To Wear the Faces of the Dead

Roy's Funeral

His mother died.

He’s not a member yet, but he’s been taking membership classes. He’s a young but eager Christian. I’m supposed to officiate at his wedding, and would have, except… he got caught violating parole. I believe him when he says he didn’t realize he was doing it. I withhold judgment on whether or not he should have known what he was doing was violating.

He’s been held in jail, and his courtdate is set. And then… last night, his mother died.

I know this man. I know his heart. This will rip him apart. It’s going to break him that this happened while he was on the inside. That he can’t be with his family. That he can’t mourn with them, but is stuck in a cell.

I got the news last night not long before bed. I started planning what I had to do to see him today.

And then I went to his mom’s funeral. (more…)


It’s not about the dash.

It’s not about the dash.

I just got back from a “Christian” funeral and burial. The daughter of one of my prospects died very suddenly. I attended both the wake and the funeral to support the prospect’s family. I did not preside, and am rather glad I wasn’t asked – the daughter had chosen not to come to worship nor have me visit, despite several offers. How could I lie about her and say that I knew she was in heaven? I heard neither profession of faith nor saw faith in action.

The family got a “mercenary” pastor, as I call them – someone willing to preach for pay for whatever situation.

The funeral itself was… inoffensive, which by itself offended me. The pastor chose the account of Jesus raising a young man to life in the city of Nain: (more…)

The Last Enemy to be Defeated

Death brings out the best in people.

Or not.

As I feared last week, the family chose Saturday to hold the funeral. They would not be persuaded, and no other option was good enough. Why? Because they said so. It wasn’t a time that overlapped our evangelism event, but it was so close — most, if not all, of our evangelism people would also be at the funeral. Can you imagine coming to a church event and being welcomed with tears? Yeah. And again, refusal to move.

Then, I hear through the grapevine: If I mention that this woman who died was a sinner, her brother will punch me in the face. Heaven forbid I say what every single person knows. The woman who died knew her Savior, and her Savior knew her. I have no hesitation to say that she is in heaven. However, I must acknowledge that she was a sinner. She struggled in major ways. To not acknowledge this is to not only “simply” allow the popular funeral heresy of saying she was a good woman, but also to speak a lie that would offer no comfort.

Incidentally, this is no idle threat. This same man is known for his violence. (more…)

Fathers, tell your sons you love them.

His wife’s voice shook. “He’s in the ICU.” By the time she arrived at the last syllable, her voice thickened into a sob.

We left the party right then. Grabbed the children, coats, rushed out. I dropped everyone off at home and sped to the hospital. A few buzzes through security and I arrived at his room.

This giant of a man lay like a shadow on the bright white sheets. Wrists strong enough to break my hands atrophied to sticks. Blood crusted under his nose. He smiled to see me. “Pastor, you should have stayed with your family.”

“You’re worth my time,” I tell him. And he is. No doubt.

“You’ve tracked down this lost sheep. Go find the others.”

“I can do both,” I say, a stab in my conscience. I have not been terribly faithful in calling out to those who do not yet know their Savior.

And this giant who lays dying, this man known for strength who has become so weak, his heart overflows to me. “The children, pastor. The children. I think of all the children who hurt. And my wife! Who will take care of her? This woman who brought me to God. Who loved me, even though I sinned so much. Will she be ok?” His wheezes make each sentence come out one or two words at a time. And his heart… oh, his heart. Even in his great pain, he is so much more concerned for others.

This is a man worthy of respect. (more…)

Like Elijah

Elijah begged for death. He threw a tantrum. He pouted. He quit. He ran away. He had depression. Don’t believe me? Read I Kings 19. He was a broken man, shattered on the sin of others after thinking he had finally found glory on earth. After thinking he had finally won… only to be shown that his life was in even more danger than before.

And that depression-laced man… that man who longed for death, that broken, sad man… that is the man that God chose to take right to heaven without ever dying. (II Kings 2)

But when I leave, I want to go out like Elijah: with a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire.

I have seen death. Perhaps more than anyone not in a medical field, pastors are best acquainted with death. (more…)

Pastor Goes to Chapel

I debated whether or not to go to worship. I mean, I’m visiting a college campus, and not for my own good. I brought a teen member of my congregation to tour my churches “college of ministry” to see if she might want to be a teacher. I personally think she’d excel as a teacher, especially in a mission setting. These two days “away” from ministry will be well worth it for her. However, it means I’m just sort of hanging around campus. I’m getting some work done on my laptop, but most of my work this week will end up being face-to-face.

So, it was time for chapel. All right. Let’s go.

And as I sit down, I see that it’s one of my favorite professors, Prof. Lange, giving the chapel. Excellent.

The hymn begins. And… oh my. (more…)

Pray for Death

I prayed for his death. Out loud. In his hearing.

This is not the kind of thing a pastor usually engages in. It’s considered uncouth at best. Really, it’s a big insult.

The man thanked me.

