Grieving with Hope

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Sometimes the testimonies of God’s grace are overwhelming. To see others worship God in the midst of their pain is amazing. Suffering of any kind is a harsh reality of life. Suffering that leads to death is an even harsher reality. I think the Bible speaks so much about suffering because of its prominence in our world. No one is immune to suffering and when it happens it’s easy to ask why. Why does a young child die? Why does death occur so suddenly that there’s no time for goodbye? Or why does a lifelong of suffering have to precede death? For that matter, why does death occur at all? Scripture helps us to know that death is not normal, but is a consequence of The Fall. But Scripture also helps us to know that for those who are in Christ, death ultimately brings life.

The emphasis of 1 Thessalonians 4:13 is that although grief is a completely normal reaction to death, Christians grieve with the hope of knowing that one day a reunion with their loved ones will follow. The people in the church at Thessalonica were concerned that their loved ones who had already died would miss out on the Lord’s return. Paul taught them and is also teaching us about the proper perspective and response to death. This teaching should never be taken to mean Christians are not to grieve.

It’s a privilege to be able to see people live out their faith in difficult times. To watch them trusting in God’s promise that He works all thing together for good, to believe the truth that suffering can’t compare to glory, and to testify that there is a peace, the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Romans 8:28, Romans 8:18, Philippians 4:7). Wow! To say it’s a privilege is not to say we wouldn’t have preferred them not suffer loss and have to grieve at all. It is only to say it’s a privilege in the sense of seeing the Holy Spirit do in and for them what only He can do.

One of the primary roles of the church is to strengthen the body of Christ. This happens when we’re taught God’s Word, but I think sometimes even more so when we witness it lived out. It happens when we see those who are suffering because of their loss, clinging to God and His Word, proclaiming not only that He is great, but that He is good, even in spite of the fact that so much of what has happened may tell them differently. This is the Spirit’s work. It is something those apart from Christ cannot know. I believe the Spirit of God uses these people to show others of us where we may be lacking in our own faith; while at the same time providing encouragement by storing up their testimonies in our hearts should our paths ever take a similar route.

God is so gracious. He is good all the time. Dig deep in His Word to know Him more. Don’t face the harshness of this world and the reality of suffering and death without Him at your side. Seek the peace and hope that He alone provides. One day death will come for all of us, but for those who have placed their hope in Christ; it’s really just the beginning.

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Cassie: A Good Gift from God

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17)

IMG_0642On November 3rd a “Facebook memory” appeared on my profile page. It was from 2 years ago and was a picture of our dog Cassie. November 3rd is her birthday. Cassie died on January 11th of this year. She was such a part of our daily lives. I realized that more fully when I set off the alarm a few times in the morning that first week because she wasn’t there to remind me to turn it off so I could let her out. It was also strange not having her occasionally greet me on the driveway when I pulled up, beg by the dinner table, or if not outright begging, stare me down when I ate, waiting for me to give her a sign that it was okay to come get a bite. All of a sudden, things you took for granted, you wish you could have back.

God’s word tells us that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:7). I think it’s pretty easy to over spiritualize certain things that happen. I try hard not to do that. I guess that’s why it’s taken me so long to put into words what’s been on my mind for quite some time. I even had a few conversations with friends to get their opinion about whether, if in the case of Cassie, I was doing what I try and guard against. I’ve also hesitated in writing this because I know some who have lost much more. However, the more I’ve thought about it, I don’t think it’s an over spiritualization at all. Cassie was a source of joy and a blessing to our family. She taught us a lot about love and loyalty. She was a gift. God was the giver. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget from whom it is ultimately that the joys and blessings in life come.

There is a theological term called “common grace”. Common grace is “the grace of God by which He gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation”. It is grace given to both believers and unbelievers. I don’t know if Cassie’s death made me more sensitive to it or not, but I’ve noticed many postings from people who have also had to say goodbye to their pets this year. I remember experiencing personally in the case of our losing Cassie, and reading in other cases, the many kind expressions of sorrow from others. Some of these expressions came from people who believe differently than me on a whole host of issues. Fortunately or unfortunately, you learn those things from Facebook too. But in some things, our differences don’t seem to matter and we see God’s common grace shine through. I think these expressions of sorrow and encouragement that our family experienced and the expressions I read in other cases are just that, a display of God’s common grace.

As 2015 comes to a close, it will soon be a year since Cassie has been gone. We miss our little Cassie, but will always cherish the 13 years we had with her. In many ways, I think she taught us more than we taught her. I’m sure we are not alone in either our missing or our learning. I am reminded of one of the conversations I had with a friend where he told me they used to have a ceramic piece that hung in their kitchen above the sink. It was a silhouette of a dog. Painted on it was a prayer that read, “Lord, make me the person my dog thinks I am”. We would do well to let that be our prayer even now