GUARDING YOUR HOME’S PEACE AFTER YOU’RE GONE

Living-Will

Forgive me if this seems maudlin. Nobody enjoys thinking about his death, let alone documenting every wish.

Just the same, moments ago I finished doing that very thing in a letter to my wife. I plan on giving it to her on Monday morning just before they wheel me away for “Operation Robojaw.”

Let’s face it. Nobody’s next second, let alone day is guaranteed. Pushing 64 years of age with an eight hour procedure ahead of me means I’d better go here.

My main motivation? Loving my bride well. Perish the thought, but she will have her hands full with grief. Why further jeopardize her shalom by failing to take responsibility for this myself?

Here are five things you can do in advance of your earthly demise to guard the shalom of the household you leave behind:

  • Prepare a living will. What in the world are you waiting for? This one is a no brainer.
  • Specify what you want done with your remains: burial, cremation, cryogenic freezing. Whatever. For a decent treatment of the burial vs. cremation question check out Cremation Confusion.
  • Write your spouse a letter to be opened only on the occasion of your passing. Warning. Should you do this and I hope you will sooner rather than later, keep the tissues nearby. Tears will come.
  • Tell your beloved the best of your heart’s affection. Then get after the business of detailing what you want done with your most important stuff. My list turned out pretty short. You know what they say: you can’t take it with you.
  • Write out a draft order of worship for your memorial service. My document runs from prelude to postlude. It contains the songs I want sung, the people I want to speak, the music I want played and the players to play it. I am a demanding so-and-so. I have even given Nancy instructions for a memorial fund in lieu of flowers.
  • Get the thing witnessed and notarized. Don’t leave any doubt as to the legitimacy of the document.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a death wish. But I do resonate with Paul when he writes, “I am hard pressed between the two–depart to be with Christ or remain in the flesh (Phil. 1:21-24). I get it. When it’s my time–precious in God’s sight as it is (Psalm 116:15)–I’m the only one to gain.

I fully expect to survive. Lord willing, “Operation Robojaw” will be a smashing success. If not, I’ve got peace that I’ve done my part to help guard the peace of the one for whom I care the most.

Will you?

Question: What have I missed? Can you think of any other helpful items to add to my list? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Dear Josh

Josh and Me (2)

Hey, bud.

Two years ago today. Goes by fast. Your damaged heart gave out. Cut down in your prime. I’ll never forget the moment I walked through the door that Saturday afternoon. Your mom trembled the horrific news of our loss. I suspect that scene will never dim in my mind’s eye.

Grief gets easier and it doesn’t. Losing you still ranks first among the hardest things I’ve ever endured. Difficult to imagine anything worse. I’ve said it so many times. No one should have to bury their child.

Honestly, son, things haven’t gotten a whole lot easier since that traumatic day. Oh don’t get me wrong. The Lord has blessed us beyond what we deserve in 2014 and 15. Two of His best gifts are named Blaise and Olivia! How about these cuties?!

But December of 2014 hit hard. Mom got diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. Since surgery that month she’s worked hard via natural methods to beat the remaining rogue cells in her body. Just today she went to a new doc in Lakeland for the fourth or fifth time. He wants her to have a PET scan ASAP to determine just where we stand. We hope to nail down an appointment for that sometime later this week. Lots of prayers by tons of people going heavenward for Ma. So grateful for all the support.

I’m not without my own issues. Long story, but the gist of things is this. I’ve got a busted jaw. I know the irony of that doesn’t escape you. Preacher’s got a bum mandible! It’s a result of the radiation treatment for my head and neck cancer in 2005. Surgeons plan to replace the dead bone with a titanium plate on February 15. I wrote all about that here. I’m thinking of changing my new Twitter address to @robojaw. What do you think?

For the time being I’m on total medical leave from my duties at the church AGAIN. I’ve seen this movie before back in 2005. I work at my writing mostly, when pain and fatigue allow. But preaching, talking, counseling to any degree? Completely out of the question.

As you can imagine one does a lot of thinking/reflecting when largely confined to the house awaiting a jaw replacement. I keep coming back to the things I miss so much.

Like kissing your mom. Don’t give me that look. You know how crazy I am about her. Do you have any idea how much the jaw comes into play for even the slightest peck on the lips? It’s so frustrating. I do not like in the least this hindrance to our closeness.

