Category Archives: death

Day of the (not) Dead

Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:55

Free from the slavery of the fear of death

Many will spend time remembering others this weekend as Memorial Day is celebrated in the United States. Our family spends time remembering every year about this time. Today marks seven years since my dad passed away. May 26 is the anniversary of the passing of Carolina’s grandmother, the one everyone knew as Noni. Sunday will be the anniversary of the passing of Luis Tolosa, my father-in-law. And Tuesday will mark another year since the death of one of Carolina’s favorite aunts.

All four of these died in Christ. We will be together again. We do not grieve and mourn as those who have no hope; our tears merely mark a passing pain that will one day disappear forever.

“Since the children (we) have flesh and blood, he (Jesus) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14–15)

Manuel Manrique and the Luis Guzmán family

On Friday, I mentioned that there were several big events that happened last week(s), one being the passing of Wanda Martin. Two other big things happened while I was on my Cuba trip.

The first was the passing of Manuel Manrique. I’ve written about him a couple of times before. Back in 2011, I described a visit to Manrique’s house and the joy that was. Then I shared a video back in 2015 when Manrique had fallen, and I thought he was going to pass.

This time it was for real. Manrique passed away on the morning of October 21, the day I arrived in Cuba. As is their custom, they buried him that same afternoon. I was blessed to arrive in time to be at his funeral and was even asked to say some words at the graveside ceremony. That was a privilege for me; as I said then, Manrique is one of the few heroes I have.

On Monday, I got some bad news about my dear friends Luis and Lido Guzmán. They are from Mexico and have been living legally in Abilene for the past 6 years. Their temporary status was coming to an end, and they had applied for permanent residency. They found out that their application had been denied and that they had to leave the country within a week. How awful! They had bought a home in Abilene, their daughter is a freshman at ACU, and they were building a life here.

I’m sad for them and especially sad for our church. As I told someone, I can think of many problems that the Guzmáns helped solve, and I can’t think of any that they were the cause of.

Later this week I’ll share more about the trip itself. But I needed to share those major happenings first.

Losing a friend from my youth

Family picture from Wanda’s Facebook

I was in Cuba earlier this week; I’ll post more about that soon. Several significant things happened while I was on that trip. Somehow my traveling seems to coincide with major happenings. Like the death of my good friend Wanda Martin.

I met Wanda while we were both studying at Abilene Christian University. In 1983, I convinced her to go on a Spring Break campaign I was leading to Long Beach, California. Then a group of us returned and spent the summer there in Long Beach. That summer group formed strong ties of friendship among ourselves and with some of the young people in the church there. Wanda ended up moving to Long Beach.

I, on the other hand, went south to Argentina. My most faithful correspondents from the States were my Long Beach friends. In one letter, Wanda confided that she had gotten to be good friends with Bruce Martin, but that she was afraid he was interested in being more than just friends. She said she was going to have a talk with him. In her next letter she said, “The talk backfired…”, and I guess that’s an understatement, since they got married in 1987. One of the first things I did upon returning to the States that year was to drive down to Baytown for their wedding.

Wanda passed away unexpectedly this past Sunday morning. I hurt so for Bruce and their kids (Daniel and Amanda). I hurt for the church in Long Beach who lost a special person. And I hurt for me, for losing a friend. I’m glad I got to have lunch with Bruce and Wanda when I was out at the Pepperdine Lectures this past May. I’m sorry we won’t get to do it again.

Upon learning the news there in Cuba, I told Tony Fernández, “You think the friends of your youth will always stay young.” But that’s not how it works.

Prayers for the Martin family.

Repost: Death

[Forgive me for repeating this post. It’s something I wrote for Heartlight Magazine in 2012, a year after my dad died. My mind goes to these things this time of year.]

Just as different nations have different holidays and memorial days, different families have seasons that are special to us. For our family, the end of May has become one of those times.

It began when my father-in-law, Luis Tolosa, passed away one May 27 at the age of 64. A few years went by, then it was Carolina’s grandmother, who passed away on May 26. Another aunt died May 29 two years ago, then last year it was my dad, who left us on May 25. Four death anniversaries in five days; it’s a time to remember those who have gone on.

I hate death. I worship the God who is life, and death is his natural enemy, the final enemy to be conquered. (1 Cor 15:26) In a wonderful twist of irony, Revelation pictures death itself being thrown into the fiery lake that is itself known as the second death. (Revelation 20:14)

Jesus came to free mankind from the fear of death, or at least from slavery to that fear. (Hebrews 2:15) Our innate survival instinct will always leave us with some fear, but we need not live as slaves to that fear. We know someone who has been there and back, and he has promised that we can overcome death. In Revelation 1, Jesus says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17–18)

I love that last phrase. “I have the keys of Death and Hades.” As I wrote in Letters from the Lamb about the letter to the church in Philadelphia:

In the case of Jesus, we need to remember that each of the letters refers to chapter 1 of Revelation. In the vision that John had of Jesus, Jesus had keys in his hand, the keys to death and Hades. It seems likely that Jesus is referring to the same keys here; the reference to the key of David is made to emphasize the permanence of Jesus’ actions regarding death and Hades. Now that he has opened that door, no one can shut it again, until Jesus himself decides to do so. Christians can face death without fear, for their Lord holds the key to let them out of the realm of death. Their stay in Hades will be but a temporary one, for they know the One who holds the key. When he opens the door, no one can shut it again. When Christ spoke with Peter about having the keys of the kingdom, he also spoke about the gates of Hades, saying that they would never be able to prevail against his church. Jesus opens the door to the place where the dead are, and once he has opened it, no one can shut it.

I hate death, but I also face it with confidence. I know he who has gone before and trust in his power to keep his promises.

Photo by msp on