Mortality

Maybe it is just the aches and pains of getting older; maybe I am reaching “that” age where more friends are leaving this world than staying here; maybe it’s because several friends have died in the last few weeks, and then Billy Graham headed “Home” after 99 years.  Billy quoted John Donne at Nixon’s funeral: “John Donne said that there’s a democracy about death. ‘It comes equally to us all and makes us all equal when it comes.’ ”

In any case, I am faced with my mortality and am embarrassed that it features so prominently in my thoughts.  Of course we will all die, and I do not fear it any more than other believers who have preceded me.  I do not look forward to becoming more forgetful, aching when I do things that used to be easy, perhaps trembling from Parkinson’s or suffering with cancer or some other terminal illness.  Like my mother, I sincerely do not wish to be a burden on others, particularly my family.

But the event of death, at the moment it arrives, is not something to fear if you know Jesus, and I am comfortable that His love will guide me through those last moments, whether they come quickly like on a crashing jet or from my wife driving in snow 😉 (January 14, 2015), or slowly as in a prolonged illness.

So I need to get my mind off my mortality and onto the mortality of those around me.  Like the young men I visit in the jail; like my neighbors who are even older than me; like my friends with terminal illnesses; like the young women from our church who are doing missionary work in South America for a semester before going to college; like the new pastor our church has invited to reach out to Millennials.

  1. So I say again, accept the fact that you will die (December 6, 2015); whether you are 12 or 92, someday your life on earth will end and for most, it will feel like it was too short.
  2. Then make plans for your death.  Set your affairs in order so that if some idiot drives through a red light and sends you Home in a time you consider too early, your husband or wife or other family members will not have enormous difficulty sorting through your last wishes wondering what you would want done.  Talk about it.  Talking will not change the date nor its inevitability. (February 4, 2018)
  3. Most importantly, Billy Graham said, “make an appointment with God.”  Remember that you are immortal (July 24, 2017).  Even after you die you will continue to exist . . . and for a lot longer than you lived here.   Become one of those so few for whom eternity is constantly present, where Heaven is only one breath away.

With Billy Graham I can say about death, “I’ll be happy the day the Lord says, ‘Come on. I’ve got something better planned.’ ”

Daddy Is Home by Anne Graham Lotz

Attached is a tribute by a daughter to her “daddy,” and a challenge to follow him as he followed Christ.

Billy GrahamDADDY IS HOME

February 21, 2018
Statement by Anne Graham Lotz
Regarding the death of her father, Billy Graham

My Father’s legacy is one that encompasses the world … and engulfs my own life.  When I think of him, I don’t think of Billy Graham, the public figure.  I think of my Daddy.  The one who was always a farmer at heart.  Who loved his dogs and his cat.  Who followed the weather patterns almost as closely as he did world events.  Who wore old blue jeans, comfortable sweaters, and a baseball cap.  Who loved lukewarm coffee, sweet ice tea, one scoop of ice cream, and a plain hamburger from McDonald’s.  Who was interested in everything and everyone, from the small to the great.  Whose mind remembered details that even a computer would have trouble recalling.

But when I think of him I also think of his message because he was immersed in it.  Saturated in it.  He was his message…a simple man who had responded to God’s love by placing his faith in Jesus, receiving the assurance that his sins were forgiven, that he would not perish, but would have everlasting life.  Simple faith.  Faith that now matters more than anything else.

For years, over his head as he preached was the banner that quoted the words of Jesus:  I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Jesus completed that sentence by saying that no one comes to the Father but by Me.  Based on what Jesus said, Daddy is safely with the Father.  In Heaven. Daddy not only claimed Jesus as the only Way to God, he lived by the Truth publicly on platforms and privately behind closed doors, and is now enjoying real Life.

I have often stated that I was raised by a single parent because ministry took my father away from our family—for weeks and months at a time. Daddy estimated that he was gone from home approximately 60 percent of his children’s growing-up years. Now, he has left again.  This time, he will not be coming back. At least, not until Jesus does, too.

While he may be physically absent and his voice silent, I am confident that his message will continue to reverberate throughout the generations to come. My prayer on this day of his move to Our Father’s House is that his death will be a rallying cry.  That tens of thousands of pastors, teachers, evangelists, and ordinary men and women will rise up to take his place.  That they will take up his message like a baton being passed in a relay race and faithfully pass it on to those with whom they come in contact. Because Daddy’s message is God’s message.  And it’s a message of genuine hope for the future, of love for the present, of forgiveness for the past.

It’s a message, when received, that brings a fresh beginning, unshakable joy, unexplainable peace, eternal significance, meaning and purpose to life, and opens Heaven’s door.

