Life can be short

My sister Mary died a gruesome death from Lupus at the tender age of 15, in 1973. She was born in 1958.

Almost fifty years later, the pain of her loss still brings tears to my eyes and a sob to my soul. I was 13 when she passed away and lost my closest friend. It was, and remains, a horrible memory of devastation and loss.

Mary’s high school picture when she was around 14 years old.

Most of us have lost loved ones, and if you live long enough, all of us will lose someone we love; their parting will bring such anguish into our lives that, at times, will be unbearable.

Mary’s story is a tragic one. The last nine months or so of her young life were unspeakably brutal as this deadly disease ravaged her body; words cannot adequately describe her suffering. Almost fifty years later it is still impossible for me to comprehend it, the unfairness of it all, the devastating loss of losing my closest and best friend; a scar I bear to this day.

But faith brings hope of reconciliation with those loved ones who have already departed and left this world and the often brutality of life. I wonder if perhaps Mary was given the better lot; she was spared so much of the horrors that living on Earth often brings to those who are destined to bear its agonies and cruelties. Certainly she bore her own unique hell as this cruel disease ravaged her young body, but who can say if what she may have faced later in life seemed—in comparison—even more agonizing against her unbelievable sufferings from Lupus?

One of the many reasons I must reject atheism is that it offers no hope of eventual reconciliation with our departed loved ones. This fact alone makes atheism untenable to me and most people who long and yearn to be reunited with those who have passed before us.

Atheism is a cruel belief system that robs all people of the hope that the afterlife will bring meaning and closure to the untimely death of those whom we have lost. It makes death, unbelievable as this might seem, worse and crueler than it already is.

Are you familiar with the song “I can only imagine”? And if you have listened to the song, do you know the story behind it? Stephanie Gray, a pro-life advocate who I have worked with, writes this on her blog after she lost her first child to miscarriage:

“It tells the true story of musician Bart Millard who wrote MercyMe’s song, I Can Only Imagine. Bart had been brutally abused by his father growing up, but before his father’s death his dad became a Christian and reconciled with his son.  After his dad’s death, Bart composed, ‘Surrounded by Your glory, What will my heart feel? Will I dance for you, Jesus? Or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in your presence, Or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.'”

I urge you to watch the Youtube video above because it shows, throughout it, various people looking through empty picture frames and also holding up pictures of their departed loved ones. Part of the message is that, for believers in Christ, we have the blessed hope of one day being reconciled with our departed loved ones.

I’ve talked to many atheists throughout my life, especially on college and university campuses where I seek to minister to them. Being young, many have not yet had to face the sting and agony of death; therefore, they carry with them an arrogant, know-it-all attitude that evolution is true and a belief in the afterlife is nonsense.

Some of them, when I ask, “What happens to you when you die?” will reply with a dismissive, “Worm food. We become worm food.” They deceive themselves they are being so clever when they spout such shallow foolishness.

Being pampered Americans who have been spared the brutalities of life in general, and death in particular, they parrot quaint phrases they picked up from late night philosophical dorm parties or from listening to atheist professors who mock and denigrate the Christian faith and hope in a resurrection.

I long to see Mary again and believe with all my soul that she is waiting up in heaven for our eventual reunion. Could I be wrong in this belief? Yes, I certainly can, because like the atheist who believes we all become worm food when we die, I’ve never been to heaven nor met anyone who has; I simply have faith in the words of Jesus:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

I can only imagine…

Revisiting spiritual roots

Today on my walk, an old song popped into my mind, out of the blue, titled, “Something Which is Known.” It came out in 1980 and was sung by a group of monks—the Monks of Weston Priory— who live and continue to do so in a monastery in the state of Vermont. Here it is:

I had a good friend of mine, Jim Felix, and he is the one who introduced me to the music of these monks. Jim and I met on a church choir tour that both of us went on sometime in 1980 or so when we both attended Catalina United Methodist Church here in Tucson, AZ. We became close friends.

At this time, I was earnestly pursuing Jesus, having become a Christian about four years before, when I was sixteen. Music was a huge part of my life, like for most young people, and Christian music was something I was relatively new to.

Jim, an accomplished guitar player, introduced me to various Christian artists, and the Monks of Weston Priory, though much different from the majority of Christian artists I was listening to at the time (and what some may consider to be “old-fashioned” or “old people music”) resonated in my soul. This particular song is one, forty years later, that still moves me.

