LEGACY: Living Toward A Better Death

Death is real. It’s not something we typically enjoy talking about, but much to our dismay, it does not appear to be leaving humanity alone anytime soon. So, as much as we would all like to avoid such a topic, it is appropriate to consider its’ implications to some degree or another.

Carol Walker, co-pastor of REACH Manhattan, challenged the body of believers at Ichthus to “live toward a better death…”, which I now have written in the back of my study-journal as a constant reminder to live in such a way. What does he mean, though? To “live toward a better death”? Well, I’m certainly not Mr. Walker, so consider the following to be a summation of my thoughts over the last 24-hours as I’ve chewed on this challenge given by him…

One’s legacy is essentially what they, themselves, leave behind for others. What assets, ideologies, practices, and the like will one have passed on to their peers, and those they potentially mentored throughout the course of life? These various items combine together to form an individual’s legacy. And, while it is typical of American pastors to give extremely beautiful eulogies in which they highlight all good aspects of a man’s life, the bad will not be easily forgotten, even if hidden beneath sugar-coated summations of one’s life. Therefore, who are we really? What have we sought to teach our families, peers, and strangers through our words and actions?

Consider the following question then…What do you want your legacy to be?

Now, if you were to die tonight, would that legacy you just dreamed of be true of you? Mine wouldn’t. It is something that I should choose to live more towards every day now. The legacy I wish to leave behind is one of selfless and sacrificial love for others, considering the least of these to be far more important than myself; to live and serve as Christ did for His Church.

A Christ-like legacy is the only one I personally deem worth living for. The only way to even come close to such a legacy is to authentically love God more than anything else. What is it that you pursue in life? To what extent do you expend yourself and your resources to obtain/sustain it? You have discovered what you love and just how much you love it. Is what you love most your LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ and His Father, God? I’m praying that is the case, or soon becomes the reality of your heart’s condition.

As I have studied the Gospels over the course of my nearly 23 years of life, I’ve come to notice that one of the greatest elements of Christ’s legacy, and those who live life in such a way, is unconditional love.

Unconditional love overcomes the human-condition to only give of ourselves into something that benefits; sometimes even loving in situations where there is no love in return. Consider the example set by Christ, as he pleaded for the forgiveness of those that put him to death on the rugged cross; no persons’ faults can tame such a violently courageous love. To exhibit such love to another, one must empty oneself of self entirely and now, selfless, give all that they are/have to others. Sounds taxing, right? While it may be in some situations, there is truly no greater source of joy in the end. Why? Because when unconditional love is brilliantly displayed, then witnessed by another, it rocks their foundations, as it shatters their preconceived expectations! No one expects to be unconditionally loved–the reality is quite the opposite, with a majority of young men and women openly admitting that they expect to be let down by those they love on a frequent basis. So, when you have chosen to die to yourself and love others unconditionally (whether they ‘deserve’ it or not, because let’s be honest, you and I do not ‘deserve’ unconditional love either…), you have become a beautiful display of Christ’s love to them, and the opportunity for crazy, culture-defying relationships to form is present.

Have you ever had the pleasure of witnessing the love that brothers in Christ may have amongst each other? If you have ever had the opportunity to witness me among my brothers in Christ within the house-church of Rev79, then you have witnessed this deep, culture-defying love, that places each other above ourselves. It is ridiculously beautiful, and it often makes others uncomfortable, because they do not have a clue how to react to grown men hugging and encouraging each other so much; their cultural expectation for us to be violent, narcissistic, and self-focused, only loving one another when it is convenient, is blown to pieces.

I love it.

Why?

It brings people to a point of questioning why one would be capable of this culture-defying, unconditional love… Any guesses at what the answer is? A life died to, that has embraced God’s grace, and decided to live selflessly, unconditionally loving others to the end of their days.

Consider their brains blown…

Even better…

They want in.

Yes, they want in. Who would choose to not be loved in such a way? What better thing is worth living for than a God that has come after us relentlessly with a love and grace that defies all human-logic? I wouldn’t. Would you?

