death

Die Before You Die: Meditations on the Death of a Friend

Die Before You Die: Meditations on the Death of a Friend

It was the always precise C.S. Lewis who urged in Till We Have Faces to “Die before you die, there is no chance after.” This briefest of Lewisian homilies reminds me of our Lord’s words in Luke 9: “For whoever tries to save his own life will destroy it, but whoever destroys his life on my account will save it.” This biblical and glorious paradox certainly underlined Lewis’ statement. Lewis had experienced the death of his mother at an early age. He saw the vast wrath of war as he lost close friends. When he wrote of death it was not merely a result of research but from a deep experiential pain. His book A Grief Observed is an apologetic for dealing with pain when those closest to you die. When his wife, Joy, died, he wrote: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”

My family, and especially my wife, who knew Melanie Branch so well, grieve today. We grieve because someone whose life shone so brightly the Gospel of Jesus was removed from this earth. She no longer grieves, but we grieve in her absence.

Today I stood outside the chapel with many others because there was no more room in the chapel. Many had come to bid farewell to a life well lived. My dear brother and pastor Rusty Branch stood bravely and broken to eulogize his bride before the cloud of witnesses. He offered a parallel between the three virtues of classical Christianity, namely, truth, goodness, and beauty and their manifestations in the life of his bride. His bride of 15 years, offered in her 38 years of life, a Christian manifesto of truth in her search and determined hope to see others embrace a biblical vision for the education of their children. She left an astounding legacy. My family is a recipient of this investment she made in her life. In the name of truth, she died before she died. She sought truth not for self-aggrandizement, but self-giving.

This dear sister not only breathed truth into the life of others, but she also embraced goodness. She was good in the sense that she embodied the good. Anyone who knew Melanie–even from a few encounters–understood her lucid view of the good life. It was not replete with “work harder” banners, but with a sincere “God has been good to us” theology. It was rich, simple, and unfading. Melanie died before she died by showing that goodness is the art of bestowing a glorious image of our Lord to others in the midst of pain.

Most powerful were her husband’s point about her beauty. Though she was overwhelmed by the choking power of cancer, yet her love of the Triune God provided a life-filled, hope-saturated example of beauty. While her body slowly died, she sought after the beautiful. God’s image becomes even more sobering and precious as his saints begin to see the life to come through the eyes of faith. The beatific vision becomes clearer and the eternal glass that separates life and death become less distinguished. She embodied beauty in life and God robed her with his beauty in her death.

I did not know Melanie as well as many, but the multitudes who came to witness this lovely saint speaks more than words. They all shared similar stories of a woman who endured the unspeakable pain of seeing a disease overtake her little by little, but who died for others before she died.

May the God of all peace comfort her husband, Rusty, and her children, Emma Rae, Elizabeth, and Allen. Your wife and mother died well. She died before death. She was a faithful servant. Her job is done. She will die no more.

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

There is a venomous snake in the garden. While the great Messiah and his disciples enter the garden, a certain snake-like figure named Judas knows precisely where the faithful are. He enters the garden knowing that this was a place of constant fellowship and peace. But Judas is not a man of peace and his fellowship with the Messiah has been broken. He is now a man at war and his loyalty is with the darkness.

In the Garden of Eden, the Great Serpent entered the garden to bring about chaos; to tempt the first Adam. Indeed he was successful. The first Adam failed in his loyalty to Yahweh, being deceived by the serpent in the garden, and thus, thrusting all mankind into a state of sin and misery. Now in John 18, the New Serpent enters the garden. He is possessed by the same devil that possessed the serpent in Genesis. It is this precise battle that is unfolding before us in this text. The question is: “Who owns the garden?”

Does Judas with his new found commitment to darkness and evil own the garden or does Jesus own the garden? As the text reveals to us we see that Judas, the son of perdition, seems to have the upper hand in this sacred dispute. In verse 12 we read:

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.

Jesus is arrested and bound. They take him out of the garden bound like a defeated enemy. Now, in every conceivable scenario, this would be the historical determination that Jesus has lost. But if the Messiah is to bring this unshakable and unmovable kingdom with his coming, then how does this binding, this apparent defeat in the garden connect with this glorious kingdom? The answer to this question is: paradoxically. The coming of the kingdom is paradoxical. The kingdom does not come in the way and in the expression that many expected.

