Our pastor, Robert Morris, taught an extensive series on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 recently at Gateway Church in Southlake, TX. When he delivered his message on Matthew 5:4, he raised a question that begs asking in this context:
What if we all grieved over our sin and what it cost God the way we grieve over the death of those we love?
I think about that each time I consider God’s sacrifice against my own son’s death. Could I possibly view it in any other way? Placing my son’s death against the backdrop of the cross leaves me with a heart that cries out to God, “There is no comparison, Lord. You paid the higher price.”
I believe when my son died, God gave me a choice, just as He has done since He first created Adam and Eve in the garden. You may be asking yourself, What kind of choice is that?
It’s the choice every one of us who suffer grief and loss must make, and I am so grateful that when August 23, 2005 came to my door – I had His perspective in my heart and not just my own. If I had been left only to my emotions, my responses and my devices… I might have just thrown myself against the machines, never asked for a test and be pining away in a hospital room watching my son’s withering body – all dead except the life being pumped into it by medication and machine… and I might have yet to say goodbye to him.
I thank God every single day that I was able to see Justin’s death in light of eternity and in light of His mercy and grace.
New Life Ministries has a book called, “Healing is a Choice.” And, I believe that this applies broadly – we must be willing to submit what hurts to God and allow Him to minister to our pain and our suffering in His mercy and grace. We must choose the Healing and Grace of God – He gives it freely, but He is such a gentleman that He never forces His will or His way on anyone. Any person who comes to God comes to Him by their free will and their faith in who His Word declares Him to be and what His promises tell us He will do. He alone is the comforter, the healer and the lover of our souls.
In the depth of this kind of pain and despair we may find ourselves unable to even pray or read His Word. At times we may think the future is just as void and empty as our arms are without ouou loved one to hold. We may even think there is no longer a future to live for us. We are just destined to exist and survive without joy, without hope and without love because our hearts have been so broken in our loss.
God’s Word tells us we are not just survivors, we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. There is life to be had and lived again, the death of those we love is not the end of life itself, just an opportunity to live it in a different light.
I believe that God’s Word promises us something so different than just existence – Jesus said He came to bring us life, life to the full. I have seen that promise at work in my life and witnessed it in the grief of others.
Tony Dungy, head coach of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts who won the Super Bowl in recent years, lost his oldest child, James, to suicide in December, 2005. All the while Coach Dungy was leading one of the most celebrated teams in NFL history – he was suffering the worst agony one can imagine… He was missing his son.
Coach Dungy’s loss came on the heels of my own loss. I remember barely being able to identify his loss because my own grief overwhelmed me. I could scarcely handle my own feelings much less process the tragedy in other people’s lives – especially people I had no occasion to truly know.
At the 19th Annual Athletes in Action Super Bowl Breakfast on February 4, 2006, Tony Dungy delivered an emotional and inspiring speech to the crowd who gathered for breakfast that day leading up to the biggest football game of the year. He spoke of many things, but shared for the first time publicly what his son’s death taught him.
Here are a few quotes from that speech:
Of his son, James, he said:
“He was a Christian and is today in heaven. He was struggling with the things of the world and took his own life. People ask how I could come back to work so soon. I’m not totally recovered, I don’t know if I ever will be, it’s still ever-painful…”
I can so relate to Coach Dungy’s feelings and statement about his son’s death, faith and desire to move forward with life. It still hurts the deepest places of my heart to think of Justin in a place where I can’t hold him, talk to him, hear him laugh and see him live. But, at the same time it brings me great comfort and joy to know he is safely kept in the loving presence of our God for eternity and when my time comes to enter those pearly gates – my son will be among the cloud of witnesses who usher me in and welcome me home. A great reunion with our loved ones who have gone before and the ultimate reconciliation with our Heavenly Father who has been moving us toward that very day since time began.
Of His son’s death Coach Dungy shared this:
“If God had talked to me before James’ death and said his death would have helped all these people, it would have saved them and healed their sins, but I would have to take your son, I would have said no, I can’t do that.
“But God had the same choice 2,000 years ago with his Son, Jesus Christ, and it paved the way for you and me to have eternal life. That’s the benefit I got, that’s the benefit James got, and that’s the benefit you can get if you accept Jesus into your heart today as your Savior.”
And Coach Dungy has so eloquently expressed the truth of our God in beautiful godly perspective. In our flesh, it is hard for us to fathom why children die before they have lived a full life, why murder, suicide and premature death are factors in our Christian life – why is the price so high? We just want our loved ones back, our hearts to mend and normal–or something like it– to return to our lives.
Not one of us would do what God has done – willingly give up our child to save the lives of others. But, God loves us that much – can we not love Him in return in spite of our pain?