It was this message, which Daddy carried to the world, that penetrated my own heart as a young girl and has created in me a personal, passionate resolve to communicate it myself to as many people as possible. And so, even as my tears seem to be unending, I silently rededicate my life to picking up and passing on the baton.  Would you do the same?

http://www.annegrahamlotz.org/

Homecoming: In The Twinkling Of An Eye

Death has been a frequent topic in these blogs.  This is not just the raving a man who is getting old.  When I was 13 years old, my best friend in junior high school was struck by a car while riding his bicycle and died at the scene.  It made the evening news which was where I learned of the event.  It was difficult for my underdeveloped brain to absorb, but I had been raised in Christian teaching, learned to read and count from the Bible, so the only question in my mind was, Did Jonathan know where he was going when he died? 

I had no social skills and little training in matters of custom, so I did not call his family or attend the funeral.  But what weighed on my mind was that I had never talked with Jonny about his soul, Heaven or hell, things that mattered.  All our times together had been spent comparing sci-fi stories, riding bicycles (on the street where he died), talking about watching The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone on television; and for comic relief we would laugh at jokes from McHale’s Navy or My Favorite Martian.

Death suddenly was not something that happened to old people or names in the Bible.  It happened to my teenage friend.  This left an imprint on me that is with me to this day, now 53 year later.  And so it has been a theme in my life, even when I walked away from God and His care for a season.  I was keenly aware of my and everyone else’s mortality.

Fast forward five years to my senior year at Washington High School.  Homecoming is a big event in high schools and colleges.  It is the “swan song” for seniors who are about to graduate.  A king and queen are usually crowned by popular vote of the masses of students (whether there are 20 or 2000 in your graduating class, it’s a really big deal!)  There is usually a dance, maybe a local parade, a football game (or hockey or basketball, depending on your school’s forte).  While usually named in the middle of the fall semester to encourage everyone who has ever been connected to the school to “come home,” the focus of homecoming in 1968 was on those graduating and leaving the school the next spring.

Homecoming Game

One of the few games this geeky nerd ever attended was that senior year homecoming game.  With several friends from my church who attended the school, we ran around the bleachers, tried to squeeze into the press box, climbed on top of it when the “guard” would not let us in, scrambled down behind it to run from his “officialdom” and ate cheap hot dogs and ogled the cheerleaders (at least I did).  I saw the big grin on the homecoming king’s face as he escorted the beautiful girl who had been elected queen for a day.   They sat on a flatbed truck if I recall correctly, adorned with streamers and balloons in the Wildcats’ bright red and white.

For the Christ-follower, there is a much fuller and significant Homecoming approaching!  We are not home, yet.  There is coming a day soon that we will enter a realm like nothing we have imagined here on earth!  When the prophets of the Bible saw the Heavens in their visions,  they saw things that had no comparable value or image on earth.

Grand Canyon.jpg
Imagine trying to explain the Grand Canyon to a man born blind.  Imagine using sign language to express Beethoven’s Fifth to a deaf person.  The equipment needed to fully appreciate these sights and sounds is simply not there.  Now imagine one of Jesus’ closest friends, John, seeing his Friend in real glory as He really is; seeing streets that are unimaginable where we pave with concrete; seeing LIFE in all caps coming from trees that sing of His amazing glory; creatures that somehow transcend the definitions of animal or angel!  Now imagine him trying to tell us what it will be like: the equipment we need to fully appreciate these sights and sounds is simply not here!

Karen.jpgThis week a dear friend and musician of note left this world at 58 years old, the same age as another woman in our Neighborhood did January 20 (see February 4, 2018).  Today my wife and I attended her memorial service and what a service it was!  Many from Eastland Church of God, her home church, were in attendance, and the life was almost palpable!  She is now living what John, the Beloved, saw!  And death is suddenly not fearsome or even distressing!  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)  Yes, tears were shed, mostly by the husband and daughter she leaves behind, and mostly back when Karen was moved into hospice a week ago, but even their sorrow was clearly tempered by the anticipation of the resurrection!

“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Pastor Rod Martin challenged the attendees with Scripture verses from Romans, the Gospels, and especially Revelation 21:4:  “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  We must shed some tears for Him to wipe away; there will be mourning and crying with the pain of these present days . . . but these days are numbered (Psalm 39:4-5).  Soon, maybe very soon, these former things will pass away!

Be prepared.  Do not wait.  No one knows when Jesus will return nor when and if He will call you Home before that Day.  But, oh what a Homecoming that will be, to see Jesus face-to-face, to reunite with loved ones who believed, to live forever with Him.  Homecoming: changed in the twinkling of an eye!

