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Learning to Love God in the Midst of Grief

Written By Deborah Fox, Australia

The church was full: full of faces, food, color and noise. And yet, it somehow felt empty. To an outsider, it may have looked like a party . . . but the one person we were there to honor wasn’t able to celebrate with us.

As I stood to sing a worship song, I immediately broke down in tears. Seeing the casket in the center of the room, it instantly dawned on me: I would never see my friend’s beautiful smile again.

Suz passed away last week after suffering from a sudden and very unexpected stroke. When I heard the news, the only words I could muster were, “Why, God?” Here was a young woman in the prime of her lifea 29-year-old with an amazing intellect and dreams to transform the world. She had so much left to live for. Why did she have to die so young?

I never imagined I would be losing any of my friends or peers at this age. But this was my third friend under the age of 40 who has died in the past three years. I had just been dealing with the sudden death of my good friend Amy and didn’t expect that yet another friend would leave the world so soon.

I’ve grieved the loss of all four of my grandparents. I’ve had to bid farewell to church leaders, family friends, and teachers. Yet, when a young person dies, there’s a different kind of grief that opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions. Why would a good God allow this kind of suffering? How can a healthy young person be taken from us so soon? What about all the life events they never got to experience? If I’m being honest, it also brings me face-to-face with my own mortality. What would I be missing if God chose to call me home too?

It’s almost easier to justify when someone we love is involved in an accident or conflict. As tragic and heartbreaking as those situations may be, there is often a person or circumstance to direct our anger, fear, and frustration towards. But a healthy, young person dying out of the blue? The only one left to shake our fists at is the One who gave them life and then decided to take it away so soon.

Perhaps it’s not the issue of God’s goodness but our fear of suffering which so often drives us to think this way. We struggle to deal with death and suffering because we’re conditioned to focus on being happy . . . all the time. We live in an age where death, illness and suffering are taboo concepts we like to sweep under the carpet. So how do we handle this kind of grief?

The one thing I’ve come to realize is that there’s no magical formula for dealing with this kind of loss. But there are opportunities to use the situation to help shape our faith and care for those who are struggling. Here are a few things I’ve discovered along the way:

 

1. We can grieve with those who grieve

Don’t avoid talking about the deceased—celebrate their memory. When someone we care about is upset, it might be tempting to ignore the problem and try to focus on something else. But all that does is minimize the pain and encourage the idea that death and suffering are taboo topics that can’t be talked about.

It might be uncomfortable but don’t tiptoe around the pain. Step into that cavern of sadness and grieve with them. Romans 12:15 says to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn. We’ve been created to be a community for a reason.

 

2. Don’t live in fear—anticipate the hope of resurrection

Suz’s father read an excerpt from her diary at her celebration service. In it, she had shared about her earthly struggles and how eagerly she awaited reunion with Christ. She poured her heart into praying for a revival so that many more people across the nation would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior as she did. In the words of the minister, she “believed, lived and shared the hope of the resurrection”, knowing that death is not just a departure from a transient world but an arrival to life everlasting.

We can be consumed by the fear of the unknown. We can worry about what others think. We can go about our days in constant pursuit of earthly success. Or we can live out the hope we have in Christ now, knowing that one day we will be reunited with our loved ones (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

 

3. Turn your narrow gaze from the worries of this world to the big picture of eternity

Every time one of my friends has died or taken their own life, it’s been a wake-up call for me to take stock of my own heart and ask whether I am actively living out my faith or getting caught up in the daily grind. When heaven and earth unite, will it really matter whether I managed to find a husband? Will it matter that I don’t own my own house? Does it matter that I’m not financially secure? Will I regret not buying that cute skirt or getting a good grade on an exam?

The only regret I think I would have when looking into the eyes of Jesus is not sharing the message of His love with others. As we’re encouraged in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

I don’t know why God chose to call my friends home to Him at such a so young age. I don’t have any answers to give their families about the purpose of it all. I may never understand the bigger picture. But I’m learning to walk closer with God through all of my questions.

In working through my heartache and grief, I’ve come to experience the love of my heavenly Father on a far deeper level. There is so much sin, suffering, and brokenness in the world. But we live with the glorious hope that death will one day be swallowed up in victory:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on learning to love God in the midst of life’s challenges. Click here to read about how another contributor learned to love God through a series of crises in her life.

John McCain: A Life That Reminds Us Why We Value Sacrifice

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Foter.com / CC BY-SA

 

Scrolling through Facebook over the past weekend, a post caught my eye. My friend had shared a video link to the speech American Senator John McCain gave when he received the Liberty Medal last year (the Liberty Medal recognizes leadership in the pursuit of freedom). His comment that went along with the video included the statement, “Thank you for your great service to our country”.

