peace

Three Lessons I Learned in Talking to the Dying

Three Lessons I Learned in Talking to the Dying

It was late at night. My wife’s grandfather (Pops) was battling an infection. His cancer was getting the best of his 88 year-old body. I had met Pops on many occasions. His talkative and gracious persona was quite captivating. He visited us on numerous occasions. When I was in seminary he and his wife came to visit us. Being the useless handy-man that I am, there were some lingering duties in the home that needed fixing. Pops came along, and with his decades of experience offered us a helping hand around our little townhome. At other times, he was gracious to us in letting us use his time-share for vacation. He was a generous soul; a soul deeply grounded in faithfulness to his God.

Pops was what some of us would call an old-time religion man. He liked his religion served with altar calls and Fanny Crosby. Rumor has it that I won he and his wife’s approval to marry their grand-daughter when I played every imaginable Fanny Crosby song I knew on my guitar one evening. But that’s just a rumor. He was a church-man; one of those rare birds who stayed in the same church for three decades.

It was a late night. My wife thought she’d give Pops a call. The doctor had called the family. It was just a matter of time. Pops had remembered his Creator in the days of his youth, and now in his last hours he was ready to meet Him. My wife asked me to step out of the room as she said her last good-bye. I didn’t think Pops would be able to talk… perhaps just listen. But he was relatively lucid. My wife spoke to him and said her good-byes. She had always loved him. I was reading in my office when she walked in and said, “Pops wants to talk to you.” I was a bit nervous. I didn’t think that in his last hours of life he would want to talk to his granddaughter’s husband. But he did. In fact, he made a point to do so.

As a pastor, I am always prepared for such situations. But this one caught me off guard – it was so sudden. When I receive a hospital call, I have a drive to think through what I’ll say, but this time the phone was handed to me and I had the honor of saying good-bye to a dying man possibly hours before his death.

Pop’s voice was stammering due to heavy medication. He used his last words to encourage me and to tell me how proud he was of me and my call to the ministry. He was quick to remind me that he did not agree on everything with me. I was tempted to tell him that sometimes I don’t even agree with myself, but I gently reminded him that I was glad that we are agreed in our union with Jesus Christ. He gave a hearty amen. He repeated himself a few times and thanked me for everything. I think there is peace in the heart of a dying man who knows that his children and grandchildren are cared for.

I had my pastoral companion with me. I carry it everywhere. It’s a Lutheran book on ministering to people in various situations in life. There is an entire section for ministering to the dying. It was absolutely perfect. The psalms I read and the prayer I used were affirmations that this phone call was not untimely, but perfect, as is God’s timing in every circumstance.

Pops died early in the morning. His family surrounded him and comforted him. It appeared he died in his sleep. Precious in the sight of God is the death of His saints, indeed.

I have been pastoring for less than a decade now, so my experience is very limited. But I have spoken to the dying on several occasions. For those who are younger in the ministry than I, or for those who simply want to be prepared to speak words of peace to the dying, here are three lessons to keep in mind:

First, be biblically prepared. The companion book I use has Psalm 23 in the King James Version. Maybe things will change 50 years down the road as modern translations gain greater notoriety, but in our generation, Psalm 23 ministers most effectively in the King James Version. Its sounds and rhythms speaks profoundly to the elderly. It is one of the psalms they have all memorized at some time in their lives. Additional passages may include Psalms 4, 27, 31, and 73.

Second, don’t pray for miracles in the presence of the dying, especially if the doctor has said they have only hours to live. Older saints at this stage in life have gone through every possible prayer for healing. Their community may have already prayed fervently for recovery and healing. But now, they are seeking rest – eternal rest. Praying for healing to the dying is a contradiction to their own petition to commit unto the hands of the Lord their spirit. If someone suddenly discovers he is ill, pray fervently, and call for the elders to anoint him with oil. But if he is in his last hours of life, pray that God would grant him comfort on earth before he meets his Messiah in heaven.

“At your chosen time, grant him a peaceful departure and a joyous entrance into everlasting life.” Amen.

Finally, if he is able to talk, listen. Listen attentively. Listen carefully. Listen lovingly. If he has been faithful to Christ, thank him for running the race well and for setting an example to you and your children of how Christ expects us to run the race on earth. If he is not able to talk, speak softly. In most cases, they are still able to hear you. Speak words of comfort. Read the psalms. Sing a song or hymn he is known to have loved. Share stories with him of fond memories together.

In these precious moments, God uses the weak to minister to the dying. What an honor to speak peace in the last moments of those making ready to meet the King of peace.

Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently

Love Speaks Many Languages Fluently

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:9 ESV)

The peace of God does not come to those who do not practice Christian manners. I love the way Leo Tolstoy put it in one of his novels, “If you love me as you say you do… make it so that I am at peace.” Love needs to be communicated so that the other human being is at peace. The purpose of love is to establish your fellow brother or sister in peace.

Have you ever left a conversation feeling utterly drained and discouraged as a human being? Love ought to lead to peace and fullness, not emptiness. Love confronts at times and leads us to peace because now we know where our sins are. Love encourages and leaves us at peace because now we know that we are not alone.  This is the lesson for the Church. For Paul, peace was not so much a feeling, but the tangible manifestation of the grace of God toward us or of a human being towards one another.

Love shows concern for one another. Love, as David Powlison once put it, “Speaks many languages fluently.”

In life, a man or a woman will have at best two or three friends. He may have many acquaintances, but two or three friends (at most) that stick closer than a brother. There is a distinction between vulnerability and openness. You can be vulnerable with few people, but you can be open with many. Few are friends with whom secrets can be shared and deep confession can be made.

