On Leaving A Legacy

Recently I got to witness something remarkable – a true legacy. In my duties as a hospice chaplain, I get to meet many families. Few have made such an impact on their community more than Mr. Joe. It wasn’t that Mr. Joe was blind. Many people are. It wasn’t just that he worked decades at a slaughterhouse while blind, remarkable as that was (truly blind, not just legally blind.) It wasn’t that he still worked his farm everyday while blind nor taught dozens of teens how to drive while blind (as scary as that sounds, it also explains a lot…) What impressed those of us who tended to him during his last few weeks on earth was the legacy he left behind in his family.

His children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there. Not just physically, they were present with him. Not on phones or tablets or gaming systems – they were present to attend to the needs of him and his wife. The vast majority of them are all active in church. They treated those of us coming into the home to help care for him as family, not just hired help. As chaplain I get to stay with the family following death and the same treatment continues. The family is genuine and their faith is evident. This is the impressive legacy.

Stories of Mr. Joe are many and legendary in his community. More important than the stories, as compelling and entertaining as they are, is the legacy of a godly, caring family that he has left behind. They will, God willing, continue to impact the community for the kingdom of heaven. I can only pray that when my time comes, my family will show such a legacy. What about yours?

The Burden of Grief

In reading Martin Luther’s Letters of Spiritual Council,” I was struck by how profound many of his insights into healthy grieving were. Since I currently work as a hospice chaplain, I spend extended time with patients and families both before death occurs and up to 13 months after it happens, I see many types of grieving behavior. Those who grew up being admonished for not “getting over” the loss of a loved one quickly or for grieving “inappropriately” would benefit from reading his wise words. Far too often, Christian leaders have used 1 Thessalonians 4:10 (do not grieve as those who have no hope) out of context. This verse does not preclude mourning, wailing or giving lament to one’s loss. It does prohibit the giving up of one’s hope of ever seeing a fellow believer again or losing one’s self to self destructive despair.

Luther insists that while we should not become hysterical, there is nothing disgraceful about mourning, nothing unfaithful in giving vent to one’s feelings (just read Job or Habbakuk.) The stiff upper lip mindset we inherited from Victorian England should have been retired long ago. Indeed, a Christian can grieve harder over death because he or she knows that death is unnatural, a consequence of the Fall. Death is described in the New Testament as our enemy. We mourn over what should have never been — separation in this life. We grieve hard over the death of non-believers, knowing their fate. The fact that they are lost to us forever cuts us deeply.  Luther, in fact, suggests that it is a sign of unfaith when people never mourn.

In “All Our Losses, All Our Griefs,” by co-authors Kenneth Mitchell and Hubert Anderson, there is this quote: “To be a follower of Christ is to love life and to value people; things that God has given us in such a way that losing them brings sadness.” p38.

Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death. Jewish people and many other cultures hired mourners and grieving went on for several days, sometime weeks. A whole book of the Bible, Lamentations, deals with loss as do many Psalms. Scripture records that the mourning for Jacob’s death lasted 70 days and for Moses 30 days (Genesis 50:3 and Deuteronomy 34:8) Why would we think that a few days off of work is all a person needs to come to terms with a significant loss.

We mourn – not at the thought of a person being lost to us forever (with the exception of non-believers), nor because we do not know where they are. We mourn because we valued them as a person made in God’s image, a unique person. We miss their camaraderie, their love, spontaneity,  friendship and a thousand other things that made them special to us. We need to let people grieve fully. We need to stop telling them to “get over it” and “move one.” Let God work the healing process. He is far better at it than you could ever possibly be. There is a time for everything, including mourning. It doesn’t last forever — one morning joy will come again and surprise us when it does. The deeper one loves the deeper one grieves. The deeper one loves God, the better one can lean on Him for strength in times of sorrow. He is well acquainted with grief. Jesus is described as a Man of Sorrows and one who suffered many losses.

I mourn my losses deeply, more deeply as the years go by, but I don’t fly into hysterics because I know my God and He is good. I trust in Him to make sense of it for me when I can’t see any sense in it. I have faith that He is both just and merciful in equal measure and that He knew what was best for my loved one’s life.

When you council with the grieving, let them know that they have permission to cry, to feel lonely, to hurt, to vent feelings without being judged. The best way to help them grieve is to help them remember the loved one. Share memories, share experiences with them. This sharing time helps to normalize the reality of death and allows the griever to know that their loved one’s life mattered to others. By talking about them, sharing pictures and moments about them it keeps alive, in a way, and diffuses the pain. Many times it allows laughter to mix with the tears. We are called to share each other’s burdens and the burden of grief is one that all of us can use help shouldering.

 

Huns, Calvinists and Straw-Men

During WWI, in order to gain support for entering the war on the Allied side, propaganda began to stretch the truth and distort the nature of the conflict. The Germans were painted as Huns who enjoyed killing (and eating, in some cases) babies. Joe Public was alarmed and outraged. No matter that the issues that started the war were complicated and convoluted, straw men were erected in order to arouse the public to insist on America’s going to war. The same is going on in the SBC today. Normally we do not post too much on the Arminian-Calvinism debate going on in the SBC. This is because we work with multiple denominations overseas and the issue is secondary to our stated goals in providing training resources to leaders and churches worldwide. Yet, sometimes the issue is forced upon us, because such training materials do lean one way or another and because I am an ordained minister within the SBC.

