Tag Archives: reflections

Our Posture Towards Death

The following was a sermon given on Sunday, November 20th, 2016 at Nelson Covenant Church.

Today many within our community are still in shock at the news of the tragic death of Devon Dunkley this week.  Devon’s family is part of our sister church at the Junction, and he was a part of our youth group for many years.   This past Wednesday Blair invited me to share from the Scriptures at our youth group, and I thought it would be important to pass along those thoughts to our entire community this morning.

We have record of an early Christian community in the ancient city of Thessalonica.  These were new believers in Jesus, and after experiencing a series of deaths within their community, they were seeking to understand how they were supposed to process death as believers in Jesus.  Paul addressed their questions in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

What is our posture towards death?  How are we called to live as Christians in the face of death?

The first thing that must be said, is that We MOURN. We MOURN the loss that comes through death. 

“13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”

Notice Paul doesn’t say, “You’re Christians—so you shouldn’t mourn!”  He says, “I don’t want you to grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.”  Paul wants these early Christians to know that they will grieve and mourn, but their grief and mourning will take on a different shape.

I’ll expand on that in a second, but let’s stay on this first crucial point:  Christians MOURN the loss that comes from death.  Death is a monster, because it takes someone from us who was an image-bearer of God; someone who was valuable and loved, beautiful and good.  That’s why it’s important—critical—to mourn.

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Jesus taught, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4.  In the kingdom of God it’s not a virtue to remain stoic and unfeeling in the presence of significant loss.  We are not more spiritual if we can keep sorrow at bay, nor are we stronger if we manage to keep our grief contained and controlled.

Jesus wept in the face of tragedy.  When his cousin John was beheaded, Jesus mourned.  When Jesus was informed that his close friend Lazarus had died, he wept.

That we can allow the searing pain that comes from losing a loved one find expression through our tears and our crying out to God…reveals we are becoming more like Jesus, not less.

Christians mourn in the face of death.

But there is a second thing that must be said.  In the face of death, We MOCK. We MOCK the powerlessness of death.  Paul continues:

14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

And in 1 Corinthians 15:22–26 Paul declares:

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

 

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I’ve been reading through St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation (written in the 4th century).  In a chapter on the resurrection Athanasius shares how he has witnessed the truth of Jesus’ resurrection transform how the Christians of his day responded in the face of death.  Specifically, he highlights how the resurrection has led to Christians “despising” death (and by “despising” he means mocking/belittling).  Listen to his words:

A very strong proof of this destruction of death and its conquest by the cross is supplied by a present fact, namely this. All the disciples of Christ despise death; they take the offensive against it and, instead of fearing it, by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ trample on it as on something dead. Before the divine sojourn of the Savior, even the holiest of men were afraid of death, and mourned the dead as those who perish. But now that the Savior has raised His body, death is no longer terrible, but all those who believe in Christ tread it underfoot as nothing, and prefer to die rather than to deny their faith in Christ, knowing full well that when they die they do not perish, but live indeed, and become incorruptible through the resurrection.

“There is proof of this too; for men who, before they believe in Christ, think death horrible and are afraid of it, once they are converted despise it so completely that they go eagerly to meet it, and themselves become witnesses of the Savior’s resurrection from it. Even children hasten thus to die, and not men only, but women train themselves by bodily discipline to meet it. So weak has death become that even women, who used to be taken in by it, mock at it now as a dead thing robbed of all its strength. Death has become like a tyrant who has been completely conquered by the legitimate monarch; bound hand and foot the passers-by sneer at him, hitting him and abusing him, no longer afraid of his cruelty and rage, because of the king who has conquered him. So has death been conquered and branded for what it is by the Savior on the cross. It is bound hand and foot, all who are in Christ trample it as they pass and as witnesses to Him deride it, scoffing and saying, “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?

If you are a Christian, you serve a King who has broken death and trampled it underfoot.  When Jesus was resurrected, he overcame death’s power and signaled the beginning of the end of death’s rule and reign over God’s good creation.

Therefore, those in Christ are no longer held hostage by death’s power.  Death is a defeated foe, so that we now live without fear, knowing that “We are confident…and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8.  Even more astonishing than the hope of life after death, is the hope of life after, life after death.  The Christian’s ultimate hope is that one day Jesus will return and bring full Restoration and Redemption to this broken world.  Then his kingdom will be fully established within the context of a new heavens and new earth, and “‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

In light of this great hope, Christians mock death, seeing it for the temporary inconvenience that it is.

