death

The Last Enemy

Death is the final enemy. But if it is… why do we pretend it’s not there?

I remember Mike.* He was my first death. Pastors can say things like that; other than doctors, soldiers, and funeral workers, we probably see death the most. And Mike… he was my first. The doctors declared him brain dead, and after a fairly lengthy time, the oldest son decided to pull the plug. The son came, signed the papers, and then fled. He would not stay.

I sat in the room as the machines beeped around Mike. I was there with his younger son and a family friend. A CD player plunked out a version of “I am Jesus’ Little Lamb.”

And Mike awoke in heaven.

I didn’t get to see that. I saw a younger son in great grief. I saw a family friend in pain. But I saw them there, in their pain, admitting it.

But the older son? I don’t think I ever saw him again, not even at the funeral. (more…)

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Review: Gory Deaths

Not-So-Nice Bible Stories: Gory Deaths
by Jonathon Schkade; Illustrated by Gleisson Cipriano

Ever notice that not everyone dies nice and pretty in the Bible? There’s some pretty gruesome deaths. This book takes the reader through nineteen of the most painful ways to die illustrated in Scripture, and then explains why each was included in our Holy Book. Throughout, readers are pointed to Law, to Gospel, and every time, to Christ.

This book is fantastic fun. Every chapter begins with a good retelling of the biblical account of the person in question, backing up to give all the background. Sidebars bring up other questions or biblical parallels with references to go digging deeper. Each chapter ends with a section entitled “Why is this in the Bible?” tying each story to the big story of the Bible: Jesus come to save sinners. After that there’s always “Bonus Features” that will take one aspect of the story and show other places in history that kind of thing showed up. For instance, the chapter on the stoning of Stephen includes a bonus feature of how other early Christians were martyred.

If you’re looking for a great survey of Bible history for someone who doesn’t like “boring parts,” this would be a great book to give. It’s engaging and speaks everyday language incredibly well. (more…)

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.