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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Funnel Cakes and Elephant Ears

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By Jeff Foerster

Having been to the fair, I can tell you there is no lack of choice. From your pick of animals to smell and amusement rides to jostle the “kid” in you, to every gastronomical delight a taste bud may savor that wallet can procure. Whatever you desire, it’s there — especially if it’s deep-fried. When I was a wee lad, I knew the “elephant ear” to be a rare treat. Being of tender heart, I, of course, had misgivings about the origins of said delicacy and approached each encounter with reverence, at least until the buttery, buttery goodness reached my tongue and then any sense of propriety was thrown out the window.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how to tie edible pachyderm parts into an object lesson with spiritual implications — this is where the funnel cake comes in. Next, I suppose I need to apologize in advance to all you linear thinkers out there who are hoping I produce a direct connection; alas, you are to be woefully disappointed.

On Sunday last, Pastor Martin spoke of the narrow and the broad way, at one point referencing a funnel to illustrate this truth. I think this is a profound picture to keep in mind and meditate upon. Other than cars and kitchens, I don’t know where you’d find funnels, but either way, I invite you to bring a picture of one familiar to the forefront of your mind (or just look below).

The open, or “gathering,” side represents the wide way, one like the fair with options galore. You can choose “traditional” Christianity or choose a “prosperity” message. You can select a life closely following religious mandates or traditions, or you can choose “freedom” from any code of conduct other than that which seems good to you. You may go to church weekly, on Christmas and Easter only, or not at all — It’s entirely up to you, and that’s the point — you create a system of morality and a god in the image that is acceptable to you and, after all, as long as you are sincere, who is to say any differently? The problem is that there is no life here, only a shrinking existence — spiraling toward the small end — culminating in spiritual death.

But there is another way. Look at the narrow end — such a small opening; there’s not much room to pass that way. That way is Jesus. It is not Buddha or Mohammed. It’s not “spirituality” or sincerity or keeping rules, laws, or promises. You can’t take anything with you on this journey; there is room for neither pride nor prejudice. Passing through the narrow way is akin to baptism, symbolizing and identifying with Jesus in His death. But this is only the beginning. From there, from the narrow and uncompromising path of accepting our guilt and inability to do anything about it, embracing God’s solution in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, and entering the life of Jesus, from there life eternal begins! Traversing through the narrow way, we come to an opening that has no ending. Expanding ever outward, representing resurrection, this eternal life begins immediately, bringing true freedom that the world cannot offer nor comprehend.

So, the next time you visit the fair or decide to change your engine oil, remember the illustration of the funnel and the amazing gift of God, given to the undeserving, bringing life forevermore to all who praise the name of Jesus!

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Living a Life of Significance

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By Jeff Foerster

pushbroom

I had some unencumbered time the other day, and I got to thinking. I see people leaving us for Heaven, in my family and in our congregation. I notice that plans and strategies formulated are often difficult to execute with any degree of smoothness. I hear preaching that announces God has desires transcending the doing and the going and the surface-level results in this life. That’s when I realize these thoughts are all connected.

I felt a longing well up within me. This desire called itself by name with little hesitation and no sense of bashfulness. “Significance!” it cried out. Questions were asked, and answers were demanded: “Will I be remembered?” “Will I achieve greatness?” “Will my days here matter beyond my own life?”

Many are the moments of “maintenance” in this life. Everything seems to get dirty, from cars, to houses — inside and out — to our own bodies. Everything seems to break down with the ravages of time. Everything seems to need repair. Everything seems to need to be done again … and again. Grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, sleeping, and brushing teeth all require nearly constant attention.

All this time, all this effort doesn’t generally propel one forward, but rather it keeps one from sliding backward. An owner of a car will never awake one morning, enter the garage, and find additional features on the car not there the night before, nor will this happen gradually. In fact, in our society, we acknowledge this decline from the start with a premium paid at the outset. We call this the “sticker price,” and it is well known that once the car is driven off the dealer’s lot it loses value immediately. We are willing to pay to host this little “party” for the fleeting moment when the car is at its best. A very expensive gathering of yourself, maybe one or two others, and the car salesman. Smiles are had, especially by the salesman, papers are signed, currency is exchanged, keys are handed over, and that ends the ritual celebration.

