To Die Is Gain

“I used to be afraid to die…” I began.

I went on to explain how the truth and faithfulness of Jesus had won out in my story over fear and death and fear of death. The truth is, I really did used to be afraid to die.

And I’d heard that line Paul wrote to the Church in Philippi over and over but the reality is you just don’t know you don’t know till you know; unless you know Jesus personally, you can’t understand the strength and courage and peace behind the words of someone who knows Jesus personally–it’s just words.

19 For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, 20 according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For[c] I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.

 – Philippians 1:19-24

But for me, to live, Christ! To die, gain!

Why is living Christ? Because I live by Christ’s life. Why is death gain? Because death is the end of this sin-riddled flesh, but only the very beginning of Christ’s life. Why does that mean anything? Because I want to know Christ!

It’s something I’ve been thinking quite a bit about lately–particularly after a friend recently announced the death of his grandmother–and death doesn’t scare me anymore (if anything scares me it’s decay; growing old and turning to mush). I don’t fear anymore either, the possibility that I could die and end up in hell for some unrepentant thing, or for exploring too far–grace and truth gave me a new security in my life now hidden in Christ; love.

And that’s the thing: if you’ve chosen to follow Jesus and you’ve been baptised, symbolizing your acceptance to share in his death and new life, then where, oh Death, is your sting? Where, Hell, is your victory? My hope is hidden in the Lord, the King of Glory, the King above all kings, who was and is and is to come! And it goes right back along with the deep question, “Do you really trust God?” Is your hope in him? And could it be that the hymn spoke of a true hope?

We have this hope that burns within our hearts / Hope in the coming of the Lord / We have this faith that Christ alone imparts / Faith in the promise of His word

– We Have This Hope [Wayne Hooper]

But it’s even better than the words Adventists still sing–better than maybe Mr. Hooper ever knew; because Jesus is alive in me and in every Christian who has shared in His death and resurrection and proclaims Him Lord. I understand now why Paul was able to make such a bold statement about his uncertain future, because I now know the One who he was talking about.

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Sunlight (Encounters II)

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place on the cold ground, covered only by a few scraps of an old cardboard box. The sun lit up her eyes.

It was the magical time of the morning before the rest of the world wakes up—but she was awake. She shifted in her paper home and finally rolled over and sat up, bent over within the box. She pushed back the thick coat which covered her—the most valued of her possessions—and rubbed her eyes; another day in paradise after a long night.

She ran her fingers over the tracks up her arm and let out a sigh. Business as usual. She clamoured up from her sagging bed and glanced around casually, surveying the geography of the fresh morning. Her practiced eyes immediately picked out the man–slightly slouched–across the park on a bench, his back turned to her. Unusual? Perhaps. Odd? Definitely, but perhaps this was just another providential opportunity. She stood up coolly and sauntered nonchalantly toward the figure.

“Ashlynn—”

She stopped abruptly and spun around. No one behind her. No one anywhere—except the figure on the bench before her. Yet she could have sworn someone had called her name. But that was foolishness, wasn’t it? Her clients knew her only by aliases, and no one else knew her name; she was the nameless faceless, and that’s how she liked it.

“Ashlynn Jennifer Hayes…”

But there it came again, and still no one in sight but the man sitting motionless on the bench not ten feet in front of her. Her imagination must be psyching her out. And then the figure turned around.

“I see you,”

He was tall; dark, wavy hair and tanned skin. His eyes were a striking brown. She was taken aback and halted immediately under his gaze. His face was rough and wrinkled, but she couldn’t have guessed his age; he appeared ancient with the countenance of a child. “I see you,” he repeated. She had no idea what to say; she couldn’t break off his strong gaze. She was nearly ready to turn and run.

He smiled.

“Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm,” he said, his smile radiating through her into the very core of her. Who was this man? Where did he come from?

“Who are you?” she demanded, remembering at last where she had left her cold front.

“I am Myself,” he replied, still smiling. “I go by many names.” A lunatic for certain; she took a step backwards. The street had taught her one thing – the appropriateness of running. He stood up and she turned to run. “Jennifer,” she froze. “I’m not here to harm you.”

She spun back around to face him.

“How do you know my name? Who do you think you are?” her fear welled up into a defensive anger, “what do you want from me?”

“What do you want from yourself?” his smile never wavered; it unnerved her. “Won’t you join me?” he beckoned toward the bench. She shook her head.

“No thank-you.”

“Yet you came over here with a little more in mind, didn’t you,” he caught her eyes right then and a terrible knowing look. She shrugged, shrinking silently away from his gaze. “Suite yourself,” he settled back down sideways on the bench, watching her intently, “Leave if you like, but there are things I’d like to tell you.”

