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“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”  They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen…” (Luke 24:30-35).

Only Dr. Luke records this post-resurrection event. Two downcast disciples of Jesus are leaving Jerusalem and returning to their home in Emmaus. They share with their unrecognized Lord how great their crucified Master was. Yet they could not veil the disappointment that their hopes that He was “the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) had vaporized. “After all,” they said, “it has been 3 days since His death.” Jesus’ response was loving but stern: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26). Then He patiently explained that these events were the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets and that Scripture had pointed to Him from the beginning (v. 27). And when they understood, they rushed back to Jerusalem with a renewed sense of enablement.

These followers of Christ were still living in the past, choosing to dwell upon Friday’s seemingly tragic events. They had been told that he was alive (v. 22-24) but, with their faith shattered and their heads staring down at the dirt road, they solemnly trudged home to their former life back in Emmaus. But they weren’t alone. Peter, along with some of the other disciples, had essentially done the same thing. Jesus had called them to be “fisher’s of men” but where did He find them after He had come victoriously from the grave? Fishing! For fish (see John 21:1-14)! Defeated by their failure to be faithful during Christ’s suffering and hopeless and helpless without the leadership of their Captain, they had returned to the same purposeless way of life they knew before they met Jesus. But upon seeing their risen Lord they made a mad dash to greet Him (John 21:7-8).

This season we celebrate Easter and Jesus’ expression of His continued presence with us, power in us, peace for us, and purpose through us that is clearly demonstrated by His resurrection. In the 40 days (Acts 1:3) before He ascended to the right hand of the Father He continually reminded His followers of those 4 things and made clear statements regarding each (see Matthew 28:16-20; Luke 24:36-49; John 21:15-19; Acts 1:1-11). All of this became a reality for His disciples as they waited in Jerusalem (the very place many had left following His crucifixion) for these promises to be fulfilled by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In other words, it was after Easter that the full impact of His resurrection was most realized in His followers and they, moving forward, led lives that demonstrated His continued presence, power, peace, and purpose. Just read the book of Acts for the dramatic aftermath.

My point? Let us not lose the inertia of our Easter worship and festivities. Many of us will be stirred by exhilarating music, emotional “Passion Plays,” and motivating sermons. But our experience of the profundity of His resurrection is not meant to end there. The influence of His resurrection is to be something that propels us all year around, day by day, moment by moment. Let us not, like these disciples, return to the routine of a former, spiritually trivial life, but let us be continually transformed by the “fellowship of His sufferings and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). May His presence, power, peace and purpose in and through us not fade after the invigorating crescendo of our Easter activities and focus. Instead, may our hearts continue to “burn within us” with an all-consuming passion that can only come from the ongoing sufficiency that His resurrection guarantees.

Let Jesus’ truth resonate with us: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;  and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). Do we? Then let us be transported by the truth that His resurrection is to be experienced not just on a holiday but every day before and after. Let us not live like He is still dead. Let us not revert to the old passionless, mundane ways that we rose above during this sacred season. Let us magnify Him through His presence, power, peace, and purpose…even after Easter!

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This an excerpt from my book “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him.” It can be found on virtually any on-line bookstore in both hardcopy and digital formats.

First Peter 1:3 exclaims, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In other words, Christ’s all-powerful and glorious resurrection gives us more than a future hope; it gives us a living hope. The Lord’s death and resurrection created for us a transforming power that goes beyond His ability to raise us from the physical grave. It provided a power that can energize and give purpose to daily life.

Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him” (Philippians 3:10). In saying this Paul affirmed the predictive words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). What Paul is saying is that the resurrection empowers us to experience supernatural living now as well as eternal life in the future. In other words, the reality of physical death being overcome by eternal life through that all-important resurrection victory has real spiritual connotations for living.

Paul explains further: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). What did he primarily lose? Himself! What did he gain? Christ and the power of His resurrection! That’s why he tells the Roman Christians, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). This is a more important part of the Gospel than many give it credit for.

