Monthly Archives: August 2009

Grieving

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words.

Yesterday there were two deaths in the community that affected our congregation and its people.

Frank Brower was active here for several years, working especially with the youth.

Paul Smith attended here for many years, serving as an usher and in several other ways.

In the last 24 hours I have visited with the families of both of these men, helping them to navigate through the process of planning memorial services that will be appropiate to the memories of each of them.  And one thing has really struck me – something that I have seen before, and that I believe I will always see when dealing with the families of a Christian who has died:  there is a qualitative difference between the way that they grieve and the way that the families of non-Christians grieve.

It’s not that those who have passed on will be missed less by the Christians families.  And it’s not that the pain of separation is any less.  The family relationships in the Christian families are at least as strong, often much more so, in the Christian families.

I believe that the only explanation is that which Paul is referring to in the Scripture above.  We do not grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope, becuase we, as Christians, DO have a strong hope.  And the source of that hope is not just some religious idea that Jesus tried to put into our heads 2000 years ago.  Instead, there is a deep and settled understanding that when our loved ones die, that they have not stopped existing.  We know that they are now in the presence of the Lord whom they served and whose they have been.  And the reason that we can know this with such certainty is that Jesus Himself made that journey through the gates of death and into the arms of God, and then returned to reassure us that it really was exactly as He had told us.

We also know that saying goodbye here in this world isn’t the end of the relationship with those we love.  We will see them again, whether we pass through those same gates ourselves in just a short few years, or whether Jesus will return in the meantime, bringing with Him those who have gone before and receiving all of us who are left to Himself.  And we have good evidence, both in the Bible and in the personal experience of those who have passed on before us, that we WIL

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Blinded

As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.  Luke 24:15-16

When I read this passage in my early days of Bible study I wondered what God gained by preventing these two disciples from recognizing Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  It didn’t seem to make much sense to me, because just a short time later, Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him…” (verse 31).  Why did God choose to delay their recognition of Jesus for just a short time?  It never made any sense to me.

In reading this passage recently (or, more accurately, listening while Sharla read it to me as we drove), I saw things a little differently.  I don’t think that God had blinded their eyes to Jesus at all; I think that the blindness that kept them from recognizing Him was a result of their own flawed thinking.  In their way of looking at things, it was impossible for Jesus to be walking beside them, because they knew that He was dead!  You can see this mindset in the words that they use in verses 19-24.  As you read you sense that, to them, Jesus was gone for good – they use the past tense for every verb that they use about Him and about their hopes for who He was.  And even though they testify that their women went to the tomb and found it vacant, even though they report the women’s vision of angels “who said He was alive” and the disciples’ fruitless trip to the tomb, a physical resurrection is clearly not on their list of possible explanations.

And so they walked with Jesus down the road, talking to Him about Him, they never allow themselves to see that it is Him that is walking and talking with them; they never allow themselves to believe what Jesus had foretold so many times; they never even see the clear evidence that was right there in front of them.

Now, if that seems unreasonable, think about how the same thing happens today.  Two people experience the same terrible tragedy in their lives.  One of them decides that God has abandoned them and turns away from their faith, often never to return.  But the other one comes out of the event testifying to God’s great grace and upholding power all through the time of trouble and grief.  See, I don’t think that God chose to give grace to one of the two and not to the other; I really think that the person who believes that God has abandoned them has actually allowed themselves be blinded to God’s presence by their anger and pain, when He is really right there beside them the whole time.  Often the blinded one experiences a lot of God’s grace in their time of trial, but their self-imposed blindness won’t allow them to see that those good things are actually coming from the God who they believe doesn’t care about them.  This is a real tragedy that has eternal consequences!

In the event on the Emmaus Road, the thing that finally opens the disciples’ eyes is Jesus doing something that is so familiar to them that they recognize His actions in spite of themselves:  the simple act of giving thanks, breaking the bread and handing it to them.  I am sure that they had witnessed Jesus do this simple ritual hundreds of times.  At first His actions probably just “rang a bell,” but in just a few seconds, as they changed their view from His hands to His face (was he smiling at them?), they suddenly really saw who He was.  And, apparently before they could even say anything to Him, He just vanished, leaving them gasping and shouting at each other in amazement!

