Hope and Joy in the midst of Death

IMG_2167Death hurts.  It’s not easy, even when it’s expected.  Someone you love and have spent part or all of your life with is suddenly no longer here.  You still have them in your phone, their house with all of their furniture, clothing, and food is still there, but they are not.  It’s a tough thing to wrap a finite mind around and accept – and find hope and joy in the midst of.

My grandma died last night.  She was 89 years old, lived a very long life, but in the end suffered through some things that her body could no longer handle.  A piece of my childhood, upbringing, my life is just no longer existing on this earth.  She loved me and her entire family so deeply, and it’s a love that I will dearly miss. I stared at her dead body in my family’s living room for a long time last night, trying to force feed the concept that the structure in front of me had just days prior offered loving words and hugs.  Standing there looking at this, I couldn’t help but refer my heart and mind to the cross of Christ as I ponder life, death, and eternity.

Death is an inescapable part of life, and it’s rarely something we budget into our life’s schedule, or even talk about for that matter.  Think or speak of it or not, we all will one day come face to face with the very thing we tend to fear most.  Humanity is enslaved by the fear of death, doing EVERYTHING possible with our lives to deny, deny, deny the truth of mortality.  Even when a friend of ours loses someone, we will murmur a “my condolences and prayers” but still not allow the gravity of death to pierce our minds.  Why do we do this?  I think it’s to avoid the implications of facing it, what it demands from our lives, now.  I also think we don’t know how, and are fearful to approach it.

It must arrest my attention. It must rip me out of my subconscious belief that I’m invincible, where I push my own death completely out of my mind. In my period of mourning, I can not deny that I will one day die.  Through disease, an accident, or old age, I will leave this world and enter another. It must concern me of what happens in and after that transition.  Once I can swallow that pill, I can move on to, “So I’m going to die.  Now what?”

It’s scary at first glance… but exciting at second.

When looking to God’s word, death is both displayed as something Christ had to conquer on the cross so that the evil of my depravity and sin could be forgiven, but it’s also presented to us as something that is “gain.”  I don’t need to be convinced of the wickedness of death, but how is this thing something that benefits those of us who call Jesus “King” and “Savior?”

Paul says in Philippians that if he dies, he is glad and he rejoices, and even goes on to tell his readers (2:18) that they should rejoice with him!!  EXCUSE ME are you on drugs bro?? A verse earlier, he tells them why he rejoices at the possibility of dying – “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (1:23).  Here we have the partakers of sorrow on both ends (the dying and the griever) comforted and even invited to celebrate in earthly death as it is the conduit to “be with Christ,” which he says that in comparison to being here, it’s “far better.”

This is the reason other scriptures taunt death, saying “where is your victory, where is your sting” (1 Cor 15:55).  This is why historically recorded martyrs JOYFULLY threw themselves at the stake.  If we truly believe that God is as beautiful, and magnificent, and glorious as He says He is, we can’t wait to get to heaven and be with Him!  I can stare the grim reaper in the eye and laugh, knowing that he can’t take A THING from me except this petty life – which is standing in between me and being with the lover of my soul.  Death does not have the final word.  Death may want to defeat us, but little does it know that for those of us chosen by Him, we invite it for the joy that awaits us on the other side.  Death fears us when we look upon it as a blessing that leads us to true life.  What Mr. Mayhem thinks he takes, he actually is only replacing with something that is incalculably greater.

This is the hope in death.  We can not lose.

In one moment, a life of declaring “Christ alone is more than enough for me” is put to the test.  You enter the afterlife with NOTHING you gained on earth, except the most valuable treasure you could never deserve or earn on your own – entrance granted into forever fellowship, presence, and worship of beautiful, glorious God.  When I stop denying what denial will not prevent or postpone, I am freed from the slavery of fear of death.  I can be EXCITED for the earth/heaven transition for me and the people I love.  I am able to have hope because the person that I love no longer suffers pain, but much more than that, they are in paradise with the lover of their and my soul. My grandma’s life was submitted to Christ, so this commissioning is a great thing, and even a thing to celebrate.  Had she not, this would be a time much more sorrowful than it already is.

For the grieving: there is hope and joy. Much like being happy for someone you love when they get married or get a job promotion, we can have joy for our loved ones that loved Christ knowing that they are in the place we all long to be.  But don’t miss or waste the mourning process.  Let it pierce you.  Let it bring you to your knees and stir your thoughts to ponder eternity.  Let it correct the direction of your life if it is not honoring God.  Death and loss are meaningless if they don’t bring us to the cross.

