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#4Truths#ClingTo

Sunday, November 1st, 2020

I mentioned in my last post that I was deeply influenced by 4 truths taught in Jesus Revolution by Greg Laurie and Ellen Vaughn. Before I share those 4 truths, I think it is important to give you the backstory to them. Greg and Cathe Laurie are the parents of two sons. The oldest, Christopher, had gotten into drugs and the way of the world. But one day he recommitted his life to Christ and it was real. He became a good husband and father. He also worked alongside his dad, who was and is the pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California.  One day they were waiting for Christopher to show with water for a ministry they were doing when it became later and later. Finally Greg received word that Christopher had been killed in a car accident. He said he collapsed on his front porch and and wept. But as he wept he said, “You gave him to me in the first place, and now I give him back to you.”  Would the faith they absorbed during the Jesus Movement days and practiced since the ’60s sustain he and Cathe? The reality of faith didn’t anesthetize the pain. Trusting Jesus wasn’t an emotional Xanax. But faith did make the pain bearable. 

They knew four truths, not just intellectually, but deep in their souls. These truths were what they could hold on to in the midst of their storm.  Here they are:

#1- Life is full of trouble, just as Jesus had promised.  John 16:33 comes to my mind when I think about this.

#2- They knew God loved them.  I personally think this is where we get tripped up the most. Sometimes we think we are owed something because of the life we have lived-both good and bad (our childhood for example). We might be going through a tough season-mentally, physically and spiritually-but we have the assurance of God’s love.

#3- They knew Jesus wept with them.  Ask for a memory verse in a contest and invariably someone will says, “Jesus wept.” We chuckle (although it is old) but have you ever considered the power in that short verse?

#4- They knew God can be glorified, in some mysterious way, by human suffering.  Job was able to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Lauries were able to say that as well.  The proof is in the fruit.

So much there.  Unpack it some more on your own. Want some help? Feel free to contact me.

#SearingLoss#HowLong?#WhatNow?

Friday, October 30th, 2020

Pastor Greg Laurie is a well-known pastor in Riverside California. He has pastored Harvest Christian Fellowship for over 40 years. As you can imagine he has been through probably about everything a person can go through but he will tell you the hardest to deal with was the accidental death of his son in a car accident.  He and his wife, Cathe’s response prompted me to add this sermon to my Q & A series.

C.S.Lewis once wrote:

“God whispers to us in our pleasure, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is His megaphone to rouse the deaf world.”

I know there are those who have experienced such searing loss that it still affects them many years later. The loss of a child. The loss of a child at birth. The loss of someone you love by suicide. The loss that sears so deeply it is burned into your soul.  I must confess: I’ve not had that type of loss. I’ve lost my mother to cancer at the age of 71.  I lost both my in-laws but felt the loss of my father-in-law the deepest. I have lost friends in the churches I have served. I have seen my long time male friend bury his father and son.  But I’m not going to pretend I understand the ache of searing loss.

This Sunday my sermon is What about Searing Loss? and I will be using Job’s experience as an example. I will also be taking the four truths that Pastor Greg said held them together and expanding on them. I also plan to share those 4 truths with you in a post next week.

This will be a gut-wrenching sermon for some to hear. I am asking you to pray for extra wisdom for me and extra grace for those listening-in person and via live stream. Thanks.

#NoPlaceToHide#Book Review

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

After reading I’ve Seen the End of You by surgeon Lee Warren, it was a no-brainer that I would read his first book, No Place to Hide.  I have to admit that I had absolutely no idea what to expect. All I knew about it was he was a surgeon in Iraq and had to deal with some PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome).  PTSD is very common in combat soldiers and it manifests itself in multiple ways. It is also found in accident victims-accidents of many different kinds. I was particularly interested because there are several men in the church I pastor who were in either Desert Storm or Iraq and suffer from PTSD, from mild to severe. A friend of mine has it due to watching his best friend die almost literally in his arms after a horrible accident involving a 90+ year old man ramming his car into several cyclists while on an MS ride.  (And he got off almost scot-free due to $$$$).

