Tag Archives: death

The Pretender and the Genuine

There are two kinds of duty: 1) Duty of the unbeliever; and 2) Duty of the believer.  This can be illustrated by asking the question, “Why does the church goer attend worship service?”

Is it out of duty because it is good that the individual needs such encouragement and correction to be a good citizen of the great land of America?  This motivation being the protective establishment of a system of government created to provide a shield and defense of freedoms to despicable, greedy, corrupt and morally reprehensible citizens and people who naturally seek power and wealth to the detriment of themselves and society.

Or is it out of duty because I (eternally dependent upon the Spirit) am crucifying the flesh, mortifying the deeds of my old man full of evil and vile desires, that I by means of grace, therein proving through test and trial, pain and suffering that God has gifted eternal life and He will by His promise grant me by His gracious generosity on that Day the fulfillment and euphoric completion of His divine gift secured in His Son, worked out by His Spirit?

The duty of the first and former being completed by devout men and women, ignorant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, having only a distant, formal, cold and incompatible public knowledge of the power of God similar to the vile devils, and thereby being spiritually dead do pile up future agony upon themselves when on that Day they come to realize their work of religion fails the test of a mighty, awesome, perfect and holy God who has patiently endured their arrogance, and in that patience has actually blessed them with many common graces that He has poured generously and lavishly upon His creation, which they have rudely, arrogantly and selfishly consumed.

The duty of the latter being the yielding and submitting of the believer to picking up the painful cross of Jesus Christ, resulting in the mortification of the deeds of the vile body by the all-powerful, artistic moving of the Creator and Savior God of the universe.

So do we then, the second, condemn the first?  No, not at all.  But rather we share the Good News of God’s great grace, that they too may believe not in themselves, but laying down their lives they take up the real and genuine power of the One who makes all things possible, even the salvation of filthy sinners by a holy and just God.

13For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. Romans 8:13-14

Thoughts written while reading “The Mortification of Sin” by John Owen (Chapter 1).

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From Samuel: “How to Keep Your Faith in Time of Tragedy”

Regular blog readers here know about Samuel (see May 2013 Archives for the full story).  Samuel is a young pastor in Jinja who lost both his parents this past summer.  His mom and dad were brutally attacked during a break-in of their home back in May.  His father died that night and his mother lived for about two months and then she died.

I meet with Samuel weekly.  He does most of the talking when we meet.  Though hurt, his faith and confidence have been strong through these last few months.  I asked if he would be willing to write out his thoughts about how to keep faith in time of tragedy.  I will type his notes as he wrote them to me.  Here’s Samuel:

Why I lost my Dad in a murder by our own relatives inside the house at night on Saturday, May 11th 2013.  It was a horrible thing I have ever heard, and it was unbelievable at that time.  As I started to panic a lot but as soon as possible I realize my weakness by that time, then I rush with no words, kneeling down, and I ask God, please this is not normal God you know, but I need your strength and comfort.

But still there’s a lot of panic, and I started to speak of God’s attributes – e.g. God’s all powerful, all knowing, all wisdom, is Almighty God is loving, etc. and I started to gain my strength and sense by letting the Scripture speak to me more than my feeling – e.g. Psalm 139:1-6; 91:1; etc. which is the hardest thing to do at that moment.  But I have to accept the Scripture to tell me what to do, not my feeling.

And there I found my self encouraged and continue to stand on the ground still loving God and thanking God for all had happened.

So I had to overcome the fear, worry and the feeling of tragedy by seeing God through it, that nothing happens by mistake without God’s knowing.  Romans 8:27-30.

A month after my mother was also badly hurt in the night of the murder of my Dad, she also died and I had see my self standing on open ground of no one along side me.  Both have gone, who I had loved them so much because the truth is ever since I was born now 28 years of age my dad has never beaten me once [Note from Mark: parents beating, caning and even burning or cutting children as punishment is too common in Uganda].  And they were part of my life every day I live.

Really I have loved them to see the fruit of their labor on me but God in his plan did not allow what seem right in his sight to be done, for he is God, and in my mother’s death accepted God’s will to be done, but letting him be first in everything good or bad (Colossians 1:18).  Never won’t I allowed to be threaten by any storm (Psalm 23).  God is God.  I will trust him.

