The tragic death of Robin Williams this week is definitely the hot topic of conversation for many, and I don’t doubt that his name will find its way into many pulpits and sermons come Sunday.
I really had to think long and hard about this post before deciding to type. I’ve been deeply affected by this death. I saw Paulfg’s post this morning about the nature of being a “public figure” and how we… the “public”… tend to encroach on the private grief of family and friends who truly knew a celebrity who has passed away. There is a truth to that, yes.
On the other hand, “celebrities” (whatever that means), who earn their livings by moving us to identify with them, laugh with them, listen to them, cry with them, or otherwise enter in to an emotional (and therefore somewhat “intimate”) relationship with them… especially when they employ OTHERS (PR professionals and such) to bind together our lives and interests with those of their client… well, such people DO enter in to some form of “relationship” with us. Not that that relationship should give us access and entree to the private, family, personal environments of their lives and mourners, but it certainly explains (perhaps legitimizes) the true and heartfelt grief we feel at their passing.
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So, ever so briefly, I want to address the loss of Robin Williams, and the grief I feel at his passing…
But right here, right now, and as I hope his name will be mentioned among Christians, I choose to focus not on “death”, but on “Life”. There’s a ton of reporting, and speculation, and discussion surrounding the mode and manner of Mr. Williams’ death. which the sheriff’s department released as being caused by “asphyxia due to hanging”. I leave all that to others, as millions of words are being generated as we speak regarding depression, substance abuse, emotional distress, copy cat concerns, and social media.
Suicide is an ugly word. It is seldom heard in Church. It is seldom discussed by “good Christian folk”. It epitomizes “darkness” and somehow seems to negate the very Gospel and mission of Christ.
“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” [John 10:9-11]
I have no idea what was going on in Mr. Williams’ life, what was in his mind, what was in his heart, in his last days, hours, or moments on earth. It would be the height of presumption for me to address that. But I am deeply and passionately involved in ministry to others who struggle with the decision to end their lives, and with families and friends who seek to recover from the grief of such a loss. I speak, teach, counsel, belong to committees and organizations, aid survivor efforts… all of that. For more than 20 years, in God’s infinite wisdom, He has involved me with churches and people touched by suicide loss.
I want to take this moment to grasp and bring “Light” out of this Dark Moment.
Normal people, ordinary people, non-professional people, are being touched every day by friends and family recovering from a loss to suicide. You may have heard me mention before that in this county, suicide is the leading cause of death for young people between 10 and 25 years of age… and is staggering in its prevalence across many age groups. Suicide is the 7th leading cause of death overall in this country, last I looked.
There’s no “Jerry’s Kids” here. But there should be!
Normal people, normal families, normal churches, can have a positive impact in bringing life to people who struggle with that decision. There is community based training available for non-professionals that can take as little as 90 minutes. I am such a trainer, and I’ll make it public right here… I will come to any church or group that wants to bring me… to train folks in suicide prevention!
Two things I hope get discussed with Robin Williams this week:
(1) Hopelessness… the sense that “this pain” will never end, there is no relief for this… is a hallmark of the decision to end one’s life. A friend of mine observed this morning, as we discussed this, that Victor Frankl had this right… that people are capable of enduring unimaginable pain, as long as they cling to hope. The sense of hopelessness is perhaps the most oft-observed characteristic of the decision to end one’s own life.
Our BUSINESS!!! as the Bride of Christ… as an Holy and Royal Priesthood… is to communicate, affirm, and embrace people with HOPE! “Christ in you, the hope of glory”…. to Love one another, as He loves us… Life, and that more abundantly… these ARE the Gospel!
And I encourage EVERY Minister… clergy or lay… preacher/teacher or otherwise… boldly to proclaim that Life is filled with Hope… and Hope is central to Life Himself!
(2) To be Alone, Abandoned, Isolated… Some people have described it almost like a sort of numbness, like being emotionally wrapped in cotton wool… unable to feel others. There is the creeping conviction that the person is quite alone and isolated in their pain, and that no one else is touching them.
My friend noted a wonderful observation made in some posts he was reading on this today, from people who suffer from depression at times… who said these wonderful words (we both agreed).
Advice from a depressed person: “Please don’t try to ‘fix’ me, lecture me, or ‘cheer me up’. Just BE WITH me”
How wondrous and profound those words! For those of us who do shut in, or nursing home, or hospital ministry at times… how well we know that often our most powerful ministry — perhaps often our ONLY MEANINGFUL ministry — is simply the “Ministry of Presence”. There are times that no words are “right”. Simply to BE, to be in the presence of another, to be in the presence of their pain, and offer the tacit service of bearing part of it… yes, sometimes this is the most valuable thing one can do.
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We all know people, know stories, know churches… that have encountered the challenge of suicide recovery in the past few weeks, months, or years.
I encourage discussion on this. I encourage training on this… (QPR or ASIST are great programs readily available).