You see, in order to experience the power of the resurrection we must die physically and spiritually, literally and figuratively, now and in the future. You can’t be physically resurrected unless you physically die and you can’t live in spiritual resurrection power unless you die spiritually to self. This involves transitioning from our old self-oriented person to one whose focus is now on Christ. Then, through faith, we experience His resurrection power and presence. Paul elaborates: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

You see, when Paul talks about many of his travails, he considers the resurrection the root of his endurance and hope. The resurrection does give Paul hope that he’ll live with Christ in Heaven, but additionally it gives meaning to his life. In First Corinthians 15:30-32, as he connects his dying to self with the power of the resurrection, Paul says, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” In short, he has gained everything in Christ because of the fact of the resurrection. Without it, life is worthless.

Understand that without the power of the resurrection, our living (and dying) is in vain. First Corinthians 15:14, 17 clarify: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Our lives in Christ become meaningful and powerful only when we see the glorious ramifications of the resurrection. That happens only when we “die to self” and all things become secondary to His will and glory. This means that we forsake self-determination and self-absorption. Instead we live in the power of His presence and are guided by His purposes instead of our own (Philippians 3:7-8).

My prayer is that God will give me the desire to daily die so that I might live in Him and the power of His resurrection. After all, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15: 36).


“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).

Many of you are familiar with is what commonly referred to as “the seven ‘I am’ statements of Jesus.” They are pregnant with meaning about who Jesus is and who He claimed to be. Simultaneously they create awe and bring us great comfort. Here is a list of them as they appear in the Gospel of John:

“I am the bread of life” (John 6:35, 6:48)

“I am the light of the world” (John 8:12, 9:5)

“I am the door” (John 10:7).

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11-14).

“I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

“I am the true vine” (John 15:1,5).

Given this is the Easter season, I would like to focus on the 5th of these: “I am the resurrection and the life.” To understand this we must look at the context (Isn’t this always the case?). In John 11 we see what appears to be a tragedy. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, is dying. They send a message to Jesus telling Him of his sickness (11:1-3). Jesus was not startled but quickly told His disciples this illness was not going to end in death but ultimately demonstrate His own glory (11:4).

Strangely, the Great Physician tarried for 2 days without going to Lazarus’ bedside. By the time He decided to go (11:7) his friend had perished (11:11, 14). He arrives at a grieving household, making his entrance with the claim that Lazarus will be miraculously raised from the dead after 4 days (11:23). And on what basis did He make this claim? He tells them plainly, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He points to Himself – not the dire situation, the suffering family, or the stench of the deteriorating body. He says, “I am!!” He has the authority to overcome death and life and soon proves it (11:43:44). Based upon the command of Christ – “Lazarus, come out” – the dead man lives.

I could go on about the implications of this event in light of our being born again or regenerated. How dead men don’t make decisions and the power of God alone awakens us from our spiritual death (see Ephesians 2:1-10 if you want to examine the correlation) but I choose to focus on the physical aspect of this display of God’s power through the glory of the Son. As Jesus said to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” And I believe this is true both spiritually and physically.

As we celebrate Easter, Christ’s willful death and eventual rise from the grave, it makes us ponder a painful reality of living in a fallen world; physical death. It is all around us and, as we age and have more experiences in life, we know that inevitably it will be our turn. If we don’t die from a terrible disease or accident, our bodies waste away, slowly eroding through toil and the passage of time. We have also lived through the grief of loved ones passing away, just like in this story. And their death and the prospect of our own can create an ominous outlook that begins to shape our thinking and our living.

The good news? Jesus is telling and showing us here in John 11 that through faith in Him we can physically live forever. Oh yes, His children will die an earthly death, but it is a transport not a termination. Because of His mercy and might, He will once again shout “come forth” to all those who believe and we will be raised and given new bodies (for more than a dash of comfort and hope, see 1 Corinthians 15:50-57). We will be healed and whole, spiritually and physically, for all of eternity. And we will be forever joined with Jesus and family and friends that have put their trust in Him, the Lord over death and life.

Do you believe? This is what Christ requires. This is what He told Martha – whoever believes in him, though he will die, will live on in Heaven – and this is what He is telling us. This Easter I urge you to surrender to Him so that what we celebrate, Jesus’ resurrection, will guarantee that His victory over the grave has been applied to you by His grace and faith.

