Posts tagged ‘Hope’

Someone Needs Your Encouragement

A little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

Take, for instance, the story of Raquel and Derek Pearson, who live in Idaho with their eight-month-old son, Lucas. Lucas has a cardiovascular condition that puts him at high risk for serious complications should he contract COVID-19. His parents, working to minimize their family’s contact with the outside world, are having everything they possibly can delivered to them. They also posted a note on their door, thanking the delivery people who risk their health delivering packages far and wide. You can imagine how touched Raquel and Derek were when they caught an Amazon delivery driver, Monica Salinas, on their video doorbell stopping to say a prayer for little Lucas as she delivered a package to them. The story has since gone viral, being featured on NBC Nightly News. Her little bit of encouragement went a long way.

There is also the story of Kassandra Diaz, a server at Che Restaurant in Delray Beach, Florida. She has been struggling to make ends meet in an industry that has been crushed by COVID-19 and is struggling to recover under the strict social distancing guidelines in place in many regions. So, you can imagine how shocked she was when she saw a $1,000 tip from a customer on a $164 check. The big tipper was Andre Drummond of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who left her this note along with his tip: “Thank you for being amazing!” For Andre, the tip was generous, but not bank-breaking. He’s worth $27 million. But for Cassandra, the tip was life-changing. She didn’t even know who Andre was when she was serving him, but after figuring it all out, she posted on Instagram: “I was shaking and had tears of happiness after what he left me.” His little bit of encouragement went a long way.

In Acts 9, we meet a man named Barnabas who brings a new convert to Christ named Saul –who was a former persecutor of the Church – to a skeptical group of apostles:

When Saul came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27)

Barnabas’s name means “son of encouragement” – a name he certainly lives up to. When the apostles want to reject Saul because they don’t believe his conversion to be genuine, he encourages them to give Saul a chance. Because of his encouragement, Saul, who is known better in the New Testament as Paul, becomes the greatest missionary in the history of the Church, planting congregations all over the ancient Mediterranean basin. Barnabas’s little bit of encouragement went a long way.

Who can you encourage? Is it someone for whom you can pray? Can you leave a larger-than-usual tip to make someone’s day? Can you welcome someone who has been marginalized by those around you?

In a time that feels plenty discouraging as we wade our way through peaks of a pandemic, questions of racism, and waves of civil unrest, we all need some encouragement. After all, a little bit of encouragement can go a long way.

So, let a little bit of encouragement begin with you.

June 15, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Cries of Those Lost

Credit: Sean Rayford / Getty Images

This has been another long week for our nation. There have been difficult, but critical, conversations about racism. There have been demonstrations. There has been violence and looting. There have been tears. There have been deaths. This past Thursday, there was new evidence presented in the case of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old African American man who was shot and killed in Glynn County, Georgia.

In a Brunswick courtroom, a judge found probable cause for pressing murder charges against Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan. According to evidence presented by the prosecution, the three men pursued Mr. Arbery in pickup trucks until they were able to corner him. Travis McMichael then shot Mr. Arbery three times, fatally wounding him. After his death, Mr. Bryan testified that he heard Travis McMichael utter a racial epithet over Mr. Arbery as he lay dying. Evidence was also presented that Travis McMichael had used this same epithet repeatedly on social media and in text messages. It was an alleged pattern of hatred that can only be described as wicked and vile.

In Genesis 4, we read the story of history’s first murder – Cain’s murder of his brother Abel. God, however, will not let such a heinous act go unchecked. He confronts Cain, saying, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10). It turns out that even if the voices of our slain brothers can no longer speak, their blood still does. And God listens to their cries.

When the apostle Paul witnesses to the Athenians, he explains that, contrary to their fashionable polytheistic and religiously pluralistic sensibilities, there is only one God, who “from one man made all the nations” (Acts 17:26). In other words, ultimately, we are all brothers and sisters, for, ultimately, we all share a common ancestry and a common Creator. Ahmaud Arbery, then, is our brother. And our brother’s blood is crying out. And just like God listened to Abel’s blood, He continues to listen as more blood is spilled and speaks. We can listen, too.

