Posts Tagged With: suicide

How My Pastor Friend’s Death Changed Me

2014-03-20 08.05.55 Almost two months ago, my friend Tommy Rucker took his own life.  To say this affected me would be an understatement.  In preaching his funeral, God permitted me to sort through a number of theological issues surrounding his death—as well as talk to the family and friends of Tommy that I hadn’t seen in over a decade. 

But funerals end.  Lives have to go on.  A wife has to pick up the pieces.  Children and grandchildren have to proceed without their dad and grandfather in the picture anymore.  Awful! 

I cannot speak on the subject of all of Tommy’s friends, but I can speak about one of them—me.  God has used this to change me in a number of ways.

  1. I must be honest about what’s happening in my own heart.  Tommy clearly had a dark season in his life up to the end.  Yet, his wife did not know the extent of this.  Neither did his kids.  Nor his church.  Nor did his friends.  And I wonder if Tommy really understood this!  We all must understand our hearts before God and others.  This stands as a non-negotiable.
  2. I must have someone to share what’s happening in my heart.  I remember saying during the funeral sermon, “I wish I could have had another chance to talk to Tommy—to see what was happening.”  You see, Tommy and I carpooled to seminary for over a year during our MDiv work.  We shared things with each other that we haven’t shared with anyone else other than our spouses.  I wish I could have had one more car ride with him.  Who knows?  But now, I know I must have a transparent life with someone with whom I can be accountable—my spouse or even another friend as well. 
  3. I am more diligent in keeping up with my friends now.  Phone calls.  E-mails.  Facebook.  Smoke signal.  Carrier pigeon.  I see my pastor friends online, I pop in and say hello and ask them how I’m doing.  Who knows?  Some may say, “Oh, him again?”  Yup!  Me again.  I talked online to Tommy once per week.  We didn’t talk about much, but it was that connection.  Could I have done more?  Could I have said more?  Sure, he was in Iowa and I in Kentucky—but still… .  Even so, I need to do what I can to make sure all of us minister and live faithfully, and finish well in Christ.
  4. I’m preaching with more passion.  At least, that’s what folks tell me.  I didn’t connect until just now that maybe Tommy’s death is why.  What is happening in the hearts of the pastors with whom I serve?  What is happening with the staff with whom I’m supervise?  What’s happening with the congregation for whom I will have to give an account (Hebrews 13:17)?  What’s happening in our community in which God has placed our church?  So, I’m preaching with much more urgency.  If God can use this clay pot (2 Corinthians 4:7) for His purposes, then I pray He will put in me desire to compel others to chase after Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). 

I’ve been sitting on this for a number of weeks.  It’s so hard to think about, much less write about.  Plus, I do not want to unearth feelings among the family that may be starting to heal.  But if there are any family members reading (Kay, Melissa, Jesi, Derek, Steve, Jeff, Betty, wives, husbands, and children), please know that God is and will use all things for good, even though what happened was not good. 

You know that Tommy was my brother!  We kept talking about seeing each other again sometime.  And I will see him again!  That last season did not represent the totality of Tommy’s passion for relying on His grace.  You all are in my prayers.  Thank you for letting me be part of your lives.  May God use us to be a part of the lives of those whom we care about. 

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The Suicidal Tendencies of a Prophet

As I’ve been preaching here in Destin at our EKU Spring Break Retreat, I have been greatly encouraged by those college students who have approached me, thanking me for showing them this insightful and jarring prophet. 

The week has centered around the theme, “Are You Reluctant or Ready?”  Jonah personified reluctance.  He was unwilling to meet the task that God had for him.  He showed that he was a prophet, and knew from experience that when God gave him a word, it would come to pass (2 Kings 14:23-27).  But when he was called to preach outside of his land and outside of his people a message of mercy to his enemies, Jonah sought to escape.

I appreciate my wife so much, because she saw something in this book that, to be honest, I never really landed on.  Notice how many times Jonah either explicitly or implicitly refers to his own demise.

He felt asleep in the hull of the boat—and during a “mighty tempest on the sea” (Jonah 1:4-6). 

Why did Jonah fall asleep?  He could have just tried to escape the issue of God’s call to a hated people.  He could have been worn out due to his sinfulness (Psalm 32). 

Yet, Jonah may well have been at peace with his disobedience—so much at peace, that he had succumbed to the notion of dying as an escape from God’s call.

Jonah was awaked by the mariner, God allowed the lots to be cast Jonah’s way (Jonah 1:7), and he confessed to them that he was a Hebrew who, as he already told them earlier, was running from the Lord (Jonah 1:10). 

He suggested they throw him overboard (Jonah 1:11-16).

Jonah suggested that the storm would stop if they just threw him overboard.  Whether he knew that or not remains to be seem (I believe he did).  Here again, Jonah is not concerned primarily with the lives of the mariners on-board, he will go to whatever lengths necessary to escape this call that God has on his life.  With land being hundreds of miles away, Jonah knew that he had no hope of surviving out in the Mediterranean.

… or so he thought.  God rescued Jonah for Himself—and from Jonah himself.  And in the great fish, Jonah gains some significant perspective—at least on the surface.

Jonah asks God to kill him because of God’s graciousness and mercy (Jonah 4:1-4).

Jonah knew that God was a God of His Word—He would follow through.  And because of God’s faithfulness to His Word, Jonah resented the notion that the Ninevites should ever have an opportunity to repent.  And his worst fears manifested themselves—they did repent, from the king to everyone else.  “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”  Since Jonah couldn’t kill himself, and since the mariners couldn’t kill him, he went to the author of all life – and death!  It would be better to die than to see God’s grace among an enemy.

Jonah asks God to kill him because of his lack of comfort (Jonah 4:5-11).

Jonah sat in judgment east of the city of Nineveh, hoping God would change His mind and torch the city.  He even built him a hut to keep the scorching sun and wind away from him.  God took care of reluctant, disobedient Jonah by providing a castor oil plant to give more shade.  And Jonah was “exceedingly glad” (which beat his being “exceedingly angry” toward God for His graciousness). 

God appointed a worm to wither out the plant, and a scorching east wind that nearly gave Jonah heat stroke. 

Again, Jonah said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”  Nothing was going Jonah’s way.  He pitied the plant that gave him comfort more so than the people to whom God extended His compassion. 

Here’s how the book ends:

9But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die." 10And the LORD said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"

When our comfort doesn’t exist, when our compassion dries up, when God’s call takes us to places we do not go, we may struggle and say, “Lord, my life is not worth living.”  While that may not be a suicidal tendency, it is spiritual suicide. 

Read Ephesians 4:32—and let me know of ways that God has gone a different direction than you like, how you reacted, and what steps you think you need to take to get back on track with His will.

Take your time—I’ll still be here.

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