If you don’t understand what all this means, please send me a note and I will gladly follow up with you. Or reach out to a trusted follower of the risen Jesus and ask them to help you. I’m sure they, like me, will be thrilled to do so.


On Tuesday, March 27th Ed Bergdorff passed from this life to the next one. He was 65 years old. The last time we saw him was less than a month ago and we had our usual Bible study. The last devotional was about the throne room of Heaven (Revelation 4). Rebekah and I went to visit him as often as possible, even though he spent his last days in a nursing home nearly an hour away. Ed meant so much to us. He became a friend, someone we cried over and cried with.

It is our sincere prayer that Ed has entered glory, He is in the majestic and radiant presence of Jesus, and is waiting on us to come and stay with him for all of eternity, and not just an hour or 2. Although unsure who might feel this same way, we love and miss Ed, and we long to see him again. Over the last 2 years, since the post below was written, we have seen a real change in Ed. He loved to hear the Bible read and explained, he longed for our visits and prayers, he confessed his sin when he did wrong, he was kinder to those who waited on him, he seemed to have a sense of peace despite his very troubled life. We believe this was evidence that Ed had met Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification was under way.

This post is over 2 years old. Suffice it to say, the Ted in this story is Ed Bergdorff. This is in memory of him:

It’s Not Too Late for Ted (3/20/10)

“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. ” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39-43).

Ted is a drug addict. Due to multiple back surgeries and other debilitating illnesses he is hooked on numerous prescription drugs. I watched Ted groan and writhe in pain and nausea as he suffered from unintended morphine withdrawal. After a trip to the ER and the healing power of an IV bag dripping the necessary medications back into his desperate body, he was back to “normal” within 24 hours. The hospital visit precluded what I thought was the perfect day to share the Gospel with Ted. But God, in His divine orchestration, had determined that this Saturday was not His perfect time for an explanation of His unfathomable free offer of grace and forgiveness. That was ordained to take place 72 hours later.

Ted was forthright on that overcast Wednesday, “I’ve committed every kind of sin. I’ve even killed a man…not because I wanted to but because I had to. My life has been a mess since I turned my back on God.  I got saved and baptized as a teenager but chose other things over Him.”

He described the day that defined his life: “I was 18 and standing outside of a pool hall. The preacher was on the other side of the street. He told me to leave the joint, cross the street, and do the right thing. You know, to come over to that side. I wanted to. I knew I should. But I turned around and went back into the bar and never looked back. My life has been a mess ever since”.

Now in his mid-60’s, Ted has been homeless, sick, hurt, medicated, fighting, alone, and just surviving for most of his life. He is also illiterate. There is no family and but one friend to care for him. Ted now sits in a government furnished apartment for the indigent having nothing more than the bare necessities. He worries constantly about his Medicaid coverage and Social Security check and whether his pain and panic medicines will be available and affordable. He has a dark past, a dreary present, and, seemingly, a hopeless future. Ted is the type that most folks, including our society in general, have given up on. But, in His infinite love, Jesus (and Ted’s one friend) hadn’t.

Ted started listening to some tapes he had been given that shared “The Gospel Made Simple.” As much as I was suspicious of that tagline, I found the tapes to be an accurate representation of the true message of salvation. Not forgetting the faith of his youth, these tapes reminded Ted of the essentials of being born again; our sin, God’s holiness, the necessity of righteousness, the rightful judgment of God against our rebellion, and, most of all, how Jesus has made a way for sinners to be redeemed, forgiven, and receive eternal life (see John 3:14-18). Ted understood the Gospel and knew it was all wrapped up in Jesus and the cross of Calvary. He knew he had to know Christ as his only hope and believe and receive Him through the power of God (see John 1:12-13).

