What to Say When a Jehovah’s Witness Knocks on Your Door

JW door(My wife took this picture of our interaction to remember to pray for them)

The doorbell rang on Saturday morning. As I walked to the door, my two middle daughters (ages 3 and 6) scampered along with me. As I opened the door, there were two females. One was in her mid to late forties, while the other was just starting her teen years. I knew exactly who they were the moment I locked eyes with them: Jehovah’s Witnesses!

Over the years, I have been approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses many different times. It was always groups of two or three people, usually an older person along with someone who was learning how to go “door to door” and reach the world for Jehovah. Before I opened my mouth, I prayed silently that this would be a moment for these two women that would change their eternal destiny.

“You’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, aren’t you?” This is how our conversation started. They did not know that they had knocked on the door of a pastor who had actually taught about their form of religion in a class called “Cults and other World Religions.” I was ready to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).

Many people wonder whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians. The answer is a definite “no” when you ask them what they believe about basic, orthodox Christianity. Jehovah’s Witnesses and traditional, historical Christianity do not have much in common when you look at what is taught by each side. In this article, I am going to give you a few main topics to talk with Jehovah’s Witnesses about so that when you are approached by a JW, you will be comfortable interacting with them. You should burn with a desire for them to see the truth of the Bible so that they realize what they believe is not only false, but will send them to hell.

Jehovah’s Witnesses will probably bring up all of these topics in the course of your conversation. Here is how I answered them from a biblical perspective. Please read through all four. The last one is the most important and has really shaken them to their core. Topic #4 is worth the entire read in this article. But all of these topics will come up with a JW if you talk long enough with them.

Topic #1: Who exactly is Jehovah?

JW cross

Jehovah’s Witness: We believe in Jehovah and only He is God.

Christian’s Response: I also believe in Jehovah (Yahweh), but I believe that Jesus and Jehovah are the same God. Let’s look at these verses that prove that Jesus is fully God:

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

Jesus even said that “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58).

“In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word [logos] was with God, and the Word [logos] was God” (John 1:1).

You will have a hard time convincing a Jehovah’s Witness with the verse in John 1:1 because their leadership has translated it “the Word was a god.” But this is an inappropriate translation. If you talk with any Greek scholar, you will find that one should never place an “a” before the word god in this context. As you can see, this is why it is difficult to really talk through truth with someone who has been misinformed about the Bible.

A response you will probably hear from a Jehovah’s Witness when you try to tell them that Jesus is God is this verse:

Jesus stated himself that “the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28).

Does this mean that Jesus is denying His godhood? No, it doesn’t. You cannot use just one verse to try to prove your point. That is why I presented several verses a few paragraphs above. But the lady that Saturday morning just kept repeating this one verse. She was taught this one verse and apparently none of the other ones. And too often, we forget to look at the context of the verse that becomes a proof text. In this context, Jesus is promising the Holy Spirit to the apostles after the resurrection. Jesus says repeatedly that He is doing the Father’s will, implying that He is somehow subservient to the Father. The question then becomes how can Jesus be equal to God when by His own admission He is subservient to the will of God? The answer lies within the nature of the incarnation (i.e. when Jesus became man and came to this earth).

During the incarnation, Jesus was temporarily “made lower than the angels” (Hebrews 2:9), which refers to Jesus’ status. The doctrine of the incarnation says that Jesus took on human flesh. By taking on human nature, Jesus didn’t relinquish His divine nature. How do we reconcile the fact that the second Person (Jesus) of the Trinity is fully divine yet fully human and by definition lower than the angels? The answer is found in Philippians 2:5-11. When Jesus took on human form, something amazing and mysterious happened: “Christ made Himself nothing.” What does this mean? Jesus voluntarily made Himself different as He was on this earth. Somehow, someway, Jesus gave some things up to become a servant unto death on the cross. This “emptying” included following the will of His Father in heaven. And remember, subservience in role does not equate to subservience in essence.

You will most likely talk through this topic most of the time. You believe that Jesus is God, but they deny that Jesus is fully God. This is why topic #4 will put all of this together! Read the others first.

Topic #2: The Trinity

JW trinity

Jehovah’s Witness: We believe in one God called Jehovah and you believe in three gods.

Christian’s Response: I believe in the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit. All three persons are one God. They are mysteriously separate and yet one at the same time. Let’s look at these verses which teach the Trinity:

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).

Thomas said to Him [Jesus], “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)!

“You’ve lied to the Holy Spirit…You’ve not lied just to human beings but to God” (Acts 5:3-4).

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor [Holy Spirit; John 14:26], Mighty God, Everlasting Father [Father; 14:16], Prince of Peace [Jesus; John 14:27]” (Isaiah 9:6).

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:14).

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).

Jesus states that He is of the same essence of His heavenly Father. When Thomas saw the resurrected Jesus, he cried out that Jesus was now his God. And we see in the book of Acts that the Holy Spirit can be lied to and there is a direct reference to the Holy Spirit being referred to as God.

These last two verses don’t say the word Trinity, but they do present three distinct persons in the form of God. These first two topics connect with each other and one must accept the deity of Jesus before they will accept the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity can really trip up many people who want to believe. As Christians, we must be humble about this and state clearly that the Trinity is a mystery that we must accept in faith. There is biblical evidence, but we do not know exactly how it all works.

Topic #3: The 144,000

JW paradise

Jehovah’s Witness: We believe that only 144,000 believers will go to heaven. The rest of us will stay here on paradise earth.

Christian’s Response: It appears that the 144,000 in Revelation 7 are referring to actual tribes of Israel. Each of the tribes represents 12,000, possibly hinting towards the idea that this number is symbolic and that during the Great Tribulation God will save a large number of Jews who rejected Jesus earlier in their life. There also seems to be another group of people who are believers and this multitude cannot even be counted (Revelation 7:9). To say that there are only 144,000 individuals going to heaven totally disregards the rules of biblical interpretation.

I would like to talk about your three main leaders and their false prophecies. Here are four examples:

False Prophesy #1: The return of Jesus Christ in 1914. Charles T. Russell, the man who founded the Jehovah’s Witnesses, calculated when Jesus Christ was going to return to this earth: 1874. When Jesus didn’t show up, he changed the year to 1914. When 1914 came and went, he redefined the second coming of Jesus to mean that Jesus came invisibly as a spirit in 1914 to help set up his organization.

False Prophesy #2: Return of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob between 1925-1929. Joseph Franklin Rutherford, the second main leader of Jehovah’s Witnesses, prophesied that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would return to this earth to promote the kingdom of God between 1925-1929. He built a large mansion in San Diego for these three patriarchs to live in when they arrived. But by the end of 1929, they never showed up, so Rutherford moved into the mansion himself and lived there until he died in 1942.

False Prophesy #3: The 144,000. After Rutherford became president of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1917, he started prophesying that Armageddon was right around the corner. To increase membership, he taught that only 144,000 people were going to make it to heaven. By 1935 they grew larger than 144,000 people. Heaven was filled and Armageddon had yet to occur. Another revelation came to Rutherford: everyone who became a Jehovah’s Witness before 1935 would go to heaven, while everyone who became a Jehovah’s Witness after 1935 would stay here on earth and live in a new paradise.

False Prophesy #4: Armageddon is coming in 1975. Nathan H. Knorr, the third main leader, prophesied that in 1975 Armageddon would come to usher in the end of the age. In 1976 and 1977 over one million Jehovah’s Witnesses left the organization because of this false prophecy.

The first three leaders of the Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization were all false prophets. This would be like having Paul, John and Peter give specific predictions in the early church and none of them are fulfilled. It would dishearten all the followers to the point of asking: “Is this really the right way to God and heaven?” If your main leaders have falsely predicted future events that have not come to pass, then how can you trust them with other teachings? Try your best to help them see that their own leaders are deceiving them. It will feel like it is impossible, but you have God on your side who wants these wonderful people to see the light so that they will no longer be led astray by falsehood.

