No More Graves

"Behold, the dwelling place is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." Revelation 21:3-4

There’s an ancient tombstone in Rome that reads, “Stranger, hang on a minute. Stop here; take a look down to your left. That’s where my bones are buried. I was a good man. I was a kind man, and I was a lover of the poor. Please traveler, I beg you, don’t mess with my tomb. Traveler, on your way now. Goodbye.”

For Gaius Atilius, the end of his story ended with his grave, and for a traveler to mess with his grave would somehow interrupt his eternal rest. But God reveals to us in Revelation that for the one in Jesus Christ the end of our story isn’t the grave but an eternal dwelling place with God. We don’t look to an ending where our bones will lay under piles of dirt; rather, we look forward to the day when we will dwell with God in resurrected bodies with no more tears or pain. As my son Philip says, “There will be no more band-aids in heaven.” And this eternal reality is not dependent upon how good we are. For even Gaius Atilius’ best attempt at goodness still ended with him in the grave. Rather, this eternal reality is given to us because of God’s great love for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. So even in these moments and days of tears, sadness, and pain, remember that it is temporary. Our stories won’t end in the grave because Jesus is not in the grave.

Posted earlier today on Dean Timothy George's blog at beesondivinity.com.

The selfish one

It was Tuesday and I was in the kitchen washing dishes when a thought suddenly hit me. It was one of those thoughts that you can't seem to let go or it can't seem to let go of you. Later that day, when my husband Osvaldo was home, I shared it with him.

"Honey, I had this thought today that what if the only way (our friend) Don* is going to accept Jesus is for one of us to die. And I thought about it and the thought makes me angry. How selfish of Don to not just come to Jesus now but wait for one of us to die!"

Osvaldo looked at me and said, "I've had that same thought before. And I prayed that if it took me dying for Don to come to Jesus, then I would do it. But I have asked the Lord that Don would come to faith without that needing to happen."

The conversation ended there but the thought didn't. It still lingered in my mind for the rest of the night. When I woke up the next day it was still there. I carried it with me into the shower and from the shower to the bathroom counter. Then it hit me. So clearly, so vividly, that I was brought to my knees, literally. I was humbled. Broken. Ashamed.

Prior to this moment, I was angry at the thought of me dying in order for Don to come to salvation. I was angry with his selfishness and his hardness of heart. But that's when the Holy Spirit reminded me that someone died for me. I was selfish, hard-hearted, blind, but still Jesus gave his life on a cross in order that I might be saved! Whereas if I were to die my death could not save Don (or anyone) but only point to my salvation in Jesus, Jesus' death has saving power! And he did it for me. This is what Romans 5:6-8 is talking about:

"For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

And, if it was really my choice and if it was really God's plan, I would rather save my life for a few more years on this earth even if it meant that Don would lose his for all eternity? Seriously? By Wednesday morning I wasn't upset or angry at Don anymore. God changed my heart. The window from which I had been looking out at Don became a mirror from which I could only see myself for who I really was. I was the selfish one! I was broken. Ashamed. Humbled. For I was acting as one who accepts the love of God freely yet refuses to love others like Christ loves her.

A second humbling thought was that it wasn't that I necessarily had a problem with love but choosing the recipients of my love or of God's love for that matter. For if God were to say to me, "Kristen, you must die in order for your son Philip to know me, to come to me." I feel certain that I'd say, "Take me!" Why? Because I love my son deeply. But we don't get to pick and choose who we love as Christians. No, we get the privilege of loving others because He first loved us.

God may or may not take my life in order for Don to be saved. But just as Christ laid down His life for me out of this pure, abounding, selfless love, I pray with fervor that I will follow the example of my Lord and love Don in the same manner. I also pray that God will use whatever means necessary to save Don from sin, from hell, from eternity without Him – even if it means my life.

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." 2 Cor. 5:14-15

"Lord, help me to love Don and others like him who are not easy to love and who turn a blind eye to you because you first loved us. Amen."

*Don's name was changed out of respect for this person. Please pray for Don to find faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

O Death, Where is Your Victory?

March 2nd my grandmother, affectionately known as Nana Sue, died. That word "died" has a kind of brashness and finality to it, doesn't it? In fact, I didn't want to use that word at first when Nana died. I used "passed away" or "went to be with the Lord" in its place. Those are fine and true phrases to use for a believer, I just didn't want to use a word that assured me of the reality that Nana was no longer here with me.

But the real reason I didn't want to use the word "died" with Nana's name was because I wanted to avoid thinking about the issue of death. Even for me, a long-time believer, death all the sudden seemed scary and mysterious. It brought to the surface insecurities and doubt that I didn't know existed. When Nana died it was as if for the first time I stood at a crossroads of my faith. I could either continue down the path of believing God's Word is true and that those who believe in Jesus live forever with him OR I could go down a new path of cynicism and pessimism refusing to believe and hope in the unseen but only believing in what I could see -- that death was the end.