Ted said on that providential weekday,“But how can this be? I’ve been too bad for that. It’s too late for me.” Quoting Romans 10:9-10, I told him there were a few simple things necessary to experience God’s mercy and unmerited favor, receive forgiveness for all his sins, and inherit eternal life in the presence of Jesus; sincerely believe (“if you believe in your heart”), have a life so transformed that it confesses Jesus as your Savior (“and confess with your mouth”), and surrender your life to the dominion and lordship of Christ (“that Jesus is Lord”).  To ease Ted’s concern his sin was too great, I shared that Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). “What you have to do,” I explained to Ted as clearly as I could, “is to cry out with genuine desire the prayer of the wretched tax collector; ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (see Luke 18:9-14).  Then I waited in deafening silence.

With his eyes fixed on mine, Ted paused. Finally, his emphysema filled lungs gasped and he carefully, tearfully, and emphatically said, “That is what I need.” An interminable, stunning silence ensued. “And that is what I want…I want to live the rest of my life for Jesus. Will you pray with me?” And we did.

Do I know with certainty the state of Ted’s soul? I do not. That is in our Lord’s hands. I do know, however, this opportunity came about because one devoted, sacrificial woman, a true follower of Jesus, took Christ’s words to heart: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). She came often to visit Ted and brought food, love, and prayer. She took her Saturdays to make sure his meds and refrigerator were stocked. She came with warm, caring words and a comforting presence. She also introduced me to Ted. And, just maybe, by God’s grace and through her demonstration of Christ-like love, reintroduced Ted to Jesus.

And, by the way, I’m so blessed to have married this woman –  Ed’s friend and my Rebekah.


*Although I disagree with them, this post is not a condemnation of those who hold a pro-choice viewpoint. Based upon His Word, God has not given us the liberty or authority to do so. He alone reserves the right to judge. However, based upon those same Scriptures and logic, my intention is to show the error, and what I believe to be the logical conclusion, of this philosophy. I pray this is read with that spirit in mind.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!  If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you. Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me” (Psalm 139:13-19).

Baptist Press – FIRST-PERSON: What Roe has wrought: ‘after-birth’ abortion – News with a Christian Perspective

After reading this article I wonder, ‘where does this logic end?’ The logic that says one individual (or a powerful group of individuals) can deem another human life as not a person and take on the role of God in determining who lives and who dies? It ends in a holocaust. Not that there isn’t one already – there are millions of innocents selfishly slaughter annually. We find Hitler’s determination that Jews (and others, including the unborn) as disposable to be repugnant and morally reprehensible, but what is the difference here?

Isn’t this where this logic’s natural progression leads us? After the unborn, it is the infant. After the infant, it is the mentally challenged. After the mentally challenged, it is the Alzheimer’s patient. After the Alzheimer’s patient, it will be those who are considered to be non-contributors (that could be the elderly or unemployable) and those who have “no aim,” however that’s defined. In other words, eventually all who don’t line up with the self-enthroned arbiters’ definition of “a value to society” are in danger of extinction.

You make think I’m exaggerating or embellishing but I’m not. Such ideas have previously been suggested by leading “thinkers,” intellectuals, and academics (see AlbertMohler.com – Something Deadly This Way Comes — “After-Birth Abortion”. It seems clear to me that pro-choice reasoning inevitably ends in the “morals” of the intellectual and political elite determining whose life is worth keeping and whose is not – based only on the arbitrary principles of those who claim there is no absolute truth (the presupposition that is the seed for all of this senselessness). I would tend to believe these scientists and philosophers would think much differently if their own fate were in the hands of another so-called expert or religious extremist. For they might have ended on a subjective death row, not due to their own guilt, but due to someone else’s opinion or premise. Ironically, even they claim “truth” is relative, rendering their own opinions, and those of others, incapable of being absolutely true.

Do we see the demagoguery, circular reasoning, rationalization, and outright destruction of this kind of thinking? If such philosophies take hold in our world (and I fear they might) then those who aren’t part of the aristocracy or are unpopular due to their belief system or heritage will not only be disposable but necessary to eliminate. They will be enemies of those who hold to this type of dogma – those who hold that human life is only as valuable as the merciless and elitist rulings of those who feel worthy to pass judgment on it.