Here is my review of No Place to Hide:

I have never been in armed conflict. I turned 18 during the Vietnam War but was in Bible college so I was exempt. BTW: that was not why I went to Bible college. I was virtually illiterate about the news and Vietnam. I think my parents knew I would have been toast if I had signed up for the military because I could not find a job after my Freshman year in college and my uncle (un-brave soul that he was) took me to a recruiting station. My mom was contacted by the recruiter and she discouraged it.  Anyway, I have only read or listened to the horrors of that conflict as well as Desert Storm and the Iraqi invasion. To say my eyes were opened would be an understatement.  Lee was a brain surgeon with a successful practice but he received his papers to go to Balad Air Base for four months.  I will spare you the gory details but to say his time at Balad was a vacation would do him a great injustice. It would do all those who served in any capacity a great injustice.

While at Balad he was required to treat our military personnel, but also innocent Iraqi citizens, and our enemies, terrorist bombers included. The descriptions of what some of our personnel went through were enough to give me nightmares if I had allowed it. Innocent citizens punished for making a living by becoming translators or voting was enough to make my blood boil.  And to make it worse was for all medical personnel giving their best to save the suicide bombers and others responsible for much of the bloodshed on their own people was almost more than I could stand.  I just can’t understand that kind of hate, especially that which was done in the name of a “peaceful religion and God (Allah).”

I had to wait until close to the final 40 or so pages before Lee was discharged to read about the PTSD. While in Iraq his marriage fell apart (it was already heading there before deployment), and he came home broken and bruised, but missed greatly by his children.  It was after all of that and his marriage to Lisa that his PTSD hit him hard. I’m not going to go into detail about it. There is no need to. I’d just say, “Read the book.”

But I will tell you this: if you did not respect our men and women of the military before, you will after reading this book. It does not matter if they were in combat or a doctor in a field hospital, they went through horrendous conditions that I cannot fathom. Plan to be challenged. Plan to have your eyes opened. Plan to find respect for our military personnel. Plan to have tissues  handy. But also plan to see Dr. Warren give praise to God for bringing him out alive and able to minister as a top brain surgeon.

#OutoftheBlue#VictoryStory

Tuesday, July 14th, 2020

“What is it with me?” I have to ask. This is the third book review in a row? This is the second that has to deal with cancer. You might be wondering the same thing. Is Bill trying to tell us something? Truthfully, not that I know of. Who knows what is going on inside my body…or yours for that matter.

While I was reading Dream Big by Bob Goff (my review is here) Bob told how he was asked to do a Preface for a book by Greg Murtha. So I pursued it a bit further since Bob told a little of Greg’s story and it sounded interesting. Greg wrote a book called Out of the Blue and finished it on June 19, 2017. He went “to the head of the line” on June 22, 2017.  This book is Greg’s story and life lessons learned during 5 years of chemotherapy and fighting through 75 chemo treatments.  This was literally one of those books I had trouble putting down.  I started reading it Saturday evening since I didn’t have to preach and had to pry it out of my hands to go to bed. Then as I tossed and turned I wondered if I should have just stayed up and read some more. I finished it Sunday night after attending church with friends, having lunch with them, and coming home to cut grass. The rest of my evening was spent putting the finishing touches on reading this book. IT WAS THAT GOOD!

Greg was a hard-driving and successful man, but by his own admission not a great husband or father. Provider? Yes. Engaged? No.  But here is how his journey began: “On a cold December morning in 2011, I ran eleven miles on the picturesque Crocket Hills Trail in Middle Tennessee…As a 46 year old man in what I thought was peak physical condition, eleven miles was nothing. Afterward, sweating but pumped, I headed for the bathroom at the YMCA. That’s when my runner’s high deflated. It appeared as if someone had poured a container of bright-red blood into the toilet. It was a lot of blood, and I realized instantly, this is not good.”

So begins his story of 5 years/75 treatments. And so begins one of the most captivating books you will ever read.  One month after that 11 mile run, Greg and Tracey (his wife) found out he had Aggressive Stage 3 colon cancer (I’ll leave out the details)  which soon became Stage 4.  Out of the blue his life was changed forever.  Out of the blue his well-planned life had been radically changed. Hence, now you know the reason for the title of the book.