In summation, I challenge every man and woman to consider their legacy; what will it be, how will you live it out, what are you willing to sacrifice to make it become a reality? If you consider yourself a disciple of Christ, then I strongly encourage you to join me in pursuing a legacy of unconditional love and to ‘live toward a better death’. If you do not yet consider yourself to be among the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters, then I challenge you to witness the love that authentic believers have for one another and total strangers, and then explore how they could possibly love to such a degree if God were not their real King and source of strength and grace? They couldn’t.

#TheFuneral

Church-bells ringin’ but it’s not a wedding,

It’s a solemn day with much dreading,

A friend will be buried,

Before his prime, not even married.

 

A son to someone,

A brother to another,

Prematurely summoned,

Left behind a mother,

Father blindsided by fate,

Convinced it’s a dream,

Because at any rate,

The sorrow makes his heart scream.

 

Where do I fit into the picture?

At the front, reading Scripture.

 

You see, I’m the speaker,

Giving the eulogy…

 

The audience is alarmed,

My message lacks charm,

As I speak of the man layin’,

In the casket behind me, I’m sayin’

 

The man was addicted,

Words to actions ratio, contradicted.

Spoke of life, but lived in death,

Worshipped then cursed; same breath,

Judgmental of other ‘believers’,

Ranked them by achievements,

Taught law, but lived lawless,

But what ya saw, it was flawless.

Closed doors hid the sin,

Justified by the many men,

Sufferers with deceptive grins,

Who had participated in the same wrong,

Filling the heart with things that don’t belong.

Images on a screen, actions that hurt,

Would be obscene, if others saw the dirt,

So pride-laced perfectionism,

Hid the inner darkness,

When there was a need for exorcism,

To remove the sinners’ carcass.

 

Egocentrically addicted to self,

Couldn’t pause to take it off the shelf,

The book of Life, the book of Truth,

Had it memorized, but preferred a tooth for a tooth,

The reality of this situation,

Was a heart that desired retaliation,

Rarely satisfied with others’ joys,

Often envious of their many toys,

Desired the spotlight, center-stage,

When others had it, inner-rage,

Consumed him with poisonous resentment,

His heart didn’t know what content meant.

 

Friends prayed and his mother cried,

She wished away would go his pride.

Jealousy over others successes,

And their girlfriends in their pretty dresses.

 

The truth is that I could go on and on,

But I already have, you’d like to turn me off.

So listen to me now, in this dawn,

Sunlight rises, while the darkness scoffs.

 

The man that lies here, under the tree,

That man is actually the old me…”

 

O but let freedom ring,

Light overwhelms, hearts sing!

Praise be to Him who saved

This sinner, O so depraved!

I was dead, now buried, resurrected,

Joyfully living a new life, He’s perfectin’!

 

Now grab a shovel, help me bury the old,

There we go, now he’s gone to dust!

Anoint the new creation, pray I’d be bold,

Remind me that it is He I trust!

 

Now dance, sing, praise!

Joyful songs rise from these graves!

 

Who else now shall we bury?

Who else now shall die?

Who else now shall be a rarity?

Who else now shall no longer try?

Who else now shall live by the Spirit?

Who else now shall overcome?

Who else now shall share it?

Who else now shall no longer run?

 

Those funerals I shall be attending;

Authentic men and women that have stopped pretending.

No longer worried if they’re trending,

Living solely for the One who’s mending

Their hearts and souls and sending

Them to represent The Ascending,

King of Kings, LORD of Lords, Beginning!

This poem now has reached its’ ending.