Topic #4: The Book of Revelation

Christian: Can I show you a few verses in the book of Revelation?

Jehovah’s Witness: Sure, I love that book!

After talking through the first three topics, I felt like it was time to use a few verses in Revelation. I knew that this would make these two ladies run from my house, but it was time to present to them some powerful truth about Jesus. I asked the forty-something lady to turn in her Bible to Revelation 1:8. I always use their New World Translation because they will be much more comfortable with that. I even asked her to read it:

JW alpha omega“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I asked her who was speaking. Who is the Alpha and Omega? She responded with a resounding, “Jehovah God.” I told her that she was right and I asked her to turn to Revelation 21:5-7.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

“Who is this?” I asked. Once again, she stated that Alpha and Omega is Jehovah God. “Could you turn to Revelation 22:13 and read it?”

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

By this time, she was losing patience with me, but told me again that the Alpha and Omega refers to Jehovah God. I asked her if she could turn to one last passage. I had her read it out loud. It is Revelation 1:17.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.”

I had her stop at verse 17 and asked her, “Who is the First and the Last? She said that the First and the Last is Alpha and Omega, who is Jehovah God. Then I had her read verse 18:

“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

“When did Jehovah die?” I looked her in the eye and asked her this question. She just stared at the page and then looked at me. And then she kept repeating, “Jehovah never died! Jehovah never died!” I told her that this is referring to Jesus and that Jesus is Jehovah God and that He died on the cross for our sins! She had no answer. She told me that she was not familiar with these passages and that it was time for her to go. I could tell that she was frazzled. She gave a bewildered and concern look to her daughter as they walked away. As she was walking away, I pleaded with her to study the verses and ask God to show her the truth about Jesus. I shut the door and that was it. I had won the argument, but I also had a sick feeling in my stomach. Here was a wonderful lady and a young girl who were headed in the wrong direction. Their blindness kept them from understanding the truth. I prayed for them, that this interaction might shake them in such a way that they will find the truth and the truth will set them free!

10 Good Things About Tragedy

10 good things about tragedy

Every person wants to avoid hardship. There is something inside everyone who wants to walk the smooth path filled with blessings. But sooner or later, tragedy strikes us all. In the midst of these trials, it is important to remember that there is good which can be discovered. Here are ten good things each person can find when he or she is struggling with adversity (note: if you are still “raw” from a recent tragedy, it might be too soon to read through all of these).

Good Thing #1: Drives us to PASSIONATE PRAYER. King Hezekiah became ill and was told that he was going to die. He was told that he would not recover from this mortal illness. His initial response was this:

“Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord” (Isaiah 38:2).

God answered Hezekiah’s prayer and he ended up living many more years. Hezekiah looked at death in the face and he knew that the only One who had power over death was the One he needed to talk to. There is something inside a Christian that draws them to prayer when tragedy strikes. Christians who have a shallow prayer life become mighty warriors in prayer when life socks them in the stomach with a trial.

Good Thing #2: Awakens us to the SWEETNESS of SCRIPTURE. We can find comfort in reading God’s written word in the midst of the storm.

“Trouble and distress came upon me, but your commands give me delight” (Psalm 119:143).

When a Christian opens the Bible and reads it when they have just been given bad news, it is amazing how many times a particular verse speaks directly to what he or she is going through. Just the other day I was with a family who had just been given some really devastating news about someone they love dearly. That morning, the Scripture verse in their devotional applied directly to them. I do not know what I would do without the Bible when storms come into my life that Satan uses to destroy the foundations of my faith. I remain strong when I feed off of God’s promises to me. It doesn’t make it less tragic, but it does give me hope.

Good Thing #3: HUMBLES our HEARTS. Sometimes, when people don’t go through any problems for an extended period of time, they begin to believe that God is happier with them than others. Therefore, they secretly believe that they deserve to be blessed more than others. Pride then finds its way into their heart.

“In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Paul, the great missionary, the spiritual leader of the early church who saw glimpses of heaven, could have become exceedingly arrogant. But he remained humble because God allowed a “thorn” to bother him. I have a thorn in my life that keeps me humble. What is your thorn?

Reason #4: Develops in us PATIENT ENDURANCE. Are you someone who is willing to endure great trials and still remain strong? Will you be faithful to your spouse even when you have reason to throw in the towel? Will you be faithful to your company even when they don’t treat you with the kind of respect you deserve? Will you be faithful to your church after all the opportunities you might have had to leave when things didn’t always go your way?

When we go through situations that are not fair and we endure them, there is something rewarding about it. Endurance satisfies our souls because we conquered…evil.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

Good Thing #5: Leads us to spiritual INTROSPECTION. Tragedy motivates us to look into the deep corners of our hearts. And when we shine some light into these dark areas, we almost always find something that shouldn’t be there.

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word” (Psalm 119:67).

People cry out all the time to God in the midst of a trial. They say things like, “God, I will eliminate this sin from my life if you fix things!” And they mean it, for a while. But when life gets back to normal, they allow the sin to creep back into the heart. Be that person who is transformed by your tragedy. Allow this tragedy to reshape your heart to such an extent that you grow in your hatred for evil around you and especially in your heart.

Good Thing #6: Proves that you have a GENUINE FAITH. This one is really hard to explain on paper. Peter explains it well in his first letter:

“In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).

When you courageously journey through a tragedy, other people notice. God notices. When a storm strikes a Christian’s home, people usually go one of two directions: towards God or away from God. Those who run away from God become bitter and disillusioned with the bad luck of life, while those who run closer to God develop a deeper love for the God who gives and takes away.

Good Thing #7: Awakens others to PRAY. Nothing can unify hundreds of believers in Jesus Christ faster than finding out about a tragedy. Every Christian knows what to do: pray! When I have had thousands of Christians praying for me (and my family) during certain tragedies, I have felt a spiritual blanket of God’s love and protection come over me like never before. I have felt this blanket only a few times in my life. I wish I could experience it more often.

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13-14).

Good Thing #8: Allows us to EMPATHIZE WITH and COMFORT others. When someone is going through a tragedy, there is something comforting about talking with a wise Christian who has gone through some heartbreak of their own. This “battle worn” Christian doesn’t throw out clichés at you. They seem to know how to comfort you in a deeper way than those who have ran away from tragedy in their life.

“God comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (1 Corinthians 1:4).

But let me caution you here: just because you have gone through a trial, it doesn’t make you an expert in how to help everyone through their own individual situation. Too many people offer too much advice because they have gone through a “mini-episode” in their life, and they now have all the answers to life’s problems. Don’t be that guy.

Good Thing #9: Heightens our desire for HEAVEN. When we have lost a loved one to death, there is a part of our soul that seems to die with them. If we have hope that we will see them someday in heaven, it makes us yearn for that day when we will reunite with loved ones who have gone before us.

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me” (Job 19:25-27)!

When life is difficult here on earth, our minds naturally drift to the time when all will be well. In some instances, things will never be okay here on this earth again. Maybe someone we know is dying and they only have a certain amount of time left. Life will never be the same from the moment you heard the news to the time when you say goodbye to him or her at the funeral. But heaven gives us hope that life on earth is a blink (75 years) while in eternity we will keep our eyes open forever!

Good Thing #10: We can GLORIFY God with our RESPONSE. Lazarus died. His sisters wept. Jesus even wept. This is what Jesus said about the tragedy:

“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4).

Please understand that God does not directly cause bad stuff to happen in our lives. But God can take the bad stuff and turn it into something that will be used for good. This is the perspective all of us need when we go through a trial. Be encouraged that God will use the bad stuff that you are going through for His ultimate purpose. That purpose might be realized in heaven, but if you are a Christian, you must keep that perspective. Live not just for today. Live not just for tomorrow. But live knowing that your soul will live somewhere a thousand years from now.

When Faith Doesn’t Fix Things

when faith doesnt fix things

There is a difference between an assurance that she could be healed, and an absolute certainty that she would be healed.