This Thursday will mark 57 years to the day since President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation from the Oval Office and asked Congress to enact legislation protecting and promoting Civil Rights. As part of his address, he said:

We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution. The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated …

The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives …

It is not enough to pin the blame on others, to say this is a problem of one section of the country or another, or deplore the facts that we face. A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all. 

Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence. Those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality. 

As a nation, it feels like we are walking through a deep valley over which death has cast its long and sinister shadow. But in this deep valley, we can stand together “recognizing right as well as reality.” In this deep valley, we can mourn the blood of fallen brothers, while also rejoicing in the blood of our risen Savior. In this deep valley, we can lift up our eyes to a hill called Calvary that shines with forgiveness and hope. As the old hymn says:

Abel’s blood for vengeance
Pleaded to the skies;
But the blood of Jesus
For our pardon cries.

May Jesus’ blood pardon us in our sin, and keep the souls of the slain safe in His care until He returns to raise them – and us.

June 8, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Racism and Reconciliation

Our nation is hurting.

It was hurting when Ahmaud Arbery was cornered by two men in a truck who shot and killed him in Georgia. It was hurting when George Floyd died after an officer held his knee on his neck for over eight minutes in Minneapolis. And it is still hurting as protests have erupted over the death of these two men.

Many of these protests turned violent and spread across the nation over the weekend – beginning and Minneapolis and then moving quickly to Atlanta, Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and continuing to fan out across many other cities. Businesses have been looted and burned. Communities have been terrorized. In Detroit, one man was even killed.

Did I mention our nation is hurting?

It can be difficult to know how to respond as we watch all of this unfold on our TV screens and in our cities. I myself have grappled with what to say. I also know, however, that, as a Christian, I am called to offer hope to the hurting. So, here are four – admittedly limited and incomplete – thoughts as to how we can respond in the midst of a national inflection point of pain.

We can mourn.

When two men – along with, tragically, many others – die unjustly under racially tinged circumstances, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. When violent protests shatter communities, that should grieve us and cause us to mourn. The apostle Paul reminds us that we should “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). To take a moment to feel with and listen to those who are hurting, angry, frightened, and confused should be a cornerstone of a Christian ethos. To not empathize with those who are hurting flies in the face of a God who would take on human flesh to experience everything we experience – including hurt, anger, fear, and death itself.

This weekend, I saw a post from a man who regularly walks with his daughter and dog through his neighborhood. He explained how he worries that, if he walks alone, he could be profiled in an unfavorable way because he is a black man. One commenter responded with a bevy of studies and statistics concerning how many African Americans are shot by police and implied that this man’s fears were unfounded. I am all for studies and statistics. They can help us understand trends and identify problems. But to criticize a man’s personal story of fear with studies and statistics strikes me as akin to criticizing mourners at a funeral by bringing actuarial tables to the service and explaining how their loved one’s death falls within a standard variance of mortality rates. Even if it’s statistically true, it’s also emotionally cruel. Let’s take the time to mourn with those who mourn.

We can work for justice.

In his famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed his faith in justice even as he called for justice:

We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

Later in his speech, he quoted these words from the prophet Amos:

But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)

When injustice is perpetrated, we cannot make excuses for it. We cannot minimize it, rationalize it, or justify it by claiming that there are other injustices that have been worse, so the current injustices we are facing must be no big deal. And we certainly cannot ignore injustice because it doesn’t affect us personally or fit our interests politically. The Fifth Commandment – “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) – was meant to protect Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd just as much as it was meant to protect any of us.

We are a nation whose creed is “liberty and justice for all.” If the liberty of any person is compromised by murder, manslaughter, or any other untoward act that leads to death, it is an injustice that should concern and upset us all.

We can call for peace.

In the same speech that Dr. King called for justice, he also described how he worked toward and fought for justice:

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

Dr. King knew the struggle for justice is not best paved by violent deeds.

The scenes of violence that have erupted across the nation have hurt many innocent people. They have taken eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth, but they have not recovered or restored the lives of Mr. Arbery and Mr. Floyd. Their families are still grieving. Their sons, husbands, and fathers are still not coming home.