A “Fearless” Conclusion

Today, I finished reading Max Lucado’s book, “Fearless”. First of all, I highly recommend his book to absolutely anyone. It has surely opened my eyes to the incredible amount of fear in our world and renewed my mind according to God’s will, regarding what it is that I should fear, and what it is that I should not. If you are interested at all in what I pondered this afternoon, as I began to draw a few conclusions from what I had read and what I felt God was attempting to teach me, then I encourage you to take a few minutes to read the following journal entry that I ended up writing as a result…

Fear has a way of setting the world on fire; men and women hungrily eat up tidbits of dreadful news through every avenue of media they can. I’ve witnessed this with motherly figures in my life. Women that have positions in which they have nurtured and matured me throughout the years and whom I certainly love. They watch hours of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dateline, 20/20, and other shows that will remind them of the dangers of the world. It’s like a sick addiction where scary news must be read, shared with others, and fret over, while good news is quickly forgotten.

Forgetting seems to be a common issue that Christians deal with. God constantly reminds us to remember throughout the course of Scripture. Ministry leaders must remind us frequently that God is still there and He still cares. Christians, we have to remember. If we forget who our God is, then who will tell this broken and depraved world that there is indeed someone who can save them!?!?! God is here! Our Savior has come and will surely be coming back.

The old idiom, “you are what you eat,” can be taken quite literally. We will become whatever it is that we fill ourselves up with. If you feed on the fear that media wants to feed you, then you will be fearful. If you read magazines that tell you to worry about the shape and size of your body, then you will care far too much about your looks and potentially become critical of others. If you sip from the sex-crazed goblet of romance novels, pornography, and sensuality in general, then you will indeed become a sexually immoral being.

What if we began to fill ourselves up with the words of God? He says to us, “Be strong and courageous”, “do not fear”, and reminds us that we have “not yet resisted sin to the point of shedding blood”. If you want the world to change, then change it; one broken heart at a time…starting with yours. Yes, even your heart needs healing and indeed our minds need to be renewed. If you fill yourselves up with God’s Word and His Spirit, then you will surely become more and more Christ-like each day and the people in your life NEED Jesus’ love. Let’s face it, you and I are not capable of loving others to the degree that they need to be loved, especially if we are not filling our cups to overflowing with His gracious, perfect, and merciful love on a daily basis.

Ready for the bottom line? God is God. If one truly reveres (respectfully fears) God, then all other fears cease and courage is born. Max Lucado stated, “Courage is fear that has said its’ prayers.” How incredibly true! “When God is fully revealed to us and we ‘get it’, then we experience the conversion of our fear…’Fear of the Lord’ is the deeply sane recognition that we are not God.” At the bottom of the same page, Lucado writes, “A big God translates into big courage. A small view of God generates no courage.”

Imagine a country filled with men that actually feared God…Imagine what they would be capable of under the direction of the Holy Spirit…Imagine how much your life would differ if you concluded to live a life that is free from the fears of this world, but maintained a healthy dose of the sobering fear of the LORD. Imagine…how friendships would be deepened, marriages restored, families brought together, nations united. The imagination is a powerful tool and a beautiful gift that God has given us. Anyone tired of simply imagining? Who is ready to make their wildest, Christ-centered dreams a reality?

It would appear that Max Lucado shares my love for coffee, as at the end of his chapter, “Caffeinated Life”, he writes, “Eternal glory. I’d like a large cup, please. ‘One venti-sized serving of endless joy in the presence of God. Go heavy on the wonder, and cut all the heartache.’ Go ahead and request it. The Barista is still brewing. For all you know, it could be the next cup you drink.” Christians, it is time to walk away from the paralysis of fear. It is time to truly live. “Real courage embraces the twin realities of current difficulty and ultimate triumph. Yes, life stinks. But it won’t forever. As one of my friends likes to say, “Everything will work out in the end. If it’s not working out, it’s not the end.” (Max Lucado) Lay down your pride, O Christian, fall on your face before the LORD, admit that you are not adequate for the task as your forefathers have (even Jesus relied on prayer, do you think yourselves to be more capable than He?), ask Him for His blessing, and when He touches you, lifts you up, and instructs you to live according to His purpose, free from fear…then do just that. Live obediently.

