Idalia strengthened to hurricane force early this morning and is expected to hit Florida’s Gulf Coast tomorrow as a powerful Category 3 hurricane. Evacuations have begun, schools have closed, and hospitals are suspending services ahead of the onslaught. As a reminder of the tragedy that could be unfolding, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on this day in 2005, killing more than 1,800 people and becoming the costliest natural disaster in US history.
Here’s another example of our mortality: Elton John is recuperating at home in southern France after a fall and overnight hospital stay. The news follows the death of television icon Bob Barker last Saturday at the age of ninety-nine, one of numerous celebrities who have died in 2023.
The victims of the shooting in Jacksonville last Saturday could have been any of us. They could be any of us today. God’s word is clear: “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death” (Ecclesiastes 8:8).
Here’s why I’m addressing the fact of our mortality: Scripture teaches that “through fear of death,” humans are “subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15). In what ways does the fear of death produce such bondage?
We minimize the future to maximize the present.
Many who do not want to consider the next world ignore or even deny the subject so they can focus on this world. Actor George Clooney spoke for many: “I don’t believe in heaven and hell. . . . . All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life—the only thing I know to exist—to be wasted.”
This fear of death enslaves its victims to living in a fallen world without ultimate purpose or hope. This is because the best way to live this life is to do so in ways an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God can bless in this world and the next.
If you’re tempted to ignore the reality of death and the afterlife, know this: “The coming one will come and will not delay” (Hebrews 10:37). We don’t know when “the master of the house will come” (Mark 13:35), but we do know that we are all one day closer to eternity than ever before (cf. Romans 13:11). The person who denies the sunrise doesn’t alter its reality.
We minimize the present to maximize the future.
While the first option is attractive to secularists, the second can be appealing to Christians. Some believe that this world must get worse before Christ returns and thus view social ministry as delaying his arrival. But many are so focused on eternity that they spend their lives preparing themselves and others for the next world to the exclusion of kingdom service in this world.
Evangelicals are known for our (rightful) emphasis on the salvation of souls. But we are also seen by many as ignoring needs in this life for the sake of the next. This can be a fear of death that enslaves its victims to living in a world without present purpose or redemptive significance.
God testifies that he “practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth” and adds, “In these things I delight, declares the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Jeremiah 9:24). Accordingly, he instructed his exiled people in Babylon to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lᴏʀᴅ on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Jesus healed both bodies and souls. All that he has ever done, he still wants to do through the church, his “body” in the world (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Apostolic Christians in Cuba
Voltaire observed, “Every man is guilty of all the good he did not do.” God’s word agrees: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17).
Accordingly, I believe every Christian needs a personal Acts 1:8 strategy, a way to impact their culture where they live and the larger world as well. But note: when Jesus told us we would be his “witnesses” in our Jerusalem and “to the end of the earth,” he meant that we would minister as holistically as he did.
From preaching the gospel at Pentecost (Acts 2:1–41) to meeting financial (Acts 2:45) and physical needs (cf. Acts 3) soon thereafter, apostolic Christians focused both on this world and the next. I have seen such inclusive ministry in our day and can testify that it works just as well as when it was first embraced.
I have often mentioned my many trips to Cuba. There I have seen believers serving Jesus faithfully under the most difficult circumstances. They preach and witness when they are commanded to be silent; they distribute God’s word across the island despite governmental censorship and oppression.
But they also meet felt needs to meet spiritual needs. Christians share their food with their neighbors and sponsor sports camps for their communities. When one church rebuilt its sanctuary, it kept every nail and board from the previous structure and then distributed them throughout their village according to need. In the face of continued crises, I have seen believers pleading with God for their fellow Cubans of any faith and no faith.
“Make me an instrument of thy peace”
It is no surprise to me that God is doing a “Book of Acts” work in Cuba through the holistic faithfulness of his people. What works on this Communist island will work where you and I live as well. Accordingly, I invite you to pray with me these familiar words attributed to St. Francis, slowly from your heart:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, union;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Now, how will you be an instrument of God’s peace today?