The Weight of Death

In a world where death is common, one would think that you would get accustomed to the reality that things die, people die, and that death is not a new concept.  We go on with life, day in and day out, all the while knowing that our day to look death in the eye is just around the corner.  The more we think about it, the more we become overwhelmed by the fact that there is NOTHING we can do about it.  We try to prolong the inevitable through various means; kale smoothies, salads, staying away from the latest televised threat to our mortality, but alas, NOTHING will prevent our death.  I’ve known death a lot in my family recently.  Losing my 19 year old brother, 8 months prior to that, losing my father and just one month ago, losing my father-in-law – Death is no stranger.  It has been an evil that haunts my soul to this day.  We cannot escape.

Just yesterday on All Saints Day (a day where we remember those that have left this life before us), I had the opportunity to speak with a man that I’ve known for 5 years now.  This man was tall in stature, direct in his conversations and overall, a very caring individual.  I had the opportunity to speak with him for some time before church began, a conversation that lasted longer than any other previous time.  We discussed woodworking and he showed me some of his recent work.  These pieces were small and intricate, impressive to say the least.  What was more amazing was the fact that he made these all with a handsaw!  During our conversation I mentioned that my father-in-law had a band saw that he use to work with and made lots of crafts and small knick knacks for his children.  A joy and excitement entered when we began sharing items that we’ve made out of wood; for me, a pen holder that I made in woodshop for my grandfather, a pine car that I made for an upcoming derby, and a few other items that I can still remember to this day.  His face lit up as he saw my excitement as I shared some of my creations and how I made them!

As our conversation drew to a close, we heard the organ playing music in the sanctuary.  He turned to me and invited me to come over to his house any time I wanted, so he could to teach me his trade.  He then offered me different patterns that he had along with any of the wood that he didn’t already have set aside for his next project.  From what I hear, he has his own lumber yard to work from.  This brought joy to my heart as I thought of all the memories I could have with my sons and daughters and the projects we could make together.  As worship began, I received a bulletin from the same man I just spoke with.  The congregation sang their praises to God, confessed their sins corporately, partook in the Lord’s Supper as God’s children and quietly listened as the bell rang for each Saint that we had lost in our church this year, one of them being this man’s wife.  She died on the same day as my father-in-law, so when I heard her name, it immediately reminded me of him.  Death has now separated the mortal from the immortal.

A little more than two hours after my conversation with this man, I get a phone call from his son-in-law telling me that he was in a tragic accident.  This accident took him from this earth to an eternity with Jesus in heaven.  The weight of death is beyond measure.  At this point, it weighs heavy on my heart as I know it does for many others.  Death is our enemy, but it does not define us.  Scripture tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our LORD.” (Romans 6:23 NLT)  As I think of the blessings that Jesus has in store for me and how death will no longer have any effect on me, I am comforted and freed of the weight that death consistently brings.  I will again see loved ones and be in an unending presence of God’s creative love.  I will no longer be fooled into believing that I am somehow the center of the universe.  From where I see it, we can cling to the decaying things of this world or we can hold on to the victory that Christ has won for us on the cross.  “As for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15 NLT)

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Are You An Ally?

Let me begin by saying that I know this title and image are going to put people on the defensive immediately, but that is all part of the plan.  Please take the time to grab some coffee, or whatever beverage you prefer and sit back and listen intently on what I’m about to say.  This […]

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Busy, Busy, Busy!!!

Busy, busy, busy!!!  Aren’t we the busiest people ever to walk the planet since the beginning of mankind?  What I mean by “we” is, anyone who wakes in the morning and checks their calendar for the day’s and week’s events.   Now don’t get me wrong, being organized with the day’s tasks is orderly and good.  However, I’ve personally experienced a type of stress that comes from having too much organized on my calendar; a type of slavery to the calendar ensues and the pressure that is placed on the holder of the calendar can become too much to bear.

So is having a full calendar of events wrong?  There are many directions I would like to go from here, but I believe the most direct way of ordering a calendar is and should always be, priority based.  What are the priorities in my day, week and ultimately, life?  Where do I spend my time.  To whom do I share this precious resource with?

I’d like to share that this is not a recent phenomenon to our modern day culture.  In fact, there was a book (Cat’s Cradle, 1963) written by Kurt Vonnegut that creates a religion of busyness, called Bokononism to bring comfort and hope to the fictional characters living on the impoverished island of San Lorenzo, one of the poorest countries on earth.  Bokononsim is centered around the idea of foma, “harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls.”  Perhaps this concept of lying, if used correctly, can be really useful to a people or group.  Is it plausible that we too have bitten, “hook, line and sinker” into the foma of our day and age?  Is having a full calendar really a sign of being a successful and productive member of society?  Is being part of numerous area organizations a benchmark of a well-rounded individual?  Can truly being busy, be an indicator of productive and noteworthy leadership?

