Reflections on the Death of a Sister.

A sister in Christ, that is.  I was an only child.

Her memorial service was this morning.  “Viewing” was Sunday.

The morticians did an admirable job preparing her.  Meaning no disrespect at all, I thought it was a little like fixing up a vacant house.  She doesn’t live there anymore.

But we came together to remember and honor her, not the mortal remains she left behind.

I was thankful the service wasn’t just some rote thing out of some “minister’s manual.”  It was from the heart, both the minister officiating and those who spoke of her.  There were a few tears, but there was a lot of laughter.  That’s the kind of person she was, a joy to be around, and a shining light for the glory of God in this dark world.

She was a shining example of what Paul meant when he wrote, For to me to live is Christ…, 

Jo suffered from Lupus for more than forty years, and came down with ALS just a few months before she died.  Though she was paralyzed and unable to speak at the end, yet someone’s comment during the service said to me that she had more joy in life than most of us who enjoy good health.  My wife and I visited her before she lost the ability to talk, and her cheerful demeanor and spirit blessed us more than we blessed her.  I’m sure of it.

A comment someone made while we were leaving the service struck me.  Like other comments I’ve heard over the years, it showed me how much we’ve been influenced by the thinking of the world.  This person said, “It’s good to be alive.”  My response, “Jo’s more alive now than we are.”

Another comment often heard, especially when someone is very sick:  “Well, that’s better than the alternative.”  No, it’s not, not for the Christian.  The rest of the verse from Paul quoted above is, …and to die is gain, Philippians 1:21.  There’s an interesting nuance in the original language missed in our English translations.  What Paul actually said was, “to have died is gain.”  His is the viewpoint of looking back at death and what’s on the other side of that door, not just at the door itself.

In spite of what the world wants to think, to die is not better than to live if the one dying doesn’t know the Lord Jesus as Savior.  There is no “better place” out there apart from Him.

But Jo was more than ready to go through the door, not because of her own efforts or goodness, as she herself would point out, but by the grace and mercy of God.

So, Jo, as we come to the end of the events of the day, we don’t say “goodbye.”  We just say, “Auf Wiedersehn, dear one.”  ‘Til we meet again.

Miss you.

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Voices of Christmas: The Chief Priests and scribes.

In our last posts, we looked at the three wise men and Herod. Herod didn’t know anything about the Old Testament, so when asked about the birth of the Messiah, he asked those who should know, that is, he called in the experts:  the chief priests and scribes of the people.

To me, these verses are the most somber of all the verses in the Christmas story.  You expect Herod’s reaction to the wise men’s not returning to him and his decree to murder little boys as a result.  He was that evil.  But the chief priests and the scribes?  What do I mean?  Look at the story.  When asked about the birthplace of the Messiah, they answered correctly and immediately, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:  ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel’,” Matthew 2:4-6.  These men didn’t have to look the verses up in the concordance or on their I-Pads.  They knew them.  (And, yes, I know….)

The thing is, knowing the verses and that men had come a long way to find the Messiah, there is no record that these chief priests and scribes ever went to Bethlehem themselves.  There is no record that they themselves ever went looking for the Messiah. Indeed, some thirty-plus years later, their successors were among those most active in seeking to destroy Him.

During His ministry, our Lord tangled with some of these successors Himself.  In John 5, Jesus responds to some who were upset that He had dared to heal the impotent man on the Sabbath, and then had claimed equality with God, v. 18.  In v. 39, He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  He was talking to the leaders of the Jews, for the ordinary folks didn’t have copies of the Scripture to study for themselves.

Like their predecessors in the time of Herod and the wise men, these men apparently thought the study of Scripture was an end in itself.  Their goal was to know as much about It as possible.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  God places no premium on ignorance.  Indeed, ignorance will only get you lost.  This isn’t to say that apart from Christ, we’re not lost already.  It’s just that only through the Scriptures can we find Him and salvation.

Jesus said as much Himself.  In His response, He continued, “and these are they which testify of Me.”  From Genesis through Malachi, for that’s all they had, the Old Testament testifies of the Lord Jesus.  This doesn’t mean that we have to look for some “spiritual” meaning in the words.  The words themselves speak of Him.  If Micah 5:2 prophecies of an actual event in an actual place, then so do all the rest of the Old Testament prophecies.  Granted, there are some things the Old Testament only hints at, for example, “the church.”  However, “the church” neither nullifies, cancels or “fulfills” the Old Testament.  That is reserved for, and will yet be completed by, the Lord Jesus.

For all their knowledge of the Scripture, these scholars Herod called didn’t know the Scripture.  Neither did their successors.  Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 2:8, where, in writing of the hidden wisdom of God, he said, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  Our Lord Himself said to the disciples in John 16:2, “…the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service.”  This happened in the experience of the early church, and it happens today in the murder of Christians by those of other religions.  It will continue to happen until the Lord comes back.  In the US, we’ve escaped a lot of this persecution through the mercy and providence of God.  Considering how things are going in this country, I’m not sure that our time isn’t coming, if it hasn’t already started.

In John 5:40, our Lord finished His response to those who were persecuting Him, “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.”