I remember thinking the comment was peculiar because, at a time when political debate via Facebook is so commonplace, I had grown  used to seeing this friend post particularly left-winged, Democratic articles. If I knew one thing of John McCain, it was that he was a lifelong Republican Senator, and two-time Republican presidential nominee—far on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Shortly after my friend’s post, Senator John McCain passed away on Saturday, August 25th, 2018, after a year-long battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer.

On Twitter, former president Barack Obama of the Democratic Party spoke out to highlight the shared fidelity he had with McCain to “the ideals for which generations of Americans and immigrants alike have fought, marched and sacrificed.” Obama continued, praising the Senator who ran against him in the 2008 presidential election for his great courage and dedication to putting the greater good above his own.

Echoing the same sentiment, former president George Bush, who competed with McCain during the 2000 Republican primaries, also shared his very high opinion of McCain’s public service, and his vibrant, vivid life.

Since the news of his passing, I’ve seen a wave of posts across political lines that show due honor and respect to this man’s long life of service. On my social media feed, friends from competing parties have displayed a common outpouring of sympathy to his family and tributes to his long career serving our country. Many have even dubbed him an American Hero.

As a young man, John McCain served in the Vietnam War. When his plane was shot down, he was captured and kept as a prisoner of war for over five years. After enduring injuries caused by the plane crash, as well as torture at the hands of his captors, John McCain was eventually released. Later, he entered into what would become a lifelong career as a public servant.

Personally, what I find most striking about the life of John McCain, is that he had a big-picture view of life. He made sacrifices, but always with purpose. He believed in the history of sacrifice that built up this nation with ideals like freedom, prosperity, and justice—and he strongly urged the U.S. to be a champion of these ideals abroad in order to build a better world. He knew that this position didn’t come without costs, but believed in an innate moral obligation to do good where good could be done.

This man’s death had a way of humbling an entire nation, and called for a brief respite where political differences could be set aside, and people across party lines could express gratefulness for how he served. John McCain fought for our country. He was wounded and tortured, and it didn’t deter him from continuing to fight for what he thought was best. He was willing to make sacrifices because he believed they were worth it.

John McCain was a determined, dedicated man. But, to be sure, he had no shortage of critics and contentious moments of service…especially in relation to his congressional voting record. He often challenged traditionalists in his own party and ruffled many feathers. He had a “do what it takes” reputation that could come off as offensive to those who weren’t totally on board with what he thought needed to be done.

Despite his faults and shortcomings, after his passing, most will remember him for the sacrifices he made for his nation. And it is in his sacrificial moments that I see a reality that should point us to the One who made the ultimate sacrifice.

The outpouring of tributes to Senator John McCain shows that people are drawn to this idea of sacrifice. We respect and long for an example of someone who knows good, and will give anything up to pursue it. But Jesus is the only one who can truly meet those longings.

Jesus knew the costs of His sacrifice, and yet He willingly gave himself up. He suffered at the hands of men who tortured and wounded Him. But the Bible says that He endured the cross for the JOY set before Him (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus had joy in the sacrifice He made because He knew it was worth it. It was worth it because by His single act, He achieved the ultimate good. He gave up Himself, and in turn, an entire world of people were saved.

Human effort and human sacrifice is limited—even the sacrifice of someone dubbed an “American Hero”. No human effort will ever lead to a perfect world. But Jesus, in all His power, gave Himself up so that He could make us perfect by His blood.

As I see a nation honoring and praising a man who gave up so much for our country, it challenges me to remember that the highest honor and praise belong to Jesus alone—because it was Jesus who gave His very life for the truest “ultimate good”. The good Jesus brought is perfect relational restoration to the God who created us, which is the only way we can know real peace, joy, and freedom.

Do We Die Alone?

Written by Kim Cheung, China, originally in Simplified Chinese

Granny lay breathless on her bed, making occasional groans and moans due to the pain and discomfort she was feeling. Her wrinkled face seemed to have aged further.

I sat by her bedside, never once taking my eyes off her. Summoning up all her strength, she opened her eyes, looking me straight in the eye.

“Are you hungry?” I asked. My question was met by silence; she didn’t have any strength left to speak.

Three weeks had passed since Granny first returned home from the hospital. Including her time spent at the hospital, it had been 17 days since she last ate any solid food. It never occurred to me that she would ever become so weak.

Aside from the fact she was 92 and had a history of heart disease, Granny’s health was always in tiptop condition. She didn’t require much care in her daily life; she ate and slept well every day, so much so that she seemed even healthier than those much younger than her. Furthermore, she always had a positive outlook on life (unlike her peers) and often said that she had to live well to keep up with the progress of our world today.

And yet at this very moment, she was a dying old person struggling in the final moments of her life. She looked like she was in intense pain. A whirlwind of emotions raged in my heart beneath my calm exterior, and I wondered: How could I best comfort her and bring her some relief in this situation?

