Let Us Be Clear

www.bible.com/72/2pe.3.9.hcsb

We are waiting. We are waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promises to us to come back and redeem His people and take them with Him to Heaven. Christians have been waiting 2000 years. In fact will be 2000 years in 2030 since Jesus rose and ascended in AD 30, or later depending on how you figure it.

So there are voices that declare that Jesus’ return has been predicted pretty consistently and no one has got it right yet. Others, like the Preterists, say Jesus fulfilled His promises in AD 70, but many of them can’t agree on that either. So what are we waiting for? Funny thing no one ever mentions is that Jesus also comes for each of us at a time of His choosing, the day that no one of us expects, the day we die.

In John 14 Jesus says He is going away to prepare a place for us, but that He will come back (personally) to receive us when we die. Whether Jesus came in AD 70 or will in AD 2070, He comes back for each of us, so that no one loses out on His coming.

So the delay above has just as much to do with the apparent delay of Jesus’ Coming as it does the day of our death. Why does God allow bad things to happen? Because in His love, He gives time for repentance. He give time for the gospel message to work in the heart and for change to occur.

Just a few days ago, I talked with a woman whose husband lay dying. He had not until that moment put his faith in Jesus, and asked me to pray with her that he husband would now, at death’s door, finally give His life to Jesus. That was a difficult prayer. Because I knew that this man had countless opportunities to believe in Jesus, and that God had delayed until this very day to give him a chance for grace. The man died that day. He never woke up. Jesus came. Was he ready?

I write this so that you don’t have to be that guy. Don’t be the guy that stands at the threshold of glory, and is allowed to see all the wonder of Heaven, but never allowed in, because in a lifetime of opportunity, you never said “yes!” Jesus will come back, and for most, it is sooner than they think.

God bless you today. Don’t delay.

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Not Just Taking Up Space

You Love Me?

You may not know God’s purpose for your life right now. You may believe that your life is on hold, waiting for someone or something to show you your life’s direction. I saw it in the eyes of a widow, whose husband had passed and now she was ill, with no obvious path forward but death. Yet, she persisted day to day, taking endless treatments and visits to the hospital. Why am I still here?

In the face of life’s confusing circumstances, the road ahead is foggy. We ask what possible direction is there when we can’t see it. Yet, when the roads are foggy, I trust the men who built them to keep driving. I don’t stop in the middle of the road, refusing to travel, because I can’t see the way. I trust the builders that there is a road ahead, so I keep driving.

Our lives are not built merely of our own preferences and decisions. There is One who has built the road ahead for us. We choose to travel. We trust that even when we can’t see what’s next, we know the Builder does and has prepared a way. We don’t worry about ravines and rivers because we trust the builders to have built a bridge. Though life brings us valleys and mountains, we have a Builder who has prepared the way.

I had no answer for this widow. I still don’t. But I trust the Lord, and I trust the road He has built. He has given us guardrails on our road, rules for behavior that show us what we ought to do while we wait for the bigger picture to unfold. In her distress, she knew she just wanted to die, but she knew that taking her own life wasn’t an option, so she waited on the Lord. And He did take her in time, in His time.

She didn’t know what purpose God had for her life. But maybe by sharing a little of her story with you, we have discovered it. We are not here to satisfy ourselves, but that through us, others may know about God. Perhaps her purpose was the demonstrate faithfulness to God’s plan for us, even when we can’t see it. So that I can’t see it either, I don’t lose hope.

Did Jesus Come?

IMG20073Recently, I was called into the hospital to help a family through the last hours of their mother. It was not an easy afternoon, as we watched the numbers on her monitors fall slowly to zero. She died very peacefully, surrounded by her husband, her children, and her loved ones. As a Chaplain, I made myself available to them without being obtrusive in this very private family event.

As I attended to them, I began to think about something we had discussed in Bible Study a few weeks ago about Jesus’ coming. Jesus promised the disciples in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” Some might argue that this refers to Jesus’ Second Coming, and well it might. But there is a subtle promise made here for every believer, I think.

I am reminded of Stephen in Acts 7 who was the first Christian martyr. He testified that he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:56) Was Jesus coming then to receive Stephen into glory? Would the Lord of Heaven take the time to receive us individually upon our death? Would Jesus come and receive us personally when we die? It’s possible.

In 2 Corinthians, Paul remarked, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2Co 5:8) He says elsewhere, “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” (Php 1:23) The Bible makes clear that the Christian will be with Christ upon death. Jesus’ promise to the disciples makes it seem that He personally will receive all who die in the Lord as well.