I encourage “judgment free” embrace of families grieving in recovery. (One great tragedy of the social stigma still associated with suicide is that churchgoing families who suffer such a loss, often feel so embarrassed and awkward that they cease fellowship. More tragic, their church family, often not knowing what to say or how to help, just watch them slip away to the margins of church life, then beyond… without embracing and accompanying them on their road of grief.)
And, naive and simplistic as this may sound… please pray as you feel led. For those in pain, for their families, for recovering families, and for those who help.
What to pray? Whatever your spirit leads… but for me, beyond all else… Light… that Light and Hope shine out and break through in dark and shadowy places where no one but God and grace can reach. Dying can be a very lonely business. Light and hope are wondrous things!
Grace to you — The Little Monk
This morning, my heart is a bit heavy, and it brought these texts to mind. I thought I would share with you.
Let me open with Paul. He had written a letter to the Church at Corinth because they were misbehaving. They’d formed factions, were squabbling about foolish things, had mistaken “liberty” in Christ for “license” (and those are not the same). All in all, they were acting a bit like kids act when their parents and elders are away from home. So Paul wrote this letter, a bit harsh, calling them to order. They responded, and drew themselves back up, taking the correction with grace and sorting themselves out. In this passage below from a later letter to them, Paul addresses his regret and mixed feelings about having to correct them, and expresses an absolutely critical teaching about “sorrow” that I’ve found invaluable across decades of counseling…
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. [2 Corinthians 7:8-10]
There’s the critical teaching: For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.
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I had a phone call last night asking for my prayers for an 8th grade child who has decided to do a research report term paper on “Suicide”. When their teacher asked why this topic, the answer was… This child’s 25 year old cousin, married, with a spouse and three children (a 5 year old, and twin 2 year olds), had committed suicide yesterday. The student didn’t understand… hence, the research topic.
Suicide? Bible? These days? Yes.
Now when morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor. Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!” And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself. The chief priests took the pieces of silver and said, “It is not lawful to put them into the temple treasury, since it is the price of blood.” And they conferred together and with the money bought the Potter’s Field as a burial place for strangers. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. [Matthew 27:1-8]
I know I’ve posted on this before, but I am irresistibly drawn to these passages as I pray for this child, her family, and the family of this sad young man. I have no idea what was happening in his life, his mind or heart, or his family. But one thing I know, as someone who works a great deal with suicide, is that in the moments that he made his fatal decision… that young man was filled with a sorrow that leads to death, and he could see no hope of recovery. HOW he came to that moment, I do not know. THAT he came to it, I am certain. As did Judas.
Judas betrayed Jesus. He felt conviction on that. He felt remorse. He tried to undo it, to make up for it, to put things back the way they were. He tried to renounce his act, give back the money, and restore his heart. But he failed. He focused on all that he did wrong, and ultimately executed himself for it.
Let us contrast that with another betrayal of Jesus at that same time. Let’s look instead at Peter.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” He denied it, and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, being a relative of the one whose ear Peter cut off, *said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter then denied it again, and immediately a rooster crowed. [John 18:25-27]
And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. [Matthew 26:75]
Bitter tears, conviction, remorse. Look familiar? Denied his Lord and best friend… cursing even. How deep was his sorrow in such moments? Who can imagine it?
But Judas experienced “sorrow of the world”? How do we know that, why can we say that? By its fruit. His sorrow led not to salvation and rescue, but to death.
“For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
Peter, on the other hand, returned to his brothers after the Crucifixion, he ran to the tomb at the report of the women, he was with the brethren that evening when Jesus appeared. He did not abandon his life and duties, focusing myopically on his own failings and flaws. Did he know sorrow and remorse? Scripture does not say specifically, but I have no reason not to think he did.
But he and Jesus do not directly speak to one another again until they have breakfast on the seashore. I started to try to “cut and paste” through the story to put it here, and just could not bring myself to do it. The tale is a united whole, and to try to edit it just seemed “wrong” somehow.
Please look at this beautiful report… and feel how remarkable the transitions, hopes, sorrows, sadness, exuberance, joy, all of that… that Peter’s heart goes through in just this very short time.
We start with: “Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter *said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They *said to him, ‘We will also come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.“
Does it make you smile a bit, too? There they are… confused… alone… frightened… grief-stricken… totally unsure of what to do or what’s coming next. Finally, Peter stands up, likely with an air of “I-have-had-enough-of-this”… and says, “I’m going fishing.” (Perhaps he intended to be alone, reflect and rest, relax a bit with some private time.) He didn’t tell anyone to come with him. Didn’t invite them. But there we go, they stand up and say, “we’re coming along”.
The passage continues with incredible tenderness between them and the Lord. Please look it over yourselves… too rich to comment on here.
But it’s the ending, with Peter, that I want to highlight.
