Category Archives: Grief

Can I help you?

As a pastor for the past 21 years, I would LOVE to be able to see exactly what my listeners in the congregation are thinking… and where they are in their faith journey to help steer my praying (my private praying mostly, but also the public prayers) and to guide my sermons to help where people really are. HOWEVER, we can’t see these thought bubbles in real life! We only have two resources in this: people sharing directly with the pastor about concerns, questions, and struggles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 
Because of the Holy Spirit, we do “get it right” quite often as we follow the Spirit’s leading and “nudging.” But what JOY when people talk directly with us and we can work directly with the Spirit to meet needs, offer clarification, provide comfort, extend a listening and caring ear, and pray personally with someone. 

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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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Weeping Jesus

     In January of 2002, my family visited the National Memorial in downtown Oklahoma City. After we explained to our girls the horrific story of the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building, we began walking through the memorial that has since been built on the spot where the building once stood. I have never been so moved as I was that day.

     At each end are huge gates… one representing the moment before the bombing (9:01 a.m.) and the other representing the moment after the attack (9:03 a.m.). And in between those two gates… in between those two moments… was the blast and its aftermath. Each of the lives lost is symbolized by an empty chair bearing the name of one of the 168 victims. Walking around the reflecting pool, looking at the chairs and the remains of the one piece of wall that still stands, I slowly began to realize that the chairs were of different sizes… and I remembered that 19 of those killed were innocent children at play in their day-care center. And I was struck by the horror of it all over again.

     At each end of the memorial site stand two church buildings that had also been damaged in the blast. Across the street at the eastern end is the United Methodist Church, which included an open chapel on the grounds when they rebuilt, complete with helpful brochures, healing pamphlets, and even free Bibles, offering the peace of Christ and the hope of Jesus to any who want to leave the terror behind.

     Across the street at the western end is a Roman Catholic Church, that commissioned a memorial of their own when they rebuilt: a statue of Jesus, with his back to the grisly destruction, weeping.  weeping Jesus

     Jesus Christ, weeps in the face of such hatred that would be so violent and murderous. He turns his back to such evil and destruction. God cannot stand sin… sin cannot abide in his presence. According to the Gospels, God the Father hid his face from His own Son when He was bearing our sins on that cross so long ago.

     Engraved on the gates of the Oklahoma City Memorial are these words: “We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever…May all who leave here know the impact of violence…”

     We need to remember. Especially in light of the unimaginable events that we have since lived through lately. Bombings. Riots. Protests. Police shootings. Shootings of police. A truck deliberately crashing into pedestrians. Mass murder at a nightclub. A teen gunman in a mall luring people to their deaths. And that’s just the last few weeks in non-war zones. And looking ahead, we see events like the political rallies and even the Olympics coming up soon and wonder if we’re destined to endure even more heartbreak, sorrow, and terror.

     Terrorism is well named. For it is terror we feel when faced with these unthinkable, cowardly acts of violence. There is no protection it seems, no hope, no safety, no peace, when faced with terror.

     Yet, we are reminded by these two churches, and by the Scriptures, that even though our Lord despises and rejects such hatred, He is never untouched by the pain and the suffering. His back may be turned to evil, but his face is filled with tears of compassion and love. He promises to walk through the darkest of times hand-in-hand with any one of us who calls on Him and allows Him to bring us His peace and His comfort.

     We celebrated Christ’s victory over sin and death just a few months ago at Easter. But a key part of the Easter story is remembering the beatings, whippings, and gruesome death He endured. We remember his broken body and His shed blood as He turned His back to a cross and allowed Himself to be nailed to it in order to once and for all time purchase our eternal freedom. Since God cannot allow sin into His presence, and every one of us has sinned, we were all doomed for an eternity separated from God… an eternal death. But Jesus Christ, the only one who ever walked through life without ever sinning, took our place… facing death and hell so that we could be freed from that judgment of eternal death. Like when someone chooses to pay off a debt for you that you knew you’d never be able to pay.

     In this time of uncertainty, when the terror and fear and sin is so clearly visible, it is time for us to return to the weeping Jesus, and remember His death until He comes again.

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This was my pastor’s newsletter in our church’s bi-monthly newsletter, The Circuit Rider, (August/September 2016), First United Methodist Church, Carmichaels, PA. (Based on an original devotional I wrote in 2002).