Then how about eating? Let me tell you about feasting or the lack thereof. I cannot chew a blessed thing. Nary a bite. I dream about chomping on a blue corn chip, dining on a medium rare ribeye, or even gumming a Five Guys french fry. Can’t do it. The menu these days consists strictly of slush and mush. Nice weight loss plan but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

IMG_0673

By the way, I wanted to keep up the tradition I started last year by dining at Emeril’s today. Dear Michelle even posted on my Facebook wall a gracious invitation to lunch. It hurt to decline, though I did ask for a rain check. I went to see finally the new Star Wars movie instead. I’m glad I waited until this anniversary day to check it out . You loved the saga so much. I think mostly you would have enjoyed episode 7. It was a comfort to me, but not at all like having Fabian serve me one of those mouthwatering duck tacos and reminiscing with him and the other terrific staff at the restaurant.

I could go on, but I’ll finish with the issue of my preaching. I had to stop cold in the middle of my series on Gen. 14. It just hurt too much to speak for any length of time. I’m on the bench, riding the pines, while others occupy MY pulpit Sunday in and Sunday out. Not fair!

Josh, I thought, I hoped, I dared believe maybe I learned in ’05 some of these lessons related to good things that I so readily turn into god things so that they become bad things. Perhaps not as much as Jesus thinks necessary for me. I just have to keep learning and relearning the main thing . . .

Jesus is enough.

My joy, contentment, satisfaction can’t depend on the presence or absence of God’s good gifts. I need to grow more in saying with Paul in Phil. 4:11-13 that I have learned the secret of being content. I need to sing with the poet more earnestly these words in Psalm 73:25-26.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Lips out of commission? Jesus is enough.

Feasting off the table? Jesus is enough.

Preaching out of the question? Jesus is enough.

Maybe I’ll get it through my thick head and slow heart this time, dude. One can only hope.

By the way, this father misses you terribly, but, and I think you won’t take this the wrong way . . .

Jesus is still enough.

He is gloriously, powerfully, graciously, abundantly, and savingly enough.

 

When Words Don’t Fail

words fail

I consider Nancy and me fortunate in more ways than one. In this season of loss, there is one notable mercy that stands out. Our comforters in grief, by and large, have excelled. None of Job’s tribe here. More than not in our pain we have heard “I don’t know what to say.” To which I typically reply, “That alone brings me comfort, because words truly fail in the travail of grief.” Others who have walked this path have often told me a different story. I hurt for them.

However, sometimes words don’t fail. Proverbs 25:11 moments do happen.   I experienced that this morning when I opened my Facebook page. I found an “apple of gold in settings of silver” on my wall. It comes from a dear brother whom I miss greatly. He too belongs to the unenviable fraternity of those who have buried a child – in his case, more than one. It was my privilege to minister to him and his bride in their multiple losses. Today he returned the favor way beyond anything I ever offered in the way of comfort to him. Here is what he wrote:

I’m reading a biography of Samuel Adams, and today I read of the passing of his first father-in-law, the Reverend Samuel Checkley, in December 1769, after 50 years of ministry. Checkley’s wife had recently died and 11 of his 12 children predeceased him. Some excerpts from his obituary made me think of you:

“He was uncommonly gifted in prayer. His voice was very pleasant, and his delivery without affectation, natural and graceful. His preaching also was serious, affecting, scriptural, plain and useful. His piety was deep and effectual, his religion hearty, and his devotion unaffected and fervent.” It noted that of Checkley’s twelve children, only one survived him, and said that those losses and the death of his wife “greatly affected his spirits, and impaired his constitution, tho’ he bore up under them all with very exemplary patience and christian resignation.”

His successor in the pulpit, Penuel Bowen, preached the following Sunday that Checkley “really esteemed religion the only support under the sorrows and afflictions of life, (a large share of which he had,) and used it himself in this view; so he was abundant in recommending it to others for the same valuable purpose: his discourses were almost all in good measure filled with savory matter for the consolation of mourners, and the encouragement of those who were afflicted and cast down.”

