Death & Taxes on Good Friday

Good Friday is the yearly remembrance of Jesus’ Christ’s betrayal, trial, suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial. Christians across all times, cultures, and geographies have communally and reverentially worshiped Jesus as the author of salvation in his sacrificial act. Over the last 100 years, Good Friday has fallen on April 15th only four times. And, this is the first year in my lifetime that Good Friday is being observed on April 15th. 

Why is this important you might ask? 

You might be asking yourself, “is this essay going to be about how Good Friday relates to taxes and Tax Day?” Well, the answer is no, but also kind of yes. 

You probably know the phrase, “Nothing is certain but death & taxes.” It originated with the English Writer Daniel Defoe, and was popularized by Benjamin Franklin when he wrote in a letter to a friend, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Encapsulated in this quote is the thought that humanity cannot run away from certain things, certain permanent experiences that continue from generation to generation. 

Governments have existed for thousands of years and have taxed their people, from Babylon to Egypt, from Rome to the United States. Death equally and more powerfully has always existed. Death is the great equalizer. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy, powerful or ordinary, you will die. No human, who has ever lived, has not tasted death. But, in a loose sense, death is also a kind of tax. 

Let me explain this a little bit more.

Our word “tax” comes from the Latin word “taxare,” which originally meant to formally disapprove of someone. That is obviously not how we use the word today. But, the word “taxare” also had connections to touching, grabbing, inspecting, which is how the French eventually changed the meaning of the root word “tax” and how we got our english version. They saw that “taxing” was the government “grabbing” or “seizing” an assessed price from the people. So, a tax is the governmental authorities in power “gripping” “grabbing” or “seizing” the goods they assess as necessary compensation. 

So, how is death a tax? How does death relate to humans having goods seized by an authority? 

Well, in the Christian worldview, humans were created as God’s image bearers. We have a unique dignity, value, and worth because God bestowed his image upon us at our creation [Genesis 1:27]. That is why humans are noticeably different from animals, plants, and the rest of creation [Psalm 8]. We have minds, rationality,  creativity, morality, and more that all points to a unique and exalted spiritual reality and existence. The same way coins and currency have images of their country’s leaders stamped on them, humans have God’s image stamped on us. 

So, in the Christian story, when humanity sinned against our good God; there were consequences. God’s good creation, all of it, was cursed [Genesis 3]. We see this everyday. Work is hard. People are mean. Wars are fought. People die. There is sin, evil, and death everywhere, and it can be experienced in a small lie or an international war, in gossip or in murder. So, God put a “tax” on mankind. Death. God, as the supreme authority, put a price on our disobedience and evil. Humans all die. God reclaims his image back unto himself. And, like I said earlier, no amount of money or power can change this reality.

The Psalmist even exclaims this truth in Psalm 49 when he writes:

Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. [vs 5-9]

No man or woman can avoid this tax. No amount of money, no position of power, no new technology can save a human from the grip of death, the seizing of his life before God. It is appointed unto man once to die, and then our judgment [Hebrews 9:27]. You can’t hide your life from God, how rich people hide their money in Costa Rica or the Caymans. That’s not how it works.

So why am I writing about Good Friday, Tax Day, taxes, and Death? 

Well, April 15th represents all of those experiences for me this year. You see, April 15th is especially hard for me, not because it is Tax Day (I normally do my taxes in February or March), but because it’s the anniversary of my Dad’s heart attack and subsequent death. My dad’s death negatively affected me more than any other event in my life. And, every year I contemplate my dad’s death, it’s affects on my life, my family’s life, death in general, and death in the Christian story. 

One thing that my Dad’s death has taught me over and over again, is that you need to face death. You need to contemplate your death. You need to live a life knowing that you will die someday. That your taxes will come due, and God will call you home. Avoiding thinking about death and the great questions of life is no way to live. Distracting oneself with entertainment, riches, popularity, and the such can only help for so long. Sooner or later you need to confront death face to face. I find it interesting that often people dread the IRS more than thinking about their own mortality in life.

But, I can tell you that when I faced death, when I asked the question, can I offer anything to escape death? CanI pay the debt owed to God? Can I pay the great tax? I was met with only silence, anxiety, and fear. 

And, then I answered: no! 

There is nothing I can offer.

But in that place of darkness and despair, and complete honesty, a little light started flickering. And, that light was Jesus Christ. The Psalm I quoted earlier stated, “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. But the story of Jesus Christ is exactly that. Jesus Christ is where heaven met earth, where God became man, so that man might be reunited with God. And this is what is so comforting as a Christian. The Christian story, my story, my father’s story is Jesus’ Story, and he pays the price. 

“No man can ransom another,” but God can. God can ransom humanity from the grave. The God-man Jesus can pay the tax that was due. He can heal our broken image. He can make the payment to God for us. And, so he did on the cross. He died the death that we deserved so that we might live in the light and life of God himself. 

No other religion, no scientific phenomenon has ever explained the world this way. No other religion has God descending to mankind to save us in his mercy and grace. And no scientific narrative, experiment, or technology will cause mankind to become like gods and avoid death. So, I put my faith in the one who can make the payment because he was a human like me, and the one who can satisfy the payment to God as God himself. I put my faith in the God-man, Jesus Christ. My only hope in life and death.

Ultimately this is a special year for me. Good Friday couldn’t come at a better time; it couldn’t be on a better day of the year for me. Because, ultimately today I am focused on the death of Jesus Christ, my savior. And, as I focus on Christ’s death; his payment to purchase me; to pay the tax so to say, I cannot help but be filled with hope. 

Humanity continues on. History continues. My dad died 24 years ago. My taxes are due today. Yet still I remember my savior. For he has paid my debt, he seized death itself. So, even though I will die, I will face it with hope and assurance, knowing that death is no longer a tax for me, but rather a down payment funded with the blood of Jesus Christ. A down payment that I will gladly pay to be reunited with my savior, my father, and those who are the beloved of God.  

Amen. 

Nothing Stands Between Us

My boys smiled at me as I cried, and then proceeded to spin to the music while screaming at the top of their lungs. And, in that moment I tasted joy; joy unexplainable. A joy so deep and unexpected, it can only be explained as supernatural. I felt the presence of God in that very moment. God telling me, “Nothing Stands Between Us!”

One Saturday this winter, I was on dad duty watching my two little twin boys, August John and Abel James.

