Death and Resurrection: Thoughts on Losing a Child One Year Later

You probably are familiar with this experience: Time feels like it has passed so quickly and yet in many ways it also feels like you have lived a lifetime. Time has such a funny way of doing this, especially in the midst of grief and sorrow.

One year ago today, my wife and I lost our son. These words seem so heart-wrenching and yet at the same time seem like such a matter-of-fact way to express what happened. The whole of it still feels like a nightmare. It still feels like a bad dream that I might one day wake up from. It leaves me with waves of grief which arise from nowhere like a gulf storm. It pounds hard against my mind. Tears flow. Sorrow floods in, wanting nothing more than to see Finley taking His first steps.

But these experiences have been used by God this year in ways I could not have imagined. He has allowed me to minister out of my pain, out of my sorrow, and out of my loss. He has allowed me to sit with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn. He has shown Himself to be a Good Father and Good Shepherd. He has tended my soul and allows His kindness to shine upon me. Like the warm sun of spring on my skin after a cold winter, God has warmed my souls with His Presence.

But He has taught me quite a few things as well. Things about Himself that I knew but had never experienced. Things about myself that I didn’t know I was capable of and the many ways I still need the Spirit to grow me. Yet the most surprising thing I think about almost on a weekly basis is death. Not just the death of Finley, although that is certainly thought about, but specifically what death means for the Christian.

Christians actually believe that the most important event in human history was marked by death. We believe that God sent His very Son to this earth in the form of a baby. That He lived a life perfectly obeying God’s law. And then, He was placed on a cross where He died. Death is not only important to Christians, it is required! We believe that we actually share in that death symbolically when we go under the water of baptism. We are told to put to death the things of the flesh in Scripture.

But Christians believe in more than death. We believe in life after death. We believe in resurrection. Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb. He rose three days later! He defeated death with His resurrected life! And those who believe these things are promised this same resurrected life not just here in earth but one day when time is rolled up like a scroll and we will dwell with God forever. It is in this after-life, eternal life when I will see my son again. With a glorious, new, resurrected body that is no longer torn apart and tarnished by genetic malformations. This is my hope!

But there is still more. Pete Scazerro in his book, “The Emotionally Healthy Leader writes this about death and resurrection: “death is a necessary prelude to resurrection. To bear long-term fruit for Christ, we need to recognize that some things must die so something new can grow.” Even though Scazerro is likely speaking about church ministry, this applies to everything in our lives. We must die to ourselves before we experience the resurrection of Spirit’s work in our lives. Ministries and churches must put some old policies or ideologies or visions to death before they experience a fresh, resurrected life they have never unknown to them before. For the greatest rescue plan to be executed where God saved sinners, Christ had to die before He was resurrected. Sorrow had to come before the joy.

As I write this, my wife I pregnant. It’s another boy. Genetic testing and ultrasound reveal that this child is healthy and developing as he should. Does this diminish the sorrow and grief I felt and still feel when I think about losing Finley? No. But beyond my sorrow of the death of my son is something that has been resurrected in this last year…Hope.

Discipleship is Hard

“Discipleship is not cool, it’s hard,” I thought while drinking my six-dollar pour over coffee in a hipster coffee shop, wearing a cardigan.

I understand the irony of the statement above. But isn’t this what we have all been taught at some level in American Christianity? Doesn’t the best discipleship happen over a cup of ‘probably-overly expensive coffee’ in a hipster coffee shop? Maybe a McDonalds is more your speed? Nonetheless, I think we have all bought the charade that discipleship is for those who know what they are doing every step of the way.

When in reality, discipleship is so messy (and I mean ‘so’ with like a thousand o’s behind it). It takes time and effort. It means stagnation in your life and in the life of the one you are discipling. We are often too afraid to mention this, even in a blog post, because we are supposed to be the ‘experts’ when we begin discipling someone else. In a culture of ‘experts’ (because they spent 10,000 hours or some other arbitrary number in this craft or because they read a couple of blog posts on the subject which is more likely), discipleship is not one of those things we should ever feel like we have mastered. I would venture to guess there is only one person who ever believed they were worthy of discipling someone else.