And so death causes us to mourn, but it ought never cause us to despair.  Christians must never be frozen by the fear of death, nor overwhelmed by a misunderstanding of its grasp.

Because of what Jesus has accomplished–for you, for me, for Devon–death does not have the final word.  It has been swallowed up in the life and victory of King Jesus; a life and victory that Devon now knows fully, even as he is fully known (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12).

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Fourth Week of Advent: Monday, December 23rd

Zephaniah 3:14–17

14 Sing, O Daughter of Zion;
shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
O Daughter of Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”  

Why does God come to us in the vulnerable form of our own humanity?  To establish once and for all that He desires intimacy with us.

This is a God, who while “mighty to save,” tends to save through subtle, quiet, almost imperceptible means.  But that’s how He tends to express his love as well.  He takes delight in us by quieting us with His love and rejoicing over us with singing.

When I tuck my children into bed, I often spent time quieting them with my love.  It’s one of the most meaningful parts of my day.  It’s amazing to think that God wants that kind of interaction and intimacy with me.

Do I carve out time to simply sit in God’s presence and let him take delight in me?

Advent is a time to remember that God came to us in Jesus in order to show us the depths of His delight in us!

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Second Week of Advent: Saturday, December 14th

1 Peter 2:4–9

4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”

7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
has become the capstone,”

8 and,

“A stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Ray Vander Laan has a great study on the “Standing Stones” of ancient people.  In the Bible, standing stones were built to commemorate times when individuals or groups had a powerful encounter with God.

“They are lonely sentinels on the ruins of ancient cities’ gigantic stones erected by a past civilization, their purpose and message lost to history. They provide a glimpse into a custom that lies behind several significant stories in the Bible, and they are the foundation of modern practices in a Western world 6,000 miles and 3,000 years away. They are “standing stones.”  The most impressive collection is in the high place at Gezer, where ten stones, some over 20 feet tall, stand in silent tribute to a long-forgotten event. Their size is probably evidence of the importance of what they represented. How they got there is uncertain, although clearly they came from some distance away.

Long before the Israelites arrived on the scene, pagans in the Middle East erected sacred stones to their gods. If one of their gods (or so they believed) caused an important event or provided a significant benefit, a stone was erected as a testimony to the action of the god. If a covenant or treaty was signed between cities or individuals, stones were erected to declare the agreement and to invoke the witness of the gods. Travelers who saw the standing stones would ask, “What happened here?” and the people who knew the story would give testimony to their gods.

To this Middle Eastern culture, God revealed himself so that he could accomplish the great work of restoring a lost world to himself. His people worshiped him and memorialized his acts of deliverance as their custom dictated: by erecting stones.”

Today’s reading tells us that we are “living stones” that have raised up by God to be testimony to those around us.  While we are imperfect and are growing in grace, does the way we live and love for Jesus cause others to ask, “what happened here?” when they come across us in our everyday lives?

Advent is a time when we can ask Jesus to do whatever he needs to do in our lives that we may be (re)shaped into standing stones for his glory.

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Second Week of Advent: Monday, December 9th

Psalm 43:3–5

3 Send forth your light and your truth,
   let them guide me;
   let them bring me to your holy mountain,
   to the place where you dwell.
4 Then will I go to the altar of God,
   to God, my joy and my delight.
   I will praise you with the harp,
   O God, my God.
5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
   Why so disturbed within me?
   Put your hope in God,
   for I will yet praise him,
   my Savior and my God.

You cannot get to God simply by seeking Him.  He has to give you enough truth and light to find Him.

Yes, the Bible does make it clear that “those who seek me shall find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13), but today’s Scripture reminds us that God has to send his light and truth–like breadcrumbs–otherwise we would seek endlessly and in futility.  And all seeking without finding is heartbreaking.

None of us can find God through our own resources.  What we know of God is voluntary self-disclosure.  It’s a gift.  And if there was any doubt about that, just look at the incarnation.  God had to send forth His light and His truth in a way that we couldn’t help but notice and in a way that really showed us how deaf and blind we were (are!) to the things of God.

At the heart of Christianity is a God who draws us–often subtly–towards Himself.  He knows we can’t make it to Him via religion, moralism, sincerity, nobility, etc., so He comes to us.  That is good news.