The Elliott men, when left alone, plundered the kitchen cabinets for treasure and ate our fill of string cheese, deli ham, and Biscoff cookies. I even snuck August and Abel some bites of ice cream (don’t tell their mom). I enjoyed a nice glass of wine, a Pinot Noir with notes of plum and pepper if you care to know, and the boys each had a glass of warm milk, with some nice earthy tones.

After dinner and dessert, I decided to stream some live music performances from Youtube on our television. Now I need you to know that whenever I put music on for the boys, whether on the TV, our Homepod, or my record player, I sing and dance. They love watching me, and I love seeing their faces smile in joy. Daddy dancing has been fully incorporated into the Elliott family liturgy. That night as soon as the music started so did my feet. My queue played and feet shuffled as sweat steadily dripped off my head.

I decided to take a break.

Sitting on the cold floor, I rested my back against the living room loveseat. I smiled watching my two boys ecstatically play, talking to each other with an unknown language while fighting over a bag of zip ties (you would have thought the zip ties were gold the way they were fighting over them).The boys kept playing, and I stayed seated, a content dad; happy to see the joy on my sons faces. While I was enjoying this moment, the song “Nothing Stands Between Us” started playing.

If you aren’t familiar with the song, it’s the last song on John Mark McMillan’s Mercury & Lightning album. The album is a musical journey through John Mark’s existential crisis of faith; a journey through his feelings of disconnection and distance from God. “Nothing Stands Between Us” is the culmination of the album, where John Mark finally exclaims that it’s not God who has been distant, but rather he was the one being distant. Through all life’s joys and sorrows, God has been there. He exclaims, “You always find me, in between the thunder and the lightning.” In the quiet calm between a mighty clap of thunder and the bright flash of lightning; in that calm God is there too.

Right then, it happened.

My son, Abel, walked over and gently placed his forehead directly on mine. He just stood there, forehead to forehead, smiling and looking at me. While Abel was doing this, his twin brother August ran over and placed his head on my shoulder.

Emotions overwhelmed my heart. Tears intermingled with the sweat streaming down my face.

It was as if in this one moment my whole life played itself before my eyes.

Memories of my dad came flooding into my mind. My dad coming home from work, putting his foot on my stomach and shaking me on the ground as I laughed hysterically. Crawling onto my parents water bed in the middle of the night. Watching the Patriots game with my dad on a tiny 20 inch tv. Falling asleep on my dads arm, with my brother next to me, as we make deliveries in North Boston at 5:00am on a Saturday morning.

I saw my dad waving goodbye to me one last time as I enter kid’s church. Seeing my dad in a casket, not understanding why everyone is watching him sleep. Seeing that casket lowered into the ground. A gray, granite tombstone marking my dad’s resting place.

Then I saw years of pain: no dad on Father’s day; no dad at my graduations, my engagement, wedding, the birth of my sons; anxiety attacks; panic attacks; thinking I’m dying of a heart attack, just like my dad. I saw deep sorrow tied to my existence, to my experience.

In that moment I tasted sorrow. Salty tears streamed into my mouth; sorrow quite literally coated my tastebuds. My soul was overcome with memories of hurt and pain.

The song, Nothing Stands Between Us, continues, “River of gladness, take control
There’s a cup of joy for every taste of sorrow.”

For every taste of sorrow there is a cup of joy.

My boys smiled at me as I cried, and then proceeded to spin to the music while screaming at the top of their lungs. And, in that moment I tasted joy. Joy unexplainable. A joy so deep and unexpected, it can only be explained as supernatural. I felt the presence of God in that very moment. God telling me, “Nothing Stands Between Us!”

The Apostle Paul writes about this truth in the book of Romans.

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us! For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:36, 38-39 NET)

Gregory of Naziansus, a Turkish pastor in the 4th Century, wrote a poem called Desire for Death, in which he writes,

“For I am stuffed full of all that the present world offers, of wealth, poverty, joys, of things that bring no joy, honor, humiliation, enemies, and friends…If I am nothing, my Christ, why did you form me thus? If I am precious to you, how am I pressed by so many evils?”

This truth that Paul wrote two-thousand years ago, and Gregory expounds on in his poem, I finally understood in my heart. To be human is to suffer. No matter how often we try to explain this away. Humanity is broken, and we all experience sorrow, sadness, and evil. But, nothing in this life can separate us from the love of God, because Jesus, God in the Flesh, tasted the greatest sorrow for us. We have a God who assumed humanity and with it, tasted our suffering, so that we may taste of the very life of God and the joy he brings!

So although to be human means to taste sorrow and suffer, to be human is also to experience joy and love in Jesus Christ and God’s beautiful creation. It is a beautiful dance. The same way the darkness of the night leads to the light of day, or the cold of winter leads to the warmth of summer, so to suffering and pain lead to joy.

And, I think I’m finally okay with that truth!

Sometimes you experience moments where you feel God’s divine presence in the small things, in the ordinary. This was one of those moments. What started off as a night of singing and dancing with treats, turned into a night of contemplating God and enjoying his presence; and, I’m not complaining. Sometimes we just need to open our eyes to see God right in front of us, whether in a beautiful sunset, in the hand we’re holding, or in the face of our children.

Still Falls the Rain…

Today is New Years Eve. The year 2020 is about to become 2021, again reminding us that time does not stand still. Time continues to move on. Through pandemics, through economic crises, through natural disasters, time doesn’t stop. Humans keep growing older, and the universe keeps slowly dying. 2020, to most, has made this truth evermore clear. Our world is fickle; humans are frail; and suffering is ever present. And, even though suffering seems more present in 2020, I can assure you that as long as time keeps moving forward, so will human suffering.

Today is New Years Eve. The year 2020 is about to become 2021, again reminding us that time does not stand still. Time continues to move on. Through pandemics, through economic crises, through natural disasters, time doesn’t stop. Humans keep growing older, and the universe keeps slowly dying. 2020, to most, has made this truth evermore clear. Our world is fickle; humans are frail; and suffering is ever present. And, even though suffering seems more present in 2020, I can assure you that as long as time keeps moving forward, so will human suffering. 

These are the things that my mind thinks about, when I have the morning to myself. As I was thinking to myself, I sipped my warm, black coffee and watched the Pacific Northwest rain fall on the field across the street from my home. And, as I watched the winter rain softly drizzle down, I was reminded of a poem by Dame Edith Sitwell, “Still the Rain Falls.” 

