Thursday, September 29, 2011

I'm Leaving Now - III

Stacy's wife, our dear friend Alethea, has written about her grief (and C.S. Lewis's) on her blog, Moments of Truth:

I'm Leaving Now - II

I have a friend who is on a FEMA team that is mobilized for disasters. In the aftermath of the Joplin, MO tornado he served on the bereavement team. Rob shared some things about his Joplin experience that I’ve been pondering:

We are desensitized to the death and suffering of others because we see so much of it on television and in movies; we find it difficult to distinguish real suffering from fictional suffering.

Many people in Joplin ignored the first tornado warning sirens because they thought they were just a test.

People in Joplin had only a brief visual warning of the tornado because they could not see it through the storm.

None of us know what our expiration date is.

Our desensitization leads to compartmentalization – it happens to others, I won’t think about it happening to me. Death is around us everyday, but we choose not to think about it. Thinking about death need not be morbid – it can be quite positive, after all – if this life is the first chapter of the rest of the story, if it is the prelude to eternity, if this life has eternal consequences – then living life in the light of the certainty of death is logical.

Consider Paul’s words to the Corinthian church (2 Cor. Chapter 5 – Peterson paraphrase)

For instance, we know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven – God-made, not handmade – and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move – and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.

Just as many in Joplin ignored the first warning sirens, most folks ignore the issue of death – not just in their own lives, but in the lives of those they love. Earlier this year a coworker told me that he was going to the funeral of his son’s hockey coach, a young man in his 20’s. I asked my coworker what he would say to his teenage son if his son asked him about death. His reply was, “I’ll tell him that ____ happens.”

I then pressed my coworker as to why he’d take that approach. He said, “Well, that’s what my father told me about death.”

Does this make sense? Does it make sense for a parent to ignore the one inevitable and final subject which their children will face one day, in fact, a reality that they will face many times in their lives? Does ignoring death make it go away? And please, how many times have I heard the line, “Well, when they grow up they can make up their own minds about death”? Why not let them make up their own minds about putting their hands on a hot stove or eating rat poison?

People in Joplin could not see the tornado because of the storm. Death often comes unannounced – we don’t see it – it comes to us in the storms of life, in a sudden squall, a flash flood, and when it comes…more often than not…the way we live is the way we die.

Rob’s comment about the expiration date is so true – I don’t know what mine is and you don’t know what yours is, but we all have one. Patrick, Stacy, and Mike all had expiration dates we would have never guessed – but they were all living as if their homecoming could be at any time. Were they perfect? Of course not; but they were in a relationship with the One whose perfection and love ensured them a certain future in His Presence.

I’m going to close this posting with words I used in Becket, MA in December 1999 – it was a Sunday message leading up to Y2K:

Recall Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol, as the ghost of Christmas future escorts him to the graveyard…Scrooge is drawn to a grave that is unkempt, uncared for…hidden by a bush…he pulls the bush back to find his own tombstone…his own future grave…but it is without a date of death…for it is yet hidden.  One day we’ll purchase a calendar that will contain the date of our own death…but we won’t know it…it will be hidden.

As to the final date for history as we know and understand it…we don’t know that either.  Jesus says that no one knows the day or the hour except our heavenly Father…though of course we can observe the flow of history and see the correspondence of the Scriptures to natural, national, and international trends and events.  We don’t see a date…but we do see a blueprint.

When I was a boy I was embarrassed to have others see my mother hug and kiss me in public.  If she was dropping me off at school, or at a friend’s house…I tried to get out of the car before she could hug me…I didn’t want others to see…my pride…vanity…whatever you want to call it…got in the way of me receiving the love that my mother wanted to give me…I erected barriers to my mother’s love…

God is in the business of removing barriers…not building them.  He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to remove the barriers of separation between Him and us.  Christ died and rose again to break those barriers down…even the barrier of death…so that when we each…individually…come to that hidden date on our individual calendars…that it might be a date for continued transformation and not one of judgment…

If I had known that my mother would die when I was 17, and my brothers were 15 and 12, perhaps I would have relinquished control and allowed her to love me whenever and wherever she wanted…but at the time I had to be in control to preserve my pride and vanity…to be king of my little kingdom of self…

This morning…God deeply desires to wrap His tender arms of love around you.  He created you to experience His presence, His love, and completeness in Jesus Christ.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing in your life, present or past, that God can’t bring healing and forgiveness to…if you’ll give up control to Him and trust Him…

Y2K…today can be a Y2K day for all of us…maybe you’ve never had a Y2K day before…maybe it’s one of those hidden dates on your calendar…maybe that’s why you’re here this morning [or reading this blog]…to have a Y2K day…a Y2K life…perhaps to renew your Y2K life…

For this morning…God call us to Y2K…to Yield to the King…His Son…Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 26, 2011

I'm Leaving Now - I

Mike McDonald, a first cousin of my coworker’s wife, died on September 16. No, let me rephrase that, according to the obituary Mike McDonald, “…was called home to be with his Lord on Friday, September 16, 2011”. A couple of weeks prior to Mike’s homecoming he and his wife, Marjorie, recorded a song entitled, I’m Leaving Now. I suggest you listen to it before continuing with this post.

In light of Mike’s September 16 homecoming the song is especially poignant – but does its poignancy lie solely in the fact that Mike died shortly after recording the song with his wife – or does it also lie in the message it brings to us and that it speaks to us of a subject our society avoids – death? In this series of posts I want to explore Mike and Marjorie’s song from a least three perspectives; 1) of a life lived; 2) is the song true? 3) our society’s attitude toward death.

Mike is the third young man (young for me!) who has had some connection with me that has been “called home to be with his Lord” in the past few months. While I didn’t actually know Mike, knowing John (my coworker), listening to Mike’s song, hearing John’s thoughts about Mike, and reading about Mike, have all served to give me a sense of Mike. Mike (age 39), Patrick (age 46), and Stacy (aged 41), were all men with families and men who were committed to Jesus Christ – all of their deaths were sudden – and all of their deaths were homecomings. All of their wives and children have hope and assurance that death is but a portal into the presence of our Lord Jesus – and while the pain and grief are real, so is the assurance and hope.

I see from Mike’s obituary that he was a member of Calvary Temple in Williamsport, MD. I know from John that Mike played in the church band. I learned from a quick Google search that Calvary Temple is “Apostolic”, and since I’ve never been in an Apostolic church that wasn’t exuberant and unashamed of its Christian witness I’m pretty certain that Mike was full of joyful life; and not just on Sundays.

Mike’s song left his family and friends a message that he isn’t dead but that he is with Jesus. He left them a message that he hopes he’ll see them one day – based on the Person of Jesus Christ. Is Mike’s song based on wishful antiquated thinking, or is it true?

I’m amazed that we don’t talk about the one thing in life that is certain for us all – death. When we do talk about it, it is often in terms of estate planning, life insurance, or euthanasia (a generally utilitarian discussion). In the business world we are constantly focused on the “bottom-line” and we have no trouble talking about the bottom-line of a business (unless we want to avoid unpleasant realities – which does happen), but we don’t discuss the bottom-line that is true for every person ever born into this world…death.

Mike, Patrick, and Stacy had the best estate planning possible for their families – a relationship with Jesus Christ – unless of course Mike’s song isn’t true, unless of course Jesus was a liar or a lunatic (remember that Jesus couldn’t have been a “good man”).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Notes from Irene - V

Finally on Labor Day morning it happened - power was restored! A crew from Georgia Power was out with four trucks to do the job. Georgia Power had about 400 folks up here with a command center.

Davey and Sally supervised the work:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Notes from Irene - IV

Before the day was out we heard another CRACK CRACK KA BOOM - and the house vibrated. No, it wasn't an aftershock from the week's earthquake. A tree fell into Vickie's rose garden - it could have easily hit our home, thank you Lord.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Notes from Irene - III

The downed tree blocked the Zuck Homestead lane, making ingress and egress difficult for the Zucks and Reveres - they were negotiating around trees in our front yard. Then James came on Sunday with his 20" Stihl chain saw and cut an opening through the tree.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Notes from Irene - II

On Saturday morning (Aug 27), around 9:10 AM, we lost power; as did Davey and Sally, and Alice and boys. BANG BANG POP POP - the fuses were blowing on the line. The good news was that we'd already taken showers - we didn't know that they would be the last hot showers until Labor Day, Sept 5.

A while later we heard a CRACK CRACK - Vickie and I peered out the front windows...and what did we see?

Did I mention that we were in for a few days without a hot shower?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Notes from Irene

It's been awhile since my last post, mainly thanks to Irene. As I've pointed out to friends, Irene is an ironic name for a hurricane because it means "peace" or "peaceful".

In the midst of the storm I was wondering about the twin fawns. Then there they were, across the lane. The photos below were taken through our storm door during Irene's visit.