And thus my thought as I sat there watching this family grieve, “Is Jesus here too?” Did Jesus come to receive this dying woman unto Himself? Did He, unseen to human eyes, receive the soul of this dying woman? Were our eyes unveiled, would we too be witnesses of His majesty as Peter was on the Mount of Transfiguration? There came over me a special desire for holiness as I imagined the presence of Christ in that very room preparing to lead this dear saint homeward.

Call it speculation if you will. But wouldn’t it be great if the last eyes you see on this earth and the first eyes you see in Heaven belong to Jesus? What if Jesus was the one that escorted us across the threshold into the heavenlies, through the gates of pearl and into the presence of the holy ones. Just as Jesus has been the author and perfecter of our faith, would He not too be our guide into heavenly realms? It’s certainly something to think about, and something to look forward to.

What’s Your Number?

IMG20073

In my line of work, I deal with families who lose loved ones, sometimes without warning. In the process of treatment, utilizing all of our knowledge to resuscitate using drugs, physical techniques (like CPR) and others,  we connect patients to heart monitors, which count their heartbeats per minute. Usually 70 is a good heart rate but at those times, any heart rate is preferred to none.

But it struck me that the number of beats our heart makes is a definite number. It has a definite beginning, and a definite end. It begins when our little hearts begin in our mother’s womb, and end, sometimes on an E.R. treatment bed. If a person truly wished to discover this number, it is probably possible. But it is a number God already knows.

Let that sink in. God knows the number of beats your heart will make, He knows how many you have left. He also knows what you’ve done with each of them. If God numbers our hairs (Matthew 10:30) would He not know our heartbeats? Consider the following:

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
(1Sa 16:7)

I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
(Jer 17:10)
And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us,
(Act 15:8)

When I witness an unexpected death, I grieve with the family. None of us know when our beats come to an end.  Many times we can’t predict it, let alone prepare for it. I am reminded of a movie, called “In Time” that came out in 2011. In the film, people stop aging at 25, but have a clock on their arm to tell them exactly how much time they have left. They work for time, and barter time to pay for things, instead of using money. Though the movie failed to perform at the box office, it pointed out the innate human desire to know our time. If we knew when we would die, don’t you think we would be better prepared for it? Or if we knew our death was near, would we go out and run up our credit cards and live like royalty?  Could you imagine a world where you knew exactly how much time you had left to live? Seems to me this is information we are better off not knowing. Besides, I believe we have something better.

I think about the impact my death would have on my family, or theirs on me. Death can come so suddenly and destructively, it just leaves devastation in its wake. That’s why I praise God that I serve one who conquered death, that rose from the grave, and offers me hope for the same.

I know that when my number comes up, He will be standing there, arms outstretched, saying, “Welcome Home!” For when I die, eternity is laid out before me, and I will never die again. “For it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that, the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) “For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 8:1) “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Joh 3:16)

It is that hope that helps me help others in the midst of their tragedy. And I am grateful to God for His indescribable gift!

On this Father’s Day

IMG20040When my grandfather died in 1989, it was a Saturday in December. Dad had worked all night the night before and was sleeping when the phone call came. I picked it up. It was mom, who was at the hospital. She said to wake Dad up and have us all come to the hospital. I woke him up, but he rolled over. I told him Mom wanted us to come to the hospital. He said ok, and fell back to sleep. I left the bedroom. He woke up fully a few minutes later and coming into the living room, confirmed what I’d said, and we all rode up to Lafayette, to Home Hospital, where my grandfather was. When we arrived, I heard crying, and looking into the room, saw my uncles, my mother, and my aunts weeping around the bed. Grandpa was lying there with his jaw open. I remember seeing his jaw just hanging open, which was just unnatural and wrong. Part of me knew he was dead, he’d had prostate cancer for about a year, but it felt wrong to see him so utterly still. It was the first time I’d really seen anyone dead before. I didn’t know how to feel, or what to think. I just felt numb. It was weird to see my family, who normally would be laughing and talking together just weeping and holding each other. I didn’t know what to do or how to react.

Sometimes, I still don’t.