Look at this amazing thing… After throwing himself into the water with impatience to get to Jesus, look at what Peter DOESN’T SAY!
Peter doesn’t say:
Isn’t that AMAZING? And Jesus has NO PROBLEM with that! The Lord doesn’t berate him, accuse him, or rebuke him in any way. Instead, as Jesus so often does, He simply “cuts to the heart of the matter”. Peter denied their relationship three times. Jesus asks Peter to affirm their relationship three times. And it hurts… Peter is hurt by the third time Jesus asks if he loves Him. But Peter bears with the pain, answers each time, and receives the instructions that have now rippled outwards from that moment into the heart of every shepherd on earth.
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So what is the point of this post?
I am praying for the loved ones of a 25 year old husband and father who lost all hope, could not see how to make things right, and ended his own life.
Judas came to that same moment in his life, by betraying Jesus.
Peter also betrayed Jesus, may have felt as bad about it as Judas (or maybe worse), but he did NOT come to that place of hopeless despair.
What was the difference between them? That’s a question worthy of much study and I encourage you to ponder it. There are lots and lots of answers, and I’ll not catalog them here.
But here’s the critical piece I want to light up here:
We all do regrettable things. But the sorrow of the world focuses our gaze on ourselves… our own failings… what we did wrong… how we can make it right… what WE have to do about it. This was Judas’ approach.
The sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation… to rescue. Peter did not just focus on himself. He got with the Disciples, he shared their amazement at the tomb and in the closed room. When he decided to go fishing, and they invited themselves along, he did not deny them. When John told him Jesus was standing on the shore, he did not hide in the back of the boat. Peter embraced his own failings, got about his task of leading the Disciples, and embraced them. Peter regained his hope, trusted Jesus even having denied Him, and received full forgiveness, absolution, and restoration, without any confession or apology.
Could it be that God is not nearly so interested in our examens, confessions, penance, breast-beating, pleas and cries of remorse… as He is with simply restoring our love and trust in relationship? Could it be that He would dearly love our focusing vastly less on our sins, sinfulness, and failings, and vastly more on His love, kindness, mercy and embrace of us?
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I wonder if that 25 year old husband and father knew this? I hope more learn it.
If you follow this blog at all, you know that lifting up Jesus is my passion, and I’ve talked of Him and the Cross often in these recent days.
But I’d just like to note a thing that rankled on me one day a while back. I listened to a very Christian preacher who I love dearly, share from the pulpit on an Easter Morning. He intensely shared his heart that he felt that all the Resurrection stuff focusing on Easter was misplaced. That the Cross was the important element, and Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross was where we should focus. That all the attention paid to Easter somehow took something away from Good Friday and Jesus. To Him, Easter was the “day Jesus was absent”, and therefore not of the great importance Christendom placed upon it.
Um… be proud of me, Gentle Readers… if you know me very well, that is… because I SAID NOTHING about this to him, either then or thereafter. This is the first time I’m mentioning it, and it was years ago!
Now, any of us might critique that underlying theology, given that Paul declares the Resurrection to be of singular importance to Christian faith and witness. But, besides that, I found myself a bit “squirming” and uncomfortable about the lack of recognition or appreciation of the FATHER’s role in all this.
Even today, to be truthful, we all tend to focus almost entirely on JESUS in the Resurrection. But this much my friend had right in his diatribe… Jesus… did not perform… the Resurrection.
Good Friday, the Crucifixion and all the Passion that led up to it, is indeed an unspeakable tableau of love, grace, and courage as Jesus walked through inconceivable suffering to pay the price of our redemption. No doubt of that at all.
The other day I wrote of the extraordinary Trust involved in the Cross. But throughout this wondrous time, Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, even today.. Easter, Resurrection Sunday… I seldom hear the Father addressed or appreciated at all. And really… Friday was Jesus’ day to shine and be glorified… today is the Father’s.
Acts 2:24 But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.
Acts 3:26 For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.”
Acts 5:30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
Acts 10:40 God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible,
Acts 13:30 But God raised Him from the dead;
Romans 7:4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
Romans 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead),
Colossians 2:12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
1 Peter 1:21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Now, I ask you, who is the “God who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory”? Jesus did not raise Himself. He could not. Not once He died. He had given up His authority and life, and cast His fate entirely upon the Father in faith, hope, and love.
“For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father.” [John 10 17-18]
And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last. [Luke 23:46]
Anyway, rest assured, Resurrection Sunday is a tremendous testament and glory to Jesus Christ. His resurrected self, the testimony of witnesses and angels, make this an altogether spectacular day in our worship of Him and His grace in our redemption.
But I just feel like I want to raise and flap a little pennant here on behalf of the Father as well! So often that “God”, as presented in the Old Testament, is seen as the dour stern judge that Jesus has to RESCUE us FROM! We deal with this all the time. So many Christians I know can readily accept the reality of grace at the hands of Jesus, but really struggle to envision that from the Father. Even though Jesus has said that to see Him is to SEE the Father, or that He (Jesus) only speaks the Father’s words, and only does His works.
