You’re Going to be Ok.

There are few things more difficult and few things more important than being with a family who recently lost someone they love. To be with someone who breathes their last is a trust and a responsibility we have with those we love. It’s a reminder that God how issues our first breath is with us when we breathe our last. I remember visiting a mother in the hospital who had recently received a terminal diagnosis and she struggling with fear. Because of the reality of the hope she had at that moment I reminded her that no matter the outcome God was with her: “Everything is going to be ok.” Her countenance changed and she died a few days later. Everything after was hard but it’s been ok she is free of pain and with her savior. Her family whose hearts are broken are trusting Jesus through the storm.

There is a phrase in Latin Memento Mori, which means in English, “Remember, you must die.” Talking about death, understanding death, and living with the knowledge you will die have all fallen on hard times. We live in a culture that idolizes youth and beauty and believes that money is how both those prizes can be achieved. The reality is that we do much of what we do in America because we are running from death. We struggle with anxiety and worry in this life because we have expunged death from every aspect of our daily life.

I go to and perform many funerals in a year. There was a season in my life I attended or performed a funeral nearly once a week. The thing that always struck me was there are no kids at funerals. There are very few teens and college-age kids at a funeral. Most people don’t go to their first funeral until late in life. This detachment and stigmatization of death have created a culture that fears death more than anything else.

This culture of positive confession and beautiful people has infiltrated the church. This detachment and paralytic fear of death that most Christians have has put us out of touch with some of the most critical and far-reaching themes of the Bible. Themes of salvation and forgiveness, sin and death, and suffering and victory.

If you have been to an older church, you would have had to walk through tombstones to come and celebrate the Lord’s day. Preachers used to have a skull they would put on their desk as a reminder that they were dying. They were preaching to people who were dying. And if you want to reach those who are dying, you do it by thinking A LOT about death, not by coming up with positive messages to avoid it.

At every funeral, I perform I read this text from Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.

Wisdom for Life
1 A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. 
And the day you die is better than the day you are born. 
2 Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. 
After all, everyone dies— 
so the living should take this to heart. 
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, 
for sadness has a refining influence on us. 
4 A wise person thinks a lot about death, 
while a fool thinks only about having a good time. 

Ecclesiastes 7:1–4.

Funerals serve a purpose in this life. They are to as the Psalmist says in Psalm 90 Cause us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. A wise person thinks A LOT about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time now.

The reason this is so foolish is that we have it backward. We don’t think about heaven because our hope isn’t in heaven; it’s in the things we can gain an acquire. We don’t long for heaven with the homesickness that we should because we are so focused on making this life our best life. We have bought into the lie that aspects of evangelicalism have been selling to the world. If you believe God enough, if you follow him, you will have everything this world has to offer. We want a BMW more than we want heaven. Because our hearts want happiness and we think things will give us that.

Holy Thursday. Lord Have Mercy.

The Latin phrase Kyrie Eleison is translated to “Lord have mercy” in English. The power and need for this prayer from the church has become more valuable and more needed than ever. When we are at our weakest, we are most aware of our need for mercy. In America, we have deified love. We say that God is love, and that is true, but how we mean it is not. I think describing God’s love in terms of his mercy is a much better way to go.

Love for us holds a romantic notion in the Rick Astley sense we want a God who will never do anything to us that we don’t like.

Never gonna let you down

Never gonna run around and desert you

Never gonna make you cry

Never gonna say goodbye

Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Rick Astley

When we think of God in terms of how we desire or experience love. We fail to understand the justice, the holiness of God that is seen in his love for us experienced in mercy. I love Ephesians 2. In it, Paul describes us and our sin that we are dead in our sins, following the prince of the power of the air. In his description of us, he says we are both guilty and lost. He then pivots and describes who God is. God is rich in mercy.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved— 

Ephesians 2:4-5

Mercy presupposes guilt and salvation. Love presupposes our experience with love. What we want is love. What we need is mercy. God comes to us in mercy. But again, we misunderstand what mercy looks like. Two of the greatest authors of the 21st century didn’t. Tolkien and Lewis both understood God’s mercy. In a moving blog post at Desiring God, the author describes Tolkien’s understanding of mercy.

