Life in the midst of death: miscarriage, hope, and eternal life

TemporaryVisitors - Guest Post

Now that we’ve been back for a month you’ve probably gotten a sense for how we plan take turns writing on a week to week basis. I’ll take the first Sunday, followed by Helicon the second week, then Tim, and finally Dien.

What do we do with those months with a fifth Sunday? We’ve invited some of our to friends contribute in what we’re going to call our “Guest Post”. So to kick things off, we’d like to introduce you to Tony Cruz. You can follow his blog, Remnant Legacy, or get in contact with him on Twitter: @_tonycruz.


Baby SoleilEarlier this month, a letter I wrote to Soleil on her first birthday was posted on a great website called Daddy Letters.  If you have a chance, you should check the website out.  The letter resurfacing, especially as I finish reading through Genesis 4-5,  reminds me of an experience Alison and I had two years ago during Christmas time in 2009 and the faithfulness God has shown to us consistently in our marriage, in life.  It reminds of me the hope that exists for us as believers in Jesus Christ.

Miscarriage, Christmas, and Alone

Two years ago, Alison and I flew to Phoenix, AZ to visit my family during Christmas week.  We really had one objective:  surprise my mother with news of our first pregnancy.  Alison was excited about it, but I was anxious.  I confess freely now (though I did not then) that when I found out we were pregnant, I was not excited.  Alison’s news revealed to me how inadequate of a husband I had been up to then and that in turn would eventually create much resentment towards our unborn child. This new child would interfere with my efforts to correct my first three years of marriage.  I was not ready to be a dad.  I did not want to be a dad.  I wanted time to fix my mistakes.  I was frustrated with myself, with God, with my wife, and my unborn baby.

Our plan was to tell my mom on Christmas Day, a Friday, that we were 9-10 weeks pregnant.  On Wednesday morning, Alison started experiencing severe pains.  By the end of the day, she had miscarried and we had lost our first child.  My mom was at work all day, our friends were in San Jose, and we felt incredibly alone.  Instead of giving my mom the good news of her being a grandmother, I had to explain why Alison couldn’t even get off the couch.  It was painful.  I was distraught.  Alison was in emotional, spiritual, and physical pain.  Our baby passed and it was just the two of us again.

Hope and New Beginnings

New born SoleilAfter working through the miscarriage with God and my wife, I realized how selfish I had been.  I forgot that life was not about me, but about God.   My real spirit and the real condition of my soul had been revealed with Alison’s news to me of her pregnancy and then humbled with the miscarriage.  I was a broken man, with a hurting wife, and the only one I could turn to was God.  As usual, He is faithful.  He gave me hope.  He healed my heart, my feelings, my marriage, and renewed my lazy focus which had made me into what I knew was an adequate husband.  I learned tremendously from that experience and became ready to serve Him in whatever circumstance of life that He was going to place me in.  Much to my joy, three months after we miscarried, Alison was pregnant again.  After 12 weeks, we heard the baby’s heartbeat.  Medically, that meant that the chance of miscarriage falls to less than 3%.  While Alison got to experience this new life in her body, my heart was cold and distant, not ready to commit to the feelings I had towards this new baby for fear of loss.  But when my daughter was born, all bets were off.  I was ready.  We were ready.  God had blessed us with a beautiful daughter and new beginnings.

Enoch Lives  (Gen. 5:21-24Heb. 11:5)

After the creation of humanity, marriage, the fall of humanity into sin, and punishment, Scripture paints a pretty meek picture for the next few chapters of Genesis.  Death reigned.  Not just death at the hands of others, but death in general.  Instead of the life that God had offered in the garden, you read these sections of Scripture where God seems to make it a point that death was the result of the fall.  A common phrase in Genesis 4-5 is “and then he died.”  This man lived this many years, “and then he died.”  That guy diedthis guy diedeveryone was dying.  When you are reading about life and things being good (Gen. 1-2) and then moving into this literary valley of death, it is so clear that God wants to make a point:  there is life in the midst of death.

