How Should Christians View Death?

Last week I was published on Deeply Rooted with this piece on death, fear, and hope.

Is there any subject scarier than death?

I don’t mean the death that’s played up in the movies or sugar-coated in story books. I mean death in real life. Am I the only one who struggles with a fear of death? I don’t think so. Of course, it doesn’t help that we live in a culture which, in a sick twist of irony, delights in force-feeding us death daily in headlines and sound bytes, but is too afraid to talk intimately and honestly about the subject. It’s too vulnerable. It’s too painful.

Yet as a Christian, I’ve had to ask myself: is this really a godly way to engage with the idea of mortality? Hide from it? Pretend it doesn’t exist? Mask it with makeup and graphics? My answer is simple: no. So what is the Christian response to it? I believe we should embrace a unique tension—hate death yet be unafraid of it. Even more, contemplate death, but ultimately rest in hope. 


The instinctual and absolutely appropriate response to death should be hatred—not of people, but death itself. Decay and corruption are not natural, nor are they good. The Bible makes it clear, death is a cursed result of sin. We can still believe the truth that God is in control and that he is using everything for our good while simultaneously despising death (Rom. 8:28).

That’s a model we get from Jesus. If you remember in John 11, Jesus’ friend Lazarus had just died. And in a striking display of grief, Jesus shows up angry (“deeply moved”) and sad. Even though he knows he will soon raise Lazarus from the grave, Jesus mourns. As Michael Horton comments, “The Lord of Life . . . now found himself overtaken by grief. More than grief, in fact—anger. And why not? There he stood face-to-face with ‘the last enemy’ he would defeat in his crusade against Satan. And ‘he wept.’”

For the Christian, death is no friend. It is an enemy to the end. 


Yet, although death is a fierce enemy, we should not fear it. Why? Because it’s a defeated enemy. A crushed enemy. An eternally powerless enemy. The apostle Paul certainly clung to this truth. He hearkened back to the Old Testament with a sense of unwavering confidence when he wrote: “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Cor. 15:54).

Christians need not, must not, fear death, because it has been ultimately conquered. The king of life, Jesus Christ, tasted death and then was resurrected, winning permanent victory over death. In that work, he secured death’s final end, an end that’s coming soon. Truly, a day is coming where death will cease to exist. What precious comfort!

So we can still hate death and grieve for those cut down by its sting, but we should face it as we would a tame beast. It is evil on a leash—temporarily active but finally doomed. Because of Jesus, life is victorious. 


That means death has no power over us. In that case, instead of ignoring it, we are set free to actually contemplate it. The Bible frequently displays this example. That’s not because Christians are obsessively morbid. It’s because we’re people who recognize that since time is short, we can use death as a motivation to maximize our lives for God’s glory. Keeping a keen eye on mortality allows us to embrace living intentionally and taking every opportunity we’re given for greater godliness. Death is inescapable, but Christians should use it as a consistent mark for godly living.

This idea is shocking to the world. It persistently pushes us to dwell on youth, to mask death’s approach with cosmetics and pills and surgery—to live quite literally like death does not exist. And when we encounter it, when it inevitably slices into our real lives, we’re to keep quiet, isolate ourselves, and hide its horrors in the closet.

Christianity offers a more compelling way: let death fuel life. Use it as a holy motivation. 


Don’t just be unafraid of death, though. Embrace hope. The last glorious truth is that our stories do not end with death. Happiness will win the day. God promises that. So we ought to embrace hope with everything we’ve got. Boundless hope. Crazy hope. Hope that seeps into our lives and affects every nook and cranny. Hope in the midst of terrorism. Hope in the midst of violence. Hope in the midst of sickness. Hope in the midst of pain. Hope in the midst of grief. Hope spilling everywhere, flooding and flowing all over our lives. Soak your heart in hope. Jesus wins. And that means, so do his people.

So hate death, yes. But do not fear it. Never fear it. Instead, consider how it motivates precious and intentional gospel-centered living. And embrace hope with open arms, fully and outrageously. Remember that everlasting happiness ends the day.

N.D. Wilson says it beautifully, like only he can: “To [God’s] eyes, you never leave the stage. You do not cease to exist. [Death] is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long. 