The rest of us, who are not the Son of God, have found ourselves stumbling through a slew of awkward conversations which consist of many different ways of encouraging the younger believer to pursue Christ more fully in their lives, to see Christ as more magnificent than they already see Him, or to call them to repent of ongoing sin in their lives. All of these conversations are not simple. They are not cut and dry, black and white. They are difficult! Battling our own sinful flesh and our own pursuit of Christ is hard enough, but encouraging others to battle their flesh and pursue Christ is not easy.

This is why I am encouraged when I look at Scripture and see messed up, broken, sinful men and women who still see their role in discipleship as one which cannot given up. They knew the cost. They knew the difficulty. They realized that some of the people they discipled might not continue in the faith. But they all did something profound: They continued to disciple those who needed to be discipled because they believed in the message of the Gospel to change them. They believed in the Spirit which dwelled in each of them to bring to completion what was not yet complete. They believed that they were called to, as Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:8, share not only the Gospel of God but also their own selves.

So let me encourage you. Press on! Press forward! It will still be hard. But be thankful that Christ is always with you in your work to encourage, exhort, and disciple others. And we shouldn’t want it any other way.

“You Shall Know Them By Their Mask”

The above line is not in Scripture in case you were wondering. It is a clever distortion of a phrase I’ve heard from quite a few people after some recent events in my life. The line above should read: You shall know them by their love. This phrase is also not found in Scripture. So why then do I write something with a “semi-clickbatey” title? Am I here to talk about how true Christians should give up their rights and wear a mask in order to love their neighbor? No, I don’t really have the time or the energy to make an argument like that, although I’m sure I could. I’m sure there are other articles that have done that well enough. Am I writing this because there is a difference between the Christians who wear a mask and the Christians won’t or refuse to wear a mask? No (I’m sure there is a difference but the spectrum is so large that it would take a year-long LifeWay Study to figure it out).

The reason I write is because of the poorly paraphrased verse in that first paragraph. It should say this:

By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)

Through all of these arguments of wear a mask vs. don’t wear a mask; this is a government conspiracy vs. this isn’t a government conspiracy; the mask doesn’t help vs. the mask does help, I’ve seen more animosity and anger between people who claim to be Christians than I’ve seen love for one another. I’ve seen more fruit of the flesh than I have fruit of the Spirit. I’ve seen more online interactions which carry an heir of superiority than a Christ-like humility.

As someone who also is a Christ-follower with firm opinions on these issues, I know I have the same temptation to consider my opinion on this issue as greater than theirs. I have the same proclivity to consider their side as unloving and less faithful to scripture than my own. The reality is that we all have blindspots in our Christian lives. None of us always see where attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions fall far short of Christlikeness. We can always sacrifice love for the pursuit of truth.

But this is not what we have been called to as believers. Instead, let us take time to listen and consider how we can best respond to someone who disagrees with us in a loving manner. Lord willing, Covid will be over one day and when it is many of us will forget the smaller arguments that were had. But one thing people will alway remember is how they were treated by their fellow Christian brothers and sisters. Will it be filled with love? Or will others find that a surgical mask wasn’t the only mask we were wearing?

Why Short Term Missions Matters

img_1627This is an older entry of mine. It was written in the summer of 2016. Hope you enjoy. 

