Thoughts on Death and Suffering


What is it with all this death and suffering in our world?  Has science not yet eradicated the inimitable Grim Reaper? In the age of nuclear medicine and MRI’s, we seem to be capable of better identifying the diseases which cause our suffering, but we still can’t seem to eliminate the pains. And as for death, well the funeral business hasn’t died.

Suffering, dying, and death are part of this created life. Since the Fall (in Genesis 3), humankind has been placed under a curse so heavy that it causes many to curse God (ask Job’s wife, Job 2:9).  But for those who are in Christ, the burden of death has been lifted (even if the process of it still lingers in place). Jesus took on flesh and blood so that He might taste death for His followers. He swallowed death’s poison, draining death’s cup. Then, He showed it had no power, as He triumphantly rose from the tomb. Thus, Christ delivered us who had once lived under the power and fear of death.

The writer of Hebrews says it this way:

“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Christians are free from the slavery of death. That being the case, why does death still wreak havoc over our emotions?  Why does it still haunt us and threaten us? We fear dying, and we still fear having our loved ones die. Why? Two reasons come to mind.

First, we are ultimately weak in the flesh. Though we build ourselves up pretentiously with great strength, we are always brought uncomfortably low in the face of death. Death shatters our illusions of strength. We see very big, strong, and tough men weep under the burden of death. Death shows no pity, no remorse—just raw power to shut down hopes and dreams and plans.  Death is an uncommonly powerful foe. This fact is not lost on the evil one who intends to wield the power of death to keep our weakness out front. He hopes to keep us forever weak by reminding us of death’s strength.

God, too, uses death to expose our weakness, but He does not seek to trap us in the bondage of despair. He shows us His strength through Christ and the Resurrection.  God knows our frames that we are but dust. He knows our weakness. He does not seek to exploit it as Satan does. Instead, He seeks to expose it to show us the full-on power of the gospel of our Lord which culminates in His defeat of death through the Resurrection and ascension to the throne of Heaven.  God has a place for death to display the perfection of His great power toward all who believe. The gospel is the power of God (Romans 1).

So, second, we fear death because we forget God’s perfect power.  His power is on display through Christ’s victory over death.  The perfection of His power is on display through our faith, as we suffer through the consequences of death.  Nowhere in Scripture does God minimize the power of death. There is no greater foe. Death is the last enemy of God to be eradicated.

We must deal with death.  The only way to deal with it faithfully is to believe the Christ who reigns victoriously over it.  Notice, the key is not to believe “in” the Christ (that’s the way we normally hear it phrased). The key is to believe Him. He claims to have rendered death powerless.  Believe that He has taken away its power.

In believing that Christ has taken away death’s power, we have reason to trust Him with every death. Every death is now redeemed.  There is a redemptive order to all things (1 Corinthians 15:22-28).  God promises that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him, those called according to His purposes. Surely, such redemptive promises can be trusted because they are secured by the One who has overcome death.

Our response to death, then, is two-fold. First, we believe Christ has actually defeated it and taken away its power. Second, we believe that God is wise in His ordering of life and death events. In Isaiah 28, the prophet warns Judah of the judgment which is to come upon them. He implores the people to trust the wisdom of God.  Just as the farmer knows that “dill is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a club,” so, too, God knows the best way to bring forth the grain harvest for His people through their suffering. There is a proper order to the events of harvest. We can trust the farmer to know how to bring out the grain. We can trust God to know how to bring forth the grain of victory through suffering and death. Christ is God’s proof.

Tom White: What Happened (and What Might We Learn)


Tom white what happened to Tom White vom

Tom White has been the face of Voice of the Martyrs for the past two decades. With Tom White as its head, the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs increased exponentially.  What will happen next to that ministry is in the Lord’s hands (which is the best place for it to be).

The tragic details of Tom White’s death are just now coming to light. I searched two days for answers after first learning of White’s death on Wednesday. His death was so sudden. It seemed something had to be wrong.

As it turns out, something was wrong indeed. Word is now leaking out from Bartlesville, OK (headquarters of Voice of the Martyrs) that Tom White was being investigated for inappropriate relations with a young girl.  The official blog page from Voice of the Martyrs has posted an announcement admitting there were allegations and acknowledging that those circumstances apparently led Tom White to take his own life.

I do not report this gladly. I have wept over the tragedy. Tom White has been a great influence in my life and has shaped to some degree my desire to know the persecuted church of Christ. I have fond memories of an evening I was able to spend with him in Cincinnati. Between the various courses of sushi, we spoke of the church in Iran, Pakistan, Vietnam, Laos, China, and Iraq. His knowledge of particular examples of persecution was unparalleled. Even more edifying was his ability to recount example after example of Christians being wise as serpents yet innocent as doves in the face of horrendous suffering. I told my wife that night that I hope to be like that some day—able to unfold global gospel encounters one after the other as an encouragement to all believers.

