R.I.G – Rest In Glory!
This past weekend I received some bittersweet news. My friend and brother in Christ, Chris Ball, passed away from a drug overdose.
As many of you may have come to know through my writings, I am not the sort to dance around difficult topics. Neither was my buddy Chris. So because I know intimately of his great love to see others come to know the Lord, today I’ve chosen to use this opportunity as I truly trust that he would’ve wanted to, to address something rather difficult.
Now many of you might be wondering…
Brother in Christ? Drug overdose? How are these two things even synonymous?
Well, when you think of some distant person whom you’ve never met but only heard of, or some relative you barely see, many of you could probably find many justifications for writing off such relationships as toxic or hazardous to your own faith and growth. You may not view a faith that sometimes fails and even fails greatly as one of substance.
But luckily for all of us who have been so intimately graced with experiencing the love of Christ know, our Heavenly Father holds no such hesitations.
In fact, Jesus came to save sinners – just like Chris and I!
Jesus said to them “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Just as love compels any good mother to stay up so late until the early hours of the morning praying and waiting for her son to safely arrive home, the Bible tells us that we serve a God who never sleeps or slumbers, and lives to intercede for us. (Psalm 121:4, Hebrews 7:25)
And just as a good father seeks beyond the “what” his son does, to intimately try and understand the deepest depths of the question ‘why‘ he does what he does, so our Heavenly Father intimately knows every last thing we’ve ever been through and why we are the way we are.
He knows the first time we were ever abused, and whether that hurt has ever had the chance to heal.
He knows our first loss, and how it sometimes causes us to reframe our personal view of self worth.
He knows our first let-down, and if that disappointment has diminished our hope in our future aspirations.
He knows our betrayals, and how that has significantly impacted our ability to trust.
And yes, He also perfectly knows our indifference, and how uncommon it is for us to demonstrate faithful, ongoing, loyal, unceasing love because we ourselves have not had examples of it demonstrated in our own life.
And some of you might be thinking of how you have failed in many ways in one or all of these areas in your own life for someone you love because of how you’ve let these outward circumstances come between you, but if your focus ends there, with some sort of selfish sentiment of self-abasement, then maybe you have never truly understood the true breadth of Gospel hope.
You see, it’s because our Heavenly Father so intimately knew all of these things about us – the repercussions of just one bad decision thousands of years ago that happened in a Garden, and it’s influence over all of us ever since – that he even sent Jesus to earth to do what He alone has done.
And you might think that if ever we had a person who was truly so perfect and sinless and spotless as we believe Jesus to be ever come visit earth that we would somehow know exactly how to treat Him and hold Him in highest esteem, but, well, you’d be wrong.
Because of our own brokenness and depravity, we only do what we know how to do best:
We’d slander him.
We’d tell lies about him.
We’d ridicule and mock him.
We’d hide ourselves from him.
We’d selfishly take from Him when beneficial to us.
Then we’d betray him.
And we’d be indifferent to His sufferings.
But because of His great love and intimate understanding of what the depths of our depravity produces, Jesus instead looked beyond it to the day when those who through faith would be made perfect, and He called it a joy (Hebrews 12:2) – and that joy was ever so great that He would gladly bear the sufferings of being beaten to beyond recognition and nailed to a cross by the very ones He came to save, since He knew that it was the only way to see the insurmountable hope He held in His pure and holy heart for all of us come to pass one day – a promise that extended even to my brother Chris through his faith in Jesus.
When we believe in this hope, the process of that change worked out into our present lives of our future glorified selves only begins.
For some of us whose hearts have been responsive and open, the change begins and carries underway very quickly. They’re hungry for the bread of life, and thirsty for living waters, and so healing can come like a rushing river, permeating many areas of their lives.
But for others whose hearts have been continually discouraged, continually let down, continually betrayed, continually unloved, with little or no healthy community, there poses far more obstacles to seeing the fruition of that work because so many other foundational stones that need to be in place in their lives to help them to find firm footing until they can stand for themselves.
Even in my earnest attempts to walk with Chris these past few years, and how privileged I feel to have been considered a friend to him and be a part of his journey, I know it hasn’t always been perfect, and that even I have let him down in so many ways.
But I know my friend Chris, and I know he believed in Jesus and was filled with His Holy Spirit.
One such occasion that made it clear to me was two years ago when I was stirred up in my Spirit with the idea to go and begin reaching out to families in prison waiting rooms. I did not have a vehicle to even get to the nearest prison, so I got on my knees one evening before the Lord and prayed and asked Him that if this idea was truly stirred up by Him, to please provide a vehicle for me to get there, and then I would know that He was leading it.
Well, across town Chris had just recently bought a new truck and got a call to pick up his mom one afternoon.
It was an unexpected call and if anyone knew anything about Chris, it was that he loved his family and never wanted to let any of them down – especially his precious daughter. So even though he had a few drinks that morning, he reasoned that it might be close enough to his home to go and get her.
Unfortunately, while Chris was waiting outside for her, he had also parked in a handicap spot by accident, and this drew the attention of a nearby officer who walked over and smelled the alcohol on his breath.
After completing a breathalyzer, Chris’s license was suspended for a year, he was fined, and now he had a new truck that he would not be able to use.
But Chris saw the truck as a blessing from God that he felt confirmed in his Spirit about buying after a long and arduous search and knew it was maent to serve a purpose. So he prayed and asked God “What should I do with this truck now?”
And the Lord said to him:
“Call Raymond, he needs it”
So obediently, Chris called me just two or three days after my prayers, and we met up and talked about it with each other, and since we recognized that it was truly the Spirit’s leading, I took over his truck for a year to pursue the beginnings of my own journey into prison ministry that accompanied where I am today.
What did I learn about Chris?
Without question, Jesus speaks to Chris.
Chris may not have always felt like he knew how to, but he was always more than willing to do his part among the community of believers.
Without question, the things that Chris were clear that Jesus was ever asking him to do, Chris was willing to do.
And who knows, maybe this was the only thing that Chris ever felt asked by our Lord to do since he came to faith, I don’t know.
But I do know that I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Chris’s willingness to act on his faith, despite any personal issues he was going through in life.
Chris had faith.
And if I could only see these glimpses of Chris’s faith and recognize it beyond his obstacles… How much more does our Lord who intimately knows all that he has been through also know all of what Chris believed?
That’s why I am confident that just as Jesus said to the thief on the cross beside him, “today you will be with me in paradise” because of Chris’s faith, he is also now experiencing the fullness of God’s love and God’s peace in unhindered glory.
I am so grateful to have gotten to know him so well that I can be so absolutely sure of this today.
Today might be a sad day for many of you to know that he has passed away.
But today, even despite my many tears for my beloved friend, my heart is also so overwhelmingly happy to know that Chris can now experience the fullness of everything I’ve tried so earnestly tried to explain to him these past few years about the perfect love of our Blessed Lord and Saviour, Jesus, the Christ!
For it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.
Uncertain about so many brother, this I know… we shall definitely meet again!