Category Archives: Death

Befriending Job

Today is All Saint’s Sunday on the Church calendar. We talked in our Ministry Moment during worship about the saints in our congregation who have already gone to their reward, but had poured the love of God and the example of their lives into us before their deaths.  Following that, this was the basics of my sermon… focusing on Job, his wife and his friends.

{Job 1:1-12, New Living Translation}

There once was a man named Job who lived in the land of Uz. He was blameless—a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil. He had seven sons and three daughters. He owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 teams of oxen, and 500 female donkeys. He also had many servants. He was, in fact, the richest person in that entire area.

Job’s sons would take turns preparing feasts in their homes, and they would also invite their three sisters to celebrate with them. When these celebrations ended—sometimes after several days—Job would purify his children. He would get up early in the morning and offer a burnt offering for each of them. For Job said to himself, “Perhaps my children have sinned and have cursed God in their hearts.” This was Job’s regular practice.

One day the members of the heavenly court came to present themselves before the Lord, and the Accuser, Satan, came with them.“Where have you come from?” the Lord asked Satan.

Satan answered the Lord, “I have been patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.”

Then the Lord asked Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job? He is the finest man in all the earth. He is blameless—a man of complete integrity. He fears God and stays away from evil.”

Satan replied to the Lord, “Yes, but Job has good reason to fear God.10 You have always put a wall of protection around him and his home and his property. You have made him prosper in everything he does. Look how rich he is! 11 But reach out and take away everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face!”

12 “All right, you may test him,” the Lord said to Satan. “Do whatever you want with everything he possesses, but don’t harm him physically.” So Satan left the Lord’s presence.

In the rest of the chapter, and then in chapter two as well, we read about Job’s children being killed, his flocks, and herds, and servants being decimated, and, ultimately, even his body is affected by the demonic attack unleashed by Satan who is merely using Job to try to prove God wrong.

Job is the story of a follower of God who endures a lot of stuff.

But isn’t it interesting, that the book of Job starts with a description of Job, but the first action in the book is God and Satan. In fact, God is BRAGGING to Satan… about Job.

Essentially, God is picking a fight with the devil… who’s known here as the Accuser.

God picks a fight!

Job has done nothing wrong. Nothing to justify what happens to him after that encounter between God & Satan.

Satan hears God boast about Job and he takes the bait. He asks for permission to test Job… to prove that the only reason Job is a good follower of God because God has blessed him with so many blessings… God is SO confidant in Job’s devotion and service that He gives Satan permission to remove any blessing Job has received: children, money, wealth, possessions, and, later, in chapter two, even his health. Satan does his very best to try to make Job so miserable that he’ll give in and fall away from God.

God doesn’t cause it… but he allows it. Why? Well, to be honest, Scripture doesn’t tell us God’s reasons… in fact, at the end of the book God makes it pretty clear that “WHY?” isn’t a question He feels compelled to answer.

However, there are at least two possibles I think I see in here:

(1) God knows that Job, if he relies on his Lord, is able to handle whatever Satan tries… Now the question is WILL he choose to handle it?

(2) God knows that Job will come through this time of trouble and trial and be an even better and stronger man of God when it’s over.

Now, on this All Saints’ Sunday, I want to turn our attention and focus, not on Job, but on the people around Job. If you’re going through trouble, you know that you can look to Job as an example and draw strength from his success in enduring trouble without cursing God. If he can do it, so can you and I.

But today we want to look at Job’s wife and friends… because that’s where most of us will find ourselves… Being the family or friend of someone who is enduring great hardship.

The first one, the closest one, to Job is his wife. She cracks under the pressure and finally, in an almost suicidal kind of statement, tells Job in verses 9 & 10 of chapter 2, to “curse God and die.” She gives up and just wants the pain to stop… and is willing to give in to whatever she needs to give in to in order to make it stop.

And there’s a here-and-now warning for us as well. The psychologists and statisticians tell us that when a family endures the death of a child or some other catastrophic trauma, the marriage is likely to be the next victim. Divorce is on the horizon in most cases. You and I, under the same circumstances Job faced, would find divorce as one of the options that begins to look attractive.

If you are married to someone that is going through a tough time, you are the one and only person that can really help, or hurt, the most. Your encouragement, or your discouragement, will be one of the strongest forces in your spouse’s ultimate healing or eventual failure. And in due course, it may be the death, or rebirth, of your marriage relationship based on your choices as the supporter or detractor in the midst of trouble.