Now if the kingdom of God comes paradoxically, in a way unknown to the first century, then there may be a different way of understanding this garden scene. In this text, Jesus is not being bound because of defeat; he is being bound because of victory. Jesus’ arrest is his release. His arrest is not his binding, it may appear to be, but it is ultimately the binding of the evil one, the father of lies, Satan himself. This is why the gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus is the One who bound the strong man. He is the One who arrested the Serpent and dragged him out of the garden. Jesus owns the garden, not Judas or His master, Satan.

This arrest and this binding of Jesus in the garden is not a plan gone awry, it is exactly what has been planned. In one sense, this arrest is the cosmic Trinitarian conspiracy against the kingdoms of this world. When evil leaders and governments think they have the Son of Man trapped, he fools them. As Psalm 2 says, “God laughs at their plans.” The conspiracy of the cross is that the cross is Christ’s sword to defeat evil. But the serpent does not know this. He is virtually blinded to the Messianic plan and nothing will stop Jesus from conquering evil and bringing in a new world, a new creation. The garden belongs to him, because the garden is where his people gather, and eat, and fellowship. The garden is the sacred space, the place of peace. Make no mistake, we are a warring people, but we war against the enemies of Messiah. In the garden, the King, Master, and Messiah says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail. Death dies once and for all and victory will come and we will celebrate it this Sunday. Today, though we fast, it is only a prelude to our coming feast. Jesus’ death marks the end of the serpent’s sting of death.

The Death of Conversation

The Death of Conversation

It was a simple test. I failed it. It was so simple that I was celebrating before I even started it. In futebol, this is always a bad idea. Anything can happen in the four extra minutes after stoppage time.  A certain victory can be taken away with a beautiful header after a corner kick or an unexpected long-distance shot. But enough with sport metaphors. Self-testing, I call it. I was coming back from the beach with my boys. My cell phone stays with me at all times. As a pastor, I have noble excuses to keep it close. Hospital emergencies, counseling matters, but I digress. I am addicted to that marvelous ringtone. Scientists recently made some comparison to heroine addiction. But I know it’s not that bad. I can stop at any time. Right?

Back to the test. I had a 25 minute ride back home. I even put the cell phone a bit distant from the driver’s seat. Being a good Calvinist I am quite aware of my depravity. Goal: to make it home without touching my cell phone. Test: to wait to answer those life or death calls when I got back to the comfort of my home. Further, to allow those rings to simply disappear into sound heaven. I confess the first five minutes were tough. I tried. I even made it past the first red light. I had two whole minutes alone. The kids were quiet in the back. The sound of silence hurts. Those rings kept coming like Screwtape was trying to get into my brain. I kept assuming that each ring came from the same person asking, nay, begging for help. Then it happened.

I reached back to reach it at another red light, typed my password and quickly checked my e-mail. It only took five seconds. The e-mails were important. I could tell by their titles, but not important enough that they couldn’t wait 20 more minutes, or 20 hours. But the moral of the story is I fell. And great was the fall. a

I am finishing a certification in counseling, which has made me quite reflective these past few months. Reflective enough that I took that lesson in eating the fruit…I mean, checking my cell phone, and made a couple of applications.

The first one that comes to mind is that we live an age where communication has died a thousand deaths. In profoundly Shakespearan ways, it is dying and dying. There is that ring again. I have seen the videos portraying zombie-like teenagers engaged in the art of romacing their cell phones while their future wives are right there physically next to them (though she may possibly be romancing her new Note 4). Can we even talk anymore for five minutes without peeking at our ESPN NEWS app, or for the more sophisticated among us, the New Yok Times app. I am guilty. Mea Culpa. A counselor friend once told me that while he counseled a teenager for $75 an hour this young lady spent a near 45 of the 60 minutes carrying on a “conversation” with her boyfriend via text. She kept assuring the counselor that she was hearing everything he was saying. Doubtful.