What encourages me is that my parents died Christians (born again) and they will continue living in Christ and one day God’s will shall I see them again.  Life is not [about] flesh that has died and rotten by our soul and spirit that no man has power over them except the author, our Lord God (Genesis 2:7).

So I overcome or deal with the tragedy of losing my two parents by:

– accepting God in all situations;

– letting God control every step;

– allowing God’s word to speak to me by telling me what to do in every situation, not feelings;

– running before the throne of God of mercy and love for comfort and encouragement, wisdom and victory over every situation.

The devil will use your weakness to put you down but God will use your weakness to lift you up in Grace and Mercy.  Be wise in time of any tragedy by having God’s mind (scriptures) for the devil is so close to you at that moment of tragedy (temptation, test), but remember the good LORD will never leave the situation beyond your strength (1 John 1:10).

Nothing shall obstruct me from the love of God (Romans 8:31-39).

Glory be God our Father in Jesus.

Samuel’s faith strengthens my faith in the Lord, and I trust his faith strengthened your faith as well.  God’s word supports us.  Thanks for reading.

Of Truth & Death

Today’s blog will differ in writing style from previous blogs.  I divert to address a reality we all must eventually face.  As such, the topic is of tremendous importance.

Over the last couple weeks I have been faced with the reality of death:

1) With Samuel’s father (I wrote recently of his murder here in Uganda).

2) Just this past week my 86-year old grandmother, Beulah Wise, died.

3) In a Facebook chat recently with a childhood friend of mine, he shared his experience of the death of his close and intimate friend.  The death had a deep and dramatic impact on my childhood friend, even resulting in depression, numerous gravesite visits, hospitalization, a break-down, counseling and medication.

4) The subject of death indirectly arose in the last couple weeks with a 30-something year-old young man (who admitted he has left Christianity for further enlightenment and spirituality).  He stayed with us for about two weeks at the house where we resided here in Jinja during the month of May.  I deeply desired to hear more of his thoughts and how he constructed his beliefs.

5) The reality of death came up in my quiet time yesterday and then again, today during our pastor’s sermon at church this morning.

Additionally, most of my friends and family know that I worked in Hospice care for 15 years, surrounded by stories and the reality of death.  That reality of death and watching how different people responded to it has intrigued me and caused me to reflect on what happens after death.

From my childhood, up until I was in my 30’s I was taught from the Bible that death is a “sleep.”  This meant, as I was told on numerous occasions with Biblical references and as I understood it, the person was not consciously aware of their surroundings when they are dead.  Then, later when Jesus returned, there would be a resurrection of the saints.  That belief was similar to what Jehovah Witnesses believe about death.  I recognize Biblical elements in that belief, but also am aware of some of the inadequacies of those beliefs.

One fact I remember about my grandmother was her continual longing to depart to “be with Christ” – something the apostle Paul referenced in the book of Philippians, chapter 1.  She vocalized to me a number of times the fact that she could not understand why my grandfather died first and why the Lord kept her here as long as He had.  She also communicated on numerous occasions that she was “ready to go.”  She had a confidence about her death and did not fear it – similar to the apostles.

This I admired, since by contrast, as I matured, I feared death.  I was not confident in the final decision Jesus would make about my life.  I was not assured of salvation.

It is not the purpose of this blog to analyze or attempt to argue about my beliefs.  My desire in this blog is to think reasonably and Biblically in forming an understanding of death (not just what people think about it) and present what I understand here in this blog.  I am more confident about some of my views about death now because my beliefs are rooted in certain Biblical truths, but I certainly do not claim to have “total truth” about death.

For any topic, especially one as serious as death, one must seek truth – not what one desires to believe, or wants to believe, or what other people believe, or the popular opinion of the time.  But rather what is real, not fiction or myth.

One of the positives of death is that it causes us to question life, destiny and purpose.  I would hope that questioning would cause us to discover truth in life.

Truth by definition is “that which is in accordance with reality or fact; not fiction; genuine; actual; proven; reliable; trusted.”