Intentionality

Intentionality.  “Very few people have a conscious plan for developing their spiritual lives. Most Christians are not intentional, but rather functional, like cars on autopilot.” Peter Scazzero

Moses and the Ten Commandments.jpgFrancis Shaeffer, the great evangelical scholar of the last century, thought that up to 50% of church attendees in the West were not Christians.  I suspect one of the reasons for his estimate had to do with the lack of intentionality on the part of most of the people he saw in our churches.  Consider that most nominal “Christians” think in terms of being cultured, democratic, egalitarian, kind, and “nice” (whatever that means).  We evaluate ourselves and others based mostly on what we and they do not do: Do not swear, kill, steal, commit adultery, or lie, and if you are reeeeally good, then you will also not worship any other gods, not make idols, honor your parents and not covet (whatever that means).  Oh, and maybe you will keep a “sabbath” of some kind, you know, go to church on Christmas, Easter and your sister’s graduation, and get married by an ordained minister.

When I was a kid, the joke was,
“We don’t drink, smoke, cuss or chew,
And we don’t go with girls who do.” 
This is what being a Christian meant . . . and some actually believe this.  Be a nice person and God will let you into Heaven when you die.  Oh, at some point you had to “accept Jesus into your heart,” but that was easy enough, too.  Just do a simple telepathic communication to God that, yeah, Jesus was okay and really nice to pay for my sins (we called it “the sinner’s prayer”).  “Say this prayer after me, but only if you mean it . . . ,” and you were golden.  Your sins were forgiven, you would live forever, now just keep being “nice!”  Don’t beat your wife, don’t steal from your boss, don’t kill anybody, and if you do happen to slip up and murder someone, God with all His grace will let a couple of dings slide.

Emotional Healthy SpiritualityAs Peter Scazzero points out in his excellent book, Emotional Healthy Spirituality, chronological adulthood is relatively easy: just don’t die.  But emotional and spiritual adulthood is a completely different animal!  Consider these adapted lists of emotional children/adolescents vs emotional adults:

Emotional Children/Adolescents:

  • Are content only when they get what they want
  • Are easily hurt
  • Complain, withdraw, or manipulate to get their way
  • Are threatened by criticism
  • Look for others to take care of them
  • Are usually preoccupied with themselves
  • Have difficulty listening to another person’s pain
  • Are critical and judgmental

Emotional Adults

  • Are able to ask for what they need or prefer
  • Take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings
  • Can state their beliefs under stress without belittling others
  • Give people room to not be perfect
  • Appreciate people for who they are – not what they can give
  • Accurately assess their own limits, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Able to discuss these with others
  • Can enter into the feelings, needs and concerns of others

I wish I could say that I am an emotional spiritual adult, but looking at Scazzero’s lists, I still have some work ahead of me.  The good news is that God’s grace actually does cover a multitude of sins and the sin that is so clingy to us (Hebrews 12:1).  Here again, “sins” are the actions resulting from our “sin” that is part of our falling-shortness (Romans 3:23) before a perfect God.  By His grace He does forgive us, even when we murder . . . if we ask, and repent of it from our hearts.

Emotional Baby.jpgHis design however is that we go on to spiritual maturity, and not continue as newborn babies.  Babies are always cute, even when they cry, but how unfortunate for a parent to take care of a 45 year old son who never develops past a two year old brain.  Even sadder is a God who must coddle and stroke His children who refuse to grow up into the men and women He created us to be.

“Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” (Hebrews 6:1)  And further, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:24)

The best plan to avoid being a 45 year old Christ-follower with a two year old brain is to do just that: make a plan! 

  1. IMG_2559Decide now when and how much you will read in the Bible.  Make a Bible-reading plan that will cover the entire “library” in one or two years.  Thirty minutes per day will do it for most of us; if you are a very slow reader, plan for two years; if you are a fast reader, you can cover the library in a couple months.  See for part one of a three part series on Marked by Bible Reading and Bible Study.
  2. Decide now when and how much you will pray.  Consider the Praisedifferent types of prayer and develop a plan to grow into a rich prayer life.  ”If you want to have a great prayer life, just show up every day!” (Margaret Therkelson)  See   for a “Catalogue of Prayer,” part of a series on Marked by Prayer.
  3. cropped-over-bregenz21.jpgDecide now how you will begin various disciplines of the Spirit-led life.  Don’t try to do them all at once, but think clearly about when to begin each one and grow them into the garden of your life.  See for the first of 20 Disciplines of the Spirit-led life ending on .