Summer means warmer weather, schools’s out, kids are home and vacations. But for youth ministry in the church, we see two big events often taking place: summer camp and mission trip. Both are useful. Both are profitable. Both can be used for God’s glory and for the maturity of our students.
But, I’m not here to write about the benefits of camp (Maybe I will on a later date). Rather, I want to write about the benefits of mission trips.  Is there really any benefit to it? I would like to give several reasons why it is.
  1. Students partake in the Great Commission
As much as youth ministry harps on making disciples and making disciples that make disciples, the practice can remain absent from our ministries. Mission trips can help with this. Our students have heard it said that they are to go out and partake in the Great Commission teaching all peoples everything that Christ has taught us, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Spirit. So why aren’t they doing this? Perhaps it is because they have not been put in a situation where they must. Mission trips force students to be uncomfortable and to share their faith. To go on mission trips, even short term mission trips, is to allow them the opportunity to love on others, share their faith and possibly watch God work in the hearts of those they are ministering to.
  1. Students realize the things they have been blessed with
I have heard this response multiple times from those who have gone on mission trips. I also have experienced this. If we want to open up the eyes of the students to the great blessings God has given them, mission trips are a helpful way to do so. The common response: “I never knew how blessed I was and how much I take things for granted such as…” Trust me, you will hear this from at a minimum one student who goes on the mission trip.
  1. Students see modeled for them Kingdom work
I think of Paul’s command in Philippians 3 to “join in imitating” him as he imitated Christ. Students often only get to see their leaders on a Wednesday night of Sunday morning in the context of the church. If they are lucky, their leaders are meeting with them outside the context of the church. But, It is not very often that they get to see their youth pastor or their small group leader serving outside the context of the walls of the church building. By serving alongside their leaders, they learn to imitate them. They see their leaders serving and hopefully, as a result, they in turn desire to serve as well. It creates an opportunity of discipleship for the leader and an opportunity to learn for the student.
  1. Students live out their faith
This is not to say that students don’t live our their faith in their many platforms and roles at home. What this does imply is that they are more likely to live out their faith in the context of a mission trip. We can hear the text of James 2 when it says that “faith without works is dead.” James 1 goes even further to describe pure religion. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” Mission trips are often spent serving the “orphans and the widows” of the area. When we serve the helpless, we are showing the love of Christ to those who have nothing to give back. This serving can and should be a response to the grace God has shown us and is a faint picture of that grace and mercy.
  1. Students learn their spiritual gifts and talents
Many students do not know the gifts and abilities that God has given them. This may be because they have not been given an opportunity in the church to use them. We can give them a spiritual inventory survey, but what good will that do if they never use their gifts? Enter in the mission trip. Mission trips can reveal the gifts and talents that God, through the work of the Spirit has given to them. Helping to run and VBS, the student may find that they are gifted at teaching. Helping with music ministry, a student may be equipped by the Spirit to help lead worship at their youth group or church. Some may simply find that they are incredible encouragers and can use those gifts in their own body.
  1. Students learn to love each other
Mission trips have a tendency to draw the people who participate close together. Whether this is a work of God or simply the amount of time that they spend together in a car, it is undeniably true. On mission trips we often learn the best and worst about people. We learn who they are, what motivates them and what makes them angry. Should we think this is a negative thing, I challenge us to think again. It is often these shared experiences on a mission trip that bring them close together and to develop a deep and profound love for each other.
  1. Students get a true vision of the Church
Chances are our students attend a church which has a lot of people that are like themselves. They have made friends at church with people who are like themselves. Many, as they grow up will experience “church life” with those who are most like them. But this is not reality. Revelation 5 gives a picture of people from “every tribe and language and people and nation.” This is a true picture of the Church. Mission trips can at least familiarize them with this vision. Christians are not simply those like them, but will include a multitude of cultures, languages, and peoples.
So Why Go?
The truth sadly is that these reasons may not be convincing enough for a youth ministry to get involved in mission trips. There are dozens of other benefits that could be mention. What I do hope is that these 7 benefits will at least spur some closer to the idea of going on a mission trip. For others who already do mission trips, I only hope that this is an encouragement to continue to do them.
If you still need convincing, let me remind you with the words of Jesus in Luke 11: “The harvest is plentiful, yet the laborers are few.”
My hope is that we can teach those students in our lives that they are a part of this call. They are called to go. They are called to labor. They are called to be obedient to the Great Commission. Why not do it through mission trips?