She took another step back.

“How do I know you won’t do anything?”

“You can’t,” he replied simply. She was wary, but he was not altogether threatening. In fact, his voice was soft and serene—calming and melodious almost. But there was the knowledge behind his eyes, and she now knew what was in his look that terrified her; it was as though he looked straight into her.

“How do you know my name?” she asked again, her curiosity getting the better of her circumspection. He was turned away now, intently watching a sparrow perched in a low, nearby tree.

“Oh that’s easy, it’s Ashlynn,” he smiled, and turned back to the sparrow

“No, no, no, how do you know my name?” she demanded, “I already know who I am, thanks.”

“Do you really?” he countered her, turning back around to look her in the eye, “Not nearly as well as I know you.” And she saw it–was that sorrow in his eye? Something leapt inside her, but she held her guard against it and shoved the alien feeling back to the pits of her uneasy stomach.

“I don’t—”

“Ashlynn, I know you better than you know yourself; I’ve been intimately involved in your life for quite some time,” he cut her off.

“What are you talking about?” she tried harder to push the feeling back down, she realized now it was his presence; she had felt it from the moment she laid eyes on him, perhaps even before that. She couldn’t help but feel that he was safe, and what he said was true—but how? She couldn’t even begin to guess what he meant.

“You may not know this, but I adopted you years ago,” the memories of her foster years were far too vivid for her to doubt; many people had adopted her. But she had been no more than a face in the system, and none of these “adoptions” had ever carried through—or so she had been told. Perhaps he had done it quietly.

“If that’s true,” she began hesitantly, unsure of whether to give him the satisfaction of a response or not, “where have you been all this time? I was out of the system years ago.”

“And you’re nineteen now—though much harder to tell now for the drugs you started using two years ago to numb the pain—your parents abandoned you to the system and you went from house to house, always hoping the next would be a place you could call home… but it never was.”

She was wholly overwhelmed.

“How do you know all that?” she stammered, taken fully aback at his revelation of her. And then she looked in his eyes and saw the pain in them—for her.

“I know a lot about you Jennifer,” he replied, still smiling a sad smile. “I’ve always been nearby.” She didn’t know what to think.

“How am I to believe any of that stuff?”

“Believe it or don’t, but it is true,” he replied. “It doesn’t matter; you know it is.”

And she did. She stood back, not sure whether to speak or walk away—she knew she couldn’t cry, even if she could let herself now, the tears would never come as they used to. So she did something different, though she didn’t know why. She knelt down in the grass at the end of the bench and simply watched him. What she was waiting for she could not have said, but there was something in just watching him—a security. He remained silent, seemingly paying no heed as he continued to eye the sparrow which still flitted through the shrubs. Several minutes went by, and then he spoke,

“Ashlynn, just let the pain go.”

She bit her lip as tears welled behind her eyes, but she had not been quick enough, and a lone tear found its way to her eyelid. She shut her eyes tight and dropped her head, employing every effort to stifle the emotions which threatened her composure and her new-found comfort with this stranger. She didn’t know how long it was that she sat there—an hour if it hadn’t been a few minutes—but all was silent.

The sun touched her skin. His hand touched her arm. She started back, jerked her head up and opened her eyes. He was kneeling next to her in the grass, now looking into her eyes, his hand on her arm. She waited, all words now gone from her mind. His voice was soft, “Ashlynn, let grief have its place.”

She wept.

She could hold it back no longer. His presence, his look—those eyes—endearing her. And she could hardly help but say no; her heart in its deepest depths craved it. He rested his other hand gently on her shoulder closest to him and waited as she knelt there in the grass sobbing quietly, the tears flowing freely now. His touch was warm and reassuring.

“Why do I feel this way?” her tears finally slowed, but she remained with her face downcast.

“There is much pain in you, it is ready to be freed,” he replied. “Ashlynn, it is very important that you do this for yourself—for your future.” She suddenly became reserved once again and lifted her face defiantly.

“Who do you think you are to say these things? You don’t know who I am! You don’t know where I’ve been!” she nearly screamed it at him, completely taken now with anger spurned on by her vulnerability. “You have no idea what I’m carrying!” she became aware that where his hand touched her bare arm the tracks of the needle were visible, “and I stopped that a long time ago,” she cried bitterly, and she pushed his hand back and pulled her sleeve down to cover the marks.