I don’t know what it takes with some people to help them to see past their pain so that they can have their eyes opened to see the God who is walking beside them through the troubles of their lives.  Maybe we just need to continue to point out to them the continued blessings of God all around them so that they can begin to recognize His familiar fingerprints that they have seen so many times before.  The good news is that when they finally open their eyes and recognize God right in front of them, this time He won’t disappear!

Leave a comment

Filed under Scripture Meditations

Funeral Musings

A week ago today I was privileged to conduct a funeral service for my grandmother, Charlotte Parker.  She was 90  years old when she passed away on July 26.  She was an amazing individual, as was clearly seen from all of the testimonies that were brought forward in both of the funeral services held in her honor.  She had had such a profound impact on so many people, many of whom had adopted her as extended family.  Many stories (and tears) were shared about fun times shared, faith shared, and even griefs shared over the years.  She meant a lot to a lot of people.

Grandma was very active in her church, wherever that church might be.  She didn’t gravitate toward the big fancy churches with a lot of flashy programs.  She tended to be drawn more to the smaller congregations where there was a really dynamic spirit of worship and service, and where she could find a place to plug in.  She was often a part of the worship team, singing, playing guitar or organ – whatever was needed.  In her last congregation she had prepared the worship folders for the last several years.

Grandma loved animals.  From the earliest time I can remember she had animals around the house:  dogs, cats, birds.  She was especially fond of cats, and volunteered in animal shelters in both Crescent City, California and Fallon, Nevada.   She had several cats around the house in her last few years, one of which stayed by her side all the way to the end.  I especially remember a chihuahua that she had down in Colton, California, my home town.  This little dog’s name was Tico, and he was kind of nervous and yappy (like a lot of chihuahuas are), but that dog was totally devoted to Grandma.  He would sit beside her on her chair and just be as mellow as anything!

Grandma wasn’t always the person of deep faith that most of the people at her funeral knew.  From stories I heard from her as a child, she was what I would call a “casual Christian” for many years; a person who generally believes the tenets of Christianity, without those tenets really affecting their lives; they kind of believe, but they really haven’t “caught fire”.  But she did catch fire, and became a person who touched many many lives through prayer and the power of the gospel that she believed so deeply in.

I was actually one of those whose life she touched that way.  I had my first encounter with Jesus at age 9 at Green Oak Ranch Boy’s Camp in southern California.  I was baptized shortly thereafter, and was even called to the ministry.  But, by about age 15 I had started to drift, and by the time I was 18, I was deeply entrenched in New Age beliefs, while still holding on to a surface appearance of being a Christian.  Grandma saw right through my pretenses, and called me on it.  She told me that I was headed in the wrong direction and needed to turn around.  I still remember, with a lot of shame, my response:  I gave her a pitying little smile and told her that one day she, too, would be an “old soul” like me, and then she would understand.  Her response:  She prayed for me constantly that God would pull me up short.  And just a couple of years later, He did!  I know that there were a lot of people praying for me, but I was especially aware of Grandma’s prayers as a powerful influence that kept my heart soft while God was reaching me.  (I later apologized to Grandma for my response to her and, of course, she had already forgiven me.)

At the funeral I shared how, when I had a “skip day” in High School, I would always head for Grandma’s house, where I would play on the organ that sat in her living room, often with her at my side, guiding my fingers and patiently correcting my mistakes.  I owe a lot of my love for music to Grandma.  Whether it was the organ, or the guitar, an autoharp, or a melodion (kind of a flute with piano keys), or even just her voice singing one of the hymns that she loved so much, Grandma surrounded herself with music, and wove it into the very fabric of her being.  And she loved singing songs that glorified the Lord most of all.

At the internment, I shared from 2 Timothy 3:6-8:  “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”  I shared that it’s not so much how you start the race of life that matters.  (We all start the race in the same way:  lost in sin.)  Instead, it is how you finish that determines the kind of welcome that one receives in heaven.  Like Paul, Grandma finished the race well, and kept the faith to the very end.  And, just like Paul, I have not doubt that she was welcomed into the presence of her Father in heaven with a hearty, “Well done, good and faithful servant!  You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share in your master’s happiness!” and had the crown of righteousness placed on her head.  And, knowing Grandma, she would have presented that crown right back to her Lord, explaining quietly that she was really not worthy of that honor, because it was all about Him anyway.  And then, with that wide, beaming smile of hers, she would have entered gladly into the happiness of her master, where she will spend all eternity.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized