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.
ABIDE WITH ME v.2
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day.
Earth’s joys grow dim; It’s glories pass away
Change and decay In all around I see:
O Thou, who changest not, abide with me!
This hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte, who was vicar in the fishing village of Lower Brixham, Devonshire, England in 1847. He suffered from a lung condition which deteriorated into tuberculosis. After preaching his last sermon before leaving for a holiday in Italy, he walked along the coast in quiet prayer, then retired to his room, emerging an hour later with the hymn, “Abide With Me.” His diseased lungs gave out a few months later. “Abide With Me” was first sung at his memorial service.
Once upon a time . . .
when humanity was young, and quite innocent; they lived in a place of unimaginable beauty and endless possibility. And then humanity was deceived. We failed to trust our creator, and though the lie was not ours, the doubt and greed fully belong to us. The rejection was not of the place, the food, or the vast kingdom that in inheritance belonged to us as well. The rejection was power and love our Father and Lord possessed. We rejected Him.
What was not known in the dawn of time was that with the failure of trust, blinded by greed and naivety, revelations would be made. The tree of knowledge of Good, and Evil. The name says as much as it implies. Before what would they have known? Neither good nor Evil. The infinite wisdom of God would be too much for them to bear. A better way is to slowly introduce information, to take eternity and explain and teach. God wanted to show us the universe while building a relationship.
From the very beginning it was Him who loved us more. Suddenly, too suddenly, we knew what worse than bad was. We knew shame, and embarrassment, and lust. We knew regret, and sadness, and fear. We were overwhelmed.
Still God our Father loved us. For our own sakes, he removed us from Heaven. People without self-discipline tend to ruin good things. Not to mention Everlasting Life (The tree of Life) combined with Irrational, self-destructive sin would be disastrous. Therefore, we were separated. How painful that was. Not only for us, but for God. The Alpha and Omega that feels anguish as well as joy. Can you imagine first being rejected by your children, and then having to remove them from the situation to protect them? Maybe some can, because all this resulted in a broken world. A world that for our own sakes requires a barrier of sorts.
Luke 16:26 “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”
Not only between heaven and hell, but between heaven and earth. It’s a burden we must bear. Although Christ came so that we can eventually see our heavenly home, we mustn’t risk it with open borders. Narrow is the road. While we have hope of seeing not only our loved ones but also our merciful Savior, there’s still a gap. A lonely realization that we are to suffer here till our time comes. As Christians, it’s not that we don’t believe in a better, very real, life that exists beyond our reach; it’s that we cannot follow where they go. It’s the harsh separation that stares us in the face. Our despair comes with the knowledge that these bodies we inhabit must endure here for a time.
Philippians 1:21&22 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. So what shall I choose? I do not know. I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
For thousands of years, the priests of the temples sacrificed animals to atone for our sins. I cannot imagine how many animals were killed, but because they were not the perfect sacrifice, it never provided the perfect atonement necessary for us. We received the perfect sacrifice from Jesus Christ on the cross. The prior sacrifices were a constant reminder of our sinful nature and that we would never receive the complete atonement we craved. It took our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, to provide the necessary perfect sacrifice. The moment He did the first covenant was abolished, and the new covenant, the atonement of our sins through the blood of Christ, was installed.
What a wonderful gist He gave us.
God Loves You And So Do I
What freedom do we enjoy as a Christian? The freedom from death. We have eternal life through the salvation of Jesus Christ, not anything we do, but from God. Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I live in America, the land of the free, but unfortunately it seems that this country has lost the best freedom it could have. We live in a society where God is not allowed in school, business or government; and at the same time we have the audacity to ask Him to bless us. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want everything we feel we deserve, even though we don’t deserve anything, and do not want to give anything back for it. I know some will be upset by what I am saying; but before you get all self righteous and indignant; ask yourself this question – Do you stand up for Him in your daily life? Or do you hide behind being politically correct? Remember Jesus told us “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father, who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33)
The freedoms we are taught that we deserve by being citizens of the U.S.A. are NOT the best freedom we have access to. That freedom is the freedom from death and the thought of eternal life.
God Loves You And So Do I
While imprisoned by the Nazis at Tegel military prison, and shortly after learning of the last failed attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler, Dietrich Bonhoeffer penned a short poem for his friend, Eberhard Bethge.
Though we must be careful to appreciate the time and place from which it sprung, it brings with it plenty of implications for the ways in which we order our lives and allegiances. Indeed, in his prodding toward obedience, discipline, and submission to God — features many would find contradictory or in opposition to freedom — Bonhoeffer’s embrace of this profound paradox dovetails quite nicely with Lord Acton’s statement “defining liberty not as the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”
Stations on the Road to Freedom by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses, for fear that your passions and longings may lead you away from the path you should follow. Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently, steadfastly seeking the aim set before them; only through discipline may a man learn to be free.
