Weep and hope.

I started crying as I led our congregation in prayer yesterday.

Part of it was my own fault. I had a challenging week, balancing work, church, and family responsibilities. I haven’t been sleeping enough, I haven’t been eating right, I’ve been consuming way too much sugar and caffeine (my go-to drugs to keep the engines firing when I’m reaching my physical and mental limits). The night before, I foolishly stayed up past midnight when I know good and well what a mistake that is with church the next morning. All this to say, I wasn’t in top form as I drove to church the next day.

Funny thing, though: all those circumstances were cracks in my defenses, allowing the news of El Paso and Dayton to hit me pretty hard. I couldn’t tell you why, particularly, beyond the obvious human tragedy. My wife asked if it was because I have two little girls now, and my paternal protectiveness and overactive imagination got the better of me. Perhaps. I don’t know.

I was tasked with leading the Prayer of Supplication during our Sunday service. As I stood at the pulpit and prayed with and over my brothers and sisters, the little flock I’ve been tasked with co-shepherding, I felt myself starting to weep.

I prayed for our unity, which has been facing some recent challenges. I prayed for our mission in the community where we are planted. I prayed for the future of our church, as we face some important decisions in the next few months. I prayed for them, and I felt a knot growing in my throat, because I knew what else I was about to pray.

I prayed for the families of the dead and wounded in three cities whose names hit the headlines this past week. I prayed for the countless others all over the country whose suffering wouldn’t be noticed much past their regions. (Little did I realize that almost 50 were shot in Chicago this weekend, or that in the next 16 hours, eleven people would be shot in my city and six of those would perish.)

There is so much death. So much violence. So much rage. 

What is the source of all this death and chaos and hatred in our world? Where does it come from? Behind the barrels of guns, the vicious invective, the glares and the bared teeth, is the poison of sin and the handiwork of Satan. Whatever secondary causes may be blamed and opposed, there are always traces of brimstone in those bloody fingerprints.

This past week, I listened to a sermon by Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones from Ephesians 6:10-13. In his address, he argued that all the death and destruction of even the (then-recent) 2 world wars wasn’t ultimately caused by Hitler or by the Kaiser before him, but by the work of Satan and his forces of darkness. The same is true for all suffering and violence committed among men.

[To be clear, I agree that there’s a time and a place to talk about solutions, to assign blame, to call for change. Those discussions should be had. But I don’t want to have them right now, right here.]

As I prayed over my church family, as my eyes burned and my voice caught, I asked God to help His people think about these tragedies theologically more than politically–that our response would, in part, be the same as Jesus’ when He was told of falling towers and bloody tyrants: “Unless you repent, you also will likewise perish.”

No matter what laws are enacted, no matter what rulers are ensconced, no matter what preventative measures are ratified, the heart of man is still corrupt, self-seeking, angry, and spiritually dead. The only way a wicked, violent, destructive man will truly change is for his dead, poisoned, rotten heart of stone to be replaced by a clean, living, heart of flesh–for him to be brought out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son. That’s the only way any of us will be rescued from the sin that has entangled and enslaved us–repenting of our sin and believing in Jesus, who died in our place and rose again, defeating sin, death, and the grave.

As we move forward, as we consider what comes next after such a bloody week, may we keep in mind that laws are good for restraining the evil in men’s hearts, but only the blood of Jesus can remove it. 

At the same time, and perhaps most of all, may we remember the hope we have as believers in Jesus. Because the hope, friends, the hope that we have is in a King who is coming back, who will destroy the works of Satan, who will punish all evil, who will remove it from the world, who will banish Death itself. We have the promise of a Kingdom of Light, and a King who will wipe our tears away.

Weep, beloved, but weep and mourn while holding onto hope. This dark world will give way to a better one, a brighter one. Maranatha.

Feeling the sting.

landscape photography of dried trees on snow covered ground
Photo by Simon Matzinger on Pexels.com

My grandfather died last Thursday. He was buried yesterday.