We may think it incomprehensible that there would be another Hitler and another Holocaust. But that happened just a few decades ago, and millions went along with the unthinkable. I would suggest we look no further than the enclaves of academia, liberal politics, and secular scientists and we will find, lurking there, many who seem to fit Paul’s description of the godless in Romans 1:

“They are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools…And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:20-22, 28-32).

With all that said, there is forgiveness for those who recognize the error of their way, repent, and turn to Jesus – myself included. God created us to live. Jesus died that we might have eternal life. And that includes the unborn, the infant, the elderly, and the outcast. But let me be clear, no one but the Lord of glory, the only righteous judge, has the sovereign right to decide if another lives or dies.


“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den.  They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:6-9). 

I beg your forgiveness for the disjointed, unpolished, and sentimental nature of this post but it is typed through tears.

What is an ode? In English culture, an ode is typically a lyrical verse written in praise of, or dedicated to someone or something which captures the poet’s interest or serves as an inspiration for the ode.

Who is Clara? She is our “tortie” female cat. She has been a faithful friend to Rebekah for over 16 years and to Samuel and me for nearly 3. In the last 18 months in particular, it has been disheartening and even gut wrenching to watch Clara’s physical strength and health fade to the point where she became almost motionless and incapacitated. Between her diabetes, arthritis and, finally, renal failure, she became but a “shell” of her former self. Her energy and vigor dissipated but there was still a sparkle in her dimming and cloudy eyes. It was the gleam of unconditional love. Isaiah’s words above describe the culmination of kingdom of God. And I don’t think it coincidental that he features animals to give us a glimpse into the happiness, peace, and love that will be present there. Strikingly similar, I think, to the comfort, tranquility, and devotion that Clara has blessed us with.

Clara passed away today and there is real grief and many tears in the Wolfe household. I’ve often wondered why we sometimes ache and suffer more over animals than people. Although we shouldn’t, I think I can explain it. Our pets have never done us wrong. They have never criticized, intentionally wounded, or abandoned us. They delight in us no matter how we have behaved and lived. They love us in such an exhaustive sense, in way that we rarely see among people. Actually, the way they adore and treasure us is probably one of the best images of the way God loves, and ultimately showed that in Jesus – the One who lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death that we deserved so that we might have abundant and eternal life in Him.

I don’t pretend to be a poet – not even close. What is to follow will be technically poor and, to many, somewhat silly. But it is from the heart. The intent is to capture something in this precious creature that will memorialize her, although I admit a total inability to do so. It is a feeble attempt, but a worthwhile effort no less, to define the essence of a cherished animal who, as many of you have experienced with your own pets, became an integral part in the fabric of our lives. For those who have or had such beloved furry friends, you will also know how much the way they give and love points us to a God who gives and loves beyond measure and imagination, who prizes us to infinity.

And now for the ode: 

Sounds of affection – always waiting and ever longing

For a word, a touch – with gazing eyes her adoration sharing

Looking with pure gladness and resting in perfect peace

Constantly delighted and satisfied in her family’s presence 

Her hurting and weakness and sickness have ceased

In living and loving she was forever most pleased

Blessed were those on whom she lavished her love

To have learned from her more of Grace from above 

Clara is on her couch no more but hasn’t ventured far

Even though she has vanished now from our earthly sight

She remains as close as her stare and reassuring purr

As she will always be embedded in our memory and our heart 

Good bye, our sweet friend. You will never be replaced. You have loved and been loved in an extraordinary way and we know in our hearts that loving will never end. Rest in perfect peace, ClaraBugs. You deserve it.


“So remember your Creator in the days of your youth: Before the days of adversity come, and the years approach when you will say, “I have no delight in them”; before the sun and the light are darkened, and the moon and the stars, and the clouds return after the rain; on the day when the guardians of the house tremble, and the strong men stoop, the women who grind cease because they are few, and the ones who watch through the windows see dimly, and the doors at the street are shut while the sound of the mill fades; when one rises at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song grow faint. Also, they are afraid of heights and dangers on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper loses its spring, and the caper berry has no effect; for man is headed to his eternal home, and mourners will walk around in the street; before the silver cord is snapped, and the golden bowl is broken, and the jar is shattered at the spring, and the wheel is broken into the well; and the dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. “Absolute futility,” says the Teacher. “Everything is futile” (Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, HCSB). 