These questions can be answered in many ways, but again, I’d like to focus on how our time is prioritized.  First and foremost, putting God first is always the best practice.  Let me explain as to not sound cliche or “Christianese” by moving on to the next point.  Putting God first in your day can have immense ramifications because your plans may not be God’s plans.  The Message Bible eloquently explains God’s ways surpassing our ways, taken from Isaiah 55:8-11.  It reads,

“I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
        God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
    and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
    producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
    not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
    they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.”

Simply put, by making God’s will first in your day, you can more effectively work towards the purpose God had originally intended; just like the intentional purpose He has for the rain and snow.  It waters the earth and does not return until the task has been completed.

Is your calendar filled with events and meetings that you’ve prayed about, asked for God to align with His will or is it filled with a litany of priorities that you believe are the most important, life-changing tasks that you can accomplish within your 24 hour day?  I know that I daily wrestle with what I believe is earth shattering and then I think of how God invites me into something more precious and life-changing that more than likely runs contrary to my daily agenda.  So where do we go from here?

The constant that Christ brings me back to, day by day is the simple truth that I need to be other-focused.  In a world that is all about improving self, buying more and better things to improve self, and glorifying self through all different types of mediums; we embrace the process of creating a false self identity; we buy the foma of our day.  I have found that when I wake with the attitude of “Jesus, what do you have for me to do today?”, I tend to not get upset with my family when they wake me earlier than I intended – I am more accepting of people dropping by to tell me their life’s story, not getting mad at them because I am busy, busy, busy, and being more gracious to others in their needs because that’s how Christ is gracious to me in my needs.  Jesus doesn’t say come back in an hour because I have to Skype with Tom in Boston, He simply listens, acknowledges and answers our prayers.  He is gracious in His demeanor towards us.  He loves people right where they are.  If anyone has an excuse of being too busy, it would be God, but nowhere in Scripture do we see Jesus saying His calendar is booked up for the next couple of weeks. In fact we see one of Jesus’ greatest miracles (feeding the 5,000+ people) right on the heels of His cousin, John the Baptist being beheaded because John called out Herod Antipas in his sin.  Jesus in today’s day and age, had every right to refuse to listen to or serve this large crowd of people.  However, He had compassion on them as He does with us today.

So how do you order your calendar?  What takes priority in the day’s 24 hour timeframe?  At the end of the day, can you rest your head on your pillow and sleep peacefully, knowing that your day was in-line with God’s will?  Does your day-to-day center on serving other people and helping them in their needs?  Does your conscience bleed compassion in obvious ways to those around you?  Or, does your calendar’s upcoming or reoccurring events bring a weight on you that causes stress and a sense of helplessness?  Does it feel like your calendar is dictated by your kids’ already scheduled events?  Are you trapped in the thought that thinking serving your child’s busyness is other-focused and you’re left wondering why don’t I feel like this is really serving a purpose?  Could it be because your calendar and your child’s priorities are out of line with God’s will?

Meditate on these questions and continue to come back to this:

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. Don’t allow love to turn into lust, setting off a downhill slide into sexual promiscuity, filthy practices, or bullying greed. Though some tongues just love the taste of gossip, those who follow Jesus have better uses for language than that. Don’t talk dirty or silly. That kind of talk doesn’t fit our style. Thanksgiving is our dialect. You can be sure that using people or religion or things just for what you can get out of them—the usual variations on idolatry—will get you nowhere, and certainly nowhere near the kingdom of Christ, the kingdom of God. Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with him. Don’t even hang around people like that. You groped your way through that murk once, but no longer. You’re out in the open now. The bright light of Christ makes your way plain. So no more stumbling around. Get on with it! The good, the right, the true—these are the actions appropriate for daylight hours. Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it. Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It’s a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ. Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don’t live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants. Don’t drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians 5:1-20 MSG


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Misaligned Assignment

How did we get here?  Have we always been here, but could it be that I’ve been too blind to see it?  Am I the only one who sees this as more than a religiously moral issue? What I’m talking about is Transgender Identity.  Maybe you are unfamiliar with this identification – if so, this […]

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Praiseworthy Enough?