From there the law of entropy (involving increasing disorder) takes over. Everything in our known universe is engaged in decay, or a “winding down” of order, as can be measured in its effectiveness, usefulness, or consistency. This curse upon the natural world is something that must be fought against to stay “even.” If you’re not engaged in the battle, you’re losing the battle. Like attempting to block the flow of a river, it will find a way around and keep on moving, carving another pathway of least resistance. If you do manage to stem the flow, to secure a dam before it, time will wear away at the blockade, causing breeches in the wall, or the long backed-up water will finally surge over the top.

This can all sound a bit depressing. It can definitely seem overwhelming if this is where your focus is fixed. I am propelled by my desire for significance to look and see if significance can be found in the “doings” of this life. I recall the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, who declared:

All things are wearisome;

Man is not able to tell it.

The eye is not satisfied with seeing,

Nor is the ear filled with hearing.

That which has been is that which will be,

And that which has been done is that which will be done.

So there is nothing new under the sun.

Is there anything of which one might say,

“See this, it is new”?

Already it has existed for ages

Which were before us.

(Ecclesiastes 1:8–10)

I do not think a desire for significance is sinful. It, like anything else, can be misplaced and misused, but it is a desire which can build pressure and that has energy that can be harnessed to act as a catapult toward deepening a rich relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Once again I am turned back from seeing myself as a human “doing” to a human “being.” I now see the issue of significance as one that can only find its fulfillment by the marriage of the will of man and the work of the Holy Spirit. It is in the “heart” and not in “doings” that focus is rightly placed. For it is neither cars, nor houses, nor career, nor wealth, nor any other thing that will be carried forward into eternity, save for the heart that God is making new.

I think all the routine maintenance of life has great value — but it is not in “doing it well” that matters. All the maintenance, all the hours, all the labor, serve to remind us of our dependency upon God. Each breath we take is granted by Him who loves us. Each time we slumber, each time we take nourishment, let these be reminders from our Creator, loving whispers to say, “I’ve got you. I know what you need, because I created you to need. Turn to Me in all things, and rest in Me, because I AM enough!”

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Life Can Be Messy

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By Jim DeAngelo

We were at Long Beach this last week and had a great time. I will always enjoy this memory of taking Sandra on the beach in my Jeep and driving in the sand. I asked Sandra if she wanted to try it — usually she said no, but this time she said YES. She had a great time laughing while doing donuts and spins. Yet we were not the only thing on the beach. During the last few weeks, 100 million jellyfish had died and washed ashore, and the smell was quite overpowering. Well, Sandra went spinning into these jellyfish, slipping and sliding. The Jeep’s undercarriage was coated from the splashes of these rotting creatures. It was quite overpowering.

Well, we dealt with it with smiles. We called the incident “Sandra’s follies.” It was quite an effort to clean up the mess, and there is still a good amount of residue — including the smell! — left. But it will clear sometime in the future (I trust this to be true).

When the events of life are hard and the future looks bleak, we have the choice to trust God and our relationship as His sons and daughters, knowing that it will work out. Because of who we are through Christ, we can put our trust in Him and know that He is truly in charge. We can take comfort and acknowledge that, through the relationship with our Heavenly Father, we look forward to the situation coming to a close. We can take joy in this. If we don’t choose to trust God, however, we can choose to be overcome by the events and the impacts.

So what does the Jeep, smell, and hard events have in common? Life has messy parts, it smells, and it’s hard to clean and get through it. Yet, like our relationship with our Father in heaven, it does work out, and the smell and difficultly goes away. We can take our rest, joy, and comfort from this along the way.

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The Important “L”

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By Brian Sharpe

This past weekend we went on a senior high retreat to the Parsons’ cabin. The Parsons’ cabin has become a yearly staple in our student ministry calendar. It is a small, simple cabin that God has used over the past thirteen years to do some great work in me and the students that have attended those retreats. This past weekend was no exception — God was at work. He prepared a lesson in me that was just right for the group we had going. Our topic of conversation was legalism, licentiousness, and liberty.

