Be aware. Be informed. Don’t over-react. Don’t under-react.
Growth from adolescence to adulthood – Five tunnels
Puberty is a tumultuous journey. Normal physical changes during this phase cause personal awkwardness and social stress for young people. When boys enter what has been called “the awkward stage,” sometimes their body parts appear to be oddly assembled. They commonly experience changes in their voices, growth of facial/body hair, and undesirable bodily odors. Emerging interest in sexuality causes personal and social challenges. At the same time, girls often feel awkward about their body image, bodily changes, and their menstrual cycle. A struggle with acne is another common cause of stress during this phase of life.
Common experiences – going through the tunnels
The pre-teen and teen years typically place children in a variety of tunnels.
They spend time in the tunnel of confusion where they feel conflicted over emerging adult and lingering childhood interests and desires.
They experience the tunnel of emotion where they feel an array of spontaneous and often irrational mood swings: from happy and excited, to sad and depressed, to agitated and angry.
The tunnel of self-consciousness cycles them through a sense of inferiority and feelings of rejection to a sense of superiority and feelings of acceptance. Puberty contributes to the tunnel of self-consciousness with experiences that make them feel anywhere from simply awkward to downright weird.
The tunnel of hormones is another challenge—a place filled with swirling experiences of raging and unpredictable desires combined with a variety of irrational and extreme mood swings. Sometimes a surge of confidence emboldens them to test their sense of independence. However, confidence can quickly dissipate as feelings of self-doubt replace it.
Then there’s the tunnel of sexual desire where they are conflicted between awkward but intense interest in sex and guilt for being interested.
Parental overreactions to these normal parts of the physical and emotional journey from adolescence to adulthood only make life more difficult for everyone. Both parents and children benefit from repeated reminders not to overreact to the changes and challenges of this phase of life.
On the other hand, parents must equally be careful not to underreact by withholding the encouragement and guidance young people need for this part of their journey.
I was recently asked questions about loved ones who die. Are people who die still with us spiritually? Do they watch over us? Can we communicate with them?
My quick answer
I feel the pain and loss behind these questions (my dad and my mentor died in the same month), but a little caution is important. The questions potentially interface with a number of important matters.
Then there is the spirit world (angels and demons), exorcisms; (Mark 5:1-9; Acts 19:11-17); guardian Angels (Matthew 18:10); I Timothy 4:1-2 (“deceiving spirits and things taught by demons”); What Jesus described in Luke 16:26-31; Near death (or out of the body) experiences (II Corinthians 12:2-5?); Dreams (lots of Scripture, positive and negative examples). Other faiths (like Catholicism) encourage praying to dead saints, something not supported by Scripture.
As you well know, the agony of losing loved ones and not hearing their voices can be excruciating. We miss them deeply and long to see them and be with them again. People think they’re being helpful when saying that your loved one is an angel now, or is looking down on us, or is still here with us, but it certainly seems that if such things were true, we’d find clear teaching in Scripture to support them. We do not.
This doesn’t mean we can’t (in a therapeutic sense) audibly speak to them as if still with us. Many have found this helpful. I can’t offer with certainty that they can actually hear or see us. But we can offer much more because of the gospel.
You see, these things can be shallow substitutes that distract us from the great and precious truths of Scripture about the certainty of eternal life, about being absent from the body and at home with the Lord, about departing and being with Christ being far better, about our reuniting with them, about their being in the presence of the Savior, in a place prepared for them. (see – John 3:16; 10:27; 14:1-3; 17:25; II corinthians 5; Philippians 1)
Our father in heaven understands and comforts us in our pain and loss (II Corinthians 1:3-4), and our Savior both died and broke the power of death, stating clearly that whoever believes in him will live even though he dies (John 11:25).
Patiently reflect on what is revealed in Scripture about this amazing truth. Discuss these passages with others.
The final and full restoration of everything
Acts 3:21 – “Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
Colossians 1:19-20 – “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Christ), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
What will it involve?
Philippians 3:20-21 – “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”
I Corinthians 15:24-28 – “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he ‘has put everything under his feet.’ Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.”
II Peter 3:10-13 – “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (cf. II Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Revelation 21:1-8 – “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ 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. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.’”
Suicide rates are on the rise in America. It’s the 12th leading cause of death. In 2020, just under 46,000 Americans committed suicide (130 per day) and 1.2 million attempted it (mostly middle-aged white men).
Deaths associated with alcohol, drugs, and suicide took the lives of 186,763 Americans in 2020, a 20 percent increase in the combined death rate and the highest number of substance misuse deaths recorded for a single year.
