The Winter of Death

Yesterday, I was able to enjoy probably the last of the nice weather we will have in Wyoming until Spring 2019. Today, the temperature is 39F and the weather forecast is snow sometime over the weekend. That is part of the territory though when you live at an altitude of over 6,000 feet.

I spent about an hour riding through town on my bicycle getting some exercise. On my trip, I took a different route than normal. Stopping for a quick break, I waited for one of my sons to join me from a different area of town.

Without taking time to think about it, I had stopped directly outside a funeral home. While sitting on my bike, I contemplated my time as a funeral director and all that work entailed. I enjoyed my time serving families, but there were also difficult times.

A common thread for each family was the comment, “They died way too early.” Sadly, this did come from families mourning the loss of a baby or a child, but was heard equally from families who were burying a relative who had lived to see 80, 90, or even 100 years of age.

Leaving the funeral home, I swung through a neighborhood and rode right past the city cemetery. I was riding slow enough that I was able to read several of the tombstones. Each was inscribed with words of love and sorrow, and every single grave told its own story.

Both the funeral home and the massive cemetery were a stark reminder that death is coming. The Bible reminds us in Hebrews 9:27, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Whether we choose to face the reality of death or we try to avoid every aspect of death, we can no more avoid death than you can avoid the coming of winter.

For the believer though, there should be no fear. Some fear death like they fear the coming of winter. They may fear the dreaded cold, or having to deal with snow, or a host of other concerns.

When our soul leaves our body, we will immediately be with the Lord. To be absent from the body is not a drudge, but is a promotion to heaven. Leaving these worn-out shells behind will be just one aspect of the glory that awaits, but more importantly, we will also leave behind pain, sin, tears, and the sting of death.

Jesus Christ reminds us in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Then the apostle Paul concludes in Phil 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”

Look up, dear friends, for our redemption draws nigh. We need not fear the winter of death for death and the grave has been swallowed up because of the victory found in Jesus Christ alone.

The Best and Worst of Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

The words of Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, were written in 1859. This well-known start to a fiction book was 160 years ahead of its time, and should be republished as a work of non-fiction.

Each generation can only imagine what life was like to previous generations or centuries of human life and culture. The statement “in the good ol’ days” is trite at best and disingenuous at worst.

I highly doubt that many would really desire to go back to the days of sharecropping, or child labor, or segregation, or lack of human rights. So, what is it that is actually meant when people speak of those days of yesteryear?

Too often, the “good ol’ days” are helped along with whimsical movies like Bing Crosby in “White Christmas”, Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” or Michael J Fox in “Back to the Future” or a host of other movies portraying a false reality of what life was like. Life was not easy and EVERY generation has faced difficult times.

For example, my British grandparents easily remembered what life was like during World War II and the years of food rationing. Years of being forced to plant your own garden, or raise rabbits for meat, or riding a bike to work because there was no gas/petrol for average civilians. I never heard either of them wish they could return to those days.

My parents were born in two different countries and raised on two different continents. Their lives were not easy and I rarely ever heard stories from their growing up years. They met during the days of the Vietnam War, married, and started a family. Segregation was still a reality, war demonstrations were an every week occurrence, governments were in a shambles, and troops were dying by the hundreds. I never heard either of them wish they could return to those days.

During my early years, I remember eating the same meal over and over because we did not have much. Going to a restaurant was a once-a-year treat on your birthday and gifts around the Christmas tree were normally slim pickings until the box arrived from a grandmother who always added a book, British chocolates, a hand-knitted sweater, and a few other items. Both parents had to work doing something in order to feed and clothe us, but they never complained.

Today, I have five children. Three are adults, while two are still at home. I also have a grandson. I do not want them to have to go through what my wife and I faced in our growing up years, or even in the early years of our marriage, but that does not mean that I fear what the future holds.

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The news media hourly projects the stark naked truth of Dicken’s words. 2018 is the best of times, but it is also the worst of times. 2018 is the age of wisdom, but it is also the age of great foolishness. 2018 is the epoch of belief, but it is sadly also the epoch of incredulity.

How have we arrived at this juncture in human history? It is certain that we cannot go back to the “good ol’ days” and even if we could we would have a harsh lesson to learn. We are exactly where we are supposed to be. We must take the opportunity to face the times we are in with an equal measure of faith and understanding.

The Bible reminds us “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” My faith gives me courage to face each new day. I cannot fear what I do not know will happen for there is no certainty of a new day. Tomorrow, my family could be planning my funeral and I will have given my day over to fears that did not come to fruition. My faith reminds me that there is only One Person who knows the future and how all things will transpire. This is where understanding comes into the picture.

My understanding of human history is predicated on the truth that all that mankind has accomplished is built on the back of all who have gone before. I recognize that there have been some very dismal times in human history where murder, mayhem, war, and disease were a daily part of one’s existence. I am thankful I do not live in one of those eras. I also understand that we can learn from our mistakes and we can teach our children to rise up and strive to do better than we did. We cannot make them do this, but the way history will play out for them can be changed for it has not yet arrived. The 21st century is not certain as to how politics, society, or culture will be represented in the history books of the future.