The night before we found out that Claire died, my wife Amy could not feel Claire move inside her womb. I prayed at least one hundred times that night for little baby Claire to be alive and healthy. I tried to think positively about what God was doing in Amy’s womb. I tried to exhibit the right kind of faith…the kind that can move mountains.

That night, I tried to get to the point where I didn’t have an ounce of doubt. I tried to be absolutely certain that God was going to heal her. I even walked into the ultrasound room trying to believe with all my heart that everything was okay.

She died.

For the next several months, I became disillusioned with the idea of mountain moving faith. I had a hard time praying passionately. Honestly, I doubted that God truly listened to my prayers.

I believed this lie: If we have enough faith, we can do or fix anything.

Many people believe that faith is a type of mind control that when properly harnessed has the ability to change anything. Too many people falsely believe that positive thinking can change an outcome. Sadly, humans incorrectly think that if they can clearly visualize a preferred result, then it will eventually become a reality.

This kind of faith has little to do with biblical faith. So why do we believe in this kind of faith?

We have been told that if we do not doubt, then anything can happen. We read James 1:6, “he must believe and not doubt,” and conclude that if there is any ounce of doubt inside of us, then God will disqualify our prayers and our request will not be answered. But when one is forming a correct theology, they must read all the biblical passages about faith. There are times when Jesus heals people when their faith included some doubt (Mark 9:24). Therefore, James 1:6 must be referring to something other than “genuine doubts.” James 1:6 might be referring to someone who is easily swayed in their beliefs and therefore doesn’t have a right relationship with God. This kind of person should not expect God to grant their requests.

Maybe the answer is found in the Greek language. In the Bible, there is a word in the Greek language that has been translated as three different words in the English language. This Greek word is so complex that English translators have used these three words to try and describe it:

             “Faith (pistis) is being sure of what we hope for” (Hebrews 11:1).

             “Whoever believes (pisteuon) in Him shall not perish” (John 3:16).

             “Trust (pisteuete) in God; trust (pisteuete) also in Me” (John 14:1).

  1. When faith is defined today, it seems that it is often described as having complete confidence that God will come through for you. Faith is the opposite of fear and doubt. When faith is involved, one must not allow negative thoughts to enter their mind. But this doesn’t sound like biblical faith at all, according to Hebrews 11.
  2.  When belief is defined today, it seems that it is often described as having knowledge. We believe in something if we think that it is true. The problem   with this definition of belief is that it makes it too academic and sometimes it can lack action. Our beliefs must lead us to action.
  3. What does it mean to trust someone? When you trust someone, you believe that he or she is a reliable person. You know that he or she can be counted upon to do what he or she has said. If we genuinely trust a person, then it should show up in how we respond to him or her.

Each of these three words carries a different meaning in the English language. But every time you read one of these three words in the New Testament, they are each translated from the same Greek root word. This means that God is not making a distinction between these three words. In many ways, these three words are synonymous.

Faith in the Bible has more to do with actions than feelings. Biblical faith is so closely connected to obedience that if someone claims to have faith without works (action), then their faith is not really faith at all (James 2:19-26).

God doesn’t expect us to excel in positive thinking. When I read the Bible, I read about stories where God answered the prayers of people whose faith was so weak that when God came through for them, they didn’t believe it (Acts 12:15). This is what happened when I was praying for little Ellie after her traumatic birth. I had faith that God was able to perform a miracle, but I doubted the miracle was going to take place. I tried to wipe my mind clear of any doubts, thinking that the positive thoughts would help God answer my prayers, but I just couldn’t get the doubts out of my mind. And God still came through for me. He still healed Ellie’s body.

I prayed with faith (and doubts) for God to heal Claire. She died. I prayed with faith (and doubts) for God to heal Ellie. She survived and ended up thriving. Why? Was my faith stronger with Ellie than with Claire? I don’t think so. In fact, I think I had more doubts that Ellie was going to make it than with Claire.

Even when we doubt when we pray, that can be enough for God to work. Even when you don’t feel like praying, but you pray anyway because God commanded you to pray, God notices your faith, no matter how weak it might be.

God explains what faith looks like in Hebrews 11. He lists individuals who had tremendous victories in life. If one reads only the first part of Hebrews 11, they have an incomplete view of faith. The later part of Hebrews 11 teaches us that many individuals who exhibited faith were stoned to death, thrown into prison, and even killed by the sword. These people of faith did not experience a happy ending on this earth. But they had faith. Faith should have saved them from this kind of persecution, right? Read this verse:

“These were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised” (Hebrews 11:39).

These “faith-filled” men and women were persecuted by this world, and God was happy with them. They were not people who just couldn’t believe enough. They believed so much that it got them killed! Yet, when we study the end of their life, it appears that their faith didn’t fix anything. Many times, their faith made things worse.

Faith might lead us to victory. Faith might also lead us to a pre-mature death. Faith might heal us. But faith might destroy our reputation.

If faith is about trusting God in every circumstance, and yet it won’t fix everything and might even make my life more difficult, then why should I even try to have faith? I’ve thought deeply about this question, and I want to present to you two reasons why we should have faith.

God wants us to have faith. God tells us in Hebrews 11:6 that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” If the God of the universe wants something from me, then I would be a fool not to give Him what He wants. And He wants me to have faith. This should be the starting point for every Christian. God wants me to have faith. But there must be at least one other reason, right?

Faith is a map which gives us spiritual guidance to reach the right destination. Faith has the capacity to take us exactly where God wants us to go. The road is seldom easy. But it is worth it in the end. It might take some serious blood, sweat, and tears along the way, but it will bring us lasting happiness.

       Faith IS NOT a shield that protects us from all life’s tragedies.

       Faith IS NOT a magic wand that can make everyone live happily ever after.

       Faith IS like a map that God wants us to follow obediently.

When you are going through a tragedy in your life, it doesn’t matter how many doubts you have. It doesn’t matter if you have a hard time believing that the situation will turn out great. What really matters is whether or not you have enough faith to simply follow God. And sometimes enough faith is the size of a mustard seed. If you follow God’s guidance, you will get where you are supposed to go.

Faith is a map which leads us to a path called righteousness. The tragedies in my life of losing our baby Claire and almost losing little Ellie increased my desire to be righteous. I wanted to be holy before a holy God. I longed to be in right relationship with God so that I could feel the comfort of my heavenly Father.

As you are traveling through a tragedy, faith doesn’t promise to fix every problem. Faith won’t heal every disease. But there is one thing faith will do. Faith will take you exactly where God wants you.

What Do Babies Look Like in Heaven? (part 5)

what do babies look like in heaven

She wanted to look at the photographs. One of our friends asked us if she could look through some of the pictures we took of our dead baby. Pictures of Amy holding Claire, of me holding Claire, of grandma and grandpa holding Claire. No one else requested this. But she did. The moment I heard her request, my mind registered this thought: “This friend has just crossed a line from caring to just being nosey.”  She was overly curious to know what our baby would look like.  My wife and I politely declined her offer to see them. We told her that those pictures contained some very sensitive visuals for us as a couple and we were just not ready to let anyone else see them at that point in our grieving process.

Claire died at only six months of age inside Amy’s womb. We were curious to know what she would have looked like if she would have grown up.  Would she have had Amy’s dark hair? My blue eyes?  When I held her little body, I noticed how skinny she was. She had not yet reached the stage where a baby starts to produce fat around their bones. When they measured Claire, she was twelve and ¼ inches long. I wondered during this time of grieving if she would always be twelve and ¼ inches for eternity. Will she look like this miniature human being walking around heaven, while other people who grew up to adulthood are walking around at five feet, eleven inches, or six feet, two inches?  Or will everyone be the same height in heaven? People have had questions like this throughout the centuries.

Last week, we looked at the biblical evidence concerning whether or not babies go to heaven. This week we will focus on the question: What will babies who die prematurely look like in heaven? After losing our second daughter, Claire, I wanted to know what she might look like when I see her again in heaven someday.