He is “well and full of years.” Simply put, he is dying. The man entertains no thoughts of suicide; he knows that his times are in God’s hands. Yet, every time I visit, he tells me, “Pastor, I’m ready. Every day I pray, ‘Come quickly, Lord Jesus.’” The man longs for the bright skies of heaven. His confidence rests in Jesus; he has repented of his sins. “I’ve been such a rascal, Pastor!” He rejoices in forgiveness, looks forward to the Sacrament, and always begins our conversations with, “Pastor, I was reading the Bible. I was wondering…”

When I visit, his conversation always rests on grace. This is not a “religious” man who’s focusing on right and wrong and on how terrible the world is, though he recognizes the state of sin that our world relishes. No; he focuses on the miracle of forgiveness he has received.

And this man longs to go home. And so when I visited him this week, I prayed that Jesus would come and take him home soon. And he thanked me. (more…)

“Why won’t he let me go Home?”

There is nothing like gazing into the face of intense pain to make one feel inadequate. I’m not saying my faith is shaken; God is still God, and Jesus has still forgiven my sins. He still promises that all things work for the best, and these promises are good and true and God keeps them. Truth doesn’t change just because someone you love is in pain — but it can make it so hard to articulate that truth in a way that seems meaningful.

Several of my members were ambulanced to hospitals this past week. This is nothing new; sin means people get hurt and sick. I’ve been to the hospitals here in town many times and know my way around fairly well. I’ve delivered any number of devotions at hospital bedsides and simply held hands as people groaned in pain.

This weekend I faced something new to me (though I know pretty much every pastor faces it sooner or later): A Christian woman who longed, ached to simply go home. Her husband has preceded her to heaven. She knows her children are in good standing through the miracle of faith. She is in pain. Her body is shutting down. She has lived a full, full life and now longs to be with Jesus. Through tears she asked me, “Why won’t he let me go Home?”

I don’t have an answer for her. I don’t know why God has made the decision for her to remain here longer. I know that it brings glory to God. I know that his choice is best for this woman, her family, the doctors, and her congregation. I know that God in his mercy has prepared a place for her in heaven and it awaits her arrival. I know all these things… but no human can say why God has elected to allow her to remain in pain on this earth this much longer.

I left the hospital in tears. That’s not normal for me. I know the goodness of my God. I deliver that love whenever and wherever I can. That’s not to say that I leave people in pain smiling and laughing for joy, but usually I’m pretty even-keel.

Not that day.

Our prayer that day was simple: “Father, we commit her soul to you. Do with it what is best and give peace to her in your decision.”

God knows what he’s doing. My bumbling doesn’t change that. I really wish I was better at communicating his love at such a time, though.

What Adventures May Come

Today I visited a member of the congregation. It was the anniversary of his wife’s death. He ached to be with her again. And as we talked, he told me that he wasn’t allowed to go where he wanted anymore. He longed to be somewhere that no one had ever been before. He told me about exploring as a boy and how he wished he could be victorious again.

I told him how he was more than a conqueror through Christ. I shared with him the battle that had been won. He was victorious.

But that’s not what he wanted to hear.

I turned to something else. We talked about heaven.

I told him, “Benny, heaven’s so big that you’ll be able to explore a place that no one’s ever been before — every day. At the end of the day, you’ll come home, and your wife will be waiting.”

His eyes lit up. Suddenly heaven was something worth looking forward to.

Heaven is not sitting around plucking harps. Yes, in heaven we will praise God in all we do. Yes, we will be sinless. Yes, we will be in our physical bodies made perfect. But there will be more. We will serve God. We will finally fully be what God created us to be.

And men were made to have adventures.

What adventures await us in heaven? God knows. And I can’t wait to see what he’s got lined up.

The Joy of Death


Tomorrow I will officiate at my first funeral. Practically speaking, it’s a perfect situation for a first funeral. The woman is an old member of the church that transferred down to Florida a number of years ago because of her health. She often gave witness to her faith in both words and actions, both here before she moved and down in Florida. She wanted to be buried “back home,” though, so when she was called home to heaven, the family moved to obey her wishes.

That means that my first funeral:
1) is for a believer. There’s no doubt where she is: in heaven!
2) is for a church member in good standing. There’s no question that I can in good conscience and good order preside at the funeral.
3) is someone I’ve never met, meaning I won’t be distracted with strong direct emotions.

That’s not to say I don’t care; this woman is the mother of a congregation member I’m close with. There will be tears, I expect, and I expect that they will be contagious. However, because I didn’t know this person directly, I can concentrate on speaking words of comfort to others without having to comfort myself. I can concentrate on bringing the Gospel to those who desperately need it.

And it means I can concentrate on where she is. I, personally, don’t have the sense of loss that those who persoanlly knew her currently have. I’m not passing through the grieving process here. My heart is with those who grieve, but as one who is not caught in the bonds of missing her, I can point as much as possible at the comfort that only Christians have: She is home. She has been taken home, out of this world and to a mansion prepared by Jesus.

As I serve as a pastor, I know I can expect to officiate at the funerals of those who are close to my heart. I know that while I grieve I will be speaking words of comfort. These times are coming (and possibly soon). I pray I’ll be able to effectively speak the comfort of the Gospel then, too.

But for right now, I’m glad that in my inexpeerience I get a “practice round” of speaking that comfort. It is a real funeral and the people here need to be reminded of what the pastor down in Florida has also told them: their loved one is safe in Jesus’ arms. And I get to concentrate on giving that comfort.

What a blessing!