What we see today is a reflection of what Dickens saw as he continued, “It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

My prayer is that we will not give up hope, for we know the God who holds the future. That hope gives me encouragement and does not leave me in the winter of despair. With that hope, I know that I yet have everything before me as compared to those who have nothing before them.

“Only one life. It will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

The Wonder of the Mirror

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Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes, appearances can be very deceiving. That was true the day the knock came on the mirror and the horror that came with realizing that somebody would have to answer.

The preceding days held nothing ominous. If there had been an inkling of an idea that something was amiss, then I would have done everything in my power to prevent things from happening. But then again, in hindsight, I am not sure that I would. Changing the inevitable does not always bring a modicum of joy or happiness. Getting our way would actually be a miserable existence.

The actual morning dawned. As usual, it was beautiful. The sun rose around the world, but by nightfall things would be very different. The problem was that I knew about the mirror but I was too young and naïve to think that it could ever affect me.

Preparing for work, I began to feel some odd twinges, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Opening the door, I said goodbye to the family but was stopped when the phone rang. It was not unexpected and I was in no hurry, so I answered. In my mind, I think I knew before I responded, but the mirror glared back at me. I dropped my gaze first as I listened to the voice on the other end.

“Hello, I need you to meet me at the hospital. There is nothing to worry about, but I would be quick just in case.”

To this day, I cannot remember whether I responded in a courteous fashion or not. The caller informed me though that they would be there waiting for me. What I can recall is exceeding the speed limit on several major roads. A trip that should have taken about 15 minutes, I made in less than 10 with change to spare.

Only one ambulance was in the bay as I ran through the doors marked EMERGENCY. All decorum was absent as I blindly stumbled to the nurse’s station. As I approached the desk, one of my senses did not fail me. My hearing has always been excellent and today was no exception.

I introduced myself to the nurses and I noticed them looking oddly at each other when I gave my name. One of them stood to her feet and asked me to come and wait for the doctor to finish. As soon as he was free, he would come and let me know what was happening. Sitting down in the waiting room, nothing seemed out of the ordinary except for the mirrored glass that covered almost one entire wall.

After what seemed like an eternity, I grew impatient. Standing to my feet, I opened the door of the waiting room and went back to the nurses’ station.

“Hi, I am sure the doctor is busy, but I would really like some information. May I just go back to the examination room?”

“Sir, we just got word from the doctor and he said he should be up to speak with you in just a matter of minutes. Please wait for him in the room.”

Walking slowly back to the room, I opened the door and stepped in. Closing it back behind me, something back to nag at me as I stared at my dim reflection in the mirrored glass.

When time stands still, it is impossible to give an accurate description of a timeline. In my case, the next few minutes took another eternity while I pondered my location. As soon as my mind went through a myriad of possible computations, I came to a stark conclusion.

First, there was nobody in the room with me. There were always people in the Emergency Room. Not but a couple of weeks before, I had brought one of my children to the same hospital because they had fallen out of bed and split their head open requiring stitches.

Second, this waiting room had a door on it and while I had seen several people walk by who were not staff members, nobody had entered my waiting room.

Third, just as my brain realized that I was clearly in the wrong room, the doctor entered with another individual by his side. It was an older woman and she did not have a lab coat on. In fact, the only thing that I could focus on was the lapels of her jacket. Both lapels held a small, almost inconspicuous piece of jewelry that had been fashioned in the shape of a cross.

The doctor sat down at my left hand and the woman with the emblem on her lapels sat immediately to my right. Neither of them sat back in leisure, but were on the edge of their seats looking at me.

The room began to spin and I realized that my heart was not prepared for what the doctor began to say.

“Sir, I am sorry, but there was nothing we could do! We tried everything, but your brother is gone!”

That beautiful morning turned black. I knew that a knock from the other side of eternity had taken my brother from what C.S. Lewis called the Shadowlands of earth into the brightness of heaven where there is no night, no tears, and no death.

Each taking a hand, they walked me back to the exam room. My heart still aches as I remember looking down on the still face of my 22 year old brother, John. The pictures will always be in my mind of that day along with the torture of the funeral preparations. He was my best friend. No friends, no co-workers, and no family had yet joined me, and I felt more alone than I have done at just about any other point in my life.

Unbeknownst to us, he had developed a virus in his heart. Less than a year after getting out of the military with a clean bill of health, his heart had simply exploded. We later learned the EMTs were already in the building just about six or seven steps away. Ironically, they had taken over helping a lady who was having an angina attack.

The only first aid certified individual in her office had been my brother. Giving the care over to the EMT staff, he had turned and walked over to his desk, sat down, and fallen over dead.

Somehow, I managed to go back to my home. It was my responsibility to bear the brunt of the emotions as I called my parents who lived overseas. I called my brothers and sisters and informed them in different parts of the country, but nothing would change the fact that eternity had come calling for my brother, and he had answered.