The answer came quickly—there was nothing I could do but pray.

At this point, she gently stretched out her hand and held on to mine. Though her hand was frail, it felt exceptionally warm. I quietly prayed in my heart: Lord, You are with her. Please come and comfort her with your presence. Only You can bring true comfort . . . After a while, Granny seemed to have fallen asleep; there was a peaceful look on her face. I slowly removed my hand and prayed that the Lord would hold on to hers.

This was the very first time I witnessed someone struggling in her final moments. And yet, death is something all of us will eventually experience ourselves one day. Who would accompany us on this long and lonely road then?

I recalled a sharing from many years ago which stuck with me: All of us come to this earth alone and will have to leave in the same manner—alone. Though it sounded pessimistic, the reality of it hit home at that very moment. Our family and friends can only be with us in our final moments on earth, but it’s impossible for anyone to accompany us on the journey to the afterlife.

And this is what leaves many in despair. Death is already what many fear the most—to think that we have to face our deepest and darkest fear all alone!

Thankfully, I found hope in Christ. Because the Lord is always with us, there is never a single moment in time when we are alone. He goes with us through the mountains and valleys of our lives. David said in Psalm 23:4 (ESV), “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”

And beyond that, Jesus has also gained victory over the stronghold of death, as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:55, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” So we no longer face ignorance and despair after we die, but rather life, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).  This shows the extent of God’s love for us—He is always with us and He wants to bring us new life.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized that we only come to a deeper understanding of the Lord’s presence when we are approaching life’s end. This is because we we can no longer depend on anyone or anything else. Only in our loneliest moment do we  discover that God alone is our surest, stable Rock in whom we can place our trust.

Only He can bring us true comfort and help in our darkest time. Only God will be with us forever—everything else is temporal and will fade away.

I thank the Lord that I’ll never be alone even as I finish my journey here on earth.

So for my remaining days here, I live with that perspective in mind, trusting in His faithfulness and leaning on Him as my dependable Rock.

Dearest Lord Jesus, please hold on tightly to my hand.

Getting to Know Billy Graham After His Death

Just as I was prepared to turn in for the night, a text notification popped up on my phone screen. It was a web link to an article titled: “US Preacher Billy Graham dies”.

That was the first of a string of other text messages I received last night from friends who had read the news that the world’s best-known modern evangelist had passed away at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, USA. He was 99.

Truth be told, I was surprised . . . that he had still been alive all this while (to all Graham fans, please pardon my ignorance). All I knew was that he was a really old and renowned television evangelist and I had heard my pastor mention his name a couple of times on the pulpit.

 

Who is Billy Graham?

Not wanting to look ignorant or miss out on what seemed to be the passing of one of the most influential men of the 20th century, I decided to do some research.

Needless to say, every report I read pointed to one thing: Billy Graham was no ordinary man.

He’s been called the world’s most important evangelist since the Apostle Paul, a counselor to American presidents, and a great uniter. He’s preached to millions of people all over the world, including North Korea, the Soviet Union, and some of the poorest Third World villages.

As I pored over the tributes and obituaries, it’s evident that this man had made a great impact for the gospel in his 99 years of life. In fact, one of my friends just told me that his father had become a Christian after attending an evangelistic rally by Graham held in Singapore 40 years ago.

So, if like me, you’re wondering who this guy is and what’s the big deal about his death, here are some key facts about the man:

  • Graham was born in 1918 and brought up on his family’s dairy farm in North Carolina, USA.
  • After hearing a travelling evangelist, Mordecai Ham, he became a committed Christian at the age of 16.
  • He became a full-time evangelist with Youth For Christ, a Christian youth organization that reached out to young people and service personnel.
  • Over six decades, he preached to 215 million people in 185 countries.
  • Through radio and television, he’s reached hundreds of millions.
  • He preached his final revival meeting in New York in 2005 at the age of 86.

Though Graham—like every other person—was not perfect, what struck me as I read through all the reports of his life and death, was how he managed to keep his life untainted amid financial and sexual scandals that plagued other church ministers, leaders, and TV evangelists. Graham exemplified what true religion was: he kept a tight rein of his tongue, went out of his way to reach the orphans and widows, and kept his life unpolluted by the world (James 1:26-27).

And the other aspect of his life that intrigued me was how he kept his life and ministry sharply focused on one thing: proclaiming Christ. Yet he never made a big deal out of the influence and reach that he had, recognizing that salvation is only by God’s grace alone.

“I am not going to Heaven because I have preached to great crowds or read the Bible many times. I’m going to Heaven just like the thief on the cross who said in that last moment: ‘Lord, remember me’,” he once said.

What a beautiful reminder. As we celebrate his life and mourn his passing, may we all aspire to echo his words at the end of our lives as well.