“But I do know what you’ve been through; I’ve seen it all. I know how often the only place you can find to sleep is made of paper,” he gestured toward the box near the street, “I know that you stopped heroine once; you’ve stopped four times since you started. You spent all you had two days ago to go back to it; it put you back on the street every time you went back.” He paused a moment, letting this settle, then continued, still speaking gently. “I know how long you’ve been selling yourself just to make ends meet, and not only that, but to feel valued,” he finished.

She burst into tears, but this time rather than pulling away she flung herself on him; his words could have had no better affect. She clung to him and he wrapped his arms around her in a tender embrace. “I see you, I know you and I love you, Ashlynn,” he whispered into her ear, “I know all your hurts; please let me help you.”

She let go.

“Why would you want to help me? How can you love someone like me? I’m dirty, I’m ugly…”  He brought a finger to her lips in a motion of silence. “But how,” she went on after a moment, “could you ever see past what I’ve done if you knew? How could you see past these marks on my arms?” she suddenly felt a filth of guilt and shame on her.

“Oh Ashlynn, I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment!” His eyes suddenly lighted up, “I love you because I created you!” She was at a total loss—and it dawned on her; how could she be so blind? And yet—

“Jesus Christ—!” she swore.

“—the Christ,” he corrected her, “But I prefer if you call me Daddy.” He grinned, “I think that would mean more to you, too, don’t you think?” she nearly burst into tears again; the most she could do was nod, caught as she was in surprise and raw emotion. How could she not believe it now that he had reached in to touch the very depth of her secret heart?

“But how could you see past who I am?” she blurted out, “even you—especially you!” He gently rolled up his left sleeve.

“Ashlynn, I look beyond what you’ve done, because my father looked at what I’ve done. My purpose and desire was never to condemn you,” He said, holding out his hand. She couldn’t say a word. There was the mark in his wrist, a rough, deep scar that would never fade for all eternity. And now she noticed for the first time the other marks—the scars on his brow—and she could hardly bear it; she knew they were for her. “Now do you understand?” he asked, knowing already the answer. She nodded, and embraced him again.

“Jennifer,” she gazed up at him, nestled in his arms on the grass. A sparrow perched on the edge of the nearby bench, watching them intently. “I have to go now,” he said, holding her even closer to his chest. She loved the sound of his heart.

“What will I do without you?” she asked sadly, wishing she could prolong this somehow, “How will I go on? I’ve come so close to ending it all so many times already…”

“Oh darling, I’m always with you!” He smiled sincerely and bent down, kissing her forehead. “I love you too much to not be with you every minute.”

“But where have you been then?”

“You’re living in an awful place…” he said sadly, looking around, “we can’t experience each other here like this all the time, face to face… but one day soon I’ll never have to leave your sight, and we will spend Forever just like this.”

She understood, and a longing tear found its way down her cheek.

“Jesus?”

“Please, call me Daddy.”

The sun arose on a sleeping city, the man-made lights fading as the Creator’s warmth touched the cold buildings. The warmth touched the morning dew resting on the grass, and also her face as she stirred from her place. The sun lit up her eyes.

Had it all been a dream? But no, she could even now feel the warmth of his kiss lingering with her, the sound of his voice and the safety of his touch. “Always with me…” she murmured softly to herself, raising herself up into a sitting position within her box.

A sparrow began to sing nearby.

“Daddy.”

Tears - Encounters I

Tears and Sunlight (Encounters I and II) are explicitly under my authorship; you can share it, but it's still mine.

I Was Wrong About Tradition

Featured imageWhen I was growing up my family had a tradition. On some (but not necessarily any in particular) occasions, and usually for supper, instead of the usual prayer for the meal my parents would strike up a short chorus. My fondest memories found all ten of us crammed around our table singing this prayer, maybe to the soft tune of candle light if it were a particularly special-feeling evening. Unfortunately, it was not a common enough tradition for me to actually learn the song completely before it eventually went dark as our family spread further apart, and only today did I stop and piece it together completely in my memory, and to the best of my recollection it went something like this:

As our family gathers around this table
Where this meal has been prepared
Let all our hearts be grateful
As we offer up this prayer:

“Our Father in Heaven, for this meal you have given
We want to say thank-youthank-you from our hearts.
Bless the hands who prepared it, and now as we share it
Would you stay with us, and be our guest of Honour”

Usually when I think about tradition church comes to mind. Particularly, “traditional” church in which service structure is so deeply ingrained in its members that even the slightest deviation in program makes everyone feel awkward–particularly if you happen to be the one causing the deviation. I think of rules, regulations, and blind observation. And cages.

But when I think of that song, I don’t think of any of that. I think of my family, together, being a family. Sitting down around the table to share life together. It might just be my bad memory, but those 60 seconds of music were some of the most beautiful moments I can remember sharing with my family.

