Tag Archives: death

all creation

FEnway

Two days ago we had to say goodbye to our 13-yr-old Boston Terrier. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. After all, I am a minister who walks people through grief and death and dying all the time. But as I held this little guy in my arms, knowing it was the best for his situation, I could feel the emotion welling up within me. And as the doctor came in to administer the final shot…I broke down. And I’m not talking about a few tears escaping my well trained masculine facade…I’m talking heaving sobs as the vet and his assistant awkwardly left the room to allow me some space. It was crazy the effect that this little guy had over me. I didn’t even really see it coming.

I like to sometimes tell people in a colloquial fashion who have lost dogs, “Don’t forget all dogs go to heaven.” (If you’re a cat person, I think you may be out of luck). But all kidding aside, I think (or at least hope) there is something to this statement and the way we experience loss and death and dying in creation around us. I don’t think death was part of the original blessing of creation. I think death was something that entered into creation through our sin and folly and I’ve come to see it doesn’t just effect us…but all creation. The apostle Paul had another take on this futility in his epistle to the Roman church, “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.…[so] that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:19,21 The whole creation longs to be a part of the redemption of God’s children. Does this mean that all dogs go to heaven? I’m not sure, but I think there is healing and redemption to come for our relationship with creation; including our pets.

So I sit here today, two days removed and I’m still effected by all of this. And I’m sure there will be more moments and I definitely hurt for my oldest son whose had Fenway around his whole life. But it also becomes a reminder for me to treasure all the people and creatures around me as much as I can for as long as I can. Truly creation was and is a gift from God for when it is at its best, it reflects the Divine love in a way that words never can. For those of you experiencing grief and loss in this Advent season, I pray for you today. I know for many of you these words may seem trite as the loss of a dog pales in comparison to the pain you now suffer, and for that I am sorry, But hear these words again, “creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:21. The redemption and glorious freedom begins with the sons and daughters of God. We have a hope beyond this life. We have a hope beyond the grave. May you lean into that hope today.

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week after week

Tuesday morning I engaged in one of my yearly rituals; Easter clean-up. You see, for most pastors, Holy Week is the busiest week of your entire church year. There are extra services, extra practices and Easter Sunday itself is often composed of different elements than one would traditionally have on any other Sunday. So by the time all of this is finished, it’s usually Tuesday morning before I even begin to think about clearing out the random collection in my office or the extra pageantry from the platform. One of the most arduous tasks here in Odessa each year is the removal of our cross from the stage. I only say this because our cross is probably about 8 feet tall and made of 4 X 6 beams which amounts to roughly about 80lbs plus of wood. It’s also supported by a solid metal base into which it drops about a foot…I sometimes wish there was a hidden camera of me trying to remove this cross each year. It would probably go viral. But nonetheless, each year I put the cross back into storage until it’s time to bring it out for Holy Week again the following year.

It’s almost like it’s a sign of some of those who show up annually for Easter Sunday. This isn’t meant to be a slam at those who come to church once a year, but I sometimes wonder how they do it. How do they make it through life when you’re only here for Easter? Yes, it is the definitive day and moment in the life of the church, but it doesn’t stop there. It even gets me thinking about how I put away the cross each year, but that also doesn’t stop there (side note: luckily in our church we have a lot of other crosses as a constant reminder of our identity). The apostle Paul wrote this in speaking to the church in Corinth, “We always carry Jesus’ death around in our bodies so that Jesus’ life can also be seen in our bodies.” – II Corinthians 4:10 We always carry around with us the cross in order for the life of Christ to be seen in us.

And that to me is kind of what the life of the church enables me to do. Why do I come week after week after week and not just on Easter? Because I need to be reminded of who I am. I need to be reminded that I am called to carry in me the cross/death of Christ so that the life of Christ may be lived out in me every day. And I can’t do that on my own. I need my church to help me. I need my church to remind me. And I need my church because it is a weekly realization that I am not alone in this. As we gather to worship each week we are reminded that this life we are trying to live is bigger than any one individual. We belong to the Body of Christ. So may you be encouraged today. May you be challenged to continue to carry on. And may you find yourself connected to a body of believers that weekly remind you of who you truly are.


death to me

The month of my birth isn’t the most glamorous of months. Sure February has Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day and my birthday, but I think all those things are there to distract us from February itself. And this month was always much more difficult when I lived in the great white north of Michigan. And regardless of where you live it is still a difficult month for so many. You look outside and what do you see…death. Dead grass, dead trees, dead shrubs or you can’t even see it because it is buried under snow. The one thing I did appreciate about this latter reality I experienced in Michigan was that you knew that this dying of nature and the frozen landscape that seemed to be overwhelmingly depressing was laced with promise. The promise of spring and summer was about the only thing one could hold onto in the dead of winter in Michigan (see, they even call it the dead of winter). But nature has a funny way of revealing to us truths about God and our experience. St. Francis saw everything in creation is a reflection of the Creator. Bonaventure taught that everything is a fingerprint or footprint of God (vestigia Dei). And perhaps even what we experience in Winter is cause for Divine reflection.