As someone who grew up in the church, legalism is a pitfall I can fall into. Legalism is where we create rules that God doesn’t hold us to and we expect others to adhere to those rules. If others don’t hold to those rules, then we judge them. That’s what the Pharisees did in Scripture. They would create laws that they expected everyone to follow, and if someone didn’t follow them, they were less spiritual than they should be.

Licentiousness is where we create a moral law for ourselves apart from God, and we live by it. There is no expectation of others except, as long as they allow us to live as we want. This is a huge problem in our culture today. We become god and set our own standards. As believers, we have to pay careful attention to make sure this doesn’t sink into our way of life. It is easy to fall into, but we have to fight the urge to be king over our life.

Legalism and licentiousness are two ends to the spectrum, and both lead to bondage. Legalism sets up rules for everyone, licentiousness sets up rules for self and no one else. Legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain types of music. Licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, because I want to. Legalism says it is a sin to date. Licentiousness says that I can date whomever I want, when I want. Legalism says that everyone should only eat certain foods. Licentiousness says I can eat whatever I want, it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Then there is liberty. Liberty is freedom. We understand that because of the country we live in. Yet how I define liberty as a believer is understanding the freedom we have in Christ, but living out of love and not our rights. Liberty filters every decision through a screen of, “How will what I am doing bring glory and honor to Christ?” Its focus is on loving God and loving others. Its focus in not on rules or rights. When legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain music and licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, it doesn’t affect me. Liberty says, “How does this music bring glory and honor to Christ?”

This is the conversation we had last weekend with high school students. It was a fun conversation, but also led to some great dialogue and self-reflection. How am I living? Am I living in liberty, where I seek to live out of love, or am I being legalistic or licentious? The hard thing about this question is that it is not a one-time thought, but it’s a constant evaluation of every decision. As a passionate follower of Christ, I need to seek to live out of liberty. I need to seek to live out of love, asking the question, “How is what I am doing bringing glory and honor to Jesus?” It’s what our students were challenged with last weekend, and it’s what I am challenged with every day.

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Living and Leaving a Legacy

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By Beau Leaman

What do you get when you add up the following?

  • monthly Jeep cruises
  • shooting guns
  • telling scary Sasquatch stories
  • a yearly men’s retreat at Evergreen Bible Presbyterian Church
  • a website with the exact coordinates of Noah’s ark
  • driving down the freeway with the blinker on
  • teaching children the Greek alphabet
  • pointing and shooting a gun at a kitchen table to see if it’s loaded
  • lip-syncing worship songs because people lost their place in the song
  • helping me put my flipped jeep right-side up
  • the love of God

What do you get? My dear friend Edward Crawford.

Psalm 99:6-7 says: “Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel was among those who called on his name; they called on the Lord and he answered them. He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud; they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.”

This week, as I was processing through Psalm 99, I realized that these men — Moses, Aaron, and Samuel — all lived a legacy. A legacy that David remembered. A legacy that David found worthy to write about. These men lived lives faithful to God. Their faithfulness reached beyond just their own generation. Each of their lives was such a powerful testimony, a legacy reaching down generation to generation, touching a whole nation. Their testimonies taught others that obedience, faithfulness, and a relationship with God is not only vital, but is who we are.

Edward Crawford died a few years ago; the cause of his death was unknown. It is a mystery how a man in good health and full of energy, a man who had just climbed Mt. Ararat, could pass away suddenly and without warning. I truly believe my dear friend had great love for his Savior and had made it his mission on earth to proclaim that love. He made it his purpose to shout God’s glory and ensure all around him knew God’s faithfulness. Although my friend didn’t finish what he had started on earth, God decided it was time to take him home, ending his life on his earth. But one thing Edward did leave was his legacy.

We’re not given the exact time Christ is coming back, or when our lives here will end. I continue to go back and look at the life of my friend because I desire what he had. I desire the way he would communicate with Jesus. I desire the way he knew God’s Word. In thinking about his legacy, I wonder what kind of legacy I am living today. How will I finish the race? How am I impacting my neighbors, coworkers, community, and friends in an intentional, purpose-driven, and Christ-centered way? My hope is that I leave a living legacy even after I have left this earth.

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