Most of all Practice the Presence of God every day.  Let His Presence permeate all that you do.  Allow Him to fulfill His promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)  And grow into the man or woman He created you to be . . . intentionally.

About Death

Vicki SmithShe was a vibrant 58 years old, attended a party at our subdivision Clubhouse on January 20, 2018, helped set up the hors d’oeuvres and made sure everyone there had whatever beverage or goodie they wanted to eat as the crowd settled into conversations and watched the UK/Florida game on the TV.  She was a beloved wife and mother of two successful adult children, active as a swimmer and attended the Racket Club in Lexington, the picture of a healthy maturing adult woman.  Yet, on Monday, January 29, when her husband could not reach her by phone, he called a dear friend and neighbor and asked her to go tell his wife to turn on her phone.  But her lifeless body was found in the living room, having died suddenly.  No suggestion of any villainy or criminal act; no complaints about illness or pain.  Just suddenly gone from this earth, the autopsy revealing the cause of death.  Gone.  Though I did not know the woman very well, she was the best friend to someone who is dear to me, and it hit her very hard, to be the one to discover the body of a friend who was closer than many sisters.

Another dear friend was just told two weeks ago about his recurrent cancer.  He is taking chemo and probably radiation to reduce the tumors, but there is no talk about a “cure” or removing tumors that are in his liver.  He and his wife are taking one day at a time but expect there may come a time when they will have to weigh how severe the side effects will have to be before they say, “Enough; we know where he is going after this is over.”  Many of you reading this will recognize your beloved friend and helper, one who is always ready to serve young people and his church.

My favorite professor in college walked across campus, telling his secretary that he felt a little indigestion.  Ten minutes later a security guard saw him collapse and tried to administer CPR until paramedics arrived, to no avail.  Dr. Donald F. Johns was gone at 52 years old.

A dear 24-year-old Afghan friend walked out of a café in his hometown and the coffee shop he just left exploded in fire behind him, temporarily deafening him as the force slammed him into the pavement.  He was fortunate; had he stayed for another cup of joe he would have been at the center of the blast.

In 2015, the most recent year for the statistics, 2,333 teenagers, 16 to 19 years old, died in auto accidents in the U.S.  The more general stat about total traffic deaths reports 40,000+ deaths on our highways in 2016.

Grim ReaperI have blogged before about death (December 6, 2015, April 10, 2016, and May 15, 2016 (among others).  And sometimes it comes so close to you, you can almost feel the Specter with his dark hood and scythe breathing cold air against your neck.

Something about life on earth beguiles us into thinking it will not end.  No one leaves his/her home in the morning thinking the spouse will be gone by the time he/she returns.  No one drives up Nicholasville Road expecting some fool to plow through his red light and terminate your time here before you even leave your car.  Very few make careful plans about what will happen if the jet they are boarding today does not make its destination.  Rarely does one go to the doctor expecting a terminal prognosis.

The story was told about a young man in his 20s whose little sister of 19 was in hospice, dying with no expectation of further treatment.  She was a Christ-follower whom Jesus had chosen not to heal, and it was only a matter of days before disease would take her.  Yet her jubilance and delight in talking with staff and friends who would visit would have made you think she was going to leave for home the next day.  When the visiting brother was silent for such a long time, she finally asked him, “What’s the matter?”  With pain in his eyes and voice, he said, “I don’t understand what it must be like to realize you are going to die.”  With a look of love on her face, she replied, “I don’t understand what it must be like to pretend you will not.”  So she was going Home in a few days, just not to bricks and drywall.

Some people become very uncomfortable even mentioning the possibility of death, as though one might cause a jinx that would end one’s life.  But Scripture is very clear: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16) Talking about when you will die will not change God’s design on your life.  Rather, we should be clear and open: it is not whether or not we will die, but if we will be ready when that time comes.

“O Lord, make me know my end
    and what is the measure of my days;
    let me know how fleeting I am!
Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths,
    and my lifetime is as nothing before you.
Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath!”
Psalm 39:4-5

Heavens Gate.jpgYou can know with certainty what will happen when you die.  Not the means of death, nor its timing, but what will happen after the moment that this heart of flesh stops beating.  There is nothing more important in life than knowing THIS!  To discover what your destiny is read the Gospel of John and his letters along with some of the other titles inside the mini-library that is the Bible (April 6, 2015 and January 10, 2016).  Spend time in prayer to The God Who Is There and who has revealed Himself most clearly in Jesus Christ.

My mother used to say, “Heaven is just a breath away.  You breath out one breath here and the next moment you breath in the Fresh Air.”  I look forward to seeing her again when we share that Fresh Air before the throne of our Lord, Jesus.