Dame Edith Sitwell penned “Still the Rain Falls” during the Bombing of London in 1940, which was one of the darkest years of the 20th Century. The Second World War was raging and the German armies were conquering every town, city, province, and country their infantry, tanks, and artillery marched on. Economies were in crisis, and most Europeans feared for their lives daily. It was in this year of extreme darkness, Sitwell penned this beautiful poem.

Still falls the Rain—

Dark as the world of man, black as our loss—

Blind as the nineteen hundred and forty nails

Upon the Cross.

The poem starts with Stidwell exclaiming that the world is still dark as ever. Using the imagery that each year after Christ’s crucifixion is yet another nail in the cross, another year of suffering. We as humans keep suffering, we keep perpetuating evil and experiencing its effects. Her poem could easily be modified to say, “Blind as the two thousand and twenty nails, Upon the cross.” 

Two stanza after, we read:

Still falls the Rain—

Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side:

He bears in His Heart all wounds,—those of the light that died,

The last faint spark

Now, Stidwell reflects on the Christian understanding of God and salvation. Christianity believes that God actually became man to save his creation. While all other religions talk of mankind ascending to God, in Christianity, God lovingly descends to humankind. God, who is eternal and outside of time itself, becomes a human being and is put to death for our sake. This death of Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and remedy for both the evils we commit and the evils we experience. Stidwell exclaims, “Still falls the Blood from the Starved Man’s wounded Side;” she is making the point that humans are still evil and still suffering, so we still need the blood of Jesus. We still need God. 

Then, in the final stanza Stidwell writes from the perspective of Jesus saying:

Then sounds the voice of One who like the heart of man

Was once a child who among beasts has lain—

“Still do I love, still shed my innocent light, my Blood, for thee.”

 

It is Jesus who gives us hope by loving us. God born as a human baby, born in a manger surrounded by barn animals. God who was timeless entered time; God who was infinite became finite; God who spoke creation into existence cannot speak; God who sustains all things, cannot feed himself; God who knows all things cannot even think for himself. 

This is God’s story. 

God loved us so much that he became like us, was born like us, lived like us, suffered like us, and died like us. But, unlike the rest of humanity, Jesus Christ resurrected from the grave, scars and all, to prove that suffering will have an end one day. This is the beauty of Christianity. It assumes that humankind, no matter how hard we try, cannot conquer sin, suffering, and evil. But,it offers true hope, because we have a God who was willing to suffer with us and for us. So, because of Jesus, we can have hope and salvation from this simultaneously beautiful and miserable world. 

2020 showed us that suffering isn’t going anywhere. And, the only thing that gives me hope for this next year is that I have a God who became human and suffered with me. A God who suffered and died to give me real life; a life that is better than our current reality. If I hope in anything else, a better year, money, good relationships, popularity, perfect health, these will all fail me someday. So, even if I get cancer, experience financial ruin, lose a loved one, or experience the pain of death myself, I can proclaim with Dame Edith Stidwell, “Still falls the rain,” and still my Jesus loves me! 

A THRONE IN DARKNESS: remembering my Father’s death after celebrating Easter

I remember Christ’s death on Good Friday, celebrate Christ’s resurrection with joy on Easter, then immediately go back to experiencing sorrow and pain by remembering my Father’s death. It is like reaching a beautiful mountain top only to have a storm roll in and quickly rush you off, having you descend in darkness and experience fear.

I’m sure this is how much of the world feels now during this current pandemic. Much of the world together remembered Christ’s death and then celebrated his resurrection this Easter Sunday only to wake up Monday morning to the Covid-19 storm clouds rolling in.

Yesterday was the twenty-second anniversary of my Father, John Francis Elliott’s, death. About every three or four years, the anniversary of my father’s death comes directly after Easter. These are always the strangest years to remember my dad and contemplate his death’s impact, because I follow this strangely depressing pattern. I remember Christ’s death on Good Friday, celebrate Christ’s resurrection with joy on Easter, then immediately go back to experiencing sorrow and pain by remembering my Father’s death. It is like reaching a beautiful mountain top only to have a storm roll in and quickly rush you off, having you descend in darkness and experience fear. 

I’m sure this is how much of the world feels now during this current pandemic. Much of the world together remembered Christ’s death and then celebrated his resurrection this Easter Sunday only to wake up Monday morning to the Covid-19 storm clouds rolling in. Cases are resurging in China and South Korea. The Stock Market is still volatile. United States unemployment is at an all time high since the Great Depression. The disease is still spreading with the death toll still rising.


Christ has risen but we are still isolated, anxious, and scared of the unknown. Those who do not believe in God, and even those who do believe in God are both asking the same questions: “where is Christ in this time of death and darkness?” 

The answer is that Christ is in the darkness with humanity. Christ is with us. 

The good news of the gospel is not that we have a God that draws near in our joy but remains distant in our suffering. No, the good news of the gospel is that we have a God that became completely human and drew near to us in our suffering, so much so that he died and entered the darkness with us. 

Where is Christ in this time of darkness? He is in the darkness. 

Peter Liethart wrote about this very truth in his essay, A Throne in the Grave. Leithart explains that in the sacrificial system of the Jewish people, the ark of the covenant symbolized the presence of God. The ark was covered in gold inside and out, and had two beautiful angels sitting on the top of it, and it was considered the throne of God. The ark resided in the holy of holies in the Jewish Temple, a room decorated beautifully, yet a room that no one could enter except for the high priest once a year. God’s presence lived with the people enthroned at the center of a beautiful temple. God’s throne was in glory. 

But, in Jesus’s incarnation, death, and resurrection the great inversion happens. God’s presence resides in a man, and that man dies. So, God’s presence resides in a tomb, in a grave, in darkness. When Jesus resurrects from the dead, two angels sit in his tomb, mirroring the ark of the covenant, symbolizing that the grave is now Christ’s throne. Our God is not a God that stays enthroned in beautiful glory, no, our God descends to make his throne in the darkness of humanity. God’s throne is the grave. Leithart writes, “Where in hell is the evidence of Easter? This is exactly the right question, and it answers itself. Any old god could put up a throne in a temple. The true God must reign also in the midst of hell, among the ruins, or he doesn’t reign at all. He is no living God if he isn’t the living One among the dead.” 