By the late thirteenth century, the church believed that “as each person reaches their peak of perfection around the age of thirty, they will be resurrected, as they would have appeared at that time—even if they never lived to reach that age. The New Jerusalem will be populated by men and women as they would appear at the age of thirty.”

The great theologian Thomas Aquinas argued that we will all be the age of Christ when He was crucified, about thirty-three.

It appears that the ancient church believed that people in heaven would appear to be thirty years old. This is interesting because science tells us something about “age thirty.” Research has proven that our DNA is programmed in such a way that, at a particular point, we reach our full development. It appears that we reach this stage somewhere in our twenties or thirties. It might be reasonable to presume that our bodies will be resurrected at the best stage of development determined by our DNA. That stage might just be around age thirty. Therefore, even though Claire didn’t even make it out of Amy’s womb, it is entirely possible that she is walking around heaven right now looking just like a thirty year old woman. To be honest, that is really hard to picture because my oldest daughter is only nine years old. Yet, in some ways, I might always have a hard time picturing my daughters as thirty year old women because I will always picture them with their child-like faces.

Does this mean that children who go to heaven won’t be children once they get there? It seems that the answer is “Yes.” Scripture seems to hint at this. In 1 Corinthians 15:35, the apostle Paul asks this question:

“How are the dead raised?”

This is a great question! How was Claire raised when she died? What kind of body will she have? Paul gives us four characteristics of what our eternal bodies will be like. Here is the first.

Imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42). We are born perishable. Did you know that you were born to die? From the time you were born until you reach your late twenties or early thirties you are still developing. But around that time in your life (for some it is sooner than others), you physically begin to die. That is why many men start losing their hair around that age. That is why you wake up with sore muscles from yesterday’s basketball game, remembering when you were eighteen and could play for hours and feel no soreness the next day. I hate to break it to all of us, but once most of us hit our mid-thirties, physically is it all down hill.

All of us were born to die. But when a Christian dies, he or she will be resurrected with a body that will live forever. Even though it is hard to comprehend this reality, we will live forever. This feeling of living forever is instilled within each of us. For example, even though we know that we only have approximately eighty years on this earth and then we will die, we usually do not like to talk about it or even think about it. We were created to live forever and this thing called death is so unnatural for us. That is why even when we are in our sixties or seventies, we still feel like our minds are a mere thirty years old.

In heaven, I wonder if we’ll see people as we most remember them on earth. I’ll see my parents as older, and they’ll see me as younger. I’ll see my children as younger, and they’ll see me as older. I don’t mean that physical forms will actually change but that the resurrection body will show the real person we have known, and we will see each other through different eyes.

Glorified (1 Corinthians 15:43). We are born in dishonor. In other words, we are born in sin. None of us would ever claim that we are perfect. Some might live better lives than others, but we all have sin that separates us from God.

But when we die, we will be raised in a glorified body. Glory is a word that is not used very much anymore. The word glory has lost some of its clout that it once had. Glory in its most simple form means to be perfect. We will be without sin. The most important aspect of being perfect means that we will be like Jesus.

“Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).

What will it be like to have a body like Jesus’? It means that we will not experience sin anymore. That will be one of the best realities of heaven: no sin! Everyone will get along. No relationships will be strained. No one’s words will be misconstrued. No one will ever feel unsafe. Everyone will be an encourager. You will only feel uplifted by others instead of discouraged by the sin around you. No more lying, cheating, unfaithfulness, bitterness, envy, drunkenness, diseases, or pain. Life will be perfect. We can’t even comprehend it at this point because every day we see some effect of sin in our life and the lives of those around us. But there will come a day when there will be no more evil to content with, no more devil to flee from, no more temptations to destroy us. Yes, earth can be a great place to live, but once you experience a moment in heaven in your glorified body that is sinless and you interact with others who are sinless, you will realize why God made you! He made you to have a perfect relationship with Him that was boundless in love and affection.

Powerful (1 Corinthians 15:43). We are born weak. Claire died because she had a thin, weak umbilical cord. I have witnessed people whom I love dearly have their body decimated by cancer and chemo treatments. Eventually in life, our bodies will break down. Some bodies sooner than others. And we are powerless to control our weakness.

But when we die, we will no longer be weak. We will have power. Our bodies will no longer get tired from hard work. Our hearts will beat strong with healthy blood pressure. Our sugar levels will be exactly where they need to be. We will feel more alive and healthy than we ever have in our entire life here on this earth. Even the air that we breathe will taste sweeter than before, because we are now totally healthy in every aspect of our life. Death from eating of the forbidden fruit will no longer have any power over us. Death where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?

I believe that our heavenly bodies will demonstrate the qualities of youthfulness that Jesus so valued in children. Curiosity, gratefulness, laughter, care-free attitudes, loving to learn and explore, and eagerness to hear stories and gather close to loved ones.

Right now, we use so little of our brain power and our muscle power and the older we get, the less power we can exhibit. But in heaven, we will have full capacity of every aspect of our being. God will recreate that which was broken down and give us a body that will live forever and never break down again. This body will last forever. It will last for eternity. For billions and trillions of years our bodies will remain strong. And then time will begin again as if only a few minutes had passed. And we will be strong in our minds (i.e. we will never get bored), strong in our muscles (i.e. we will not have a need to rest), and strong in our organs (i.e. we will never have to worry about disease again).

Spiritual (1 Corinthians 15:44). Paul is telling us that if there is a natural body, then surely there is a spiritual body. The natural body is what you see when you look in the mirror. If we were facing each other right now, you could see my flesh, and I could see your flesh. What we can’t see, but can sense is that we have an immaterial aspect to our bodies. Only a fool thinks that our brain and hearts are simply physical. When we think too hard, where does it hurt? Our brains. When we feel like crying and we anguish over something, where does it hurt? Our hearts. Why? Because we are spiritual people, not just material. We are not simply a material girl or boy. We are also spiritual.

Everyone reading this sentence knows that there is something inside of them that is not just material. Call it a soul. Call it a spirit.  It is eternal and will live forever. Our spirits will live forever. Since we have something spiritual that is part of us, we can hope that this life is not the end. That after we breathe our last breath on this earth, then we will wake up in another place. And I believe that place is called heaven. A place that Jesus is preparing for you and for me if we believe that He is our way, and our truth, and our life (John 14:1-6).

Heaven takes on a new meaning because Claire is there and I will someday meet her face to face. Perhaps Claire will take my hand and show me around heaven. Then one day, after the final resurrection, we’ll enjoy each other’s company on the New Earth, and have all of eternity to catch up on the fifty or so years we lost together here on this earth.

 

“Jesus, Please Help Our Baby Girl Live!” (Part 3)

Click here to read part 1 and part 2.

I found myself standing where I had never stood before. I was in the operating room and my wife was on my right and my new little baby girl was on my left. I looked at my wife and she was unconscious. She was laying on an operating table, motionless after an emergency C-section. I looked at my new little baby girl and she appeared to be lifeless. The doctors and nurses surrounded her pale white body and kept trying to help her breathe. She was not breathing. She was not moving. I was standing where I had never stood before. I felt totally helpless. I just kept whispering over and over: “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, please help our little baby girl live!”

DSCF2434

Let me back up a bit. If you have been following our story, this is the third article. To sum up the first two articles, my wife Amy lost a baby in 2006, had several surgeries, an ectopic pregnancy, and was told that we might not be able to have any more children. Doubting that we could get pregnant again, we were surprised when a positive pregnancy test came back in December, 2007. Our next baby would be due in August, 2008. We were excited, and yet apprehensive because we knew that our pregnancies don’t always turn out okay. On August 5, 2008, when Ellie entered this world, our fears became reality. Would we really loose another child?

I have never felt more helpless in my life as my wife remained unconscious for that first hour after the birth. It is hard to put into words, but I felt an aloneness I had never felt before. Those first few hours were heart-wrenching. We did not know if she was going to make it.

