An Anniversary I Do Not Want To Celebrate

In Memory of

Jacob Carlyle Davis

August 20, 1986 – December 28, 2010

One year ago today my brother-in-law died. He was a young man finishing his course work to become an occupational therapist. He was preparing to propose to his girlfriend. Everything appeared to making sense in his life and then the unthinkable happened. He veered of the road trying to avoid a deer and his life was cut short.

That is the way that we feel about it. That is our perspective. Limited by time, space and grief. The way that we see the world and the events that take place in it, but God does not measure a life in the same way the we do. It is the quality of life lived for Him that pleases God most. This is a difficult lesson because it forces many of us to second guess what we have always believed. Many of us live, never fully committed to what God has called us to, never fully engaged in God’s mission for His people. And then, when we have little or no life left to give and no energy to offer we wish we had lived differently, better.

These are the thoughts that fill my mind and heart today.

Below are the remarks that I made during Jacob’s funeral.

I was looking at a Gideon New Testament on Wednesday that Jacob used and because of a crazy need for book pages to be kept straight I stopped and straightened the pages. I decided that if ever there was going to be a day to do the “flip and read” method of listening to God that would be it. I looked down and saw that I was in Second Corinthians 5. I would like to read to you a few verses.

1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. 12 We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. 13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

I needed to read that because that is exactly what Jacob believed and live out each and every day.

We were driving toward Harlem on Tuesday when Miranda’s aunt called and told me, “He’s gone.” That was not what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear that Jacob was fine. I wanted to hear that Jacob had a broken leg. I wanted to hear that Jacob would never walk again. I could have handled any of those things, but not, “He’s gone.” That was not what I wanted to hear.

At 4:04 pm, December 28, 2010 – Miranda calls and tells me that Jacob has been in an accident. Twenty-nine minutes later, at 4:33 pm, Miranda’s aunt calls and our lives are turned upside down and radically changed forever.

There are days in all of our lives that we wish we could erase. Days like Tuesday. But, I can’t erase it. I have to live through it. The pain and sorrow that I feel, I have to believe, will fade. I’m just not sure how long it will take. We were driving through one of the many small towns in central Georgia on our way home and we came to a church that several times had been the object of our jokes because of its awful signs. You know the kind. The ones you roll your eyes at. But Tuesday we didn’t see a cheesy sign. We didn’t see a reason to joke. We saw a word from God written on plastic: “Jesus feels your pain.” I needed to see that. At that moment, I needed to know that we were not alone. The death [of a loved one] has a way of making you feel isolated and alone in your own skin.

Driving toward a reality you would rather forget has a way of unfolding the assumptions that you have about yourself. Listening to your wife cry out for answers and having none to give. Wanting to find words of comfort for her that just won’t come because you can’t find any for yourself. Crying, frustrated and angry with the reality that right now, in this instance, being the man of the house just isn’t enough to soothe the hurt that has opened up in the heart and soul of the people that you love brings you face-to-face with what you believe.

Perspective, often times comes to us at too high a price. What I have come to see today is that life is more precious than I could have ever imagined. Too often taken for granted. Never always enjoyed as it should be – it is such a precious gift.

I told my dad Tuesday that this is the closest I have ever come to doubting God’s existence. How could this happen? Why now? Why him? Isn’t this supposed to happen to bad people? Why does this stuff happen to good people too?

When my family drove across the state to join in our mourning we had some time to share about all that had happened. My dad told me that part of the reason we feel such a great shock from this event is due to the perception of wasted potential. Wasted potential.

That is why I refuse to believe that Jacob’s life was wasted because of any anger I feel that he was taken from us too soon. I refuse to believe that Jacob’s life was not reaching out to the extent that God had designed for him. I refuse to believe that God would have filled this one man with so much talent and grace to rob us of some future demonstration of his love. There was no wasted potential because Jacob was using it all up everyday and God was giving him a fresh dose every day.

I am coming to understand that death is NOT a part of life. It is the vicious violation of life. It is the devil’s way of mocking us and making us feel hopeless and helpless. The bible says that death is an enemy. I was struck by all that happens when a death occurs. Family, friends and communities rally together, not just for comfort and support. We gather together to boldly confess that death is not what God had planned for us.

God was at work in Jacob. Every movement of Jacob’s hand was fulfilling God’s purposes. In every step of his life WE felt the love of God. I feel cheated because I will no longer get to experience this reality, but God has not been cheated. God has been so glorified in the midst of all of this. I have heard the name of Jesus said so often this week.

I see Jacob with new eyes. Through the eyes of those that he served and loved and who loved me back. I have read of his gracious nature, his sincere smile, his gentle words, his quick wit, his sharp tongue. I have remembered late night conversations and early morning reflections. Jacob’s life was not wasted. He lived more in 24 years than most of us can even imagine living in a lifetime.