Sadly, I can now be reminded of an even more crucial lesson from Tom White. The evil one prowls like a lion seeking whom to devour. Sin is not limited to the down and out. Sin is capable of destroying any of us, and, certainly, the evil one desires for it to ruin pastors and leaders—striking the shepherd in hopes of causing the sheep to flee. It is an old strategy—but still a terribly effective one.

My response to all of this is not to doubt Voice of the Martyrs and most definitely NOT to doubt ministry to the persecuted church. My response is to remember that the real battle we must win is the personal battle over sin and death. Or, better put, we must remember the battle Christ has won over sin and over death and remain extremely close to Him. May the Lord bring His miraculous power to Tom White’s family, especially his wife and children. May the Lord remind us all to pray diligently for our pastors and leaders.

Maybe Some Good News from Iran


According to the Jubilee Campaign, there is good news from Iran.  Pastor Youcef will not be executed for being a Christian in Iran.  The report makes it unclear exactly what will happen next. It almost sounds as though he will be asked to deny Christ and return to Islam in order to have the charges dropped. I hope that is not the case.  We prayed for Youcef this past Sunday, and I am very glad to hear this report.  We should continue to pray.  Here is the update from Jubilee Campaign:

Iran annuls death term for Christian pastor: lawyer

TEHRAN (AFP): Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence handed down to Yusef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor accused of apostasy for having converted from Islam, his lawyer told AFP on Sunday.

“The supreme court has annulled the death sentence and sent the case back to the court in Rasht (his hometown), asking the accused to repent,” Mohammad Ali Dadkhah said.

Nadarkhani, now 32, converted from Islam to Christianity at the age of 19 and became a pastor of a small evangelical community called the Church of Iran.

He was arrested in October 2009 and condemned to death for apostasy under Iran’s Islamic Sharia laws, which however allow for such verdicts to be overturned if the convicted person “repents” and renounces his conversion.

After his conviction was upheld by an appeal court in Gilan province in September 2010, Nadarkhani turned to the supreme court. His wife, who was initially sentenced to life imprisonment, was released on appeal.

The lawyer said the verdict had been read out to him on the telephone and that he needed to travel to Rasht, where Nadarkhani is being held, to see the ruling for himself.

Dadkhah said he himself was sentenced on Sunday by a Tehran court to nine years in jail and a 10-year ban on practicing law or teaching at university for “actions and propaganda against the Islamic regime”.

The lawyer said he had been criticised for having cooperated with the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, an organisation founded by Nobel peace laureate Shirin Ebadi, as well as for giving interviews to foreign radio stations.

“I have 20 days to lodge an appeal,” he said.

The Loss and Gain of Springtime Gardens


http://www.helium.com/items/2099312-potato-planters-eaters-louisiana-gardening

The article linked above is one designed to help us cope with loss, or, better, to see some gain even through our losses.  Spring is the time for planting, for hoping, for expecting new life.  Gardening is one of the joys offered each spring.  I wrote the article above with two thoughts in mind.  First, I was thinking of my dad.  Second, I was thinking of a painting by Vincent Van Gogh called “The Potato Eaters.”  The painting is not particularly famous. Most write it off as Van Gogh’s “early” work before he became fascinated with the pursuit of the perfect yellow.  Nevertheless, the painting is a brilliant display of the “earthiness” of all people.  That theme is obvious in the gardening article above. Hopefully, the article will be both sobering and encouraging for you as springtime rolls around.

The Potato Eaters by Vincent Van Gogh

What’s in a Name (a person)


Loughner, the Tucson murderer, is clearly crazy.  In an earlier blog post, I said Loughner represented an “anti-gospel.”  After reading some of the findings of the Secret Service study on would-be assassins, I think I can say that Loughner is anti-gospel, if not anti-Christ.  (I don’t mean he is the Antichrist or anything like that.  I simply mean his actions represent a polar opposite outlook from the gospel).  Here is an excerpt concerning the Secret Service study concerning folks like Loughner:

“It was very, very rare for the primary motive to be political, though there were a number of attackers who appeared to clothe their motives with some political rhetoric,” Fein says.

What emerges from the study is that rather than being politically motivated, many of the assassins and would-be assassins simply felt invisible. In the year before their attacks, most struggled with acute reversals and disappointment in their lives, which, the paper argues, was the true motive. They didn’t want to see themselves as nonentities.