Daring to do what is right, not what fancy may tell you, valiantly grasping occasions, not cravenly doubting – freedom comes only through deeds, not through thoughts taking wing. Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action, trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow; freedom, exultant, will welcome your spirit with joy.
A change has come indeed. Your hands, so strong and active, are bound; in helplessness now you see your action is ended; you sigh in relief, your cause committing to stronger hands; so now you may rest contented. Only for one blissful moment could you draw near to touch freedom; then, that it might be perfected in glory, you gave it to God.
Come now, thou greatest of feasts on the journey to freedom eternal; death, cast aside all the burdensome chains, and demolish the walls of our temporal body, the walls of our souls that are blinded, so that at last we may see that which here remains hidden. Freedom, how long we have sought thee in discipline, action, and suffering; dying, we now may behold thee revealed in the Lord.
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13
I just got home from a funeral. Yes, the man was elderly. Yes, he was suffering. Still, he was a father and grandfather, he had family and friends. People will grieve his death, and that’s okay. The Bible doesn’t tell us not to grieve, but it does tell us that as Christians, we will grieve differently than the rest of the world. Because of the resurrection, we grieve the loss of our loved one now, but not without the hope that we will be with them in Christ at some point in the future.
When our daughter, Kate, was fifteen she went to Germany for a year as an exchange student. To be separated from our child for a year seemed like a long time. We were discouraged from making a lot of phone calls because she needed to adjust to her new environment. It was hard. I missed her. However, I knew she was having an amazing experience and that in time, we would be reunited. That took some of the “sting” out of our separation.
For Christians, death has lost it’s sting (1 Cor. 15:55) for some of the same reasons. Right now Art, the man who died is in the presence of God. I know it’s a wonderful experience. In the Book of Revelation the apostle John tell us:
“He (God) will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore because the former things have passed away.”
His Christian family and friends will see him again, and share in his joy. Because of the resurrection, our separation is not permanent. “… Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 15:56
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor rulers, nor powers, nor heights, nor depths, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
When our daughter, Beth was a youngster, she took clowning lessons. One of the classic clown skits she learned was entitled, “Dead or Alive?” The humor of the skit arose out of a dichotomy – a clown who is seemingly dead – stiff and unmoving through a variety of physical manipulations – is ultimately revealed to be alive.
The surprising thing about Christians is that we, too, may be dead in the eyes of the world – friendless, destitute, depressed, afflicted by debilitating illness—and yet remain alive. That is because God has “caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3. At Easter we express this hope in the ringing statement: He is risen! He is risen indeed! Jesus who seemed to be dead is alive and He is with us in every circumstance or trial. Even our physical death will not be able to separate us from Him and His love. Our hope in Christ is the one hope that will never disappoint us.
So, what about you? Are you dead or alive?
For further reading check out: Job 19:25-27 Psalm 16:8-11 John 15:9-10 Hebrews 6:19-20
I’m reading a memoir by John Elder Robison who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a type of autism at the age of forty. He describes undergoing an experimental treatment called TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) which gave him (temporarily) the ability to see feelings in others, a quality missing from his life due to his disability. Instead of taking everything others said literally, he began to notice sarcasm, depression, hurt feelings, etc.. Looking back on his life he says, “I now recognize that many of the events went wrong because I failed to understand someone else’s feelings. … When I remember things I said or did, I cringe and wish I could go back in time and undo my blunders…Knowing what I did wrong is not enough to undo a lifetime of learned behavior, and my tendency to behave the same way is still strong. Yet I’m doing my best to change.” He described his experience as being “Switched On”, the title of his book.
When we are spiritually reborn, a similar phenomenon occurs. Just as John became aware of his lack of empathy, we become aware of our sinful nature. However, like John recognizing our problem doesn’t mean we can reverse what we’ve already done or even eliminate it in the future. It just means we now see (somewhat) what’s going on.
I believe in the days of the second coming, we’ll be “switched on” completely. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says,
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then, face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Right now, we’re all like John Robison when it comes to sin. It is so much a part of us and every other person in the world, we fail to see how deeply it mars our lives. When we’re resurrected in the last day, we’ll understand what made so much go wrong in our lives and in our world; we’ll also see ourselves and others in a new way: without that veil of sin that distorts everything. We’ll be disheartened by how we behaved, the sins we committed without even understanding what we were doing.
The good news for Christians is we’ll also see Christ as He really is: our king, our master, our savior. At that moment our dismay will be replaced by joy because
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying nor pain …” Revelation 21:4
I look forward to being “switched on” when Jesus comes again. I hope you do, too!