For the dying: there is hope and joy.  My own body is quickly fading.  I’m one day closer to my death than I was yesterday.  Death is only the gateway, and the best is yet to come.  There will be no more sin in us.  We will be relieved of the pain of this world.  We will finally be able to cure our homesickness for God.  We will be with Christ.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  …having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is, very much, better.”  – Paul

Mike Arnold

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Abandoning Promises God Never Made

10514397_10202611701790847_87989868010338039_o“Because of the price He paid, we have a right to live in total victory.  Not partial victory, to where we struggle in our finances and relationships, or in our health. That’s not total victory. We are a child of the most high God.  He has paid a price so that we can be totally free from poverty and lack.  He didn’t create you to be average.  He didn’t create you to barely get by.  He created you to have divine health, to be prosperous in your relationships, to have money to pay your bills.  Whatever you touch is going to prosper and succeed.” – Joel Osteen

And they call this the good news of Jesus Christ.


it sounds so good

Writers, speakers, and teachers like Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer, Andrew Wommack, Myles Munroe and countless others that you’ll see on “Christian television” teach different things, but all in line with the same theme – God promises his children physical health, material wealth, and worldly prosperity.  They teach that you are of a royal bloodline, and royalty doesn’t live in poverty.  Royalty doesn’t suffer ailments.  If you follow Christ, riches await you.  With book titles like “Your Best Life Now” and “God Wants You Well,” they pack their churches and make their way to “NY Times Best Seller” lists, teaching people that if they have lack, it is because they do not have enough faith, do not have a “royal mindset,” or are not “expecting what you have coming to you.”  Things like “If someone were to say ‘I don’t need more money’ I would say you have a poor outlook on life” (Brian Houston) are said during “sermons” to essentially persuade an already greedy and lustful culture that they need more… and that it’s God’s will that you get it.

They believe and teach that prosperity, health and success are part of the gospel. That when Christ died, He did so to redeem us from the curse of poverty, sickness, and disease, a curse for us breaking the law. Through that “gospel,” we are free from poverty and sickness just as we are free from sin. Through that “gospel,” restored fellowship with God means access to the abundant provision of earthly life from our Father in heaven. That “gospel” is therefore about freedom from lack, sickness and distress. Sin is the root cause of all these problems, and when Jesus took care of sin on the cross of Calvary, He took care of these problems too.  If we don’t claim our healing, our prosperity, what did He die for? We are taught to name and claim, and even demand earthly goods in many forms from God, to “partner with him” to pursue riches.

This is their motivator to become a Christ-follower/fill their pockets with your money. Few messages in existence today are as anti-Christ, and wicked as this.

It is a tragedy to elevate gifts above the gift-giver.  It is a tragedy to “gain the world but lose your soul” (Mark 8:36).  It is a tragedy to treasure life above Christ.  In my Bible, right before 1 Timothy 6:6-10, there is a title with larger text that reads: “False Teachers and True Contentment,” then follows with verses that pinpoint today’s prosperity teachers.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of <physical goods/health/success> is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”  They are encouraging a wandering AWAY from Christ, they are leading many to lose their soul.

Just so we’re clear on what’s communicated here, the good, model Christian has it all together.  You’ll have money to pay your bills, prosperous relationships, and good health.  And anything less is “not living in total victory (provided by the cross),” brought about by your own lack of faith.  Lack and poverty and infirmity is brought about by sin.
What a perversion!!  Not only have we completely cast aside the Gospel of Salvation, but we’ve diminished it’s value by placing the focus of our pursuit on ourselves. We have shifted from making Christ the center of all things and crying out “Your will be done,” to making our wants and needs the center of all things, sneering “My will be done.”  We’ve created a theology where God must tend to our every beckon call and give us everything we need to survive, and survive materially abundantly.  Myles Munroe teaches that God can not make a move on earth unless he has first received permission from us.  Who, then, is really God???

We chase accomplishment, we chase success, we strive to achieve a worldly light at the end of a worldly tunnel.  We slave to feel like we deserve something.  We do this also with God.  We feel that since we are His, He will treat us like kings on earth.  We feel like since God is so great and so loving, he will give us every little thing our heart desires.  He owes us something.  In chasing after all of this CRAP, our positive and negative mood is dictated by whether we’ve got what “is rightfully ours.”

We’ve made Christ a whore.

We want goods out of him more than we want just him.  We crave and demand blessings and power from him, playing the audacious role of God’s taskmaster.  Like a child not getting his way, we shake our fists in anger at the one person that can “change our bad situation in the blink of an eye.” Instead of loving WHO HE IS for WHO HE IS, we worship what he’s capable of.

