Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:1-5
Two dear friends of mine passed away last month. One is our beloved friend and sister in the fellowship Jo-Anne. The other is my friend Paul that none of you have met but have heard about occasionally through my sermons. Jo-Anne’s passing was in some ways, ‘easy,’ in that she was a devout follower of Jesus, had lived a long life without many loose ends, and was ready to see her Lord. Her battle with cancer was relentless. And as former ESPN commentator and fellow warrior in the fight once said, not long before the disease took his life, “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and the manner in which you live.” Jo-Anne lived for Christ and is now victoriously residing with Him in Heaven.
Paul’s death has been much harder to accept. He was 45, had two teenage children, an immerging second career in information technology, and had just completed a triathlon the weekend before his passing. Life was looking good for Paul, who had immerged from a prolonged season of darkness. My friend had struggled with addiction and mental health and had at one point reached ‘rock bottom’ in which he life was in shambles. That darkness, and that fall, lasted many years. But I was there with him through every step, trying to minister to him through love, grace, friendship, and Christian witness. We laughed together, we cried together, we had many hard talks.
Everyone who knew Paul was pleased to see the direction his life was taking these last few years. He made Jesus the foundation of a new life that he rebuilt, rekindling relationships with family and finding healthy ways to handle a mind and heart that had always struggled to find balance. My friend Paul had discovered what the Apostle Paul preached, that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand.” Paul was standing upon grace.
In that, I can find peace. I also find peace knowing that he had good relationships with his children and that they will be well-cared for by their mother and her family. But what is so hard is the sudden and early death. There was no time for closure and I can’t help but to wander how he was really doing on the inside. How much was he still battling within and was there more I could have done to help my friend? These are the kinds of ‘what ifs’ that can haunt us.
But I think Romans 5:1-5 is as much for me as it was for my friend Paul, the Apostle Paul, and all of us who believe. We all have peace in that we stand up grace received by our faith. That is our hope. “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
May we exult in our tribulations, trusting that God is indeed with us and working through our story, even when we think we’ve fallen short. May our ‘what ifs’ become ‘what did I learn?’ May we learn from our friends like Jo-Anne and like Paul, examples of perseverance. May Christ use their witness to build our character and our hope; for hope never disappoints. Thank you, Jesus, for pouring your love into our hearts. Amen.
-- Pastor Justin
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