The author of Genesis makes this incredibly clear when you read about a guy named Enoch.  You see, the Bible said that everyone was living their life, having their children, and then dying.  Except for Enoch.  The original Hebrew text paints this beautiful picture of Enoch and his relationship with God:  Enoch walked with God and then he was not.  The reason:  God took him.  Enoch never experienced death.  God took him away so he did not have to deal with that.  The point is that there is life in the midst of death.  It was God’s way of pointing to Jesus Christ, even in the Old Testament!  If there is life in the midst of death with Enoch, how much greater life would there be in Jesus?

Jesus Offers Life in the Midst of Death

We will always be surrounded by death. The nanosecond we enter in this world, our bodies experience the process of moving toward decay. That is reality. Death is inevitable.  Relationships die. Careers get shot. The natural world experiences death all the time.  People are killing each other.  People are dying.  It is a unarguable fact and reality for us.  Of course, our natural instinct is to hide from it, shelter ourselves from it, pretend it does not exist, or act like there is nothing we can do about it.  In some sense, we can’t do anything.  If we feed the starving, they will die eventually.  If we give water to those who thirst, they will die eventually.  If we give homes to the homeless, they will die eventually.  Please hear me when I say:  WE SHOULD BE DOING THOSE THINGS.  But we primarily need to offer them life in the midst of death.  As Christians, we know that the only life that can be offered in the midst of death is that of Jesus.

Jesus Christ offers life in the midst of death, through His own death. He does not just offer us eternal life, though that is His mission’s goal. But Jesus offers people hope, joy, and peace that no trouble in the world can take away from that.  As a Christian, I hear people arguing all the time that this reality of giving our life up to Christ is simply not enough. People need tangible help, too.  If you want to argue about how that’s not enough, I would challenge you to reconsider whether or not you believe in the full and complete gospel that Jesus Christ offers.  It is hard to share something, if you find no value in it.  Take some time and think about whether or not that’s your struggle.

Jesus offers you eternal life. The consequence for all of us is death. Not so with Jesus. In the midst of death, Jesus offers us life. He is the only one who can offer such an amazing gift, through the work He did on the cross. He offers it to everyone who believes.  Believe. Repent of your sins and believe in Jesus.  Share the good news of the arrival, death, resurrection, and second coming of King Jesus with everyone you know.  Believe.  Have hope.  Believe in life in the midst of death.  The gospel of Jesus Christ offers you eternal salvation and so much more in the present life.  He is waiting.

Believe.

If you want to talk about Jesus, about the Bible, about life or death, about hope, please contact me.  Just send me a message on here or on Twitter:  www.twitter.com/_tonycruz.  I will be praying for you.

Living by Faith is Hard

Living by faith is hard. Faithfulness means accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior. Hence, it means obeying Him. We cannot say “No” to someone we acknowledge as “Lord.” But saying “Yes” to Jesus is never easy, because it means we must first say “No” to ourselves. We are making ourselves vulnerable to God’s will.

Perhaps we experience this struggle to varying degrees in life, but in Matthew 26, in the place called Gethsemane, Jesus faces a test of faithfulness beyond anything we can ever imagine, because in this moment, everything is at stake. Jesus knows that he is about to be “delivered up to be crucified” (Matt 26:2). He understands that his blood is “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). Not only that, he knows that he is going to be resurrected (Matt 16:21). Nevertheless, Jesus’ soul is “very sorrowful, even to death” (Matt 26:38). Jesus understands his mission, but he also feels the gravity of the suffering he is about to endure.

Many of us know we can trust God. It is easy for us to say that we will submit ourselves to his will. But knowing that God is faithful does not prevent us from fearing that He will fail if we put our trust in Him. No matter how many times God has proven Himself in the past, we can’t help but wonder, “What if God doesn’t pull through this time”? That’s the scary thought. Jesus knows why he is going to be crucified, and he knows that the result will be, but with the reality of death staring him in the face, he falls on his face and prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26:39a).

Praise be to God, we know that this is not the end of the story. “Nevertheless,” continues Jesus, “not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:39b). He submits to God. We shouldn’t dismiss this, thinking that it is easy for Jesus to obey since, after all, he is God. “The spirit indeed is willing,” says Jesus, “but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). This is a hard thing for Jesus to do. It doesn’t seem that Jesus is speaking here of weakness due to sin; rather, he is simply referring to human weakness, the fact that even when we want to follow God, we just don’t know if we can handle it. We want to trust him, but what if it costs us our lives?