It’s a strange age. The world is more engaging than ever, but we can’t engage ourselves consistently for a substantive period of time. Dostoyevsky once said: “Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” Our world is unhappy beacuse so many have been distracted for so long that they no longer have anything to say. Conversation depends on soul and body. To be present in the body in our culture means to be absent in our soul.

The second application is that if conversation dies in more ways than one we cease to be human. We speak and others speak back. This is how Yahweh God made us. If by giving priority to an inanimate object–sorry SIRI–we trivialize flesh to flesh interaction we are of all people most to be pitied. God forbid.

So, I will test my self again. I will probably fail a few more times. But I will keep trying. I am going to leave that cell phone in the car when I have an appointment. I have silenced my ringtones for virtually all notifications. And if someone complains that I did not answer their phone calls or texts soon enough I will just have to tell them that I am fighting for the survival of communication among homo sapiens. I know they will understand.

How To Talk About Death With Your Little Children

How To Talk About Death With Your Little Children

I have been asked this question a few times in my pastoral ministry. Here are a few thoughts for how to approach the subject of a death of a loved one with your little children:

First, make this a family affair. Gather the children as soon as possible to explain that a loved one has died. Conversations of such magnitude need to take place in a safe environment. If a child hears about the death from someone else it might lead to confusion and even anger.

Second, death is a horrible human reality. One of the consequences of the Adamic sin is death (Rom 5:12). We will all die, and likely we will see and witness many friends and family members die before we do. It is helpful to explain that death is an ugly thing and that as Christians we hate death. Taking our little ones to that familiar story of death in the Garden is a healthy way to contextualize the news to them. Death is first and foremost a theological issue, even if explained in the language of a three or four year old.

Third, do not be afraid to use the word death. If you say that such a person has “passed away” or “gone to sleep forever” this may cause confusion or fear in the child. A child might go to sleep at night fearful that he will never wake up. Clarity is fundamental. Tell the child that death means we will never see grandpa or grandma again in this life.

Fourth, do not be afraid to weep with them. Sometimes children do not understand mom or dad’s feelings after the death of someone. Feel free to explain your feelings to your children. “I am crying because grandma died. I am going to miss her.” If they begin to cry, join them in their tears and comfort them.

Fifth, when children discover that a loved one has died, they may assume that you will die also. They may ask questions like: “Are you going to die too, mommy?” At this point, it is important to let the child know that most people die when they are really old or very sick. And then let them know–if it is the case–that mommy or daddy are not sick and are still full of youth. If someone close died of a very young age, let them know that it is not very common, and then point out the young people around him that are alive.

Finally–and I am aware that much more could be said–inevitably, little children will ask questions about what will happen to grandpa or grandma, or mom and dad after they die. As Christians, we need to stress that Jesus overcame death at the cross and resurrection. He died and was raised so that we might live forever. This is a wonderful time to remind them of the promises of Jesus. “Grandma is now in heaven with Jesus. She is at peace. One day when we die we will join her in heaven. Jesus says than when we go to heaven we will never die again; we will live forever.”

Our children do not need a fairy-tale narrative about death. They need a compassionate, biblical approach that is sensitive to their thinking as little ones and faithful to the narrative of the Bible.

The Pro-Choice New Chant

First published at Kuyperian.

The chant outside Texas Capitol was consistent and unmistakable: “Hail Satan.” As the peaceful pro-life advocates were singing Amazing Grace, a group of loud pro-abortion chanters added their own version (hear video).

 I am not saying that every woman who has ever committed abortion or support abortion are actively joined to some Anton Lavey gathering, or that Rachel Maddow will begin her show with a pro-Satan salutation, rather what I am saying is that this chant is an affirmation of the one who is behind these ideologies. Satan is the father of lies, and so he delights to hear his praises sung.

The Christian faith has always been a faith of life. The unbelieving heart is voluntarily against life. Policies and ideologies that delight in death are diametrically opposed to the Christian order. These loud advocates may have been trying to sabotage John Newton’s hymn, or to silence the pro-life sounds, but in reality they were revealing that which is fundamental to the way they look at the world. They were chanting from page one of their hymnals.  Out of the heart the mouth chants. We are all worshiping beings. We all worship something or someone, and that worship is most clearly demonstrated in song.

