For all who wonder and fret over death, judgement, and such

My friend Rebecca is the mother of a son, 8, and a daughter, 6.  Here’s what happened the other night.

I was asleep in the dead of night.  Suddenly, I became aware that Mia, my six-year-old, had crawled into our bed and was talking to me.

Mia: “Mom, how old is Jesus?”

Mom: “Honey, Jesus isn’t any age any more.”

Mia: “Mom, did you find Dad and make him marry you? or did Dad find you and make you marry him?”

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She said, “There are some people I need to apologize to.”

The lady is on her deathbed, it would appear.  Her mind comes and goes, according to family members. Sometimes she is lucid, at other times not.

They called me.  Would I come by the hospital to see her?  The daughter said, “Sometimes when she is ‘with us,’ she seems troubled.  Today she said, ‘There are some people I need to apologize to.'”

“We were hoping you could give her some peace.”

Since I was the family’s pastor many years ago, I knew some of the history.  My feeling was that the lady was a genuine Christian although I sensed she had not progressed in spiritual maturity as she should.

In her hospital room I greeted her and we chatted.  I said, “You have given your life to Jesus Christ, is that right?”  The voice was weak, but she was nodding her head.  She had.  “And you love Him?”  Again, yes.

“But you have not always been faithful.”  She shook her head, indicating it was so true.

I said, “Neither have I.  None of us have.  We have all done a poor job of living for Him.  That’s why we appreciate so much His faithfulness.”

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The funeral I want for myself

We were gathered around the bed where my wife of 52 years lay. We had signed the papers to unplug her from life support.  Everyone was in tears.  After a time, I said to my family, “Now listen. One of these days it will be Grandpa lying here. And I don’t want all this crying.”  Granddaughter Abby said, “Why not?”  I said, “Well, good night, I’ll be 98 years old and I will have preached the previous Sunday! What’s to cry about?” They all laughed.

I say a lot of things just to get a laugh.  It goes back to childhood so it’s who I am, I suppose.  But this one is dead on.  I want to live a long time and stay active serving the Lord and loving the special people around me.  Ideally, the only people attending my funeral will be friends of my grandchildren since I will have outlived all my contemporaries.

I may or may not do that.

My times are in God’s hands.  I know that and I’m good with it.

I go to a lot of funerals.  Yesterday, in fact, I went to two.  For the first I occupied a pew and I was the officiator at the second.

More and more I give thought to my own memorial service.  And in planning it–if that’s what I’m doing here–I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking I deserve a service befitting the King of England or something.  Simple is good.  And brief is not bad.

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When a friend grieves, we all hurt.

This was written some years back after the drowning death of little Haylee Mazzella, the granddaughter of my dear friends Dr. Buford and Bonnie Easley.  I came across it this week, handwritten hastily, in an old file.  I have no idea whether I ever shared it with the family or not. The grandfather is now in Heaven, alongside our wonderful Lord Jesus and Buford’s precious granddaughter.  My heart still hurts from the memory.

If our grief could ease just a sliver of your grief, you would have none left because so many friends are sorrowing for you today.

If our tears could dry your tears, you would weep no more, because so many are heartbroken for you today.

If our pain could erase yours, you would never against experience a moment’s discomfort the rest of your life, because so many are hurting for you today.

If our prayers could bring your child back, she would be with us this very moment because so many are interceding for you today.

If our grief could ease your grief, our tears dry your tears, our pain erase your pain, and our prayers undo this tragedy, it would be done in a heartbeat.

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Pastor, at the funeral of a believer…

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on, that they may rest from their labors.  And their works do follow them”  (Revelation 14:13).

“I tell my students, when you’re standing at the graveside of a saint, make the message clear and plain. Because you’ve got the only message in town!” –Ken Chafin, longtime seminary professor, teacher of evangelism, pastor 

I’ve been going to funerals a lot lately.

Not conducting them, but going as a mourner.

I’ve reached the point in life where almost weekly I learn of the deaths of longtime friends and former parishioners.  This week, it was an 86-year-old member of a church I served in the 70s and 80s.  The week before, the deceased was the widow of a colleague I’d served on a church staff with in the early 1970s; she was 92.

I always pay attention to how the ministers do their funerals.  Always want to learn to do this better.

And that brings me to this.

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Five things I want the grieving to know about death

One: It’s not wrong to hate death; our Lord hated it also.

He broke up every funeral procession He came to by raising the dead.  Scripture calls death an enemy (I Corinthians 15).

Two:  Scripture says death is out of business.

“Shall never die” (John 11:25-26).  Jesus promised that.   “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

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Laying aside the earthly. You might want to get ready for this.

“For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”  (2 Corinthians 5:1)

“We do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:4)

My wife gets attached to cars. I do not.  Recently, I gave my 2015 Camry to my oldest granddaughter.  I’ve done that several times before–starting with the ’96 Camry to my son many years back, later the ’05 to a granddaughter, the ’09 to our twin granddaughters, the ’13 Honda C-RV to my son, and now this one.  I’m happy to pass them along, and as one might expect, they enjoy getting them.

To me a car is a thing, an instrument we use.  My oldest granddaughter names them.  The ’05 is Sandy and this ’15 is Pearl (names based on their colors).  Like most cowboys in the old west, I don’t name my mounts.  I take good care of them and have them serviced by the dealer on the recommended schedule, and thus have almost no trouble from the car.  But when it’s time to replace it with a newer version, I’m happy to let it go.

Think of that as a parable.  We let things go so they can be replaced by something better.

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And now, I’d like to say a few words to my fears

“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you” (Psalm 116:7).

Fears crop up from time to time.

They co-exist right alongside my faith, like tares among the wheat (referencing Matthew 13:30).

My faith and my fears are not friends, you understand, nor are they unknown to one another.  They have fairly well existed alongside one another from the beginning, so they are well-acquainted, in the sense that competitors on the gridiron who do battle in repeated contests come to know one another intimately.

I identify with the fellow who, when told that all things are possible if he could believe, answered, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

What do I fear?  Let me count the ways.  (I do this knowing full well that fears love to be given room and attention and energies, all of which serve to feed this cancer, causing it to mushroom.)

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Just You Wait.

“I would have despaired had I not believed I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Yes, wait on the Lord” (Psalm 27:13-14).

I believe.

I believe I will see.

I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord.

I believe I will see the goodness of the Lord (over there) in the land of the living.

Without that faith, I would have despaired.

Believe or despair. Those are the choices.

There are no other alternatives.

No matter how we try to dress atheism up as a noble choice of clear-thinking people, its only logical outcome is darkness and oblivion. The only thing such a philosophy produces is despair.

The Lord’s goodness will be on full display in the “land of the living.”  This world is not the land of the living but of the dying.  The land of the living lies just over the hilltop.

It awaits the faithful.

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What I am learning about grief

We grieve, but not “as others who have no hope” (I Thessalonians 4:13).

No one volunteers to become knowledgeable about grief.  Life hands you the assignment by robbing you of someone whom you love dearly. Suddenly, you find yourself missing a major part of your existence–an arm and a leg come to mind–and trying to figure out how to go forward.

You discover this ache in you goes by the name “grief.”  Synonyms include mourning. Sorrow. Loss. Bereavement.

Without warning, you find yourself experiencing an entire new lineup of emotions–all of them devastating–about which you had heard only rumors before.

The second discovery you make is people think you ought to be able to help others deal with it. Surely, they imply, if you have come through it and lived to tell about it, you must be wise.

I’m so unwise.

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