Americans woke last Friday to news that our military had killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. I was in Jerusalem at the time, leading a study tour of the Holy Land.
It was fascinating to see the response in Israel—gratitude that one of the enemies of the Jewish state was dead coupled with expectations of Iranian response and the possibility that Israel might be targeted.
Some in our group asked if Israel would raise its “threat level” in response to Soleimani’s death. My answer was that they live every day at the highest level of preparation. When you’re a country the size of New Jersey surrounded by enemies who want to exterminate your nation, expecting the unexpected becomes a way of life.
This is a lesson I brought with me when I returned home yesterday, and one I’d like to explore with you today.
Remembering Lois Evans, a true faith hero
A memorial service for Lois Evans will be held at 11:00 this morning at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. Lois was one of the most godly and effective Christian leaders of our generation. She and her husband, the revered pastor Dr. Tony Evans, have built a ministry that spans the world with biblical truth.
My wife, Janet, worked with Lois on several projects over the years. Janet considers Lois one of her heroes in the faith. For Lois to end her earthly life at only seventy years of age points to the fact of mortality for all people, even those who follow Jesus most closely and serve him most effectively.
Our mortality is illustrated by catastrophic fires sweeping Australia and by tragic accidents such as the death of a pastor who drowned trying to save two of his children at a Spanish resort over Christmas. The children died as well.
Early yesterday morning, a tour bus in Pennsylvania struck an embankment and rolled over. It was then struck by two semi-trucks before a third truck collided with the other two semis. A total of six vehicles were involved. At least five people were killed; around sixty more were injured.
Closer to home for me, a one-year-old boy was killed in a targeted shooting in Dallas early Sunday morning. Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson tweeted later: “A shameless act of gun violence has taken the life of yet another innocent child in our city.”
Standing at Armageddon
We should grieve for those we lose and do all we can to prevent suffering and tragedy in the future. At the same time, we should recognize that mortality is a fact for us all.
Last Tuesday, our tour group stood atop Megiddo, the ancient fortress city that overlooks the valley of Armageddon. We remembered the battles that have been waged over the centuries in this ancient place and noted the fact that Armageddon can come any day for any one of us.
As Scripture notes, “We are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are but a shadow” (Job 8:9). Wise King Solomon observed, “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). That’s why “now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Tomorrow is promised to no one.
I don’t know when the Lord will come for us or we will go to him. But I do know that we are one day closer to eternity than ever before.
Three countercultural truths
Let’s close with three biblical principles that will redeem mortality for us today.
One: Death can help us value life.
Jesus came that we “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In December 1776, Thomas Paine wrote in The American Crisis, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” He added: “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.”
Do you esteem this day as the gift of God?
Two: Our limits can lead us to God’s best for us.
Scripture teaches that “this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). In this light, consider this reflection by Jonathan Maury of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist: “Vocation is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received. Every life experience becomes a vehicle for God’s call to be realized in vocation. In learning our limits and embracing failures, we can begin to recognize God’s particular gifts for us, which infuse our very being and form in us our unique vocation.”
Are you fulfilling your “unique vocation”?
Three: Our identity is not found in this world but in the next.
Jesus prayed: “This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Henri Nouwen: “The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world—free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless; free also to receive love from people and to be grateful for all the signs of God’s presence in the world. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”
Will you “be able to love the world” today?