Grief With Hope: An Exhortation on Death

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep…Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14, 17)

Psalm 116:15 says that the death of his saints is precious in his sight. This past week, God beheld a beautiful sight in the death of Jan McDonough. It is good for us to experience the sadness and grief of the loss of our dear friend and sister in Christ. Yet, that is not the end of our emotions. Mixed with it is a sense of wonder that she is now seeing Jesus face to face. This is a beautiful thing. She left her cancer ridden body and awoke to her faith now made sight.
We grieve, but we do not grieve without hope. What is our hope in now? It is not shallow sentiments by saying that she’s in a better place. Our hope is not in merely saying that we are glad her suffering is now over. Our hope is in God’s Word. We take hope in the fact that Jesus died and rose again and because of that we who trust in Jesus; though we die, yet will we live.
The gospel of Jesus Christ does not only forgive us of our sins, although that is amazing. Paul reminds us here that because of Jesus’ perfect life, agonizing death, and glorious resurrection, we have a hope that we will be with him forever in heaven. Heaven! A place where there will be no more cancer-ravaged bodies or souls that have to fight sin. Heaven! A place where we will have no more pain and we will be in the presence of Jesus.
Jan McDonough sat in these rows. She sang with us. She prayed with us. She heard the Bible preached with us. And now she is seeing Jesus face to face. Yes, we are to grieve with Ed in the loss of Jan. Yet, we are to hope because the best is yet to come. And our hope is not because of something we’ve read on a nice Hallmark card. Our hope is in the unshakeable truths of God’s Word. The truth that we have in I Thessalonians 4:13-14 is unshakeable.
Come before God this morning and confess your sins. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension paid the debt of our sins and conquered the grave. This is not earned. This is given to those who trust in Jesus. Those who trust in Jesus can sing (as we will soon) it is not death to die.

IT IS NOT DEATH TO DIE

VERSE 1
It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God
It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears

CHORUS
O Jesus, conquering the grave
Your precious blood has power to save
Those who trust in You
Will in Your mercy find
That it is not death to die

VERSE 2
It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just
It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore

Advertisements

Access By Faith

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2

Consider the word access. Access is the the ability you have to approach or enter a place, to see someone or to receive a benefit. What right do you have to come before God this morning and enjoy peace with him, experience his grace, and rejoice in his glory?
Consider this scenario, which will be familiar to most of you. You are driving down the freeway, late for a very important meeting. You usually always obey the speed limit but this time you are definitely speeding because you need to make it to this appointment on time. As you come up over a hill your heart drops. You see a squad car in the median just waiting for someone like you.
As you pass him you look at your speedometer and realize that you were even going faster than you thought you were. He pulls onto the freeway and begins following you. The squad car lurks menacingly in your rearview mirror as you know what is coming. The blue and red lights flip on and you pull over as your hands start sweating and your heart starts beating.
Now, consider this scenario. The same squad car and the same law enforcement officer returns home at the end of his shift. He pulls that same squad car into his driveway as his three little children come bounding up to him. He puts the vehicle in park, and they run up to the car ready to give their dad hugs and kisses. They are happy to see him in his uniform and delighted with him being home.
What was the main difference between those two experiences? Why was the driver fearful and the children happy? The children had access to come to him as a father, not as a punisher of their wrong doing. The same is true with God.
We can experience God’s peace, his grace, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God because we have access to him by faith. Don’t ever miss that or get numb to that! We have access to a gloriously holy, sin-punishing, wrath-avenging God that would make a volcano look like a wax candle. God’s children don’t experience that. They experience the peace that passes all understanding which he gives to them. They experience the the all sufficient grace which helps us in our weakness. They experience the overflowing hope of his glory.
The only reason we can experience this is because of the faith that we have put in the work that Jesus Christ did. When his body was ripped apart, the curtain in the temple ripped in two. This symbolized us no longer having to go to priests to gain access to God. We can go to him directly, confess our sins, repent, and rejoice in Jesus Christ because he died and rose again and conquered death.


Death by Tradition

Each week our church has a part in the service where the congregation is exhorted (an urgent reminder) to remember and cling to the gospel. Below is my exhortation for November 20, 2016.