The beauty of the gospel is that Christ experienced ugliness. The power of the gospel is that Christ experienced weakness. The joy of the gospel is that Christ experienced sadness. The life of the gospel is that Christ experienced death. The light of the gospel is that Christ experienced darkness. So, where is Christ in this time of darkness? Where is God in this time of pain? He is sitting enthroned on the grave, he is sitting as a light in the darkness. For what good is a god to humanity if he stays enthroned in the heavens? Our God brings his light into our darkness. 

So, now, whenever I experience a year like this, when the anniversary of my father’s death is after Easter, I remember that the risen Christ is with me in the darkness. The victorious Christ does not stay enthroned in the heavens, he does not stay in the gold temple, he does not stay on the top of the mountain. No, the victorious Christ is with me in the pit of sadness. He is with me in darkness. He is with me in the storm. This is the good news of the gospel, this is the good news that we celebrate in Easter. 

And, Christ can be with you in this time of pandemic, in this time of crisis, and any time of crisis. Simply call to him in your sadness, call to him your pain, call to him in your anxiety, call to him in your darkness. For, the God of the universe who controls the sun, the stars, and the moon is sitting enthroned in your darkness. Draw close to Christ, for he is the eternal light of the world. 

*If you feel like you are looking for light in these dark times, or you want to know more about my dad’s death and how it affected me, or how Christ gives me practical and tangible hope, you can email me at peter@resurrectionchurch.com or comment below. I’d love to talk with you!

A Beautiful Curse: Reflections on Pregnancy

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21

In the creation story, God curses the human race for its sin and lack of trust in Him as a Good Creator. This curse results in an increase in pain and suffering for both men and women. The specific curse for women was increased pain in childbirth. Often times when Christians speak of childbirth, we completely skip discussing the effects of the curse and jump right to the amazing joy that children bring. Often times, the consistent pain of gestation and the agony of labor are completely avoided in our conversation about the beauty of pregnancy. But, part of redemption is knowing the suffering, pain, despair, and darkness that comes before the gladness, joy, happiness, and the light. Part of the Christian’s witness to the beauty of pregnancy and childbirth is being honest about its inherent pain and suffering. When the whole of pregnancy is acknowledged, then and only then, will we see the true beauty of pregnancy and new life.

I see no better way to discuss this truth then expressing the deep admiration I have for my wife, Stephanie. Stephanie is currently seven and a half months pregnant with our twin boys, Abel James and August John. Her pregnancy has not been easy, and the labor will not be any easier. But, Stephanie amazes me every single day with her love and deep affection for our sons. And, her love for our boys is best realized in showing all the pain she has, is, and will suffer for them.

Stephanie’s pregnancy started with seventeen weeks of morning sickness. Often she would vomit more than fifteen times in a single twenty-four-hour period. Cologne, Indian food, having an empty stomach, even elevator rides, would all trigger her digestive system to revolt in disagreement. Even if there was nothing in her stomach, she would experience constant acid reflux and dry heaving. At week sixteen she hit the climax of her morning sickness when she also got a stomach bug and had to be hospitalized for two days. The stomach bug depleted her body of all its electrolytes and made her tachycardic. The boys didn’t help, because they just kept taking what they needed from their mom. For two days, she had a heart rate of over 125 bpm and could barely walk because of how week she was. But, she persevered.

After the hospitalization, Stephanie’s morning sickness did start to subside, and she had a brief respite from any major discomforts. But starting at around week twenty, her body began to prepare for the birth, and the constant pains of a changing body structure started. Abel and August’s growth has started to hurt and pain Stephanie’s body. Her abs are stretching and separating, causing consistent pain and discomfort. Every part of her body has become more sensitive, hitting into something by accident feels like getting punched. Around week twenty-six, Stephanie started to get increasingly short of breath. Abel and August are getting so big that they’re constantly pushing Stephanie’s intestines and stomach up, which presses on her diaphragm and lungs. Stephanie can actually no longer sleep on her back because she literally cannot breathe. And, her nighttime sleep, in general, has transformed into three power naps, causing increased tiredness. These are just some of the physical and anatomical changes that cause constant pain for my wife.

But, Stephanie also has emotional pain as well. When she was hospitalized, we sat in the emergency room and had two nurses try and find the babies heartbeats. These labor and delivery nurses could only find one. An ultrasound was then scheduled to check on the health of the boys. We waited for three hours, and those three hours were some of the most painful in our lives. Stephanie, more than I, felt the emotional weight of not knowing if one of our sons was alive. We cried together, read Psalms, prayed, and waited. God was good to us, and both of the boys were healthy. At our week twenty ultrasound, we found out that both the boys were very small even for twins. One was the 11th percentile (for the size of babies in the U.S.A.) and the other the 13th. Stephanie felt for the boys, wanting desperately for them to grow. They did grow for a while, but at week twenty-eight we were told that one baby was growing while the other’s growth had been stunted. Abel was at the 27th percentile while August was only the 9th. Stephanie and I were both devastated and scared. But, Stephanie is the one who literally feels the boys grow and move in her. One of the boys in hidden under her placenta and is harder to feel. This paired with knowing one was smaller caused increased emotional pain and anxiety for Stephanie. We cried together more and prayed desperately for God to grow August. And, grow August He has. All this to say, mothers do not only have physical pain during gestation, but they also experience emotional pain.

Let’s be honest. For almost all women: pregnancy is difficult; it is painful; it is stressful; it is hard work; and, in reality, pregnancy is accursed. But, what a beautiful curse it is, for it is a curse that displays fully the message of divine redemption. Gina Loehr wrote on pregnancies saying, “Women will be saved through childbearing,” St. Paul wrote in his first letter to Timothy. If bearing a child in one’s body is salvific, it is because the experience leads us into the redemptive mystery of the cross. As Christ offered his body and shed his blood to give us life, so too every mother offers her body and sheds her blood to give life. The new life every mother brings to the world follows the “Passion” of pregnancy and labor. Let’s not pretend the Resurrection should come without the cross.” These words ring true for a husband watching his wife experience the pain and suffering of child-bearing.