He was almost 90, ravaged for the last several years by Parkinson’s. Over the years, he has been losing the ability to communicate clearly, to understand, to care for himself. And in the end, his final decline was sudden and heart-breaking.

He was a good man, a godly man. He was a strong Christian, an ordained minister, and a faithful husband, father, grandfather, and church member. He loved and poured himself out for children; he taught school for more than 2 decades and taught Sunday School for longer than that. He would drive around the neighborhood every Sunday morning for years, picking up kids in the station wagon to bring over so that he and my grandmother could teach them Bible stories and songs, give them snacks, help them do little art and craft projects, and let them know that they are loved by God. I can’t imagine how many hundreds or even thousands of young lives my grandparents touched over the decades.

My grandfather’s hope in life and death was firmly and securely in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as his Savior. And now, my grandfather is enjoying the presence of his Lord, without pain or disease, without the encumbrances and restraints of mortality and frailty.

I miss him.

For almost my entire life, I’ve lived a thousand miles away from my grandparents, so I don’t have the “every Sunday” or “every holiday” memories with extended family that others do. But I have some very clear and very warm memories over the years of time spent with my grandparents. My favorite was how he used to give the biggest, tightest bear hugs. He wasn’t muscular, but he was as wiry and tough in physicality as he was tender and warm in spirit.

He had a playful sense of humor, which was often incredibly dry and subtle. He told good jokes. (That’s one of the things I love about my dad, as well: how he almost can’t contain himself when he tells a joke.) And I remember my grandfather’s laugh after telling a joke: silent, mouth open, bobbing up and down slightly.

(One of my touchstone “embarrassing” memories was when I misunderstood a joke he made and he had to explain himself; I was 10 and he probably forgot it immediately, but for some reason, that one memory sticks with me–one of those silly moments I cringe about from time to time, just to myself. I don’t know why that one memory sticks, but there you go.)

There is so much more to say about him, so many more memories to share. But that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’m sharing this for two very simple reasons this afternoon:

First, I wanted to emphasize that my family is mourning this week, but we don’t mourn as those who have no hope. It’s not some vague, “we-hope-we-see-you-again” wish, either. When my grandfather’s body was laid to rest in the ground yesterday morning, my family was planting him there with the full knowledge that one day, that very ground will break apart and his physical body will be resurrected and restored to life, when Jesus comes back to call His people to Himself. Our hope–our only hope–is found in Jesus alone: in His sacrificial death to pay the penalty for our sins, in His glorious resurrection to give us the promise that we too will be raised up to life. If you are afraid of death, or unsure of what happens next, I’d be happy to talk to you about the hope you’re missing. Please, please ask.

Second, I want to encourage you: reach out to the family members you haven’t talked to recently, especially the older ones. When I first heard that my grandfather passed away, what hit me most was a very palpable and deep regret that I didn’t keep in close contact over the last few years. He wouldn’t have the chance to hold my daughter as an infant or toddler. While I “knew” that he wouldn’t be around forever (at least in this life), I kept putting off regular phone calls and emails. I got busy with the “urgent” things in my immediate vision. Whenever I would be reminded that I haven’t talked to my grandparents recently, I would feel sincerely guilty, and say to myself, “Oh man, yeah, I should get on that. Maybe next weekend…” Now, that window has closed. It’s now incumbent upon me to make up that lost time with my Sweetie of a grandmother, for all the years we are blessed to continue having her here.

Can I encourage you to take some time this weekend and make that phone call you have been putting off, that video chat, that visit to a grandparent or aunt or even your parents? We don’t know how long we have in this life with the people we love. As long as we have a chance, let’s take those opportunities to check in, to share the family news, or just to say “I love you.”

Sorry to end this week on a bit of a downer, but that’s what’s going on with me.

I hope you have a great weekend, and that you have a chance to tell those closest to you (or perhaps distant from you) that you love them.

We’ll see you back here next week!