – and I well know the futility of denying God and living for myself. But He called me out from this pit; called me to die to myself and live for Him.

For my recently departed friend,  for her loved ones, and for all of us who are in Christ, physical death is no longer the enemy to be avoided but the friend to be embraced. It will be the final conquering act over our flesh before our true lives begin.

My friends, my dears, if you have not found love in this dark world, know that it is there. He is there – the One who is Love. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

Find Him. Find hope.

And someday, I pray I can introduce you to Nan – one of my personal heroes.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55