Whether it comes from a billboard, a book, or heaven forbid, church, the self-serving appeal is the same across the board, it’s just packaged in a thousand different ways.  It tickles your ears and sounds great… if your scripture-starved soul throws no red flags.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised?  Maybe we should come to expect a message that draws a picture of God existing for our sake out of a culture that keeps coming up with ways to say “I deserve.”  We lust after much, and to avoid the guilt that comes from lust, we create entitlement out of thin air so that we can feel we’ve done justice by serving ourselves.  We’re consistently enslaved by our wants, leave no desire unsatisfied, and create a pretty crafty system to justify it.  We’ve trained ourselves to believe that we are owed something, that we have earned something.  And of course, we hear the above listed teachers preaching from their books “Have Your Best Life Now” or “Create The Life You Want,” which conveys the message that the pursuit of Christianity is literally no different than the pursuit of the rest of the world – we have nothing better to offer, Christ ISN’T enough.

Christians, we’ve bought into and adopted a self-centered gospel, putting words in God’s mouth to validate a sufferless life.


the truth

On the flip side, the true gospel, or “good news” of Christ is that he lived a life and died a death of hardship to take away every burden of sin that we’ve ever had and ever will have.  He was hated, despised, rejected, poor, died a horrific death to redeem us from the eternal penalty of our sin.  If he had not, we would be rightfully deserving a permanent residence in hell.  Are we entitled to our “best life now” in the way these wolves think “best” is as a result of the cross?  We HAVE received our reward for his suffering, it is wonderful, glorious, beautiful salvation from the thing we actually DO deserve and are entitled to – the fruit of sin, or in other words, eternal laps in a lake of fire.

He tells us in John 15:20 that “a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”  If the very life of Christ was not a wealthy, or prosperous one, how do we feel that we are entitled to one?  In Matthew 16, He tells his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  What does this mean to “take up your cross?”  That’s a gruesome statement, considering the gore and horror of the act of crucifixion. This means that you die to yourself (Phil 1:21), you literally put ALL of your own desires to death, even if the cost is death itself.  Your desire to have the ability to pay your bills, to send your kids to college, to have a wife one day, to live long and healthy are included in “ALL of your own desires.”  Luke 14:26 says that compared to the love and devotion you have to Christ, to be His disciple you must hate your own “father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, even your own life.”  Outside of the guideline for Christ-followership, the Bible tells us SO much about the suffering and pain we will endure as His disciples, and the everlasting JOY that comes from these sufferings:

  • “Count it all JOY, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4
  • “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 10:11

WHY are we rejoicing in our suffering?  Read my blog, “The Purpose Behind Life Sucking” for the reason in full, but in short, it is a tool God uses to get our attention and to accomplish His purposes in our lives in a way that would never occur without the trial or irritation.  Christianity is not a focus group about how to avoid life’s wounds.  In fact, trailing in his footsteps will cost you your very life you’ve been trained to hold dear, enrich, and extend.  “God loves us best by giving us the best to enjoy forever, namely himself, for he is best.  No thing can satisfy the soul.  The soul was made to stand in awe of a person – the only person worthy of awe.” – John Piper.  You have been taught there is bondage in lack and poverty and God wants to free you from that… the truth is that there is bondage in addictive self seeking/serving that God wants to free us from so we can be free to find our supreme joy in him and him ALONE.


context and culture

No, this isn’t a spam advertisement, to illustrate the following point, PLEASEEEE watch this hilarious “Obama Hates Americans” video.


The Bible is not a handbook for how to enhance your checkbook or get out of debt.  It’s not a binder of equations on how much faith is required to demand your healing.  We must look at scripture contextually, that is: When was this written?  Who wrote it?  To whom was it written?  What culture was it written in?  When we don’t, we see blurps of text, like in the video above, that look like it might mean something.. we pick and pull from different conversations in scripture to formulate a message that supports OUR own claims, validates OUR lusts.

We frankenstein together a godless theology, and it’s just as ugly.

You will often see pieces of scripture thrown out as a way of telling you that God wants you to obtain earthly treasure.