Ideas have consequences and consequences have songs. Every generation has its own soundtrack. This generation has finally found one for her ideologies.

Husbands and Headship: The Art of Dying

We live in a culture that views headship as abusive. In the Bible, however, headship is central to the stability of the home. Protestant and evangelical men need to see this headship in the context of the great covenant responsibilities that come with that role. The man who views his headship cavalierly views his role in the home with un-biblical eyes.

I have met many men who come to see the need for headship in the home, and have made the necessary changes to their husbandry. Some of these men came to these convictions late in life, and therefore, the changes occurred too quickly; especially for their families. They went from rarely reading the Bible themselves to requiring family devotions with a 45 minute sermon. Dad went from barely feeding his family spiritually to stuffing his family. Children grow up dreading the evening “services”, and the wife, on the one hand, gives thanks to God for the change in her husband, while on the other, wondering if God misunderstood her prayers.

God knew all things, of course. The problem is sinners have made an art of over-reacting. Pastors need to watch out for these types and bring their enthusiasm to a proper balance.

But the Church is not suffering because of over-zealous husbands/ fathers; she is suffering for the lack of any zeal in husbands/fathers.

In particular, husbands are called to meet the needs of their wives. He is the provider, sustainer, and the one called by God to make his wife lovely. The wife is lovely when the husband beautifies her. Jesus is the head of the Church and part of his ascension task is to make his bride beautiful (Eph. 5). He comforts her with words of affirmation. He protects her for physical and spiritual abuse. He is her Boaz and David; a redeemer and king. The home serves as the castle. Pastors usually know when he enters a home whether it is being beautified or whether it has lost its beauty. I am not referring to neatness and tidiness; I am referring to the grace of a home. When that pastor leaves, he may have just left a pretty tomb with dead man’s bones. Grace makes a home, and the husband is the grace-giver. How he speaks, how he communicates, how he rebukes, how he seeks forgiveness; all these things demonstrate and encapsulate the type of headship he is embodying.

The husband is a resident theologian. He may not be a vocational theologian, but his actions and speech are the word and deed that his family will hear most often. When the husband lives a life of constant hypocrisy, his lectures will become dull and lose meaning. When his life demonstrates humility and the virtue of repentance, then his lectures, even the boring ones, will sink deeply into the fabric of the home.

The evangelical husband is a lover of truth. Truth keeps him from abusing his headship; truth keeps him from prioritizing his friends over his own family; truth keeps him from isolating himself from the Christian body; truth keeps him from turning headship into abuse. He must be, as Douglas Wilson once observed, “a small pebble that somehow by the grace of God pictures the Rock that is Christ.”[1]

The responsibility of being the head of the home is the responsibility of many, but the practice of some. Headship implies dying for your wife, and many prefer to see their spouse die than themselves. So men, let’s die together for our wives, and let’s show the world that death brings life.


[1] Wilson, Douglas. Reforming Marriage, 39.

 

A Four-Year Old’s Reaction to the Abortion Industry

Originally published at Kuyperian Commentary

Response to Comments: I am pleased with the enormous response. As of now there have been over 500 views. The vast majority of responses were very supportive and expressed in one way or another the sadness, but also the hope that a new generation will turn this evil tide in our country.

As I expected there were a couple of negative responses. The response can be summarized in the following manner: “Abortion is such a difficult issue, and to expose a four year old to such an issue can be unhealthy.” One comment referred to the topic of abortion as “intense.” I do not wish to spend too much time with a lengthy response, except to say the following:

First, we have largely sanitized abortion in our evangelical culture. We looked at the Gosnell case with absolute horror, but then treated it as something completely different than what happens every single day in the abortion clinics of America. Approximately, 4,000 babies are suffering the same fate every day. Instead of sanitizing, we need to call it for what it is: barbarism. 

Secondly, we have also minimized the ability of our little children to understand big issues. My four year old has been raised in a covenant home where the gospel is brought to her attention every day through singing, Bible reading, discipline, and conversations that vary from the Trinity to tying shoes. Children can grasp more than we can imagine. During our lunch time today, my daughter called my wife to tell her something. She whispered to my wife: “Thank you for loving life.” Yes, there were some tears, but ultimately it was a confirmation that the covenant promises of God are yes and amen.