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Remembering Aunt Nancy

I posted this on my Mixed Genes blog on February 12, 2016. In honor of Aunt Nancy’s 70th birthday today, I wanted to repost it here…

Last week, on February 1, 2016, my Aunt Nancy (Mix) died. It’s taken me almost two weeks to be able to begin to write.

My earliest memories have Aunt Nancy interwoven throughout them. In that time when Mom and Dad had separated, and yet before my brother had been born, there was a time when Mom and I lived in an

Dayton & Nancy 1963

Dayton & Nancy 1963

apartment in Coudersport. I remember being all dressed up because Grandma and Grandpa Mix AND AUNT NANCY were coming to visit. I remember constantly checking the window to see if they had arrived yet. I loved visiting Grandpa and Grandma, but I was EXCITED to play with Aunt Nancy. To this day, I can remember her smile… and her giggle.

Part of my love of reading and books have an early Aunt Nancy memory as well. I only had a couple of weeks of first grade left and she gave me a Children’s First Dictionary for my birthday. I read that thing front to back and back to front. And she had me read words and kids’ definitions to her as well. I knew that she had trouble seeing, but it was still years before I understood that she could no longer even see me at that point.

In the time when I was home from college, we would still read books together. In fact, we had taken one of our road trips down to Olean to the Christian Bookstore and I read the titles as we walked down the aisles of the store. We discovered one by an author I had never heard of named Janette Oke. She decided the one we wanted was her book Once Upon A Summer, following an orphaned adolescent boy named Joshua. I remember we tossed around what a cool name that was, and I thought maybe I might name my son Joshua someday. And over the next couple of weeks, we would sit in the living room and I would read the book aloud.

It was such a great idea that Grandma and Aunt Nancy would read Janette Oke’s novels together for years and years.

Every once in a while, Aunt Nancy and I would take off for a store or a mall. Olean, Erie, Elmira. After Gay and I were married, we added the Altoona and Johnstown malls to our itinerary as well. Everything went pretty well, except for two problems we had to overcome: I could guide her wherever she wanted to go except the restroom. So I would check out what the mens’ room looked like, describe it to her, and suggest that the womens’ room was probably similar. She never got lost and always came back safe. The other obstacle was trying to explain to Grandma Mix that she could be safe “out there.”

Probably one of her favorite activities was talking on the phone with Aunt Roena.  She also loved spending time with her family. Every so often she would sneak up behind me and put her ALWAYS COLD fingers on my neck and just giggle. Of course, I tried to return the favor as often as possible.

According to the Bible, in Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Eventually Aunt Nancy came to the realization that the time to leave the nest had come and gone… and there was a gradual sinking and growing depression… and then confusion… and eventually delusions.

Monday evening, after I got the call saying she was gone, my wife, Gay, commented that there was once a movie entitled: “When Stella Got Her Groove Back.” Not that either of us had ever seen it, but Gay could just envision Aunt Nancy arriving in Heaven as “When Aunt Nancy Got Her Giggle Back.”

Almost twenty years ago, for Aunt Nancy’s fiftieth birthday, Gay wrote a poem for her. Here it is…

An Ode to Aunt Nancy

Here’s to a lady born as a Mix,

Whose birth as a girl gave her brothers a fix!

Nancy Jo Anne they gave as her name,

And spoiling her rotten was their favorite game.

Tea parties with Ted, cleaning the pens,

4-H blue ribbons for prize-winning hens –

Her life on the farm was simple and sweet,

The love of her family made it complete.

But to her, life was not always kind;

A childhood ailment left her sight blind.

Not one to be stopped by what it brings,

She clearly saw life through other things.

Her listening ears heard more than was said,

And in giving wisdom her loving heart led.

Not one to go out much, never too fancy,

To each generation she is known as Aunt Nancy.

Her lap has held babies, by count, quite a few,

And they came to know her loving heart, too.

Her giggle, her smile, her sense of humor,

Her ability to know the truth from a rumor

Has enriched our lives with her sense of wit

(Sometimes she doesn’t know when to quit!).

She’s hard to surprise this aunt who knows all

And loves to go shopping at any old mall.

But that’s not her only shopping pleasure:

The Avon Book is full of wonderful treasure!

And so, on this day, fifty years from her birth,

We celebrate her life, her love, and her mirth.