In His Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is important to understand that peacemaking can be quite different from peacekeeping. Peacekeeping can sometimes imply simply covering for or overlooking sin so that no one gets upset. In other words, peacekeeping can often be an exercise in little more than keeping the status quo. Peacemaking, however, means calling sin what it is and then working to restore peace from the ground up – not with excuses, but by repentance, and not with hatred, but by forgiveness. This is the kind of peace toward which Christians are called to work.

We can love.

Racism is rooted in hatred. To stand against racism, then, we must address the hatred endemic to it. How do we do this? Jesus shows us the way:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

During these months of pandemic, a refrain has arisen: “We’re in this together.” This refrain is similar to the one uttered by Dr. King on the Washington Mall all those years ago as he was fighting the racism of his day:

Many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

Dr. King is right. We cannot walk alone. So, let’s not. Let’s stand shoulder to should, side by side, and arm in arm. Our race may be a part of our humanity, but it is not the sum total of our humanity. Our humanity also includes:

Being somebody’s son or daughter.

Being somebody’s husband, wife, mother, or father.

Being somebody’s friend, coworker, and neighbor.

And being made in the image of our Creator.

These are the ties that bind us.

In a press conference on Saturday, Minnesota’s governor not only mourned acts of violence, but highlighted acts of love. He talked about protestors who had come out not with firebombs, but with brooms, shovels, and wheelbarrows to help their neighbors clean up their communities. They refused to let their neighbors walk alone. They walked together – both to protest injustice and to love each other.

We can, too.

June 1, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Hope Beyond the Pandemic

ron-smith-63tBU8et1YY-unsplash

Credit: Ron SmithUnsplash

It has been difficult navigating all the changes that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. But this past week brought some good news in our protracted battle against the virus. Last Wednesday, the CDC updated its safety guidelines to indicate that the virus does not spread as easily via contaminated surfaces as experts first thought, which means you may not have to scrub down your milk jug with a Clorox wipe after picking it up at the grocery store. We also learned of some promising testing on experimental vaccines. Last Monday, the biotech company Moderna announced that eight people who received two doses of their vaccine fared well against exposure to the coronavirus. Then, on Wednesday, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published research showing that their prototype vaccine protected monkeys against exposure to the virus.

All of this good news, of course, is subject to change. After all, plenty of what we thought we knew about COVID-19 has changed – sometimes for the better and other times for the worse. But news like this does offer us a glimmer of what we all need during a difficult time like this – hope. Indeed, The New York Times, at the news of promising vaccine trials, ran this headline: “A New Entry in the Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine: Hope.”

As Christians, it is important to understand what hope truly is. Hope is not just a convenient wish for something to work out well regardless of how outlandish or unfounded that wish might be. Instead, hope is a confidence about tomorrow based on what we already know to be true today.

This is why the Christian hope is not just some nebulous wish that, after we die, we may be able to live on forever rather than merely dissolving back into the cells from which we came. Instead, the Christian hope is a true hope based on what the Church claims is a real historical event: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. As one of Jesus’ followers, Peter, writes about the Christian’s hope:

Through Christ you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21)

Peter says our faith and hope are in God because we have seen what God can do – He can raise Jesus from the dead. And if God did this with Jesus, our hope is well grounded and founded that He can do the same with us, too.

I truly hope that COVID-19 does not spread as easily via surfaces as experts once thought. And I truly hope that an effective vaccine against the virus is produced faster than any vaccine ever has been in history. I don’t just wish; I hope. I hope because of what I can read in these newly released scientifically-rigorous studies. But, of course, my hopes could be dashed. Scientific studies can – and often do – err. The CDC could shift its guidelines. And the now promising vaccines could turn out, upon further trials, to be busts.

Though my hopes for what this pandemic’s future holds may be dashed, I am thankful that my hope in Christ will not. After all, Christ has 2,000 of history, human trial, and study behind Him. And He still stands resurrected. While other hopes may fail, hope in Him will not.

So, here’s to hoping for what lies ahead.