Third, one comment addressed the fact that we need to show more love to these mothers. I agree. And I think that pregnancy centers like Safe Harbor in Pensacola do a marvelous job. Last year alone they–through their counsel–prevented over 150 women from taking the life of their unborn children. At the same time, when these women are walking into these abortion centers, they are mostly making a conscientious choice to take the life of their unborn child. This is tragic, and my daughter’s response was far more mature and pure than my own at times. Death is death. Death is a reality. We cannot keep our children from it, and when we see it we need to despise those who work iniquity (Psalm 5:5). 

May God grant this new generation courage and a fresh passion for the glory of God and the purity and value of human life.

———

It was a morning like any other, except my daughter was wide awake at 4:45 AM. I work hard at not being a morning person, but for her it came rather easily. I got dressed and made the quick decision to take my vivacious four-year old with me. It was an ordinary morning, but at the last abortion clinic in Pensacola it was a morbid morning. Young ladies full of life were entering the house of death.

I am an ordained minister. I have sat through a presbytery oral examination. After having studied for six months, I felt fairly confident as I sat before six other pastors. The Bible verses and the theology flowed from my lips with tremendous ease. This morning, however, I was examined by my four year old. Suddenly I found my rhetorical abilities being challenged as I tried to explain to this beautiful little girl just how un-beautiful this place was. “We are going to a place where mommies don’t want their babies,” I said. “Why do they not want their babies,” she asked. “Well, they simply don’t love life.” She paused and looked outside in silent wonder.

We arrived at the clinic and the signs were beautiful. The faces of lovely little children brought a temporary sanity to some of us. Another sign pictured a bloody and shattered body of an aborted image-bearer. She saw the image.

We joined the other saints. We read a psalm, prayed, and sang Psalm 92. They may not have heard us inside, but God did, and God acts through the prayers of his people. We sang of how the enemies of Yahweh grow like weed, but they are caught in their own evil schemes. Lord, hear our prayer.

We saw the vehicles as they drove by us. They reminded me of young college students flying through the college campus to get to class on time. In this case, they were young college students flying by in their expensive cars to terminate the life of their unborn children. It was a devastating sight to behold.

My daughter asked me to lower myself and quietly asked me: “Are the mommies going to kill their babies?” “They are, baby girl! That is why we are here. We don’t want them to make this horrible decision.” “But daddy, I don’t want them to kill their babies.” “We don’t either. We need to let them know that God loves life, and that He loves babies.” She was visibly shocked. In her world, mommies treasure babies, and daddies are not cowards. But in this world, mommies are bad characters in this unending movie, and daddies are participants in one of the most cowardly acts of history. “Daddy, I want to go home.” I excused myself and took my four year old to the car knowing that I was going to be examined again. “Are they really going to kill their babies?” Now she asked with greater conviction. Once again I said yes. We need to let them know that babies are gifts from God and that we cannot refuse his gifts. We then talked about how precious her baby brothers were. She told me she wanted to go home and kiss her 9 month old brother. Once again, she silently looked out the window in a contemplative manner. Then she burst into righteous anger: “I don’t like those mommies! They will never be able to kiss the babies! I don’t want to come back here.” I didn’t respond. She then pondered for a minute or two. “Maybe I will come back,” she said. “Just let daddy know, and I will bring you with me,” I said.

It was a morning like all others, but this morning my daughter learned that not everyone treasures life. And her heart was broken, and so was her father’s.

Uri Brito is a husband, and a father of three lovely children.

Bring Out the Champagne! The Party Has Just Begun!

Easter is gone, right? Actually Easter has just begun! The Easter Season lasts for 50 days. It is glorified in the PENT-ecost season. According to the Christian Calendar, Easter lasts until May 19th (Pentecost Sunday). But didn’t we spend ourselves bodily and spiritually this past Lord’s Day? If that’s the case, stir yourselves unto good works. The party has just begun!

