What Matters Most?

The true proficiency of the soul consists not so much in deep thinking, or eloquent speaking, or beautiful writing; as in much and warm loving. Now if you as me in what way this much and warm love may be acquired, I answer, — By resolving to do the will of God, and by watching to do His will as often as occasion offers. Those who truly love God love all good wherever they find it. They seek all good, they always acknowledge and defend all good. They have no quarrels. They bear no envy. O lord, give me more and more of this blessed love! It will be a magnificent comfort in the hour of death to know that we are on our way to be judged by Him whom we have loved above all things. We are not going to a strange country, since it is His country whom we love and who loves us.

St. Teresa

For more about love see:

Hesed–God’s Love in Action

Charity = Love

Learning to Love

The End of All Things

I’ve been reading through the book of 1 Peter slowly, pausing to contemplate the verse or phrase that jumps out at me in each section. I’m up to Chapter 4, and what strikes home with me is this:

:”The end of all things is at hand...” 1 Peter 4:7

At the time this was written, many Christians thought that Jesus could return very soon, maybe even during their life time. Of course, this didn’t happen. Most Lutherans believe that we are in the end times now, a period which began when Christ ascended. We don’t know when the final end of things will come — it could be any minute, or it could be a thousand years from now. Our time is not God’s time.

For me personally, this phrase has a different meaning — I’m over 70 now and according to Psalm 90:

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10

Realistically, the end of all thing things for me is near. Modern medicine has pushed our life expectancy up a bit, but not that much. Both my husband and I lost younger brothers this year — our generation is now the one that is dying off.

Now, I could find this depressing, but I don’t. I look back on my life with satisfaction and gratitude for the things I’ve accomplished, and the friends and family I’ve known. I am looking forward to seeing people who have gone before me again; I certainly yearn for that time when aches and pains, anxiety and grief, all the “toil and trouble” of life are removed. Suffering hold fear for me, but not death. It will lead to a new and better way of life.

Peter has some advice for those of us nearing the end (and really that’s everyone because life could end any minute, not matter what our age). Here’s what you and I should be doing:

*Be self-controlled and sober-minded — life is serious business

*Love one another– so much quarreling and tension will be removed this way

*Show hospitality without grumbling — everyone needs some help and understanding now and then

*Serve each other, using our gifts for the good of mankind –leave the world a little better than you found it

It’s simple, really, but important. Your time is precious. Don’t waste it — the end is near.

For more about death see:

Martin Luther on God’s Victory Over Death

death is but a dream by Christopher Kerr, MD—Book review

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Death

A Time to Die

I’m up to the third chapter of Ecclesiastes in my lectio divina study and the phrase that catches my attention is that we all have “a time to die.”  Ecclesiastes 3:2.  Death is all over the news these days — what celebrity has contracted the virus and died;  what the death toll is throughout the United States and the world;  what are the biggest “risk factors” that increase your odds of dying from this scary disease.  People are worried about what to do.  Should we wear masks all of the time?  Only inside?  Only in crowds?  Should we refrain from as much social contact as possible?  And now, a new question — is it safe to get the vaccine?

According to the Bible we all have a time to die, and God is the one who is in charge.  Here are some verses that support this conclusion:

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”  Matthew 6:27

 

“Since his days are determined, and the number of his months is with you, and you have appointed his limits that he cannot pass….”  Job: 14:5

 

“My times are in your hand …”  Psalm 31:15

Now I am not saying we should take crazy risks, or pay no attention to doing things that are healthy and increase your ability to stay well.  Caring for our body is part of good stewardship — it is one of the things God has given to us.  I am saying it’s wrong to get obsessed or fearful about the many things that can end our lives.  This is simply another way of turning in upon ourselves and it has a name:  SIN.

There is also an outer limit to the normal human life span:

“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty ….” Psalm 90:10

Guess what, I am already there, so any days I have left are indeed a gift from God!  At this stage of my life I can easily say along with Paul, “to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  Philippians 1:21.  I’ve accomplished the major tasks of life, and when I die, I’ll be free of all my aches, pains, and worries as I enjoy the presence of God.

There is one piece of advice that God gives about extending our life:

“The fear of the Lord prolongs life …”  Prov. 10:27

 

“And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments… then I will lengthen your days.”  1 Kings 3:14

So, wear your masks;  avoid large gatherings, but don’t worry. Don’t give up attending church and studying the Bible;  don’t give up serving others. The best way to stay healthy is to fear God and follow His teachings.