And out of the blue I was slammed by the lessons Greg learned.  How often, even though I want to be a pastor who is tender and open to that still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, have I walked past people who are obviously hurting?  How many times have I been so preoccupied with my own issues or concerns that I have failed to see the signs of others who are needing someone to care?  How many times have I sensed that nudge from the Spirit to reach out and failed to do so? I can honestly say…way too many.  I shed tears during this book.  Not for Greg but for how his heart was made tender for others. How his heart was molded into a heart like Jesus.  And I shed tears because I am so lacking in that department. Like Joni, Greg says cancer was a blessing and he wouldn’t change a thing.  His biggest regret was leaving behind his wife of 23+ years and his 15 year old son.

Out of the blue God taught me how I needed to be much more open to others; how I needed to be much more sensitive to His voice and available to His lead.  I say “out of the blue” because I was not expecting this book to be what it was-a lesson in listening to God’s voice and acting upon it.  Greg’s journey on this earth is over, but then again, maybe it has just begun…in me. I pray my heart will be open to the Father’s leading as his was.

Get this book. But just be forewarned: you will be hit out of the blue with powerful lessons.

Out of the Blue: The Unexpected Adventure of Life Interrupted

#Lent#32

Friday, April 10th, 2020

Today, April 10,2020 is Good Friday. A day of sickness and death for many, but for people all over the globe it is a day with a different meaning,

From Darkness to Light.

From Pitch Black to Blinding Luminescence.

From Dark Rumbling Clouds to Glorious Sunshine.

From Hatred to Love.

From Loss to Gain

From Loser to Winner.

From Death to Life.

It’s Friday…but Sunday’s Coming!

#Lent#29

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020

I have a grandson who is now 13. He hates losing. He has been that way ever since I can remember. He gets emotional, i.e. angry and (used to) cry when he didn’t do well or the team lost. He was probably around 8 maybe when we went to see the Pirates (my team) play the Reds (his team) at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The game had see-sawed. It looked good for the Pirates until the Reds rallied to tie it late in the game.  It was the bottom of the 9th with one or two outs (I can’t remember) when my favorite player came up and hit a game-winning Home Run. He was sitting on my lap so he could see better and immediately dropped his head into my lap. About a minute or so later-after I celebrated by yelling and clapping and the fireworks went off-I noticed his head was still there. So I lifted his head and he was crying! When I asked him why he was crying he said, “Because they lost and you should never lose or accept losing.” When I tucked him into bed that night at the hotel, I asked him why he said what he did. Who told him that? He told me and I was both sad and angry. I lovingly told him that it was good to win and to want to win, but sometimes losing is part of the game and life.  You accept it. Learn from it. And move on. Yeah, I know, maybe a lot for an 8 year old. But he got it!

It astounds me that people would give us so easily and want to follow a loser. A defeated foe. A supposed victory of death by crucifixion was changed three short days later by a victory. He thought he had won. He looked like he won, but that late inning resurrection snatched victory out of his hand and rendered him a big one in the “L” column.

Satan is defeated and will never recover. Follow Jesus. Don’t follow a defeated enemy. Jesus won!

#Lent#28

Monday, April 6th, 2020

There has been and always will be a difference in the work and motives of God and the work and motives of Satan. God works for good; Satan (the enemy) works for evil.

Take Jesus’ death for example. Satan saw it as an opportunity for evil, to get rid of his sworn enemy. But God saw it as an opportunity for good, to have a sacrifice in the place of sinners to bring about the salvation of those sinners. I like the way John Piper put it much better than I just did:

The heart of the Bible is not an explanation of where evil comes from, but a demonstration of how God enters into it and turns it for the very opposite-everlasting righteousness and joy. (p.118)

Ironically, Jesus had to endure evil and suffering in order to overcome evil and suffering. It still amazes me that He was willing to go through all that evil and suffering in order to declaw them. It’s like what Paul asked at the end of I Corinthians 15: “O death, where is your sting? O death, where is your victory?”  (verses 54-55)  Declawed for good. No Energizer bunny here.

#Lent#27

Wednesday, April 1st, 2020

I have said in the past, “I was saved by grace; I am being saved by grace; and in the end I will be saved by grace.” Paul put it this way: “This grace by which I stand.” (Rom.5:2)

You see, the whole idea of salvation relates to the past, the present, and the future. Using what I said earlier, I could say, “I have been saved; I am being saved; I will be saved.”

