FINAL RESTING PLACE

Cemeteries are found throughout the countryside. I love to read the headstones and see the notations made about the life of the one who died. Some cemeteries seem to be random, standing as solitary sentries for a few memorial markers along the roadside.  Some are huge and stand as monuments commemorating historic events that shaped our nation, community, and ourselves.    

One such place that we visited was the cemetery in the Vicksburg, Mississippi battlefield.  It was sobering to see the cannons all lined up as if they were ready to inflict injury on the enemy.  It was even more sobering to consider that in the battle, American was pitted against American as the Civil War was raging throughout the country.

Cannons in Cemetery in Vicksburg MS
Cannons lined up and ready, Vicksburg, Mississippi

In the battlefield there were monuments throughout the area to fallen soldiers form various states and communities.  This is the Illinois monument, complete with soldiers names inscribed inside the mausoleum-type structure.

IUED llinois state memorial Vicksburg Mississippi civil war cemetery
Illinois monument, Vicksburg, Mississippi

Some have a decidedly modern atmosphere, such as Sunnyslope cemetery in California. 

Sunnyslope Cemetery, CA '56

While some have a decidedly older atmosphere,  such as this cemetery located in Boston.

Boston cemetery
Cemetery in the City of Boston, Massachusetts

Then there are cemeteries that bear special significance to us personally, feelings that other places do not produce.

Virginia cemetery IMG_20160529_1316404_rewind
Cemetery in Salem, Virginia

My husband’s family is buried in this Virginia cemetery.  I love going there, not only to remember the people and thank them for teaching my husband to be a Christian man who loves me unconditionally, but also to meditate on the end that will ultimately come to all of us.  I also love to look out over the hillside and see the church steeples reminding me that Christ is the One who governs all of life and who gave His life as a ransom for many.

I truly don’t mean this to be morbid, but I do want us to think about our mortality and the finality of our days. 

The writer of Ecclesiastes correctly notes:

No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death. There is no discharge from war, nor will wickedness deliver those who are given to it.”

Ecclesiastes 8:8

The writer of Hebrews affirms that each of us will die, it is the fate of all finite beings:

“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Hebrews 9:27-28

Paul, writing to the Thessalonians said this about the end of our lives:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise firstThen we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.”

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

In other words, all people will have to die unless they are still alive when Christ returns.  Even they will rise to meet the Lord.  None of His people will be left out!  This is what Jesus meant when He said:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.””

John 8:51

The believer in Christ will certainly die a physical death just like everyone else – but the believer will not have a spiritual death.  Instead, we will be with Christ.   Physical death is a reality for all mankind because of sin.   Spiritual life is a reality because of the grace of God as it is a gift from God given to us through the Lord Jesus Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23

Our Western culture does a fantastic job of shielding us from death.  We are killing each other faster than we are birthing people, but we rush the bodies off to the undertaker, to the funeral home, so that we don’t even see the body, often with either closed casket or cremation burials.  Many children have never been to a funeral/memorial service and go into their early adult years before experiencing this type of personal loss.

Even if we wish to hide our heads and ignore reality, all of us will face death at some point, and when we do, we will no longer have time to make the decision that is of eternal consequence.   Do I follow Christ Jesus as my Savior or do I act as if God does not exist at all, only to be supremely surprised when that belief is in error!

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Beloved, be sure of your faith and of the One in which you have your faith.  Be sure that you have answered that question correctly.  Let the cemetery remind you that no one is immortal, we are all going to die and the ground will not be the final resting place for our spirits. 

Blessings to you, today, tomorrow and throughout your life.

Father, I pray that these words would be of encouragement to those who believe in Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  I pray that the Holy Spirit would use these words to convict and soften hearts that are hard and that You would work in those hearts to bring them to Yourself.  In Christ’s name I pray.

FAMILIES

We know what families are – the traditional family was father, mother, children. 

The extended family was father, mother, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, and in the South, you also would add the “kissin’ cousins”.  (Having my roots in the North, I don’t exactly know what they are, but you hear it anyway!)