But right here, on Easter Resurrection Sunday, we see THE FATHER move in grace. He, and He Alone, raised Jesus from death to life. He fulfilled the plan they had carried out now for 33 years, which they had drafted from the Fall of Man.
I love Easter Sunday. I love Resurrection Sunday. But in large part, I love it in recognition of another name it could go by…
We have spent these days walking alongside, or a little behind, the Disciples Party as Jesus directed them into Jerusalem for the Passover. It is regrettable that the vicissitudes of history, politics, and economics have so divorced Christian worship and rhythms from our Jewish roots. Easter is inextricably woven with the Passover, the dramatic high points of Jesus’ ministry are woven with Passover, but unless we are blessed to know and have walked with Jews in our time who love and worship God, we can easily miss all these connections.
Across this day, this quiet day, I have been steeped in the awareness that today I “celebrate” or “commemorate” Death. Not “the dead”, as in the Feast of All Souls or All Saints. And not “Dying”, as in Good Friday, and the Lord’s surrender, willing surrender, to becoming sin and letting darkness come that He might pay the price, collect its wage. But rather, this is the aftermath. This is the silence after the tumult. This is the grief. This… is the Death.
We are disciples, you and I. At least I know that to be true for myself, and for those who have corresponded with me from these pages. We seek eternal life… we have it, and we seek to comprehend it, to cooperate with it, to serve Him… “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” [John 17:3] I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but as we approach Easter, my heart seems to settle its pulse into synch with His Companion Disciples, and vicariously I experience much of what I suspect I would feel had I been there and then.
And today… today… just seems to be such a “trembling” day. Were we walking with the Companions, we’d have watched our most terrible nightmare come about. Our Master, Our Teacher, now Our Friend… God, Son of God, this incredible Rabbi… the Messiah from whom we expected such great things… arrested, shamed, tried, condemned, rejected by the multitudes in favor of Barabbus of all people! Finally stripped naked and crucified with criminals!
Did we keep thinking this wasn’t real? Did we think there would be a last minute rescue? Did we think He would pray, and stretch forth His hand, and speak to the Father, (as we have seen Him do so many times), and power come forth from Him to change all of this? And then we were afraid! So very afraid! The Romans, the Temple Guards, the Pharisees, Scribes, and finally even the Mob Itself! It seemed Jesus had just given us over and gone His way! He was being KILLED! Were we to be killed as well? How could everything have gone so very wrong in only the week since He was proclaimed through the streets as “Blessed… who comes in the name of the Lord!”
And our fear rendered all but the most loving of us… fugitives. We melted away from the crowds, and fled for safety and cover. Only the women held the faith. The women who traveled with Him from the beginning, who supported Him with their means, who wiped His feet with their tears, and His bloodied sweating face with their clothing as He stumbled along on His last Journey to the rocks where He would be slain. Are we ashamed of ourselves. we burly Companions, we whom He authorized to travel in His name, heal the sick, raise the dead, cast out the demons, as we see these mere women with the courage to stay alongside Our Lord, where our fear of death turns our knees to water and we slink away to melt into anonymous crowds and shelter?
Yesterday, the Day Jesus Died, was an incredible day of such fear for us! Fear, confusion at what was happening, and Death! When He was taken down, two men stepped forth and did something unthinkable. They were, of all things, Pharisees. Here we are in the Passover, about to enter the Sabbath of the Passover, for which we have spent 5 days of purification and cleansing and preparation… and, as Jesus is lowered from the Cross as a corpse… these men (Nicodemus and Joseph) gain permission to take custody of the body and lay it in a new cut tomb.
Now, publicly, they have become Unclean. They cannot enter the Temple to worship. They cannot sit to the Passover. They cannot traffic with their peers or those they lead and teach. They are now no better than lepers in their community… not until they have purified themselves from handling the dead. They, these religious men, must come and deal with Jesus’ body first, washing him of the blood and the filth, restoring His modesty and dignity, before the women can come and anoint Him with herbs and ointments for proper interment. There is no time! There is so little time! Unclean or not, women or not, they must all be back to their homes before the sun sets.
So it is a hurried job to prepare the Lord’s Body to be sealed up, until the Passover Holy Sabbath is past, and they can return to the Tomb. They do their best. He is washed, anointed, and wrapped in a winding sheet. Sadly, they all leave Him. The stone is rolled into the entrance to seal His grave, and they all go home.
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Now… there is nothing to do… but wait.
So here we are… waiting. Nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Just the waiting, feeling the grief, feeling the confusion, feeling the fear. Jesus… is Dead.
This is the “mood” that has pervaded this day in my universe. Rather than “fight it”, I simply “embraced it” and offered it up to the Lord saying, “OK, if this is what I am experiencing… if this is what the Companions experienced… where is the grace here? What purpose, what light, what are You teaching here?”