By G. Mix, 6/24/96

Obituary of Nancy J. Mix from the Olean TIMES HERALD

Obituary of Nancy J. Mix from the Olean TIMES HERALD

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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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“Beyond the Sunset” with Grandma

Today, June 27, 2012, was the funeral for my grandmother, Ethel Pauline (Haynes) Mix. The pastor at our home church, The Rev. Rebecca Edwards, officiated the service while I preached the eulogy. These were my basic notes. These are speaking notes, so grammar wasn’t my concern. And as always, I can spell pretty well, but am a lousy typist, so be gracious!

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

Some of my favorite memories about Grandma Mix are how she shared her emotions:

  • If Grandpa had been away too long, or was frogging around in the barn or the basement for what she thought was too long, she had a summons: “YOOOO-HOOOO!”
  • If she was interested in what you were saying, she simply said “oh?”    or  “well…”
  • If she was ever so slightly disgusted, it was “hhhwwwWELLllll!” OR the show stopper itself: “Well, good NIGHT!”
  • If she was REALLY fired up and ready to just bust loose, you could sometimes catch her counting… “1-2-3-4-5-.” She believed counting to 10 would always help you get your anger under control.  BUT Sometimes, there weren’t enough numbers. And she was still ticked. Those were the times when I can still remember Grandpa Mix saying, “NOW ETHEL… you know the one thing you’re never supposed to do when you’re angry is don’t you??” She would curtly say “WHAT?!” and with a smile on his face, he would simply reply, “Laugh!” and she would lose it and start laughing… and say “Well good night!”
In Psalm 116:15, we read:

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.”  

In Revelation 14:13, we read:

“Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” ”             

Ethel Pauline Haynes Mix

July 7, 1918 to June 24, 2012

When we want to honor someone who has lived their life and then died, we highlight the year they were born (and for Grandma that would be 1918) and then put a dash followed by the date they died (2012 in our example). Seeing those dates, 1918-2012, are supposed to help us understand how long and blessed a life the deceased was able to live.
There is a great poem that talks about how that dash in between those two dates is such a poor summary of an entire life, and it challenges us all to live our lives in such a way that our ‘dash’ has great meaning. But this morning, it’s those two dates that really capture my attention.
Ninety-three years! Almost a century!

Grandma Mix was born at a time when

  • a 30 hp Touring Car could be bought for about $2,000.00,
  • a Steinway piano for $550.00,
  • a nice woman’s nightgown was 98¢ and
  • an evening gown went for about $37.00.
  • A daily newspaper was 2¢, 
  • a Sunday paper was 5¢ and 
  • a ticket to a Broadway show would set you back somewhere between 75¢ and $2.50.[1]
 When Grandma was born, 
  • Irving Berlin hit it big with his song “Oh! How I Hate To Get Up In The Morning.”
  • The United States was averaging about $291 million in surplus.
  • World War I, the “Great War” to end all wars, was in its last few five bloody months, ending on November 11, 1918.
  • An influenza epidemic broke out that would kill 25 million people worldwide, 500,000 in the U.S. alone.
  • Life expectancy of a girl born at this time was estimated to be about 54.6 years.

It’s that last statistic I want to draw your attention to: A girl born in 1918, it was calculated, ought to be able to live until about their 54th birthday before they died.

Grandma REALLY beat the odds! By about 4 decades!

I remember back in 1982 that Grandpa Mix worked with the rest of the family to pull off a surprise 45th wedding anniversary party because no one expected Ethel Mix would still be alive 5 years later for their 50th anniversary! This past Saturday Grandma Mix saw the 75th anniversary of their wedding day! And Grandpa has been gone 18 of those years.

Time and time again, we thought Grandma was going downhill and maybe it was time to rally the family. And every single time, until this last week, she beat the odds and, as Aunt Bonny remarked at one point, Grandma was like the Energizer Bunny!… STILL GOING!

In the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, we read, there is a time to be born, a time to live… but we also read that God has also established a time for death… a time when each of us will die. For Ethel Mix, that God-appointed time came early on Sunday morning, June 24th, 2012.

How do you gather together the essence of a life well-lived?

One day about a decade and a half ago, I was asking Grandma about some of what made her tick, what made her unique. You know, what’s your favorite color (she said PINK), her favorite animal (she said she didn’t have a favorite… but had always had a DOG), favorite music (country western or hymns), favorite author (Grace Livingston Hill), favorite vacation (she said the trips to California with John), and her favorite place (She said “wherever home is.”). I also had asked her about her favorite food and there I got a story:

 My favorite food’s always been potatoes. When I was growing up, I’d always have potatoes. Then if we had desert, I’d have desert… and then I’d have another potato to wash it all down.”