For more on the book of Ecclesiastes see:

Hoping for Something New?

Ecclesiastes Chapter 2 — What Stands Out

Ecclesiastes 3:3

 

 

 

 

The Hope of Heaven

The Thessalonian believers were troubled.  They wondered what would happen to those who died before Christ came again. Here are Paul’s words of comfort to them and to us:

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”  1 Thessalonians 4:13-14

Notice, he does not say do not grieve;  of course, we will mourn the loss of a loved one.  What he does say is this:  in spite of our sorrow, we can have hope.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ are not lost to us forever.  We can be assured that the God who resurrected Jesus is keeping them safe until He comes again.  At that time:

“…. the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And so we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

We don’t have many details, but we know that heaven will be a lovely place.  The City of God, the new Jerusalem will be:

“… prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  Revelation 21:2

God will live with us.

” They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night.  They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.”  Revelation 22:4-5

Best of all:

“He will wipe away 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.” Revelation 21:4

So, whatever your situation, be encouraged.  If you are in Christ, you have something to hope for.

 

For more about heaven see these posts:

Living in Heaven

Martin Luther on Heavenly Blessings

The Beginning of Heaven

 

 

 

The Darkness of Death

This quote is from my devotional reading this morning. It was particularly moving because a dear friend and prayer partner Loving Prayer Partners recently lost her spouse, and his memorial service is today.  It’s taken from the book Joy and Strength by Mary Wilder Tileston.  In her preface she says,

“This little book… is a selection from writers of many countries and centuries, of thoughts of courage, faith, hope and love, to cheer and inspirit the pilgrim in his daily journey ….”

I love quotes, so I love this book.  Have you ever thought of death this way?  The anonymous author sees it as passing from darkness into light.  May the thought comfort and inspire.  Remember This Darkness Will Not Last.

 

“Death to a good man is but passing through a dark entry out of one little dusky room of his father’s house into another that is fair and large, lightsome and glorious.”

Anonymous

 

A Good Ending

“And thus this man died, leaving his death for an example of a noble courage, and a memorial of virtue, not only unto young men, but unto all his nation.”  2 Maccabees 6:31

This verse was part of my devotional reading last week.  If you’re Lutheran, you won’t find the book of 2 Maccabees in your Bible and it will never appear in the weekly lectionary.  That’s because it’s part of the Apocrypha.  These writings were regarded by Martin Luther as helpful for study, but not part of the accepted canon of Scripture. If you’re interested you can find the apocryphal books in the Jerusalem Bible, used by Catholics.  The books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees contain a history of some Jewish warriors who rebelled against the Seluecid Empire (a Hellenistic state) when these rulers were persecuting the Jews by forcing them to transgress Jewish religious laws. The idea was to make the Jews become more “Greek” and blend in with the rest of the population. End of history lesson.

The title of the section this verse concludes is “The Martyrdom of Eleazar.”  Eleazar was a teacher of the law and he refused to even pretend to eat pork because he said this pretense would be a bad influence on others, especially younger people.  He chose to be martyred for his disobedience to the authorities saying,

“Therefore if  I am man enough to quit this life here and now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I shall have left the young a noble example of how to make a good death, eagerly and generously, for the venerable and holy laws.”  2 Maccabees 6:27-28

My good friend, Rob, died recently after a brief bout with cancer and he also made a good death.  No, he was not a martyr, but he left us an example of personal generosity and devotion to his faith.  The last time my husband spoke to him, his concern was not for himself (he knew where he was going), but for his family, friends and church.  When my end comes, I hope I meet it with the same confidence and trust Rob had;  and I hope I leave behind an example for others as inspiring as his.  Thank you Rob!

Below is Rob’s picture with the Lutheran Ladies and our Little Free Library.

 

“Even unto death”

Revelation 2:10

Holman Christian Standard Bible
“Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have affliction for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

We go to church, read our bible, go to Sunday school, we pray, and go about our lives with our human knowledge and human sight; and seemingly unfortunate lack of ability to see into the future. Psychologists talk about children and teenagers not being able to “see around corners.” What they mean (I think) is that kids don’t know how to think ahead far enough to foresee the end result of their current actions. When we ask why they would jump off of  the couch onto their little brother, expecting them to know, we as the adults are actually doing so in folly. They really don’t know, and couldn’t predict harm. Their brains aren’t done growing, and they didn’t (previously) have the context to realize what could happen. But we adults have experience that allows us to see ahead, and logically predict results. That’s a benefit right?