As a youth pastor I want to say something to the Journey students. You have seen what a life sold out for God looks like. You have enjoyed Jacob’s witness. God is giving you this opportunity to make a choice. You have a wonderful staff and amazing pastors that know what Jacob knew. Listen to them, talk to them and stop wondering if being sold out to Jesus will keep you from enjoying your life. Jacob had more fun than anyone I know. The bible says that he who humbles himself will be exalted. Look around you, I think that this is part of what that means.

I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. I believe that God will bring us through this, but right now I am angry and hurt. I love God and I trust him, but I don’t like Him right now because I think my plan was better. I even feel a little guilty saying it. But my heavenly Father’s chest is big enough to handle the fists of his hurting son. My God is bigger that all of this [crap].

I don’t have the ability to understand this. There are no reasons, no explanations, no theological systems that can make sense of this right now for me. I want to wallow in my sadness. I may even need to. I don’t really know for sure.

There are many things that happen in our lives that are just beyond the ability of the mind to comprehend. The death of a young man too young to have seen what many of us have taken for granted has shaken me in ways that I never knew was possible. Jacob Carlyle Davis was an 11 year old punk when I began dating his older sister. When he died he was a 24 year old punk whom I had come to love and respect. He loved Jesus, his family and his church.

He was my brother. I love him for what he added to my life. I appreciate and admire him for how he lived out his faith in so many simple ways. And I will miss him in ways that I cannot express. Well done, Jacob. Well done.


Christmas Has Come!

The child has been born.

The angels have proclaimed the coming of good news and joy.

The Shepherds have seen with their own eyes the great sight that was proclaimed to them.

Now, it is our turn. What will we do with at Christmas? My prayer this Christmas as that we would turn Christ. That we would turn to Christ and live lives worthy of the Gospel message that he proclaimed.

Merry Christmas!

A Season Abounding With Miracles

Miracle on 34th Street is one of my favorite Christmas movies. The adaptation made in 1994 is particularly good. In the movie there is a scene where a young deaf girl comes to see Santa Clause. The girls mother explains that she can not hear. She just wanted to see him.

Then the unexpected happens. Santa comes into her world. He enters into her world and reminds her that she is not alone. This simple act is more than just kindness. It truly is grace personified. I love this scene because not only is the little girl blessed, but so is her mother, who just wanted to make her daughters life a little bit happier. A little bit more joyful.

This is what Christmas is all about. It is the reminder that God has entered into our frailty and made us feel less alone.

Remember this Christmas that you are not alone in the world. God has come down and has become like you and me so that we may know joy. Now and forever.

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Christmas-gate: The Scandal of Christmas

6For to us a child is born,
     to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
     and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace
     there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
     to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
     from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV)

This may very well be one of the most astounding prophecies that Jesus fulfilled by his birth. It reveals so much of what the Christ Child would accomplish for all those that would put their trust in him.

Here in the form of a small, defenseless and humble child the Redeemer of the world stepped into the limited from the eternal. In the hands of a young, faithful maiden was held the hope of the not just the faithful, but of the cosmos itself. In the company of beasts of labor and livestock the King of kings was born.

Jesus was born in a lowly place, not so he could learn humility, but so that the humble would not fear approaching him.

Jesus, the baby, was given to us so that we could, if we would, find the hope and solace our hearts and souls long for.

God’s Wild Idea

But, what really astounds is the last line of this passage. Look at it again. Notice the “who” and the “why” of this event. Who will do this? “The Lord of hosts will do this.” The birth of Jesus was not relegated to the hands of angels. It was not entrusted into the feeble hands of broken humanity. No, God himself, concocted and executed the greatest scandal ever perpetrated in the universe!

If you do not believe that the birth of Christ is a scandal, you must read the stories again.

  • An unwed, pregnant girl
  • A betrayed groom
  • A birth in an unsanitary stall
  • Outcast shepherds, the first to hear
  • Pagan wise men, the first to worship
  • A mad king, bent on retaining power
  • The king’s counselors, unable to accept the news

This is a scandal. We have grown so used to it that we have made it seem so normal. And it was all God’s idea.

God Enjoyed What He Did

If the fact that God made this event take place is not enough, the way in which God did it just as unbelievable. Isaiah says that it was “with zeal” that God was going to do it. With zeal? God enjoyed doing what he did. While that is not completely surprising it is surprising. God took pleasure and delighted in sending His son into the world. God was not unhappy or saddened by the Son’s departure from heaven into the world of men. No, the Father sent him with “zeal”.

There are so many miracles taking place in the birth of Jesus. What makes this entire event and the circumstances that surround even more spectacular is that God was not only behind it, God was pleased by His role in the whole thing.

The sun will rise on Christmas morning and we will be challenged once again to consider not only if we have accepted the man that this baby would become. That would be too short sighted a view of Christmas. We will be confronted with whether we, like our Heavenly Father have enjoyed and delighted in the coming of the Son of God.