Stephanie has been such a beautiful display of Christ to me these past seven and a half months. She is literally giving of herself every single day. She is giving her body, her nutrients, her hormones, her oxygen, her blood, her literal life to our beautiful twin boys. She is giving shelter and food to these helpless human beings. Jesus once taught, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” I do not think it is far off to say that mothers, when they bear and raise children, are doing these same actions to the least of these, the most vulnerable, unborn children. For when a baby in the womb is hungry, the mother feeds it; when it is thirsty, she gives it drink; the baby is a stranger to her body, and she welcomes it; it is naked, and she covers it.

Stephanie has yet to give birth. But, her labor will be the climax of her pregnancy, the darkest night. It is in this darkest night, that we by the grace of God will see the light of our children’s faces! If gestation is represented by the passion of Christ, then labor is the cross. As Rachel Stone writes, “Birth is not passive, pointless, cruel suffering. It is active work—labor…These mothers suffered pain, perhaps even risked death, to bring forth someone new, to bring forth new life…And so when Jesus goes to the cross “for the joy set before him,” as the writer of Hebrews puts it, it’s not masochistic, nor is it passive. He puts forth strength and endurance; like childbirth, it is a commitment to struggle.” Even in Acts Chapter Two, when Peter is preaching on Christ’s death on the cross, the specific Greek word ōdinas (ὠδῖνας), used for the “agony” of Christ’s sufferings, is best translated as “birth pangs.” This paints for us a vivid image of Christ’s salvation of mankind through his death on the cross as a birth. How beautiful it is that our Lord empathizes with women by speaking of his salvation of all mankind as birth! The same way Jesus gave birth to new spiritual life in his death and resurrection, so to Stephanie will give birth to the new life of our twin boys. Birth is the last great sacrifice before the joy of new life and resurrection! As Jesus taught his disciples, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for the joy that a human being has been born into the world.” And, this is the beautiful curse, known as child-bearing: that deep pain brings even deeper joy.

Women experience pain, and then bring new life into the world. And, we need to continually proclaim how beautiful this process is, but also how hard childbearing and birth is. Women experience continuous pain and the greatest pain in the world to give children life. And, all women and mothers deserve constant support, praise, love, and honor for the way they carry their cross. The more we understand and discuss this pain the greater we can support the needs of women. We need a culture that understands the deep pain that child-bearing brings, so we can more fully experience the joy of new life.

I write these words as both a praise to my God who gave birth to resurrection life in the person of Jesus Christ and as a thanks to my wife, Stephanie Augusta Elliott. Your pain, your sacrifice, and constant work to support Abel and August do not go unnoticed. You are a beautiful image of Christ’s sacrificial love every day. I love you, and always will!

As the Ruin Falls: Pain & Beauty; Destruction & Resurrection

Photo Credit: Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

Saturday morning my wife, Stephanie, and I with our friends and family celebrated the new life and coming birth of our twin sons, Abel James and August John Elliott. Gray clouds covered the sky, and a steady rain fell on the ground, a typical spring day in the South Puget Sound. I awoke early to bake four country loafs and slice apples for our charcuterie boards. After packing our car with food and supplies, we drove to pick up our morning coffee and then headed to the baby shower. The morning continued and we helped my wife’s family setup the event room with flowers and other decorations. People trickled in little by little: immediate family, extended family, old friends, new friends, loving pastors, and my beautiful wife, carrying my two twin boys surrounded me. Everyone was smiling and laughing. The happiness was palpable, and the party was the exact opposite of the dreary, depressing weather outside. During the baby shower, happiness overcame me, and, in that moment, my heart was overfilled with contentment and joy, similar to reaching the peak of a mountain or watching the sunset at the beach. It was a moment where one is thankful just to exist, to see and experience beauty, to love, and to be loved. It is in these moments that God’s presence feels so close, that mankind is able to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”[1]

But, what does man do with the evil that befalls him? What happens when we taste the bitterness of this world rather than the goodness of God? Where is God in these moments? For even in our happiness, mankind cannot escape the cold grasp of death. Even in celebrating the new life of my beautiful twin boys, I am unable evade the business of the grave. Today is the twenty-first anniversary of my father’s death. And, his death makes bitter even the joy of new life.

People say that time heals all wounds, but my father’s death seems to become more painful every year. The more joy I experience in my life, the more pain I feel from his death. The more goodness I experience in my life, such as graduation, marriage, and now children, the more I long for my Father to be alive to experience it with me. It is so painful to have children and to know they will never meet their grandfather. My twin boys, Abel and August, will never get to sit on Grandpa John’s lap; my twin boys will never feel my father’s strong hands hold them ever so gently; my twin boys will never see their grandpa pray by their bedside begging God to guide them in his ways; my twins will never know the love my father had for God, my mom, my siblings, and me. Even more so having children reminds me that I will never experience handing my son to my dad to hold; I will never feel the loving and firm embrace of my dad; I will never experience my dad telling me how proud he is of me as a father, a husband and a man. But, I surmise that the pain I feel is simply a product of the beauty I experienced in being my father’s son. Memories of my father’s laugh, of my father’s love, and my father’s faith are still with me to this day. The pain I feel is simply the absence of my father in my life.

It is strangely poetic that the Notre Dame cathedral caught fire today. The 856-year-old cathedral, captivated millions of admirers and pilgrims who walked through its doors in awe of its beauty. In Notre Dame, we saw a physical embodiment of beauty. And to lose that pains us. The pain of its destruction is so deeply felt exactly because the world knew its beauty and wonder. So, is the death of a human soul! To know and love someone only to see their body deteriorate over time or suddenly collapse, causes humans deep pain. Yet, we are powerless to stop this destruction.

Jesus Christ, our Savior, saw his beautiful creation dying and deteriorating. But, unlike mankind, he was not powerless to stop its destruction. So, he in fellowship with the Holy Trinity descended into humanity and assumed our nature. Christ Jesus was goodness, justice, love, and beauty encapsulated in a human. He was fully God and fully man, and we rejected him. He was the most beautiful thing that this world has ever experienced, and we killed him. ­And, mankind watched his body crumble in weakness. Jesus’ body was broken and soul crushed for humanity, like Notre Dame burning, the human embodiment of beauty was destroyed.

So, why did the triune God allow Jesus’ humanity to taste this bitterness? Why did Jesus experience this immense pain? Why was the beauty of Jesus allowed to be extinguished? Why was man permitted to eradicate the goodness of Jesus? Doesn’t this seem counter-productive to saving mankind?