May 25, 2020 at 5:17 am Leave a comment

Keeping Perspective in COVID-19 Times

not-today-covid19-sign-on-wooden-stool-3952231

Credit: cottonbroPexels

At Concordia in San Antonio where I serve as one of the pastors, we are sending out a weekly “check-in.” People can voluntarily “check-in” with us by answering a few questions about how they’re doing during this pandemic. For a lot of people, just knowing that someone cares and is concerned about them is enough to give them a little boost in their spirits.

This past week, I had an old friend, who is also a pastor, call and check-in with me just to see how I was doing. We caught up on a whole host of ministry triumphs and challenges and talked about how we are navigating a situation the likes of which neither one of us has ever seen. They don’t offer a class on “pandemic response” in seminary. Or, if they did, I missed it.

To keep my spirits up during this time, I have had to fight to keep my perspective. These words from the apostle Paul have become words I’ve turned to again and again when I’ve felt like my spirits were sinking and my perspective was darkening:

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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

There is so much perspective packed into these few verses.

Many of us feel like “we are wasting away.” Whether we have contracted COVID-19, or are just struggling to keep ourselves in shape when gyms are closed, junk food is plentiful, and the sofa is inviting, a lot of our bodies are taking a hit. But even apart from a pandemic, our bodies would waste away anyway. Every body eventually breaks down and falls prey to the wages of sin, which are death. And yet, Paul says, we can be “renewed day by day.” God – one day at a time – can meet us in His Word and refresh us by His Spirit. Our bodily wasting away does not need to result in a deeper spiritual decay.

Paul continues by comparing “our light and momentary troubles” with “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” This little word “far,” in Greek, is a three-word-phrase: hyperbolen eis hyperbolen. We get our word “hyperbole” from this word, which refers to something that is over-the-top. The glory that awaits us in eternity, Paul says, will be over-the-top and so over-the-top that we will look back and scoff at the troubles we are now facing. God’s glory will one day wipe away this pandemic’s gory sicknesses and deaths.

Because we long for this glory, Paul concludes, we should “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,” because “what is unseen is eternal.” In other words, instead of fretting over this day’s news, we are to be people who look forward to the day when all things will be made new in Christ Jesus. What we are seeing now is temporary. What remains unseen – but what will one day be seen when Christ reveals it to us – is eternal.

I wish I was better at keeping Paul’s perspective. I, just like anyone else, can get caught up in “our light and momentary troubles.” But when I’m tempted to fall prey to pity, these words call me back. These words give me hope. And because of hope:

We do not lose heart.

April 27, 2020 at 5:15 am 3 comments

A Holy Week for Unholy Times

art-cathedral-christ-christian-208216.jpgThis week is the beginning of what is, in the history and tradition of the Christian Church, called Holy Week. It is a commemoration of the final week of Jesus’ life before His death on a cross in anticipation of His victory over death on Easter.

Yesterday, we celebrated Palm Sunday, which recounts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey while crowds hail His arrival by laying palm fronds at His feet (John 12:13). Palms were a symbol of Jewish nationalistic pride. In 164 BC, after the Greek tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had persecuted and murdered many Jews, was defeated, the Jews waved palms in celebration of their victory. On Palm Sunday, the crowds are hoping that, just as their Greek oppressors were taken down almost two centuries earlier, Jesus will be the revolutionary who takes down their Roman oppressors.

Then, this Thursday, we will observe Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” is a derivative of the Latin word mandatum, which means “command.” On this night, Jesus gives His disciples two commands. This first command is one of love:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

The second is a command given when Jesus institutes a supper, which we now call the Lord’s Supper. Jesus instructs His disciples:

Do this in remembrance of Me. (Luke 22:19)

Thus, on Maundy Thursday, Christians across the world will partake in the Lord’s Supper – not just to obey a command, but to receive what Jesus promises in this holy meal: “the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).