There will be butterflies.”

Photo courtesy of Deeply Rooted.

There's Always More to Learn

Always. There is always more to learn.

One of the most poisonous, anti-biblical, anti-intellectual ideas in the world (and especially evangelicalism) is that you don't need to be taught. The Bible presents human knowledge as incomplete. No Christian has everything figured out. There is always more to learn and room to grow. 

How We Learn
Right now I'm taking a course on the background, nature, and purpose of the Gospels. While I was at first a little ambivalent about taking it, Dad encouraged me to sign up. "You need to keep learning," he told me. Currently I'm in the fourth week and unit of the course and am delighting in soaking up fresh, new truths. I'm delighting in learning.

That's also why I decided to take Tim Challies' reading challenge this year; they help me learn. Books are profound teachers, sometimes shockingly eye-opening and other times subtly gentle. They're catalysts for my growth.

Why We Learn
In his marvelous book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney lists learning as a spiritual discipline. In an article about this subject, he writes:

The Christian life not only begins with learning, it proceeds through a process of lifelong learning. This includes deeper discoveries of intimacy with God, an ever-growing grasp of the Bible and its doctrines, a greater awareness of our sin, an increased knowledge of the person and work of Christ, further implications of what it means to follow Him, and more. 

Learning is an utter necessity for the Christian. But, as Dr. Whitney also says, "To emphasize learning as essential to following Jesus is not advocacy for egghead Christianity. Like Jesus, we want both a heart for God and a head for God." 

Absolutely. We want to both learn and love God. 

But these aren't divorced ideas, as if one really does happen in the organ of our heart and the other happens up in the goo of our brain. Learning and loving are interconnected. Learning should be an expression and a fuel for love. Love is the motivation and the fire. Learning is a precious tool, and love is its fruit. 

The End of Our Learning
Some Christians think that when they die, there will be no more learning. All at once ... boom. They'll know it all. No more studying, reading, or listening. But this idea can be found nowhere in Scripture. In fact, it seems to present the opposite. Only God is omniscient, and that's not an attribute He will share with us. It's like His omnipotence. We won't be all-powerful after our death. Why would we be all-knowing then? 

Sure, we'll know more things and we'll know things more fully, but even after death, I believe we'll keep learning.

So there really is always more to learn. It's an idea for today and for eternity. It's not a burden but a blessing, a gift. Take joy in learning, and let that motivate your love for the source of all truth and knowledgeGod Himself. 

Friends, Keep Runnin'

There are a lot of ra-ra, go-you songs out there. You know the kind -- peppy anthems of sugar-coated self-worship. "You're beautiful." "You're perfect." "You're worth it."

These are meant to instill a sense of secure hope and enthusiasm for the future. But at best all they do is make you feel a little happier for a moment while letting you down in the long run.

Then there are songs like Matt Papa's "A Pilgrim's Progress (Keep Runnin')." This is not a ra-ra, go-you song. It's a stop-and-reflect, bible-based, take-all-of-your-joy-from-God song. It is rich with encouragement for pushing through the fight and faithfully running the race.

Listen to it today, take delight in God through it, and, friends, keep runnin.'

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J.I. Packer on Losing His Sight But Seeing Christ

In case you haven't heard, famed author and theologian J.I. Packer was struck with macular degeneration over Christmas, meaning he can no longer read or write.

Ivan Mesa recently interviewed the 89-year-old about suffering, heaven, the church, and life lessons. It is worth a thoughtful read.

“God knows what he’s doing,” Packer recently told me in a phone interview. Rather than being paralyzed by fear or self-pity, Packer is confident that “this comes as a clear indication from headquarters. And I take it from him.”

Whether his response stems more from the British stiff upper lip or decades’ worth of sanctification, Packer is living out a truth he has long believed and proclaimed: God is sovereign and good in all things.

“God knows what he’s up to,” says the author of Knowing God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. “And I’ve had enough experiences of his goodness in all sorts of ways not to have any doubt about the present circumstances.” He adds, “Some good, something for his glory, is going to come out of it.”

The rest of my conversation with Packer is transcribed below. May it serve as an encouragement even as we pray for this dear brother who has faithfully taught and lived for many decades of gospel ministry.

Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead

Last week I shared a review of Mez McConnell's heart-breaking and grace-pervading testimony, Is Anybody Out There? This week I wanted to share with you a bit more into his story by sending you to this article he wrote not quite two weeks ago when he found out that his childhood abuser was dead.

Mez writes:

"Some children of a recently deceased mother wrote this startling obituary for their local press:

Marianne Theresa John­son-Reddick was born Jan. 4, 1935 and died alone on Sept. 30, 2013. She is sur­vived by her six of eight children whom she spent her lifetime torturing in every way pos­sible. While she neglected and abused her small chil­dren, she refused to allow anyone else to care or show compassion towards them. When they became adults she stalked and tortured anyone they dared to love. Everyone she met, adult or child, was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit.  

On behalf of her children whom she so abrasively ex­posed to her evil and vio­lent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after­life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty, and shame that she delivered on her children. Her surviv­ing children will now live the rest of their lives with the peace of knowing their nightmare finally has some form of closure.

I just heard several hours ago that my stepmother of almost 13 years is dead. Of what and how I do not know. She was young. I know that. So painful is it to even think of her name I refer to her as “she” throughout my autobiography [watch Mez’s testimony].

It’s 1:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep. I don’t know what to think or feel. The above is pretty much what I would like to express to the world. I would like to go to her funeral, stand, and let everyone know what this person was truly like and how much damage she did while alive. I want her to get her just deserts even though I know, thanks to Christ, I will never get my own.

I am a pastor. I should know better. I do know better.

I know, deep in my soul, that Jesus experienced every form of suffering when he was in the world. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). Jesus was betrayed and tortured. He is well acquainted with your grief, and he will never leave you (John 14:18). I know, therefore, that perceived wisdom (my own included) demands I forgive this woman who caused me such pain. I know it’s the Christian thing to do. I know he who has been forgiven much ought to forgive much in return (Luke 7:47).

I know.

Yet I want to make public my frustration toward crimes she never paid for. At the same time I want to be magnanimous in my forgiveness as Christ has been in his for my sin.

I feel conflicted."

Home At Last

I've been listening a lot to Josh Garrels' new album, Home. Commenting on the album itself and his journey writing it, he said,

While writing these songs I was searching for joy, and this pursuit instinctively brought my attention back to the people and places closest to me. Because of this, these songs have less of an outward, expansive scope, and rather turn the attention inward, to the intimacy of family, forgiveness, and homecoming.

But what Garrels realized is that every fleeting feeling of home on this earth is only a taste of the true heavenly homecoming that we have to look forward to. And that's why this song, "Home At Last" gives me so much joy.

Musically, it's a light, happy song, but it evokes in us such a longing for our true home.


Who is there at the end of lonesome roads?
All of us hope there’s a home

A place to rest where wounds get dressed, the table’s full
The sound of laughter in the halls

Light the fire, gather ‘round
Join together, sing it loud
Raise the glass and joyful be
Home at last, one family

We’re all orphans looking for an open door
Hard times come no more

Come on up to the house of the Lord
Father adopts us all

I Don't Believe I'm Going to Die

A few days ago a somewhat startling truth pricked my heart: One day soon I am going to be in Heaven. It was like that feeling you get when you have booked a vacation long in advance and after forgetting about it a few weeks later, you have a fresh realization that it is coming. It is inevitably approaching.

Sometimes my head knowledge and my heart belief take a while to connect. The fact that I am going to die and one day I will be in perfect paradise on this renewed earth is hard to transmit to my heart.

Because here's the thing: I'm young. And so even though I am affected by sin's curse just like everyone else, I have it pretty good. My body hasn't started physically breaking down. I'm relatively healthy. Death does not exactly seem impending.

According to the introductory sociology course I took last spring, I adhere to the invincibility fallacy. This is adopted by most teenagers. It is an errant mental belief that I am invincible and tragedy cannot touch me.

Don't quote me the statistics. I know that it's a fallacy. I know how many teenagers do have tragedy strike, who do lose their lives.

But I haven't. And so I have to be intensely, fiercely on guard against the invincibility fallacy, because it sets me up to live unrealistically. Whether I believe it or not, one day I will die and I have to choose now what to do with my time.