The truth is, the flesh is weak. Jesus went to the cross. He was bruised, crushed, and pierced. He was shamed in public, in front of his disciples, in front of his mother. He bled. He suffered. He died. This is real weakness.

But he was also resurrected on the third day, and not in spirit only. For we believe in a bodily resurrection; Jesus is alive in the flesh. Therein lies our hope. For those of us who are in Christ, we believe that if we die with him, we will also be raised up with him. And we will die, because the glory of following God is a burden too great for mortal flesh to bear. Being faithful as Christ is faithful means that we also take up our crosses and follow him–to death, yes, but even more so to the resurrection, to the new life.

Therefore, we can trust, follow, and obey God despite our fears and uncertainties. And even when it seems that God has forsaken us, as Jesus felt forsaken on the cross, we know that this is not the end of the story. True, it is hard to live by faith. It is hard to say “No” to ourselves and “Yes” to God. But our faith will not be disappointed. For by raising Jesus (and us with Him), God has proven Himself to be faithful and righteous and true, once for all.

How to magnify Christ, whether by life or by death

If any of you have extra time on your hand, I highly recommend reading just any part of this blog: http://graceandrew.blogspot.com/

Every time I read it, I am humbled and amazed by how much a life–and a death–can glorify Christ. I started following this blog a couple of years ago, when older staff from my fellowship at UCLA asked us to pray for these two alumni. They were in their 20s, married for only a few years, yet the husband was diagnosed with cancer. At the time, reading about their faith in the midst of cancer was encouraging. Now, over two years later, I am convinced that one day, someone is going to collect and publish the writings of Grace and Andrew Mark, and it is going to become a Christian classic. Read any part of this blog, and you will walk away with a clearer vision of your Savior!

Tangible Faith

It has been a particularly difficult past few weeks. Many realities about the fragility of life has hit home. The earthquake in Haiti, Marilyn T’s cancer/surgery, Alan’s father w/Pancreatic Cancer, John T’s dad w/cancer, and a younger brother, Justin Chang’s passing. It is in the times spent praying, and thinking of each of these people … that I have felt utterly helpless because I am unable to help them and to alleviate their pain… and it just made me incredibly sad.

As I was praying over Justin’s passing that I felt myself ask the simple question: why does God let bad things happen to good people? Although so many answers raced through my mind, my heart hurt so much, and I was at a loss to find an answer that would stop that ache in my heart. In the same day, I shared with one of my friends the sad news about Justin’s passing, and we mourned and talked about death, and struggled over how we would react when it hit so close to home. My friend shared about his struggle with his unsaved parents, and how one would react and feel towards God if our unsaved parents died. We did not have an answer because though we could reason things out… it was nigh impossible to take away the depth of anguish and pain one would feel in these circumstances. I simply did not have an answer.

The next morning, I woke up with the verse from Habakkuk 2:4 branding itself into my thoughts:

“…but the righteous shall live by his faith.”

All of a sudden, a flood of thoughts and verses started to fall into place in my mind, and I knew that God had provided an answer. This was not an answer I expected because it did not explain anything, but it simply required me to fixate my eyes upon God and have faith in Him. I spent the rest of the morning reading Habakkuk, praying and writing down what came to my mind.

My Professor at Western Seminary, Jeff Louie, taught Habakkuk this past semester during our Old Testament 3 class. Over a lecture, Prof. Louie walked us through Habakkuk and the beautiful background and realities that Habakkuk referenced, and how this pertained to the Gospel. Let me share it briefly because I think it really spoke to me during this time of sadness:

Why Habakkuk? It is because Habakkuk amidst his difficult times (due to injustice and the coming Chaldeans) was very open in his doubt to God. Despite impending doom promised by God, Habakkuk took comfort in God’s promise of preservation in Habakkuk 2:4, “the righteous shall live by his faith.” He eventually committed to God in faith even if he didn’t know what would happen. The book then ends with Habakkuk putting his faith in God with some of the most beautiful words:

17Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.

19GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.