I have a question I have been mulling over lately, a test, if you will. The test? “Is catastrophe praiseworthy?”  My hypothesis?  “Praiseworthiness can only be validated through the good that comes through God.”

One can not simply make a hypothesis without verifying it through empirical data.  Let me share a most recent experience to help you track with my theory.  A couple of weeks ago I learned a new term, “The Widow Maker“, which refers to the main artery in the heart.  My wife shared this terminology with me as she overheard multiple doctors discussing an astounding result – Kim’s Father, sitting in his hospital bed, alive and well!  Let’s go back a bit to Thursday night, the time of her father’s heart attack.  A massive blood clot entered his left coronary artery with a swift and fierce burning sensation.  To be clear, this is deadly, but not the same as cardiac arrest.  However, if not properly treated within less than 20 minutes, the Widow Maker has a highly effective kill rate as a result of cardiac arrest.  Empirical data: Kim’s Father had 100% blockage for more than 20 minutes; Kim’s Mother was present (phone in hand) at the onset; The Paramedics Post was literally a block away; The hospital – less than 2 miles away; The doctors identified the clot location, removed it and added a stint opening a path of blood flow, saving Kim’s Father’s life.

Let me add some more experiential data to a potentially theoretical praise.  Earlier in the morning, prior to Kim’s Father’s heart attack, I was discussing with my two oldest children how God intervenes to protect us.  My attempt was to communicate with Micah and Grace how the LORD intervenes in our lives to protect us, not knowing that He was going to do just that for their Grandpa hours later.  A common discussion Kim and I have with our children in situations like these is a matter of choice.  We can believe in great coincidences, or we can believe in a Great Physician who orders our circumstances for His great glory.  The latter is something we could go on and on about in how God was glorified through this life threatening event.

So I will leave you with one simple verse of Scripture to bring my hypothesis home.  “We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about His power and mighty wonders.”Psalm 78:4 NLT

I’d say that the empirical data speaks for itself in how praiseworthy our LORD truly is.  God is more than worthy of our praise, accolades and mad props – no matter what the circumstances are.

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Gratitude is a 4-Letter Word

Why is it so hard to say “thank you” and actually mean it?  Think about the times during Thanksgiving when peer pressure forces you to give one thing that you are thankful for.  You knew that moment would come didn’t you?  However, some people would rather perform their own appendectomy before they would give thanks. […]

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Fear, Anger, Hate and Suffering

A wise “man” once said, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.” (Yoda)  Is what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri this process?  Before we start to validate points and point fingers, there is a little matter of business to attend to.

Looking at the four descriptors in the title of this post, we can quickly and easily confirm their origin, the place they first began.  Let’s use Scripture to address each one specifically.  FEAR; “[Adam] answered, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.‘” (Genesis 3:10)  ANGER; “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’” (Genesis 4:6-7)  HATE; “And I [GOD] will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)  SUFFERING; “But the Lord said to him, ‘Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.’ Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.” (Genesis 4:15)

Each of these benchmarks most definitely identify us as we enter into this world.  Only One is set apart from this process and only One can keep God’s will fully.  Let me be clear, it’s not you, it’s not me, it’s not even Billy Graham.  The One is our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.  As I type this part, in my mind I’m saying, “duh!”  However, God has also repeatedly revealed to me that many will disagree with this assumption and in the process, deny the true gift of eternal life.

Let’s get back to Ferguson.  Regardless of your stance on Michael Brown’s death and Officer Wilson’s story to the Grand Jury, we have to own both sides of ugliness that this riot-driven protest has brought.  Let me explain.  Over a decade ago I lived in Peoria, Illinois and I soon learned that I was the minority and I feared for my safety and life.  This process created an anger in my heart towards others who were different than me, racially speaking, as well as those who had enough money to afford whatever their hearts desired.  I began to hate groups of people, regardless of having any specific agitation towards them.  Ultimately this process led to my self-guided suffering.  WHY?  It all boils down to sin, mine, yours, everyone’s sin.

The only true weapon we have to combat sin is through the power of Jesus’ blood.  Jesus’ little brother once said, “Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20)  Is sin crouching at your door?  Not sure how to answer that question?  How about honestly asking God to reveal your fears, anger, hatred and perhaps the suffering that follows.  Although Yoda is a fictitious character, the words he spoke in Star Wars Episode 1 are a reminder that we might be one bad choice away from repeating Ferguson’s sin in our own home town.

In summation, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal…Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 4-7)  Please read all of 1 Corinthians 13 to get the full effect of God’s consuming Love for His people and see how He protects us from the sin that knocks on our door.  All praise and glory are His and His alone.

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