Where There is Mourning, There is Love

We spent some of the waning hours of 2018 saying goodbye to one of my best friends’ 95-year-old father. In 2018, I was privileged to join in the celebration of home-going for the fathers of two of our dearest friends. I also said a final goodbye to my own dad.

My friend had the God-given strength to give the message at the funeral service himself.

He described his dad as a “giant of the faith,” and I could not more wholeheartedly agree. His father was a missionary to the African Congo for eight years, a Bible college professor, a pastor, and in later years, an assistant funeral director. He was always serving others.

And as God usually does, He chose to teach me at this funeral with just a single verse. This is not a verse for lightweights, so you won’t hear it at most funerals.

It was perfect for this one.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. – Ecclesiastes 7:2

For many, this verse is a painful reminder of one of life’s certainties. But it also begs the question: Why is it better to mourn than to feast? The answer came quickly, as I set there in the pew:

Where there is mourning, there is love.

I’ll admit, most feasts I attend are with people who love each other. But it’s not a requirement. People can (and often do) feast with total strangers for all types of reasons. I just don’t get around enough to attend those feasts.

But you can’t truly mourn without a deep, abiding love.

Mourning a loss brings people together in a way nothing else can. Some, like his direct family or close friends, deeply loved my friend’s father. Others may not have known him, but deeply love his family and friends, and mourned their loss with them. My family is blessed to love both the man, and his family.

Still others were loved by this giant of the faith. Many at that funeral mourned simply because my friend’s father loved them. And countless others, many living in the remotest parts of Africa, would have also honored him at his funeral, had they known of his passing and had the means to get there.

I’m eternally grateful to say that my friend’s father also loved me.

These days, we have the Internet, the “world-wide web” as it is called, with Internet addresses even starting with the initials “www.” The funeral is available to be seen around the world using this modern communication tool.

But “world-wide webs” aren’t new. Jesus started one when he told his disciples, after his resurrection, that they would be witnesses of the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The life of my friend’s father is further proof. A life lived for others, through the love of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, will create a web of love around the world. Not everyone’s web will reach quite as far as my my friend’s father’s does, but you will be surprised how far your web of love will go.

Better to be in a house of mourning, indeed.

 

God’s Daily Reboot

When a computer malfunctions, how often is the answer as simple as turning the computer off, and then turning it back on?

In my experience, usually the computer starts right back up again, working just fine. Whatever went wrong before disappears.

Our lives have a God-designed reboot button as well. It’s called night.

As I drove to work this morning, I noticed the marked difference between the landscape in the early morning sun on a clear day, and how it looks in the evening as I’m driving home. The clean and bright baby blue and yellow hues of morning give way to the muted oranges and reds of the evening. Even though the sun is at the same angle, just in the west instead of the east, the evening sun’s light strikes the landscape differently. The day just feels older.

In fact, on a clear day I’m confident that I could still tell whether it was morning or evening, even if I didn’t know the time or what direction the sun was coming from, just by stepping outside.

Jeremiah, the likely author of the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, knew just what I’m talking about:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. — Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

Like the sun striking the countryside after dawn, life’s struggles look a little different in the newness of each day. I’ve heard it said that God‘s economy allows for “do overs,” which Jesus Christ made possible through His death on the cross and His resurrection. Whatever happened in the past is irrelevant, if our faith is in Him. No, lost time won’t magically reappear. The consequences of past sin remain very real. And the coming day won’t be perfect. But the opportunity to make the best of life, by living for Jesus, starts anew each morning.

The morning light is a picture of God‘s daily renewal. The Bible’s description of Jesus as “the bright and morning star” takes on a whole new meaning. Now comes the hard part:

I have to choose it.

Electing to view the problems and sorrows of life the same way as before follows that old saying, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” Others might even think of the definition of “insanity:” Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results each time.

Accepting Jesus Christ’s free offer of salvation and renewal can break the cycle of despair, and allow God to renew your life as he promises to do. Someone very close to me once said that he thought he was too far gone for this life-changing grace to reach him. What better time than in the morning, when minds are fresh, to meet with God and let his Word show you how Jesus Christ makes all things new, including you, and that no one is out of reach of His grace and mercy.

And I’ll never look at rebooting a computer the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

Peace

So this is how the big city folks do it.