As Jesus was coming closer to the end in the book of John he was speaking with His disciples one day and he said, “ Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” – John 12:24 In fact, in many of Jesus’ and even Paul’s allusions to the Christian life, the image of death is used quite often. But we don’t like to talk about death. We don’t like to think about death or loss or anything attached to the idea of separation from what we know and experience. Yet it is in the death of a seed that a harvest comes. It is in the death of Christ that we receive our freedom. It is in death itself that we pass on from this life to the next to be with God. Jesus came into this world to redeem death and even show us how metaphorical death to self leads to life and yet we hold on so tightly to elements of life that I think we often miss what God is getting ready to do.

Since Michigan came to my thoughts earlier in regards to Winter I think it also fitting that I reflect on a story 20 years in the making. 20 years ago just before Christmas eve Flint Central Church of the Nazarene burnt to the ground. Everyone saw this as a great tragedy, as it was, but God also saw it as a new beginning. Out of the ashes and death of what the church had been God was busy giving life to something newer and greater that now impacts the city of Flint in a way the old church never could have. Flint Central is now one of the largest Nazarene churches in the US and has empowered countless people in ministry fro the Kingdom. Out of death to life. Maybe this is something you need to hear today. Maybe you are having trouble letting go of your expectations or memories or old ways of doing things and the whole time God is there waiting for you to die to the old so he can bring forth the new. Death is still scary. But God is in the business of redeeming death and bringing about new life.


daniel

It was a little over three weeks ago when he stumbled into our church. I say that because he really wasn’t in the best of shape and had trouble walking. But he came and I greeted him in the normal fashion and gave him a visitor’s packet and told him it was nice to have him in church. It was a different kind of Sunday as we had a special speaker and at the end when we had an altar call Daniel came forward. I went down to pray with him and he confessed that he hadn’t been in church in probably about twenty years. We then prayed together for his re-commitment to Christ and to following after Him. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a new friendship for me.

I saw Daniel a couple of more times that week as he attended our Sunday evening Bible study and our Wednesday night gathering. I came to find out he was proficient in Biblical Hebrew although we was self taught…who teaches themselves Hebrew? He was very Biblically knowledgeable, but he had also had negative experiences with the church before, so he was a little gun shy about getting involved. Daniel also struggled with self worth because of his health issues and had several struggles because of that. But I reassured him that at our church that wasn’t something that we based your value on and we were excited to join with him on his journey of restoration and wholeness in Christ.

Another week went by and occasionally I would get calls from Daniel. Wanting to talk or see if he was doing ok with church (he honestly wanted to make sure he was doing it correctly). He was even worried about the sharing he did at our Sunday night Bible study when he floored us all by reminding us that we relate the love of Christ better to one another out of our brokenness instead of our piety (perhaps he should have been the one leading the group). One night he called around the time I was putting the kids to bed, and even though I was tired, I took his call anyway. He was having a pretty rough day and he referenced an illustration I had used in church about needing God, but needing someone with ‘skin on’. Without really thinking about it I got his address, drove over to his house and when he answered the door I gave him the biggest hug I could muster (it might have even gotten awkward). But then we spent almost an hour just talking about life, philosophy, music and more. I think he was surprised to learn that his pastor was familiar with punk bands from the 90s. We even talked about his upcoming baptism as he had requested to be baptized after coming back to Christ.

Unfortunately he missed our next Wednesday and Sunday because he had gotten sick and then Sunday afternoon he called to apologize for his absence. We talked a bit as I was preparing my Sunday evening study on the book of Daniel, his namesake. We even made plans for his baptism and he had made peace with the idea of pouring for his Baptism as our baptistery would not have been very accessible for him. We talked a little bit about his health and weight and I reminded him that his worth was not determined by those things, but by who God saw in him and the journey he was beginning anew with Christ. After a while I assured him that we would look towards doing a Baptism service in a couple of weeks and then we got off the phone.

The next day of the week is one I always look forward to as it is my day off. While the rest of the world hates Mondays, I love them. I am never able to sleep in so I usually have my morning coffee by 6 AM at the latest. As I was finishing up my coffee the phone rang and I saw it was Daniel’s number. But when I answered…it wasn’t Daniel. It was his mother and I sat there numbly listening as she explained that Daniel had had a heart attack the night before and had passed away early that morning. I tried to summon up the correct pastoral response for her, but I was just floored and immediately sick at my stomach…I’m sure I said something like, “I’m so sorry…let us know if we can do anything…” But I know it wasn’t enough.