Continuing the Fight,

Justin

White

All is white. In fact, you’ve never quite seen anything like it before…such simple, pure, white; everywhere. Eerily, every nerve within is steady and calm, as if you were laying on the beach without a care in the world; laying under the warm rays of the sun with no regard for time or any of life’s inconvenient limitations. That’s when it hits…the pain.

“Where am I?”

“What has happened?”

Questions begin to fog your mind and the world around you becomes a dull, blurry, grey and the pain…it’s intensifying. Just as quickly as the warm and blissful state surrounded you, it’s gone. “Is that a campfire?”-you ask yourself as the smell of smoke enters the nostrils. “No, that’s definitely not…”-another sniff reveals the distasteful smell of burnt-hair. Now you’re starting to freak out…

The pain is back…worse than before. There’s throbbing, aching…possible puncture wounds? “Why can’t I breathe well?” Your sight is improving and things are starting to come into focus. There’s bright flickering lights, the source of intense heat…there’s flames. Lots of flames; fire. Looking down towards your legs, you realize the source of the majority of the pain without your body; shattered glass is absolutely everywhere, having entered your body in many areas. Blood drips down your legs and arms from the cuts that have been acquired.

Thundering sets of footsteps break the terrifying crescendo of your thoughts. “Sir! Are you alright?” You try to speak, but you can’t; the smoke has choked your lungs and you’re in too much pain but you moan the best response possible.

“I think he’s alive!”

“Sir, you’ve experienced a terrible accident! Please don’t make any sudden movements. We’re going to pull you out from under the vehicle before we’re all engulfed in flames.”

Strong hands grab hold of your feet and begin to pull. The force brings about far too much pain and as you try to shout out in pain, the ability to breathe is gone again…Blinking lights and the sounds of frantic voices fade in the distance…then just as before, all goes white.

(End of Story)

The Explanation:

You and I are NOT promised tomorrow. We simply aren’t. Growing up within the evangelical church, I’ve been exposed to Scripture the majority of my life, and never once, have I come across a verse that states, “You, my child, will be alive tomorrow.” We’re not afforded that luxury. All it could take is falling asleep at the wheel, an allergic reaction, angering the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time, stepping into oncoming traffic, etc. There are many various forms of accidents that can occur without warning; daily. The question then must asked…

If you were to die tonight, what would happen? (I’d go to Heaven…) Are you 100% certain?

How often is it that our faith is called into question? Not very often. People shy away from it and preach from a standpoint of wanting to gloss over things and present a sweet, acceptable, gospel. I know of no such thing. Don’t get me wrong, God’s love is sweeter than any honey and infinitely more satisfying than any sin one could put in its’ place. However, the real gospel is often found to be too bold for the society we live in, because it does NOT warrant the salvation of everyone.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

Only a few will enter the Kingdom of God. Will you be part of the few?

Once again, I’ve presented you with far more questions than answers, however it is essential that the Holy Spirit begins the work within your heart and develops a curiosity and hunger within you for knowledge of Jesus Christ. Without Him, you are hopeless, like sheep without a shepherd. The solemn reality is that if you die without knowing Him…the wrath of God will be upon you. At that point, there’s no escape. I urge and plead with you to consider these things! Find a friend to talk to, a pastor to guide you, but most importantly, seek the Lord!!! Run to Him without regard to anything else; it all pales in comparison to the importance of that one, single, life-sustaining relationship with Christ as your Savior.

Then, when you die…the white you will see will be the overwhelming, radiant, beautiful white of the King of King’s robes and garments which are far purer than snow. More magnificent than the bright slopes of any mountain-range; all will be white again.

 

4.6 Billion

Did the title grab your attention? That is a massive number with a lot of zeros. Written out it looks like this: 4,600,000,000. So what are we discussing here? The value of an international corporation? The net worth of a celebrity?

Actually, 4.6 Billion is a generous estimate of the number of people globally whom do not profess Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior. 4,600,000,000 have the potential to die tomorrow having never had a personal relationship with God. 4.6 Billion.

“Okay, okay Justin we get it.”

Do you?