My wife woke up from the anesthesia about an hour after the C-section. The first words out of her mouth were: “Is she okay?” Honestly, I didn’t know what to tell Amy. The accurate answer was: “No, she was not okay,” but I feared that my wife was not in an emotional state to accept that answer, so I told her what any doctor would have probably told her: “We don’t know yet. They are working on her.” And that was the truth. We only knew that they were working on her.

I did not get to hold my daughter those first few hours of her life. We were not able to name her right away. We would eventually name her Ellen Jo (Ellie).

What had happened? Without going into too much medical detail, Ellie lost about fifty to sixty percent of her blood during the last few minutes before she entered this world.  All of her organs were damaged due to the blood loss.

DSCF2450

About two hours after the emergency C-section, a doctor met with us. She was kind and yet I appreciated how straight forward she was with the prognosis. We were given really bad news. The doctor told us that there was a high probability that Ellie would die. She then added that if Ellie did live, she would at best be severely brain damaged. Worst case scenario: death. Best case scenario: severely brain damaged. The doctor stated that Ellie might die that day, she might die tomorrow. If she lived beyond the first few days, then most likely she would survive but would live with severe damages to her brain, heart, liver, and kidneys. The doctor told us that it was really too early to tell what was going to happen, so we just needed to wait and see.

I am going to share something that might not make sense to anyone unless they have gone through it. The pain I was feeling in this moment was even greater than when we had lost Claire two years before. When we were told that Claire had died in Amy’s womb, it was devastating, but we could start the grieving process when we realized that Claire was dead. With Ellie, it was an agonizing game of waiting. With Claire, there was no more hope. With Ellie, there was little hope, but that hope was wrapped up in the likely death of another daughter. And to have a little hope is sometimes more agonizing than to have no hope at all. We would all chose to have hope whenever we can, but we also fear that the hope we have will be taken from us. We did not want God to take another baby from us. We just couldn’t even comprehend what that would have felt like.

Ellie did live through that first day. A breathing machine helped her breathe. Oxygen was pumped into her lungs. The first time we saw her in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, she was wrapped up in countless cords. She was given at least seven different blood transfusions over the next few days to restore the blood to her body.  We constantly asked ourselves, would she live? Or would she die?

DSCF2438

DSCF2475

Christians have a certain kind of faith that can remain untested for decades, and then when something really horrible happens in our lives, we then show ourselves what true faith really looks like. Christians never ask to be tested. And some Christians never experience the amount of testing that others experience. Why is that? The reasons might be endless. It is a mystery as to why certain Christians seem to go through life without having to go through any serious trials, and yet other Christians are given horrible tragedies to go through.

God knows why this happened to Ellie, and we had to keep reminding ourselves that even though we felt totally out of control, that God was in control of our lives. Now, to some of you, that might sound like a cliché, but when you are going through a tragedy, it is not a cliché. It is reality for the Christian. It is necessary to remind yourself that there is a God who cares about you and wants what is best for you. You might not want to hear it from other people because from other people it sounds like a cliché, but you will secretly tell your heart those words in order to feel comfort.

Ellie ended up spending two weeks in the Intensive Care Unit reserved for infants (called the NICU). That first week was one of the longest weeks of my entire life. I didn’t feel like eating. I couldn’t sleep at night. It was like we were on an eternal roller coaster ride: the doctor would enter our room and give us some great news that would give us hope and we would feel great; but then a few hours later the doctor would present bad news and we would feel like crawling into a hole.

The first week after Ellie was born, as I would walk the halls alone in the NICU, I could feel the presence of angels like I have never felt before. It was like a loving and compassionate pressure being placed upon me. Yet, I must also say that as I walked those halls, there was one time that I felt an extreme darkness come over me. The only way I could explain it would be to say that I felt death walking the halls. Now, those of you who know me know that I am a fairly logical and analytical person who does not make decisions based solely on my emotions. But some of those walks through the halls in the NICU were almost more than I could handle. My eyes started watering and I would weep silently as I would feel the presence of angels around me. Those first several nights, there was a battle raging. The battle was in its most severe level those first several nights. I could feel the spiritual warfare above me like I have never felt it before.

The night I had the feeling of death come over me was one of the most terrifying nights I have had in my life. The feelings of despair and hopelessness overwhelmed my entire being. The grip of death was trying to firmly wrap its unnatural fingers around my little child, and it was more than I could take. It was in this moment that God placed a Scripture verse in my mind: “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16). In this Old Testament story, the prophet Elijah is surrounded by an evil army whose main objective is to kill Elijah. This should have scared Elijah. But God opened up Elijah’s spiritual eyes and allowed him to see a heavenly army that was much larger than the earthly army. Elijah was protected because God is more powerful than evil. It was on that night that God was whispering to my ear: “Evil will not win. Death will not call Ellie’s name. God will be glorified through this little girl’s life. She will make it.”

I really needed to hear that truth from the Bible. I needed to be reminded that as the fighting was taking place over little Ellie’s life, there were more angels fighting on behalf of her than demons fighting to destroy her young life.

Now, those of you who are skeptical of the supernatural might say right now that all this happened because of some medical problems. Yes, on paper, that is true. But sometimes, the supernatural occurs when the medical profession says otherwise.

When one of the doctors talked with us, he said that when he was first given her numbers over the first few hours of her life: her kidney numbers, livers numbers, other numbers that measure the level of toxicity in your body, he wrote her off as a lost cause. He told us that he didn’t even know why he was coming out to see her, because, loosing half of her blood at birth filled her body with gases that were incompatible with life. That phrase has stuck with me. He told us that Ellie’s numbers were incompatible with life. And yet somehow she lived!

It was at those moments that we had to remind ourselves that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” God is on our side and He is a great God who can do anything when we can’t do anything.   This became my theme for our stay in the NICU. I would sit down in the hospital room and think about how God can do anything when I cannot do anything about this. I would walk the halls of the hospital and whisper to myself that God can do anything when I cannot do anything and therefore feel so helpless. I am the kind of person who loves to have control over my life and make sure that everything is in order and that everything is handled in a right and timely manner. But here, I had to give my daughter’s life over to my heavenly father. It was the hardest act I have ever had to do, and that is saying something because I lost another daughter a couple of years before this.

 One week after the traumatic birth of Ellie, we were still not sure if she was going to make it. The toxins were still overwhelming her body; therefore, her kidneys were not fully functioning. It was on this day that I surrendered my daughter over to God and told Him that He had control over her life. And I meant it. I might have said it at other times, but I didn’t really mean it. It was an empty prayer. But in this moment, I laid my entire heart bare before God and gave her up. Amazingly, the very next day she started to progress. Her kidney numbers started to go in the right direction. The joy that filled our souls when we read her kidney numbers can only be explained by a welling up of pressure inside your chest and letting it just explode with an enthusiastic breath of refreshment.

We were witnessing firsthand a miracle from God. The doctors and nurses could not believe the progress of Ellie. They were calling her their little miracle baby. 15 days after she was born, Ellie came home with us for the first time. It was a joyous moment, but also a very stressful moment too because she continued to stop breathing because her lungs had been damaged. We bought a monitor for her crib so that we could tell when she would stop breathing. The first night we took her home, she stopped breathing in the middle of the night about six times. The alarm went off each time. Yes, we were home, but we were still not out of the woods.

DSCF2555

In every tragedy humans go through, they have an opportunity to learn something important. Now, some people do not learn from their experiences. They continue down the same path as before. But for the Christian, we must see tragedy as training to help us for later in life and for preparation for eternity. During this tragedy, God taught me two important lessons.

The Power of Passionate Prayer. People wanted to help us. And so they asked us what they could do for us. We asked people to pray for us. Because that was our only hope. Most Christians pray every day. But most of the things that we do on a regular basis can be done by our own ability. Living the “everyday life” without a real need for God can limit our genuine belief that prayer is vital to our existence. When we were hoping for God to spare the life of Ellie, prayer is truly all we had. Every Christian needs a few defining moments in their life when they realize they are out of control and need God to direct the situation.