That’s why, still today, the marriage vows include the promise of staying together through “better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health…”

You know, we never read anything else about Job’s wife, so we don’t know what she did in the end, but we know that Job refused to give up.

But now, let’s look at the three that make up most of the rest of the book.

Job has some friends. Chapter 2 verses 11-13 says

  1. Eliphaz,
  2. Bildad, and
  3. Zophar

…came to Job when they got the news of all the troubles that had befallen him. Scripture says that they came “to mourn with him and to comfort him.”

In the next few verses we read that they Cried with him, They were present with him, and they were silent.

Those were the good things they did as friends. Chapter 3, finally, Job tells them how he feels and then, and only then, do Job’s three friends start to share and talk and express their feelings.

Unfortunately, they’ve heard the lies that Satan likes to tell that say “if you’re good, then good things happen to you and if you’re bad, then bad things happen to you.” Sometimes, even today, that lie is stated like this: “Everything happens for a reason.” Those are lies that try to make everything either YOUR fault that bad stuff is happening to you or that it is GOD’S fault that bad stuff is happening to you. No grace. No mercy. No blessings. Just a mean old God that sits around cooking up bad stuff because “it happens for a reason” and that reason just might be that you, the one suffering, ticked God off somehow.

So out of their own concern and belief, they start trying to FIX Job and SOLVE Job’s problems. The problem, of course, is that God is working in the background and this attack on Job is an attack from Satan, not God… so they CAN’T solve it!

In the past few years, our country seems to have been having more and more problems… The news has been full of examples of death and destruction… whether it’s a marine base being bombed, a naval ship attacked, an embassy under siege, hostages taken, or the attacks inside our own nation like September 11th and just last week, someone deliberately driving into a crowd in order to kill and cause panic. At the same time, we’ve had drought and flooding, unquenchable fire and unquenchable thirst, disease, earthquake, plane crashes, people shooting other people, and war after war after war. The chances are becoming greater every day that you and I will be impacted by these national and worldwide events.

On top of all that, there are personal stories of tragedy: the stock market plunges and someone loses all they own, a cancer hits home and no cure is found, a job is lost as a company downsizes, or a loved one dies.

In the Church, we are full of stories and examples of how there are people all around us everyday who are essentially Job incarnate. We’ve tried to understand WHY this one gets sick or WHY that one dies and even why does another one get healed and get back on her feet???

And as the friends… we don’t know what to do or what to say… some can’t even stand it to visit at the hospital… because we’re so terrified of saying the wrong thing and making our friend or loved one feel even worse.

I believe we can learn something from Job’s friends about what NOT to do and what we really SHOULD do when we are the spouse or friend of a Job.

Throughout much of the rest of the book of Job, the friends do everything wrong… They try to figure out who or what is to blame for Job’s problems. They try to figure out ways to fix Job’s problems. They try to explain WHY it all happened.

If you’ve ever been in a time of struggle or grief, you know these are the LAST things you want to hear.  In fact, since the first time I preached this message a few years ago, I myself have ended up in the hospital having surgery in order to try to deal with cancer. And I was amazed at some of the things people said to me, trying to comfort ME… Sometimes it was even pastors… and I could tell they were trying to offer comfort, but were struggling to understand and trying to figure out something to say that would make sense.

I’m especially glad that the Bible doesn’t just tell us what was wrong… but also what was right. Look with me at verses 11, 12, and 13 of chapter 2, if you would.

11 When three of Job’s friends heard of the tragedy he had suffered, they got together and traveled from their homes to comfort and console him. Their names were Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. 12 When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. 13 Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words.

First of all, they CAME. When they heard their friend was in crisis, they came. He was in SO MUCH distress that they didn’t even recognize him at first. I know of some who are afraid of this part of being a friend to someone like Job because they can’t stand the sight of all the tubes or machines they might see at the hospital… or the grimace of pain on their friend’s face… and they simply want to be able to remember them the way they were…

But just being present is a ministry. It’s one of the promises that consoles us so much in the 23rd psalm… “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for THOU ART WITH ME…” We’re never promised that we won’t face the valleys of life or even get to avoid the pain of death… for us or our loved ones… but we ARE promised that even there, GOD IS WITH US!!! In fact, less than two months from now we’ll be celebrating Christmas, when we hear the Scriptures declare that Jesus is also known as IMMANUEL… which literally means God is with us. If we are friends to a Job, we can minister to them, just by being present like Job’s friends were.

