I write this blog with a heavy heart. Many of you who will be reading this blog know what is going on with our pastor and the intense trial that he and his family have been going through and will continue to face. I don't need to share all the details, but the battle that John has been fighting for months looks as though it is coming to an end as cancer has taken hold of him. Our prayers, concern, and love go out to Pastor John, Sola, and the whole family. With that being said, I felt a burden to share some words of hope with our church body and anyone else who might read this blog. No words can take away the pain that comes with the suffering and death that has overtaken our world, but I'm hoping we can take some time to look at the light that is shining in the darkness.
First of all let me say, that mourning over suffering and death is completely natural and acceptable. To respond with anger and outrage is not something inherently sinful either, it can actually be something to embrace. But lets be careful where (or who) our mourning and anger is directed toward. Being upset and angry with God is not where our natural feelings should be directed toward. No matter what we think, God is good and does what is good (Psalm 119:68). He is in control of all things, and yet all that he does is good. To believers we know in Romans 8:28-29 that we are told that "He works all things together for good" that we might "be conformed to the image of His Son." We must trust in this and trust in Him to do what is good and cause growth in His children. This doesn't mean we are exempt from bad things happening to us, it just means that God will cause the end result to be good.
One of these things that we face that is not good is death and suffering. Despite what the world says and how it feels, death is unnatural. When God created this world it was without death and suffering, everything was "good". Sin entered the world through the actions and attitudes of humans (Adam and Eve, and so on). With sin came death. Death brings relational separation for others and God. This is not the way it was meant to be. In fact we are told in scripture that death is nothing other than an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26). So our natural responses of mourning, anger, and outrage should be directed at sin and death, the enemy that never surrenders and never gives up.
Nevertheless, our mourning and anger should not and cannot be the same as those who don't have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. Our mourning as Christians is mourning with hope, not despair (1 Thessalonians 4:13). This might seem to be an oxymoron, "hopeful mourning" doesn't sound right. But yet it is. We mourn over death because it is unnatural and because it is an enemy, but we hope in the fact that this enemy we face is defeated by Christ! His death on the cross as the substitutionary payment for our sin and His subsequent resurrection from the dead displays his ultimate authority over sin and death! 1 Corinthians 15 is summarized by verses 55-57:
Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
Now the sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ!
So where is our hope found? In Christ and Christ alone. We know that since Jesus came and defeated sin and death that we have hope (assurance of) resurrection to new life! So death is not the end, it is really only the beginning for those who are in Jesus Christ and have committed their lives to Him. Our temporary "tent" is shed and we are raised to new life (2 Corinthians 5:1-5). This is our hope. It doesn't change the fact the the enemy is still attacking (for now), but it does mean we have confidence in victory! This is our comfort, our peace, and our hope.
What do we do with this hope then? In the last two paragraphs I linked two passages; one from 1 Corinthians 15 and other in 2 Corinthians 5. I want us all to notice how both of these passages follow up on our hope in the face of death...
1 Corinthians 15:58: Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
2 Corinthians 5:6-11a, 20: So, we are always confident and know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight, and we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord. Therefore, whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the tribunal of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or worthless Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we seek to persuade people...we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, “Be reconciled to God.”
Our hope of eternity and in the victory of Christ over sin and death should not allow us to set back and twiddle our thumbs! In light of our hope, we must live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. A life in which we labor for His glory and share the good news of reconciliation with the world around us! The truth is this; we don't know how long we have to live in this world. Death is not a respecter of anyone no matter what age, health, or profession. If anything, death and suffering should remind us that we only have a short time to make a difference in this world for Jesus Christ! A tragedy such as the one that is being faced right now should not drive us away from God and live in fear and sadness, but should drive us toward Him and give us great boldness and heartfelt motivation to do anything and everything we possible can to live a life pleasing to Jesus Christ above all else. No one is able to say that they can wait to live for Jesus tomorrow, we don't know if we even have tomorrow! Living a self-pleasing life is a waste of what God has given you, don't miss out on what's really important. I could go on, but if you want to read more, feel free to check out one of my earlier blogs, "I Can Only Imagine".
Let me close out this blog by quoting the same verse that Pastor John has been clinging to throughout this trial and has shared with our body here at AABC:
If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living.
Praise the Lord, for He rules over all, even suffering and death. God bless you all.