These 4.6 Billion people are heading into Judgement Day with no hope of being redeemed from the fiery furnace of Hell’s torment if nothing changes. What are you going to do about it? Better yet, what am I going to do about it?

Aside from attending church on a fairly regular basis, giving our offering, and participating in the occasional service-project many of us do nothing else to facilitate bringing others into the Kingdom of God. How are people outside of the church supposed to learn about Jesus and the way that He can radically transform their lives if we are not going to them and living life alongside many of them. I’m currently reading “Radical” by David Platt and it is really challenging my thought-process when it comes to the way that America does church and the way that I’ve grown up as a part of that church. The bottom line is…SOMETHING needs to be done.

We cannot afford to stand on the side-lines any longer as our brothers and sisters here in America and in countries across the globe are suffering in poverty. Knowing that members of my family, friends, classmates, and coworkers have the potential to die tomorrow without ever having known the redemptive power of the Cross makes me shudder. These are people who God has placed in our lives for a REASON. If you and I don’t do something to reach out to them, to show them Christ’s unconditional love, grace, and mercy, then who will?!?! The sad reality is that likely…the answer is…no one.

So, the question still poses itself, what are you and I going to do about it? For starters, I’m going to begin praying fervently that the Lord would change my heart and give me a greater desire to serve and give up my life for others as He has already done for me. I’m well-aware that my heart is certainly not in that spot right now and I would be lying incessantly to tell you otherwise. But it can’t stop there…

While prayer is ESSENTIAL and we can do nothing apart from the work of God within us and for us through His own Sovereignty, it does require some sort of ACTION on our part. We NEED to GO! Jesus Christ has SENT US to MAKE DISCIPLES of ALL NATIONS. As of right now I’m going back to Kansas State University to complete my Bachelors of Science in Communication Studies. However, I’m becoming more and more aware that if my life has truly been crucified with Christ and I’m going to serve Him in faith always (Gal 2:20), then it is very possible that I could be called anywhere at anytime.

And He WILL call me. He will call YOU (yes…even you) as well. The question then becomes…will you answer that call? Another reality is that we are ALL CALLED. There are BILLIONS of souls crying out in desperation for someone to bring them to LIFE. Because as of right now, they’re dead. You may see a living, healthy individual, but the reality is that within them, the cold frost of death is choking their souls.

Family of God, what are you going to do?

Are you aware of the sense of urgency we MUST have?

I know that I’ve placed more questions on the table than answers, but as of recently, this is what has been placed on my heart. And while it is still in the beginning stages and I’m weary of posting something so challenging while not being totally steadfast and firm in it myself, I believe God has called me to share…and so I have. Praying for you!

From Death to Life

Look out the window and it’s raining,

The stress of family and work is so draining.

 

If only, outside it was sunny

And the bank account had money.

But living life in debt

Is something you’ve learned to accept.

 

If only you had a companion,

But once again, you’re abandoned.

 

Tired of the world’s kick to the curb,

You’ve placed a sign on your heart saying, “DO NOT DISTURB!”

 

Then comes something that shakes your foundation,

It starts messing with your heart’s situation.

Your heart is calmed and spirit hydrated

Suddenly you have a reason to celebrate and…

 

The hopeless life you were once livin’

Became joy-filled and purpose driven.

 

Your broken pieces picked up from the dust,

Someone’s placing them back together you trust.

 

Yesterday you were weak,

Today you’re made strong!

Once your heart leaked

But now you belong!

 

This can’t be true; it’s a lie

So much wrong done; you still cry…

But it’s no fair-tale or fiction

You’re FREE; no restrictions.

 

Who is the one that’s redeemed

Your life from the hell in which you screamed?

 

What gave your heart clarity

Now you’re promised prosperity?!?!

 

The one you’ve met has many names

He’s the one who fulfills these claims.

His mighty hand restores!

From his cup, unconditional love pours.

 

Reminds you constantly; “Here I am!”

Welcome to the Kingdom of the Great I AM!