Go cart with grandpa
Papa and Grandson at a go-kart track.  Not at all certain which of these fine men had more fun, but I believe it was Papa!

Then there are the folks who play a role in the family but who are not blood-line related.  I’m thinking of the Grandma and Grandpa my children had when they were very young children.  My parents were hundreds of miles away and this wonderful couple had no children, but they bridged the generation gap and “adopted” my children as if they were their own grandchildren.

Gramma Ford
The “Grandma” feeding a precious child who she loved as her own..

When we would visit, the children ran to the kitchen and found the drawer where “Grandma” kept “kid friendly” candy at just the right eye level for them to see and grab. 

When we moved from one city to another, the children came under the care of another “Grandpa and Grandma” who lived just a few doors away from us. 

Jim and Virginia Metzger
Grandpa Jim and Grandma Virginia kept the children when I had to travel for work.

In fact, Grandpa Jim taught my daughter not to be afraid of dogs during the time they took care of her when I was a single parent and was out of town for work on an extended case. 

On a whole other note but no less significant to dear friends of ours, we are now taking care of a canine daughter of an elderly couple who have suffered pneumonia and the flu and are now in rehab to regain their strength.  Not being able to have their pup with them was a terrible concern for them, a concern which was alleviated by bringing her into our home.  This picture of her resting comfortably with our girls brought comfort to this “Mom and Dad”. 

Doggies with friend.jpg
The MinPins with their temporary sibling!

The marvelous wonder of each of these relationships is that they were from our church “family.”  Each of the couples who cared for the children and who are the loving “parents” of our canine guest are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, and they worshipped with us every Sunday, and often during the week as well.

Scripture teaches us that believers in Jesus Christ are children of God. 

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Romans 8:16-17

When we are received by the Holy Spirit and indwelt by Him through belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are adopted into God’s family.  We become children of God and each believer becomes our brother or our sister in the Lord.

“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”

Ephesians 3:6

The Christians of the first century were Jewish, just as Jesus and each of the Apostles were Jewish.  Saul of Tarsus was a Jewish leader who persecuted the Christians.  He was going to Damascus to continue that persecution when he encountered the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  In Acts 9:15 we read that Saul, later to become Paul, was commissioned to minister to the Gentiles.  In preparation for Saul/Paul’s ministry, the Lord asked a disciple named Ananias to go and care for him.  He was understandably resistant given the fact that he knew Saul was coming to Damascus to round-up and persecute the Christians.   

“But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”

Paul later wrote to the Galatians and said:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Galatians 3:28

So, for the believer, his/her family is far broader than the bloodline would seem to indicate.  The Christian’s spiritual genealogy includes all the men and women and boys and girls who have been adopted into God’s family.  The love of Christ is shed abroad to each of the family members and, when one needs help, the body rushes in to care for the wounded.

When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, he included a commendation for their works of brotherly love that extended to other bodies of believers throughout the area.

“Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more,”

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

So, who is your family?  Certainly, your family is, at least, those who live under your roof, and the Christian has a clear obligation to care for and provide for his/her family. 

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”

1 Timothy 5:8

But it is broader than that – for the Christian, the family is all those who worship the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is particularly those that worship with you, and we are charged to take care of the family of God.

So, who is your family?  Are there needs that have gone unmet?  Can you meet those needs?  Can you lend assistance to someone who is in your church family?  Can you bring encouragement to someone who is being attacked because of their faith?  The list of needs and opportunities is endless.

So, who is in your family and what needs might they have that you could alleviate?

Father, I pray that we would take the words of your Word and put them into effect in our hearts and in our actions.  I pray that we would not read your Word without being affected by it, without being transformed by it, without having it take root in our words and actions.  Let us be Your hands and feet to those who are in need, through the power of Your Spirit, I pray.

A CALL TO WAKE UP AND REPENT – Scripture reference corrected

I suspect that the question of how long our life will be is far from our normal conscious thought, until something happens to jar us out of our lethargy and into the reality that none of us is as big, as strong, as indestructible, or as far from leaving this life as we believe ourselves to be.

