Monday, May 26, 2008

Living With Death

The words that are to follow this introduction are deep feelings of mine but I must admit that they pale in comparison to those who have been directly affected by tragedy, namely, the death of a family member. It has been the tragic events of others connected to me that have spawned these words. It has been the death of three that have provoked much thought, introspection and prayers to God.

Within eight days three people that were connected to my family in one way or another passed from this life. The first was thirty five year old Benji. He was one of the first people I met when I moved to Massachusetts. The youngest of eight brothers and sisters, vibrant, charming and full of life, he inexplicably collapsed and died putting his son in his car seat in Florida. A couple of days later "baby Jacob" as our kids referred to him as, lost his fight for life in a Calgary, Alberta hospital. Our family and many others in our church family prayed for him daily. His heart condition did not get better. He died. Just a couple of days after that, my good friend Rose from Massachusetts emailed me the news that a lady named Kim had lost her battle with her disease. Her kids were in my youth group. My wife taught her children. Three deaths. Eight days.

When I got the news that Kim had passed away, I was overcome with emotion. Not that I was a close friend to all of these, no, the miles and years had separated us. However as tears flowed down my cheeks I left my office for the sheer fact that so much death in such a short amount of time had cut my heart wide open. I couldn't hold it in.

So many things were going through my mind, all of which were disturbing on some levels. Why does a man in his mid thirties just collapse and die? What will those kids do without their mom? Why do 18 month old babies die? Then there is the BIG question that my daughter asked. Maybe God didn't hear us when we prayed. Now that haunted me.

When we heard all of this news my wife said, "you can't have life without death". She was making the statement not as a teaching moment, but as an observation. In this life we will have troubles, sorrows and difficulty. Jesus pointed that out to us. Living with death has to be about hope. We do not sorrow as those who do not have hope. We hope that we will see our loved ones again in the resurrection. We hope that the pain goes away eventually. We hope that we can learn from our difficult circumstances. Yes, even death can teach us things. It teaches us that our days are numbered. It teaches us that we are mortal. Death teaches us the value of life and the value of the living. Death teaches that all of us will be touched by it's cold hand eventually in life. Death reminds us that what we know and experience will end and most of it is meaningless. Death conjures thoughts of standing before God.

So I walk away from this sorrowful situation a hurting but hoping human. I realize that "precious in the sight of the Lord is the perishing of his saints." I hurt in myself and for those I know who experienced the tragic loss. I hope one day to see them again.


I Corinthians 15:55

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Work it Out

Back in 2005 I wrote a blog on "The Excorcism of Emily Rose" and in doing so, solicited a comment. The commentator had asked me to expound on the scripture that says, " out your salvation with fear and trembling". It's long overdue. Here goes. Philipians Chapter 2.

At first glance it would seem like the Bible is saying that we can make up our own rules, our own parameters and guidlines for living the Christian life, so long as we do this in a careful manner. In the pluralistic culture we live in, it is more palatable to tell people to live how they think would be right but to do so carefully and thoughtfully. If we were to simply take the words "work out your salvation with fear and trembling..." it would seem that way. Therein is the great danger. We must allow scripture to tell us what it means, not insert our own assumptions and interpretations.

When the Bible tells us to work out YOUR salvation with fear and trembling, we can't interpret YOUR salvation as uniquely yours with no bearing on anyone else.

I have heard pastors allude to the dangerous and erroneous teaching that in life there are so many gray areas and Christianity has them too. So, instead of offering loving correction and right teaching, people are simply told to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. There are a few things that raise the proverbial "red flag" for me and I think should be addressed.

1. In Philipians 2, the Church is being addressed collectively by Paul. The letter was not addressed to individuals, nor was it appealing to anyone's individuality or personal experience. It was a "one size fits all" type of letter and it had several purposes. It was written for an intended audience of more than one person.

2. In the first eleven verses of Philipians 2, Paul basically told the Church to take themselves down a few notches. Be careful not to be too arogant. Be humble. Remember Jesus' attitude and how he humbled himself. He also said to not be selfish, put other people first and also, to be concerned with other people's things and not just their own.

3. In verses 25 to 30, Paul is telling the Philipian believers that he is sending them a person to help them in their discipleship process. This work of the gospel was being done by Paul and he felt very passionate about it. He wanted disciples to get it right. He was so bent on this that he wanted to make sure that there was a person in Philipi to help the believers in receiving right teaching.

So to correctly interpret "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" doesn't mean one has the license to simply make up what he wants to believe about Christianity and apply it in a compartmentalized environment of one (self). Let's not forget what the rest of that very verse tells us. It says, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose."

In a nutshell, working out our own salvation is just as much connected to living and being connected to the believers around us as well as the will and the purpose of God. The will and the purpose of God is clear. He is not willing that any should perish but that all would have everlasting life. The purpose of God is the redemptive plan he has for mankind. If what we perceive to be the elements of the Christian life are not related to being concerned with others around us, humility and the the redemptive purposes of God, then I don't think we've worked it out yet.