Second of all, Job’s friends MOURNED… The Bible says they experienced the grief and the emotion and the pain that Job was going through. That’s something we can do when we have a Job in our lives… we can be real. That’s supposed to be the Christian thing to do anyways… We read in Romans 12:15 that we “weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.”

When our friends are facing adversity, they don’t necessarily need our words, they need our empathy… If we are friends to a Job, we can minister to them, just by being real with our own emotions… But that doesn’t mean that we deal with our emotions by telling the one facing tragedy, disease, or suffering about all of our experiences… or Uncle Joe’s wife’s cousin’s second wife’s tragedy that made you so sad because it was “just like this!” When you start using the word “I” you’re no longer comforting… you’re essentially trying to ease your own discomfort by passing it off to the one you’re there to comfort. NOT very helpful. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of helpful. Deal with your own emotions BEFORE you arrive.

Third, Job’s three friends LISTENED. In fact, Scripture says they sat with Job in silence for seven days. And when they started having conversation, it was only because Job himself broke the silence.

I can’t tell you the number of times I have been hailed as a great counselor when all I really did was SHUT UP and listen! Of course, I was involved and talked and asked questions, but the greatest thing I did was be quiet and reflectively listen to the other person. And those are the times that have been healing and hopeful to one in need.

If we are friends to a Job, we can minister to them just by being silent and listening.

Ultimately, at the end of the book of Job, God restores Job to health and restores his status and finances… but Job comes through this period with a better understanding of God and who God is and what God is like… and Job comes out of this time “walking humbly before his God.”

And it’s not that God just gave everything back and took away all of Job’s griefs. His ten children are still DEAD. His original servants are still DEAD. His favorite horse or mule or camel is still DEAD. Yes, God brought a restoration, but not everything is the same.

When we, or those around us, come through a tough time, we too can look forward to a restoration… but it’ll never be the same as it was before. There’s a new reality in place. A new “normal.” And that is another of the griefs and pains Job has to adjust and adapt to.

You know, we, as friends, get to walk with our Job, and we can help minister and help grieve…

SO…

Here’s the question of the day…

WHO IS JOB IN YOUR LIFE & CAN YOU BEFRIEND THEM?

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Filed under Church Leadership, compassion, Death, Disaster Relief, Grief, Mental Health, prayer, Response, sermons

Good Grief!

I love being an American. The freedoms, the pride, the heritage, the beauty of this land. They stir my heart.

But when it comes to this area of dealing with death and grief… our American culture fails pretty badly.

To start with we are a death-denying culture… Until a big crisis or disaster, we don’t talk about death. We act immortal, like nothing we ever do will hurt us and we can live forever.

And IF something happens that DOES capture our attention in this area, and death hits our own families or perhaps a famous person like Dale Earnhardt or Robin Williams or Princess Di, we couch our feelings and emotions in our own little mythologies… Trying to comfort each other with phrases about how God needed another angel so that must be why that particular person had to die. And our attempts at helping the one struggling with grief usually boils down to well-meaning, yet useless phrases like, “Be strong for your kids,” or telling parents who’ve lost a child: “Well, you can have more” or telling a young boy who’s lost a dad that he’s got to be the man now… and “men don’t cry.”

Most of the time, when we’re dispensing our own brand of seeming wisdom, we’re more likely to simply avoid anyone that we know is dealing with grief.

They feel the pain of loss, and we feel badly for them, we want them to feel better, so we either want to say “the right words” that’ll make them feel better and make their grief go away or we don’t want to be around them because we’re afraid we’ll say something that will make them feel worse… and then we’ll feel worse. So we don’t talk about it.

I’m reminded of a poem I once heard that talked about this uneasiness we feel, especially in America, and how hurtful it is for people to respond that way…

“The Elephant in the Room”

There’s an elephant in the room.
It is large and squatting,
so it is hard to get around it.
Yet we squeeze by with “How are you?”
and “I’m fine” …
And a thousand other forms of trivial chatter.
We talk about the weather.
We talk about work.
We talk about everything else –
except the elephant in the room.