I remember praying, "God, I believe. Help my unbelief!" And for the first time, so it seemed, I understood what Paul meant by, "Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24)

Yesterday I listened to a podcast of Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, preaching about the Crucifixion from Matthew 27:46. In this verse, Jesus quotes from Psalm 22:1 crying out that God has forsaken him. Because Jesus took our sin, the death he died was one of judgment and punishment by God. Our sin had to be judged, punished. And in that moment, God forsook him.

Why does this truth bring me hope and peace when thinking about Nana's death and even my own? Hours before Nana died I went in to speak to her while she was lying in bed unconscious and on life support. One of the things I did was quote Scripture. I honestly cannot recall what Scripture I quoted her except for one, Hebrews 13:5b, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

It dawned on me while I was listening to Keller's sermon that the reason I could confidently say that truth to Nana and believe it for her was because Christ was already forsaken by God in her place in order that God might never forsake her. Did you catch that? Jesus was forsaken by God on the cross in our place for our sin so that in him we might never be forsaken but rather welcomed as children of God! I know that Nana was not forsaken by God at death and neither will I by the grace of God through faith.

But so many are and will be. Those who refuse to accept Christ's gift of him taking their place before God will have to endure it for themselves -- the judgment, punishment, death, and probably the worse thing -- forsakenness. What about you? Will you believe and accept Christ's gift?

Those of us who are in Christ can confidently proclaim Romans 8:31-37 now and for when they die:

"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died -- more than that, who was raised -- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

 

Nana's Tribute

Last Saturday, March 2, my beloved Nana Sue (grandmother) went to be Jesus. The Thursday and Friday leading up to her death and the days following were probably the most difficult I have had to go through to-date. Nana was active in my life, sending me texts and e-mails, calling and praying for me. My grandfather asked me to speak at her Celebration of Life service last Tuesday on behalf of the grandkids. It was my privilege to honor her in that way even though it was very difficult to get through. Below is the tribute I gave. Thank you to those who have prayed for me and my family during this difficult time. The only thing that got me through this was prayer and my belief in that God is good and is on His throne. If Nana were here today she’d tell me, “Kristen, keep it short.” But Nana needen’t worry since Don Guthrie has already told me I have only three minutes and would be timing me.

It’s a privilege to stand here today on behalf of myself, my sister, cousins and our spouses to speak to you today about the person we knew as Nana. Immediately after Nana died I thought how my son Philip, my sister’s son Nathan, my cousin Ricky’s son Reed due the first of May, and all our other yet-to-be-born children will not have memories of our Nana. So the questions that come to us grandchildren are, “What will Nana be remembered for? What will we tell our children about her? What will be her legacy?”

First, I think we will remember how Nana never missed an opportunity to preach us a sermon. You never had to guess what Nana was thinking because she always would let us know. Her directness and bluntness were charmingly annoying but more often than not what she said was true. She told Ben before going to Cleveland that if she didn’t come back alive that he could be sad for one week but then after that he couldn’t be sad or she’d come back to haunt him. Sounds like something she’d say!

We will tell our children how our Nana loved playing games with us everything from UNO to Yahtzee to 42. If she lost, Nana would say, “Kiss. A. Pig.” But if she won, she’d shake her fists in the air and just smile. We’ll tell them how she loved to laugh at us and us at her. She’d get so tickled watching the boys make fun of the way she walked or by the quick witted comments made by Kim or Ben. She would tell us all the time, “All you want to do is laugh at me,” but she’d say it while laughing so that we knew she enjoyed it.

I think we’ll remember her sitting at the piano playing one tune after another from memory filling the house with a beautiful melody. This personally was one of my favorite things.

We’ll remember those blooper moments like Nana paying for my sister’s and mine Happy Meals at the McDonalds’ drive thru then driving away without our meals. Or that time when she bragged to Alex about how good her chocolate pudding was, but when she finally made it for him she had used lemon extract instead of vanilla extract. It tasted terrible of course and had to be thrown away immediately.

We’ll also remember to tell our children how much she loved Papa even though she fussed at him all the time. We’ll tell them how she dropped everything to go help Ben when he called her saying he was lost in downtown San Antonio. How she spent hours helping Ricky apply for college or how she stayed with Ricky at the hospital when he had brain studies. Or how she came to the hospital when Kim gave birth to Nathan and wouldn’t leave but stayed all night those first hours of Nathan’s life that he was so sick. How she came to our graduations and weddings; how she never forgot our birthdays; how she’d always send me texts when she saw storms were coming to Birmingham to tell me to be safe; and how she was always praying for us. Our children will know that she loved her grandchildren, and when Philip and Nathan came along she loved them just as much. In fact, I spoke to her the night before she went into cardiac arrest. She didn’t want to talk about herself; she wanted me to tell her stories about Philip, and that’s what I did. 

But these memories won’t be her legacy. No. Her legacy will be that their great-grandmother, our grandmother, loved the Lord Jesus Christ above us all and served Him faithfully. She showed us by example and by word what it meant to be a follower of Christ, to be obedient, to be a lover of Scripture and to be faithful to the local church. She demonstrated what it meant to suffer with grace. We never heard her curse God or be angry with Him for her suffering. Instead, she’d say, I’ll serve Him as much as I am able and if the Lord restores my health I’ve told Him I’d continue to serve Him.