Well that depends. Children who can’t see possible harm, also trust that it will work out. And really it usually does, even when flawed parents drop the ball. (And that I do.) They believe that things will be okay. Children believe it even unto to death. Christian parents know this well, however if for some reason we have to live through the ‘even unto death’ part . . . we find it almost impossible to see around the corner and believe it will be okay. Our adult minds, with our adult experiences have given us reason to think it might not be. And its much easier to accept ‘even unto death’ if it’s our own.

But when we’re faced with the death of a loved one, it’s so much harder. We can’t see them, nor can we logically predict our lives without them. The thing is we don’t have to be logical when it comes to trusting God. We don’t have to know everything, we don’t have to do anything. We can mess up everyday, be happy, be sad, maybe be on our game; just hold out hope in Christ. Let go and be faithful until death, and God will give us the crown of life.

A Joyful Direction

The quote below comes from a sermon preached by John Donne in the early 17th century, during a time of plague.  It reminds us that our ultimate, joyful destination is an expansion and continuation of the joy we experience in Christ right now.

“Howling is the noise of hell; singing the voice of heaven. Sadness the damp of hell; rejoicing the serenity of heaven. And he that hath not this joy here lacks one of the best pieces of his evidence for the joys of heaven, and hath neglected or refused that earnest by which God uses to bind his bargain, that true joy in this world shall flow into the joy of heaven as a river flows into the sea. This joy shall not be put out in death and a new joy kindled in me in heaven. But as my soul, as soon as it is out of my body, is in heaven, and does not stay for the possession of heaven nor for the fruition of the sight of God till it be ascended through air, and fire, and moon, and sun, and planets, and firmament to that place which we conceive to be heaven, but without the thousandth part of a minute’s stop, as soon as it issues, is in a glorious light, which is heaven…The true joy of a good soul in this world is the very joy of heaven. And we go thither, not that being without joy we might have joy infused into us, but that, as Christ says, ‘our joy might be full’ (John 16:24), perfected, sealed with an everlastingness. For as he promises that ‘no man shall take our joy from us’ (v. 22), so neither shall Death itself take it away, nor so much as interrupt it or discontinue it. But as in the face of Death, when he lays hold upon me, and in the face of the devil, when he attempts me, I shall see the face of God (for everything shall be a glass, to reflect God upon me), so in the agonies of death, in the anguish of that dissolution, in the sorrows of that valediction, in the irreversibleness of that transmigration, I shall have a joy which shall no more evaporate than my soul shall evaporate—a joy that shall pass up and put on a more glorious garment above and be joy super-invested in glory. Amen.”7

Change, Loss and Faith

This is an article I actually wrote many years ago when my church at the time, Peace In Christ Lutheran in Walkersville, had undergone the major change of buying a new church building and moving to a different location.  I think the ideas are still relevant today.

Our daughter Kate, age 20, who is living and going to college in South Carolina, called recently.  The old car we gave her finally died.  So she went out, bought a new car, and got her own insurance.  When I told a friend about this, she said, “Joan, that’s a good thing!”  And it is.  Parenthood is all about guiding your child to independence.  I’m proud of Kate and relieved she is now able to take care of so many things on her own.  But, at the same time, I feel a pang of loss.  She doesn’t need me as much as she once did.

For some of us at Peace In Christ, the church was for many years “our baby.”  Church social events took place in the homes of our members as we didn’t have a kitchen or fellowship hall.  My husband even taught adult Sunday School in our living room one year!  Just about every active family had a member serving on either the Church Council, Board of Elders, or Sunday School staff.  The success of an event depended upon all of us pitching in and being there.  We were truly members of the same body and the body needed every one of us to function.

At the new facility things have changed.  We’ve grown in numbers and no longer know everyone;  there is a greater variety of interest and level of commitment;  communication doesn’t just “happen” anymore.  This brings a feeling of loss and in a way, even death–death of the close community and roles that were valuable to us.  Elizabeth O’Connor, in her book, “Many Selves” says, “those who participate in change must participate in death.”

However, during this Easter season I am reminded that death is not the end.  We’re called to practice resurrection–which isn’t easy during the painful uncertainty of transition.  Here’s a quote from “Hope for the Flowers.”  Two caterpillars are discussing becoming a butterfly:

” ‘You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar’, Stripe said. ‘You mean to die?‘  asked Yellow.  ‘Yes and no,’ he answered.  ‘What looks like you will die, but what’s really you will still live.'”

When I put on the mind of Christ, I know that what’s really Peace In Christ will continue to live through all of the changes.