There’s an elephant in the room.
We all know it is there.
We are thinking about the elephant as we talk together.
It is constantly on our minds.
For, you see, it is a very big elephant.
It has hurt us all.
But we do not talk about the elephant in the room.
Oh, please say her name.
Oh, please say “Barbara” again.

Oh, please, let’s talk about the elephant in the room.
For if we talk about her death,
Perhaps we can talk about her life.
Can I say “Barbara” to you and not have you look away?
For if I cannot, then you are leaving me
Alone …
In a room …
With an elephant.

Paul, in First Thessalonians, chapter 4, writes that he doesn’t want the Christians there to be “ignorant” about those who “have fallen asleep”… those who have died… But his reason is more than to just give knowledge or to be theologically clear… He says that he wants to clear up the confusion surrounding the death of Christians so that the Christians there who are still alive won’t “grieve as others do who have no hope.”

Essentially, Paul is filling us in that there is a Christian way of grieving… there can be “Good Grief.”

If grieving is the process of coming to terms with the feelings of loss… and then finding the comfort we so desperately need so that we can move on with the rest of our life… then part of the question is where do we find that kind of comfort… or as Paul said it… that kind of HOPE… that kind of help.

As Christians, instinctively, we turn to the Scriptures… and the Scriptures declare:

“My help comes from the Lord”

The first way God can help us in times of grief or trouble, is through the Scriptures. We read in the Bible what it has to say about death, about dying, about what follows this life, about what happens to those who die in the Lord… to those who die as believers in Jesus Christ.

In the Bible we find that those believers who have already died are called a “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1)… and the Bible describes those dead believers as ones who are watching us here like spectators in the grandstands, rooting and cheering for us as we complete our part of the relay race of faithful living.

In the Bible, we find comforting words like Isaiah 57:1 where it says that “The righteous man perishes, & no one lays it to heart; devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from calamity.” And in Revelation 14 we read:

“And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” –Rev. 14:13

In the Bible we read that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8)… and that when we find ourselves in that resurrection of the dead when we find ourselves before our Lord, we shall be like him as he is… And we know what that will be like because the Bible says that Jesus’ resurrection was the “firstfruits” the downpayment and example of what our resurrection will be like… You want to know what it’ll be like in that final resurrection… you look at what Jesus was like after his resurrection…

Notice, he knew the people around him and they were able to recognize him… and he wasn’t relegated to some lower status as an angel… one who simply serves God and His creatures… No, to die and be resurrected is to step into the inheritance of the kingdom… not become mere lowly angel…

Not only does the Bible help us understand what happens after death for the believer… but it points us to how to find the comfort and help we need in times of our own grief and loss.

We read words like these:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 [2 Corinthians 12:9a; KJV]

“Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also… I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you… Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”   [John 14:1-3, 18, 27; KJV]

 

“Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”                                                         [Isaiah 43:1b-2; KJV]

Well, if the first part of “Good grief” is the truths of Scripture, the second component would have to be prayer.

The Bible tells us that if we seek God, we WILL find Him… When we look for God in prayer, He WILL be found by us. (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

In another place, we are told that God says of us: “He shall call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. (Ps. 91)

And again we read: “If you abide in me and I in you, you shall ask what you will and it shall be done unto you.” (John 15:7)

If we want to know His help, his comfort, we have only to ask…. and God will be with us… In fact, at Christmas time we hear how one of the names of Jesus is “Emmanuel”… which means God Is With Us. (Matthew 1:23)

Part of the “good” experience of grief we can have as Christians is through our seeking God in prayer.

The third component of this “Good Grief” I want to share with you this morning comes from the body of Christ itself… through the people of God, the believers.

In the book of Romans we read that as children of God, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are expected to “rejoice with those that rejoice & weep with those that weep…”

God, through his people, weeps with us, even as we stand in line to pay our respects, or bring food to the family so they don’t have to cook or buy groceries in the midst of those crucial first days when they are just coming to grips with the enormous loss in their lives.

God is with us, in a baby’s laughter, which is so contagious… so wonderful, so releasing… And we hear God reminding us that life and love go on.  I can’t tell you the number of times when God has used the children and the babies as a healing touch from Himself during the days leading up to the final goodbye to a parent, grandparent, brother or sister.

But God is especially with us, through his people, when we sit around and remember the good things of our life together with the one we’ve lost. We share the stories… We share the memories… even the heartbreaks.