Death became intertwined into the fabric of humanity after the fall of Adam and Eve. Death in a way represents our destroyed beauty, our fall from grace. Death is like the flame that just consumed Notre Dame, it is a sweltering fire that consumes beauty. And, Jesus, as God, assumed all of humanity, which means he assumed even the experience of pain and death. Jesus willingly allowed himself to experience the ugly reality of pain and death, because He wished to restore mankind’s beauty. He experienced death to bring new life. He experienced sickness to bring a remedy. He experienced sorrow to bring joy. He experienced pain to bring relief. And, that is what the resurrection shows. The true beauty of Jesus Christ is that he did not stay broken, dead in the ground. No, our Savior rose triumphant. Like a phoenix from the ashes, like the sun from the darkness of night, like a bright diamond from the darkness of the ground, our Savior was raised anew. Jesus was the firstborn of the dead, and He is a sign of the great things to come. For, Jesus is going to return and remake this world. Jesus resurrected not for his salvation alone, but for the salvation of the world. Jesus wants to heal the world; he wants to make the world beautiful again.

Many of the great moments in our lives are connected to parties. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, and baby showers are often moments of sheer happiness and beauty. In these moments, surrounded by friends and family, we love and feel loved. Our Savior, Christ Jesus, is going to throw a beautiful celebration for the world when he returns. At this party Jesus will restore all of our brokenness. All of our physical ailments will disappear, death will be no more, and all tears of sadness will be wiped away.[2] The brief momentary joy I felt at my sons’ baby shower was just that, momentary. But, that great and beautiful party when Jesus returns shall be eternal. For, when Christ returns all things will be made beautiful and indestructible, and mankind will once again be in perfect fellowship with God, who is beauty itself.

I have now come to terms that the pain of my Father’s death will never be resolved this side of eternity. Our Savior thinks it fitting that we should experience pain to grow our dependence on him. As C.S. Lewis once wrote in a poem, “For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains you give me are more precious than all other gains.”[3] When our life shatters and we experience deep pain and brokenness, it is those who seek Jesus in humility that will experience true life. For it is in Jesus that all temporal things will find their eternity. And, this is the hope that I will teach my sons: Pain is a reality of human life, but the beauty of Jesus Christ is greater than this pain.

[1] Psalm 34:8.

[2] Revelation 21.

[3] http://www.pford.stjohnsem.edu/ford/cslewis/documents/notes/Wordsworth%20SBJ%20As%20the%20ruin%20.pdf.

 

On Gardens: A Meditation on Marriage

It is Saturday morning. With the sun gently peeking into our room, my wife and I simply lay in bed talking, dreaming about our present and future life. Where in the world will we visit? Where will we live? What will our hobbies be in five years?  What jobs do we really want? What will we name our first child? Every time we discuss our future, we always, without doubt, plan our garden. We will plant and care for blueberry and raspberry bushes, red and green leaf lettuce, cucumbers and carrots, and all the herbs you can imagine, oregano, dill, garlic, chives, parsley, and more. My wife, Stephanie, wants hydrangeas and lavender, and I desperately want a cherry tree and fresh hops. But, when we plan our garden together, the dream that we love the most is of our future children in that garden. We think of our kids running barefoot through the garden and feverishly eating all of the berries they can before they are caught. I smile to myself thinking about Stephanie watering our garden on a hot summer day and spraying our kids with the hose; they scatter screaming with joy. I dream about carrying my children on my shoulders and having them pick all the cherries they can reach. And, once our children are old enough we will teach them to fertilize, water, and weed the garden. I think about all the ways I can use the garden as a metaphor for life, to teach them that enjoying fruit requires discipline and hard work. Gardens excite the human mind. And, they not only provide life, but they also foster that life.

There is something special and unique about gardens, something specifically tied to being human. In gardens the means of life and survival are grown, and have been for thousands of years. Gardens are not only practical and necessary for human existence, they are beautiful. They are places of tranquility, peace, and life. A mixture of flowers, bushes, trees, vegetables, fruits, and herbs. When human beings enter a garden a sense of relief falls over them, for they are surrounded and immersed by beauty. Humans see this beauty with their eyes in the colorful flowers; they hear the beauty in the songs of the birds; they smell the beauty of fresh herbs; they can touch this beauty by harvesting the garden’s produce, and they can taste beauty by sinking their teeth into a ripe piece of fruit. In a garden, the senses are simultaneously overwhelmed and calmed.

Marriage itself is like a kind of garden. Marriage, like the Garden of Eden, was given to mankind to cultivate and grow and pass down to their children. God commanded that Adam and Eve should be fruitful and multiply, and in that procreation, pass down love of and obedience to God to their children, which is in itself an image of God.[1] As God, the Father, generates from himself the Son and in their union spirates the Spirit, so, in marriage humanity participate in the image of God as generators. Husbands and wives together co-create with God and are entrusted to raise the souls of children to love the Triune God, seek virtue, and know truth.

Marriage, like a garden, requires discipline. Gardens do not grow themselves. Since the fall, the world has had weeds and thorns make the job of cultivation hard.[2] This physical reality correlates with our spiritual reality. Since the fall, relationships and life in general have many spiritual weeds and thorns, which we call sin. The sins of in-temperance, pride, anger, envy, and deceit choke the good fruits of temperance, humility, love, thankfulness, and truth. And, in marriage, discipline is needed to weed these sins out. If the gardeners consistently weed and till the ground, then the trees, fruit, herbs, and flowers can flourish.

Marriage, like a garden, requires life giving resources. Gardens need light and water to grow, in order to produce the energy needed to bear fruit. Marriages need Jesus Christ, who is the giver of life. Without him mankind can bear no fruit.[3] Jesus is the light of the world and the everlasting fountain, and in him marriages receive life. When husbands and wives (as well as any human being) seek Jesus in the preaching of the Word, the praising of the Word, the partaking of the Word, in the Church gathering, and in prayer and devotion, they receive the very life of God. Jesus is the Mediator of new life and fellowship with God, and without him no fruit can be grown.

Marriage, like a garden, goes through seasonal changes. Gardens do not always bear fruit, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The seasons come and go, and each season preps the plant to reproduce the fruit it carries. Even in the cold of winter, plants store nutrients and energies produced in the summer and fall to make it through the cold months. Even a seed must die to grow.[4] So Marriage, like a garden, understands that life is greater than the cold months and that even in these mini-deaths, life can spring forth once again.