We–who are liturgically minded–tend to carefully attend to the Lenten and Advent Calendar, but yet we forget that apart from the Resurrection Lent and Advent would not make any sense. After all, what are we expecting? A virgin birth to a son who would simply die at the age of 33? What are we expecting? A perpetually closed tomb? A sight for annual pilgrimages to Israel?

I am suggesting we need to stock up in our champagne bottles. Every Sunday meal needs to start with the popping of a champagne bottle. “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! POP! “Children, that’s the sound of victory!”

For every day of Easter, set aside a little gift for your little ones or your spouse. We set 100 Easter eggs aside for our two oldest children and let them open them up each day. Other traditions can be added, of course. We indulge in Easter hymnody and Psalmnody.  Easter is no time to get back to business as usual, it’s time to elevate the party spirit.

With that in mind, here are a few suggestions for these next 46 days:

First, for evening family readings, meditate specifically on the Resurrection account and the post-resurrection accounts. Digest every detail of the gospels, and also allow St. Paul to add his resurrection theology in I Corinthians 15.

Second, teach one another the art of hope. We live in a hopeless culture. We walk around with little enthusiasm for what God is doing in our midst. We also don’t believe that God is changing us and conforming us to the image of His son. We need to–especially in this season–to rejoice more with those who rejoice and encourage more those who weep with the hope granted to us in the Resurrection of our Messiah.

Third, invest in changing your community. Ask your pastor in what ways can you be more fruitful in your service to the congregation. Consider also your neighbors. Do you know them? If you do, how many have been in your homes for a meal or a drink, or simply to talk?

Fourth, play Easter music in your home and in the office. Here are some selections of great CDs or MP3’s.

Finally, avoid the introspective rituals that are so prevalent in our Christian culture. Do not allow doubts to overtake you. Think of your Triune baptism. Trust in Christ fervently. Allow the Covenant of Grace to shape your identity. The resurrection of Jesus was the confirmation that those in Christ are made for glory. Look to Jesus and serve Jesus by serving others. By doing so, you will not grow weary in doing well, and you will learn to party beside the empty tomb.

Christ is Risen!

Luke 4:16-30 and the Implications for the Defenseless in the Womb

The good news to the poor Jesus came to preach (Luke 4) is the good news to the defenseless in the womb by implication. The poor is usually swallowed by those who take his life by force. The good news of Jesus is the news that those oppressed from without have an advocate within. The God who sees all things and who does all things well (Ps. 139) delivers His good news and men and women despise it (Luke 4:29).

The recent attempt to celebrate the 40 years of Roe V. Wade by sexualizing an ad is not just “creepy” as so many have observed, but also a strategic move. Secularists and pro-death advocates know that the only way to make a position attractive is by desensitizing  us to the ugliness and horrors of its practice.

But God is not mocked (Ps. 2).

The devil wants Jesus to turn a stone into bread. He wants the final Adam to eat of the fruit before it is time. He wants to make power and authority sexy. But our blessed Lord knows that cross comes before crown. Authority is God’s to give (Ps. 72) not Satan’s to distribute. Similarly, the pro-death movement offers satanic bread to young women. “If only you bow down to the culture of death, then you will be free. If only you go through with this abortion you will live happily with no burden.” These are all lies, and as my fundamentalist brothers like to say, “they are straight from the pit of hell.”

The Edenic temptation did not fail in the garden, and it will continue to succeed unless young women, by the power of the Spirit enlivening the Church in her message and charity, change their attitudes and worldview about the nature and meaning of life.

At the heart of the Lucan reading in 4:16-30 is Jesus’ reading of Isaiah 58 & 61. Isaiah 58 concludes with a promise of Sabbath rest to the people. This is a fitting picture of Jesus’ promise for deliverance and liberation of the oppressed. Indeed the Church’s prayer is that life would find its Sabbath rest from the death grip of Roe v. Wade and the culture of death. The good news of the Gospel Jesus proclaimed that caused so much fury among the Nazareth crowd is the same message preached today. The Herods of old are alive and well. They still seek to imprison and kill little infants. But by God’s grace, the year of the Lord’s favor will stop the crying of Rachel, and console her and many others with life, and life more abundantly.