That’s why it’s such a ministry for churches to offer funeral dinners, not as a fundraiser, but as a ministry… because after the final goodbye… it’s time for the people of God to help those who’ve lost a loved one to remember the ways that God touched their lives and the life of the deceased… That way, no one ever gets left in a room alone with an elephant.

God is with us when we, the brother or sister in Christ, takes time out to just listen… not to give the right answers… but to be the right listener… Even though the grieving person may sometimes not make sense or may repeat themselves. Sometimes, it’s just hanging out with someone… and sharing silence… together.

Part of our healing comes as we sepnd time together with the rest of the body of Christ… that’s why it’s so important to remember to include those who’ve faced loss in our plans…

And just one more word about grief and loss, particularly as Christians, before we wind this up…

It’s not just the death of a loved one that leads us into grief is it?

There are all kinds of deaths and losses in our lives… even as Christians.

Death of a marriage, estrangement of a son or daughter… or parents… loss of health… loss of a job… and more…

These all lead us into grief… and, as Christians, there is a “Good Grief” available as we turn to the truths of Scriptures, turn to God in prayer, and turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ and let them help us walk through the pain of grief and loss.

This morning, I want to especially invite anyone who is especially feeling the sting of grief, the effects of loss, whether because of death or some other loss… I want to invite you to pray with me… Please feel free to come to the altar rail and I’ll pray for you here and now… Maybe that prayer is right there where you are in your pew… and maybe you want to just jot me a note that says “Pastor, I’m facing that kind of pain, the pain of grief, in this situation… or that…” or maybe you just want to let me know you’d like to talk later…

Perhaps, you realize that you’re in the throes of grief and loss, but have never accepted Jesus as your Lord, your Savior, and so you don’t feel His comfort… you’re missing out on His help. Remember, God Himself said He’d be found if you just started looking for Him… Ask Jesus to come into your life and heart and make you one of His children.

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Filed under Church Leadership, Death, Grief, sermons

FLASH BACK: Half-Full or Half-Empty

On this Halloween 2016, a FLASH BACK to one of my classic posts: “Half-Full or Half-Empty from October 2006… and the essence of last week’s Sunday morning sermon…

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

waterFor this week’s sermon, I started with an object in hand: Half a glass of water. My question to the congregation was simply, “Is it half-full or half-empty?”

The answer of course, depends on your perspective… the way you choose to view the glass.

Are you an optimist? Then it looks half-full to you, doesn’t it?

Are you a pessimist? Then it looks half-empty, doesn’t it?

It all depends on your perspective!

There is only one glass, only one quantity of water, yet there are two different views you could have regarding that glass and that water. You could believe it to be half-full or you could believe it to be half-empty. And both answers seem to be acceptable answers and both seem to be right. It all depends on your perspective.

During this next couple of weeks, everyone around us will be focusing on the fun and festivities of Halloween, and many of us here in this sanctuary right now have already made plans for what our family will be doing that evening.

Halloween can be a lot of fun. If you are allowing your children to go trick or treating or to a Halloween party or whatever, I hope it is a fun event. It ought to be.

Throughout my adult life I have run the gammet on what I believe with Halloween as a Christian. When I worked at the Olean General Hospital as an orderly, I guess I still didn’t think about it too much. Somehow I would always end up working on October 31st, and the tradition was to dress up as a character of some sort. The only one I remember was that I spent one Halloween night (3:00 to 11:00) dressed as a modern prince. You know, three piece suit, cape, sash, crown, rings, dress shoes. Trying to do my job in that get up was a royal pain, to say the least. Especially when a patient died and, as the orderly, I had to take her to the morgue… dressed up in a suit… on Halloween night… and there was a full moon to boot.

Other years, as I’ve come to understand some of the realities of what all happens on Halloween night, like the razor blades, the drugs, the occult practices, I’ve refused to participate in the day at all. I had more of a fear of all the occultic stuff I guess.

Bit by bit, though, I have come to understand that it’s my perspective that makes the difference. Just like that glass of water… half-full or half-empty… it depends on your perspective.

I COULD look at Halloween as an evil holiday, originally instituted as a druid festival with heavy emphasis on the occult. I COULD focus on the druid “Lord Of Death” that supposedly sent evil spirits out on the night before ALL HALLOW’S DAY to roam the earth in search of food which, if not given, would cast an evil spell on the person who would not help. I COULD focus on the masks and costumes the Celts wore to try and convince the Lord of Death that they were just one of his spirits, so he should leave them alone.