Grace Church, the exhortation is the part in our service whereby we remind ourselves that we are acceptable to God and forgiven of our sins only because of our trust in Jesus, and him alone. This part of the service is meant to remind you of your need for the gospel, your need to confess your sins before God, and the joy we have in right relationship with God because of the gospel.
Yet there is a danger here. The danger is that which Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of in Matthew 15. They were obeying God’s commands and even doing right things yet they made void the word of God. You could write a check to me for a million dollars, but if you write “void” across it, the check is worthless. What they were doing didn’t matter because it was voided out by their cold hearts.
The danger is that you can see this exhortation as a voided tradition. You can see it as just something we do every week and miss out on the riches of it. You can do and say the right things yet have them mean absolutely nothing if your heart is far from God. If you are feeling coldness or numbness right now, in this exhortation, ask God to change your heart. The Pharisees didn’t care that their hearts were cold. They preferred their dead traditions over the living God. Don’t be like them!
If you heart is cold or numb this morning, that is bad news. The good news is that you can’t change it on your own. Come before God and ask him to set your heart on fire with a renewed passion and love for the gospel. I can’t do any better than reading to you Titus 3:4-7. Take this into our time of confession and plead for God to plunge you deeper into the truths of God that abide still.
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”


A Mighty Prayer

One of my favorite hymns is Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God. The strength and power of the lyrics make me want to love God more deeply and hold this life more loosely. I took the song tonight and turned it into a prayer to share with my church on Sunday morning.

O God, you indeed are a might fortress. You are an everlasting bulwark that has never failed and will never fail. You help us amidst the floods of battling sin, job loss, financial hardships, miscarriages, marriage discord, and a thousand other dark times in our lives.
There is no enemy like Satan. He is armed with cruel hate and no military might compares to his power. So we can’t confide in our own strength this morning, but thanks be to you O God that the right man is on our own own side. The man that you chose- Christ Jesus. It is he! The God who is Lord over earthly and heavenly armies. You King Jesus, will win the battle.
Now, though we are embattled against sin and Satan which threaten to undo us, we have no need for fear. Your will God, is to have your truth triumph through us. That is incredible. Through us! Even though our enemy is this dark, grim prince, we have no need to tremble or fear. His rage we can endure because his doom is sure. Your word in your time, heavenly Father will cause him to cease his work in this world.
That little word is greater than all earthly armies, kings, and nations. Your Spirit and the gifts we have through your Spirit are ours. In response to this may we joyfully let money and possessions and family and friends go. May we hold loosely our very lives. Because our bodies may be killed by cancer, car crashes, bullets, heart attacks, earthquakes, hurricanes, or old age. Yet when our hearts beat their last breaths, your truth abides still. Your kingdom will never end, and this is our inheritance. We will see your glory.


A Talladega Type of Night

I opened the door to the backseat of my squad car and what I saw required every ounce of restraint I had to remain professional.

It all started with a response to a trailer park for an argument between a boyfriend and girlfriend. It was the average, run-of-the-mill, everyday back and forth that cops deal with so frequently. We respond, break up the argument, try to mediate a solution, leave, and return again later that night. Sometimes it’s the next day, sometimes it’s the following week, but we inevitably go back. We can count on it like the afternoon delivery of the mail to our houses.

Two hours later we received a call from a neighbor saying that these two were arguing again in the street. It was around 12:30AM on a warm, summer night. These are times when the beer flows freely, the heart acts boldly, the lips speak freely- and people go to jail for it. I was less than a mile away from the call and told dispatch I’d respond to it. I navigated my squad car through the trailer park and as I came around the corner, I found what I was looking for.

The boyfriend was walking down the middle of the road in cartoon, fleece pajama pants while sporting off his skinny chest and torso. A smattering of people were standing in the yard watching the drama unfold. The price of admission was free. As I got out of my car, my sense of smell was hit with the pungent odor of burned out rubber. I could see a haze of smoke wafting across the road, as if I had just stepped into a five car pile up at Talladega.

Not knowing what had happened, I quickly patted the pajama man for any weapons, and put him in the backseat of my car. I began speaking to his girlfriend and bystanders to get the full picture of what had happened. The lovers had revivied the argument that night, with alcohol and stubbornness being the kindling for their spat. He finally decided to hit the eject button and leave, while she realized he was in no condition to be driving a 5,000 pound object on wheels. However, he would have none of her objections to him leaving in his truck.

He had jumped into his truck while she jumped into his way. As she was standing in front of the truck he thought it a good idea to put a little fear of a Ford F150 engine into her soul. With the brake depressed he pushed the gas pedal down causing the tires to do a brake stand. As smoke began churning underneath his rear tires they were not able to withstand the force of the message pajama man was trying to send to his girlfriend. The rear tires blew out. His plan to leave was now as deflated as his back tires which had just given up the ghost. Chunks of tire were scattered throughout yards in the area.

After gathering the story I went back to my squad to place pajama man under arrest for domestic assault and driving while intoxicated. I opened the backseat of my squad and found a very sweaty and dirty man wearing my sheriff’s office jacket. As anger swept over my face I saw fear come over his. I yelled, “What do you think you’re doing?” Apparently going from the climate of a warm summer night, to the cool air conditioned back seat of a squad car was too much for him. He had found my jacket in the backseat and naturally put it on for warmth. The combination of a smelly, dirty, sweaty suspect wearing my sheriff’s office jacket put me over the top.