I have to choose whether to let the reality of my death inspire me to live every moment for God's glory or let it choke me into fear and paralysis.

I often think of Jonathan Edwards' ninth resolution, one that sounds initially morbid:

Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

What Edwards understood was that the key to living well is to understand dying and to let that spurn you to do good works for God's glory. No matter how much time you have left.

I may not believe that I'm going to die, but I know it. And so may this day, this Friday in May, be one more day that I can know Christ more and make Him known.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Thomas's Pics.

Why I'm Grateful for Library Flowers

Yesterday it was raining and I was walking up the path to the library and I just stopped. For on the branches of a tree looping over the path bloomed flowers. I'm no horticulturist so I don't know what kind they were. I know that they were snow white and smelled like soft perfume and were breathtakingly beautiful.

And I smiled there on the rainy path, just grateful for the those May flowers.

See, normally I wouldn't have noticed them. Normally, I would be surrounded by May flowers and oblivious to their complex beauty.

But this year is different. My city had a crazy winter. It was only about a week ago that the seemingly permanent snow-plowed mountain of snow in the driveway of our local pizza place finally disappeared. May flowers are still rare here.

Waiting so long for those flowers multiplied my appreciation of their beauty.

In a culture of instant gratification, I think we've forgotten about the joy in anticipation. There is a sense of pleasure in waiting for a good thing. Yes, there is a longing but there's also an increase of joy and gratitude at a thing.

I would not have taken as much joy in those library flowers if not for a cruel winter.

This life here is a sort of permanent waiting room. Along with creation we groan in anticipation (Rom. 8:19) of something better. We live in winter, but spring is coming.

C.S. Lewis uses that picture in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The land was under the rule of evil and it was "always winter but never Christmas." But when the King, Aslan, returned, he brought spring.

If you are going through difficulty or discouragement or suffering, take heart. One day soon perfect joy is coming. One day soon, Jesus is returning to right the wrongs here, to take His bride to everlasting, undiminishing glory.

And right now we have the privilege and the pleasure of waiting in anticipation for that day. It's winter, but May flowers are coming.

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons and Susanne Nilsson.

Do You Chase the Sun?

Right now we live as individuals restless for another world. We've "been given a taste for something / That nothing in this world can satisfy." So we chase the sun. 

We long for Heaven. 

"Every morning this thirst awakens in all of us. Every morning we hit 'restart' on our chase for beauty and pleasure.

And yet the harsh truth is that no pleasure or beauty we have yet found in this world can bring our hearts final satisfaction. In fact worldly pleasure and beauty only rip wider this inconsolable secret inside us."


Every day at dusk I chase the sunset, sunset
Looking for a glimpse of Heaven’s skies
I’ve been given a taste for something
That nothing in this world can satisfy
But I know that a time is coming
When I will be in glorious delight

I know I will run through Heaven’s brilliant streets of gold
Shouting “Hallelujah, Christ!” alone
I know I will dance and sing and bow before the throne
Yeah, this I know, oh-oh.

Every day at dawn I chase the sunrise, sunrise
Looking for a hint of Heaven’s light
I’ve been given a taste for something
That nothing in this world can satisfy
But I know that a time is coming
When I will be in glorious delight

I know I will run through Heaven’s brilliant streets of gold
Shouting “Hallelujah, Christ!” alone
I know I will dance and sing and bow before the throne
Yeah, this I know, oh-oh.

I know I will run through Heaven’s brilliant streets of gold
Shouting “Hallelujah, Christ!” alone
I know I will dance and sing and bow before the throne
Yeah, this I know, oh-oh.

This I know. This I know. This I know

All Good Things Won't Come to an End

On Wednesday afternoon I was listening to a sermon by Phil Ryken on Revelation 21-22, those grand, beloved chapters on the new home God will institute for His people. As Ryken stood over the Bible, he said (and I'm paraphrasing), "You know, we have a saying here that goes, 'All good things must come to an end.' Even when we're doing something wildly joyous, we have this sense that our happiness in it will come to an end. But not so in the New Heavens and Earth."

One day, all good things won't come to an end. Our ineffable delight in something won't be diminished when we stop, because our perfect joy will continue. Every day will be better than the last.