Don’t misunderstand. When Bowen used the word “religion,” he did not mean empty formalism. He couldn’t possibly have commended self-saturated moralism. Legalism will NOT carry you through the valley of the shadow. Striving to perform a list of do’s-and-don’ts before God will leave you sadly wanting.  Ministers of Bowen’s day used the word “religion” in the best sense of the term. He meant the gospel. Jesus is enough. More than enough. That’s true religion – hope set on the One who suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet. 3:18).

If you pray for me at all, and I know that many of you do (thank you!), please pray that I imitate more thoroughly the faith of Samuel Checkley, as I continue to emerge from the hard providence of death at my doorstep.

John, you make me want to be a better pastor. Thank you.

When Blooming Youth Is Snatched Away

blooming youth

Few hymns bring me more comfort or more pause in our unexpected loss of our 35 year old son than this classic by Anne Steele, published in The Christian Hymn Book for the Sanctuary and Home (Dayton, Ohio: Christian Publishing Association, 1875).

When blooming youth is snatched away
By death’s resistless hand,
Our hearts the mournful tribute pay
Which pity must demand.

While pity prompts the rising sigh,
O may this truth, impressed
With awful power–I too–must die–
Sing deep in every breast.

Let this vain world engage no more;
Behold the gaping tomb!
It bids us seize the present hour,
To-morrow death may come.

 The voice of this alarming scene,
May every heart obey;
Nor be the heavenly warming vain,
Which calls to watch and pray.

O let us fly, to Jesus fly,
Whose powerful arm can save;
Then shall our hopes ascend on high,
And triumph o’er the grave.

Great God, thy sovereign grace impart,
With cleansing, healing power;
This only can prepare the heart
For death’s surprising hour.

God of the Hard Thing

Death of Ezekiel's wife

I’ve read through the entire Bible each year for over a decade now. That’s not to impress anyone. When Jesus quotes the Old Testament while under Satan’s temptation that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4), I figure that behooves me to make a priority of reading all the word of God on a regular basis. One of the benefits of this discipline among others is that you come across otherwise obscure passages you might never read and that you rarely hear preached.

A prime example for me, which never ceases to astonish me as a smitten, taken, covenant-bound married man, shows up each year in Ezekiel 24:15-18.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, behold, I am about to take the delight of your eyes away from you at a stroke; yet you shall not mourn or weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh, but not aloud; make no mourning for the dead. Bind on your turban, and put your shoes on your feet; do not cover your lips, nor eat the bread of men.” So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died. And on the next morning I did as I was commanded.

Good grief. Really? Apparently Ezekiel felt the same away about his bride as I do mine. And God knew it. The Lord referred to her as the delight of his eyes. Just like that. All it takes is a sovereign stroke and she’s gone. On top of such a blow comes the prohibition of grief. No mourning. No weeping. No tears. OK, you can sigh, but under your breath only. Customarily an Israelite mourning a loved one would have put on sackcloth, lain on the ground, tosses ashes on his head, and so on. No emotion allowed whatsoever. I can hardly begin to imagine how excruciating the prophet would have found the Lord’s will in this instance.

Tell me God doesn’t require hard things of His servants! This sobers me when I think about what makes men faithful pastors of their people. It sobers me when I think about what makes faithful servants of God’s people period. This week a colleague of mine in the gospel lost his son to suicide. A month ago dear friends of mine lost their twenty-year old daughter after weeks watching her languish on life support. When people ask me if such things are God will, all I can do is point them to texts like this in Ezekiel and words like Job’s after he suffered the loss of all his children – “Naked I cam from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). There are more examples of course, but you get the point.

Take away? God’s ultimate purposes trump anyone’s personal agenda. End of story. Ligonier Ministries explains the big picture well:

Such a death seems to be a drastic, almost “desperate” step for the Lord to take to get His point across. Of course, in reality, God never finds Himself in a desperate situation. But from a human perspective, the covenant community’s refusal to believe that the Lord would let Jerusalem fall was a desperate situation, and desperate times required desperate measures. The death of Ezekiel’s wife prefigured the loss of the temple, which was “the delight of [the Jews’] eyes.” God strove to make His intent clear so that the people would have no excuse. Despite the hardship in the loss of Ezekiel’s wife and temple, however, all would be for the good of Israel (vv. 19–27). Through the trouble, the people would come to know that He is the Lord.