And all of those things are true. They are the reason behind our “give us a treat or we’ll play a trick on you” attitude of trick or treat and our dressing up in costumes. But I think that just might be the wrong perspective. That’s fear speaking.

We have been taught as Christians that we are in the world but not of it. We have to be a part of the world. We’ve been called to be in the world… rubbing shoulders with the everyday people, with sinners, with mean people, and yes, even with those who don’t understand us or our Lord. We, as Christians, will continue to encounter those people every day, because we are IN the world. But we don’t have to be LIKE the world. Because we’re the ones who know the HOPE that there is through Jesus Christ.

Jesus said in his sermon on the mount, that we are to be salt. (Matthew 5:13) Salt is never very good on its own, but it always changes the taste of the food it is put on. And the salt itself never gets to really choose what food it will affect…it has the same effect on every piece of food it touches… it makes it more salty. It gives it a new taste.

I guess that’s where I am now with my understanding of my responsibility as a Christian when it comes to Halloween. I must be salt and help change its flavor. I need to help redeem this holiday like Christians in the past helped to redeem midwinter pagan rituals and gave rise to our current birthday celebration for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

What does that mean, in practical terms, for me as a Christian then? I have discovered two practical ways that I can help redeem this holiday as a salty Christian. I’ll take the good of this holiday and focus on that and draw people’s attention to the truth.

First of all, I can emphasize the good things, while taking a stand against the evil. As our children have grown, we have deliberately allowed them to dress up for the Halloween parties at school, and let them go to select neighbors’ houses for trick or treat… but never were they allowed to hide their faces behind a Freddy mask or dress as a goblin, a witch, or a vampire. We reject that part of the ancient traditions of Halloween of trying to convince the evil one that we are just another demon spirit so that hopefully he’ll leave us alone. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is greater than any other spirit. And followers of Christ have nothing to fear.

So we could allow our girls to play dressup, and still take a stand against the false belief that we must fear the evil spirit lord. In fact, for this next weekend’s costume party out at the church camp, thrown by the youth group for ALL of the church, my kids will have the option to be dressed up if they want, without a mask, without the evil disguises. And without the fear.

One year one of the girls decided to be an angel and the other was Sleeping Beauty. One time Michele was Pocahontas and Sarah was a skunk. They dressed up and had fun. And they can again this year as well.

And yes, if kids come to our door this year for trick or treating, we’ll have a treat for them… not because we’re scared of the repercussions if we don’t, but because my Bible speaks of generosity, and “suffering the little children.”

The other aspect of what I need to be doing as a Christian when it comes to Halloween is to recognize the underlying spiritual message of this holiday.

The message of today’s modern Halloween is still spiritual, and I don’t just mean the occultic influences…. it is a pre-occupation with death… and what comes after we die. Just take a look at the decorations in the stores, on homes, and on the TV… We have ghosts and skeletons and gravestones and the un-dead (whatever that’s supposed to be). We hear of evil spirits and witches and “bubble, bubble, toil, and trouble.” And Hollywood always seems to have a new thriller/horror movie out that packs the movie theatres.

Halloween, and the time leading up to it, is the one time of year that our society says it’s OK to deal with death. And seemingly everyone becomes fascinated with it. My responsibility as a Christian, trying to be salt and redeem some of this holiday, is to recognize the spiritual hunger that I see during this Halloween season.

Because we all hunger for a reality in the spiritual world. We long for there to be forces at work on our behalf in the spiritual dimension. We have a society that literally cries out in abandon at Halloween for there to be an answer to death… to spiritual life. And they fall back on “ancient wisdoms”. They try to control the spirit world on demand, they try to conjur and channel and image. They look for spiritual truth.

And so often, we Christians deny there’s any spiritual dimension to the day (or we go the other extreme and refuse to even acknowledge it). I believe we have a responsibility to acknowledge the spiritual hunger… because we are the ones who have the bread of life… Jesus Christ as our Lord and our Savior.

And we are the ones who know the most about death… because Jesus came back from there and said,

 

I am the resurrection and I am life.
Those who believe in me, even though they die, yet shall they live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last, and I hold the keys of hell and death.
Because I live, you shall live also.