“In October of 1958, Tolkien wrote a letter to a Miss Beare, an inquiring reader who had a host of peculiar and specific questions about “The Lord of the Rings.” In a follow-up letter (actually just a draft of a letter that was never sent), Tolkien pens the paragraph that so deeply impacting. Writing about the immortality of Elves and mortality of Men (a mortality the Elves coveted), Tolkien says,

A divine “punishment” is also a divine “gift,” if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make “punishments” (that is, changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 286)

Therefore, a man who is subject to death and suffering and loss (like Tolkien and each of us) is to be envied for the precious good we receive because of the “punishments” we receive (the consequences of sin, the awful “changes” to the original design brought about by the fall). Tolkien goes on to say, “A ‘mortal’ man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher if unrevealed destiny than a longeval one” — that is, than an Elf who never dies.

The loss of a father, or mother, or brother, or child, then, as much as we would never want it, or ask for it, can be a gift, if accepted, says Tolkien because it can bring about a greater good, an ultimate blessing we would not have enjoyed without having to feel the pain and heartache.”

Mercy is the love of God acting in concert with his justice. Mercy is the love of God in concert with the other attributes of God. When we ask God for mercy, we are asking him to intervene in our world and in our lives, but we are also asking him to transform our hearts to see punishments as gifts.

Tolkien’s college C.S. Lewis shared his friend’s understanding of mercy. One of Lewis’ friends wrote to Lewis about the passing of his wife. Lewis’s response was one that had been marked by his own particular need for God’s mercy.

One way or another, the thing had to die. Perpetual spring-time is not allowed. You were not cutting the wood of life according to the grain. There are various possible ways in what it could have died tho’ both the parties went on living. You have been treated with a severe mercy. You have been brought to see (how true & how v(ery) frequent this is!) that you were jealous of God.

Vanauken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy (p. 210). HarperOne. Kindle Edition. 

Lewis reminded him of the reality of death and the mercy of God, even when that mercy was severe. Lewis was telling his friend that every relationship must come to an end. There are many ways in which that end could have come, but Lewis reminded his friend Sheldon of the mercy of God towards him. That even though his wife was taken, God had not left him. In fact, Sheldon came to saving faith through the death of his wife. His loss was a severe mercy.

What we want is love what we need is mercy.

But, What About… The Bible?

In a recent blog post, I wrote for David C. Cook’s content site for kids ministry leaders called Spark. I talked about in recent years there has been similar language used by apostates in explaining their “de-construction” stories. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. These arguments that modern apostates pose have a cascading effect. Once you attack the nature of God, the next domino to fall is the authority of scripture. What is interesting is that those who apostatize follow the same path that that theologians follow in systematic theology. Apostates tear down the foundations that have been systematically laid.

I had a conversation with my good friend Jana Magruder Director of LifeWay Kids. She recently wrote a book called Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. In this book, she and her team discuss the results of a survey done by LifeWay. They found nine indicators that led to lifelog faith in kids. The most surprising finding was that the number one indicator of a lifelong faith is not the faith of your parents. It isn’t church attendance; it isn’t even generations of attendance in the same church. The number one indicator of a lifelong faith is Bible reading. And it’s not even close.

Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian

A. W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer says, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian,” this Jana says is the basis of the book that they wrote. Jana said at LifeWay they were looking for what creates lifelong faith in kids.

At first, we were looking for a formula for a recipe that if we could get this right, we could have more assurance that our kids are not going to leave the church as a different research study says. So many leave and some come back. What can we do as parents and pastors? When we got the results back, our research team came back to us. It said you know you’ve got the number one answer. It is so far away from numbers two, three, and four that it really needs to be in its own separate category, so as you write this book, don’t make it look like number one was this then number two after that… it needs to stand alone, it needs to have its own place. Our research shows it so far in importance and value from the other things. The answer was Bible reading.

