Dying

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By Brian Waple

I would like to use this Last Word to address something that we typically don’t talk about. We have brothers and sisters in our body who have experienced or are experiencing a family member’s or close friend’s death. Our Christian response is to lovingly pray for God’s comfort and peace for the individual’s family during these times of mourning and loss. But, what should be our expectations about dying?

In the Waple/Reynolds families, we have lost several loved ones over a short period of time, and it has caused me to reflect on the significance of death. I guess as you get older, you start to do this more often. One writer who has influenced my Christian life and thought is Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was a beloved priest and author whose writings on the spiritual life are appreciated by those in many Christian faith traditions. Writing about dying, Nouwen had this to say:

Dying is returning home. But even though we have been told this many times by many people, we seldom desire to return home. We prefer to stay where we are. We know what we have; we do not know what we will get. Even the most appealing images of the afterlife cannot take away the fear of dying. We cling to life, even when our relationships are difficult, our economic circumstances harsh, and our health quite poor. Still, Jesus came to take the sting out of death and to help us gradually realize that we don’t have to be afraid of death, since death leads us to the place where the deepest desires of our hearts will be satisfied. It is not easy for us to truly believe that, but every little gesture of trust will bring us closer to this truth. [emphasis added]

This past Sunday, Pastor Martin spoke on desires. He addressed the desires that are driven by our natural tendencies. We (and I include myself) struggle with these desires our entire lives. But, I believe that the deep desires Nouwen alludes to, the ones we glimpse only rarely, are the ones that God has placed in us at our core from the very beginning. And I believe that as a Christian, one of our deepest desires is to be with God and know Him completely. During our lives, we strive to fulfill this desire in one way or another, but we are destined to fall short every time. It is only by passing through the mortal veil of this life that we reach a point where this deepest of desires is finally met.

So, although we will mourn the loss of those we love for the remainder of our time on earth, I believe that there is a truth about death that is helpful for us to hold in our hearts: it is only through death that God’s perfect work is completed. We can learn to be reconciled to death, because as Nouwen states, we are finally returning home, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4). And it is through death that we are finally able to live eternally, as we were created to be.

“I heard about a mansion / He has built for me in glory. / And I heard about the streets of gold / beyond the crystal sea; / about the angels singing, / and the old redemption story, / and some sweet day I’ll sing up there / the song of victory.” (“Victory in Jesus,” E. M. Bartlett)

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Grief: It sucks!

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By Martin Schlomer

“Martin, I can’t believe you said, ‘It sucks!’ You’re a pastor. Pastors aren’t supposed to talk like this!” Honestly, I don’t care! I dislike grieving when tragedy strikes. Grief is messy.

When I was growing up in my family, showing emotions — especially grief — was taboo. Emotions exposed the raw mess of your inner world. Even though it was never stated, we believed that, if your emotions got out of control, you should find a distraction, redirect the conversation, intellectualize it, or take it to your room where people were not present. When you were finally able to talk about the loss and grief with family, you were supposed to focus on the hope we have as Christians so you didn’t display the pain and expose the mess. Hope became a useful tool. It was like a brush you used to flick off the grief, like it was an unwanted piece of lint or a crumb from an earlier meal. That way you never really had to engage in such messy emotional realities.

I know, it was really sick! It was the Schlomer way. That being said, I don’t believe I’m alone.

While on our way to lunch last Sunday, Kim and I talked for maybe 20 seconds about the sermon before she redirected the conversation.

Kim: Keep in mind that there are a lot of people grieving right now. We are grieving over Nancy (I learned this is called “anticipatory grief”). Joan and others are grieving over the loss of Herb. Harold is grieving the loss of Helen. Jeff is grieving the loss of his mom. I’m grieving the disappearance of Chrysti Kearns.

Martin: And your point is … ?

Kim: You need to help people walk through this season of grief.

Martin: I’m trying! I spend a lot of time talking about our hope.

Need I say more? Hope is never intended to minimize grief. Hope helps us realize that grief is not a dead-end street. Instead, grief is like a thoroughfare; just because we have hope doesn’t mean we have permission to speed through as if grief doesn’t exist.

How do we grieve in a way that doesn’t minimize it, but instead embraces the raw messiness that it is? A friend shared last night, “How do I learn to grieve well? It’s not something I learned how to do growing up.”

I am learning that grieving well means we own the mess. Ecclesiastes 7:2-3 says, “It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. For death is the destiny of every person and the living take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, because sober reflection is good for the heart.” It sounds like Solomon was a real fun guy! His point: There is no escaping these harsh realities of grief. It’s okay to let the tears flow with others. It’s okay to sit and be still in the presence of those who are grieving. It is okay to embrace and feel the loss. It is okay to rage against the loss. We were never created to die and be separated from our bodies. Our souls feel this more than we want to admit. No amount of distractions or avoidance can change this.

I am learning that grieving well is a healthy expression of love and loss. When those who were present at Lazarus’s funeral heard and watched Jesus weep openly and without embarrassment, they stepped back, amazed, and said, “Look how much he loved him!” It was an expression that came from the depths of His being. It made an impact. Grief was and continues to be a human and divine expression of love and loss, even for our Lord.

I am also learning that to grieve well is to invite trusted friends and community to walk alongside with you — to be present with you; to listen to you; to pray with you and to cry with you.

I am learning that grieving well eventually redirects the loss and longings of my heart toward eternity, when life will be made right and human flourishing will be realized. We live with the constant reminder (remember anticipatory grief?) that death is imminent, painful, and not God’s heart for us. But praise Jesus for that day when He will call us out of the grave in the same way He called out Lazarus, shouting, “Lazarus, come out!” Until then, we grieve death; we rage against the loss! However, we are not alone — God is with us each painful and messy step along the way. We live with the tension of present grief and future hope.