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It seemed that my focus, so tight and intense on the Cross, the Tomb, Jerusalem of that time… “panned outwards” to a visage of the region, the hemisphere, the globe, then onwards out beyond the solar system, galaxy, to encompass all of the universe before me… and all of that… ALL of it… stood poised and silent… frozen in the reality of the Death of Him in whose hand all of this was held together. It was like inhaling, and being unable to exhale. It was a sense of “trembling anticipation”.
This… is a miserable feeling. Don’t you agree? That sense of “this is terrible”, but “something else is fixing to happen”, but “I don’t know what that is”, and “I don’t know if it will be better or worse”. It’s the pain of the present, combined with the fear and uncertainty of the future!
Where I sought that the Lord would RELIEVE my discomfort, I was surprised that He seemed to INTENSIFY it, MAGNIFY it. I knew He was in charge of whatever He was doing, so I did not resist. But it was to be totally immersed in Death, the full experience of the grief, the pain, even the texture and odor. Not pleasant, as learning experiences go, but I could sit still. Now I, Gentle Reader, like most people I know, have a natural revulsion and aversion to death. For many years I despised and “fought” it, feeling a a personal sense of defeat when someone in my care succumbed to death. As I matured, I came more to “accept” death as a necessary transition from here to There. But I still didn’t “like” it. At this point in my walk, I have come to realize that there are times when Death is a welcome relief and release from the intense labor and suffering of captivity in this body. But I cannot say it was ever something I “embraced” with my heart.
That was the challenge of this day.
The Lord challenged me to “embrace” Death altogether. So to enter into Him and His heart, that I could see that He did so… and allow the Him in me to do so again, and take me with Him as He did.
Does this sound strange to you, Gentle Reader? It certainly did to me. After spending an entire day “immersed” in Death… the Lord now asked me to “embrace” that as wholeheartedly as I did Life, Love, or Joy. It made no sense! I could not understand or comprehend this. Still, clearly, He had done this from the Cross… there was nothing to this directive that seemed inconsistent with Him or Love or scripture.
So, given that I’ve found “faith” to be my willingness to embrace a truth I could not comprehend… I obeyed.
I endeavored to “relax” in the immediate intimate presence of death itself. Like learning to “float” in water, it’s not an application of effort… it’s the refusal to apply resistance. It crystallized into ceasing to judge “Death” to be “bad”, just accepting it as a part of the experience of life God grants to us, and thanking and praising Him for making it part of our lives. The very strange instruction to my heart seemed to be to: “Trust Death”. Strange, no?
After yielding into the stream that the Lord seemed to direct, some interesting truths seemed to become apparent. I don’t offer these here as “grand answers to mysteries”. It is all yet quite mysterious to me, but I offer “food for thought” here, as we have spent this extraordinary day… rather like Noah and his family shut up in the Ark, sealed in, days before the Flood began… just waiting… waiting… on a promise… confused… in a box.
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Jesus did not refuse the Redemption in that He did not refuse or flee from the Death that came for Him. He embraced it. He surrendered to it. He trusted to it, that the Father (who He could no longer feel, hear, or sense), was Sovereign over all… and He could trust to that. Jesus indeed had exercised authority over Death many times in His ministry… but not today.
Jesus had taught strange things about death through His travels…
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24
And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” Mark 8:34
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” Luke 9:23
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:25
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:35
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:24
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“Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know — this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” [Acts 2:22-24]
Here, the truths of this passage, seemed to be where my ponderings brought me.I realized a simple series of things:The great “Tyrant” of our lives, the force that impels people against faith and into selfishness stems from the apparent power of death. Not so much death itself, as the FEAR of death. To acquire things, to bully others, the lie, cheat, steal, kill… all seems to bolster an illusion of our invulnerability, our potency, our power. Why do we need such things so desperately? Because they meet our deepest insecurity… the knowledge of our mortality… and our fear of everything having to do with that. Humans not only fear death because of the implications of the Afterlife… but because of revulsion to Death Itself!
As always, Jesus deals with this head on. He doesn’t do a lot of “teaching about” Death in His 3 years of traveling. But He teaches multitudes by direct confrontation. He raises the Dead. More than once. (Fairly impressive, no?)
He SAYS, simply, “you must die to live.” He instructs His followers to let loose their fear of death, embrace it, take up their cross and follow Him. At the Last Supper He instructs His to eat His body and drink His blood, by which He has earlier taught they will have life within them.
Then, Jesus MODELS His teaching. He surrenders to Death, laying down His life of His own initiative.
Today, this Silent Day Between, it is ever so tempting to sneak a peek forward to the rising of tomorrow’s sun… to “borrow forward” into tomorrow’s joy.