After yelling at him I paused. I took a breath and collected my faculties. After composing myself I removed the jacket from him and replaced it with a set of handcuffs and off to jail we went.


The Grand Tetons and The Gospel

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1478.

Exhortation for Grace Church

“By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established mountains, being girded with might…so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.” Psalm 65:5-6, 8

A couple of weeks ago our family went on a two week road trip to Oregon. As we drove across 3,700 miles of our country we saw national parks, historical markers, rivers, gorges, woods and all sorts of animals. Yet one of the experiences that stands out to us the most is the Grand Tetons.
Our first glimpse of the their peaks was when we camped near them in Wilson, Wyoming. We could just see them over the treetops as the sun was setting. The next day, we packed up our campsite, and started driving towards them. As got closer, we could see more and more of their towering beauty. We could see more details about the mountains, and the closer we got, the greater we realized they actually were. They towered over the prairies and wildlife and trees and everything else around them.
Something happened to all of us in that van as we got closer and closer to these rocks that were 13,000 feet in the air. We were overcome with a sense of awe. No park ranger had to tell us that we should be amazed or stunned by their beauty and majesty. The closer we got the more realized we were in the presence of something awe-inspiring.
And so it is with the salvation of our God. His deeds are awesome. His signs are awe-inspiring. And just as our Honda Odyssey was the vehicle by which we were able to be brought to the base of these mountains, so church is one of the vehicles by which we see the awesomeness of God’s salvation.
We aren’t only receiving instruction today, or meeting friends, or any number of things that happen when we gather together. We are being shown the awesomeness of God’s salvation. He is the hope for the ends of the earth. So as we move into a time of confessing our sins, spend 30 seconds seriously thinking about your sins. Be sober-minded about it. And when you are done, lift your heart and voice in the praise and thankfulness to God for what he has done for you.
The reason you are able to stand in the towering presence of the One who girded the mountains with might is only because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection is the way in which we have access to fellowship with him. This doesn’t come through good works but comes through the Spirit wrought work in our hearts of being able to see and savor the awesomeness of the God of our salvation.


Between Two Worlds

On Wednesday of this week an officer with the St. Anthony police department did a traffic stop on a car in which Philando Castile was in. We know hardly any of the details about what happened on the traffic stop, other than it ended with the officer shooting and killing Philando. The following evening as I was getting ready to go to bed and my news alert sounded on my phone. It said that 3-6 officers had been shot in Dallas while providing security at a Black Lives Matter rally. I couldn’t sleep, so I watched the news come in on TV as it turned from cops shot to cops killed. I woke up the next morning to the news that a total of five cops were killed.

As a cop who has a family pursuing an adoption of a black child, Johanna and I find each other living in two different worlds. The adoption world tends to be skeptical at best and hateful at worst of law enforcement. The law enforcement world tends to be skeptical at best and hateful at worst of Black Lives Matter or other organizations or people who criticize them in these officer involved shootings.

There’s so much I could say on this, but here’s briefly what I want to say to you this morning Grace Church; you who are my people. A couple of years ago I started reading books that pushed me outside of my law enforcement comfort zone that were written by people that loved the gospel. What do people who love Jesus yet disagree with me have to say about their perspective on these types of racial divides?

I think most people in this church tend to fall on the side of supporting law enforcement. I am thankful for that. However, there are people who really love Jesus and the Bible that disagree with me and aren’t so trusting of cops. I’ve intentionally read blogs by Thatbiti Anyabwile or John Piper and the book Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson to try and learn from them. These are men who love Jesus and the gospel and think black men are being shot unjustifiably. At times their writings have frustrated me. At times I’ve learned from them.

It is really, really, really easy to dig our heels into our own camps when a Philando Castile shooting happens or when cops are shot. What is really, really hard is to mourn with those we disagree with that are hurting. For my brothers and sisters in Christ, mourn with the mourning. Not just with those you agree with.

Pray for Philando’s family. Pray for the cop that shot him. Pray for the families of the cops that were killed in Dallas. Who does this except for those who love Jesus? This is the aroma of Jesus Christ to a world that is perishing. Mourn with those who mourn. Don’t just mourn with those you agree with or those who have not done anything wrong. In humility, count others more significant than ourselves. Thank God, that Jesus Christ emptied himself by taking the form of a servant and was born in the likeness of men. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. He didn’t save us after we got our lives fixed up. He saved us while we were still enemies to him.

The world can’t do this. They can’t in humility pray for those that they disagree with. We can though because we are being transformed into the image of the one who left heaven and took on the likeness of men- Jesus. The gospel is the only remedy that is the cure for this mess we are swimming in. “We are neither Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all (Col. 3:11).”