The day after Maundy Thursday is Good Friday – the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything good about it. Jesus is arrested by His enemies and condemned to die not because He has committed a crime, but because the religious elites of His day hate His popularity among the crowds in Jerusalem. Even the man who condemns Jesus to death on a cross, Pontius Pilate, knows that it is “out of envy that they had delivered Him up” (Matthew 27:18). This is a dark, unholy moment. As Jesus says to His accusers when they arrest Him: “This is your hour – when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53). And yet, even in this dark, unholy moment, holiness cannot and will not be defeated. Righteousness will reign. For even though Jesus’ enemies commit an unholy crime against Him, He is giving His life for them. His sacrifice is what makes Holy Week truly “holy.”

The times in which we are living right now feel dark and unholy. “Stay-at-home” restrictions are getting stricter. The curve of infections and deaths from COVID-19 is rising steeper. For millions of people, life is getting harder. And yet, this week – Holy Week – can remind us that holiness is found in the most unholy of places. After all, an ancient instrument of torture and execution – the cross – has now become a worldwide symbol of consolation and hope. And so, even if this week feels unholy, this week can still be a Holy Week – not because we live in a holy world, but because we have hope in a Holy One.

April 6, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Coronavirus Concern Sweeps the Nation

Arlington National Cemetery is one of the many public spaces that has been closed in the wake of the spread of COVID-19.
Credit: National Guard

As I write about COVID-19 for the third time now on this blog, I must admit that I never expected to devote this much attention and concern to a virus that first emerged halfway across the world. But the state and spread of this virus is shifting so quickly, it’s nearly impossible not to be riveted by what is unfolding. So much has happened this week.

The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

The NBA, the NHL, and MLB have all suspended their seasons.

The NCAA has cancelled March Madness.

Public spaces across the nation – including places like Disneyland – are closing.

The financial markets are suffering from whiplash.

Air travel to and from Europe has been suspended.

And we’re still having trouble slowing the virus’s spread.

Many of these actions above are the result of an abundance of caution, which is good. But along with much caution, there is also much fear. After all, there’s still so much we do not know about this virus. Its mortality rate continues to be elusive to us. The actual number of infections remains unclear. Testing for the virus remains limited. And, of course, treatment options are nearly non-existent.

Fear like this at a situation like this can lead to all sorts of panicked responses. Stories of stores selling out of staples like bottled water and toilet paper abound. But panic does not equal prevention. The continued calls to wash your hands, wipe down surfaces, and practice social distancing are the things that are necessary to stymie the spread of this virus.

In 1519, the city of Zurich, Switzerland was overrun by the Black Death. It claimed the lives of a third of the city’s population. There was a famous reformer of the Church who lived in Zurich at this time, Ulrich Zwingli. As he cared for those who were ill, he himself contracted the disease. In what seems like a near miracle, he did not die. But while he was in the throes of his sickness, he composed a poem:

My pains increase;
Haste to console;
For fear and woe
Seize body and soul.

Death is at hand.
My senses fail.
My tongue is dumb;
Now, Christ, prevail. 

Lo! Satan strains
To snatch his prey;
I feel his grasp;
Must I give way?

He harms me not,
I fear no loss,
For here I lie
Beneath Thy cross.

Whether in sickness or in health, whether in times of prosperity or pandemic, we lie beneath the cross. And because of this, even as we are cautious, we are not afraid. If a cross could not overcome Christ, a pandemic cannot conquer His promises to us.

March 16, 2020 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Kobe Bryant: 1978-2020

When my wife said to me from the other room, “Kobe Bryant is dead?!” I thought at first she had been taken in by another one of those celebrity death hoaxes that sometimes make their rounds on social media. But she hadn’t. The news was true. The loss was real.

As the story of Kobe’s untimely death began to sink in, my first thought was, “He was my age.” He was born a mere two weeks before me. Then when I learned that his daughter was with him on the helicopter flight that crashed and took their lives, this tragedy felt even worse. Kobe leaves behind his wife and three other daughters. I cannot imagine the pain they must be experiencing right now.

As the news played a never-ending loop of Kobe Bryant highlights, reporters interviewed fellow stars who were memorializing him and fans who were crying over him. The death of a household name like Kobe Bryant – especially under the fluke circumstances of a terrible crash – brings into sharp focus something so many of us are generally loathe to consider: the stark and dark reality of death.

