Blessed Are They …

I have spent a lot of time over the years working as a hospice chaplain. It amazes me how many homes I go into where the family has little or no contact with organized religion. It is in those homes, though, where I am able to minister as a chaplain more than I can as a pastor. As a pastor, I am seen as a guardian of a particular denomination. As a chaplain, I come across as less threatening. As a pastor, I am seen as trying to persuade someone to my church. As a chaplain, I am seen as a person truly interested in someone’s spiritual well being. I have also recently read some good pieces of literature relating to hospice, dying and dignity. Let me share two of those with you today.

The first is by Gwendolyn London and is remarkably profound:

“We must realize that dying is a spiritual process with medical implications, not a medical process with spiritual implications.”

 

The second is a poem by Malcomb Goldsmith, from his book: In A Strange Land: People with Dementia and the Local Church

Blessed are they who understand,  my faltering steps and shaking hand

Blessed are they who know my ears today, must strain to catch the words they say

Blessed are they with cheery smile, who stop to chat for a little while

Blessed are those who never say, “You’ve told us that story twice today.”

Blessed are they who make it known, that I’m loved, respected and not alone.

 

And I would add, blessed are those who reach out to the dying, to bring the love and witness of Jesus Christ one last time to souls who need Him

 

Why the Majority of my Friends are Unbelievers

Recently, a group of Christian leaders and I were discussing our lives outside of our official capacities. I startled some of them when I stated that most of my friends were unbelievers. “Why?” was the question asked of me. I answered that I had many reasons. One, because there is a tendency among Christians to only hang out with others who believe like them. Instead of engaging the culture around them, they isolate themselves in pockets of piety. Another reason is that it gives me an opportunity to build relationships with people and actually witness to them by my life, as I live out my beliefs. It is kind of difficult to keep either the Great Commission or the Great Commandment when you only surround yourself with fellow Pharisees. The biggest reason though is quite simple. Since I believe that there is only one way to heaven, I also believe that my unbelieving friends will not go with me there. This is the only time I have to spend with them and I want to make the most of it. Yes, I would like to see them become believers – I pray for God’s Spirit to enlighten them daily to the truth. I am cognizant that my words and actions speak volumes about God and I am conscious of redeeming the time and conversations I have with them. I love them and if this is the only time I have with them, if they never become believers and I lose my relationship with them forever – at last I will have had a good one. I will make up time missed with my brothers and sisters in Christ in the forever of heaven, but in the here and now I will continue to spend time with my unsaved friends, in whatever time God will grace me to have with them and continue to pray that they come to be forever friends before it is too late.

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

Zacchaeus and Transformation

Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree for the Lord he wanted to see

These opening lines to the children’s song Zacchaeus are, unfortunately, the only thing many Christians know about this man. “Oh yeah, he was short and climbed a tree to see Jesus.” What so many fail to realize is that he is one of the supreme examples in Scripture on the issue of repentance and transformation. His turning from a life of skimming extra money from his job to repaying four times the amount he had stolen is unparalleled. The transformation from a despicable tax collector to a disciple is as complete as it is unexpected.

As we continue work on The 180° Project, Ta Ethne hopes to introduce the reader to the awesome power of God demonstrated in many lives, including Zacchaeus. Repentance is such a crucial component to the gospel that we feel compelled to bring resources that will help the Christian church worldwide both understand it better and proclaim it more. Join in prayer with us about this exciting project and if you have any powerful stories about repentance, please share them with us at taethne@outlook.com

 

The Irresistibleness of Grace

Many objections have been voiced to me over my belief of irresistible grace. As I listen to the objections, I now realize that there is a complete misunderstanding on the part of my readers who object. Their arguments seem to go along the lines of “so, you believe God will drag some people kicking and screaming into heaven?” What they fail to see is the foolishness of their understanding of grace.
Grace is given to those who do not deserve it, in fact it is given to those who deserve the opposite. The Bible describes mankind as spiritually dead, blind to His glory and light. When God brings salvation to a human soul they are enlightened and see God in His glory for the first time. Their natural response is to gravitate to His glorious light. They are drawn as irresistibly to it as a moth is drawn to a light or a dog to bacon.
It isn’t that they are trying to resist and failing against their will – it is that they are so attracted to the holy pureness and love of God that they run to Him in response to His bringing of new life.
Perhaps it is because of a faulty understanding of salvation that people get confused. Humans do not decide to become “saved”. They are dead, spiritually. Dead people cannot respond to anything. I worked for some years at a funeral home. I took care of many dead people. None of them responded to any stimulus. They showed no initiative. In fact, they just laid there, staring unblinkingly at nothing. That is how the Bible describes people spiritually. Unresponsive, uncaring, unfeeling people who cannot come to God for salvation. So God comes to them and gives them a new heart. He “quickens” or makes the soul come alive. As this new life is imparted, the soul sees its Creator and responds in faith to the One who has just resurrected it. We respond just as Lazarus did. Laying in the tomb, cold, unfeeling, dead, Lazarus heard His Lord call him to life and the response was instantaneous. This is irresistible grace. This is why Scripture says we are saved by grace, through faith — not by faith through grace. Grace come first.