Tag Archive: death

I have not run a marathon.  I haven’t even run a half marathon.  There have been no 5k’s either.  It’s been over a year since I’ve done any hiking.  While I love kayaking, my kidney issues eliminated that for most of last year.  Yes, I walk the dog twice a day and put in about 3 to 4 miles a day, but that is about it.  I go to bed early and get decent sleep.  

I’m tired. 

Some people worry I do too much.  Funny.  I think I do less than I ever have before.  Sometimes it’s not easy to put together three lessons a week, write this column, and perform my normal chaplain duties with the police department.  But, it’s not like I’m on overload.  Teaching double studies on Wednesday can strain the energy reserves, but it’s not all that bad.  Yes, Saturday night service and then again on Sunday morning is my most tiring venture, but ,then again, it’s not like I’m working a construction or roofing job.  

I’m just tired.  

Maybe I’m getting older and I’m starting to slow down.  The right knee is a little bit of a problem, and I’m sure there is some arthritis hanging around.  My family has been plagued with the big A through the generations.  I limp sometimes, but, as the doctor told me a few months ago, other than carrying a few extra pounds, I’m in good health.  

I’m tired in my brain.

I’m tired of death.  I actually prayed that this past Sunday during our prayer time in church.  I was honest with God.  I heard an affirming mumbling in the crowd.  It’s been one of those seasons.  Today I got word that a friend’s son died from an accidental overdose yesterday.  That will make the 18th person I have been associated with in some way who has died since three days before Thanksgiving.  That is 18 in 45 days.  I have had to face death once every 2 and a half days, and I’m sick and tired of it.  

Most of the people who have gone before us have been believers in Jesus Christ.  Yes, there is a great hope associated with people of the faith.  But, it still stings.  Jesus understood that sting.  In the beginning of his ministry he blessed those who mourn.  He connected with all of us in the loss of those we love.  Jesus understands and affirms our humanity and its relative limitations.  Later on, he wept at the death of Lazarus.  We don’t know why he wept, but his emotions came pouring out of him.  If Christ can weep so can I, and so can you.  

Tears display great love.  We don’t cry over those we don’t love (most of the time).  A friend of mine recently suffered the loss of his wife who battled cancer for years.  Even having time to prepare he said, “I don’t know where all the tears come from.”  I do!  They come from the heart.  

I’m tired of crying.

I got shocked yesterday.  I was looking at the obituaries from my mother’s funeral home and a local one as well.  I was shocked at the amount of young people who are dying in our communities.  I expected the old ones like me.  There were more than I expected in their 30’s and early 40’s.  Death has no respect of age or position.  

I’m tired of losing my friends and family.

A friend contacted me when my mom died.  He put it the best.  He said, “John, you know all the platitudes, and you can quote all the right verses.  However, death still sucks.”  I could have kissed him right there.  It does.  It’s the result of the curse, and the curse is Genesis 3 comes from sin.  I know all the facts.  It doesn’t make it any better.

There is only one answer.  Maybe I have crossed a line in my life where I will start to stare at the obituaries, looking for friends from long ago like my dad did.  Or maybe, I’m more aware than ever that there is an answer.  The only answer for the plague of death is for Jesus to return and redeem this world as he has said in the book of Revelation.  I used to think only the crazy people said things like, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”  Now I see that they aren’t crazy.  They are the realists.  

Come Lord Jesus.  I’m tired.  

As we grow older, we dread those night time phones calls.  The ones that are so out of the normal everyone knows it cannot be good news.  As a police and fire department chaplain, I get used to them.  That is until it comes from your own family.  

Last night, the phone rang, and I quickly noticed it was my sister.  I knew what it was before I ever hit the button.  My mother succumbed to her long battle with dementia and passed on to be with her Lord.  The journey was over.  I was not surprised.  It left me with a weird feeling.  The safety net was now officially gone.  I am an orphan.  

As I walked the dog today, I thought a lot about my mom.  She did not hold any lifetime achievement awards, unless one wants to count raising 4 kids during the sixties and seventies.  She was not a nurse, didn’t serve in the military.  She was a normal, everyday mom.  

Often at funerals, and I’ve been to too many, we try to elevate the deceased to hero status.  It is as if we are trying to make their life have value.  I’ve heard funny stories that honestly aren’t all that funny except to the one telling the story.  I’ve heard serious stories that leave many in tears.  I’ve heard all sorts of things at funerals.  So, here I sit thinking about what to say about my mom.  

My mom did not have an easy life.  Her mid-life was full of ill health.  It seemed that she was in the hospital more than she was out.  Those were the days they actually cut you open, and every surgery was a major one.  Eventually, she had to take these green pills.  We called them her “good humor” pills.  If she forgot to take them, hide.  Most of the family is amazed she lived to be 90.    