I’m on a train from Kansas City to Chicago. Right now, I’m in a quiet coach car. Everyone is either reading, sleeping, or in the observation or dining cars, and I now have time, in the morning when I’m fresh, to do some writing.  I think it was Scott Turow, or maybe J.K. Rowling, who said they wrote entire novels while commuting to and from work on the train. Now I get it, how someone could do that.

Can’t do much writing driving home on the interstate.  And once in the office or at home, the work begins.

Writing on a train was, and maybe still is, a daily experience for Scott and J.K. It’s a brand-new, first-time thing for me.

But the northern Missouri scenery is beautiful, the ride smooth, and the peacefulness of the traincar welcome.

As I get older, I find that peace is the one thing I yearn for the most.  No, not “world peace.” Athletes change their names for it (remember “Metta World Peace” in the NBA?), and it’s a cliché answer for beauty pageant contestants (“If you’re chosen Miss Universe, what’s your platform?”), but it means something different for everyone.  As long as that’s the case, “world peace” won’t happen.

The peace I crave is an inner calm.

Life will disrupt your peace. Money gets tight, friends and family become ill and die, divorce happens, jobs are lost. Those are facts, and can’t be avoided. So what then? Those of us who have lived long enough can attest to times in our lives when the old saying that “God will never give you more than you can handle” just doesn’t ring true.

So before I criticize that old saying for not being Biblical, let me step back. It may not be a quote from the Bible, but it’s really only incomplete.

God didn’t intend for us to face all of our struggles alone. What is impossible for man is possible with God.  Paul put it differently: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Romans 8:28)

So maybe the old saying should be changed to read like this:  God never gives you something you can’t handle, because with God, you can handle anything. It changes that peace-taker in your life into a peace-maker, as you realize who has control over everything, and that any circumstance is no match for his mighty power.

So rest on God’s ability to handle whatever is robbing you of peace.  If you can’t find any peace of your own, take his, through his son Jesus Christ.  It’s a gift, free for the asking.

I’ve always been intrigued by Jesus’ greeting to his disciples: “Peace I bring to you; my peace I leave with you.”

Now I get it.

On a Cross Beside Jesus (Luke 24:32-43)

I’m thankful every minute of my life that Jesus died for me on that cross.  I know that if God had chosen, he could have punished me for my sins instead of punishing Jesus.  But Christ’s atoning death satisfied my sin debt, and the debt of everyone else in the world who believes in Him.  Because Jesus chose to do it, I don’t have to take my place on a cross.

Nevertheless, someone like me was on a cross, that very day, at “the place of the skull.”  In fact, someone like each and every one of us was there. You may think I’m referring to Jesus himself — he took on human flesh and form, was tempted as we are, and suffered as a man.  But I’m not.  No, as Luke the physician points out in his Gospel, there were two others on the hill that day.  Two criminals, condemned to die, hanging on crosses to Jesus’ left and right.

Am I calling each of us a criminal?  Not per se, in that most of us have done nothing to warrant punishment under man’s law, especially a death sentence.  Still, we each share something with one, or the other, of the criminals who like Jesus drew their last breaths on that hill.  But what?  I’ll answer that question with another question: What is your approach to Jesus?  Or, as Jesus asked Peter, who do you say he is?

One of the criminals (I’ll call him the “first criminal”) joined the crowd and the soldiers, mocking Jesus and calling on Him to save Himself, if He was indeed the Christ.  The second criminal recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to die.  And in recognition of his Kingship, that criminal asked the creator of the universe simply to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom.  He was not disappointed with Jesus’ answer.

You see, there’s just no middle ground with Jesus.  Either you join the second criminal in proclaiming Him to be who He said He was, or you will join the first criminal in questioning and doubting Him.  Riding the fence is just not possible — Jesus said so Himself.

Here’s the amazing thing:  Yes, Christ could have easily taken Himself off that cross and chosen to save Himself, just as the first criminal suggested. But, by staying on that cross, He chose to save…you.  And me.  And the rest of us.

Yes, it may indeed have been a Friday on Golgotha…..but Sunday’s coming.

May I Have This Dance

Has the weight of just a thought ever taken your breath away?

Happened to me just this morning.