This tragedy helped me appreciate that I have a God who hears every word I have ever spoken, and so, when I pray to Him, I must believe that He is listening. We were able to see first-hand God answer our prayers on a day by day basis. When we prayed for specific things to be healed in Ellie’s body, God specifically answered.

 We asked people to pray for her liver, and it was healed.

 We asked people to pray for her kidneys, and the kidneys were healed.

 We asked people to pray for her breathing, and her lungs were healed.

 People prayed passionately, God listened, and He responded. That helped my faith in God explode. I know that it doesn’t always work out like that, but it did in this situation, and therefore helped grow my faith like it has never grown before.

The Power of Encouraging Others When You Are Hurting. Several days into our experience in the NICU, it dawned on me: there are many more people around me who feel the same hurt. So, I started talking with the other parents and grandparents of children in the NICU. I found out that all of them were going through similar experiences. It was in these times that I tried to encourage these people around me. At first, I was so focused on my own crisis that I had blinders around my eyes and couldn’t see anything or anyone else. But eventually, God helped me see the power in helping other people who are hurting and how that can bring good medicine to your own heart.

I sat down with one grandma who had already been there a week before us with her granddaughter. Her daughter had been in a car accident and was 32 weeks pregnant. The daughter and baby lived, but she was forced to give birth pre-maturely. They were lucky to be alive. I could just see the tired look on her face as we talked. There were many times when she was the only one there holding her little granddaughter. She told me that she had not been home for two weeks and had not slept more than a couple of hours a night for those two weeks. I explained to her: “When your granddaughter gets older, she is going to have a connection with you that will be like nothing she could ever have had before. And you will be connected to her more than you will ever realize because you helped love her in these first few weeks of her life.” She looked at me and said, “You know, I just never really thought of it like that. You’re right, I bet I’m going to be her favorite grandma.” She just smiled at me and we talked a little more about how hard it is to have a child in the NICU and to actually get some rest. In the midst of the trials in your life, do you take time to focus on others and encourage them? I believe God helps us heal our wounds when we focus on others.

Those two weeks of tragedy are in the distant past. Ellie is now five years old and will be starting kindergarten this fall at Central Christian School. As far as we can tell, she is a fully functioning young lady who loves to dance, play (and sometimes fight) with her sisters, pretend to read to her stuffed-animals in her room, and eat candy.

ellie 5

 There is not a day that goes by, that when I look at Ellie, I thank God for giving her to me, for sparing her life, for allowing me to be her daddy. Yes, I have thought about this miracle each of the 2,000 days Ellie has been on this earth. And I have a feeling that for the rest of my life whenever I look at her, I will be reminded of what a gift she is to us. Thank you God, for Ellie.

If you are interested in more details of those first few weeks, we set up a Caring Bridge website to keep friends and family up to date. 

The Day our Baby Died (part 1)

 

True love is found in the tears, the touch, and the presence of just being there.

 

On Thursday, March 16, 2006, my wife Amy had an ultrasound. We found out that our little baby was a girl. There was no doubt about it. How exciting that was! Our daughter Lily would have a little sister to play with and she could have the same relationship with the new girl that mommy had with her three sisters. We drove home that afternoon and talked about names for our little daughter who would be visiting us early July. We liked the name Claire. Little did we know that she would be visiting us in just over a week.

Saturday morning, March 25, 2006, was the last time Amy felt Claire move. By evening, she thought that it was odd, so she told me. I am not a worrier, so I told Amy that maybe Claire was just sleeping. A couple hours went by, but no movement. So we got out our Doppler, an instrument used to tract a baby’s heartbeat. We could not find the heartbeat. Once again, I tried to down play the situation by saying things like: “Maybe she’s in a difficult position.” Or, “Maybe the placenta is in the way.” Or, “Maybe she’s sleeping and her heartbeat is really slow.” When you want to comfort your wife you sometimes say things that don’t make total sense. Amy kept asking me what I thought, and I didn’t want to tell her. I knew in my heart that we should be able to hear a 6 month old baby’s heart beat. But we couldn’t. The entire night, I wanted to tell Amy that everything was alright, but I just couldn’t get myself to do it. I knew that everything was not alright.

Neither of us slept Saturday night, for we knew something was not right in Amy’s womb. So early Sunday morning, we went to the ER hoping to be told everything was fine and then be back in time for church.

As we walked into the ultrasound room, I understood that this room was going to bring finality to the answer that I already knew deep down in my heart. The ultrasound tech tried to find the heart beat a few times and then told us with kind, sorrowful words, “I’m sorry guys.” Our fears had not been in vain. Our second daughter was dead. When the doctor walked in and looked at Claire’s lifeless body, he confirmed it also. I didn’t want to accept it, so I asked him if he was sure. If he was one hundred percent positive that she was dead. She was gone, without a doubt.

A few days before we didn’t have a clue that March 26 was going to be our second daughter’s birthday. And death day. But that is how life works. We are rarely given a warning before a storm comes into our life. The pain was excruciating. The first several hours I was numb. Throughout the day, a verse kept coming into my mind, just comforting me and giving me a strength that could only come from the One who died for me:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness…. I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Up until that point in my life, I might have told you that I needed strength from God, but on that day I experienced it more fully than I ever had in my life. It was almost as if God breathed a supernatural strength inside of my aching heart and that breath from God gave me a peace that transcends all understanding. I am convinced that most Christians don’t understand what it means to be weak and strong at the same time. When this happens, the love of God wraps His arms around you and you fall in love with Him more than you ever knew you could. That is what happened for me. I know that this might sound strange, but instead of feeling angry or even asking God why this happened, I just wanted Him to know how much I loved Him. And that gave me strength.

Later that evening Amy gave birth to our little Claire. When a woman gives birth to a child, everyone expects her to have pain, but at the end of the labor, she has a cute little baby to hold and love for the rest of her life. What made it so hard for us and especially Amy, is that she had to feel excruciating pain and suffering which would result in a dead baby. And place upon that a fear of what to do with the baby once it was born. We had many questions race through our minds as we were waiting for a moment filled with anxiety and hopelessness.

What will we do when Claire is born?

Will I want to look at her?

Will I want to hold her?

I have to admit that when I first found out that our daughter was dead, I just wanted her to come out of Amy and then have them take her away. I wanted to try and forget about her. I wanted to act as if she never existed. I wanted my wife to be pregnant all over again with a new baby and have the joys that come with expecting. We knew that Claire was a human being from the moment she was conceived, it says it very clear in Scripture:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5).

But there was a part of me that just wanted to live in denial that I was actually losing a daughter. A daughter who would never get to play with Lily. A daughter who would never learn her numbers from mommy. A daughter who would never get to know her four godly grandparents. A daughter who would never know the joys and pains of life. A daughter who would never graduate from college. A daughter who would not walk down the aisle with her daddy to be given to a guy that would never be good enough for his little princess.

We did decide to hold her. And we are glad that we did. She was twelve and one quarter inches long and weighed one pound five ounces. All four grandparents were able to hold her. I think it made it more real for them to touch her little hands and feet.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006, at 4:00 pm we had a private family graveside burial for Claire. It was hard for us to see her in the little eighteen inch casket. My wife kept saying over and over that they shouldn’t have to make caskets that small. At first, I wasn’t going to say anything at the funeral, but I felt that I would someday regret it if I didn’t. I shared that we decided to only give her a first name and last name to symbolize that she had a beginning and an end, but never lived in the middle. She never breathed a single breath outside the womb. Therefore, we felt that it was only fitting that she didn’t have a middle name. I also shared that Claire means “clear,” or “pure.” Even though she was conceived a sinner, she never had a chance to sin, therefore giving her purity. Lastly, I told my family that we were not angry with God, or with any other human being. We were struck by an immense sadness. Sad because we had so many hopes and expectations for our little Claire and it was now lost.

