Words by Wil Triggs
I’ve been asked to give a testimony to our men’s Bible study. We’ve been doing Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology, a chapter or two at a time, and then they ask someone from the group to give a testimony. This week they asked me and the chapter is death and the intermediate state. It’s Wednesday night. I’m not finished exactly, but this is what I have so far…
Talk for Men’s Bible Study
Lately when I wake up in the morning, I check my weather app to see if the weather is 50 with wind or 25 with snow. This is so I know how to dress when I walk the dog and what I’m in for when I step outside.
The other day, I noticed that the Weather Channel added a feature to their app—the COVID-19 button down in the bottom right corner. I clicked on it and got a Coronavirus graph of how many people have been diagnosed and how many people have died in DuPage County every day for the last seven days. You can get it by county or by the whole state. You can choose infections, deaths or both.
To tell you the truth it seems a little macabre.
The thing is—Covid-19 is not the only thing that’s killing people. All the other ways people die are continuing unabated—the flu, cancer, heart disease. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the other things killing people just stopped? Is it supposed to make me feel better when I see social media posts that say more people die of the flu than Covid-19? That doesn’t really help.
When it comes to death, each one of us is going to be part of a statistic like that someday. Every single one of us. It strikes me in the midst of this pandemic, that in normal life, death is something most of the modern world would choose to forget. Maybe this is not a modern phenomenon—perhaps it’s always been that way. As humans, we do our best to social distance from death.
But not now. Day by day, as I check my app every morning, I can’t help it. I look to see how many people died of COVID-19 yesterday in DuPage County. I’m kind of fixated on it. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I mean, they’re talking about mass graves in New York. So 77 deaths in DuPage County isn’t so bad. But death is death.
And since death is on my mind more than usual, I end up thinking about some of my best friends in life who have died.
I think of Jim. The best man in my wedding—and I was the best man in his—he was a youth pastor, magician, puppeteer, trombonist, master of the pun and corny jokes, Christian formation professor at Trinity and Biola. Jim just sort of got me in a way that is hard to describe. People appreciate me. They like me, but with Jim, it clicked. He got me. One day he was walking with his wife and his leg went numb. He thought he was having a stroke. But it turned out to be inoperable brain cancer.
I did my best to walk with him through that, even though I was here in Illinois and he was out in California. I called him most nights and we checked with each other on how things were. Then, when he couldn’t talk anymore, his wife would tell me what was going on. Toward the end he said he saw Jesus in the room with him, praying. And then he went to heaven. For me, there’s no replacing Jim.
And there’s Peter. He was the missionary force that God used to put my heart in Russia and Ukraine, to serve the church there. Mostly, though, Peter was a man who wanted to do everything he could to help other people know and follow Jesus. I was part of a small handful of people who worked here in Wheaton while he lived in Moscow. Every morning there would be 20-30 sheets of handwritten fax pages telling us the latest news of what was happening and what we needed to do that day on top of our regular work. And then, email replaced fax, and 20-30 fax pages became 20-30 emails. We worked to impact legislation on religious freedom, connected church leaders with key partners, or directed them away from cult leaders who looked just like any other Christian from the West.
Then, out of nowhere, he and his wife were coming home early and heading to Mayo Clinic. His lymphoma was aggressive and fast. He fought hard and we prayed hard. One of the last things he told me was about our plans to do summer camp ministry with kids in Russia. Go, he said, you need to go. And we did. Peter’s energy, humility and ministry partnership with his wife have shaped me and Lorraine in ways that I can’t even begin to express. For me, there’s no replacing Peter.
One thing I’ll say—death is the enemy. Even Jesus prayed for the cup to pass if there was any other way. Of course, when we die, we won’t be taking the sins of the world on ourselves as he did, so his cup is a lot different than the ones we will all drink.
Death is with us because of sin. We aren’t supposed to embrace it.
I miss these people more than I can say. My life felt better with them physically here. The grief of losing them doesn’t end. But Jesus called them home. I trust him. Our days are in his loving, nail-scarred hands.
I don’t want to think so much of those dear ones I miss so that l lose out on the amazing wonder of the people right in front of me. I mean, every person is a universe of creative wonder, a unique expression from the hand of God. God’s stamp is on each of us and it’s not some kind of die-cut cookie cutter stamp. Everyone is different. My table guys—Mike and Michael and Val and Rick and Jeff and John—what a gift to walk with you guys and pray together and look together at the wonder of God’s Word. Seeing your faces in little boxes on my laptop, that’s better than nothing. It’s good. Just walking together through life with you –that’s so great. For me, there’s no replacing you guys either.
We aren’t people of death. We Christians are all about life. The hymn isn’t Jesus died and so shall I. It’s Jesus Lives and So Shall I—and that means that I will see Jim and Peter again. That means that someday all of us connecting tonight won’t have to use the internet and our devices to connect. We won’t have to drive to church and find places to park. That day is going to be richer and fuller and better than we can even imagine and we’re going to get to see Jesus and one another and Jim and Peter all at the same time and cry out together
Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.
There’s one more thing. Not everyone’s going to get this. People we know, people we love, some will go to a different place. Let’s not forget that and do all we can to show them the fountain of God’s love that none of us deserve but we all get to drink from because of the wondrous flow from the lamb of God.
Come. Drink. Live.
copyright 2020 Wil Triggs