Many of mom’s dreams were never realized.  Her sister died at the age of 2 on Christmas Eve.  Another of her brother’s disappeared for years, only to return a few years ago to say goodbye before his cancer took him.  Mom wanted to travel but Dad ran his own small business.  Small business owners do not travel.  They did pretty good but not nearly as much as mom wanted.  

The greatness trait my mother held was her loyalty.  If you were her friend or loved one, she had your back.  Don’t worry, she would tell you what she thought almost to a fault, but she would not run at the first sign of discouragement.  

So, what can I say about my mom?  I got it.

As I aged into my forties, I realized we (my brother and sisters) did not really know my mom.  We reacted to mom and did not understand her.  We did not know her story.  Mom had some tough days.  She was not the easiest person to live with at times.  So we all learned to deal with it.  Some good and some bad.  But, as I realized we were entering the time when our parents leave this world, I didn’t want to lose her and not know her story.  

I got my siblings together and we talked about it.  They agreed.  We needed to talk with mom.  It wasn’t about changing mom.  It was about understanding her.  So we did it.  It did not go over all that well at first.  Mom was quite angry as we spoke honestly with her about her moods and dark days.  Things settled down when we asked her to just tell us the story of her family and how Jesus impacted her life.  

We learned a lot in a few hours.  Her sister died on Christmas Eve, and it changed her family’s view of Christmas from that day on.  My mother became a Christmas fanatic.  It’s how she dealt with her pain.  She said her mother and father switched personalities that day.  Looking back, I’m not sure her dad ever recovered.  It happened before there were counselors and shrinks.  They had to make the journey alone.  

She revealed the days when my dad was a drunk.  She talked about keeping things together as dad often came home drunk before Jesus changed his life.  

Eventually the topic went to her dislike for my sister Joan.  For the first time in her life, at the age of 70, mom admitted struggling with Joan.  Joan could have been a twin for her dead sister.  Looking at her own daughter brought up years of horrid memories.  One never knows how we will process tragedy.  It has a hard hour.  However, it was cathartic.  

Mom didn’t necessarily change that day.  We did.  We did because now we knew her story.  We knew how to apply God’s grace, love, and mercy to her in places we didn’t know existed.  Instead of fighting her over the Griswald family Christmas decorations, we helped her.  We understood her distaste for drinking any alcohol, and the family refrained.  My sister, Joan was able to forgive her, and amazingly in mom’s final two years, she was the one to give mom exceptionally good care.  I don’t know with her dementia if mom knew it was Joan, her sister, or Joan, her daughter, who was caring for her.  It doesn’t matter.  Grace won.  

As a footnote, I think there are things about the spiritual world of which we have no idea.  Mom talked about seeing my Dad and talking to him the last two weeks of her life.  Did she?  Was it her brain or more of God’s grace?  I don’t know.  Again it doesn’t matter.  I’m glad we asked her story.  Don’t assume if you have a loved one that they are safe in your relationship.  Tell your stories.  It’s the only way God’s grace can permeate the pain of our hearts.  

Mom, you will have your first Christmas with Jesus this month.  We will be behind you in a short time.  You might not have been a super hero.  You were just “mom” and that was good enough. 

As I walked into the room,I sensed something was wrong with my dear friend.  He had a look on his face I had not seen before.  After four years, I was surprised!  He had handled just about everything thrown his way.  I asked him what was up.  His answer surprised me as he broke down into tears.

“John, there is going to be one that will get you,” he muttered.  “I wish I could say to look out for it, but you can’t.  You just don’t know which one will get you,” he continued.  At this point I had no idea what he was talking about.  ‘It’s Jim,” he said.  “Jim’s death has got me deep down,”  he finished.”  That was all I could get out of him as he sat at the table and wept.

Jim was a member of the church.  They did not have any special relationship.  He was an elderly man who suddenly died of a heart attack.  For some reason, this was the one that caught my best friend deep down.  Later, when he was able to talk about it, he said that while he was in seminary, they talked about the one death that will get your attention.

A lot of people don’t realize how much pastors are around death.  For me as a police and fire chaplain, death scenes have become the norm.  I had no idea I would see as much death as I have.  Sometimes I take some time off to process after a critical scene.  In a sense, I try to cushion the blow.  

That was until yesterday.  Little did I think the death of our 15-year-old Papillon dog, Jake, would shake my world.  It was a bittersweet day.  On the one hand, my new dog’s birthday was yesterday.  On the other hand, we had to say goodbye to the happiest dog I have ever known.  We have seen a lot of pets come and go.  Sure it tugs at our heart a bit.  Usually after a good cry we are able to get up and get going.  This one has me.  