But if we can refrain… if we can hold our self control… an incredible thing happens right here. People are bullied, their whole lives long, by the FEAR of Death. What if we lost that fear? What if we could embrace the whole issue of Death as one the Lord absorbed and now rules, that we are to embrace it, in all ways, in order to follow Him?
What would it be like if the greatest fear in our personal universes, just evaporated? What if we simply trusted Him? Would we find it easier to LIVE in and for Him, not just die? Would we be less shy in our communities about our love for Him, or His for us? Would we be more loving, more giving, less attached to our material possessions? Would we be less concerned about “what other people think?” of whether we are keeping all the rules, and be more attentive to the hungry, the sick, the incarcerated, the sinful?
I’ve said before, we cannot fully love anyone we do not fully trust. As long as we see Death as a thing apart from Him, apart from His love, but yet present in our lives… can we fully trust or love Him? And what happens when we release that?
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Were the First Century Christians so extraordinary because they had seen with their own eyes, and lost entirely their fear of Death? Could they openly follow Jesus into the joy, the light, the love, the power of the Holy Spirit, because they had lost all fear of death, persecution, or the power of the state?
What would our days, our walk, be like if we could do the same?
We do not know what time Eve and Adam betrayed reality by tearing its fabric, opening the veil between evil and consciousness by eating fruit of a tree for which they were not yet prepared or authorized. But we know that they hid from the Lord as He sought them “in the cool of the day”.
The Lord confronted them, offered them the opportunity to trust Him with the truth (which they sidestepped), and sadly had to rescue them by protecting them from what was now tremendous danger to them, the Tree of Life. It only took a matter of hours, for Creation to be torn asunder. The Perfection of Creation was ripped from God’s plan, by the sin of Adam. In Adam, all men fell. From this perfect place, this perfect time, this perfect life… came forth death and utter corruption.
Fast Forward… who knows how many years…
Again, Creation Itself trembles on a brink of unthinkable, unspeakable, inexpressible change. God Himself has entered the full frailty of humanity. He has lived a mortal life. He has walked in perfect harmony of God’s will. And the world, the fallen world, this broken world, all the corruption of all of time, is now come together to focus on Him. The Darkness of all of Time has come to this point… to find Jesus… to focus on Jesus… to crush Jesus… to kill Jesus. All the corruption, all the sin, all the darkness and shadow that crept into reality through the rent fabric of the Garden… Now all of that takes aim at Jesus, through the crosshairs of the Crucifixion. The Redemption of Creation was restored through the sacrifice of Christ. In Jesus Creation was restored.
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.[Romans 5:18-19]
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How… how simply Incredible… is all of this? Don Merriitt is going through a wonderful review of the Book of Hebrews right now at The Life Project, and there you see this incredible explanation of mechanics of redemption through faith, connecting the dots between Jesus and fulfillment of Old Testament Law and worship practices. Who can follow all of that, really? Not I. Definitely “above my pay grade” stuff. God engineered redemption with such care and crafting that vast portions of it are simply mystery to me. I can embrace the truth of them, but not comprehend the means. There is only faith for all that.
But through the one… Adam… all fell. Through the One… Jesus… all is made whole. And in all of that, that tremendous realignment of Creation itself… Jesus did that… Alone.
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This year, as the tremendous grief of Good Friday does indeed wash over me, as often in years past… This year… I was struck with a different thought than ever before. I have often been struck by the “aloneness” of the Passion and Redemption before, yes. Judas abandoned the fellowship of Disciples, yes. Jesus begs the Father to take His cup away, yes. The disciples there sleep as Jesus prays, rather than standing an hour of vigil, yes. Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends denies Him, yes. All desert Him at His trial and on the way to the Cross, but for some women who stay with Him, yes. At the very foot of the Cross itself, there is only young John and His mother, standing loyally by. All the rest have fled, yes. And then there is that final moment, the separation that tears the Veil asunder, when Jesus cries out, “Lord, Lord, why have You forsaken Me!”
Year by year, all of these alone-nesses, all of these separations, all have focused my attention across time.
But this year, it was very different. This year, all I could sense and feel was Jesus’ being torn away from the Father. And all I could think was to wonder, “What did He FEEL as it happened?” I mean, think of it, never before in the history of the universe, had Jesus ever been ALONE… apart from the Father.
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I found myself wondering, as Jesus approached these moments through this week, KNOWING what was going to happen and what He needed to do… when you reflect on His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, that the Father spare Him this…
Did Jesus feel abandoned?
In that He experienced all that we do, short of sin… how did He feel as the first moment of Aloneness in the history of time… approached? We see David feel this from time to time. We see Job, the Disciples, countless others throughout the Bible. I have felt abandoned by friends… haven’t you? I know no pain greater than to be in a time of great trial, say, like Jesus, approaching death, and have a beloved friend or family member abandon one, go silent, ignore you. Can you imagine that? Now can you imagine such a thing between Jesus and the Father? Inconceivable, isn’t it?