Sometimes I get discouraged here. I think you might too. We struggle under a crushing burden of sin, of bad days and broken hearts and unrealized dreams.

We need the hope of eternal joy.

I remember when I went on a cruise two years ago. I adore cruising - free (incredibly delicious) food, fun programs, lazy sea days, gorgeous ports. But I remember almost every day my mom saying to us, "Take a moment and just stop. You are on a cruise. Enjoy it. Treasure it, because it will be over before you know it."

And so often, I did. I stopped and I treasured every minute. But I treasured it because the thought of its end hung heavy on my mind. And that tempered some of my joy.

Never will our joy be tempered in the New Heavens and Earth. Never will we have to say, "Enjoy it now because it won't last forever." It will! It will last into infinity's ages.

Our life is really like a labored breath in a glorious existence. We are a whoosh of troubled air now, but in light of eternity, our hardships won't even compare to the joy that awaits us.

One day, all good things will not come to an end. I long for that day.

The Termination to This Warfare

There are a lot of euphemisms for death, even more piquant Christian phrases and analogies. N.D. Wilson refers to it as a chapter ending. Randy Alcorn calls it a doorway. Calvin Harris says dying is "getting dressed for God." But one of my favorite statements comes from a sixteenth century reformer, John Calvin. He says,

Death is the only termination to this warfare.

This statement rightly captures the realities of this life. We are in a war - with ourselves and with the world.

With Ourselves

The statement prior to the quote above, Calvin wrote, "This renewal [of our wills, referring to sanctification], indeed, is not accomplished in a moment, a day, or a year, but by uninterrupted, sometimes even by slow progress, God abolishes the remains of carnal corruption in his elect, cleanses them from pollution, and consecrates them as his temples, restoring all their inclinations to real purity, so that during their whole lives they may practice repentance, and know that death is the only termination to this warfare" (Institutes, Book Third, 3, ix).

Calvin saw that this whole life is a war against our sin natures. We will spend our time here in constant repentance because our souls have not been finally perfected. We will fight against our "carnal corruptions" until the day that we die. It will be slow going, but we won't do it alone. God is the ultimate abolisher of the sin in our hearts. Anything we can do can only be accomplished by the Spirit of God.

But we still have to fight! And we can look forward to death because we know that our warfare with sin will be finally, fully done. What a day that will be.

With the World

But a world of people opposed to God will also fight against us. We will be in opposition to the cultural majority. We will have to fight against those who would dissuade us from living a life of purity. Our lives will not be comfortable. We will be shunned and shamed, perhaps even humiliated and scorned.

Yet, aren't we supposed to be different? Shouldn't everyone know which side we fight for?

"Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4).

And so Calvin's phrase rings true and comforting. We live in a time of warfare, fighting against our own sin and the push and pull of a secular culture. But a time is coming when that war will be terminated forever and everlasting peace will be ushered in. Like soldiers looking forward to going home, we strive for that end. Going home is the goal. Peace is the dream.

But it is also the reality. Peace is coming.

The Conference I'm Going To Tonight

Thirty years ago, people had to relocate to attend a good conference. If the conference was in New York, you had to be in New York to see any of the sessions and glean anything from the messages.

Some people still relocate for conferences. In fact, my dad leaves Monday morning for sunshiny California to go to this conference.

But for the conference I'm going to tonight, I don't have to go anywhere. Designed for college students all over the world, CROSS is a simulcast, a live video streaming of an event. This event is one night and features five main speakers - Kevin DeYoung, John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, Mack Stiles, and David Platt - with music from Matt Boswell.

CROSS is a missions conference for young adults. It was first hosted in 2013 in Louisville. This simulcast will take place tonight and then in 2016, CROSS will host another big conference in Indianapolis. This year's theme is Undaunted: Overcoming Obstacles and Opposition to the Advance of the Gospel.

See what the website has to say about it:

Is Satan winning? Between the growing hostility to Christianity in America and the troubling reality of unbelief among thousands of unreached people groups abroad, it’s easy to feel as if the gospel is losing ground to the powers of sin and hell. And yet Jesus, in Matthew 28:18, said, “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” For that reason, God’s people, despite discouraging circumstances and the very real prospect of suffering, have the greatest reason for confidence and even joy. We serve an omnipotent God whose gospel kingdom is indomitable. 