The first truth I am confident of is that Jesus is the life.  If there is anyone I am going to “bank on” or “invest in,” “follow,” or “bet on” (pick your metaphor) for life, it is Jesus.  Other religions and religious leaders fail miserably in making the promises that are recorded about Jesus.  He performed many miracles that resulted in improving life and at least two miracles where he resurrected dead people.  No other religious leader behaved like He did, loved like He did, nor made claims like He did, backing up those claims with “many infallible proofs.”  One of His closest followers even claimed Jesus said He was the Truth and the Life.  He not only alleviated suffering, but He set an example of how to persevere in life through suffering.  He is called a “man of sorrows” and “acquainted with grief.”  When I suffer, He understands, and to a limited extent I experience what He experienced.  He claimed to be God and He allowed people to worship Him.   He is controversial.  Many people have written of Jesus, perhaps more than any other religious leader.  At least 500 people personally witnessed Him after His resurrection.   Controversy and religious conflict and failure does not shake my confidence in Jesus.  When He says to Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life” I think these statements are such critically important statements that they deserve attention and research.  Speaking of Mary, Jesus respected and esteemed women and other cultures, which was very controversial to do in His day.  If people argue against Jesus, they usually do so by striking at the people who wrote about Him or the people who follow Him.  While there may currently be no archeological discoveries which point to a real life Jesus, I am reminded that one of the criticisms of the Biblical Pontius Pilate was the same – no archeological proof of Pilate’s existence, until a coin was discovered in 1961 with his name on it.  My desire is to follow the One who made a claim of conquering death.  That is Jesus.  Finally, one of the primary reasons I am convinced Jesus is real is because He has revealed Himself to me and my family personally.  You be the judge as to whether you think the changes have been for good.

The second truth I am confident of is that the Bible is God’s inspired word given through men.  The last (New Testament) writers of the Bible make fantastic claims about Jesus.  At least two or three of those writers were radical skeptics who remained committed to Jesus to the end of their lives.  The Bible is unique to other religious books – it has unity in diversity.  It respects people from all walks of life (thereby better reflecting the diversity in creation than any other religious book that I am aware of).  The Bible contains an amazing message.  It elevates God first, and then elevates man by stating in the beginning, man is created in the image of God.  Man fails.  God, not man, makes a way back for man.  Consider also that books of the Bible were written by people from all walks of life – shepherds, a farmer, priests, kings, a physician, fishermen, and others over a long period of time (about 1500 years), some well educated, others un-educated.  Although very hard on its skeptics, the Bible does invite and elevate those skeptics at times when they turn in favor of its God and its teachings.  It holds no single person as the ultimate, perfect person and sole source for truth other than the person of Jesus, who claimed to be God.  We see in its pages, numerous successes and failures of its followers – simply stated, we see life at its best and worst.  We see fantastic grace and mercy extended to humans in all sorts of situations and it addresses a vast array of topics.  We have warnings.  We have judgments.  We have truth.  We see fulfilled prophecies – hundreds of them.  It is written literally, historically, figuratively, poetically and dramatically.  The Bible is more resilient than any other literary work.  Over hundreds of years it has not lost its message, keeping words the same.  Men and women have died for what they believed about it.  Lives have been radically changed.  It has gone into the world like no other book in the world.  It has been translated into almost all the languages in the world.  Its message is living, breathing and sharper than any sword, convicting and changing many failures and even successes.  The Bible helps provide rational, reasonable and logical answers to critical questions of life – origin, purpose, destiny and morality.

Thus the reason for my blog.  The following is not an exhaustive explanation of death in the Bible.  It is very limited, but addresses key concepts important to my understanding of death.  Since Bible writers under the inspiration of God make claims that Jesus is the Life, has overcome death and is resurrected, I can trust the Bible to tell me what happens after death:

1)      My body perishes (1 Cor 15:53).  This is quite obvious and we do not need the Bible to tell us this fact.  However, in discussing the subject of death, we find that at least two Bible writers (Paul and Peter) claim that the body (both refer to the body metaphorically as a “tent”) is “put off” (see 1 Cor 5:1-9; 2 Peter 1:14-15) when we die.

2)      But we have a “house (contrasted with a temporary tent) not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” – something more solid, more permanent (1 Cor 5:1).  Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for us (John 14:3).

3)      The Bible reconciles both the future bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15) with the move of the believer (some call it a believer’s spirit, some call it a believer’s soul) into the presence of Jesus.  Jesus, after all, will return with ten thousands of His saints (Jude 1:14).  Soul is defined for purposes here as one’s “mind (thoughts), will and emotions.”