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First Week of Advent: Saturday, December 7th

“’19 The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end. 21 Then will all your people be righteous and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor. 22 The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the Lord; in its time I will do this swiftly.’” Isaiah 60:19–22

One of the most inspiring and encouraging patterns that we see in Scripture is God taking the small, the insignificant, the weak, the “losers,” and doing something significant in and through them.  God loves taking the weak things of the world and using them to shame the “wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27).  As a pastor, one of the highlights has been watching this pattern play out over and over again in people’s lives.  It’s always surprising, always inspiring, and always deepens my love for and appreciation of God.

While we often cling to the assumption that God does great and mighty things through great and mighty people.  However, that’s a perspective that Scripture just doesn’t allow us to sustain.  The deeper we go into Scripture, page after page points to the shocking, but deeply hopeful truth: God is a master at taking unremarkable “shoots” and making them into something mighty through His love and by His grace.

That means that the more normal, ordinary, nondescript, and unremarkable we assume ourselves to be, the more likely God has already set about beginning a work in us that will result in the display of His splendour.

 

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First Week of Advent: Friday, December 6th

14 “ ‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. 15 “ ‘In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line; he will do what is just and right in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.’  Jeremiah 33:14-16

Written to a people in the midst of exile and heartbreak, Jeremiah’s words speak powerfully into Israel’s deepest fears (alienation from God and the land He gave them) and into Israel’s deepest longing (restoration with God a return to the land).  James E. Smith, in his commentary on the book of Jeremiah, writes:

The glorious future which God promised to his people was wrapped up in the appearance of a scion from the house of David. God repeated the promise of 23:5 that he would “cause a righteous branch of David to spring up.” The term “righteous” points to the character of the coming Ruler; the term “branch” (lit., sprout) to his humble origins. This one would “execute justice and righteousness on the earth,” i.e., he would be the ideal Ruler. He would be a savior to his people. The city, saved by his power and grace, would wear a name which would bear testimony to her trust in God: “Yahweh is Our Righteousness.” That which would make possible the salvation and protection of the people was not their own righteousness but that of God himself (33:15f.).

Advent is a time to remember that God’s is eager to address our deepest fears and hopes head-on.  He has a track-record of bringing salvation and shalom to those who turn to Him.  And the good news is that God’s salvation, peace, and protection is not offered to us because of how moral or religious we are, because because of His love and goodness.

“8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

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8 Months

At the end of this month, it will have been eight months since my corneal transplant last March.  That’s significant.  That means I can safely integrate all forms of exercise back into my life.

And it’s about time.  I’m feeling the worst (physically) I’ve ever felt in my life.  Most of the time I feel slow and lathargic.

I’ve learned to cope with my inactivity over the last eight months, but it’s been hard.  I like to be active, and being limited to walking and some light running has really frustrated me.  I tried a few months ago to start doing stairs, but messed up my ankle doing too much too soon, which was another set-back that deflated me.

But I feel focused and ready to get back into shape.  Wednesday night our Velocity (grades 6-8) group discussed what it means to honour God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:30), and we all came to the conclusion that exercise is a one very practical way we can honour God and the bodies He’s given us.  Basic stuff that I know–I just haven’t been doing it.

Generally speaking, over the past five years I’ve struggled a lot to figure out how to prioritize fitness amidst the demands of my personal and professional responsibilities.  Many of the habits and practices that served me well in the past have slowly been eroding from my day-to-day reality.  In fact, I recently jotted down some of the core habits and principles that I’ve slowly drifted away from over the last few years.  They include:

1. Delayed gratification
2. Self-control
3. Goal setting
4. Prayer
5. Follow-through (Execution)
6. Cultivation of a positive, expectant, determined mindset

I guess if you’re weak in these areas, there aren’t a lot of things that will compensate for that fact.

That being said, I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned these six habits altogether, but when I compare how I engage them now to even a few years ago, I’m actually shocked at how casually I approach them now.   I’ve self-analyzed myself to death asking “When, how, and why did all of this change?”, and although there have been some helpful moments of enlightenment, I want and need to redirect that energy in a different direction now.  I want to (re)start in a new direction.

For those who are a part of my everyday life, please offer encouragement and support when you can.  I feel as though a lot of negative momentum has been built over these last 8 months, and getting back to where I want to be health-wise isn’t going to be easy.  But I know it’s important: for myself, my family, and my responsibilities.