Join us for FREE at on February 27th for a special simulcast event as we consider why we are undaunted by the darkness—near and far—given the certain victory we have in King Jesus.

The event begins at 7PM Eastern and will be over by midnight. Anyone can "attend" CROSS over simulcast. All you need to do is register (which is free and which you can do right up to the time the conference starts) and have a computer with a good Internet connection.

This is five hours of your time that couldn't be better spent. I've been looking forward to this simulcast for months and can't wait to see what the Lord will do through one night of college students watching their laptops with their Bibles open.

For more information, including a full schedule, speaker biographies, promo packs, and FAQ, visit the CROSS website.

Questions in Light of Heaven

Our family just finished reading through Randy Alcorn's incredible work, Heaven. If you have not read this book, now is the time to pick it up. It is game-changing, for sure, even life-changing. It will thoroughly change how you view Heaven (for the better) and will encourage you beyond belief. I speak from experience.

At the close of the book, he asked a few reflective questions on living now in light of Heaven, and they were so helpful that I thought I would share them here. They are convicting, encouraging, and motivating.

Do I daily reflect on my own mortality? 

Do I daily realize there are only two destinations - Heaven or Hell - and that I and every person I know will go to one or the other? 

Do I daily remind myself that this world is not my home and that everything in it will burn, leaving behind only what's eternal? 

Do I daily recognize that my choices and actions have direct influence on the world to come? 

Do I daily realize that my life is being examined by God, the Audience of One, and that the only appraisal of my life that will ultimately matter is his? 

Do I daily reflect on the fact that my ultimate home will be the New Earth, where I will see God and serve him as a resurrected being in a resurrected human society, where I will overflow with joy and delight in drawing nearer to God by studying him and his creation, and where I will exercise, to God's glory, dominion over his creation?

-- Quoted from Heaven, pgs. 453-454

How to Conquer Every Bad Day

Sometimes you have a bad day and the world is out to get you and every traffic light is in a conspiracy against you and you feel wholly and thoroughly miserable. You're exhausted, angry, upset, frustrated, ready to go to bed at five o'clock and have this day be gone forever.

We all have those kinds of days. That is a part of living in a fallen world. We deal daily with the effects of sin and corruption - from both us and others. But there is something only recently that I have begun considering, largely thanks to Randy Alcorn's paradigm-shifting book, Heaven. It is this fact:

Your bad day is a fragment of a drop in the bucket of eternity and a time is coming when you will never have a bad day again

In the New Heavens and New Earth, for the Christian, eternal "best days ever" await us.

Days when we won't wake up grumpy from too little sleep.

Days when we won't get frustrated at anything.

Days when we won't come home and cry from exhaustion.

Days when we won't work at a job we hate.

Days when we will have a perfect relationship with food and our body.

Days when we won't ever fake happy; we'll just be happy.

Days when no one will ever slander again

Days with no headaches, no sore throats, no back pains.

Days when gossip will no longer exist.

Days when we get to sit in the presence of God and bask in His beauty.

Days that will only be good days.

So on your bad day, as you're lying in bed at 5:01, reflecting on the lousiness that was your day, think about Heaven. Think about how wondrously, gloriously perfect your life will be one day. How endlessly fun, with endlessly delicious food, and endlessly exciting adventures, and endlessly dream jobs. And no sin.

These thoughts should dissipate your ill will, anger, frustration before you know it. They will also readjust your priorities. God has placed you where you are right now for a specific reason. Don't waste it stewing on the bad; keep your eyes fixated on the end - the everlastingly good - and use that to motivate you to serve your time here well.

The Day-After Post

And then suddenly, it was over. Weeks and weeks, months and months, for one day - and now in one giant sigh, that day is over. And we're left with recycling bags full of wrapping paper and a Tower of Pisa stack of leftovers in the fridge. The snow (or grass) looks browner today, the trees deader, the presents nice but, the tree a little gaudy, and a feeling of disappointment that wells inside of us like a fresh tear.