4)      After death, the saints will be with Jesus, Paul states in 1 Thes 5:10 that, “whether we wake (live physically) or sleep (die), we should live together with Him.”  That is, whether living physically or dead, we’re with Jesus.  Paul also equates being absent from the body to being present with the Lord in 2 Cor 5:8.  Paul also states in Phil 1:23 that he would rather “depart to be with Jesus.”  Jesus states, “that where I am, you may be also” (John 14:3).  Peter describes it this way, that shortly he will “put off his tent” implying like Paul that he too will move to a permanent, eternal house not made with hands (2 Pet 1:14).

5)      Those who are not believers and followers of Jesus will not be with Jesus.  Jesus and His followers were very clear about this.  After one of the most well known verses in the Bible (John 3:16) where John describes the love of God through Jesus and offers hope of not perishing by accepting Jesus, John then writes the following “He who believes in (Jesus) is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:18-20).  The Bible and Jesus have much to say about this.

Whether you agree or not, I encourage you to seek Truth.  Truth provides the solid foundation for our beliefs.  Jesus illustrated His teachings this way, 24“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
26“But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
(Matt 7:24 – 27)

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword (perhaps, machete?). They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.” – Hebrews 11:37-38

I was able to sit down with Samuel on Monday (20th) for a couple hours and listen to his story.  This was his first day back from his home in North / Central Uganda after his father’s funeral.  Samuel’s father, a believer, was murdered in a machete attack.  For the previous story about Samuel and his father, click the word, Relationships.

As I approached Samuel that warm Monday morning, Samuel was seated and reading a book in the shade of some pine trees, in a blue plastic chair, similar to the plastic ones we’ve bought at Wal-Mart in the States.

Drawing closer, it was evident that he looked very tired.  His smile was missing and when he did cheer up briefly for the pleasantries of the initial greetings, it seemed to be with effort.  If you have gone through a tragic loss and resulting funeral, I’m sure you can relate.

Samuel stretched out his hand for a normal Ugandan greeting, which is a Western handshake, quickly changing to a “brother” handshake (where the thumbs interlock, hands elevate while the elbows drop), back to Western handshake, back to “brother” handshake, back to Western handshake.

I quickly debated in my mind whether to dispense with the handshake altogether and just hug Samuel as most Westerners would do during this serious and sobering time.  I had hugged Samuel after he had received the news of his father’s murder when he dropped by our house, prior to his leaving for his home.  That hug was natural and sincere from me, but seemed very unnatural and perhaps a bit uncomfortable to him.  Even his co-worker, knowing the gravity of the situation, only extended his forearm at that time (another cultural practice when one’s hands are dirty from working).  So I decided this time a warm handshake would be best.  It seemed to work fine, but on my end it seemed sorely lacking.

Samuel offered me his chair – the only one around – by saying, “Please,” and extending the chair to me, to which I politely refused.  The nearby threshold of the guardhouse door was elevated enough from the ground to make a relatively comfortable, although dirty seat.

Samuel gathered some photos from a very worn and torn envelope, and held them in his hand.

Just to quickly fill you in, the good news is that the outlook for Samuel’s mother is very good.  It seems she will survive.  The photos he held out for me were photos of his mother at the hospital, wearing bandages over the deep cuts from the machete attack:  one across her back right shoulder, dropping down to her side; another across her head; and a third across her lower back.  Deep wounds, the perpetrators intended to leave no survivors.

After formalities, greetings, and the photos Samuel shared his honesty in questioning, “Why?” but quickly gave testimony to his trust in God’s sovereignty from the Bible through this horrific event.  He chatted for a few minutes about his faith and God’s nature.

He eventually moved into the facts of the story as he knew them.  He said the local people know who carried out the murder (and his mother is witness, too, since she survived).  The man (we’ll call him the ringleader) who developed the ghastly plan and carried out the brutal murder, allegedly convinced the ringleader’s brother to get involved in the attack.  They also hired a third person.  This ringleader apparently had been raised on this land and wasn’t happy that Samuel’s parents purchased it and built a house on it.   Apparently land disputes, especially north of here in Jinja can be violent.  According to Samuel, it turns out the murder was over land.

The ringleader was quite serious with his scheme to kill Samuel’s parents.  In an attempt to succeed in his plan, he visited a local witchdoctor to gain power to take the two lives.

Samuel showed me photos of where the machetes hit the walls.

I asked what seemed to me to be the obvious question, “Did they catch these guys?”