But it’s worth asking if death is really the solution to our troubles. Sometimes we are tempted to think about it this way, but when we are in deep despair, our thinking is not trustworthy.
Does it surprise you to know how many people just want to die? Life is tough. It’s easy to slip into a state of despair. If you’ve ever been despondent to the point of wanting to die, you’re obviously not alone. I’ve battled these feeling!
Consider four men in Scripture who wanted to die
1. Moses (Numbers 11:13-15) – just go ahead and kill me
Wearied by the tough assignment of leading the children of Israel, Moses asked God to put him out of his miseries, to perform (so to speak) what Moses saw as a mercy killing.
“Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favor and spare me this misery!”
2. Job (Job 3:10-13, 16) – Why wasn’t I born dead?
After the godly man Job suffered great loss (of his livelihood, wealth, family and health), he lamented and even cursed the day he was born:
“’Curse that day for failing to shut my mother’s womb, for letting me be born to see all this trouble. Why wasn’t I born dead? Why didn’t I die as I came from the womb? Why was I laid on my mother’s lap? Why did she nurse me at her breasts? Had I died at birth, I would now be at peace. I would be asleep and at rest. Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light?’”
3. Elijah (I Kings 19:1-4) – Take my life
After a victorious mission for God, Elijah is threatened by the wicked queen, Jezebel and becomes so depressed that he asked God to end his life.
“Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.’”
4. Jonah (Jonah 4:1-10) – Just kill me now
After Jonah warned the city of Ninevah about God’s judgment, the city repented and was able to avoid God’s wrath. But…
“Jonah became angry and he complained to the Lord about it: ‘Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive…’” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?”
“Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed. Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” “Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly. But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?”
Each of these servants of God turned to the author of life with their desire to die. They evidently did not see ending their lives themselves as a personal right.
These are not attempted suicides. They are examples of people hitting the bottom and seeing only one solution to their problems — death.
In each case, God gave his servants a perspective forming session. He encouraged them and supplied their needs, but God also confronted wrong thinking about life.
Death is our solution
In a sense, death is our solution. It was the death of Christ in our place and for our sins that provided it. Death is the penalty for sin. Jesus Christ took the death penalty for us. And his death accomplished our forgiveness and secured righteous standing before God for all who receive Christ (John 1:12-13; Romans 3:19-26; II Corinthians 5:17-21).
What Jesus did for us was also intended on radically changing our focus and purpose for life in this world: “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (II Corinthians 5:15). This is the greatest perspective you can take on life! But to live with this transformed perspective one must die to self. In each of the examples above, God’s servants became so self-focused that they lost perspective and wanted to die. But it’s actually death to self-focus God wants for us. For this is where joy and purpose is found!
Luke 9:23-24 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
John 12:24 “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
Hebrews 12:1-3 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”
II Corinthians 1:3-4 “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
I think it would benefit all new believers to be taught about God’s discipline.
Let’s first widen the lens on discipline.
Discipline is part of life. Without it, we easily slide into habits that defeat us. Discipline is essential to those who desire to live well and be effective in all areas of life.
Discipline challenges natural tendencies toward laziness, carelessness, lack of focus, and even defeat. Most of us would admit to needing more discipline. But we know it doesn’t come easily.
Discipline carries a range of meanings and functions from teaching to punishment. It includes educating, training, coaching, correcting, and chastising.
The overall aim of discipline is to develop the moral, mental and physical character of an individual; to foster skills, abilities, character traits, and behavior patterns whether personal or social.
Discipline can be self-imposed or gained through outside forces and influences. Typically, the later leads to the former. Common spheres of discipline include, home, school, law enforcement, military, athletics and Church.
The disciplinarian should understand that discipline, when properly understood, is something we do for people rather than merely to them.
It should not surprise us that God emphasizes the value and need of discipline. In a variety of ways, God reminds his people that he disciplines those he loves (see: Deuteronomy 8:5; Psalm 103:13; Proverbs 3:12; Hebrews 12:6). Like earthly fathers, yet superior to them, God trains his children with disciplinary love.
The most extensive treatment of the subject of God’s discipline is founding Hebrews 12. Walk through it with the following outline –
Discipline was modeled by Jesus (vv. 2-3)
Discipline is a mark of loving membership in God’s family (vv.5-8)
Discipline includes hardships and hostile treatment (v. 7 w/ v. 3)
Discipline is sometimes misunderstood (vv. 5, 6. 15)
Discipline should lead to respect and submission toward God (vv. 9-10a)
Discipline leads to godly character (v. 10)
Discipline is painful training in right living (v. 11)
“No longer will they call you Forsaken” (Isaiah 62:4).