I would have to say that I would not want him to have to come back to this world of misery and woe. The land where he lives is a land beyond compare and he did not have to grow old while dealing with sickness and pain. As I look from this side of the mirror, I realize that there are shadows on the other side. At my age, they are growing closer now than they were 23 years ago when my brother was called.

Sadly, we can only see glimpses every now and then of the joys that lie beyond this mortal pale. One day, we too will hear a clear, distinct knock. However, when the knock comes for us, it will actually open and the door will be a welcome intrusion. For those we leave behind, they will mourn, but one day, they will be able to join us on the other side. We will see clearly and realize that our journey was designed to take us from the shadows into the most incredible clarity that we cannot currently imagine.

The thought of seeing what is on the other side is not as scary as it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. There are times the unknown reflects back to us in ways we cannot comprehend. We know there is something there, but all we see is our own reflection. For now I must go, but I am trying to prepare harder for the knock on the mirror. Whether I like it or not, it is coming. I will be ready.

1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…”(ESV)

Wanted: Love and Grace

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person  ~Colossians 4:6.

Have you ever met someone who prides herself on speaking her mind? I think that phrase alone says a lot: The person who speaks what’s on his mind regardless of how it makes others feel is a proud person. I expect that she doesn’t realize that she sometimes does things that irritates others and yet they show grace to her. Why is it so difficult to bear with “stupid” people?

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ  ~Ephesians 4:15.

A lack of love is another reason some are quick to cut down others. Especially on social media, it is easy to subtly address faceless beings who can’t have feelings and so something they do or say is picked apart by another individual who has no patience with them.

I would like to submit that this kind of behavior is not boldness; many times, it is simply arrogance. By pointing out someone else’s fault (whether you name him or her or not), you are deflecting away from your own faults.

Facebook is the only social media that I am a part of, and I too see things that others say and do that I wouldn’t, but it is their page. They can do what they like on their page. I can participate or not. If I were truly burdened about it, I would send them a private message. If it’s not a burden, why not let it go?

We live in a world where many do not like confrontation. But passive aggressiveness? That’s a different story. Let’s make sure that the things we say and type are encouraging and helpful. There are times when people or situations need to be addressed, but it needs to be done with love and grace.

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Support Your Fellow Christians

But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

The above verse is one that is familiar to most Christians, but I wonder how many think about exactly what it means to “seek first the kingdom of God.” I think the most obvious interpretation of this is that we should be seeking, first and foremost, to be more like Jesus. This involves surrendering our will to His and learning what He desires of us. One area that I think is hard for a lot of people to surrender is that of finances.

With the ever-rising popularity of places like Walmart and Amazon, many “mom and pop” companies have gone by the wayside. We see fewer cottage industries because everyone knows that they can’t compete with companies that have a large enough bank account to buy products for next to nothing and then sell to the consumer for less than you or I could sell them for.

I am not saying that it is wrong to shop at big stores and save money. I like to bargain shop myself. And, if we are talking twice the price or more to order from a Christian company, my budget would probably not allow me to spend that much. However, I have found instances where the savings is only a few dollars, and this is where I would much rather support my fellow Christians or local businesses.

One reason this is weighing heavy on my heart, besides the fact that I just started my own online bookstore, is that I travel the country setting up booths to sell books for Family Renewal and Master Books. These companies spend a lot of time and money to go to conventions where people can look through the books to decide what they would like to purchase. Then many times they go home and order from Amazon or another discount seller, leaving us to pack up the inventory and take it back home. No wonder conferences are dying left and right as exhibitors are no longer covering their expenses.

What many don’t realize is that, when you purchase that really cheap product from a discounter, the creator of the product gets very little from that sale. If you buy a book on Amazon, for example, the author probably makes less than $2/book. Less than $1 in some cases. Most authors are happy to get books into people’s hands so they would rather folks buy from Amazon than not buy, but if you want to support your favorite author and help him or her to be able to continue to write and, in some cases, support their families, then it is much better to purchase directly from the author or another Christian distributor that doesn’t discount very much.

As Christians, we are to be good stewards of the funds God has given us, but we also need to pray about where to use those funds and who He desires to bless through our purchases. It is His money after all.

I Love You

I love you. One of the most beautiful phrases that you can say and yet society has distorted love to the point that, if you were to tell someone you love them, especially outside of your immediate family, they might become uncomfortable or look at you as if they’re trying to figure out what you want from them. The sad thing is that, because of this, many people feel unloved. Many moms and dads never even tell their children they love them because they are not accustomed to doing so, and they assume that their children just know somehow. I believe one of the reasons suicide is rampant today is because of this lack.

The New Testament is full of verses instructing us to love each other.

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7).

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law (Romans 13:8).

There are plenty of ways to let others know that you love them and, if you had to choose between telling a person or showing them, I strongly recommend showing them, but I would encourage you to let someone know that the reason you serve them, pray for them, spend time with them is because you love them. Not because you are obligated but because Christ has placed a love within you that flows to those around you. Try it out this week. If it’s someone that you have never told before, they may not know how to respond, but that may just be the person that needs the reminder that they really are loved.