I’m tired of death, suffering, and the pain of living in a fallen world.  Maybe it has me since we have lost three long time dogs this past year.  Perhaps, it’s the pending loss of my mother, who the doctor informed us after her latest hospital visit  is “on the clock.”  Her brain is dying.  My sister and I agree; she is already gone but her body remains.  

It’s more than that though.  I’ve seen the death of the young and the old.  I’ve seen death that takes a long time.  I’ve seen it happen real fast.  Too fast actually.  It’s not just the death.  It’s the veil of death that covers our existence.  

I so much want to stop all counseling and just say, “Pick one.”  Either choose life or choose death, but you can’t have both.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Red, played by Morgan Freeman,, and Andy, played by Tim Robbins, point out we either “get busy living or get busy dying.”  I think it’s at that level Jake’s death has ventured in to my soul, like Jim’s death touched the soul of my dear friend.

I understand why we are so attracted to Disney World, drugs, alcohol, and anything that can numb the reality.  In Disney everyone lives happier ever after.  With drugs and alcohol, we like to think we can live happier ever after.   Only, we don’t.  Actually, we cause the death of a lot of relationships along the way.

As another friend texted yesterday, death just leaves us empty.  So does divorce.  So does the moving away of a friend.  So does the slow loss of our young abilities.  So does a member of the church who slowly drifts away.  So does dementia.  It’s a side of life we don’t want to look at.  But it’s that world in which Jesus enters.

Believing in Jesus is not only a way to get to heaven.  We have over emphasized the Jesus of John chapter 3.  Jesus also comes to give us life through his death and victory over the grave. He crushes death!  When we follow Jesus, we aren’t just waiting to go to heaven, even though that will be real nice.  No, we are to be carriers of life.  Everything outside of a life in Christ is death.  

Here it is April ,and we are going to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is important to celebrate.  It’s also important to grasp that life in Christ is indeed life that is to produce more life.  It is to redeem a broken marriage.  It is to heal the broken-hearted.  It is bring hope to hopelessness.  It is to be that person who remembers those who mourn weeks and months after this world steals from us.  It is this life that reminds us this is not home.  It is this life that is to be infectious.  

Fellow believers in Christ we don’t have a choice.  There is no “get busy dying.”  We have been given a new life.   A new life in Christ that in its very essence gives us victory over the forces of death in our world.  Instead of complaining, encourage.  Instead of demanding, lend a hand.  Instead of remaining silent, share the good news of the risen Lord.  Instead of shying away, step forward and lend a hand.   Yes, loss hurts, but there is more to come.  

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden!”  Matthew 5:14

“Where is God?”  “Why me?” These two questions permeate our lives when things go wrong.  Not just when they go wrong.  It’s when they go miserable.  This past week I lost a friend.  He was fine.  Suddenly he is sick.  Hospitalized.  Things go way wrong, and, the next thing one knows he is gone.  He was too young.  We look up to the heavens and ask the two questions looking for a reasonable answer.  We probably won’t get it.  At least we won’t get one that satisfies.

I could give a sound Biblical answer.  Most Christians know the theology behind death.  But there remains this little piece of us that would like to know what went wrong.  We are not satisfied with what went right.  Each and every one of us, even though we know it’s not true, thinks God should grant us long life and blessings.  I hear it all the time, “Have a blessed day.”  I wish we could put that one to rest.  We are already blessed according to Ephesians 1.  We’ve been granted all of them already!  What more do we want?  We want to be in control of the blessings.  It doesn’t work that way.

We can’t seem to get our hands around the idea that Jesus left the comfort of heaven to rescue man.  The minute he left the Father, he was suffering.  The suffering reaches a crescendo when the Father veils himself in the last three hours while his Son hung on the cross, bearing our sin.  Jesus cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!”  It is the way of true redemption.

Yes, the hurt and pain does feel like we have been abandoned and forsaken.  Yet, as Scripture so adequately says, “Joy comes in the morning.”  Joy comes when we see beyond our vision.  My friend will not have to suffer any longer in this world.  As the Word also says, “Absent from the body; present with the Lord.”  We are not cheated in his death, and neither is he.  We along with my friend are given a few years.  What’s 10 or 20 more in relation to eternity?  Our death is not the end.  It’s only the beginning.   

The joy that comes in the morning is not so much thinking we will see each other again.  The joy is to know my friend is safe and secure in the presence of the Lord Jesus.  Can anyone imagine what it will be like to be so safe and secure in the presence of all good?  There is no evil in the presence of Jesus.  None!  There is no depravity allowed in.  The reason we (depraved for sure) can be in His presence is the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross.  His grace is sufficient.  Why?  It’s all we need.  