“‘Forsaken’ is a dreary word. It sounds like a death knell. It is the record of sharpest sorrows and the prophecy of direst ills.
An abyss of misery yawns in that word forsaken. Forsaken by one who pledges his honor! Forsaken by a friend so long tried and trusted! Forsaken by a dear relative! Forsaken by father and mother! Forsaken by all!
This is woe indeed, and yet it may be patiently born if the Lord will take us up.
But what must it be to feel forsaken of God?
Think of that bitterest of cries, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
Have we ever in any degree tasted the wormwood and the gall of ‘forsaken’ in that sense? If so, let us beseech our Lord to save us from any repetition of so unspeakable a sorrow. Oh, that such darkness may never return! Men in malice said of a saint, ‘God has forsaken him; persecute and take him.’ But it was always false.
The Lord’s loving favor shall compel our cruel foes to eat their own words or, at least, to hold their tongues.
The reverse of all this is that superlative word Hephzibah ‘the Lord delights in you.’ This turns weeping into dancing.
Let those who dreamed that they were forsaken hear the Lord say, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you..’”
“So we say with confidence, The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
Over the years, we hosted 10 different Chinese students in our home for their high school years. Some of them came from very influential families. One of them decided to believe in Jesus as his creator and savior. He had no exposure to Jesus and very little thought about God prior to coming to our country.
This is his testimony he gave when I baptized him.
“After three years of learning about Christ, I did a lot of thinking on the meaning of life and who my Creator is. I feel and believe that there is something bigger, stronger and more powerful than mankind. Something or someone is above us and watching all of us. I could not bring myself to believe that there is no creator and I can’t believe we are here by accident and without a greater purpose. Through a long process of thinking and conversations with people like my host daddy, Mr. Cornell, on topics how the amazing design in the world should lead to a designer and how death is not the end of our existence, I came to believe that God the Father sent his only son to live among us and to die on the cross to bear the judgment our sins deserve so we could be forgiven and made right with God. Just like II Corinthians 5:21 told us, ‘God made Christ who never sinned to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.’ So I finally decided to put my faith in Christ as my Creator and Savior.”
Do you desire to be a good student and/or teacher of Scripture?
The five basic steps of Bible study listed below will provide a guide to keep you on the right track in understanding and applying the Bible. Each step answers a particular question in relation to Bible study.
1. Preparation: Am I ready?
It is important to come to Scripture with a prepared heart. An attitude of humility and submission to God is the best way to approach God’s Word.
James 1:21a ‘Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the Word ….’
James 4:6-8a ‘…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you…’
The awareness of sin and sorrow at the time of salvation never goes away in this life, but intensifies as we grow closer to God.
There will be in every follower of Christ a deepening awareness of all-pervasive sinfulness that cries out with desperation and follows up with celebration –
Romans 7:24 – “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death (my imprisonment to sin)?
Romans 7:25 – “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
The indwelling presence of God’s Spirit at salvation brings comfort and joy, but (as Romans 8 teaches), it is precisely because we have the deposit of the spirit that we groan with expectation for full and final salvation.
“Already, through the indwelling presence of God’s spirit, we have been transferred into the new age of blessing and salvation; but the fact that the spirit is only the first fruit makes us daily conscious that we have not yet severed all ties to the old era of sin and death. There is a healthy balance necessary in the Christian life, in which our joy at the many blessings we already possess should be set beside our frustration at our failures and our intense yearning for that day when we will fail no more when we shall be like Him” (Douglas Moo, W.E.C. Romans, p. 557).
We must not expect that mourning over sin will all end at salvation. I am deeply concerned that we do not misrepresent the Christian life as unending joy and bliss. There is an emotional variety that intensifies and should be understood and accepted.
“Some Christians seem to imagine that, especially if they are filled with the spirit, they must wear a perpetual grin on their faces and be continuously boisterous and bubbly… The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them” (John Stott).
Weeping and godliness
“There can also be a mourning stimulated by broader considerations. Sometimes the sin of the world, the lack of integrity, the injustice, the cruelty, the cheapness, the selfishness, all pile onto the consciousness of a sensitive man and make him weep. The Christian is to be the truest realist. He reasons that death is there, and must be faced. God is there, and will be known by all a savior or judge. Sin is there, and it is unspeakably ugly and block in the light of God’s purity. Eternity is there, and every living human being is rushing toward it. God’s revelation is there, and the alternatives it presents will come to pass; life or death, pardon or condemnation, heaven or hell. These are realities which will not go away. The man who lives in the light of them, and rightly assesses himself and his world in the light of them, cannot but mourn. He mourns for the sins and blasphemies of his nation. He mourns for the erosion of the very concept of truth. He mourns over the greed, the cynicism, the lack of integrity. He mourns that there are so few mourners” (D.A. Carson, Sermon on the Mount p. 19).