As a nation grapples with the loss of one of its biggest stars, there is an ancient perspective on death – the Christian perspective on death – that is worth our reflection, for, I believe, it can be a source of hope. So, here are three Christian claims about death.

Death is unnatural.

Contrary to what Forrest Gump’s momma told him, dying is not just a part of life. There’s a reason that, when someone dies, tears flow, questions of “why” are asked, and anger at a life-gone-too-soon ensues. It’s because we can feel that there is something profoundly unnatural about death.

The Christian faith teaches that this feeling about death is nothing less than a good theology of death. Death is the result of and the punishment for sin. It is not, however, part of God’s creative design. It was introduced only after Adam and Eve disobeyed God. This is why the apostle Paul calls death an “enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

So, if you ever find yourself mourning a death, don’t feel as though you must feel that death is natural. It’s not. Your tears can flow, your questions can be asked, and you can shake your fist at what has taken your loved one from you.

Death is inevitable.

Death may not be natural, but it is inevitable. Part of what makes a passing like Kobe Bryant’s so shocking and tragic is because he was a man who seemed invincible. A sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Bill Plaschke, eulogized the basketball great this way:

Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas and how does that happen? Kobe is stronger than any helicopter. He didn’t even need a helicopter. For 20 years he flew into greatness while carrying a breathless city with him.

This can’t be true.

This is the way Kobe seemed – stronger than any helicopter. And yet, life’s fragility – and death’s inevitability – have coldly slapped a culture that treats its sports stars as invincible in its face.

The 17th century English poet John Donne wrote a poem in 1624 about a bout he had with spotted fever. While in the throes of his sickness, Donne heard the bells of a nearby church ringing at a funeral. He opined:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Donne knew that even if he survived this sickness, he would not survive every sickness. One day, the bell would toll for him. Indeed, one day, the bell will toll for us all – no matter how strong, how rich, how famous, how moral, how respected, or how invincible we are.

It is maddening. But it is true. Death is inevitable.

Death is destroyable.

The first claim of Christianity – that death is unnatural – we feel. The second claim of Christianity – that death is inevitable – we can empirically verify, for we all die. This final claim of Christianity – that death is destroyable – is one that calls for faith.

On its face, death does not seem destroyable. It seems only to destroy us. And yet, Christianity claims that there was once a man who was destroyed by death on cross who managed to return the favor to death when He rose again three days later, destroying death. And because He destroyed death for Himself, Christianity claims that He can also destroy death for us. For just as He once emptied His grave, He will one day empty our graves. As the apostle Paul explains:

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-54)

Death is destroyable, Paul says.

The same poet who once reflected on the inevitability of his own death also wrote a sonnet about his hope for life. John Donne called it “Death Be Not Proud”:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

When death takes a life, John Donne reminds us, it “swell’st thou.” It swells with pride that it has separated another family, brought on more tears, and broken more hearts. But even if death is stronger than us, it is not stronger than the One who once called Himself “the life” (John 14:6). And because of His life, we can have life, too – eternal life.

Kobe Bryant has died. But death should not be proud. Because Kobe’s death is not the last word on his life. For this much I know:

Death, thou shalt die.

May it be so quickly.

January 27, 2020 at 5:15 am 2 comments

The Violence That Never Seems To Stop

sam-rios-8XZlMCMlpX0-unsplash.jpg

Credit: Sam Rios on Unsplash

In my blog last week, I reflected on some of the events that shaped 2019, and I noted that there have been “accelerating attacks on houses of worship.” Unfortunately, the end of 2019 demonstrated just how true that was.

First, it was an attack on a Hanukkah celebration at a home in a New York City suburb. A knife wielding assailant burst into the home, wounding five people while the people inside scrambled to flee out the back door. Then, the very next morning, a gunman opened fire at a Church of Christ congregation outside of Fort Worth. Two people were killed. Many more probably would have been lost, but the gunman was taken down by the church’s security team.

It’s difficult to see these kinds of attacks at these kinds of gatherings. Celebrations and congregations are not meant to be battlefields. They are meant to be arenas of respite and rejoicing.