For years, off and on, I would remember this song as it randomly popped into my mind—like it did this evening. I would occasionally check Youtube to see if it might have been uploaded by someone, but the only recording of it was of poor quality; it was only tonight that this high quality recording appeared and I was thrilled to find it. I listened to it tonight at least four or five times in a row as it brought back deep and powerful feelings, memories and emotions, like suddenly meeting an old, beloved friend I have not seen in decades.

The music of the Monks of Weston Priory affected Jim and I so deeply that we went to visit them in Vermont. Jim’s parents and family lived in New Hampshire at the time, and around 1980, we drove from Tucson to visit his family and also these monks.

Here is a picture of Jim and I at the Monastery:

Jim (left) and I at the monastery in Vermont. The monastery is in the background. Circa 1980.

Here are the lyrics:

Something Which Is Known

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia

  1. Something which is known
    to have been from the beginning:
    this we have heard and seen with our own eyes;
    something we have touched
    and have carefully watched:
    the Word who is life, this we share with you. Refrain
  2. This is the life of our God, so gracious,
    Word become flesh:
    there is no greater wonder.
    All that we have witnessed became new vision:
    this our hope for you,
    alive in God’s own spirit. Refrain
  3. He it is in whom we have found
    the light of truth,
    source of our hope, abiding gift of God’s love.
    Through that love we pass and are born in life unending:
    Jesus, our Lord,
    the fullness of our joy. Refrain

To me, this song is profoundly beautiful and meaningful. It is a hymn of praise to the Lord Jesus, and the rich voices of the monks singing these words and the refrain of “Alleluia” throughout the score is deeply soul moving.

We all know the powerful place that music has on our lives, and how certain kinds of music can touch the deepest parts of our souls and beings. The monks had a simple yet richly spiritual aspect to their music which resonated with my spirit…then and now. And though I am not Roman Catholic like the monks and carry deep theological suspicions concerning some of their dogmas, I nonetheless appreciate and admire their devotion to Jesus and to a life separated from the world and dedicated to serving Him.

Decades have passed since my visit to the monastery; I was a young man in my early twenties then, utterly focused on my life of faith in God and Christ. I devoured the Bible and spent years and years—decades—in reading and studying it and other Christian books. Reading the Bible on a daily basis continues to this day, over forty years later.

I don’t consider myself a mature Christian, though I have honestly, with genuine sincerity, strive to lead a godly life throughout my adulthood. Have I made mistakes in my Christian walk? I certainly have, along with times of intense sufferings, defeats and doubts.

But I have also been blessed to have passed through times of what I felt were genuine closeness and love for the Lord, being privileged to have been able to serve Him in some unusual ways, of which I am eternally grateful and thankful for.

Life in America is brutal as far as faith is concerned, isn’t it? Unfortunately, we now find ourselves in the unfathomable place of being a post-Christian nation, something that almost seemed to spring up out of nowhere. The transformation from a country that once believed strongly in God, Jesus, and the Scriptures has now turned an almost 180 degrees in the opposite direction…to the dismay and horror of most sincere Christians. I don’t believe America will ever return from the once lofty place we were blessed and privileged to hold.

My faith has, and continues to be, tested. But one thing remains sure and certain: my belief in God, that He is good, is the Creator of the Universe, and the God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ. If God is removed from the equation of my life, that life has ultimately no intrinsic meaning or purpose and becomes marked with moral failures, unhappiness, bitterness, confusion, defeats, and pessimism.

When we pursue the Lord and strive to be like Him, in our character, our speech, our behavior, we become better people: kinder, more compassionate, less angry and bitter at others and our unfortunate life circumstances, etc. But when we don’t follow the Lord and take time to look deep inside ourselves and strive to correct and amend our moral failings and character defects (like outbursts of anger, impure thoughts, lusts, love of money, etc.), we become worse, stuck in a powerful vortex of negativity and moral defeat, a slave to our corrupt natures.

I’ve lived both lives: a life untethered from the love and control of having the Lord dominant in my life, and a life tethered to the Lord, following and pursuing Him, striving to obey His commandments and precepts as delineated in the Bible. I will be the first to confess, from personal experience, that “life in Christ” is infinitely better than a life lived outside of Christ. In fact, there is no comparison between the two.

This verse from John 10:10, spoken by Jesus, is profound, with my soul responding with an enthusiastic “Amen!”:

“The thief comes only in order to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.” (GNT)