Joy is a distinguishing characteristic of the godly, but it often coexists with tears and sorrow. The Psalmist said: “My eyes shed streams of tears because men do not keep thy law” (Ps. 119:136). God’s faithful people are described as those who: “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in Jerusalem” (Ezra 9:4). The godly scribe Ezra prays and identifies with the sins of the people in confession, weeping, and casting himself down before the house of God.
Jeremiah (the weeping prophet) said: “Oh, that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night. For the slain of the daughter of my people! O that I had in the desert a wayfarers lodging place; that I might leave my people, and go from them! For all of them are adulterers, an assembly of treacherous men. And they bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the Lord.”
The apostle Paul wrote about many “of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18).
The emotion of the eternal God was recorded in Genesis 6:5-6, “the Lord saw that the wickedness or man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and he was grieved in his heart.”
Although the gospels never record the laughter of Jesus, they do record his anguish and tears ( Mt. 26:34-38; Jn. 10:35; Heb. 5:7-9). The prophet Isaiah identified the coming messiah as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, who would bear our grief and carry our sorrows.
A defective sense of sin
“I cannot help feeling that the final explanation of the state of the church today is a defective sense of sin and a defective doctrine of sin. Coupled with that, of course, is a failure to understand the true nature of Christian joy. There is the double failure. There is not the real, deep conviction of sin as was once the case; and on the other hand there is this superficial conception of joy and happiness which is very different indeed from that which we find in the New Testament. Thus the defective doctrine of sin and the shallow idea of joy, working together, of necessity produce a superficial kind of person and a very inadequate kind of Christian life” (Lloyd-Jones, Sermon on the Mount). (cf. 1 Cor. 5:2- “should you not have rather mourned?”)
Of course, “We are prepared to walk with Jesus through Matthew 23 and repeat his pronouncements of doom; but we stop before we get to the end of the chapter and join him in weeping over the city” (D.A. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, p. 19).
Comfort for some
Those who mourn with the sorrow of the world rather than being comforted will end their self-centered sorrow with the weeping of final judgment (Mt. 13:42,50, 23:30). But those who mourn with godly sorrow will be comforted —in this life, as they receive the comfort of sins forgiven. And, even this great comfort will be surpassed one day in a new heaven and new earth, the kingdom of God will be consummated, and God himself will wipe away all tears from the eyes of those who once mourned. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4) (see: D.A. Carson p.19).
Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning and in our mourning!
Words for deeper reflection
“Blessed are those who mourn” is, paradoxically, a more necessary message than “Rejoice in the Lord always,” because there can be no true rejoicing until we have stopped running away from mourning (Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes).
We will never experience the angel of comfort until we can enter into the mourning. … The admission of what is deepest within us can be done only with an angel of comfort. This angel comes to us in the appearance of a total stranger or an absolute friend (Michael H. Crosby, Spirituality of the Beatitudes).
Mourning cannot be limited exclusively to expressing sorrow for one’s sin … or grief surrounding death. … Rather, “those who mourn” has the more comprehensive sense of an inclusive grief that refers to the disenfranchised, contrite, and bereaved. It is an expression of the intense sense of loss, helplessness, and despair (Robert A. Guelich, The Sermon on the Mount).
The disciples bear the suffering laid on them only by the power of him who bears all suffering on the Cross. As bearers of suffering, they stand in communion with the crucified. They stand as strangers in the power of him who was so alien to the world that it crucified him. This is their comfort, or rather, he is their comfort, their comforter. … This alien community is comforted by the Cross (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship).
In this beatitude, Jesus praises … those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not try to extract themselves from it (Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World).
He calls blessed even those who mourn. Their sorrow is of a special kind. He did not designate them simply as sad but as intensely grieving. Therefore, he did not say “they that sorrow” but “they that mourn” (John Chrysostom, “Homily 15.3”).
It is not enough for us … within the arena of the world’s pain merely to know of a God who sympathizes. It is not even enough to know of a God who heals. We need to know of and be connected with a God who experiences with us, for us, each grief, each wound. We need to be bonded with a God who has had nails in the hands and a spear in the heart! (Flora Slosson Wuellner, Weavings)
Every suffering can be blessed because it hollows out a place in us for God and his comfort, which is infinite joy. (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue)
It is impossible for one to live without tears who considers things exactly as they are. (Gregory of Nyssa, De Beatitudine)