Never forget, Elim has resources and individuals to help you walk through grief. If you would like to talk and/or pray with someone contact Pastor Martin or Cheryl Weller at 253-848-7900.

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Disneyland Radio

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By Nate Champneys

Think about the most difficult thing you have ever had to endure: A divorce, the death of a loved one, a season of unemployment, or worse. Did you feel you could talk to God about it? When you came to church, did you feel connected to God by the worship? Or did you feel disconnected and alone?

The reason I ask these questions is that something has been bothering me for awhile. Last year I used many Psalms as the basis for worship themes, and one thing I noticed is the large number of laments in the Psalms. Literally 70 percent of the Psalms contain lamenting (or mourning) language. I decided I wanted to do a service on lamenting, and I was very surprised to find that there are very, very few worship songs that are laments.

This brought me to take a closer look at the Church in general in this area. As I listened to Christian radio, I couldn’t help but feel a disconnect. Over and over I heard the words, “positive and uplifting” or “uplifting and kid-safe.” I felt like I was listening to Disneyland Radio because it was “happy all the time.” As I tried to think of regularly used worship songs in the church that are laments, I only needed one hand to count. I thought about my own planning of services and the lack of laments.

But if 70 percent of the Psalms are laments, that should tell us something about life and how hard it is. David, the one man in history who is referred to as “a man after God’s own heart” said to God, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13). And it’s not just Psalm 13 which speaks like this — it’s literally 70 percent of the Psalms!

This should tell us something: It is okay to be weak. It is okay to not have it all put together. It is okay to cry out to God. It is okay to be so upset that you feel like you can’t even pray. In Psalm 77, David talks about being so upset he cannot speak. Have you ever been there? I know I have.

When you look at the life of David, it is clear that very few men have had such a close relationship with God. What characterizes David’s relationship with God? Brutal honesty. David tells God exactly how he feels. He tells God when he feels alone. He tells God when he feels like God has turned His back on him.

But there is one other thing that characterizes David’s relationship with God. While being brutally honest with God in how he felt, he always moved on to remembering the faithfulness of God. Psalm 77 is a perfect example of this. David spends the first half of the chapter crying out to God in his distress, but in verse 10 the whole chapter shifts. He then says, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles long ago.” David continues on to list off the amazing things God had done in the history of His people.

This life can be brutal and it’s okay to be weak. It’s okay to weep. It’s okay to be upset, and it’s okay to tell God exactly how you feel. That is exactly what He wants from us. It’s okay for a time, as long as that is not where we stay. We also need to remember. We need to do what David did over and over in the Psalms: Lament, weep, and cry out to God, but then take time to remember His faithfulness.

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How do we pray through this week’s events?

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By Larry Short

This week has been a difficult one for all of us, emotionally speaking, as we have all had to deal with the terrible news of the tragedy striking the Lakewood Police Department, when four of their officers were murdered in cold blood last Sunday morning while sitting at a table in a Forza Coffee Shop in Lakewood, just 20 minutes’ drive from our church.

For some it has probably been harder than others. One of the slain heroes, Mark Renninger, was a resident (with his family) of Puyallup, and my understanding is that his daughters attend a local school here. One of the young men in our college group has done weapons and tactics training with Mark. Some of our families no doubt have children who know his daughters. Another young man in our congregation is an acquaintance of one of the barristas working in the coffee shop.

I’ve been confronted all week with the question, How do we most faithfully deal with a tragedy of this magnitude? The Bible says, “Cast your cares on Him … for He cares for you.” We know that because of His love for us, God wants us to look to Him at difficult times like this. He wants to wrap His arms around us, to provide comfort and perspective and meaning in the face of a tragedy that seems to us so senseless and terrible.

It’s in an effort to do this, to look to the Lord, that we are calling our congregation to prayer this weekend, and especially next Tuesday, the day when the officers’ memorial service is scheduled. If you could fast and pray with us on Tuesday, that would be wonderful, and we believe the Lord will be faithful to help heal our hearts and also do wondrous things in our community as a result.

Here is how your pastors and elders would ask us to pray, specifically:

* Pray for grieving families, friends and loved ones deeply affected by this tragedy. All four officers had spouses and children. It’s during times like these when God has an opportunity to speak most directly to the hearts of people who might otherwise be too busy with the cares of life to notice. Ask that He would reveal himself as the Healer, Hope-Giver and Comforter to anyone wounded by this tragedy.

* Pray similarly for emotional healing and spiritual growth for the barristas and others who witnessed this traumatizing event.

Pray for a spirit of humility and wisdom for all who are dealing with and responding to this event. Pray for the family and friends of the shooter, many of whom themselves were implicated in the event and its attempted cover-up. I was once again starkly reminded this week — during a moment of anger! — that there, but for the grace of God, go I. Thank God for His demonstrated power to turn hatred to love, to forgive sinners and to reconcile the alienated. Pray for the police officers who protect us, that they would be able to put this event into proper perspective and find healing for their own emotions so they can continue to do their jobs most effectively.

And pray for us (as a church). Pray that in the midst of tragedies like these we would be a light to the community around us, that they would see God’s love and redemptive power when they look at us. Pray that God would protect our church from the evils of such a violent and twisted society and culture, but also that when we are personally impacted by this violence, that we would be prepared to respond in manner that honors and glorifies God.

The Elim church facility will be open all day next Tuesday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., to provide a place for us to pray together. Consider fasting with us, and please swing by at your convenience to connect with others and with our Savior as we “cast our cares upon Him.”

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