At a “life celebration” earlier this year for a 2 year old who drowned in her family’s pool, the mother said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” And, this to me is where the truth of God’s comfort comes into our grief and our lives as the bereaved. We must view our losses in light of eternity, of Kingdom living and with the cross as the setting for our present sufferings.
To give us some perspective I have drawn on some verses of Scripture that I pray will not only give us hope, but give us a new desire – an opportunity to do more than just exist and survive the death of our loved one. I pray that this will give you the desire to live – truly live again in the comfort, peace and mercy of our God by extending that comfort, peace and mercy to others as He wipes the tears from your eyes.
Salve For Our Wounded Souls
Considering the following verses of Scripture:
“he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.” ~ Isaiah 25:8 (NIV)
“The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” ~
Isaiah 51:11 (NIV)
“and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” ~
Isaiah 35:10 (NIV)
“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 (NIV) [emphasis mine]
“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them Iby the cross.” ~ Colossians 2:13-15 (NIV) [emphasis mine]
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” ~ Rev 21:4-5 (NIV) [emphasis mine]
That term in Colossians 2:14 for “canceled” and in Revelation 21:4 for “wipe” is the Greek Word
exaleipho. Colossians 2:14 is translated more literally in The Complete Word Study New Testament (by AMG Publishers, Spiro Zodhaiates, ed.) as “blotted out” or “wipe away” in Revelation 21:4. That word in the Greek is a combination of two Greek words:
Ek – which means “out,” and aleipho – which means “to anoint.” The New Spirit Filled Life Bible (NKJV) (Hayford, ed., Thomas Nelson Publishers) explains the definition this way: “…to wipe out, wipe off, wash. Used metaphorically, the word signifies a removal or obliteration, whether of sins (Acts 3:19), or writing (Colossians 2:14), of a name (Revelation 3:5), or of tears (Revelations 21:4).
Let that settle down on you a minute. As God cleans away our tears and washes our faces removing the marks of grief in its season, He anoints us with His Spirit. If the Scripture is true which is found in Luke 12:48, then we must weigh the true purpose in our suffering or else it is all for nothing.
I submit this passage to you in context:
“The Lord answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? 43 It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. 44 I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. 48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” ~Luke 12:42-48 (NIV)
“The main idea here is that we are accountable for the knowledge, resources, abilities, etc. that God has blessed us with. If we have been given much, then He expects that much more from us. The good news is that all of these blessings come from the Lord and He realizes that humans are not perfect and that we can’t do anything right without His help (John 15:5), but we can do all things through Jesus Christ as He strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). So let’s ask the Lord to give us His wisdom and Spirit so that we can be faithful stewards over what He has entrusted to us. “And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.”(1 John 2:28)”
If the truth is that when God wipes away our tears in His comfort that we are to receive that as an anointing to minister to others who are hurting as we do – then how should we respond? What will be held accountable for?
I often say that with great suffering comes a great anointing. King Saul of Israel (1 Samuel) received a great anointing to be the first King of all of Israel. Yet, he abused that anointing, even ran from it at first. He did not do as the Lord had bid him, He did not honor God with the anointing and God removed it from him. What will you do with the anointing God is giving you through the suffering of grief?
Mary, the mother of Christ, suffered much the way you or I have in our losses. She knew He was God’s Son, but did that change her suffering as she watched her son tried and crucified as a criminal. Did it suffer her any less to know He was God’s Son when He died there before her eyes? Did she have any less questions than you or I about why death came that day and why it had to hurt so bad to fulfill the call of God on her life? Mary was not divine, nor god. She was a woman of flesh and blood, limited and emotional just like you or I. Her son may have come back to assure those who loved Him He would indeed return again, but she still lived out the rest of her days in teh agony of separation from her firstborn child.
How did Mary live out those days?
We find her in Acts 1:13-14:
” When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.” (NIV)
There she was among the apostles and the women who had traveled with and ministered to the needs of her son, even with her own sons she was among them praying and worshipping God. She chose life.
Mary did not give up when her life did not take shape the way she had planned, when it resembled more of a curse than a blessing. She made the choice to live on in her son’s legacy, the Legacy of Christ. Mary chose to believe in the God whom she served, even in the death and pain of loss that came with surrendering her firstborn trusting more in the purposes of God than her own ability to understand.
Come, On… Sweet Friends… Let’s live on in Christ, trusting our God. Our children’s legacy did not have to die with them – they are carried forward in the lives of those who loved them, who tell their story and declare the praise of God so merciful that He meets us in our mourning, speaks to our grief and loves us through the most painful circumstances we could ever experience. He is God, our comfort, our strength and our ever present help in times of trouble. Trust Him, live on in His glory!