Of course, I hope the Lord never requires such a thing or anything near it of me or you as his servant. He has asked me in the past, or at least I have interpreted things this way, to do hard things and I have sought to do them however imperfectly. But I would like to think, God have mercy, that if so required, I would take my cue from the prophet and do as commanded.

Would you?

Precious Little on the Loss of Precious Little Ones

Whether referencing our confession of faith or the Scriptures themselves, that seems to sum things up.

We just don’t have a great deal of authoritative data to work from in forming our convictions about what happens to the infants of believers who die in infancy.

The confession takes a position, for sure, in chapter 10 on Effectual Calling, paragraph 3:

Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases. The same is true of all elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called through the preaching of the gospel.

It lists only John 3:3,5, 6, & 8 as proof texts.

Honestly, I don’t find the statement all that helpful. Election lies within the sovereign decree of God. That Christian parents who lose their infants can only wonder whether or not their child falls under that category seems to me to offer little or even no comfort at all.

The Bible says more, but in some ways not as much as we might hope in specific to settle the matter. Rather we must draw theological inferences from texts that can help inform our thoughts and encourage our hope that someone like Annabelle went to be with the Lord on Saturday and that her folks will see her again some day in heaven.

I could rehearse those texts and thoughts in my own words, but frankly I have a memorial service message to write between now and Friday. Furthermore, Desiring God published a blog post some time ago that summarizes the question supremely well.

Here is a significant section from the article by Matt Perman:

It is important to emphasize that, in our view, God is not saving infants because they are innocent. They are not innocent, but guilty. He is saving them because, although they are sinful, in his mercy he desires that compassion be exercised upon those who are sinful and yet lack the capacity to grasp the truth revealed about Him in nature and to the human heart.

To read the entire post click here.

A memorial service for Annabelle Walton will be held at Orlando Grace this Friday, June 22, at 7 PM. Visitation with the family will take place from 5:30 to 6:45 PM. Refreshments will be served.

Please continue to pray for the Waltons and their extended family as they walk through the valley of the shadow and reckon that even in staggering loss Jesus is enough.

A Truth for Fighting Promise Envy

I must confess. I felt a twinge of envy last Sunday. As Scott worked his way through Genesis 15, verse 15 got my attention. There God promises Abram this: you shall be buried in a good old age. I immediately wondered if, among all the other stupendous promises Moses received from the Lord with that fascinating cutting of the covenant experience, he really appreciated that one very much. Did he sigh with relief that he didn’t have to worry about a premature demise and all the issues related to not living out a full length of days? I wonder.

I envy him for that promise. I do especially on this day, the seventh anniversary of my five-hour long surgery to remove cancer from my tongue, the month-long recuperation that followed, and ultimately the summer-long treatment process I endured. Those memories on top of attending three funerals in the last couple of weeks of men all of whom died in their fifties have me thinking much about the brevity of life and the lack of guarantee anyone has that tomorrow won’t be his last.

The truth I bring to bear on my fight with envy comes from Psalm 116:15. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. The Psalmist wrote this on the heels of some great deliverance that snatched him from the jaws of death. He concluded that for the believer God regards the precise timing of his death, whether in the prime of life or a ripe old age, as precious. The Hebrew word means weighty, valuable, or costly as in the price of a precious stone. In other words, it’s no insignificant thing in God’s eyes. It matters immensely when He takes one of His own out of this world to his home in the next.

So as I ponder God’s goodness today in giving me seven more years of service for Him that I might not otherwise have enjoyed, I choose to fight the envy of Moses who likely dismissed worry about an early demise with confidence in God who regards my/our termination so supremely significant that there will be nothing in the least untimely about it.

A Sure Cure for Evil Boasting & Temporal Arrogance

On Saturday, as we dressed for our third funeral in as many weeks, Nancy, my wife, said to me, “We’re dressing in back a little too often lately.” Indeed. Three funerals in three weeks even for a couple hovering around sixty years of age seems a bit much. It has me thinking a lot lately of those words in James 4:13-17 where that concept of life as a vapor appears in the writer’s plea for a certain kind of attitude shaping all of life.