Take the death of Jesus. His death saved; His death saves; His death will save. He paid for all sins of the past. He paid for all sins today so I can know I am saved and secure in His grace. He paid for me to know my future home is waiting, kept in heaven for me. 

I’m rejoicing this Easter season that even though there is a quarantine (2020) that will keep us from meeting publicly as a body, nothing can damper the promise of forgiveness of sin-past, present, and future. His shed blood is a stamp guaranteeing eternity for me. And it can be for you as well.

#Lent#24

Friday, March 27th, 2020

In yesterday’s devotion, I focused on Jesus conquering death, hell and the grave. Let’s focus a bit more on the latter one today. I absolutely loved John Piper’s statement:

The keys of death were hung on the inside of Christ’s tomb. (p.100)

WOW! I love the picture that gives. As I walk into my house, on the wall to my left is a hook. It is where I put my keys as soon as I walk in the door.  That way I know where they are when/if I need them. When I leave in the morning the last thing I get before I walk out the door is my keys. If I need to run to my truck to get something I know where my keys are. My imagination can do a great picture of this. Just before or as the stone was rolled away, I can picture Jesus reaching over the grabbing the key called “Resurrection” and take it off the hook and walk out.

I simply cannot say it better than Piper did.

The resurrection of Jesus is God’s gift and proof that His death was completely successful in blotting out the sins of His people and removing the wrath of God. (p.100)

It was like God’s stamp on the whole deal. It’s like getting loan papers in the mail with a big stamp of PAID on it. PAID. IN. FULL. The Law was satisfied. The debt was paid.  Eternal life promised.

Oh yeah! He rose!  Signed. Sealed. Delivered. Love that key!!

#Lent#12

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

In yesterday’s post (#Lent#11)  I gave some thoughts about what survivors need after a loved one has died.  I encourage you to read that before reading this post (if you haven’t already done so).  In this post, I’d like to carry on with how to treat a survivor with some thoughts on Things Not to Say and Things to Say.

THINGS NOT TO SAY:

  1. “He/she is in a better place now.”  The question which begs to be asked is, “How do you know for sure?” Unless the victim was a follower of Christ,  you are better off not giving false hope.
  2. “I know how you feel.” No, no you don’t. You know how you feel, not how they feel.
  3. “All things work together for good” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Honestly, not only do I want to gag when someone says this (even though it may be half true), but it sounds more like an empty platitude.
  4. “God never gives you more than you can handle.” Not biblical.
  5. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”  Catchy Kelly Clarkson song, but this comes from Nietzche, who was an atheistic philosopher. He publicized the “God is Dead” movement.
  6. “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” This may sound good coming from your lips but it is virtually a worthless use of words. Why not offer something tangible like “I’m going to bring you a meal” or “Let’s go out for a run or coffee.”
  7. Any joking about people killing themselves is out of bounds. “Oh, if I fail this test, I’m going to kill myself.” (Roll eyes)

THINGS TO SAY:

  • Nothing. (But be present).  Being there and letting them talk or cry or just holding them or just sitting with them is much better than endlessly spoken, weary words. 
  • “I’m so sorry.”  (And mean it when you say it. Yeah you would be surprised).
  • “I don’t know what to do or say. ”  (See the first one of this section).
  • “Do you want to go out for coffee?”  (See #6 above).
  • “Tell me what you remember about him/her.”  (I do this for the funeral experience. It helps them remember the good times).
  • “Tell me your story.”  If they have been married a long time this helps heal.

Some added thoughts: 

  1. Be careful of using “committed suicide.” This implies criminality.
  2. Be careful of saying “completed suicide.” This sounds like a laudatory accomplishment, like completing a project or a grade.
  3. It is much better  to say, “Took his/her own life” or “He or she died.”

I know it is hard to know what to say. It is made worse by “tongue-tied disease.”  People want to give comfort but don’t know how.  Granted, much of what I have written is concerning suicide, but in many cases the advice can apply to any death and survivor.

Some of what I have shared comes from a book by Albert Y. Hsu entitled Grieving a Suicide. I simply cannot recommend this book enough.  The thoughts are a mash up of his and mine (mostly his). 🙂