Jana Magruder

Jana said that this finding is “profound because it’s not the first thing our brains go to.” In Nothing Less, Jana and her team reveal this is not what we are chasing as a culture. Travel sports, grades, private school, Christian school, home school, big church or small church…” None of these made the difference Bible reading did.

 I think the reason why we miss this is because while we may value scripture, I’m not sure we see it as authoritative.

Never Waste A Crisis

Machiavelli first said, “Never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis.” In the modern era, this sentiment has been wrongfully attributed to Winston Churchill (as I had done as well the first time I posted this blog post.) It was Rahm Emanuel who popularized Machiavelli for this generation by saying “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” he said. Why? Because “it’s an opportunity to do things you could not do before.” It was during the economic crisis of 2008 Emanuel and his cohorts used the cover of crisis to deepen their hold in our Republic. Republicans and Democrats differ on many things one thing they both agree on is more power and more influence is better than less. A crisis, therefore, allows politicians to consolidate power and expand influence. To use their strength to grow stronger by preying on the weaknesses of others. A crisis is an opportunity for them to boast in their strength.

For the Christian, the idea of not wasting a crisis is altogether different, rather than projecting strength at the expense of others you boast in your weakness. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that as Christians, servants of God we commend ourselves not in our self-confidence, not in our success but actually in our weakness.

But, What About… The Canaanite Conquest?

In a recent blog post, I wrote for David C. Cook’s content site for kids ministry leaders called Spark I talked about in recent years how the paths that apostates take their “de-construction” stories have a familiar ring to them. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. This is where problems seem to start with most modern apostates. They see the God of the Old Testament as a grumpy, angry, indefensible curmudgeon whose actions are embarrassing and shameful. They contrast this angry God with the all-loving view of Jesus that modern evangelicalism seems to be pushing to fill seats.

Because they see God as only love to the exclusion of His justice and holiness, they cannot reconcile how God could order Israel to destroy whole groups of people—in their conquest of Canaan—and still be good. How could the God of love order His chosen people to kill and destroy in His name?

Once you separate the attributes of God or feel that you can no longer “defend Him,” you invariably erode the authority of Scripture. Because it no longer presents a holistic view of who God is from the Garden to the City.

I have heard many people say that “all the Bible is inspired, but not all of the Bible is applicable for children.” I agree with this statement to a point. The problem I have is in the application of this line of thinking. The problem with saying, “not all of the Bible is applicable for kids is you edit the Bible for kids. The result of this edited version of their faith causes them to grow up inoculated with the gospel rather than gripped by it. If you sanitize the stories of the Bible and avoid the hard stories, our understanding of sin is muddied, and our need for salvation is minimized.

If you sanitize the stories of the Bible and avoid the hard stories, our understanding of sin is muddied, and our need for salvation is minimized.

We don’t get to decide if something is applicable for kids what our job as communicators of the gospel is HOW do we apply it to kids. Do kids need to hear the story of Hosea and Gomer? YES. Do they need to listen to the ins and outs of ancient or modern prostitution? No. They need to hear that God loves us with relentless love, just like Hosea loved Gomer. In our desire to find happiness, we turn from God over and over again, love other things more than him. Just like Gomer left Hosea over and over.

So what about the Canaanite conquest? The reason this becomes an issue is that we spend eighteen years of our kids lives telling our kids that God is not just love as the Bible states, but “only” love as the Bible never says. In elevating one of his attributes over the others, we end up with a picture of God that is incompatible with the reality of God.

I recently saw a debate on Facebook, asking if we should cut pictures of Jesus out of the curriculums we use. This is a question worth asking as we should do all that we can to avoid breaking the second commandment. The question we should ask and rarely ever do is this “Have I made God in my own image?” Do I say that “my God would never do that?” What we say when we talk about God forms who God is and is not in the hearts and minds of our kids. It’s important that when we talk about God, we talk about God in the ways he has revealed himself in Scripture.

The primary problem we have with the Canaanite conquest, and when we read the Old Testament, is often people say, “my God would never do that.” We in subtle and overt ways prefer the God of the New Testament to the God of the Old. We think that the God of the Old Testament is different. Leading some major evangelical leaders to separate the two.