It is with dismay, then, that many articles have become sloppily written inside SBC magazines and websites, which distort the beliefs of either side and further divide people from having civil discussions and agreeing to disagree over some interpretations of Scripture. The article, Sbc and Calvinism:  All-in? All-out? Somewhere In-Between? by Doug Sayers is one such article that was not helpful or accurate. (http://sbctoday.com/2014/03/26/sbc-and-calvinism-all-in-all-out-somewhere-in-between/). The article tells of Mr. Sayers young son being a near-drowning victim and the debate on whether or not he would go to heaven when he died. The staunch Calvinist in the article comes across as cold-hearted for suggesting no can could give such an assurance since no one knew whether he was one of the elect. Yet, in truth, that is a consistent viewpoint from one who would hold to a belief in the doctrine of the elect. The article goes on to include the authors opinion of Romans 5 and 9 and ends with and ends with basically saying that those who hold to a Calvinistic viewpoint are both absurd and impugning God’s character.

To be fair, I believe that Mr. Sayers is erecting a straw man argument in his article. He focuses the thrust of his points upon asking what sin a baby could commit that would send him to hell and spends a lot of time trying to dismantle the belief in the imputation of Adam’s sin that Calvinists hold. What he does not seem to understand, or fails to mention, is the other side of the equation. Arminians believe that it is the exercise of belief that brings salvation, not God’s election. The question could be asked, “Since a baby doesn’t yet exercise belief, why would he go to heaven?”

The use of babies, little helpless, cute babies, is sure to elicit emotions on both sides. Yet, the answer to salvation must be consistent no matter what the age is. It doesn’t matter that a person is 1 day, 1 month, 1 year, 100 years old, the answer must satisfy for all. I have heard many preachers say from the pulpit that “the only sin that will send people to hell is not accepting (or rejecting) Jesus Christ.” So, why not kill people before they can reject Him? Surely that would be merciful. Since we don’t know who will say yes to Jesus, why take that chance? It is the same logic Roman Catholics use to justify baby baptism. They believe baptism saves so baptize early. Wouldn’t it be counter-productive to stop abortions if it meant all those little ones would go straight to heaven? No one in their right mind believes this, but it is the logical extension of a belief system that says babies go straight to heaven in death, while they might grow up to become an unbeliever and go to hell.

Why are Calvinists painted as cruel for at least being consistent in saying that if God wants them in heaven they will go there? Why are Arminians not held to answer the flaws in their own system? We are not to preach anyone into heaven or hell at a funeral, but to bring comfort to the family. We appeal to God being a God of mercy and justice. Whether God foresaw who would accept Him and elected them or whether He elected them and foresaw their early death really doesn’t matter to a grieving family. They need to know God loves them, He isn’t being cruel, He can and will sustain them through this trying time.

What Mr. Sanders appears to believe, although he doesn’t come right out and say so, is that we are born innocent and deserve heaven. He says that God imputes the guilt of our sin when we knowingly break His laws. While he derides Calvinists for their belief in the imputing of Adam’s sin to his posterity, which he says isn’t in Scripture, he believes in an “age of accountability” that is just as absent from the Holy Writ. Both beliefs are assumptions based upon particular interpretations of numerous Scriptures. Yet he passes off his beliefs as stated facts that are indisputable. What he has done is to create a straw man, paint Calvinists as modern day Huns and seek to win an emotional appeal for his own set of beliefs.

Such an article is not helpful. To slant an issue without an article stating the Calvinist viewpoint that babies, like teenagers or adults are first regenerated (made spiritually alive by the Holy Spirit) prior to placing their belief in the Lord who just saved them is irresponsible. In Calvinism the same God who brings salvation to a person (no matter the age) brings such clarity of vision and thought that their natural response is to grab Him (irresistible grace – not that they can’t resist, they no longer want to). For a baby, God makes them alive spiritually and their soul responds naturally to Him. Calvinists are not Huns nor simpletons and are not impugning God’s holiness at all.

Whether one chooses to believe this viewpoint or not, whether one embraces Calvinism, Arminianism, Augustine’s or Wesley’s viewpoints — let us remember this: we are called to act in love towards one another at all times and to see our own flaws before pointing out the flaws of others. Until that happens, the SBC will continue its descend into mediocrity and that will be a great tragedy.

 

Bold Infidelity!  turn pale and die;
Beneath this stone, four infants’ ashes lie;
Say, are they lost or saved?
If death’s by sin, they sinned; because they’re here;
Reason, ah! how depraved!
Revere the sacred page, the knot’s untied;
They died, for Adam sinned—they live, for Jesus died!