Jesus declares that He feels “forsaken”. He was utterly desolate and alone. He had, over His time on the Cross, BECOME sin. All sin for all time. And for the first and only moment in all of time, He could not feel the presence of His (Our) Father. How lonely would that be? How abandoned?
I have to wonder, did He feel “betrayed”?
He shared all of our feelings. Would we feel abandoned and betrayed? Did He?
What a depressing prospect, eh? What a hopeless and sad story this is, isn’t it?
But it ISN’T! This, this Passion, Crucifixion, to be followed by Resurrection and Pentecost… is the pinnacle of the GOOD NEWS! So it is very important, even in the depths of the sadness of the Cross, to realize where Light lies in the heart of such darkness.
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As we ponder just how alone Jesus was through our salvation, we are struck with the pain of that. Can there be anything so painful, so deeply wounding, as the realization that, especially as one approaches death, a friend, friends, or family that have sworn to be with you, stay with you, walk with you, and treasure you… no longer can be found? That they abandon you? Do we feel betrayed by that?
And, if that is the case… if Jesus felt not only that sadness and loneliness of being abandoned, but even the pain of betrayal as well… how did He handle it? What did it take, what WOULD it take, simply to walk on through the experience, through the pain, through the abandonment, through the betrayal?
I can tell you what it took… what it takes… faith… and love.
And that is the Good News here. Jesus experienced something absolutely unique in all of His lifetime in those hours. He experienced what leads people to death at their own hands every day. Abandonment, betrayal, and nearly total isolation. Only one disciple, some women, and His mom showed the courage not to flee. Only they could bear the pain to watch Him die, or dare the risk not to run and hide from Him.
Jesus always felt the love. Supremely, He felt the love from the Cross. As the multitudes looked upon Him, vilified Him, spat at Him, threw garbage at Him as slowly he bled and suffocated on a garbage heap… Jesus said only one thing over them to the Father. He begged that the Father would forgive them.
And, as His life ebbed from Him drop by drop and breath by breath, as He BECAME all sin for all time… As thus He allowed death to creep into Him, sin by sin over three hours… He was transformed from Life to death, so necrotic of spirit that for the first time in the history of time, He was so “dead” He could not feel the Father’s presence and love. In His anguish He cries out for the Father’s presence, but there seems to be no response. How bitter is that? How sour and galling?
So what does He do?
He goes on.
He can’t hear comfort. He can’t feel comfort. He can’t see relief or comfort. But He knows who He is, and where He is, and what He is to do. So, in faith alone, and fully in love, He goes on and surrenders to the horror that is happening. Having BECOME very sin itself, He thirsts, He drinks, and He dies.
And… thus… He WINS! He CONQUERS!
He, God, Son of God, had to be brought to the very brink of will and faith itself, and, fueled by love alone, He had to step over the edge. And He did.
THIS is why we can experience faith at all. This is why we can experience love, trust, and compassion. This is why the Garden, its separation, its boundaries, its lies and illusions wafted in vapors of guilt and shame by the serpent who engineered the Fall… this is why none of that can bind us any longer.
Jesus freed us from all that, simply by experiencing the very depths of abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, and loss… and yet giving Himself over utterly in faith, and trust, and love. He walked on through His duty as if He had all the armies of encouragement, friends, family, servants, walking alongside Him. He carried on as if He were Moses with Joshua’s supporting hands for His tired arms.
Jesus treated those who abandoned Him, who claimed to have treasured Him, who turned away from Him as He approached death… as if none of that happened. He looked upon his betrayers and abandoners, loved them anyway, prayed for them, and gave up His life for them. Just as we are to do to love as He loves, without regard for their words or their silences. He simply walked on in His love for them, for the Father, for us… as though it were any other day. He “betrayed betrayal” by simply giving it no traction and loving on through the pain of seeing those He loved and trusted reject and abandon Him.
Here is tremendous power. Here is the combination of faith and love. Here is the truth that changes hearts, changes lives, and… this day… changed the universe itself.
And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” [Matthew 26:39]
Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.[John 19:30]
How do we win, how do we triumph in the joy that is Christ’s life, here and now, as we deal with the pain of this world? We drink the vinegar and absorb all that pain in faith and love. We refrain from using any of our resources, our swords, our words, our angels, to defend ourselves or set things right. We trust the Father, we declare our efforts finished, and we exhale.
Next… we will see about the Father’s response to such faith, trust, love…
Mustard seeds, and “mustard seed faith” is so written about, and so preached about, I almost shrink from the prospect. But the other day I was sharing with and listening to an “almost Believer”, and this idea of the very tiniest spark of faith… of faith the size of a mustard seed… suddenly loomed very large and important in my spirit. I hope I can express myself clearly here.