And to just make sure there was no misunderstanding, she added:  “I always liked potatoes.”

At one point, I asked if she had a favorite Scripture and she said she didn’t, although later waivered and said “maybe Psalm 23… I like the psalms.”

She didn’t claim to have a favorite song, but back in the 80’s she and grandpa were telling Aunt Nancy and I about Grandpa (John)’s grandmothers’ funeral and how they had played (or sung) “When it’s Good Night here, It’s Good Morning up there.” And then, almost as an aside, she said: “I’ve always wanted Beyond the Sunset at my funeral.”

You know… I’ve heard that song on Gaither videos, but I had to go look it up.

There are four verses to that old hymn. Each one speaks of another realization of what Heaven is like after each of us dies… and goes Beyond the Sunset.

Verse One:

“Beyond the sunset, O blissful morning, when with our Saviour heav’n is begun.
Earth’s toiling ended, O glorious dawning; beyond the sunset when day is done.”

This first verse talks about those first few moments of a Christian “waking up” in heaven and realizing that our life here on earth was just nothing compared with the time of eternity in Heaven with Christ. Waking up and realizing that all of the work and struggle of this life is now gone… and an eternity of rest and joy awaits those who know Jesus as Lord.

The apostle John, in the Revelation that ends our Bible, saw a similar sight, a ‘new morning’ in Heaven, like this…

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a beautiful bride prepared for her husband. (Rev. 21:1-2, NLT)

Nothing will be the way it was here in this life. No more Hopelessness… just Hope fulfilled! Bliss! Joy! The beginnings of your life in Heaven!

In verse two of Beyond the Sunset, the description of Heaven goes on:

Beyond the sunset, no clouds will gather; no storms will threaten, no fears annoy;
O day of gladness, O day unending, beyond the sunset, eternal joy!

In John’s Revelation, we read almost the exact same sentiment:

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.   4 He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” (Rev. 21:3-4, NLT)

I can see the attraction for Grandma in these passages… She was born before the Great depression and had a sense of what ‘normal’ was like. But shortly after her 11th birthday, everything that could go wrong did. The stockmarket crashed. People began to know what it meant to have to do without. When she and Grandpa married in 1937, they were still in the depths of the Depression.

She once told me about a time shortly after they were married when she was feeling so lonely while Grandpa was out working. She said:

When we lived up Eleven Mile, I remember the telephones weren’t very good. So one day I wrote a letter to my mother… we were so poor at that point that it took several days to save up the 3 cents I needed for a stamp, but eventually I got three cents and walked down and bought a stamp and finally mailed the letter off to my mother. That was the hardest up we ever were…”

This woman had learned how to save that which was precious… You couldn’t take it for granted that you’d have everything you needed down the road… so you’d better save some.

As a kid, I loved going to Grandpa and grandma Haynes’ general store because they had SO MUCH of anything you could possibly want or need. But going to Grandma Mix’s was almost like being in that store. She literally stockpiled food, supplies, and necessities… just in case.

Most of us in this room that were ever in her house (and especially those of us who helped move Grandma out of her apartment or before that moving Grandpa and grandma off the farm) knew that part of Grandma… there were cans and cans of food that had been saved “just in case” (to the point where they had outlived their expiration date by years and sometimes even decades).

And most importantly, you always had enough toilet paper…

But that song’s second verse, and our second passage of Revelation 21 also promise that there will be no more tears…

Grandma knew that dimension of life here on earth as well, didn’t she?

The loss of babies, the pain of losing a son to cancer in his 20’s, caring for him and later both Grandpa and Grandma Haynes as they approached the end of their earthly lives, and then Grandpa Mix in 1994.

She knew what it meant to have troubles… she knew what it meant to have tears…

And the promise that neither of those go with you into Heaven, warmed her soul and spirit with expectation.  No more clouds, no more tears, no more fears… just gladness and joy.

Verse three of Beyond the Sunset goes like this:

Beyond the sunset, a hand will guide me to God the Father, whom I adore;
His glorious presence, His words of welcome, will be my portion on that fair shore.