What the Story of Lazarus Teaches us About Salvation

One of Ta Ethne’s most popular articles was  “What the Virgin Birth Teaches Us About Salvation”, from the introduction of our book, Dominoes: A Dynamic Commentary on Jude.  Today we will supplement that by focusing on Lazarus. You know the story – Lazarus, friend of Jesus, has died and been in the tomb for some days. Jesus appears on the scene and commands him to come out of the grave, which he does, alive and well (John chapter 11). This story, as powerful and compelling as it is, also teaches us something about salvation.

Lazarus is dead. Stone cold dead. Four days dead. He was as dead physically as we are spiritually. Ephesians 2:1 tells us that everyone is dead spiritually and in need of a spiritual resurrection. Dead people cannot do anything. I have pastored over 20 years, worked for 3 years at a funeral home and have been a chaplain for 3 different hospice organizations. I know dead people. I have been around hundreds of them. Dead people don’t do anything except decompose. They cannot heap themselves. Spiritually dead people cannot help themselves either. Just as Lazarus was unaware of life, those spiritually dead are unaware of spiritual life.

Lazarus was commanded to come alive by Jesus. The Spirit of God drew him back to life. Those who are spiritually dead need God’s Spirit to draw them back to life. They need the Spirit to breathe on them and impart new life. Lazarus was bound in grave clothes. They weighed him down. He needed to be freed by someone else. So do we. We need the command of Jesus to have everything that weighs us down removed. Only God’s Spirit can grant life and freedom. It was for this Jesus came – to set the captives free, to heal the broken-hearted and give sight to the blind. Not just physically, but spiritually as well.

Lazarus teaches us that we are totally dependent on Jesus saving us. We cannot save ourselves – we are spiritually dead. We cannot see the blessed Savior to go to Him. We are as blind and bound as Lazarus in a dark tomb wrapped up like a mummy. We have to have Jesus call our name. His sheep, those He calls, will hear His voice. The Spirit will grant them new life, replace their heart of stone with a new heart. The Spirit grants them faith to believe on Jesus, the ability to repent of their sins and the power to live as a Christian from then on.

Just as people were amazed and astounded at Lazarus, transformed from a corpse to a walking, talking, laughing, living man again, they will be just as astounded and amazed to see a sinner, a reprobate changed into a son of God.

That’s a lesson from Lazarus. May we learn from it and share it with those who have never heard of our amazing Lord.

Allowing Grief to take Place

I ran across a quote the other day that speaks volumes: “For those who love life, immortality is no consolation in death” – Simone de Beauvoir. We understand, as Christians, that death has lost its ultimate power over us. We know, from Scripture, that our immortal soul, once redeemed by Jesus, will spend eternity with Him. We are even told that it will be reunited with a new body in heaven. Yet, we still grieve over the death of a loved one. This is appropriate on two levels.

First, if the one we have lost was not a believer in Jesus Christ, we grieve because they are truly gone. There is no meeting them again in the afterlife. Their death, for all intents and purposes, is final for us. That relationship we had with them has been sundered forever. Truly, it is appropriate to grieve for them.

Second, even if the person was a believer, even with the hope we have of being reunited with them in heaven, it is appropriate to grieve the loss. For now, the fellowship has been broken, Things are not the same. While we do not grieve as those who have no hope this does not mean we cannot or should not grieve. Death is an intruder, an interloper. It is not without reason the New Testament calls it “the last enemy.”

We grieve over loss because we have been cut off, at least temporarily, from the ones we love. For instance, we may be glad that a child is doing well at college across the country. We expectantly look forward to Christmas break when we will see them again but it doesn’t mute the emptiness of their bedroom we pass everyday. Death magnifies those feelings because we cannot call them on the phone and hear their voice like we can one separated only by distance.

One of the tragedies of our society, as well as today’s church, is not allowing people to adequately grieve. Because we are embarrassed for them or because we have not processed our own grief, we do not allow them to fully grieve and begin the road to healing. When Lazarus died, it wasn’t just Mary and Martha that mourned. Jesus did too. He knew He could resurrect Lazarus. He knew He was going to resurrect Lazarus and yet He still grieved. Knowing that it was okay for our Lord to grieve should be good enough for allowing His children to grieve also. It is a natural response to loss that must be allowed and there is no right way or wrong way to grieve, nor is there a time frame after which it is not allowable. The only restriction placed on grieving in the Bible is that we are not to grieve without hope, as a pagan might.

Modern psychology doesn’t help either. Since Freud’s time it has looked upon grief as a disease, as though it were a sickness like mumps or chicken pox, easily cured with the right combination of drugs or therapies. Only when we accept that for now, until a new heaven and earth are made by God, that suffering and loss are a normal part of our existence and grief is a normal reaction to loss, will we be able to help individuals cope with grief. We will sit with them, cry with them, wonder why with them and listen to their pain without offering stupid, meaningless platitudes. In short, we will experience their life with them and, in doing so, enrich both ours and theirs.

I leave you with this quote:  “We are told that it is perfectly legitimate for believer to suffer grief. Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Though grief may reach to the root of our souls it must not result in bitterness. Grief is a legitimate emotion, at times even a virtue, but there must be no place in the soul for bitterness.” R.C. Sproul, The Dark Night of the Soul, Tabletalk, March 2008