The closest I came to crying over him was at his funeral, when someone was singing, and nudged my emotions to the surface. If I had known him better, or longer, I probably would have been more distraught. But all I could feel was numb. Every December 26th I remember him again on his birthday. I remember waking up the morning after Christmas and having breakfast with him before we had to go home. But what tears me up now more than ever is what he could have told me. Whether or not we was proud of the direction my life has taken, or what he would have thought about my family. I don’t know why I care what he would think, but I do. He was always quiet in his praise of others, and I guess I am hoping I would make the cut.

I need death to be more than the grave, but a New Beginning, for my grandpa and for everyone else’s. I need to death to be temporary, not permanent.

There are two things going on at the cross, one explicit in the gospels, and one implicit, which is expounded in the letters.

  1. The death of Jesus Christ was a horrifying event (What we see)
    1. The manner in which the gospels records Jesus’ crucifixion is actually matter-of-fact, told in passing, as if the gospels’ audience were well-familiar with this manner of execution. Mark 15:25 (NIV) is typical, “It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.” The word employed in the Greek is stauroo. There is no reference to the nails, the “tree” or to the manner of how the nails were fixed. The only reference to “nails” in the New Testament is Colossians 2:14, where Paul employs the image of “nailing” to nailing (proseloo) the law to Jesus’ cross.
    2. The gospels focus on what Jesus says from the cross, and what the crowds say to the crucified Jesus. The manner of Jesus’ death, that is, slowly losing his ability to breathe, adds unseen drama and urgency to Jesus’ words.

     

  2. The death of Christ Jesus was a atoning event (What we know)
    1. The gospels hint at this in the rending of the Temple veil, a sign that the way to the Holy Place (if you were familiar with the placement of the veil) is made clear upon Jesus’ death.
    2. The letters too add to the weight of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice – namely Colossians 3:13-14, “. . . He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” And Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The letters stress that Jesus’ death on the cross was a means of God saving sinners from eternal punishment for breaking the Law and satisfying the wrath of God for sin. Romans 5:9, “Since we have not been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

Why it matters

  1. So what? Why do we care about this? Because we abhor senseless death. With every fiber of our being, we strain to find reason out of chaos. When a father or mother dies, we look for a reason. Maybe it was the cancer, maybe it was the hospital. Maybe it was “his time” or “God needed another angel” but we strain to find a reason for things when they cut to our heart. We strain because we cannot accept that God would allow someone good to die for no reason. Many of us shake our fist at God, even to deny He exists, or at least to hate him because we cannot reconcile a good God with senseless death.
  2. Of anyone on earth, Jesus’ death was the most senseless. He had committed no sin. He had no regrets, no family members he was on bad terms with, no one he owed money. Jesus had everything to live for. Yet on that night in Jerusalem, he was arrested, arraigned in a kangaroo court, and murdered in front of everyone.
  3. Over and over again, Jesus repeats that it was exactly God’s will that he go to the cross. Jesus prayed in the garden, “not my will but thine be done.” He knew he was going to die, knew the greater purpose for which he died, and still prayed in the garden to avoid it. Why? Was it because some part of him screamed that he didn’t deserve it?
  4. But the death of Jesus Christ changes how we look at death. His death was infused with purpose and meaning. Every facet of his death throes we examine in detail looking to uncover fresh meaning. From the significance of the promise of paradise to “it is finished” we keep finding new ways to see this very old story. Why do we do this? Because I think it helps us understand why our grandmas pass away, and our grandpas. Our moms and our dads, even our children and grandchildren. We need the death of Jesus to mean something powerful and significant to bring meaning to the deaths of those we dearly love. We need this story to be true. The world tells us we are pinning our hopes on fairy tales, but I don’t remember Cinderella dying for me, or Rapunzel’s grave to be found empty, or the seven dwarves testifying to their dying words that Snow White is risen. We find the faith in Jesus Christ tested and tried and found true. We find that meaning plastered all over the New Testament, both for him and for us. Each and every death isn’t an end, but a portal to a new and eternal beginning. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we find hope for our own loved ones who have passed on, and an urgency to declare Him to those who haven’t accepted Him. Perhaps we are better informed than the lost for those who die without Jesus, and ought to grieve more.

Do you see? As the gospels show us the death of Jesus, which we can relate to and understand, the New Testament show us its meaning, which we cannot know without the Bible. Each baptism is a reenactment, each death a harsh reminder, but each day we live in Christ, a new creation and a joy to know we have our hope in Him. It is a hope that we will hear these words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things. Now you will be faithful with much.” The death and resurrection of Jesus make it possible for us to believe that death, though harsh, isn’t the last word.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

(Heb 2:14-15)