  • “You do not have because you do not ask,” for example: James 4:2 is not suggesting the reason you don’t have what you want is because you haven’t asked God for it, or haven’t asked enough, as many would have you believe.  This verse means something completely different when re-inserted back into it’s proper context.  This interpretation completely ignores what precedes it in scripture: Christians fighting over quarrels caused by desires.  Directly after, James states you do not receive after asking because you ask wrongly to spend what you’re asking for on your own passions.   He calls us adulterous!  You won’t find that verse’s abusers reading that part.  Creflo Dollar says this of prayer: “When we pray, believing that we have already received what we are praying, God has no choice but to make our prayers come to pass.”  This whole theme goes against the very prayer Christ prayed the night before he was crucified – “Yet not my will, but yours be done,” Luke 22:42.  You CAN NOT twist the arm of God, no matter how much you pray, no matter how much faith you can muster.
  • Another is John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  Extremely common verse used by prosperity teachers.  Completely removed from it’s context, these people suggest this means that God wants his followers to have every good physical thing.  The correct context of the verse illustrates the parable of the sheep and good shepherd who calls them by name.  The “have it to the full” has to do with knowing and being known by Jesus.  Has NOTHING to do with physical things. The Tyndale Commentary explains, “He does not offer them an extension of physical life nor an increase of material possessions, but the possibility, nay the certainty, of a life lived as a higher level of obedience to God’s will and reflecting his glory.”

Aside from prosperity (false) teachers, contemporary Christians have so many expectancies they’ve picked up through years of being a spoiled American.  We feel the “promises of God” include everything from a future spouse, to a place to sleep, to an American utopia where we will always be free to worship.  The next time you feel yourself expectant of something you feel God owes you, immediately ask yourself “Where did I come up with this?”  If it’s from your loving mother, a persuasive youth pastor, and NOT scripture, cast that crap aside or ask, “Could you scripture-verse that for me, bro?”  Every good thing comes from above, but “above” does not automatically offer you “every good thing” like we might think.

Our salvation is what is guaranteed if we are a follower of Christ.  Anything more is a bonus that we most certainly should thank Him for, but it’s demand should never come from our lips.  To be clear, Christ IS enough.  Christ is MORE than enough.  And I don’t mean that in some sort of metaphorical, generic, cliche sense.  I mean that if you are suddenly Hellen Keller’ed, there is still a reason to rejoice.  If you are a tortured prisoner of war until the day you die with no hope of escape, there is still a reason to hope.  Let THAT message be the message our lives are marked by.

God never promised us a spouse, like many well-intending Christians would tell you, “God’s got someone planned for you.”  Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, either way, Christ is sufficient.
God never promised us health.  It is fundamentally illogical to consider this, as death is certain for all of us, and death rarely comes about in a humanly healthy way.  Maybe we’re healthy, maybe we’re sick, either way, Christ is sufficient.
God never promised us ANY kind of earthly prosperity.  He promised we would prosper in our hearts, free from the prison of guilt and shame that died with him on the cross.  Maybe we’re well off, maybe we’re starving, either way, Christ is sufficient.
God never promised he would give us everything we need to survive.  He promised he would give us everything we need to enjoy him forever.  Maybe we live, maybe we die, either way, Christ is sufficient.

While we see this situation as Christ over the pleasures of the world, or the world over Christ, or in other words, trying to balance the weight of desire and struggling to making the Christ side heavier, God doesn’t even see a scale.  He tells us “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4) meaning it’s one or the other.  He says the scale doesn’t exist, or throw away the scale and pick one.  “It’s me or humanity” in other words.  Don’t get me wrong: a prosperous life is not a sinful life.  But the second it becomes a pursuit is the second we fail.  When our life is marked by success chasing instead of eternal investment, we have wasted our life.


The greatest ministry tool our lives can show is joy in the pain, not treasure pleasure.

If I truly find my utmost joy in Christ alone and value him above life and death itself, what will stand in the way of that joy?  My success or failure?  My riches or poverty?  My sustained or declined health? A happy marriage and family or dying alone as a single man?  We find our unfaltering joy in what we value most.  If I am downcast because my company is not doing so hot, I value it above Christ.  If I am pissed off because someone just ripped off my Harley, I value it above Christ.  If I am found depressed because I’m not yet married and everyone around me is, and is already having kids, I value those things above Christ.  Anything less than placing Christ above all else – including your very health and well being, and the health and well being of those you love most – is idolatry.  Are you prepared to lay down ANYTHING?  Are you prepared to count the cost of following Christ?

Certainly,

  • We are ASSURED of hardship.
    “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).
  • We are ASSURED of the wages of self-sought living.
    “For those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury” (Romans 2:8).
  • But we are ASSURED of suffering’s profit.
    “We REJOICE in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5.

Mike Arnold

As an additional resource, please take the time to watch this video by John Piper: