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.

LOVE – WHAT’S IN A WORD?

Love, it is a word that is used in the English language for so many things.  Most of which probably don’t really require the term “love”.  For example,

“We love pizza.”

“We love our dogs.” 

KOA dog park 2.JPG
The “girls” running at a campground play yard.

“We love the lake!”

“We love that outfit.”

“We love the mountains.”

Waimea Canyon Kauai mountains
Waimea canyon, Kauai 

“We love how you decorated the room.” 

“We love our children.”

“We love our spouse.” 

But, do we love pizza as much as we love our spouse?  The reality is that we probably don’t love pizza more than our spouse (at least I hope that is the case!).  Do we love our spouse as much as we love an outfit?  

In short, the English language is a bit lame on the word “love.”  Love encompasses a positive emotion, often giddy and mushy, about anything, with no distinction between the type of love or the character of love for the thing before us. 

The Greek is not that way – there are at least three words for “love” and they have very different meanings.

First is Eros from which we derive erotic, or romantic love, sexual and physical; it is a love that desires to possess for personal benefit.

Second is Phileo from which we get Philadelphia and philanthropy, words that mean companionship and friendship.

Third is Agape love.  This is the New Testament Greek word that describes God’s love for us.   Agape love is the result of a decision that commits itself to the well-being of the beloved regardless of the condition or reaction of the one who is loved. 

As Christians, we are to love as Christ loved us – we are to love with the self-sacrificing love that puts others first, no matter what, that puts others’ needs before our own, that grants us the privilege to serve rather than to be served. 

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

Ephesians 5:2 from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

John 15:12 from Jesus’ own words to His disciples.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:35 from Jesus’ explanation as to the importance of loving each other.

Following Jesus’ example, we are to give ourselves to others as we love others

  • even if we think they don’t deserve our love.
    • As sinners, we certainly did not deserve the love that Christ lavished upon us when He died for us on the cross of Calvary! See Romans 6:23.
  • even if they don’t desire our love.  
    • When we were dead in our sin, we couldn’t ask for or desire help from Christ! See Ephesians 2:4-7.  We all know that a corpse cannot do anything to become an “un-corpse.”  When you are dead, there is no life in you, and you can’t do or desire anything.  But Christ, in His love, touched us and claimed us as His own, even while we were dead in sin.  We did not deserve that love. It was a gift of grace from God.  Therefore, we should not be so judgmental as to think that we could withhold love from anyone!
  • even if they dislike us.
    • Scripture teaches that we not only disliked God and His Son Jesus Christ, we were actual enemies of God. See Romans 5:10.   If Jesus died for us while we were His enemies, we can surely extend love to those to may dislike us!  In fact, Jesus taught that we were, indeed, to love our enemies.  See Jesus’ words in Luke 6:35.

Love is an action word.  We choose to love; we choose to obey Christ; we choose to minister to others in His name; we choose to deny ourselves and to serve others.  Love is not something you fall into or fall out of … it is a decision to commit yourself to the well-being of those you are called to love.

Now that we have made the decision to love others, TELL THEM!

We have had 4 friends who have died in the past 2 months, each of them being special to us in so many ways.  We have known all of them for over 10 years, worshipping with them and learning of God’s love through their lives.  Their lives took very different turns and experiences, but we were all unified through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

  • Don was an elder in our church, a tireless man who aided many and who died suddenly, without warning, his witness through the Gideons and in Bible study will be sorely missed;;
  • Shirley was an incredible Bible teacher and a leader in women’s Bible studies for decades who suffered with ALS for years but her witness for her Lord remained constant;
  • G. B. was a member of Bible-based fellowship group which included my husband and they met weekly for over 15 years; while he struggled with cancer, his death was unexpected and a surprise to all; and
  • Claire was a lady with whom we worshipped, who was a close friend to me even before I met my husband, whose son was best friends with our son from preschool through grammar school, when she moved across country. She was beset with all sorts of physical ailments for decades but her faith in the Lord was solid and she praised Him for all her days.

Tell those you love that you love them.  One day, they will be gone and you will have missed the opportunity to extend love to them in Jesus’ name.

Father, I ask forgiveness for ignoring the multiple opportunities You give me to extend Your love to others.  I ask that You enable me to be more loving and that I would be more vocal about how I love my family, friends and those I come in contact with.  May I bring glory to Your name, Father, because it is only through Your love that I can love others.  

 

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!