All of this to say, marriage and family are beautiful and good; created so by the Triune God. And, like a garden, marriage and family should be a place of tranquility and peace. But, that tranquility and peace is not to be expected and demanded but cultivated and nurtured through the grace of Jesus Christ. Children enter into the garden of marriage that a husband and wife cultivate. When thinking on marriage this way, I pray to God that Steph and I have a flourishing garden in which our children can run, play, enjoy, and work. I hope and pray that God will give us the discipline, resources, and resolve to cultivate the garden that he has so graciously gifted to us.

[1] Genesis 5:1-3.

[2] Genesis 3:17-19.

[3] John 15:1-11

[4] John 12:24, 1 Corinthians 15:36.

20 Years

John Francis Elliot, my father, died twenty years ago on this day:

 

Where were you at my soccer games?

Where were you at my high school graduation?

Where were you when I graduated college with honors?

Where were you when I joined my soul with my wife in marriage?

Where were you?

 

Where are you for mom?

Where are you when the Patriots game is on?

Where are you to offer me advice on my marriage?

Where are you when I have my anxiety attacks, because I think I’ll die young?

Where are you?

 

Where will you be when I call mom to tell her Stephanie is pregnant?

Where will you be when I hold my firstborn child lovingly in my arms?

Where will you be when my children ask, “Why is there no Grandpa Elliott?”

Where will you be when I have questions on how to be a disciplined yet gracious parent?

Where will you be?

 

These questions haunt me,

my soul cannot find rest

These questions go unanswered

though my mind knows the truth

These questions keep me up at night

my body is tired

 

God where are you?

Where were you to comfort a confused toddler?

Where are you to quench my anxious heart?

Where will you be in the hour of my death?

 

I hear a voice

It questions me

 

Where were you when I created the earth out of nothing?

Where were you when I breathed divine life into humanity?

Where were you when my Son experienced the pain of death at your hand?

Where were you?

 

Where are you when the earth quakes?

Where are you when the waters rage?

Where are you when the winds terrorize?

Where are you when kings and politicians war?

Where are you?

 

Where will you be when I come to judge the world?

Where will you be when I destroy sin, death, and the devil forever?

Where will you be when I melt the elements and rebuild the earth anew?

Where will you be?

 

Triune God, I know that no man can thwart your will

I know that life and death are in your hands

I know that you are present with me now.

 

Father, I know that you direct all the ways of man

Eternal Son, I know you will judge the living and the dead

Holy Spirit, I know that you are the seal of the resurrection and eternal life in God

 

Triune God, I knew you with my intellect

but now my heart knows your presence

Cause my soul to love your Word

Cause my heart to walk in daily repentance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Broken Body: An Easter Meditation

In mid-November this past year, I completely tore my ACL and partially tore my meniscus. This injury made my knee so weak. There were times when I was simply walking after that I would turn too fast, my knee would lock, and I would stumble to the ground. Defeated and weak I knew that I could do nothing to heal myself. No amount of physical exercise could heal my torn ligaments. But, modern medicine has found a way to re-create and reconstruct the ACL ligament.

My surgeon was able to take tissue from a donor and guide it through my knee and anchor it with screws to my bones. With five small incisions, no bigger than a couple centimeters, my surgeon reconstructed my ACL and mended my torn meniscus. And, now by doing daily exercises and weekly physical therapy I am strengthening my new ligaments to be stable and usable in sports once again. The function I had lost, I am slowly regaining.

As I have gone through this process, the whole experience has truly been an allegorical experience of the gospel of Christ and his resurrection. This Easter season I read the beautiful words of St. Irenaeus who wrote, “The Lord himself became the first-fruits of the resurrection of mankind, and when its time of punishment for disobedience is over the rest of the body, to which the whole human race belongs, will rise from the grave as the head has done. By God’s aid it will grow and be strengthened in all its joints and ligaments, each member having its own proper place in the body.”[1] Reading these words made my mind understand the beauty of the gospel in a deeper way than I previously knew. My knee and surgical repair, in a sense, became an illustration of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

For, as the torn ligaments in a knee are broken, so is humanity. Just listen to or read the daily news to know that mankind is not functioning properly. It seems that with every step forward, we collectively seem to stumble. But, there is good news. Jesus Christ is both the donor and the surgeon of broken humanity. Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. As our physician, he knew that in order to draw mankind back into fellowship with the Trinity, God would have to become man. For, that which God assumes, God heals. Jesus assumed broken man’s body and soul. Jesus in his death became mankind’s salvific donor. But, he does not stop there. Once Jesus died and satisfied the inadequacies of man before God, he himself uses his body and blood to do surgery on the human race. Jesus Christ transplants his nature onto his Church by pouring out his very Spirit in the resurrection. And, Jesus uses his Church to anchor our faith in him. Jesus then gave man exercises to strengthen his transplanted ligaments. Through baptism, the Eucharist, the preaching of the word, the signing of hymns, the reading of the scriptures, prayer, and fasting, mankind can strengthen his reconstructed ligaments to once again have their original purpose.

But sadly, no matter how perfectly I rehab my knee, I will never reach one hundred percent of my functionality, and this is where the surgery metaphor falls apart. For, in Jesus Christ, mankind will not only reach its original functionality, rather it will exceed it. In Christ Jesus, we will receive exceedingly good blessings, truly eternal blessings. In the final resurrection mankind will be partakers in the perfection of God, knowing no sin and vice. Mankind will be always loving, always just, always courageous, and always temperate, relying on the grace of God perfectly for all of eternity. Our broken bodies will be healed and our souls will be at rest in God. And this is the message of the Gospel: salvation is both now and not yet. We can experience a strengthening and stability in our ligaments through participation in Christ’s Church, but we will not receive our new and eternal ligaments till the final resurrection in Jesus Christ out Lord! May this be our meditation this Easter: that Jesus is both our donor and our surgeon, our healing process has begun, and we will be fully healed on that great and glorious day when we see Christ face to face! All physical and spiritual ailments will be healed by those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, the God-man. Praise be to God, for Christ is risen! Yes, he is risen indeed!

[1] St. Irenaeus. Against Heresies (Lib. 3, 19, 1.3–20,1; SC 34, 322).

My Friend, Dale.