We spend our lives, you and I, helping people enter into a Living Relationship with an Intimate and Immediately Present Christ. That is, Jesus, right here, right now, in HERE (points into the chest). Many Christians, good and loving children of God, worship a God who is “up and out there” somewhere… sitting on a celestial throne, floating on some beatific cloud. The God they worship is far away, very busy, and totally solemn. Nothing WRONG with that God, you understand. There is the Isaiah God in all His splendor, and that is certainly a true and good expression of the Person of Holy God.
Together, my friend and I began out in the Cosmic Void… that scary place where you just stand naked before All that Is, or Was, or Would Ever Be… and you feel so small and so very very Alone. And then we conceived of the possibility of God, a Creator, one who was willing and able to speak into existence… Reality. And then we fast-forwarded to what we know from the Bible… the Old Testament God, the Law and the Prophets, and history culminating in the Gospel, the Birth, Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. That God could so love us that He gave His only begotten Son up as sacrifice, as means, the Way, to come into Union with Him.
We walked, (rather quickly, really), through all of this. And my friend “believed”… “almost”. His mind could conceive of the truths of this. But his heart could not comprehend or accept the actual love, the actual personal relationship of it. It was actually a very strange moment. It was as if he and I stood, hand in hand, at the foot of the cross… gazing upon Jesus and all that love… and he couldn’t… quite… connect it to himself. And I was very frustrated (with myself, not him) because I couldn’t find the words to help.
He could believe in the love of God. He could believe in the Person and Nature of Jesus. He could believe in God’s love for creation… the cosmos… humanity… the Church… all of that. But somehow his spirit just seemed to “stop short” at connecting that love to him, himself, personally.
I asked him what it would take for him to “bridge that gap”? What was missing? What did he need?
And he said… “Faith.”
I realized how right he was. Suddenly years of “theology” and “training” just seemed to click into place in an entirely new way. My friend, a brilliant young man, had spent his whole life approaching Jesus with his MIND. Now, here, today, with me, he wanted and needed to connect with his HEART and we were failing in the attempt. And I saw why. And I understood. We needed… a mustard seed of faith.
So I challenged my friend. He knew all these things ABOUT God and Jesus. He knew the relevant scriptures. He knew “what to say”, and “how to pray”. But he did NOT know how to “surrender” or to “yield”. He did not know how to “trust”. And without learning to “trust”, he could never know how to love, or how to receive love in return.
We discussed this, and my friend admitted that he lacked trust, and that it seemed he simply lacked “faith” and did not know how to get it. Without a sense of confidence in true connection with Jesus, he wasn’t at all sure there was any point in praying for it, either. (Interesting little puzzle, no?)
And we ended our time together with this challenge I made to him. That when we say the word “infinite”, we communicate effectively and speak meaningfully, even though admittedly we cannot “comprehend” “infinite”. That is, we cannot “contain” the meaning of that word in our minds. We cannot, EVER, count up to infinity. Same thing with the words “eternal’ or “eternity”. In fact, this is the same with almost every word that applies to God.
Truth: “We can conceive of, and embrace, the reality of concepts that we cannot entirely comprehend or contain in our own minds.”
We do this all the time, though we seldom think about it.
I asked him how we do this? How does he ascribe any meaning at all to our conversation, when we use words like “infinite” or “eternal”? And we discussed this a bit. From there I pointed out that he had, and has, no problem or discomfort using these terms because he has learned to “embrace” some truths that he cannot “comprehend”. He can accept these concepts as being “real”, without EVER being able to “prove” them or “demonstrate” them.
So I challenged him simply to embrace the reality of Jesus on the Cross… of all that Love… all that forgiveness… all that Intimate Presence and caring in and for him individually and his life… without comprehending it. To deal with Jesus not just as an “infinite concept”, but a PERSON, a “relationship” as mysterious as “love” itself (which cannot be fully comprehended).
I asked my friend if he felt he could “embrace this truth by decision and choice”, rather than depending on “comprehension” and “rationality”. That he would be doing no more than we do in considering any other limitless truth. But this time, realize that he was embracing not just an “idea” or a “concept”, but the Living God and His love for my friend in direct relationship.
He said yes, he could and would do this. We shall follow up together next week.
But when we were finished, and the Lord and I discussed this whole encounter, Jesus showed me… a Mustard Seed. He said this… this little tiny spark of faith… this simple willingness to believe, if not belief itself… this was the difference between death and life.
We come to the Cross the first time, dead. We gaze upon the Love of God, the Person of Jesus, and He says He loves us. We don’t believe it. We CAN’T believe it. It is not yet IN us to believe it. But it is true. We are not equipped to accept, understand, believe, or receive any of that, not Him or His love. BUT… all it takes… ALL it takes… is the tiniest spark of faith… the WILLINGNESS to embrace that which we cannot comprehend or yet believe… and everything changes.
It starts as just a mustard seed, and as He renews and transforms us over time, we can develop into mountains of faith.
I never valued so small a seed so highly before.
Blessings and grace to all!