The night was designed to be a celebration and it was…but one with a sobering and ironic twist. Several on Rebekah’s side of the family had gathered at the house of her uncle and aunt who live in an affluent neighborhood in southwest Virginia. The gathering and dinner were in honor of our niece and her baptism. We were celebrating the public profession of her new and eternal life in Christ. And that is truly something worth rejoicing over.  

But soon after dinner the festive mood turned somber and reflective. Police cars and an ambulance, with sirens and lights blazing, arrived at a neighbor’s house, the property adjacent to our site. Everyone soon began to discuss what might be the problem. Between incoming phone calls and Uncle Bill’s neighborhood research, the details began to emerge. The man who lived in this large house, alone with his wife and pets, had taken his life by gunshot. The authorities found him in his blood-stained bedroom along with the weapon. In his 70’s, with no clear reason for his tragic and terminal decision, he was dead. 

Soon our speculation became rampant. Was he terminally ill? Did they have marital problems? Did an argument escalate and the eccentric wife actually pull the trigger? Rumor said that he had an alcohol problem…was this a contributing factor? Could the frightening rise of K2 and “Bath Salts” synthetic drugs in the area have been an influence? “My gracious,” Aunt Jane blurted out, “I just saw him walking the dog a few hours ago.” Although complete conjecture, everyone had become a sleuth is pursuit of the cause of this morbid event. No more spiritual or insightful than anyone else,  I said nothing. All I could think was, ‘This man is dead. And his soul has now transitioned to another place, good or bad. His opportunity to follow Jesus is gone.’ 

Some have said that suicide is the ultimate selfish act. I know from my own studies and ministry that those who take their own lives really don’t want to die; they just don’t want to live anymore and death is the lesser of the 2 painful evils. So they look outward and turn inward and don’t find enough reasons to keep on living. Could anything be much sadder? Uncle Bill made a soul-pricking comment: “This is such a commentary on the spiritual void that is so common in our world.” So true. Pushing away our suppositions about the circumstances surrounding this depressing event, there was something vital missing in this man’s life. Something so critical that what (Who) was absent created a hole so big that death appeared to be his best recourse. 

This is what the Teacher of Ecclesiastes is talking about in our focal passage. Life is hard and it gets harder. If we continue to live we will eventually bleed, we will inevitably have pain. Without God our existence is futile and we find no real satisfaction in our living or our dying. This principle is inescapable. Apart from Christ life can become unbearable – the spiritual void growing ever larger until we see zero joy and hope in our being…just emptiness. We may not pull the trigger that ends our earthly reality but we will just go through the motions, living out our days devoid of Who really matters. But that’s not life – that’s just ambulatory death.

But in Christ we can have new and eternal life. Through surrendered faith we can find our God-glorifying purpose by taking our brokenness to the cross and laying it at the feet of an infinitely life-giving, soul-satisfying, joy-producing Savior. And, if you haven’t already, I pray you do so before you become seemingly too hard or too tired or too beaten down by life to turn to the only One who can give you hope. 

So it behooves us all to be reminded of Ecclesiastes’ final axiom: “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is: fear God and keep His commands, because this [is for] all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil” (12:13-14). Only by complete trust in the blood-soaked sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary – where He bore God’s righteous wrath – can we expect to receive God’s mercy and grace and all the immeasurable, eternal blessings that go with it…abundant life now and life everlasting.


MEGADETH Bassist: Why I Decided To Try To Become A Pastor

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10: 9-15).

I think most authentic followers of Christ would be a tad dubious of David Ellefson’s explanation of his work in the heavy metal band called MEGADETH, at least as it is explained in this article (link above). But who are we to say what this man has experienced? Although I know almost nothing about MEGADETH’s music or lyrics (not my genre), I’m prone to believe it wasn’t totally family friendly or God-honoring. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that even the worst of sinners (that would include me and the Apostle Paul) can come know a new, exciting existence in Christ. After all, those who have embraced Jesus know that it’s not about turning over a new leaf but finding new life in Him.

