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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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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