Maybe it’s the fact that my daughter’s wedding is now less than two months away, and she was in town this past weekend for her first bridal shower. Maybe it’s this fact that this afternoon, my wife and I are attending a funeral for a long-time family friend who lost her battle with cancer. Her two kids are the same age as my middle two kids.

No matter the reason, here’s the thought that left me struggling to breathe:

A husband and wife, in their 80s, dancing cheek-to-cheek in their kitchen.

It’s so easy to say, “Aren’t they cute? They still love each other, after all these years.” But have you thought about what that dance really represents?

  • Millions of miles together in the same car.
  • Tens of thousands of nights together in the same bed.
  • Depending on how many kids they had, thousands, or tens of thousands, of diaper changes.
  • Countless ER visits, late nights with sick kids, and broken hearts.
  • Graduations, weddings, births, and then round two of graduations, weddings, and births.
  • Deaths of their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and occasionally, their children and even grandchildren.
  • Several major health scares, surgeries, and treatments.

Those of you who have lived it know that this list isn’t even close to exhaustive. And to top it all off, society has changed so extensively, and so rapidly, that the elderly couple can be left wondering if they’re even still relevant.

As my thoughts sunk in, a physical weight rested on my chest. The sheer magnitude of two lifetimes, lived together and for each other, was more than I could bear.

Anyone looking for miracles in the modern age need look no farther than the couple celebrating an anniversary of 50 years or more.  God’s design for marriage, and God himself, for those who choose Him, make it possible to complete the journey.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. – Isaiah 46.4

And for another post: What the elderly still have to give to their families and communities. Here’s a hint: They’re not only still relevant, they’re the missing link to sustaining our society.

I’ll never look at an elderly couple dancing the same way again.

Courage

What does real courage look like to you?

To me, right now, it looks like a sister-in-law who is going through cancer treatment for a second time in 10 years.

It’s knowing the suffering she’s sure to face during the treatments, and choosing to go through them anyway, because the desired result is the best for those she loves.

Even though she’s near the end of her chemo treatment, the suffering is still real.  And intense.

Where does courage like that come from? Knowing her deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ, the easy Sunday-school answer is readily apparent.

But that’s only part of the story.

For faith to mean anything in our lives, we have to allow our faith to move us to a conviction to act.

Once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. — Muhammad Ali

It’s on us to incorporate our faith into our lives. And the conviction that grows out of living out our faith — that we’re doing the right thing — leads to courage.

I can do all things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.  — Phillipians 4:13

My sister-in-law is living this out beautifully, today, right now.

By the way, haven’t we heard another story about someone who knew the suffering he would face, and yet chose to endure that suffering because the end result was the best for those he loves?

Yeah, I thought so.

 

Real Power

“We’re moving your daughter back to the ICU.”

What?!? Why?

The call on my cell phone shattered our somewhat peaceful dinner at the Med Center’s cafeteria with dear friends. We ran back to her hospital room as quickly as we could.

We had watched her get sicker all day long, with no idea why. Extreme lethargy, no appetite, and then vomiting.  It was less than a week after her traumatic brain injury, and it was imperative to keep her calm and quiet, to reduce the risk of further brain bleeds.

After the bout of vomiting, when she was again calm and resting, we took the opportunity to get something to eat in preparation for yet another long night.

While we were gone, the nephrologist (kidney doctor) made her rounds, took one look at our daughter’s lab results over the course of the day, and ordered an immediate transfer back to ICU. My phone rang at dinner with the news.

Praise God for excellent doctors. That doctor saved her life that night.

It’s common for head injury patients to experience a “sodium crash,” where the body’s sodium (i.e., salt) levels drop to where the body can’t function. Too little sodium, and like my daughter, you get really sick.

Brain seizure-type sick. Had that happened, she likely would have died.

And all because her bloodstream had slightly less salt than normal. Things can start happening even with a small drop out of the normal range.

Now that’s power. Like a single candle illuminates an entire dark room, just a little salt can determine life and death.

As the Creator of the Universe, Jesus knew this. But the science of his day didn’t yet fully understand the role of salt in the human bloodstream, so I’m not surprised that he didn’t use this medical analogy when talking about salt in Luke 14:34. Would’ve gone right over their heads.