 

Why did she die? Apparently it was an umbilical cord problem. The cord got twisted and cut off her oxygen. The death certificate stated that she died of anoxia. Anoxia is simply a lack of oxygen. Claire was a perfectly formed baby and the only thing that was wrong with her was a twisted umbilical cord. There is nothing we could have done differently. It was a freak thing.

Apart from the physical cause of death, why did she have to die? In the days following Claire’s death, I was told many different reasons why God might have taken her before she was born. I am sure that all of the comments were well-meaning. Also, I understand that it is hard for people to simply be silent in these kind of situations, so they say things that are well-meaning, but not really helpful to the situation. Here are a few of the theological reasons people gave us:

“God just wanted to be with her in heaven.” This was my response in my head: God has all eternity to be with Claire, why does He need to be with her before allowing her to live for seventy or eighty years on this earth. This is just not going to ease the immediate pain of losing our daughter.

“God has a way of getting rid of a deformed child before it is born.” I’ll have to be honest with you. I was offended the most at this comment. If you think about it logically, if God has a way of weeding out deformed children, then why are some of them born and live to maturity on this earth? Also, you are saying that a deformed or handicapped child is not worth a life here on this earth. I wholeheartedly disagree with that reasoning.

“It was God’s will that your baby died.” Technically you’re correct. But that doesn’t ease the pain at all. Was it really God’s will that a baby died before she could breathe a breath of air? Or could it be because of something else. Something that is not God’s will? Something God allows, but not necessarily is in His will.

Also, people have tried to comfort us with other well-meaning thoughts:

“You can always have another one.” In all honesty, when I first found out that Claire had died, I wanted to get pregnant again right away and just try to forget about this one. But over time I realized that we needed time to grieve the loss of Claire. She was our second child and will always be our second child. No one else will ever be our second child. She is irreplaceable.

“At least she didn’t have to experience pain or crying.” But isn’t that what life is all about? Life is full of pain. Pain is not such a bad thing. Pain shouts to us loudly that we are fully alive! I thank God for pain because when a week or month goes by and I don’t feel pain, I’ll know that my name is finally in the obituaries.

“Just give it a couple weeks and you’ll be fine.” I’m not sure that time ever completely heals. The pain of losing Claire so early in her existence will always be there. It has been eight years now, and yet when I allow myself to think about how Claire would be in second grade this year and probably playing a little basketball by now and maybe even venturing out into the woods to hunt with daddy, this brings an intense sadness to my soul. When these thoughts enter our minds about all that we will miss with her here on this earth, we become sad again. Time does not heal wounds. Jesus heals wounds. And the wound of losing Claire will never be completely healed until we get to heaven and see our second daughter face to face and have our tears wiped away by our Alpha and Omega.

Why did I share some of these comments with you? Those comments never helped us on our journey towards healing. In fact, some of the comments just produced more hurt. Just remember that what you say to people during their times of grief can either give them tremendous comfort for their soul or intense anguish for their minds. Here is what a grieving person wants to be told:

“I love you and I am so sorry for your loss.” That is it. Don’t try to fill the silence that might seem awkward at times. Don’t be scared to hug the person who is grieving. The most powerful moment of healing for me happened when a good friend walked into our hospital room and simply put his arms around me and started crying with us. That is what we needed. The shortest verse in the entire Bible has become famous for a reason: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus knew all the theology in the universe and He didn’t use any when comforting Martha and Mary. He simply cried with them. When is the last time you have cried with someone?

When you are visiting with a person who has just experienced a loss in their life, let your words be few. As a pastor, I see tragedy too much. Claire’s death has taught me that one of the most powerful gifts I can give to people when they are sorrowful is the gift of just being there. I have sat with people (sometimes for a couple hours) when almost nothing was spoken the entire time. In some situations, well-spoken words can have a healing effect. But there are some tragedies that makes words feel empty. And true love is found in the tears, the touch, and the presence of just being there.

Click here to read Part 2.

Would you DIE for the GOSPEL?

This weekend, a segment of my sermon will focus on the phrase “I am not ashamed of the gospel.”  Over and over in my mind, I keep asking myself, what does it look like for someone to not be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ?  After pondering this thought for several days, I believe there are three encounters that will determine whether or not we are ashamed. 
    
Encounter #1: If we face DEATH because of our faith,  will we decide that life with Jesus in heaven is more important than this earthly life?  This encounter with death is foreign to 99.9% of American Christians.  At this point in our nation’s history, we do not have to chose between following Jesus and waking up to see another day.  But many of the early Christians faced the reality of dying for their faith.
 
Those closest to Jesus Christ when He was walking this earth were so convinced that Jesus was the Son of God (a.k.a. God Himself) that they were all willing to die for following Him.  Take for example, the apostles of Jesus.  All, except for John, were killed.  According to church tradition, here is how all twelve of the apostles died (note that Matthais replaced Judas).
 
Peter was considered the leader of the twelve, but during the final hours of Jesus’ life, he denied Jesus three times and finally deserted Jesus so that he would not be killed along with Jesus.  But something happened to this coward.  The resurrection account in Luke shows us that Peter didn’t even believe the women when they told him that Jesus was raised from the dead.  He ran and found out for himself.  Guess what? Peter showed up in Jerusalem preaching boldly, at the threat of death, that Jesus was the Christ and had been resurrected.  Tradition teaches us that Peter was crucified upside down (he requested to be upside down on the cross because he didn’t think he was worthy to be crucified exactly like his Savior).  What transformed him so dramatically into a bold lion?  He saw the resurrected Christ!  Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross.  James (son of Zebedee) was killed with the sword.  Interestingly, John faced martyrdom when he was placed in a huge basin of boiling oil during a wave of persecution in Rome. However, he was miraculously delivered from death. John was then sentenced to the mines on the prison island of Patmos. He wrote his prophetic book of Revelation on Patmos. The apostle John was later freed and returned to what is now modern-day Turkey. He died as an old man, the only apostle to die peacefully.  Philip was crucified.  Bartholomew was whipped to death, then placed upon a cross to show everyone he died.  Doubting Thomas said he wouldn’t believe that Jesus was raised from the dead until he had put his finger in the nail prints.  Thomas later died a martyr’s death for Christ by having a spear thrust through him.  Was he deceived?  He bet his life he wasn’t.  What changed Thomas?  He saw the resurrected Christ!  The ex-tax collector Matthew was killed with a sword.  James (son of Alphaeus) was crucified.  Thaddaeus was killed by arrows.  Simon was crucified.  Matthais, the one who replaced Judas, was stoned and then beheaded.
Each of these men were willing to die for the gospel message because they had no doubt that their eternal home was secure in heaven.  They were not “ashamed of the gospel.”  There might come a day when you will be faced with the same question the apostles were faced with: follow Jesus and be killed, or deny Jesus and live your life out here and yet forfeit your eternal life.  I pray and hope that you will have the courage to die for your faith if it comes to that someday.
Encounter #2: If we face RIDICULE because of our faith, will we decide that our reputation with Jesus is more important than what others say about us here on earth?  Many Christians have been mocked and made fun of because they believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I was seventeen years old the first time I was ridiculed for my faith in Jesus Christ.  I was sitting in English class and that day a substitute teacher was leading the class discussion and the topic turned to religion.  He started teaching universalism, the belief that all religions lead to heaven eventually.  I raised my hand and made this statement: “Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.  If someone doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ they will go to hell.”  The room became totally silent.  One of my friends looked at me (who was not a Christian), and she asked me point blank: “So what you are telling me is that if I don’t believe in your Jesus, then I am going to go to hell when I die?”  At this point, I wanted to remain silent.  But something inside of me influenced me to open up my mouth and answer her: “Yes, I do believe that you will go to hell if you don’t place your trust in Jesus Christ.”  Then the substitute teacher chimed in on the discussion.  He looked at me and asked me how I could be so arrogant as to think that this nice girl sitting next to me was going to hell just because she didn’t believe in the right god.  I admitted that it sounded harsh, but I also stated that it was the truth.  I looked her in the eyes and told her that I don’t want her to go to hell, and that God doesn’t want her to go to hell.  But if she never asks Jesus Christ to be the Leader and Forgiver of her life, then she will eventually end up in hell.  The substitute teacher once again “mocked me.”  He scolded me for thinking that Christianity is the only way to heaven.  He said, “That is the problem with some Christians, they think that everyone else is going to hell.  I just can’t accept that kind of religion.”
Soon after this, the bell rang and we were off to another class.  Two things happened after that class.  First, several of this “unsaved” girl’s friends gave me dirty looks and ignored me for a few days.  Second, other students came up to me when we were in the hallway and thanked me for standing up for our faith.  I said to them, “No problem,” but I was angry inside at them.  They were ashamed of the gospel that day in class.  They remained quiet and so one Christian student was mocked and ridiculed by a self-proclaimed philosophy guru who was disguised as a high school substitute teacher.  Even though I was angry at my Christian classmates for not standing up for the gospel with me, I was glad that I was ridiculed.  There is a joy that can be found in standing up for your Savior that cannot be found in anything else we do in life.  We shouldn’t try to do things to be ridiculed, but when it does happen, we should react like the early apostles did when they were persecuted: “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).
It is my prayer that when my daughters get old enough that they will not be ashamed of the gospel.  Instead, when they are ridiculed for their faith, that they will stand firm and will not back down.  I want to instill within them a faith that will never be shaken, no matter how unpopular they might become.
Encounter #3: Do we become UNEASY around others because their actions do not measure up to God’s standards?  You might find yourself in awkward scenarios when you are with unbelievers because of our faith.  Every Christian has encountered this.  This last fall I helped co-coach my daughter’s soccer team.  The other coach on the team got really mad one practice at the players and said a couple curse words in from of them.  This made me really uneasy.  So, I confronted her when the kids were running laps at the end of practice that I really didn’t want her to curse in front of them anymore.  And then I felt led to say this to her: “If you need to curse in front of me, I can handle it.  I don’t like it, but I can handle it.  But I really don’t want my daughter and the other kids learning words like that as part of their vocabulary.”  She agreed and apologized and her husband, who was there said that she shouldn’t be cussing in front of a pastor anyway.  I responded: “Don’t worry about me, worry about God.  I am not the holy one, God is the holy one.”  We all laughed.
It would have been really easy for me to just bite my lip and act like the curse words were no big deal.  But they were a big deal because one of them used the Lord’s name in vain.  I can handle a number of curse words, but not that one.  To not stand up for my God in a situation like that is to be ashamed of the gospel.
I write these things because for every Christian who is obnoxious about their faith and is too “in your face” about his or her faith, there are 1,000 Christians who keep their light hidden for no one to see.  I wonder why that is?  Why are so many Christians so silent about their faith?  It is my prayer that the next time you encounter uneasiness, ridicule, or maybe even death because of the gospel, that you are not ashamed!