I found myself going to the shower and just weeping. Why? Why so soon? God he was making changes. He was going to be better. He was going to do better. He was going to be my friend.

And honestly I don’t have any answers. I know he wasn’t in good health and I understand how human biology works and what had taken place. And in my spiritual frame of reference I know Daniel is now made whole before his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that one day I will see him again as God has always seen him. But I miss him. And I wish I had more time. I still do.

So hug your friends. Kiss your spouse and kids. And know that this life is short and we never know what tomorrow may bring.


dangerous, deadly and doubt-full

My wife and I don’t have cable. In fact, we cut the cable a long time ago. Now this doesn’t mean we don’t necessarily enjoy TV, it just means we spend less and binge watch more thanks to streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. That being said Hulu recently ruined my life. In the last month they made the entirety of Seinfeld available for viewing. All of sudden man hands, the Soup Nazi, the sidler and a myriad of other characters were made available for my viewing pleasure once again. And in the midst of my binge watching I have begun to realize there was a lot more to these episodes than I originally thought. In fact, one of my favorites so far is called “The Opposite”. In this episode George Costanza decides that every decision he has made up to that point in his life has been the wrong decision and vows to then make the exact opposite decision of his initial leanings going forward. The result…his life all of a sudden becomes incredible. It really is an amazing episode.

These episodes have given me new ways to think about how they might relate to us in our Christian journey. There are quite a few things Jesus said while here on earth that I wrestle with. One of those verses goes something like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25 Death is not something I love thinking about, and yet here Jesus is reminding us the necessity of death for life. Unless a seed dies, there is no life. Unless I die there is no life. One of the things I have been ruminating on lately is what does that death look like in our world today. And I think it looks a lot like the death of certainty. Anne Lamont once said, “The opposite of faith is not doubt: It is certainty. ..Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, and emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.”

Confession; I am a recovering know-it-all. There was a time where I could tell you exactly who God was, what He wanted for my life and what He expected of your life with fearless certainty. But nowadays, I’m not so certain. Oh I am still confident of the fact that Jesus loves me and that God has and is redeeming all things unto himself. But the other details I think are best lived out in journeying with others. If I am dying to myself, to my certainty, to my comfort daily all of a sudden it leaves a lot more space for God and for others. And maybe that is where we all need to find ourselves from time to time. A little less certain and a lot more faithful.


overcome

Yesterday on the drive into school my kids and I ended up on the subject of death. Now granted, this isn’t a subject that often enters our realm of family discussion, but for some reason it came up yesterday. And in my fatherly wisdom I found myself saying these encouraging words, “Well, we all die someday”. Fortunately my son quickly interjected, “That’s ok. Because that’s the way we get to heaven.” (Luckily my kids somehow survive despite their dad’s morbid view of reality). But let’s face it. We all know the two things we are guaranteed in life are “death and taxes”. And sometimes we in the church struggle with our mortality and how to relate it to our immortality. We sometimes think that the blessings of the life to come aren’t real if they don’t somehow resonate in our current setting…but this isn’t really the gospel.

In some of the last teachings we see Jesus delivering to His disciples before his trial and death we read these words from the book of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 Oftentimes I think we misread this verse. We see ourselves as the “overcomers” of the world when we are really are only guaranteed to “have trouble”. The word in the verse above we read for trouble or tribulation is the Greek word, thlipsis. It’s most literal translation is “pressure” and it comes from the idea of ruts being worn into a path/road. Tell me that’s not encouraging. In this life you will get potholes. And really it’s the one thing we are guaranteed…this world will eventually end us if Jesus doesn’t return first.

Luckily that’s not where the story ends. Although we may lose, although we may be overcome, beat down, pressured, etc. this is not the End. Jesus tells us to be at peace as he has overcome the world. He has claimed victory over the temporal limitations of this world and made a way through death into life. And so we find peace. Truthfully this isn’t easy. When the ruts worn into us come through things like sickness, brokenness, bills, debts, familial discord, job loss, and grief we long to be the ones who overcome. But at the end of the day we don’t overcome…we take comfort in He who has overcome and speaks these words to us in the final book, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:4-5. The faith that we hold onto places it’s confidence in a God who has not only overcome but promises to make all things new. This is how we are not overcome ourselves and find peace even in the midst of the storms of life.

And truthfully, we who are called of Christ are also called to comfort and proclaim good news to those who have been overcome by life and it’s troubles. Our calling is not simply to look to the life to come but also to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Often times we find peace in serving those who themselves can’t find peace.

So may you take heart today. May you find peace and bring peace to others through Christ our Lord; the one who has overcome.


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