Tag Archives: death

New life from lifelessness

For over the past half a century, I have witnessed the coming of spring.  Each and every year it comes according to its preordained time.  In the midst of intermittent snows and the cold temperatures the grass greens, flowers arise, and trees bud.  Mankind has nothing to do nothing with its arrival.  That which is ordained remains unaffected by any chaos overshadowing it.

Each year we witness new life springing forth from lifelessness, as if creation has suddenly been given a signal to awaken from its slumber.  For people of faith, spring is a time of renewal.  It reminds us of a day long ago when the Savior of the world was crucified, entombed and rose to new life.  Easter is the season of resurrection, when new life is possible from lifelessness.  

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I am reminded of a scripture passage found in Luke 5:35-43, in which Jesus of Nazareth gives new life to a twelve year old girl.  Everyone surrounding the little girl’s family knew she was dead, including the town’s people, the professional mourners, and her family.  Yet Jesus’ response was, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”  What was it Jairus, the little girl’s father, was supposed to believe?  When Jesus arrived at the residence of the dead child he said, “why all this commotion and wailing?  The child is not dead but asleep.”  Is this what the father was supposed to believe, that the child was not dead only sleeping?  He certainly knew the child was dead.  It is more likely Jairus needed faith to believe new life could come from lifelessness.  Luke, the author of this book of the Bible, intended this story to be a foreshadowing of the miracle which occurred on Easter morning; when new life came from lifelessness, when hope sprang forth from hopelessness.

A chaotic pandemic will overshadow this Easter season.  Remember Jesus’ words to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”   Hold fast to the certainty that the resurrected Jesus, the author of spring, is still in control.  Hope can spring forth from hopelessness!

Tis the Season of Hope

Here’s the transcript of my thoughts I shared at “The Service of Hope” held on December 16th, 2018.

img_0851I’m here this afternoon because like many of you I have experienced the loss of someone significant in my life. My father passed away in 2005 and my mother in 2016. The pain of loss is real and no one is immune to its effects—even those who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Followers of Jesus don’t need to apologize to anyone for their pain and sorrow in that regard. One of my favorite passages of scripture is the 11th chapter of John, which gives the account of the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. In that story Jesus is moved by the sorrow of Mary and Martha as they mourned the loss of their brother. The words, “Jesus wept,” serve to remind me Jesus knows and understands the pain and sadness we feel when we lose someone we love.

Dad was 69 when he died of prostate cancer. Growing up I idolized my father. By the time I graduated from college he didn’t seem that important to me. I had a life of my own. Yes, we gathered together at family functions but I wasn’t that connected to him anymore. When I reached my 40s, having established my family and a career, an unexplained desire emerged to get to know dad better. Looking back I see it was God who gave me that desire and I’m glad I acted on it. I recall praying God would show me something we could do together to connect with him.

Family genealogy turned out to be the vehicle that joined us together. Dad and I quickly became hooked on it. My wife Patty and I made a number of trips together with my parents to Pennsylvania as we researched our family tree. Not long after we connected dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It turned out to be the aggressive sort and 9 months later he died. I believe God wanted dad and me to be together as he struggled to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. When he could no longer pray, I prayed for him.

God prompted me to do something else when I learned dad wouldn’t be with us much longer. He inspired me to write down my thoughts as dad and I walked through this ordeal together. Perhaps some of you have read these thoughts in the book, Junior’s Hope. It was a book that almost wasn’t published. I figured it was my therapy, you know, something to help me cope with losing a father, my namesake and friend. I wanted to chronicle my life with him and create something to remember him by. But as time passed after his death I believed my writing had served its purpose and it didn’t need to be printed. Then one night, which happened to be exactly one year to the day after his death, I saw my father in a dream. In that dream I saw dad as a healthy man in the prime of life. We exchanged a few words and then he was gone. The dream was so real it filled me with hope and inspired me to get the book published. I remember thinking, okay Lord you made your point.

My life changed after dad passed away. I now had one more person to care for, mom. While I deferred to Patty to take care of mom’s physical needs, I focused on helping mom with whatever else she needed. As it turns out the book I almost never published became a source of hope for her. She was so proud of me that she had to tell everyone she knew about it. We can never fully understand the purposes of God. He accomplishes them on so many different levels.

Mom lived 11 more years without dad. Family, friends and Christmas were the joys of her life.  During her life, mom dabbled in writing poetry. I usually don’t dabble in poetry but the time I spent with her inspired me to write a handful of poems on her behalf. When I showed them to her she’d say, “Bill that’s exactly how I feel.” One of the shorter ones is printed on the back page of your bulletin.

Storms

During the closing months of her life we liked to exchange a couple of phrases. I wanted to reassure her she was truly loved so I would say to her, “I love you, I love you, I love you!” To this she’d reply, “I love you, I love you, I love you more!” The second exchange came about out of her concern as to how tired I looked attending to her various personal effects and financial affairs. She’d say, “Bill you don’t have to come see me tomorrow if you’re tired. Stay home and rest.” To this I would say, “I’ll rest when you rest.” We both knew what I meant by her resting. Mom passed away in the summer of 2016.

The pain I felt when dad and mom passed away was so overwhelming it’s hard to put into words. I miss them very much, especially at Christmastime. I have so many Christmas memories.

The reason we gather for a service such as this one is to hear how others have found hope in dark places. I’d like to spend the rest of my time with you talking about how I found hope in a dark place.

I have learned a few things as I struggled to cope with the loss of dad and mom. The first thing that became apparent to me is there is a strong relationship between hope and faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I hope you don’t mind me repeating that verse. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I wear a pendant I found in mom’s jewelry chest to remind me true hope can only be found in Jesus. Inscribed on it are the words, “In Christ alone my hope is found…he is my light, my strength, my song.”

Following the death of my father, I vowed not to be mad at God; I did not want to blame him for my loss. If there was one person who could help me, it was God. I found a scripture verse to remind me that God is always working on my behalf. Romans 8:28 declares, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” Instead of being mad at God I chose to embrace him.

I think it was my widowed neighbor that first shared with me the significance of frog. Do you know what F. R. O. G. stands for? I didn’t. It means Fully Rely On God. Someone who fully relies on God is better able to stand on the promises of God with both feet firmly planted. So when a wave of despair wakes me up in the middle of the night, my soul can sing with all its might, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so!”

The last thing I’ll share with you is something I found in the book of Joshua as I was preparing to lead a study on the book Sunday mornings this past fall. Joshua was in the same boat I was in. The beloved leader of the Israelites, Moses, had just died. It was up to Joshua to pick up the pieces and journey on without him. God tells Joshua in chapter 1:8, “Be strong and very courageous!”

Brushing aside my first thoughts that this had something to do with physical strength and metal toughness, I believe God was telling Joshua that hope could be found in strong and courageous faith. God goes on to tell Joshua, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” and later, “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” With my whole being I believe these words to be true. God will not leave me and he will not forsake me in my hour of need. He will be with me wherever I go. He will do the same for you. Faith in God is a true source of hope.

In closing, I would add these words penned by the Apostle Peter:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  1 Peter 1:3-6

“Tis the season of hope!

Freedom

memorial-day-354082_960_720As Veteran’s Day approaches I am reminded freedom comes at great cost.  American soldiers paid a price, often with life or limbs, to preserve our freedom.  May God bless our service men and women as they serve our country.

Just as soldiers paid a price for our physical freedom, one solitary person paid the ultimate price for our spiritual freedom.  Jesus died in our stead so we could be free from the bondage of sin which leads to physical death.   Death is not the end for those who believe in Him.  They will experience eternal life on the other side of death.

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NLT

Summing up Ecclesiastes

In this last post on Ecclesiastes I thought it would be helpful to try to write a summary of my experience with the book.

sunrise-1756274_960_720We, like Solomon, face a dilemma. Earth, within the boundaries of our universe, continues on endlessly. We, on the other hand, are transient creatures; our lives are but a vapor, a breath in the grand scheme of things. Life “under the sun” (the human condition without God) seemed meaningless to Solomon because no matter what avenue he pursued, nothing gave him an advantage over the certainty of death. As he considers human mortality, he acknowledges the prospect of eternity, a thought placed in his heart by God. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

It is the intent of the writer of Ecclesiastes to take us by the hand and pull us to the edge of that abyss we call death. Solomon knew that by having us stand there at the brink, we would conclude that our life experiences alone leave us unprepared to face death. As we stand there, uncomfortable with the thought of our own demise, we are admonished to order our lives presently (today).

bubbles-1038648_960_720How will you respond to the message of Ecclesiastes, “vanity of vanities, everything is vanity” (life is a vapor, a breath) as we toil “under the sun?” (Ecclesiastes 1:2,3) Will you, like the fool reject the message and ignore the signposts pointing towards death and judgment?