We who are left behind will wonder why he didn’t get to see his grandchildren grow up.  He won’t be there when his kids need that fatherly advice.  His wife will miss his presence in the night.  To this day, I miss my father-in-law.  I mainly miss his smile.  He was always smiling.  I think the world could have been coming to a literal end, and he would still be there smiling.  I hate Parkinson’s Disease.  It stole his smile before it stole him.  Yes, we are still bound by this earth, but he is free.  

Jesus, very early in his ministry said, “Blessed are they who mourn…”  I used to wonder about that one.  I finally realized mourning shows great love.  We do not mourn those we do not love.  We do not mourn those who bear our anger and bitterness.  Mourning shows a great life, a great family, and a great God.  He promised the mourners comfort, that only God can grant.  It’s a comfort that knows the truth and looks into the future. 

“Where is God?”  He is right there in front of all of us.  That is where the Shepherd takes his place, guiding His sheep along the weary paths of life.  He didn’t leave us.  He can’t.  In fact, Jesus said when we go our own way, He will come and find us.  We don’t find Him.  He comes and gets us.  Amazing…I don’t think any other religious practice has a God coming to rescue his wandering sheep.  He’s where he promised to be.  

“Why me?”  I’m sorry but we all must go through the fire.  We aren’t there yet.  My friend is, but we are not.  So instead of wondering what God is doing, we turn to a little book in the back of the New Testament titled Titus.  The Apostle Paul wrote to him and answered his questions.  He wrote, “Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  When that occurs, many will be without a job.  No more health care.  No more doctors needed.  No health insurance to be purchased.  No more pain.  No more death.  

Not here but there.

Thank you Jesus you told us we could mourn our loved ones.  Thank you, Jesus, that we will be comforted with the One who suffered the cruelest of all.  Thank you, Jesus, that because of you, we don’t have to suffer for eternity.  Do you know my Jesus?  

Today’s article is dedicated in memory of my friend, David Marcy. 

Recently, I have been teaching a class focused on current events and the cultural changes affecting the church.  We like to think that Christianity changes the culture. Actually and Biblically that is not the case.  The biggest problem God’s people have had through the ages is the effect cultural philosophies and ethics impact our faith,

As the children of Israel entered the Promise land Moses warned them about the effects of prosperity.  As Joshua takes over from the patriarch Moses, he foretells their inability to withstand the secular effects.  They didn’t.  We are no different.  

As I have studied and studied hard for this course for the first time in my ministerial life I feel inadequate.  Woefully inadequate is a better description.  I am convinced that the issue we face today is the same issue the children of Israel faced.  We give token attention to God and have succumbed to the influences of living in one of the most prosperous times in American history.  It was not that long ago that an average family did not have “spendable income.”  Now we are defined by the “spendable income” we acquire.  

As we fight the ethical dilemmas prosperity and comfort create, technology has sped up the pace of life so fast we only can be concerned about the moment and those people directly in front of us.  Gone are the days when we knew our neighbors, and, yes, I wrote neighbor with an “s.”  Technology allows us to exist in our castles, picking and choosing for whom we will lower the gate, allowing them into our personal kingdom.  

Too many families don’t even know each other.  Each person can establish his or her own kingdom in the comfort of their own room, touching each others lives through the various social medias.  There is great value in social media,; however it has the ability to isolate us more than integrate us.  Do you know who is on each family’s social media outlets?  And we used to worry about who their friends were down the street.  

This world can be confusing and full of fear.  Many from the older generations have gone silent, only speaking to their children and grandchildren with judgement and ridicule simply because their world is not our world.  We label those outside of our world.  I recently read an article that says the Millennials are saving more money for retirement than the Baby Boomers. We thought they were lazy.  They aren’t lazy.  They function differently than we did.  We kept talking at them like they were still 10 years old instead of talking with them.  That’s what an isolated people do.  We wonder why they are critical of us.  

As I have studied the six generations and the various cultural ethics and philosophies in our world, I discovered a few things that ring true through all the ages.  The first is that, since the beginning of time and the various changes through the centuries regardless of what we think we are in this together.  Nothing replaces a personal relationship.  Nothing!  Not even the computer, internet, and social media.  What keeps us from personal relationships is our inability to sacrifice our personal kingdoms.  It’s time to lower the gate and leave it down.

Regardless of our generation, we all face failure, illness and death.  Those are the three basic areas demanding personal relationship, which have been around since Adam and Eve did their thing.  The question is will we put in the time necessary to be available and relational when these times come.  Without the personal relationship we are just sounding gongs.

Last but not least there is a characteristic of the younger generations I really like.  They will listen.  They will talk to you.  They will consider the Christian faith.  However, they will only do so if they consider our faith  be authentic.  Next week I will talk about what it takes to have the Christian faith to be authentic.  I do believe Jesus said the same thing many different ways.  Let’s talk in our various studies and groups about authenticity. What a great time to consider Christ not only as a good teacher, a good man or an option but rather as the real deal!