Friendship is an intricate thing. We form friendships for a variety of reason, often on how we value a person. You befriend someone because they make you laugh and have the same interests as you. Other times you befriend someone because they make you think, and they challenge your worldview. Sometimes you form a friendship because that individual is vulnerable, sharing their struggles and pain. But, rarely in life you meet a friend who has all of these characteristics and virtues. That was my friend, Dale.

Dale Kompik and I met the very first day I showed up for my undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute –Spokane. During New Student Orientation, Dale helped lead my freshman cohort and later invited me to a house party that was for new students. When I met Dale that day in 2011, I had no idea I had met a friend that I would talk with every week for four years. I had no idea that I had met a friend who would match my aggression and effort in pickup basketball, football, and ultimate frisbee; a friend who would listen to all of my girl issues (I listened to his too); who would be my research partner and stay up with me all night in the basement of Gonzaga’s Foley Library; a friend who would not-so-gracefully lose to me in Blitz, Mario Kart, and almost every Nintendo64 game we played; a friend who would introduce me to my now wife; a friend who would ask me any question on any subject and cared to hear my opinion (and I his); and most importantly a friend who cared about my relationship with Jesus Christ and spurred me on to grow by criticizing my bad choices and encouraging me in my virtuous ones. Dale listened to me and loved me, and I him. Dale saw me as a friend who he was to help grow in virtue, because we had the same common end, God.

Dale and I’s friendship can be summarized in one story. Dale and I were both staying in Spokane for the summer of 2014, and he invited me to go kayaking one Tuesday morning. I ecstatically said yes. So, Dale and I set off to go kayak the Spokane River at Riverside State Park. We kayaked, swam, and jumped off cliffs for a solid six hours. Theology, philosophy, relationships, politics, economics, we discussed it all. The day was picture perfect. We arrived back at the Jeep, packed up, and started driving home to get some lunch. Then, Dale started laughing uncontrollably. He was laughing at how red I was, an all of sudden, it hit us. Neither of us used an ounce of sunblock on a ninety-eight-degree sunny day with absolutely no shade in which we were on reflective water for six straight hours. Needless to say, Dale and I both came down with sun-poisoning and were literally unable to leave our basements for a straight week. But, instead of wasting away that week in our respective basements, Dale and I never stopped communicating, and during that time Dale helped me with multiple issues I was facing. Dale helped me process a lot of hurt I was experiencing, while also encouraging me not to be selfish in my relationship with Stephanie (my now wife). Dale cared for my soul and my relationship deeply and continually used biblical principals to combat my selfishness; I only wish he would have cared for my skin and brought sunblock to combat the hot Spokane sun. That being said, ten days later Dale and I emerged from our basement caves finally able to enter the land of the living again. Both he and I jokingly remarked to our friends that we wished time could be turned back, so we could bring sunblock and avoid that horrible pain. But, when I think back to that experience now, I actually wouldn’t change a single thing.

Kayaking
The calm before the sunburn. July 9, 2014.

My relationship with Dale is both unique and not unique. Obviously, my direct relationship with Dale is unique to me, but Dale’s friendship was a common occurrence to everyone who met him. Dale would talk with, eat with, laugh with, anyone willing to be open with him. This could be seen as he was battling his life-ending bout with pneumonia and sepsis. As Dale went through his many surgeries, amputations, and transfusion, hundreds of acquaintances, friends, and family members posted to his Facebook profile; story after story of Dale’s honesty, openness, Christ likeness, and dear friendship. And, Dale’s death yesterday only amplified the testimony of his life as a vehicle of God’s love in this world. In Dale’s death, he is proclaiming life in Christ.

As I contemplate Dale’s deep friendship, his ability to listen, challenge, and love, I cannot help but think of the reason why he was such a good friend. The wellspring of Dale’s love was the person, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the great and true friend of humanity. Jesus loved mankind as a dear friend. He descended to this world and listened to us. He listened to and experienced our pain, suffering, and desires. He criticized humanity’s errors and encouraged us with his grace. And, above all Jesus was willing to die if it meant that humanity, his friends, would live in communion with God again. Dale understood this redemptive truth, and he displayed the faith he had in Jesus both in his words and his actions. Jesus Christ permeated through Dale’s countenance, character, and conversation. And, because Jesus loved Dale as a friend, Dale loved everyone as his friend. Christ gave himself to Dale, and Dale gave himself to everyone! And now, Dale is in perfect communion with his divine friend, Jesus, experiencing the very presence of the Triune God. And, at the end of days, God will resurrect his body. For, Jesus as our friend and brother has given all who believe in him his resurrection power.

More than physical resurrection, Jesus will redeem and resurrect our earthly friendships and relationships, so that they too are eternal. St. Augustine taught that Christian friendships are eternal because they are formed in the eternal Son of God, Jesus Christ! Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Hence the mourning, if one die…all sweetness turned to bitterness…upon the loss of life of the dying, the death of the living. Blessed whoso loveth Thee God…For he alone loses none dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him who cannot be lost” (St. Augustine, Confessions, Book IV). Jesus Christ, as our friend and our cornerstone, makes our friendships eternal. Ecclesiastes famously states, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” A friendship in Jesus is a threefold cord. The love of two friends anchored in Jesus shall not be broken, not even by death! Although times of death are painful, the hope of the resurrection and union with God spurs us on to have a certain joy and peace, for we shall see our friends once again and all our tears shall be wiped away (Revelation 21:4).

dale 7

Luckily, I pocket-dialed Dale two weeks prior to his hospitalization. That last conversation we had obviously included us talking about the Detroit Lions, outdoor sports, and craft beer. Dale told me about his new endeavors of starting a business and being more involved at his church. And, after the initial hellos and catching up Dale asked, “So, how are you doing?” I answered about how work was steady and my recent move across the country had gone well, and Dale responded, “Petey, not what have you been doing, how are you doing?” I responded how I was struggling with loneliness for the first time in my life. Dale listened to me ramble on and on, and when I finished he assured me that he had experienced the same feeling before and would pray for me to find peace in Jesus. I now realize that my pocket-dial was not mere luck, but the very grace of God allowing me one last conversation with my friend, one final conversation this side of eternity.

“I am the resurrection and the life.Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” 

John 11:25-26 

Praise be to God for His Son, Jesus Christ! Praise be to God for the Holy Spirit who, with God’s Love, seals all those who believe! Praise be to God for the salvation of souls and the resurrection of the dead. Amen!