We have nothing to fear from death, because Jesus defeated death. All death has left, is fear.

Knowing that we would have trouble understanding this, Jesus, just before he went to Calvary, took the disciples aside and spent some time with them explaining what was on the other side of death and how to face it on this side during our lives. He didn’t say we had to wear evil disguises and hide our faces. No treats or offerings to demon spirits were needed. He simply said that we shouldn’t be afraid… and then went on to tell us about the other side of death, for those who allow Jesus to be both their Lord and their Savior. He simply said:

 

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house, there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.
Because I live, you also will live.
Peace, I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

When Jesus spoke of us as salt, he never expected us Christians to just act like Christians when we are at church. He spoke of us as salt so that we would get a clear picture of our role in this world. We help even the bad stuff seem better. Not by sugar coating evil nor by compromising our standards, but by recognizing spiritual hunger and offering spiritual bread… a life with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Because, when all is said and done, and the final analysis is in, it is JESUS that this Halloween minded society is looking for. The questions concerning spiritual forces are answered when Jesus proclaims I AM THE WAY. And in all our uncertainty, Jesus answers even our unspoken, unuttered questions, by declaring I AM THE TRUTH. And our questions concerning death and the afterlife are answered when Jesus reveals: I AM THE LIFE.

I have a mission this Halloween… to redeem what I can of the good, take a stand against that which is evil, and to lift up the truth of Jesus Christ.

Because you see… the glass really is… half-full.

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Filed under Bible, Church Leadership, Death, holidays, sermons

First Fruits

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

–1 Corinthians 15:20 (NIV)

I grew up around a farm. I didn’t really live there, I just hung out there a lot. It was my grandfather’s and I basically just visited on the weekends and stayed most of every summer, but I proudly considered myself a “farmboy.”

Truth is, I helped in the haymaking each summer, and usually got to go out with Grandpa gathering sap once or twice each Spring, and a couple of times gathered eggs from the henhouse. That’s it. Not much of a farm life after all.

BUT, I remember the wait for the fresh peas and green beans from Grandpa’s garden. Oh, and the corn on the cob, too! I could hardly wait for Grandpa to say they were ready, ‘It’s about time we tried some of those peas and beans.’ (He actually liked the onions and turnips and asparagus too, but even grandparents can’t always be perfect, I suppose).

And that first small serving of fresh vegetables, that first taste of the fruit of Grandpa’s hard work, was delicious! But with that first taste of those “first fruits” came the knowledge that much more was on its way! We wouldn’t have to wait much longer!

It doesn’t take much of a farm boy to recognize the parallel in our Christian walk when Paul talks about death and uses Christ’s resurrection as the “firstfruits” of the resurrection to eternal life that all believers will experience. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, then we can look at Christ and recognize that His resurrection is merely a “firstfruits” of ALL believers’ resurrections to come. There is HOPE of what is yet to come! For us… and for our loved ones in Christ who have already “fallen asleep” through death.

Oh Christ, You are only the FIRST fruits of resurrection. HALLELUJAH!!!

I stumbled across a devotional I wrote for the Lenten Devotional our worship committee created in 2001 at our Trinity UM Church in Patton, PA. We invited the congregation to reflect on a list of Scriptures and pick one to write a devotonal about.

This was my meditation reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:20.

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Times and Seasons

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.”  – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (NIV)

This past couple of years, and especially this past month, has seemed like we, the Mix family, were shooting a video to be used to illustrate this Scripture passage. It seems like our lives have been a blur of changes and traveling and trying to keep up.

It started last April when we got our first chance to start having visits with our granddaughter Elizabeth in foster care 300 miles from here in Berks County, PA. Then the next week Gay’s Mom, Grandma Sherry died… three days before Holy Week. She had lived with us for five years and became an integral part of our family. She had been so excited for the chance to eventually meet and hold her great-granddaughter.

Throughout that time of grieving and mourning, we were also beginning to understand that there was a chance that Elizabeth might be able to come live with us through a foster care program called “kinship care” and with that in mind we continued monthly, then weekly, visits in Reading, PA. In the Fall we realized we would need to hire a lawyer in Berks County to help us navigate the legal roller coaster involved with trying to get Elizabeth, but how on earth could we afford such a thing? That week we received a reimbursement for $1,000 we had been overcharged in co-pays and such with our insurance! Then, with the lawyer’s help, in November, we went to court and were granted physical custody following a transition period of a few weeks. Finally, on December 19th, Elizabeth “came home” to her new home.

