when i was a child, i had a fear of death. not just my own, but of those that were near to me. i had a fear of the unknown. i had a fear of pain. most of all, i had a fear of sadness. especially about the ultimate loss.
i’m not sure where this fear came from, but i know it lingered into my young adulthood. even as one who believed in god and eternal life and salvation through the death and resurrection of jesus…death still choked my confidence and loomed like a dark cloud.
it was out of this inner darkness that i developed a way to cope with this fear. it was a lame theology, but it worked for me. at least for a while.
i began to believe that if i was busy doing god’s work, i would become indispensable. i believed that if i was involved in important kingdom affairs, god would protect me. so i dedicated myself to serving people and giving myself up to the things of god.
(my motives for ministry were not completely dominated by a fear of death. far from it. but i would be less than honest, if i didn’t own up to this kind of perverted life insurance policy i had made up in my mind…)
but like all stupid theologies, this one was exposed as a fraud. three times.
the first was the shocking death of keith green in a plane crash in 1982. i was totally unprepared for this. i was 28 years old and had already confronted the deaths of many others. as a young pastor, speaking at funerals was neither awkward nor distressing. it was part of life. just not keith green’s.
in my estimation, keith was doing significant kingdom work. his life was making a difference. thousands of young people were being exposed to jesus through keith’s singing. the church was being rocked by his call to uncompromising commitment.
for me, if there was anybody who was whose life was going to be protected…whose life was vital to god’s ongoing mission on earth…whose mere existence merited special favor and safeguard from harm…it was keith green. dang. my theology was on shaky ground.
1997. if there was ever a man guy who knew the heart of god, it was rich mullins. rich was also an artist…a renegade troubadour who surrendered himself to the master. i remember the day…the moment…i heard of rich’s death. he died in a gruesomely tragic crash on the way to a concert. sheesh. my theology that god would protect his most important and essential servants had moved to thin ice. really thin ice.
as if i needed a final nail in the coffin (sorry..) of my lame and dim-witted protectionist theology, along came october 30, 2003…the day my friend and youth ministry guru, mike yaconelli, died when his truck veered off the highway late at night and struck a light pole.
enough already. if there was any doubt in my mind that god can complete his work on earth without me…or anybody else who thinks god needs him…mike’s death put it to rest. there are multiple generations of youth ministers that were mentored by mike’s words and life. he was easily the most important and significant person in the world of youth ministry.
and he died. and finally…brutally…with great relief…so did my errant theology.
if god didn’t need keith or rich or mike to carry out his plans, he definitely didn’t need me. and what an incredible weight was lifted from my puny shoulders. god does not need me. oh…he uses me from time to time…but nothing others can’t do. nothing so vital that he would ever have to protect me or save me or put up some special shield around me.
blessed are the poor in spirit. blessed is he who understands that god does not need him. blessed is he who finally understands that he is absolutely nothing without god.