Essentially James warns us about the folly of a certain kind of talk – “Come now you who say” (v. 13, emphasis added) – that talks big about the future, immediate and distant. He describes it in terms of saying things like “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit” (v. 13). It’s not the planning James objects to; it’s the arrogance that presumes certain outcomes he has a problem with (v. 16). He probably has Proverbs 27:1 in the back of his mind: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth.”

He objects for three reasons. First, boasting ignores the uncertainty of life (v. 14). Life is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. The word for vapor in Greek is atmis from where we get the English atmosphere. What figure could better communicate the uncertainty of life? Nobody has any gilt edge guarantees about what tomorrow may bring. We number our lives in terms of years each birthday celebration, but God tells us in Psalm 90:12 “Lord, teach us to number our days aright” (emphasis added).

Second, boasting denies the sovereignty of God (v. 15). Here James describes how we ought to talk in all our planning, personal or business: “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” Perhaps James has another proverb in view: “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand” (19:21). A well-placed, meaningful “If the Lord wills” that prefaces all our dreams for the future communicates intentional dependence upon God for the outcome in anything we endeavor and confidence that His purposes shall prevail.

Third, boasting constitutes the epitome of evil (vv. 16-17). James minces no words here: “All such boasting is evil” (v.16). The word evil is pornea from where we get pornographic. In other words it is obscene in God’s eyes when we make grandiose plans probably born of greed (notice the emphasis on buy and sell and make a profit in v. 13) that take no account of God in the process. That he calls plainly “sin” in v. 14.

Tomorrow I mark the seventh anniversary of my surgery on my tongue and neck and the joy of that many years cancer-free. On April 29 we hope to dedicate a new church building to the glory of God. That God would give me any additional years of service and that He would be pleased to let us have decades of prosperous ministry to come in our facility at 872 Maitland Avenue, and everything else we presume upon Him for the future, must come with the qualifier if the Lord wills, so that we might avoid evil boasting and temporal arrogance, sins that greatly offend Him.

A Bitter Better

For the second time in less than a week I will go to a house of mourning tomorrow. I will officiate at the funeral of a brother in Christ and member of my church for the last several years. We have shared a lot in common the last eighteen months as cancer victims experiencing the various forms of treatment and the war stories that result.

That’s another blog post. This post concerns my fortune to attend two funerals in so short a span of time. I say fortune because of the wise words of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:2-4.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.

It may well be a bitter better but better it is just the same to attend a memorial service than a wedding celebration or a birthday party. Why is that? Because funerals, uncomfortable as they are to our live-for-the-moment, eat-drink-and-be-merry culture, focus our attention on the one great universal inevitability. This is the end of all mankind. Everyone has the same appointment. No one escapes his destiny with the valley of the shadow, the last enemy, death. Furthermore houses of mourning point us to the brevity of life, the mist-like nature of our existence that is here today and gone tomorrow (James 4:14).

Unlike parties, houses of mirth, that play to levity and the thrill of the moment, funerals focus you on the inevitability of the ultimate and the gravity of the life to come. They can teach us to pray as Moses did in Psalm 90:12 – teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

A heart of wisdom lets the sadness of mortality and the certainty of death lead one to the joy of immortality through the hope of the gospel that the One who both frequented wedding celebrations (John 2) and visited cemeteries (John 11) triumphed over death and will raise from the grave all who belong to Him by faith.

Update on Our Brother Rick

After service today I traveled to Winter Park hospital to visit with Rick and Barb in ICU. Our brother remains on the respirator with his bride at his side.

The doctors have assured her that given his condition, they expect him to pass quite soon. Short of a miracle they see no hope of recovery. Certain complications have developed that make that prospect medically impossible in their opinion.

Barb remains firm in her trust on the solid rock, Jesus. Abby, Lord willing, will arrive from Singapore at 5 PM EST tomorrow night.

We spoke of things related to memorial services and the like. I assured her that OGC would supply everything she needs in the way of assistance as she walks with Rick through the valley of the shadow.

I suspect this week to make other updates as necessary from the office through email with Teddie’s help, but wanted to provide some outlet of information knowing that many have been praying. This seemed to be the most efficient way on a Sunday.

Please continue to pray for God’s grace to abound in every way in this hard providence in the lives of one of our covenant families.

Many thanks.