Meanwhile, the caseworker who had done our home study that spring noticed that Joshua had an empty bunk in his room. Thus it was that this year, on Easter weekend, we became foster parents to David, a teen who needed a home and a family. Last month the McKean County Court granted us permanent guardianship. As Gay worded it: “We are now parents of a bouncing baby 17 year old!”

Which brings me to this past month of October. My Dad was lifeflighted to Hamot Hospital from where he was living in Potter County at the  tail end of September with an aortic dissection. While we initially thought he wouldn’t make it through the night, he did. In fact, over the next two weeks he  got better and I got to see him and talk with him and just spend time with him 10 of those 13 days. I hadn’t had a chance to live with my Dad since I was 11 years old, so this was such a gift. AND my children got to know Grandpa Don better and he just soaked in their loving. The night before he was to be discharged, he died quietly and peacefully in his sleep. And amidst the grief, we celebrated that he was ready for death and we had been given the gift of time during that last couple of weeks.

As we step into November, we anticipate one more major change: the adoption of Elizabeth as our daughter is probably going to be around Thanksgiving or early December. We appreciate your continued prayers.

In the middle of all these ups and downs, the mourning and the dancing, the anxieties and the expectations, the weeping and the laughing, we have sensed God’s presence with us through it all. Every time we unexpectedly  needed something extra, God has provided through His people: a check in a card, a reservation with extra “points” someone had with a hotel, a baby blanket (or quilt!), extra diapers, and even food!

In the book of Romans, Paul describes how we as Christians live out this Old Testament passage from Ecclesiastes: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.(Romans 12:15, NIV)

As we continue on in this journey of life, we thank God for YOU, our friends and our family, for walking with us, rejoicing with us, and mourning with us. Praise God! And Thank You!

(This originally appeared in the monthly newsletter of the Clarks Mills United Methodist Church).

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Filed under Bible, Death, Newsletter

Memoirs & A Message to Remember

Sometime yesterday, a link was sent to me for the Memoirs section of the Annual Conference (Western PA) 2013 Journal . I have always enjoyed (that’s not quite the right word) and appreciated reading the stories of faithful men and women, clergy and laity both, who have now received their eternal reward.

The memoir for Dave Panther, who had served most recently in Butler, shared an excerpt from his journal, which was also read at his funeral. It challenged me on this Friday morning.

At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212, water boils – produces steam – that can move engines. One degree is the difference between hot and boiling. One degree can make all the difference. How does the church go from hot to boiling? What is the one degree that takes the church from “stirring” to “steaming”? What is the one degree that turns the wheels of machinery? System. Strategies. Plans. Consultants. Books. Research. What is hot – what is not? Acts – the early church had No consultants, No books, No early pioneers, No system, No research. – Yet one simple strategy…. Trust the spirit. Pray – listen – trust – act. Their steps were bigger. Their courage; much more. The risk: their lives! Pray – listen – trust – act. O God – I pray to you today – help! Help me to know where you are leading, where you are working! People watch me…. Please do not let me drown in doubt – or be swallowed up in fear. Help. …That one degree – it is You. You can make the difference between Hot and Boiling. I desire your spirit to take me to the next level – I desire your spirit to take our church to the next level.

 

Check out the entire memoirs section here.

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Filed under Church Leadership, Death

First Taste of Grief

 

I entered a give-away contest online hosted by Thom S. Rainer of LifeWay Christian Resources.

In order to be entered this time, we had to answer this question:

 

“When was the first time you experienced grief?”

 

It got me to thinking. Here is my response:

“When I was in first grade I remember the anticipatory grief because my favorite uncle, Uncle Dave, had cancer (also the first time I’d ever heard that word). And the day he died, my Grandma Mix took me to the nursing home and explained what I would see, how he wouldn’t be breathing, and explained he was with the Lord now because he knew Jesus. She even let me touch him.

“By taking away the mystery and the ‘hush-hush’ she freed me to be able to grieve, but not as one who has no hope. I could cry and miss him, but God could build and strengthen my faith and my own hope as I grieved.

“God bless Grandma!”

 

 

http://thomrainer.com/2013/02/08/friday-is-for-freebies-hcsb-ministers/#comment-14875

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Filed under Death, Grief