Samuel recounts that while he was at home last week, the villagers found and cornered the ringleader.  The villagers called Samuel on their cell phone (amazing how technology has gotten into third world countries) and asked if they could “finish him (the ringleader).”  Samuel, being a Christian, chose instead to let justice be worked out patiently and orderly through the established governmental system.

This is a step of faith for Samuel, as you will soon see.  Samuel then calls the police to notify them that villagers have cornered the alleged ringleader and asks the police to go get this guy.  The police then ask Samuel for money to purchase 4 liters of gas for their police car, otherwise they can’t go.

I couldn’t believe what I just heard.  I clarified and restated what Samuel had just told me.  Samuel said, yes, he had to purchase the gas for the police car.

So they get in the police car and go after the ringleader.  The leader from the village, who has the ringleader cornered, calls Samuel back on the cell phone about carrying out revenge.  This leader wants Samuel to give the OK to kill the ringleader.  In fact, one clan wants to fight another clan.  Samuel and other family members insist that this not happen. He is insistent that justice should be served through the proper channels.

As Samuel and the police close in to within a couple kilometers or so, from the cornered ringleader, the man who is leading the villagers to corner the ringleader, gets mad at Samuel and convinces enough of the villagers to let the ringleader go free.  So, he escapes.  Unbelievable.

Thankfully Samuel says, they eventually find and catch up with the alleged ringleader, put him in jail, along with his brother and the witchdoctor.  The hired help, on the other hand, apparently fled and has not been captured.

It’s not uncommon in Uganda (even in Jinja) for villagers or community groups to catch a suspect and beat him or her, even more rarely kill them, as they are being dragged to the police station.  I am told by others living here, that often the police will sort things out according to who offers the police the most money.  So the community turns to their own twisted form of justice.

The burden the family of a murdered loved one has to go through in this country with police and the funeral is different and surprising.  For example, the family, if they do not have funds for the funeral, begs or borrows money (permanently) from friends.  According to Samuel, the price of the funeral including related costs like travel and food (not including hospital expenses for his mom) totaled more than $3 million Ugandan shillings (about $1,200 USD).  I have no way of verifying this amount.

I am divided as to whether I should have shared that amount.  I am not asking for money.  First, I talked to other missionaries about how I should respond.  There isn’t a clear answer.  Money has a way of sending relief, but also causing tension and relationship problems, similar to how winning a large lottery brings initial relief and pleasure, but hassles and problems quickly arise with relatives and friends who want part of the money.

Additionally, money is not the ultimate answer to problems.  I’m learning this lesson being a missionary.  I could write pages about this lesson alone.  God is the answer to our problems.  Where He provides money, it is sweet.  When He doesn’t answer with money, shouldn’t our response to God saying, “No” be contentment and ultimate satisfaction in Him?

Again, I have no way of validating the amount or ensuring that if someone did want to give that the money would get to the appropriate place.  I trust Samuel, I just do not know.  I’m trying to be as upfront and honest as I can be.

Samuel spoke of many things during the brief couple hours I was with him.  We talked of his responsibilities as a pastor, his future, his family, his faith, his world contrasted with my world, etc.

As this week progressed, Samuel seems to be doing a bit better – at least on the outside.  His smile has returned, although not as big and lasting as it was when we first arrived.  Each day I leave the house I see Samuel reading his Bible or a Christian book.  We chat and talk.

But what shines through?  Samuel’s faith in Jesus Christ!  Wow.

To be honest, I get a bit choked up seeing, hearing and witnessing Samuel’s faith, commitment and determination to his Lord and Savior when that same Savior allowed a test of faith – his father slain by the sword (or machete, as it may be).  God is receiving glory, granted it’s only been two weeks Saturday.

I asked Samuel if he has forgiven the attackers.  He said he thinks he has, but he said he could not face them.  It’s difficult, as I think anyone could imagine.

When I think of faith, too often I am reminded of the faith that results in positive outcomes:

Hebrews 11 tells us, “(Men and women) through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouth of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Women received their dead raised to life again.” (vs. 33-35a)

Those are awesome!  Much more difficult and challenging are the following verses:

“And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.  Still others had trials of mockings and scourgings, yes and of chains and judgment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword (perhaps, machete?).  They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented – of whom the world was not worthy.” (vs 35b-38a)