These thoughts are on my mind today because we just came back from the memorial service for a dear lady in our church who died this week after an extended illness.  While it was difficult to learn of her passing, we were relieved that she was no longer in pain, that her husband was no longer watching her suffer, and that he and the rest of her family could rest in the knowledge that she was with her Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Family at my grandfather's grave
Family at my grandfather’s grave

Unlike our friend who suffered the ravages of disease for many years, the picture above is of the family after my grandfather suffered a premature, and unexpected death in 1956.  As I recall, his death was sudden, without an extended illness.  There was no way for the family to prepare themselves, one day he was with us, the next he was gone.

I know this is true of my own mother.  She died when I was 21.  I was living several states away so we communicated by phone.  I spoke with her on Sunday and we expressed concern about my father’s cancer.  He was in the hospital preparing for surgery, but we were not sure what the outcome would be. (Back then, you did not prepare for cancer surgery by sitting at home, you waited in the hospital bed for multiple procedures in preparation for surgery.) She was comforting me about my father, telling me that the Lord was with her and with Daddy and that He would take care of both of them.  I was not to worry.

That was the last time I heard my mother’s voice. Two days later, on Tuesday, I received a phone call that she had suffered a massive stroke.  She never came out of the coma and on Thursday she went to meet her Lord and Savior.  She was only 54 years old when she was called home.

Mother's tombstone
Mother’s tombstone

Hard to concentrate on trivial things when your life is turned upside down by a sudden death of a loved one.

No one has an answer to the multitude of questions that are raised when death comes like a thief in the night nor are there answers when we watch a loved one die a slow, excruciating death.  That simply is not within our sphere of knowledge.

Like it or not, we are the creation, not the Creator.

Mountain view in Alaska with caribou rack in foreground
Mountain view in Alaska with caribou rack in foreground

God is sovereign in all things, even in the length of time his creation exists.  Even before we are born, God knows when we will arrive as that bundle of joy and when we will leave this earthly existence.

Proverbs 90:12 says –OOPS —  CORRECTION:  Proverbs only has 31 chapters so clearly this is an incorrect reference.  Thanks to my dear friend Claudette Starr who noticed this mistake.  I do apologize for this error; my proofreading will have to improve in the future!  Now, back to the thought.  If you look at PSALMS 90:12 you will find the following text:

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

There are numerous lessons that can be learned when we attend a funeral, or when we learn that a loved one has died suddenly, not the least of which is that we are reminded that we need to be ready for “our own personal end of days” as well as “the end of days,” when Christ returns.

He sent His Son to be our Savior.  His Son, Jesus, died as an atonement for our sin, all of it.  Because he died for us, we no longer have to suffer the punishment that our sin places on us.  He rose from the dead and, because He lives and is interceding on our behalf, those who believe in Jesus’ Name will live eternally.

In 2 Corinthians 6:2, the Apostle Paul says it as clearly as possible:

“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”

That Tuesday, my mother had no idea that such day would be the irreversible beginning of herlast days”.

As Reformed Christians, we believe that Jesus Christ will bodily return one day.   Indeed, Paul affirms this in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Then, there will not be any more time to repent.  The die, as we say, will have been cast and the game of this world will be abruptly ended.  There will be no more time.  Even if Jesus does not return during our lifetime, we know that we will all have to face death, some sooner and some later; but it is inevitable.

It is a certainty that time will run out – whether it is when Jesus returns or at our own personal “end of days” — and there is absolutely no way that you or I know when that day will come.

The Apostle Paul was right – Repent, for today is the day of salvation!

Father, often we live our lives as if we will continue on for decades before anything major will happen, certainly before death knocks at our heart’s door; forgive us for being so callous and foolish.  Forgive us, Father, for thinking of salvation as a type of fire insurance.  Forgive us when we have marginalized Jesus’ work on the cross rather than bowing in humble obedience to Him.  Forgive us when we have ignored the Holy Spirit’s prompting for a living, dynamic relationship with the Almighty Sovereign Creator God.  Father, forgive us!