And as I remember that tradition I wonder why I’ve given tradition such a bad name. True, I’ve come from a subculture laden with empty, meaningless traditions, traditions that might have meant something to someone at some time, but are now nothing more than the routines of a well-oiled machine. But what if that’s all fake–the shadows of an empty shell, not the heart and reality of what a tradition is. What if traditions really are ways to remember who we are, but only work if we actually, you know, remember. What if tradition doesn’t mean anything unless we remember the value it celebrates? Family, togetherness, warmth, tradition. Why?

Because it’s too easy to forget.

Feeding On Christ

I just finished watching Joseph Prince’s web-cast for today and was it ever good! Actually it was exactly what I needed to hear and it was so refreshing to hear it. He spoke on the power and authority of the word of God; it was a glorious counteraction to the ideas creeping into the Body that would demote the Word of God to mere human words, subject to chop and change over time. But Pastor Prince also spoke about the refreshing, re-energizing power of the Word, the power in the Word that separates mere human soul from Spirit in-dwelling, and I think now about how worn, discouraged, sick and burned out I’ve been. How energy-devoid I’ve been. I’ve been barely scraping along. And I haven’t been feasting on the Word. Because Jesus was right when He said, (also quoting the Word I might add,) “Man does not live by bread alone.”

Sometimes I think the denomination I came from (and probably many others also) have been so concerned about eating the best bread and the most healthy diets that they’ve missed out on the Bread of Life in the Word. I’ve been starving myself on food.

This is a perfect opportunity to share a little graphic I saw in church a couple weeks back.

The Threefold Nature of Man

This illustration comes from a man named Clarence Larkin, and as an aside you might be interested to do some research on him. He compared what he referred to as the threefold nature of man to the tabernacle – I haven’t read much about it yet, but it sounds pretty cool, and I might just have a post for it later on.

Anyway, onwards! What do we have here? Well, we have a wealth of thoughts bouncing around my head all related to this illustration and all waiting to come out for you, but I’ll go slow and leave the less-relevant subjects for their own posts.

So we are three parts: body, soul, and spirit. Our spirit is where the Spirit of God presides. Larkin compares the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle to our spirit where God now presides. Our soul is our mind. This is the part that’s still got the sin problem, because Christ replaces our sinful spirit with His spirit of perfect righteousness, but our soul is a work in progress. This is our mind that we need to renew through the Word of God and in continual prayer. And the more we feed on Christ, the more He flows out to our soul. The body is of course that hunk of meat you’re packin’ around.

We have the life of Christ on the inside of us, in our spirit. But our physical bodies will never see that life unless we feed on Him. Our souls will never see that life unless we feed on him. The Holy Spirit’s regenerating work in us is an inside-out process; we receive His life, we feed our soul on His life, and our soul speaks life to our body.

So what do I mean by starving myself with food?

I’ve been neglecting to feed my soul on the Spirit of God.

This is how the New Covenant works. We believe, and God gives us His spirit. If I do something wrong, this changes little, because the Spirit of God is still in me – He will not repeal this gift, because Jesus paid for it; I believe in Jesus and what He did for me, and I believe in the Spirit of God at work in me. Now my response is not self-condemnation, instead my response is to feed even more on the Spirit of God. The nourishment that God offers me in this way revitalizes and strengthens my soul to do what He asks of me, and my soul commands my body to act.

And how do we receive this nourishment? In communion with God. In the Word. In prayer–in praying in the spirit. Yes, I pray in the spirit. I’ll get into that in another article.

But what if we allow our food to come from other sources? What if we feed on teachings contrary to the Bible, our own ideas, the latest romance novel, un- and anti-godly movies and music, pornography (and pornography is ingraining itself in all of these to become culturally approved)… these are the foods that speak to our soul and overpower the Still Voice in our spirit, when we give reign to them. This is when we step away from God’s understanding and rely again on our own understanding as we did when we were still lost.

And what if we are already immersed in such worldly voices? This has been my confession time and time again. Not a confession of “I have sinned, please redeem me,” no, for Jesus needed only to die once, but a confession of “Jesus, I have been listening to other voices; please speak into my life again, I give you the right to be my nourishment again.”

This is my prayer now, because I haven’t fed enough from Jesus. I haven’t drunk enough from Life-giving streams.

How about you? Is this your prayer as well? I’ll stand in agreement with you over this. “Jesus, I’ve been listening to other voices than Yours. I want to only listen to you from now on. Please speak into my life again, and teach me to live on Your words alone. I declare that You are my sole–and soul–provider.”

Amen. Amen.

And Jesus, thank-you!