“The fool has said in his heart there is no God…” Psalm 14:1.

OR, will you be counted among the wise and take the message to heart. Will you remember God (Ecclesiastes 12:1), fear Him and keep his commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13)? A wise person remembers God by noticing his handiwork all around them and acknowledging that work at every opportunity. He or she will thank God continually for the blessings given to them.

To those who heed the message of Ecclesiastes, “eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).  Remember Him always.

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Remembering our Creator

bubbles-1038648_960_720“Just as the setting sun signals the end of a day, so aging signals the approach of the close of one’s life” Wm. Barrick.

Ecclesiastes chapter 12

Verses 1, 2, 6 include the word “before,” referencing a series of events leading up to ones impending death. We should view verses 1-7 as one complete sentence (one complete thought) a description of aging as death approaches.

In conversations regarding death it is natural to consider one’s Creator. This has been the case throughout Ecclesiastes. God has made everything appropriate in its time (3:11); Consider the work of God (7:13-14); God made man upright (7:29); The activity of God who makes all things (11:5).

v1        Remember – reflect, embrace, acknowledge – shape your perspective.  Creator – a remainder that we are created beings (John 1:1-3; Genesis 1:1-2:3)

Before dark days come – times of misery, trouble. These stand in contrast to the days of our youth.

V2       Gathering storm – approaching of death

V3       Watchmen – male servants whose job it was to protect the household.  Strongmen – free men or neighboring household.  Grinders – female servants whose job it was to grind grain. Those peering out window – free women trying to avoid public eye in times of grieving

V4       Description of a strickened household or village.  Doors (plural) – would be a reference to a city gate. (Houses of that day only had one door)

V5       Afraid of heights, danger in the streets – fears of the aging or elderly.  Almond blossom – reminds one of human hair that has turned white

el-salvador-1507414_960_720Death (12:6, 7)

V6,7    Golden bowl – thought to be a lamp of oil

Silver cord – a means of hanging the lamp

Cutting the cord would shatter lamp (signifies death)

Pitcher – holds life-giving water (the water of life can no longer be drawn)

Wheel – could this be a pulley system used to lower the pitcher into a well

Spirit returns to God – hints of a continued existence after death.

Chuck Swindoll offers the following insight on verses 1-7.

  1. I must face the fact that I’m not getting any younger
  2. God has designed me to be empty without Him
  3. Now is the time to prepare for eternity

Epilogue (12:8-14)

Most commentators are of the opinion that the epilogue was written by someone other than Solomon.   Jewish tradition holds the epilogue was written by one of King Hezekiah’s men.  Wm Barrick stresses that Solomon could have indeed written the epilogue also.

v8        A refrain – a reoccurring theme of Ecclesiastes, Vanity, All is vanity (a vapor)

V9       pondered – weighed points for careful evaluation

Searched out – thoroughness, diligence

Set in order – ordered his thoughts in a skillful manner

V11     One Shepherd – God

V13,14 The emphasis is on God and commandments; the secondary emphasis is on fear and obey. “A knowledge of God leads to obedience not vice versa” (Eaton)

The whole duty – our essence – the essence of mankind to fear God and obey him.

Ecclesiastes asks the question, “What advantage [or profit] does man have in all his work he does under the sun?” David Estes suggests this answer; “the advantage resides not in human achievement apart from God, but rather in human connection with God.”

  • Remember God, the Creator (Eccl 12:1)
  • Fear God, the Creator (Eccl 3:14; 5:7; 8:12; 12:14)
  • Enjoy the life God gives (Eccl 9:7-10)
  • Prepare for leaving life “under the sun” (Eccl 12:1)
  • Prepare to stand before God in a future judgment (Eccl 11:9)

 

god-2012104_960_720How does one remember our Creator?

  • Notice God’s handiwork all around us at every opportunity
  • Thank God continually for all the blessings he gives
  • Obey His commands