I think Christmas truly captures this echo of our longing for something more than the material. Even when we've reached the pinnacle of our euphoria, our highest joy, even when (theoretically) we should be at our happiest, - i.e., during everything that happened yesterday - when we wake up the next morning, we still feel a sense of emptiness. We're on an emotional and mental sugar crash from all the ping-ponging emotions we felt yesterday. We feel a little lost, a little blue.

The Christmas high does not satisfy.

And that's why we were made for eternity. The ever-insightful C.S. Lewis:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another one.

We were created to find the fulfillment of all of our desires in God. He is the one who leaves us with no kind of post-disappointment. Our weary soul finds needed rest in Him. Furthermore, it finds fullness of joy in Him. It finds hope and anticipation of a beautiful eternity in Him. It finds peace in Him. It finds grace and mercy in Him. It finds forgiveness for our greed and anger and worry and frustration and bitterness and depression in Him. It finds truth in Him. It finds eternal love in Him. It finds life and light in Him, light and life that motivate us to enjoy the good gifts that He gives us but not to try to find fulfillment in them.

We were made for satisfaction in God. On this ominous "Day-After," preach the gospel to yourself and remind yourself that the Christmas high does not satisfy - and that's okay.

Upon the Second Advent

The first Advent was a miraculous and spectacularly transcendent time when God humbled Himself to come to the earth as a baby to save man. And we remember this at Christmas. But there's something more that we remember: if there's a first Advent, there must be a second Advent.

God is coming back to us again. But not away in a manger on an unimpressive silent night. Jesus is coming back in a blaze of glory to judge the world and usher His people into a new, better, greater kingdom.

What hope this gives us! When we look around at the world all dim and black and bleak in the dark, we know that the Sunrise from on high will visit us again. And there will be no more waiting, no more hope deferred. The second Advent will end the night for good and awaken us eternally to the light of the glory of God.

Everything will be better that day. There will be no more sin, shame, greed, idolatry. All there will be is goodness and endless fun and overflowing joy and food better than anything you've ever tasted and limitless curiosity and strong, perfect bodies and an eternity to bask in the beautiful glory of God as we commune with perfect people and enjoy life together as it was meant to be.

As Kenneth Swetland writes,

In the Second Advent, the Great King is coming again to establish the Eternal Kingdom with all its perfection and glory. We live daily in this hope.

As you drink coffee today and sit at red lights and eat dinner and work and play and listen to Christmas carols today, live in this hope.

The Intense Comfort of God's Non-Death

We will die. It is a plain fact, inevitable and undeniable. Everyone will die. And in comparison to the vast eternity that stretches before us, we will die soon. Our life is but a mist, a smoke, a breath, a blade of grass - here for a moment and then gone.

That's why I find the same deep comfort in God's non-death that the psalmist did.

"My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass," he writes in Psalm 102. "But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. ... They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away."

This psalmist has no name, he is simply called "one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord." Death is troubling. It is painful, heart-breakingly so. That's why there is intense comfort in God's eternality, the fact that He has no beginning and no end, no birth and no death.

The Bible calls death a curse. Even though God redeems our suffering and uses it for His purposes, death is still a result of the Fall, of the curse that came with sin. That's why God's non-death is such good news.

When I was little, I hated to be the only one awake at night. I felt alone if everyone else was asleep - especially Dad since he was always up the latest. So a way that I comforted myself was with the thought that God never went to sleep. That feeling of strength and protection that I had when Daddy was awake I focused on God. God was always awake, He was always protecting me, and I felt safe and comforted.

In a way, that is how God's non-death ministers to us. When those we love pass away and we begin to feel alone, we have a Rock who never dies. Death is a bitter and lonely companion, but what a friend we have in Jesus. Even in our darkest times, we have a Father who never falls asleep. This is the intense comfort of our God's non-death.

Why You Should Think About Your Death

After my recent post on death, I found myself considering the subject more. Some people might find that sadistic, or at the very least, depressing. If death is a curse, why would you think about it? The question reminded me of one of Jonathan Edwards' 70 Resolutions. It was his ninth resolution:

Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.