Prayer for a Lost Dog

Last evening our two year old created a stressful situation in our household.  She opened up our patio door and let Sally (our little dog) right out the door.  Sally ran off into another neighbor’s yard immediately and then vanished down the street.  She was nowhere to be found.  She seemed to enjoy this newfound freedom.  Usually, when we take her outside, we tie her to a leash.  But this time she didn’t have a leash and she was making a break for it.  This caused our entire household to go into crisis mode.  Our five year old started to cry.  Our nine year old started to cry.  And because our two year old didn’t like seeing other people cry, she started to cry.  Three daughters crying at the same time…this is not something a dad gets used to.  So I started crying (just kidding).

My wife and I tried to console each of our children by letting them know that Sally would come back after a while.  After all, this is the place where she receives food, water and love.  But this did not calm their nerves.  We stepped outside and started to call for her, but she wouldn’t respond.  “She’s gone forever, she’s never coming back,” said my oldest daughter.  Even though I knew that wasn’t true, and even though I tried to convince her otherwise, this is exactly how she felt.  Twenty minutes had passed and still no Sally.

Then my wife had an idea.  “Let’s pray for God to bring Sally back to us.”  So the five of us gathered around a chair in our living room and my wife said a simple yet sincere prayer to God on behalf of Sally.  She prayed something like this,

“God, we know that you can bring Sally back to our house.  You know how much we love Sally and how much we miss her right now.  Could you please bring Sally back, and bring her back quickly?  Amen.”

After the prayer, the girls ran off into another room.  They were still weepy and yet were trying to hold it together.  No more than ten seconds had passed and guess who was at the door?  Sally!  I yelled, “Sally’s back!” so that everyone in the house could hear.  My wife asked me, “Are you serious?”  There she was, trying to get into the house.  We opened up the patio door and we hugged her and gave her a treat.  Did God answer our prayer?  Or was it just a coincidence?  This event reminded me about two things that we so often forget when we pray.

First, God wants you to take everything to Him in prayer.  In the Contemporary English Version of Philippians 4:6, we are told “Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything.”  The word everything in this verse means the “big stuff” and “small stuff.”  Everyone takes the “big stuff” to God in prayer.  When a tragedy strikes, people turn to a higher power.  Many self-proclaimed agnostics turn into practical believers when bad things happen to them.  It is human nature to call upon God when the “big stuff” happens.  But when it comes to the “small stuff,” like a seven pound dog running down the street, we can feel foolish for going before the Lord in prayer.  Our daughters were taught a tremendous lesson last night because they saw God answer a prayer for something that might seem small to God, but it was a major issue to them.

If you can truly see into God’s heart, you will see that He genuinely cares about you.  We are told to “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  Notice the word “all” in this verse.  Not just the major things in life that cause you anxiety, but even those small things that you don’t think God would be interested in.  Often times, we think we need to save up our prayers for when it really counts.  Therefore, we don’t pray about the little things.  But this is where our faith can really grow.  When we see God working in the small things, it feeds our belief so that when the big things come our way, we have the faith to pray for God to work.

God is never overwhelmed by our prayers.  We can get overwhelmed by other people’s requests.  But God cannot.  God can hear simultaneously millions of requests and not be confused as to who is speaking.  That is our God.  And if God couldn’t do that, then He wouldn’t be God.  The very definition of God is that He is all-knowing, and an all-knowing God has the capacity to hear everything all humans say and has the power to respond to every single request.

Second, when your request is God’s will, He will respond immediately.  Ten seconds after we prayed as a family, Sally was at our door.  My wife reminded me what she had said at the end of her prayer, “bring her back quickly.”  God did just that.  But doesn’t God have better things to do?  Yes, He does, and He is doing those better things at the same time.  He does everything at the same time, so for Him, He doesn’t have to prioritize like we do.  He just does things that are His will.  And it was God’s will to bring little Sally back to our home so that our girls could see their faith grow.

Jesus told a story once about a widow who pleaded with a judge to bring her justice concerning an enemy.  Someone was taking advantage of her, and her only hope was a judge who didn’t care about people.  The judge ignored her for a while.  But the widow was persistent.  She kept going back to the judge and asking him the same thing: bring me justice!  Because the widow kept bothering the judge, the judge finally brought justice to the situation.  Many times, people read this story and they try to figure out how God and this judge are similar.  But Jesus’ point in the story is that our God is the opposite of this judge.  God does care about people.  And our God will respond “quickly” to our requests (Luke 18:8).

If you are requesting something, and it is God’s will, you will not have to wait for it.  It will happen immediately.  I sat down with my two older daughters last night and made sure they noticed the connection between our prayer for Sally to come home and God’s answer to our prayer.  I told them that God listens to us and that He cares about us.  They nodded their heads in approval.  We all sat down and thanked God for caring about us and answering our prayer. Their faith is growing, and it was in a moment like this that God took the time to care for us.

If you are a parent or a grandparent, look for opportunities to pray with your children and grandchildren.  Teach them the importance of praying for everything.  Instill within them the faith that brings joy to their heavenly father’s heart.  And make sure you help them notice when God does answer their prayers immediately!  No matter how big or small “the stuff” might seem.