All judgementalism aside, what I would like to drill down on is the truth that is described in the name of Ellefson’s new ministry – MEGALife. He has moved, it seems, from MEGADETH to MEGALife. And whether or not God has truly transformed him and made him a new creation in Christ doesn’t change the truth that this is exactly what surrendering to Christ and dying to self does. We, by faith and through the Gospel, are delivered from spiritual death and birthed into spiritual life. Paul’s explanation is quite clear:

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10).

Here are some of Jesus’ thoughts on how the miracle of this new birth takes place: “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). Jesus, His words, works, and witness, is the conduit that gives us this life and allows fallen and rebellious sinners (like me) to be brought into a breathing, dynamic, eternal relationship with holy God. This is Mega-Life! And this radical new birth is brought into being through God’s good news in the person of His only Son, the one who died that that His sheep might live. This means that I, you, and David Ellefson, through the transforming, life-giving power of the Gospel, can be moved from eternal death to eternal life.

This should give us conviction and courage! For those of us who have tasted the abundant life found only in Christ, we know there is hope for those dying apart from God’s life-giving and life-sustaining power. We have this mysterious treasure of the Gospel and are called to unashamedly testify to its power and purpose to move people from MEGADETH to MEGALife in Christ. With that in mind, let’s ponder and practice Paul’s admonition to Timothy – for in it we find the Gospel of eternal life and our required response to it:

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:8-10).


*This is an excerpt from my book “Captivated Anew: Restored to Pursue Him.” It can be found on virtually any major on-line bookstore in both digital and hardcopy formats.   

Never is a good time for a funeral. With this in mind, on one snowy December night in East Tennessee, I found myself attending two. I didn’t look forward to either, but I forced myself to go. I’m so glad that I did because the events of that night created an inescapable and profound memory that changed me. The night played out like a parable: it taught a valuable lesson about life and, more importantly, death. 

As a pastor I had attended my share of funerals. Some were depressing, while others were celebratory. Some of the deceased were young and some were old. Some had professed Christ and some had not. Most of those for whom services were held died of natural causes, but occasional accidents and inexplicable suicides happened, too. Every victim of death left families and legacies behind. Those legacies played out at their final services. 

What I expected as I entered the funeral for a wealthy, prominent heart surgeon was the usual fare: a body, some grieving mourners, a simple sermon, and a quick exit by those made uncomfortable by death’s visit. But this night was unique: a sense of hopelessness and futility defined the evening. Dr. Gates was barely fifty but had achieved great earthly success and wealth. His services were held at an older funeral home. The room was dark and smelled musty. The mourners were primarily his older patients who seemed to know little about him personally. Only a handful of visitors gathered around the room and nearly all of the women wore expensive fur coats, including his ostentatiously dressed wife who was nearly thirty years his junior. The chapel was hauntingly quiet; the air was thick with morbidity. I felt that the atmosphere reeked with sadness and despondency: Jesus didn’t have any part in Dr. Gates’ life. Clearly there was no joy and very little evidence of faithful hope beyond this life. Also, I deeply sensed an overwhelming lack of real love. 

I left that dusty and dank funeral home and drove toward Jenny’s funeral. Jenny was 22 when she died. She had recently graduated college and had become engaged to one of my friends. Having little in the way of material possessions, she had one desire: to serve as a missionary. Jenny never achieved the dream. I felt as dreary as the inclement weather as I braved the icy roads and dodged inexperienced commuters to locate the church where her body lay. Surprisingly, it was easy to find; bright, welcoming lights shone on the pillars of the church’s entrance. The sound of singing streamed out of the building and into the night. 

Even though I was running late I stopped the car, paused and prayed. I remember that the prayer was more for me than the deceased or their families. After Dr. Gates’ funeral I needed God’s strength to face the next funeral and the seeming tragedy of such a young life’s end. But as I approached the entrance I realized that the singing I heard was anything but sad. I entered the church to find hundreds of folks crowding each pew standing and praising God in unison. “Victory in Jesus” was their joyous hymn. 