“They experienced failure after failure after failure, and decided that rather than being a ‘nobody,’ they wanted to be a ‘somebody,’ ” Fein says.

They chose political targets, then, because political targets were a sure way to transform this situation: They would be known.

The study, in a sense, confirms what I stated in an earlier blog post, namely, that Loughner’s actions represent the anti-gospel.  Where Christ says discipleship (that is, following Him) begins with denying self, then taking up your cross, then following Christ, Loughner’s actions were just the reverse.

If he fits the typical profile of a political assassin, he did this for his own fame.  He did this solely for himself—to make a name for himself so that he would not be forgotten.  He wanted to be somebody.  So, he killed somebody.  In fact, he killed 6 somebodies. . .

Where Christ died so others might be given His fame, Jeff Loughner killed so that others would make him infamous.  That’s all.  For the reward of making his name known, he killed …  No wonder he got upset that one of his subduers was hurting his arm.  He made himself his own idol.  He was bloodthirsty for a name.  So, he robbed families of names they loved.  Jeff killed  John Roll, Christina Taylor Green, Gabe Zimmerman, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, and Dorothy Morris to make sure someone would remember know his name.

Such action is clearly anti-gospel.  It is the spirit of anti-Christ in the sense that Christ offers exactly the reverse.  Christ died, laying down His own life so that others might enjoy the benefits of receiving His name.

Dorwan Stoddard’s Greater Love


Jesus taught His followers that a greater cannot be found than the love of a man who would lay down his life for his friends.  Dorwan Stoddard’s love is spoken of this story.  He saved the life of his best friend–his wife.

Wisdom vs. Slavery


I had not thought of making wisdom and slavery opposites before reading Genesis 2 today, but these 2 ideas are opposites.  The Lord speaks to the Man and gives him the command to eat freely of everything in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Obviously, for this command to make sense, the Man already had some head knowledge of both good and evil.  What he did not have is experiential knowledge of evil.

If Man had stayed forever away from the experiential knowledge of evil, he would have grown in wisdom and knowledge before the Lord and enjoyed great harmony in the Garden.  Wisdom means applying godly knowledge to life, thereby learning more about God and life.

Yet, we know that the Man did not follow the course of growing in wisdom; instead, he took the forbidden fruit and fell into the experiential knowledge of good and evil.  This fall was not innocent; it brought guilt and judgment.  Indeed, it brought death.  So, the picture is clear from Genesis 2 that the way of obedience is the way of wisdom, but the way of disobedience is the way of being trapped into death.  The freedom of life and the slavery of death are always on the line in the matter of obedience.

Out of the Mouth of Babes


I have a video linked here which demonstrates that the Lord establishes strength out of the mouth of babes and infants.  This little girl, Hannah, speaks the truth.  She also displays the fruit of a family which has reared this child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. 

I post this video today because it is a very healthy reminder that the Lord has not finished his work on earth just yet.  Our church lost a great man yesterday.  Otis Ray Ratliff passed away at the age of 95.  Today, we have a little less salt on the earth and a little less light in the sky around us; yet, God is not finished building his kingdom.  Be encouraged by this little girl–and the future of Christ’s kingdom for His people.

Two Fine Ladies and a Good Man


I take this opportunity to give thanks to God for 2 fine ladies who have passed away and now, we trust, are in the presence of the Lord.  Our church said an earthly good-bye to Mrs. Ruth Mann and Mrs. Almeda Redmon.  Mrs. Mann taught in our Sunday School for decades.  Mrs. Almeda faithfully served our church until about 3 years ago when Alzheimer’s struck her.  One of the best things to come out of this sad loss is the witness of Almeda’s husband.  For the past 19 months, he has gone to be at her side, day in and day out.  Each day, another piece of his heart was pierced with pain, as he watched his wife slowly give way to this terrible disease clouding her mind, her thoughts, and her actions.  This husband and wife have allowed all of us to learn something about our wedding vows and how to fulfill them.  I bless God for the privilege of seeing a marriage remain firm to the end as promised. 

These two fine ladies will be missed.  They were two of the most gentle women I have ever known.  I am honored to have known them and privileged to have been called their pastor.

Death with Dignity


The whole death with dignity movement is tied to abortion.  Since when has death been dignified?  We are on the side of life, not death.  Death is the enemy–the last enemy to be undone by the Resurrection of Christ.

The notion that it is better for unwanted or inconvenient human beings to die by abortion is inherently tied to the idea that the elderly and otherwise unfit ought also to go the way of “death with dignity.”  Dr. Mohler offers a chilling account of one of Britain’s leading ethicists.  This leading bioethics spokesperson believes, “If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service.”  Read the whole story