So here we are at the beginning of August. And I am very tired.
Is it time for a real vacation yet?
I ask this because this past month has been crazy busy with good things, and unexpectedly sombre with sad things. This month I've gone with my wife and daughter to a Camp to minister to 7-10 year olds for a week and also had a very successful DVBS for 4-12 year olds at our church. But this month I've also ministered to two women dying of cancer--and have conducted both of their funerals within two weeks of one another. The second one was just yesterday. So over these last four or five weeks my schedule has ricocheted between ministering to the young and full of life and to those whose physical life is being sapped from their bodies.
Yet these two women, one for many years and one on her deathbed, each confessed Christ as Saviour and Lord. Such faith always imbues the darkness of disease with the colour of hope. While such ministry--going to hospitals to see the sick, supporting and praying with family members of a dying loved one, consoling those who grieve when their loved one passes away--is inevitably difficult and draining, it remains the case that even in the midst of such sorrow and loss there is the possibility of hope. For these two cancer-stricken women, what once was faith is now sight and what once was hope is now glory. For those who remain behind and do not share this hope, I can only pray that something of the witness of those who know and express this hope, including their loved ones who have gone on to glory, has shown them both the value and need for hope.
Death, I think, illuminates the need--indeed the longing for--eternal life. It brings us face to face not only with our mortality but also with the instinct that ultimately death is not a part of the story that God wishes to tell. Death, we sense, is not a part of the plan. It is an obstacle to overcome, an obstacle that is physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Yet only through death can we know eternal life--whether we speak of physical death or of death to self in this life. For those of us here, unless we die to self, we can never know life, not now or ever. This is the great irony, spoken of by Jesus, that by giving up your life you gain it, and by clinging to your life and by desperately trying to be your own master, you lose it. Trying to hold on to your own life is, as the Teacher says, a chasing after wind. The only saving grace is realizing this before our own death takes us and makes complete our futile attempts to manage our own existence. And so it is that death brings us face to face with such realities.
When we were at the children's Camp in July, about a half dozen kids came forward after my wife spoke. At our DVBS we had 33 kids registered during the week, which is more than this church had had in a couple of years. Starting next week I'll be starting baptism-membership classes for 5 kids in our church, one of which I was able to lead to the Lord this past Easter Sunday. Jesus tells us that unless we are like children we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes all a child needs to hear about is the possibility of life in Jesus and they are interested. Jesus himself interests them. There is no pretense. There is no cynicism. But adults are different. Sometimes it takes a health issue, life-threatening or not, to wake us up. Maybe it's the death of someone we love. But there always seems to be too much emotional and psychological baggage there for us to be able to accept the simple love of Jesus. Too much gets in the way. Too many negative experiences in church have made us jaded and suspicious. Because of what life has thrown our way, we can't bring ourselves to believe God is who the Bible says He is and that He loves us that much, and that life, eternal and abundant, is actually possible. It's too good to be true and we won't buy it. Instead, we buy the escapist intoxicants the media sells and call it entertainment. We're willing to buy anything but the truth--because the truth is too good to be true. But if only we could, even if for a moment, be like that little child and experience with a freshness and urgency the possibility of faith and life, then maybe we could have that same hope a woman dying with lung cancer found in the last days of her life, except without having to face death ourselves to get there.