The last eight months have been a challenge, but I’m looking forward to coming back stronger, healthier, and more spiritually focused then ever.

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Plant Your Hope with Good Seeds


“Plant your hope with good seeds, don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds.”

Thistle and Weeds, Mumford and Sons

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some…seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.” (Mark 4:3–4, 7)

Part of the message embedded in Jesus’ parable of the sower is that God is continually and gracefully scattering the seeds of His kingdom into our lives.  They are seeds that hold the promise of hope, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom, healing, and salvation.  He wants these seeds to be the foundation of our hope.

But some of us find clever ways of resisting the seeds God is sowing in our lives.  Sometimes, this resistance is born from the belief that we deserve “thistles and weeds,” not the kind of hope, love and wholeness God offers.  This is often true of those who’ve been grievously hurt by someone during their childhood.  The result: while God tries to plant hope with good seeds, we spend time covering ourselves with thistles and weeds.

God plants hope; we cover ourselves with depression.  God plants salvation; we cover ourselves with bondage.  God plants healing; we cover ourselves with self-harm and self-hatred.  God plants peace; we cover ourselves with fear.

But today is a day to let God clear the ground of your heart from the thistles and weeds.  Today is a day to acknowledge the ways you’ve been resisting His grace and love, and throw off that which has been holding you back.  Today is a day to welcome the seeds of God’s hope, grace, and power into your heart.

You can choose to continue resisting, but know that God will continue to scatter kingdom seeds in your life.  His love for you is unrelenting, and He will pursue you in Christ until you He overwhelms you with His love.

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The Challenges of the 18-25 Window

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders.

The window between the ages of 18–25 is full of progression, and is one of the most formative stages of our lives.  We experience growth throughout our lives, with each stage presenting new challenges and opportunities, but most people I know admit that these seven years are amongst the most powerful and soul-shaping.  That’s because a number of factors come together to form a perfect storm that ignites a quest, a spiritual expedition bent on working through theological and philosophical questions in ways that no other stage of life affords.  It’s often during these years that the following questions become urgent to resolve:

“What makes me different from my family or the people around me?”
“Am I lovable and am I capable of loving someone else?”
“Does God really love me?”
“Does God really like me?”
“What will I do with my life?”
“Do I matter?”
“Do I have something to contribute to this world that is of value?”

It’s not that these questions are necessarily new (we’ve asked many of them before), but what makes the questions different is the new vantage point we are exploring them from.  The questions haven’t changed dramatically from earlier years, but we have.  Socially, spiritually, physically, emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, experientially, etc., our world is expanding at an almost unmanageable pace.  The result is a kind of existential vertigo—a dizzying sense of confusion surrounding what has been, what is, and what is taking shape.

During this time, we often search for clarity on the four primary worldview questions:

  1. “Who am I?”
  2. “Where am I?”
  3. “What’s the problem?”
  4. “What’s the solution?”

These questions drive us to confront larger issues of identity, personal purpose, and meaning.  Getting clarity on these issues is challenging, however, because at the same time we’re bombarded by a myriad of voices offering advice, options, and opportunities—many of which are hollow and hopeless.  We get distracted and derailed, and after a while it’s easy to feel as if we’re just treading water, drifting in a sea of questions, potentialities, and uncertainties.

Adding to the complexity is the deconstructive movement that often emerges during this time as well.  Many of us begin to seriously question our faith, or walk away from it altogether.  We unearth serious doubts and suspicions, and find that the black-and-white answers of our childhood and the glib answers of early adolescence don’t help us cope with the growing realization that the world is much more complex than first imagined.  While the teenage years are often a time of physical rebellion (e.g., sex, drugs, drinking, etc.), now a kind of psychological/philosophical rebellion begins to take hold.   In almost every area of our lives, we’re asking what really matters and why.  We’re beginning to wonder if our lives are the result of our own intentional choices or the result of choices made for us.

This is the time in our lives when all of the struggles, all of the questions, all of the anxieties and uncertainties need to become secondary to Jesus’ call of discipleship.  It’s not that the struggles and questions we face are unimportant, it’s that they’re so important that to refuse to ground them in the person and power of Jesus is reckless.  Trying to figure out life on our own sounds heroic to some, but we don’t hold the answers to what we’re dealing with—Jesus does.  We can run from that truth, but we need to know that if we do we’re running down a dead-end road.

To purchase Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders in either paperback or eBook format, click here.

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