In fact, if Nana were here today I don’t think she’d tell me to keep it short. Rather I think she’d say, “Kristen, don’t talk about me; talk about Jesus. For I’ve seen Him and have beheld His glory and beauty and nothing that the world has to offer compares to this!” So that’s what we’ll tell Philip, Nathan, Reed and any others to come that Nana’s life pointed to Jesus, and if you want to see Nana just look at Him. 

God is good and He is still on His throne

A couple of weeks ago I was preparing a post that dealt with prayer in light of news that a friend and former classmate at Beeson Divinity School recently discovered he has cancer. I wept for him. His name is Matt Paetz, and he has a wife and two young daughters. My heart breaks for him and his family as they embark on a new journey that they did not expect nor want. I had a writing project that got in the way of updating the blog. The deadline was this past week. Then I went to Arkansas for the weekend to visit college friends and got back to my alma mater for Homecoming festivities. One of these college friends is Julee Turner. I was honored to be part of her wedding. I lived two doors down from her for two years in college. We were in the same sorority and same pledge class. She married the love of her life, Matt, after college and moved to Fayetteville, AR. After several years of struggling with infertility, she became pregnant with their daughter Preslee. Julee is an avid blogger and you can read all about their sweet family on her blog: mattandjuleeturner.blogspot.com.

While I was having dinner with Julee and four other college friends this past Saturday night, Julee’s husband was killed in a car accident. Matt leaves behind his wife Julee and their 10-month-old daughter Preslee. Once again, my heart breaks for a friend.

I am heartbroken that my friend was stripped of her beloved. I am heartbroken that Preslee won’t remember her daddy. I am sad that Julee had to experience such loss at this point in her young life. I wept. I still weep.

But my weeping is only temporary. Not because I won’t have times of sadness for Julee’s loss. Not because I no longer care for Matt Paetz and his family. But because of my faith that God is good and He is still on His throne.

My preaching professor at Beeson Divinity School was Dr. Robert Smith, Jr. He still teaches and preaches there. Last year, one month shy of a year ago, Smith preached in Beeson’s chapel a sermon titled, “Have you been to Bethany?” based on John 11:1-12:1. In this sermon, he quoted and paraphrased from the book, “When Faith and Beliefs Collide.” Smith said, “When faith is stripped to the bone – no marrow, no tendons, no muscles, no fat, no gristle – and all our props and crutches are gone, our faith in God that He is good and is still on the throne is the only thing that will keep you going.”

While praying and reflecting on Matt Turner’s death and Matt Paetz’s sickness, I thought of John 11 – Jesus weeping over the loss of a friend and the great words about resurrection. Then I remembered this sermon that Smith preached one year ago.

After Lazarus died, Jesus tells Martha in John 11:25-26, “The one who believes in me though that one dies shall live again, and the one who lives and believes in me shall never die.” As Smith said, “Persons who are born twice, born of the flesh and born of the spirit, only have to die once. The person who is only born once of the flesh will have to die twice.”

What awesome hope for those who believe in and only through Jesus Christ, the first fruits of the resurrection of the dead! When I called my husband Ozzie to tell him about Matt’s passing, he asked, “Was he a believer in Christ?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Then we know that he is alive and with the Lord; that is our only hope.” So as I shed tears for Julee, I know that because Matt was born twice, he won’t die again. He is alive because Jesus is alive. And for my friend Matt Paetz, cancer is no longer a death sentence. But as he walks “through the valley of the shadow of death,” he “will fear no evil,” knowing that Christ is with him and that death is not the end.

The proposition of Smith’s sermon was: The road to Bethany exists in order to engender belief, which will be transformed into redemptive activity. What I think he meant was that the purpose of Lazarus’ death and the events that happened were so that people would believe. Why do these things happen in our lives? I don’t know, but I do know that often times it is to increase belief in some and create belief in others. When I watched my apartment building burn, when I had two heart ablations, when I moved to a new place by myself, though these were difficult times in my life, they brought me closer to God and increased my faith that God is good and He is still on the throne.

Though I am confident I will still shed tears for these mentioned and others in the future, I find peace knowing that the One who wept when His friend died will be the One to wipe away all our tears. Revelation 21:4, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Pray for my friend Matt. Ask God to heal his body and to be glorified through this experience. Pray that this cancer would not lead to his death. Pray for strength, peace, healing and increased faith for Matt and his family.

Pray also for my friend Julee, Preslee and the rest of Matt’s family. Pray for healing hearts, increased faith, sustaining power, peace, comfort, financial provision, and strength to face tomorrow.

I should mention that Dr. Smith knows what it is to lose someone you love. He lost his first wife many years ago, then shortly before this sermon he lost a son. He knows what it is to grieve, to weep and to hope in a living God that is still on His throne.

To listen to Dr. Smith’s sermon, go here: http://www.beesondivinity.com/media#!/swx/pp/media_archives/116700/episode/27214

A song that comes to mind that fits with this post is “Give me Jesus” by Fernando Ortega: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-N3KPA9ltQE