Why would Edwards write this? Why in the world would, or should, you think about your own death? I compiled a few reasons for reflection:

The Bible talks about death a lot. Even though the Bible tells a story of life, death is a parallel theme. Where there is blessing for obedience, there is curse for disobedience. From the third chapter of Genesis, we're launched into a world that is corrupted and dying. The Bible doesn't shy away from death because it's an unpleasant topic. Death is an effect of the Fall, but God, in His sovereign wisdom, uses it to His glory. The Bible tells that story.

Death is inevitable. Ignoring death does not mean it won't come. You will die one day. So will I - unless Christ returns before then. Knowing the inevitability of death allows us to prepare better for it.

It forces us to redeem our time. Thinking upon the coming of death reminds us of the very fleetingness of our lives. Time is always ticking, and our period on earth is comparatively short. Considering death gives us the urgency to not waste time. That reminds me of another Edwards resolution:

Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

It gives us urgency in evangelism. We are going to die. One day, so is your neighbour, your co-worker, your classmate, the sea of the lost around you. Death reminds us that time is short. That means that if we're waiting for the perfect, natural, comfortable window of evangelism, it probably won't come. We need to have the urgency that propels us to bring hope to this dying world - even if it means going out of our comfort zone.

It makes us think about life. It sounds a little silly maybe, but it's true. The Christian cannot think about death without thinking about life. Death does not narrate our stories, but it still plays a part in them. I think again about that beautiful quote by Randy Alcorn quote, where he says that death is not a hole or a wall but a doorway. For the Christian, death is the doorway to eternal life.

And that reminds me of this gentle and poignant quote by Calvin Miller:

I once scorned ev’ry fearful thought of death,
When it was but the end of pulse and breath,
But now my eyes have seen that past the pain
There is a world that’s waiting to be claimed.
Earthmaker, Holy, let me now depart,
For living’s such a temporary art.
And dying is but getting dressed for God,
Our graves are merely doorways cut in sod.

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Death Does Not Narrate Our Stories

One small fact: you are going to die. Despite every effort, no one lives forever. Sorry to be such a spoiler. My advice is when the time comes, don't panic. It doesn't seem to help.

The Book Thief is a book and a movie telling the chilling story of one ordinary girl in Nazi Germany and the stories that intersect with her own. But what makes the story so chilling is the voice of its narrator. The story is narrated by Death. Capital "d," no euphemism, a very real character telling a very real story. And so the hero of The Book Thief, the ordinary girl named Leisel, has a story that is told and marked by Death. Consequently, the stories that intersect her own are also narrated by Death. 

I have seen a great many things. I have attended all the world's worst disasters, and worked for the greatest of villains. And I've seen the greatest wonders. But it's still like I said it was: no one lives forever.

Death is portrayed in The Book Thief as the one constant, as the guiding point of life, and as the meaning behind our existence. We live to die.

If this were true, how dark and dead and hopeless life would be. Could we even call this living if we were created to die? If God was dead and Death was the victor, hope would be gone. And without hope, life is meaningless.

The true reality is that death is a curse. We weren't created to die, but because of the Fall we all will. But death is also a doorway, as Randy Alcorn says, not a wall or a hole, a doorway. Death is a hiccup in a journey, a bump in the road. Death is not the end, but only the beginning of endless life. For the Christian, death brings joy unspeakable. And the appointment of our death is not determined by death itself, like a cold, empty character, waiting to snatch our souls. It's gently and graciously ordained by the God who loves His children.

Despite my concerns with it, I found myself flipping back to N.D. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl after the final credits rolled in The Book Thief. N.D. Wilson talks about death in ways that no one else can. He said:

When we die, wherever or whenever that might be, there will be other characters in the story with us, evil characters, good characters, and confused ants. But God is also there, shaping the story, off the stage and on the stage, closing a chapter as a turtle bounces, smiling while it does. 
To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You do not cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long. 
There will be butterflies. 
I will die, and when I do - whether it be in my bed as age creeps over me, or struck by lightning, a meteor, or a UPS truck - when my body and soul find their divorce, His hand will be the one that cuts the thread and shows me the path He blazed through tragedy. His finger will point to the parade.

Cling to hope. Death may be coming, but it is not a character to fear. It is a curse that was overcome and defeated by one death on a cross. For the Christian, death is a doorway. And God will open the door.

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