What strikes me most in this story is the amazing faith that Habakkuk ends up happening because like Job, his only recourse is to completely trust God. To have faith that God, who is sovereign would do what He said. That was all He could live by. And here, I remembered how Prof. Louie reminded me of Hab. 2:4, and how Paul and the author of Hebrews, referenced it in their writings. Hab. 2:4 is referenced in Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; and Heb. 10:38. Each having their own purpose, but each also reminding us of one important thing! Our faith is in Jesus Christ! This is not merely a promise, but it is a fulfilled and tangible answer by God.

During a bible study this past week and in my readings for a class, I learned some things about faith. In James 1:2-4, James talks about encountering trials and how the testing of one’s faith produces steadfastness; that steadfastness has been allowed to run its course… it produces a certain result of us being perfect/complete…lacking in nothing. What I realized was that our faith is merely a hypothesis/theory until it is tested with trials and suffering. Through trials and suffering, we are forced to seek support and security in that faith like a support/handhold, and as a result, that faith becomes something tangible and real that we can rest or grab onto.

What Habakkuk had was faith, but it was a faith in something that he was not sure of. God before is an infinite God that we could not fully grasp or wrap our minds and lives around; we had to fear, love, and obey, and trust by faith like Habakkuk and Job. Our God, who is impossible to compare with because of his infiniteness (his omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.) and our finiteness… had sent a tangible, physical example that we could emulate/model after through Jesus Christ.

When we read the Bible, we have someone that we can compare with in Jesus Christ, who had come to this world and experienced what we experienced. Though tempted, Jesus lived a perfect, sinless life, died a sinner’s death upon the cross, and resurrected after three days! This ultimate expression of God’s love is comforting because we are no longer alone. God has come alongside us, and that is whom we place our faith in now. God answered us by loving and coming alongside us through His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

So bringing it all back together, I shared with my friends 3 points this past Sunday:

1) It is okay to mourn.

Justin died, and he was our brother whom we hung out with, we worshipped with, played basketball with, laughed with, and ate with. It is easy to say we understand the reasons and the theology to explain death and calamities, but it is so close to our hearts, our lives! Reality overwhelms us! We are not robots/automatons, because our hearts are made of flesh and blood. We mourn the passing of our brother, who is young, just graduated out of UCSB, with a new job and a whole life ahead of him! Remember, Jesus wept in John 11… after talking to Mary and seeing the people crying over Lazarus’ death.

2) It is okay to not have an answer.

Habakkuk doubted, but that did not mean that He did not believe in God. He did not understand, and yet, God loved Habakkuk and shared a promise with Him. I don’t understand what happened, and I don’t have an answer, and I’m heartbroken and confused, but I know God does. My finite mind simply can not comprehend what God can understand in His infinite wisdom.

3) Ultimately, it is okay because of Jesus Christ.

Though I hurt and though I doubt, the words in Habakkuk 2:4 lead me to understand that our faith is not simply in something that we can not grasp, but it is in the completed, finished work of Jesus Christ! Our faith, our hope, our salvation, our handhold, our foundation is upon Jesus Christ. It is through Him that we must cling, and we must cling throughout our life. We must trust him even when we can’t understand or see what lies ahead.

Faith then ultimately is in Jesus Christ believing that God is sovereign in all things, and this is how we are to live. As an undeserving people, God has graciously given us His most precious answer in Jesus. His grace abounds and it has planted in us these seeds of faith that are not merely hypothetical, but they are tangible. They are what we can rely on, and what we need to turn to in the midst of great grief and tears.

I acknowledge that we are all at different places in our mourning for Justin and others that have passed. The chords that are struck by a person’s passing may affect us in different ways., and so it is simply my hope that in sharing this, that you would continue to trust in Jesus. I will miss Justin much, I regret not having spent more time with him, but praise God that I know he has gone home to be with our Heavenly Father. I rejoice in that, and yet am still greatly saddened. I mourn those that have died in Haiti that are unsaved, and also those of our family in Christ that have died there as well. I know that grief is there because my body is flesh and my heart feels pain… yet it is in this that I remember God’s promise that “the righteous shall live by faith.”

YOUR GRACE IS SUFFICIENT

by Martin Nystrom

As played by Shane & Shane

Your grace is sufficient for me
Your strength is made perfect
When I am weak
And all that I cling to
I lay at Your feet
Your grace is sufficient for me