That is the crux of the matter.  We can discuss and argue about “the church,” or baptism, or prophecy, or any of a number of other subjects.  I’ve done so in this blog. We can have all kinds of “degrees” and religious titles:  “Master of Theology,” “Doctor of Theology,” Bishop, Reverend, etc., etc.  I’m not against “education,” and I understand the meaning of the terms “Master” and “Doctor of Theology,” as simply meaning that one has finished a required course of study and graduated.  At the same time, how can anyone really say that they’ve “mastered” the study of God (theology)?

That’s the thing with Bible college and Seminary; they study about the Scripture, not the Scripture itself.  The various papers and theses I had to turn in had to have a certain number of references from other authors.  I could never have simply turned in a paper using only Scripture.  It was really all about what other men said about the Scripture.  And I have nothing against “books;” I have several in my library.  I’ve even written one.  But our main study should be “the Book,” and not just “books.”  “The Book” intends to lead us to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Even here, though, we can fall short.  We can discuss the “theology” of the Lord Jesus and miss the point.  Is He God?  Was He virgin-born?  Did He even exist?  And on and on.  And these are important things to know.  But if our study doesn’t bring us to the point of bowing before Him as our Lord and Savior, recognizing our sinfulness and that He’s the only One that can do anything about it, then we’re worse off than if we’d never seen a Bible.

That was the trouble with the chief priests and scribes Herod called.  For all their knowledge, they never came to the Lord Jesus for “life.”

Christmas is four days away.  In a couple of weeks, the tree will be out on the curb, waiting to be picked up by the trash collectors.  The needles will have been swept up from the floor.  The ornaments will be put away for another year.  A lot of the toys will be broken already.  All the food we ate will make itself known on the scale.  Perhaps good and happy memories will be stored in the files of our minds.  The question is, will “the Babe” be stored away with the Nativity set?

Oh, that we might remember and live with and for Him in January and February and July and November, and not just for a few weeks at the end of the year.  If you’ve never particularly thought about sin and salvation, may this time of the year get you to thinking about it.  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31.

What Will We Leave Behind?

I guess I’m getting old.  Actually, there’s not much “guessing” about it.  I think about death a lot more than I did when I was younger.

Besides, it’s kind of been brought to my attention lately.  I wrote a post a few weeks ago about an elderly neighbor who was found dead in his home.  My next-door neighbor was the one who told me what had happened.  Two weeks later, he died.  He was my age.  [added a day later: Now there’s a “sale” at his house.  Cars parked up and down the street.  People going through the house; strangers dissecting a life now gone.  Got me to thinking about such things.]

Our daughter who lives in Florida was here last week to visit us.  While she was here, she went through a container of things which had belonged to my grandmother and had been in her china cabinet – which we still have, with some of her things, with some of ours, on display.  The daughter has a china cabinet now herself.

While we were up in the attic, I came across a box of old letters, etc.  Report cards, all kinds of stuff.  One problem with all that.  Several years ago, my other daughter came across one of my report cards from elementary school.  Said she knew where her kids got their problems from.  🙂

I have a little box of things from my grandfather – razor, cuff links, things like that.  That’s all, plus a memory of him lying in his casket.  I was six.  Never really got to know him.  I regret that.  He was handy with tools and building.  Grandma told me that, in today’s terms, he flipped houses.  Maybe I’d have learned something from him.

Grandma and Grandpa were Mom’s folks.  Never got to know my Dad’s folks.  Dad, either, for that matter.  They divorced when I was too young really to remember.  I have two memories of my dad.  That’s all.  We have Grandma’s dining room table, a nice desk that stood in her living room for as far back as I can remember, a couple of other desks…. Nothing from Mom, just a couple of pictures.  And some potholders she used to crochet.

I stood by Mom’s grave in 1970 and thought about all the arguments we’d had while I was a teenager.  All the heartaches and sleepless nights I must have caused her.  I was not a model son.  If I’d’ve lived in OT times, I might even have been a candidate for stoning to death.  I regretted it all.  But it was too late to tell her that.

Grandma gave me something more valuable than “stuff.”  I spent most summers with her.  During that time, she saw to it that I listened to Christian radio.  Nothing like we have today, but still there were good, godly men teaching on the radio.  M. R. DeHaan, founder of the Radio Bible Class, Theodore H. Epp, First Mate Bob and the crew of the good ship Grace, and others whose names I’ve forgotten. *sigh*  (good, happy memories)  It didn’t matter if I was outside playing or what, when time came for these programs, I was called in and had to listen.  She saw to it that I went to SS and church.  Gave me as much of a start in the Christian life as anyone, till the guy I worked with who kept inviting me to church and I finally went, just to shut him up!  Strange, that’s where the Lord met me and called me to Himself.

Grandma was a SS teacher herself.  The church was fairly liberal, even though she was conservative herself and taught that way.  Now, she didn’t have the radio on all the time. To this day, I dislike having the TV or radio on in the background.  I have nothing against peace and quiet.

Mom never minded if I went to church, or not.  She was happy when I went to Bible College.  Came to my graduation.  I’m sorry she never got to meet her future daughter-in-law or be a grandma to our kids.  She’d’ve been a good one.  But she died, too.  Two months before I got married.  But she had had trouble with church.  I don’t know the story, but she was told she wasn’t welcome at the church Grandma went to.  Kind of soured her on the whole “church” thing.

The point is,  we all leave this life.  And we leave stuff behind.  Things and memories.

What are we leaving behind for our kids, and their kids?  And their kids?  God grant that it’s good stuff, good memories, good upbringing, most of all, the “good things” of God.