But as a 21st Century father whose child has experienced a “sodium crash,” the point is not lost on me.

Just like salt, followers of Jesus Christ can have a big impact everywhere God has placed them. But, if they let the world take away their witness, the impact is lost, and the world is a little sicker for it.

Of course, getting my daughter’s sodium levels back to normal wasn’t as simple as feeding her more salt. After a complex medical procedure and the infusion of more powerful saline solution directly into her bloodstream, in a couple of hours she was much better, alert and calm.

And best of all, hungry.

With Your Whole Being

So I’m writing from a different spot in the coffee shop today.  Private chair in a corner, in the back room of the shop away from the ordering counter.  A faux-palm tree stands about five feet high over my right shoulder. My laptop is on my lap and not on a table. I can see almost the entire shop from here.  And the perpective is quite different.

I’m really encourged to see that the vast majority of people here are sharing a meal or a cup of coffee together. I mean, it is lunchtime, but I expected to see more people like me, drinking coffee alone, head buried in a laptop, smartphone, or some other device. Thankfully, it’s just the opposite.  The shop is full of converation, quiet yet lively, lighthearted yet intense.

The power of face-to-face communication cannot be denied.

The non-verbal communication by a person’s face alone communicates half the message. Posture, nods and hand gestures tell even more.

Often, words are just an extra, the icing on the cake.

What better way to tell someone “I love you” than to tell them in person, right in front of them?  To communicate your feelings for them with your whole being, and not merely with words?

Jesus Christ came to earth 2000 Christmases ago to do just that. He who was fully God and fully man came to tell us, His people, how much he loved us. In person. Through His touch, through a smile, through tears for a dead friend or for an entire city.

Through sacrifice.  Through pain.

Through the cross.

Don’t those you love deserve to hear that you love them – and see it, and feel it — from you, in person? Don’t let today go by without communicating your love to those who mean the most to you.

With your whole being.

 

The Day After Christmas

Twas the day after Christmas

And all through my brain

I can’t help but wonder

What happened yesterday?


Perhaps it’s the excess

Of food in my belly

That’s turned all my thoughts

Into bowls full of jelly.


Or maybe the fact

That just a moment ago

The floor was covered with presents –

Where did they all go?


 But my biggest concern –

Did Christ receive glory?

Was His father pleased?

Did we remember His story?


 And now, a day later

Are we different than before?

Do we praise ourselves less?

Do we love others more?


 So, my prayer for all of us

This late Christmas season –

We’ll use His birth as a springboard

His life as the reason


To take Him to the world

Like the drummer boy drumming

Be the light we’re called to be —

 ‘Cause it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.


Authority

How long has it been since you had just a few feet of pavement between you and 50 longhorn steers?

Oh, about a month.

That’s right, no fence, no wall, no bullet-proof glass — NOTHING. Just some nice flat pavement for them to build up a good head of steam, as they charge directly at me.

What we saw at the Cherokee Strip Days parade in Enid, OK, this past month was a sight more common in bygone days. Still, even today it was thrilling to watch them walk by. Oh, the risk! The danger!

Oh, the steaks! The hamburger!

But I digress.

There were these guys on horseback moving alongside the steers. I think they call them “cowboys” in that neck of the prairie. Am I right, Oklahoma State? There sure was a lot of orange in that town on that particular day. Not to mention the OSU-Texas Tech football game blaring on the big screen in the downtown baseball stadium. No one was in the stadium, but the volume was turned all the way up, for the whole town to hear.

But it’s those cowboys I want to talk about. That’s the thing about fences and walls – they will come down when enough force is applied. And I can assure you, those enormous steers could supply a lot of force.

But having those cowboys there was better than any wall could ever be.  Why?

Because those cowboys held those steers in check by authority. Those steers didn’t want to charge the crowd, because they honored the authority of the cowboys.

If we want to make sure that we don’t do something that hurts ourselves or hurts others, there’s an authority over our lives as well.

And it’s not the local police.

It’s the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit. They’re all available to you today, right where you are, right now. All you have to do is ask them.

Just take a look a video of these majestic creatures as they strolled through downtown Enid on a bright, warm October day.

That’s a whole lot of ribs and brisket walkin’ by. Just sayin’.