The eulogist at the service spoke of Jenny’s faith and ministerial dreams. He spoke of hope, love, glory, and Heaven. He extolled the infinite virtues of her majestic Lord. He confidently proclaimed that our friend was at home with Jesus and all was well. At Jenny’s funeral, joy was such an intense and prevailing theme that it made me jealous of her death. The words of psalmist rang in my ears and resonated in my soul, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). I saw firsthand why Paul felt confident to ask, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55, 57). 

As I drove home that night, the snow stopped and the clouds receded. My mind, however, wasn’t on the weather. My heart explored the lesson taught by two diametrically opposed exits from this earth. The scene at Dr. Gates’ funeral reminded me of Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus. He described those outside of Christ as being “separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). Jenny’s service, on the other hand, pointed to death not as a sad, pointless end; but as a bridge to glorious, eternal life with Jesus.  “[She] overcame … by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [her] testimony” (Revelation 12:11a). 

Suddenly things became crystal clear. While Dr. Gates’ life may have seemed a success based on his financial worth and community standing, Jenny was the real winner. Though she had little of material value, she had Jesus. The testimony of her death trumpeted His truth.

When life’s curtain draws closed, nothing else really matters. Those who have Christ are the only ones who have anything of eternal value. For when our days on this earth reach a conclusion what do we really have to cling to but Him?


It’s so hard to fathom – 2012 is upon us. Where has the past year gone? How quickly the pages of the calendar turn. Given life’s brevity, here are some thoughts on what our focus should be as we enter into a new year and, hopefully, a new season.

My son was born just yesterday. Not literally, but figuratively. He’s 23 now – grown, mature, and independent. But it seems like just a second ago that I held him for the first time and smelled the newness of life. As joyous as it has been, my time with him has quickly vanished. But, if you think about it, all of our lives are rapidly disappearing – just like a mist. The years have sped by and picked up steam as they have progressed.

That is what James is referring to in the 4th chapter of his epistle to the scattered believers of the 1st century:

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4: 13-17).

The word for mist in this passage is a picture of when we breathe out on a cold winter day. There is a vapor that forms but speedily dissipates and vanishes. Right before our eyes – it is there and then it is gone. Once we exhale this mist, it forms and evaporates before we can get our hands around it. Such is life – fleeting, temporal, and picking up its pace. It is here today and gone tomorrow and we never seem to quite catch up to it before it has left us behind. Subconsciously, we want to believe that this life will go on forever but, in reality, we know that our existence on this earth is quickly moving toward its final scene. Suddenly, we are more than half way through our life expectancy (if we should even consider such a thing) and we begin to ask some very serious questions. To name but a few:

  • Is this all there is to life?
  • Is this but a dress rehearsal for eternity?
  • What will we be able to present to our Lord when we do meet Him?
  • Has our life been spent (wasted) on the trivial and temporal?
  • Have we pursued our own earthly pleasure and comfort above eternal rewards?

The conclusions we reach can be quite sobering. Thus James gives us great insight as to how we are to live in these fleeting days of our lives. He says:

  • Don’t plan based upon what we want but, instead, be led by God’s plan.
  • Don’t let money dictate what we choose to do and be in this life.
  • Only God knows our earthly future and we must trust Him in all things.
  • This life passes with such rapidity that we must have our eyes focused on eternity.
  • With eternity in mind, we must always do the right thing and not the most comfortable or convenient thing.

And, by the way, the correct answers have little to do with “us” having “purpose” in our life but they have everything to do with finding pleasure in Him and glorifying Him. Finding Him as the end and not just the means is the only suitable paradigm for those who want to have meaningful and true answers to these compelling questions. The real issue, in view of the magnitude of eternity, is not wasting this life given to us by and for Him. Paul says:

“All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:15-18).

That is why, given this critical issue, I’m drawn to the words of Jesus, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:35). May we all be compelled to lose ourselves and our vanishing life here for His sake. May we surrender to storing up treasures in Heaven for His glory. An eternity of joy awaits those who do. Let’s choose this now – before this life is gone and we face the Savior who laid down His life for us. That meeting will be here before we know it.

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