The song talks about being guided and introduced face to face with God Almighty, the Father of us all… and hearing Him welcome us… In Revelation 21, John gives us a peak at that moment:

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”   (Rev. 21:5, NLT)

Ethel Haynes Mix knew that God Almighty had given us a written record of what we could expect and what we could look forward to… and she trusted Him and His record. One of my favorite memories is still being there when Grandpa, Grandma, and Aunt nancy would be sitting in the living room and Grandpa would open the Bible and just start reading.

It’s like the Bible was the letter of introduction to the Heavenly father, helping her understand what she could expect.

 The final verse of Beyond the Sunset, goes like this:

Beyond the sunset, O glad reunion with our dear loved ones who’ve gone before.
In that fair homeland we’ll know no parting-beyond the sunset for evermore!

John’s Revelation continues:

6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega — the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give the springs of the water of life without charge! 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

The song speaks of the “glad reunion” with “dear loved ones who’ve gone before” and the joy that there will never again be a separation for those who know Christ.

The apostle called it the “finishing” of all that was before.

This woman we called “Mom” or “Gramma” or “M&M Gram” knew what she could expect… and longed for that day.

But she also longed to come to the end of all things, beyond the sunset, and find her family there with her at the end of their journey.

She knew the joy and expectation, but she also wanted to be surrounded by her loved ones.

You know, the Bible’s pretty clear on that as well… for any who REPENT of their sins and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we too, will find our place where grandpa and Grandma now are… beyond the sunset. God won’t force you to go there. As sinners none of us can get there… but of we give up our sin, then we will find that welcoming presence when our days end guiding us to God… and the glad reunion this woman before us is now experiencing.

 

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This post also appears on my Mixed Genes blog today.

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Filed under Death, family, Funeral Sermon, Grief

The Missing Door

In the introduction of Michael Card’s book The Hidden Face of God, there is a revealing story of Vincent van Gogh, the famous artist of the 19th Century.
Van Gogh had once felt called to the ministry, but had never been able to pass the theological entrance exams. Instead, van Gogh opted for a more incarnational ministry… among the coal miners in a small town in Belgium.
Bit by bit, over a three-month period, Card writes, van Gogh served God by reaching out to these poorest of the poor. In fact, he followed Jesus’ admonition to the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. Paycheck by paycheck, as van Gogh saw more and more need, he gave away just about everything.
Card then writes “So completely did he reflect the sacrificial simplicity of Jesus that he became known as ‘the Christ of the coal mines.’”
“But those in the church who had authority over him did not feel this extravagance was appropriate, and he was eventually dismissed. It was a failure that hounded him for the rest of his life,” Card writes.
Throughout the rest of his life, even as he discovered a ‘ministry’ of expressing himself through art, van Gogh struggled with a sense of failure… even though we now recognize he was a genius! He felt like a reject… and felt the church was the one who had rejected him. He no longer felt he could turn to the church for strength or support… and became estranged from the Lord of the Church as well… Jesus Himself becomes a stranger to this one who had once emulated him so completely.
Card then draws attention to the last church painting van Gogh ever made, not long before his death: the Church at Auvers. Card writes:

“What many art critics have commented on is not the swimming colors but the ominous lack of a doorway leading into the church. Vincent painted a church that no one could get into. Having tried all his life to work hard enough to ‘get in,’ it appears that he could not imagine, in this last image of the church, a door that might allow him, with his enormous load of pain, to enter in…. Together with the scarcity of references to Jesus in his last letters, the absence of the door in the painting reveals his most fundamental fear: that there is no way into the church and, even more agonizing, that there is no One waiting on the other side of the missing door.” (pp. 12-13)

Vincent van Gogh died on July 27, 1890, as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds from a suicide attempt two days earlier. His brother, Theo, was with him when he died, and reported Vincent’s last words were, translated: “the sadness will last forever.”

How many times do we, today’s church, share our opinions and our thoughts about the way someone else is doing their job in serving Christ? How many of those times are we alienating those very ones who love Christ and are trying to serve him? How many end up like Vincent van Gogh… carrying an overwhelming load of pain and feeling abandoned by Christ and the Church?
No small wonder that the author of Hebrews writes: “…encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Hebrews 3:13, NIV)
Not everyone will agree with the way everyone else does stuff… not even in the church. But we can make sure that constantly show God’s love and compassion by encouraging one another… so that no one ever sees us as a church without a door.
Who can you encourage today?
(This was my pastor’s letter for the August 2008 edition of our church’s newsletter: The Sound of the Trumpet)

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Filed under Church Leadership, Death, Grief, Mental Health, Newsletter, Reflection