As we seek to build our community, we need to understand that some will gladly express inquire about your well-being, but others will go a step further and stay on the phone with you day after day; be with you day after day in time of need. Church community is not a community where everyone acts the same way in every circumstance. It is complex and multi-layered. We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, but some brothers are closer than a brother to you than others.

So, since not everyone will know everyone in precisely the same way and be a friend in every way, what is there to be expected of every Christian in general? As we become aware of new births, the death of loved ones, physical and spiritual trials that emerge in our lives and the lives of the saints, and many other circumstances, these are important applications to keep in mind:

First, we must all have a mutual desire to practice what we have learned together. You may listen to what your minister says week after week, you may discuss, even disagree, but in the end you must desire to practice the Christian faith together.

Second, you must show concern for one another. In your community, you ought to ask at least one person each week, honestly and directly, if they have any specific needs. Seek to know them and let them know that their needs are heard.

Finally, and much more could be said, know one another as much as it is possible. How do you know someone? You can know someone generally, or you can desire to know them more intentionally and intimately. Ask questions. Ask good questions. Learn to pay attention to experience and emotions. Learn to be a good detective of human beings. Be able to detect sadness, confusion, frustration, and anger. We do a fairly good job with our children. At some level, this should be translated to those with whom we engage and commune. Know just enough to be able to see such a person and inquire of such a person concerning their well-being if you notice something is not well.

Paul says that he celebrated when he found out about his congregation’s status. It made him rejoice in Christ that he know their needs and they know his.

This is common Christian courtesy that we so often forget to exercise. The reason we should act this way is because our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, acts this way toward us. He cares and is deeply concerned about our needs, passions, and what makes us who we are. Practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.

Whatever Happened to Christian Salutations?

Whatever Happened to Christian Salutations?

I have always been intrigued by the lack of formalized salutations in the Christian world. Christians greet one another with no distinct language. Muslims, Jews, and others each have greetings that communicates their vision for the world. But whatever happened to a distinctly Christian salutation? I am not asking to restore King James English to letter writing; those days are behind us. But I am asking for some type of formality in exchanges and greetings. Christians can replace “bye” with “The Lord bless you.” They can greet each other with “The Lord be with you” instead of “How are you?”

The type of salutation we use in our worship service is actually a reflection of the common greeting of the Church in their day-to-day activities. It is taken from Ruth four where Boaz greets his workers with “The Lord be with you.” It is not merely reserved for the formal gathering. We use it also in our “passing of the peace” during the Eucharistic meal. But why can we not take it a step further and use it in e-mail exchanges or personal greetings? You can set up your signature on Gmail with something like “The Lord be with you” at the end of every e-mail. Rosenstack-Huessy says that greetings orient the speaker and hearer to the same environment. Christians need to be oriented to the same peace often.

This may seem trivial to some, but I argue that for Christendom to succeed we need to restore a Christian grammar to our day-to-day conversation and interactions. Colossians says that our speech needs to be seasoned with salt. Part of this saltiness means re-orienting ourselves with a distinct vocabulary. The apostle Paul was naturally fond of this type of interaction. He began most of his letters with a salutation. For Paul, when Christians meet or engage one another they are not meeting on neutral territory, they are meeting on holy ground. They are image-bearers engaging one another in common discourse; common, but also sacred. Everything we say and do as Christians carry a sacredness to it. This sacredness, I believe, needs to be translated into our day to day greetings and interactions.

Parents can begin very early to cultivate these practices with their little ones. They can greet them in the morning with peace and put them in bed with God’s peace.

We need to consider carefully the implications of what we say and how we say it. God has given us some principles on how our speech is to be carried out. As ambassadors, we have an opportunity to greet one another in a love that binds us together and in a union that cannot be severed. Peace be with you.

Saturday Night Live (SNL), DJesus Uncrossed, the Romans, the Jews and the God of the Bible

DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.

David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.

The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.

Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.

For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.

How Can we Learn from SNL?

First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.

Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”

Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.

Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.

Exhortation Series on Church Membership: Striving for Unity

We have had a couple of extraordinary years as a Church. God has richly favored us. As a sign of this favor, we will be adding new members this coming Sunday. And part of being a member of Providence means abiding by a common covenant; sharing a common agenda.

In the next few weeks I would like to explore very briefly the covenants we make with one another and this congregation.

Our Church Covenant states that we “joyfully and solemnly enter into a covenant with the members of Providence Church.” And this is the first of those covenants:

We commit to walk together in Christian love through the power of the Holy Spirit and to strive for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

This is taken directly from Ephesians four where the apostle Paul says that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).” In an age where church divisions are quite common, the Bible calls us to do something very uncommon: to work hard at unity. What does this mean? This means as a member you have to do something. You can’t simply sit passively going through the motions of membership. You actually have to work at something, and in this case working to ensure that– for the next 3 months to 30 years, or however long God keeps you in our midst—Providence Church continues to be a model of peace to the world.

The difficulty of keeping the peace is that you can’t simply lock yourself up in a closet, because that would be easy; but walking together in Christian love means loving in context; loving those around you. This is what is expected of you as a member of this congregation: to embody a theology of love. Some of you come from broken environments where divisions were expected and it is your duty to make this into an alternative city; a city that functions differently

One powerful way we begin to exercise this Christian love is by coming together today and walking together in this liturgy: smiling, singing, and striving to make this a house of peace, through the Spirit who is Himself the bringer of peace.

Prayer: Our God, apart from you peace is impossible, but with you peace is our great agenda. Mature this body of believers to love, serve, and bring the shalom of God to one another, through Christ, our Peace, Amen.