On the one hand, none of this surprising. As a Christian, I follow a man who warned of “wars and rumors of wars” (Mark 13:7). Those who are Jewish know well Daniel’s prophetic announcement to King Xerxes: “War will continue until the end” (Daniel 9:26). Though both of these prophecies, in their contexts, point to the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in AD 70, they can be applied throughout history. People are violent. And the human inclination toward violence shows no signs of abating.

While I am heartbroken over these stories, I am also grateful that, in both of these instances, many of these people were able to escape their attackers, or, as in the case of this most recent church shooting, the security team was able to stop the attacker. Sadly, however, we will not be able to end these types of attacks altogether. Too many stories of too much violence have demonstrated otherwise. In truth, despite our best efforts at safety, only God Himself can truly end violence. As God explained to His people of old, when God returns on history’s final day, “no longer will violence be heard” (Isaiah 60:18).

Until that day, I pray for victims and their families, I pray against further attacks, I give thanks for those who protect others while risking themselves, and I look forward to the day when my hope for peace will become the sight of peace. Even when it looks otherwise, I still firmly believe that guns and knives are no match for God.

January 6, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Suicide Rates Keep Climbing

woman-3478437_1920.jpg

Credit: cocoparisienne from Pixabay 

Suicide has become a national mental health crisis. Story after story bears this out. Take this, for instance, from Brianna Abbott of The Wall Street Journal:

The suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 years old climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017, according to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention … Around 2010, the death rate of suicides among adolescents and young adults surpassed the rate of homicide deaths, according to the report.

This spike in suicides comes after a period of relatively stable suicide deaths between 2000 and 2007.  And it’s not just young people who are taking their own lives at an exponentially increasing rate. Ms. Abbott goes on to note:

Suicide rates in general have increased in the U.S. across all ages and ethnic groups, rising roughly 30% from 1999 to 2016. 

This is terrifying, especially since we can’t seem to figure out precisely why suicide rates are increasing so dramatically. EJ Dickson, also writing about the latest CDC statistics for Rolling Stone, explains:

Alarmingly, public health experts have no idea why the suicide rate for young adults is increasing so rapidly. “The truth is anyone who says they definitively know what is causing it doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” says Ursula Whiteside, a researcher with the University of Washington, recently told the Washington Post. “It’s a complex problem with no easy answers so far” …

Most mental health experts caution against isolating one “cause” or factor when discussing suicide. Though we know there are certain factors, such as a history of mental illness or substance use, that put teenagers at increased risk for taking their own lives, the mental health establishment simply doesn’t have enough research to draw “firm scientific conclusions” about what causes spikes in suicide, Dr. April Foreman, a psychologist and a board member at the American Association of Suicidology, previously told Rolling Stone. Regardless of what external factors may or may not be contributing, it is “much more likely there are complex things going on in society. We just don’t understand suicide well enough,” she said.

Dr. Foreman’s reference to “complex things going on in society” is ominous. We know monumental societal shifts are taking place. From the ascendency of social media, the overuse and misuse of which has been linked to depression, to the glorification of suicide itself, there are plenty of potential culprits behind these scary statistics, even if we can’t pinpoint precisely how much of a role these culprits play.

With societal shifts affecting how we see the value of our lives – even if their precise effects remain statistically vague – it has become clear that we need a way of seeing ourselves that does not shift with society, but is instead steady in spite of society. Christianity has consistently affirmed and defended the value and dignity of the human person and human life. Our value and dignity are not derived from our status, our income, or even our own feelings about our own selves. Instead, they are grounded in our Creator who, when He created us, called us “very good” (Genesis 1:31). Jesus affirms the value of humanity with a small, but powerful analogy:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31)

“If God takes good care of the sparrows,” Jesus says, “it should be self-evident that He will take great care of you. After all, if the sparrows are valuable to Him, imagine how much more valuable you are to Him.”

Indeed.

So, if you are feeling worthless or like life is not worthwhile, Jesus invites you to drop the societal estimations of your value and find your value – and hope – in Him. He has given you a life worth living.

October 28, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Older Posts


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,062 other followers


%d bloggers like this: