By What Manner of Death

No matter how you slice it, death stinks!  Or, as Scripture says, “Death stings!”  The human psyche is repulsed by it, yet it is one of the unavoidable universal experiences common to every living, breathing being.

The fact that we spend much of our lives in denial of mortality and sometimes spend our fortunes trying to postpone the inevitable suggests that perhaps it isn’t what we were originally intended for.  The futile search for the “fountain of youth” is more than a fairy tale. It is, in some sense, a striving to recover our primal design.

The fact of the matter is that if you were to reduce the Bible (God’s design manual) to the first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation, you would discover a world without death, a world in which life pulsed in every atom of the universe.  Also, if you were to focus on the life/death issue as addressed by Jesus (God in human flesh), you would see a Message intent on life, a death-conquering life.

Jesus declared, “I came so that they could have life – yes, and have it full to overflowing.”  The most famous Scripture reference, John 3:16, targets this issue head-on: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

The apostle Paul was inspired by God to declare that death was, in fact, the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Cor 15).  Romans 6:23 confirms what Genesis 3 described: death is the direct consequence of sin.  So it is evident that death (and the ills that lead up to it) is not what our Maker meant for us.

In light of all this, what should the attitude of a follower of Christ be toward death?  It’s one thing to celebrate the promise of “eternal life,” but quite another to face the grinding, debilitating, all-consuming onset of death in our bodies (or those of loved ones).  We read of miraculous “resurrections” in the Bible and even down through history as God intervened by raising up one who was clearly dead.  But we must quickly point out that these “healings” were merely temporary as every person (i.e., Lazarus and Tabitha) had to face death again at some point.  Only Jesus Christ experienced a permanent resurrection, which, by the way, He promised to all who follow Him.

This brings us to the strange statement John made in the final story recorded in his gospel.  Jesus and the disciples have just finished a “men’s breakfast” beside Galilee.  Jesus pulls Peter aside to commission him as a shepherd of Jesus’ “flock.”  Then He gives Peter a heads-up about the end of his life when He says, “… when you are old, you’ll stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you up and take you where you don’t want to go.”  By way of explanation, John says, “He said this to indicate the sort of death by which Peter would bring God glory.”

In what amounts to an aside in the grand story of Jesus, we are handed this new pair of glasses – a very different way to see death, “by which Peter would bring God glory.”  Suddenly everything looks different.  Jesus’ own gruesome death wasn’t an unfortunate tragedy, it was a carefully planned means of “bringing God glory.”  Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, sees glory as the stones crush his life out of him, and a collaborator in his murder, Saul, witnesses first-hand a death “bringing glory to God.”

Saul, renamed Paul, would later write concerning his own life, “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”  Then, after years of history-making service, Paul writes biographically, “. . . the strategic time of my departure is already present. The desperate, straining, agonizing contest marked by its beauty of technique, I like a wrestler have fought to the finish, and at present am resting in its victory. My race, I like a runner have finished, and at present am resting at the goal. The Faith committed to my care, I like a soldier have kept safely through everlasting vigilance, and have delivered it again to my Captain.” 1 Timothy 4 (Wuest tr.)

Taking our cues from David in Psalm 23, those who have made the Lord their Shepherd can pass through the valley of the shadow of death without fear.  Some, like Stephen in Acts 7, find themselves suddenly translated to Glory while in the prime of life, while others live well into their eighties and nineties.  Those of us who get a terminal prognosis “prematurely” are tempted, like Peter, to ask “what about so-and-so?”  That question is always met with the same question Jesus posed to Peter, “If I want him/them to live forever, what is that to you?”  Bottom line: we must live our life, not someone else’s.

Where do you find yourself today?  Have the doctors given up on you?  Maybe you’ve been given six months or a year, what do you do with that?  Perhaps it is a loved one who is facing death.  Take heart, this too can bring glory to God.  Let that vision settle into your innermost spirit.  Thank God that “whether by life or by death” you know that “goodness and mercy will follow you ALL the days of your life and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

J. Dan Small
April 13, 2015

Plant a Tree

Luther Plant TreeWith the same spirit that Martin Luther expressed, I am pressing on with unprecedented plans, projects, and proposals.

My last visit to the doctor was probably my last visit to the doctor because he has all but given up on regulating my blood counts and told me to line up hospice care.

So, I’ve got four books I’m currently writing, have just launched two non-profits this month, and am planning a series of speaking tours to raise awareness of the incredible challenge being faced by Christian workers in northern Iraq.

Stay tuned for more!

Oh, I wrote this poem today for the Super Bowl:

“Just a game,” I hear you say
“Why get pumped when grown men play?”
There’s much more than meets the eye
Let me show the reason why:

The Super Bowl is more than sport
We scarce can measure its import
You see, what happens on the field
Life’s greatest lessons just might yield.

It’s not by chance the teams are there
They worked hard and did prepare
We cannot hope to make big plays
If we just loaf and waste our days.

And, by the way, it takes a team
To reach your goals, fulfill your dream
When we help others do their best
‘Tis only then our lives are blessed.

It is in giving we receive
Amazing feats we all achieve
When stubbornly we want our way
Our real desires we just delay.

Quitters don’t win, it’s true, you know
Winners don’t quit, they don’t let go
To win life’s game you must stay in it
Stay focused right to the last minute.

And once the game is finally o’er
Regardless of the final score
Our life, on winning can’t depend
Tomorrow we can start again.

And this one for a poetry contest on “understanding:”

Words and letters on a page
Mysterious powr’s can engage
Precious mem’ries may restore
Or incite loud cries for war.

Sticks and stones cause short-lived pain
But stinging words can long remain
Good friends sometimes are estranged
By thoughtless words that were exchanged.

But all’s not lost, we soon shall see
The pow’r of words wrought graciously
From selfless, humble hearts we hear
“Please, forgive, I am sincere.”

So we’re not left to chance or fate
We have the power to create
The words we use, you must agree
Could change the course of history.

And so it is that man is blessed
A wondrous gift he doth possess
Equipped with words on every hand
To help another understand.

Let us wield this mighty sword
So that peace may be restored
Words that bless and help and heal
Will help us reach our high ideal.

The Discipline of Inaction

MosesI subscribe to the daily devotional thought from T. Austin Spark’s library.  Today’s was written to me, for me, about me.

By dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6 NIV)

Service begins with separation from the world, emancipation from the kingdom of this world, but it is a very thoroughgoing thing. Oh, that the church would recognize this, that God’s last word about this matter of emancipation and separation is “there shall not a hoof be left behind” (Ex. 10:26). You see, Moses’ service was a very thoroughgoing service, and it went that far, that not a hoof was left behind, and that is service to God. “See that the people are utterly out, and there is no link remaining.”

Do remember that service is always governed by this: a deep inward separation. It is not enough for us to come out from the world and become parts of the people of God. Something more than that is necessary. The whole self-life in us has got to be definitely dealt with, and a great separation has to take place there. The impulsive, hot, fiery Moses has to become the quiet, patient, meek Moses… learning, perhaps above all things, meekness and patience. What a discipline of those forty years (tending sheep in the wilderness) of self-emptying. Presently when he really enters upon his life’s work, his life service, one of the things that he will need most will be patience, and there is nothing more calculated to produce patience than the discipline of inaction. We do not learn patience when we can keep busy, when we can gratify all our impulses by doing something. But when we are not allowed to do anything, when we are cut off from ministry and work and service, and shut up to the discipline of inaction and the discipline of delay, God is preparing for better service than we would ever have fulfilled otherwise.

ENJOYING GOD PHILIPPIANS REmix

FOREWORD:

This is not inspired Scripture.  It is a condensed (and sometimes amplified) paraphrase of Paul’s biblical letter to the Philippians.  It is a humble attempt to stimulate a fresh discovery of the intriguing personality and plan of the God who created us to enjoy Him.  As you read, let your imagination hear the excitement in His voice as He explains what He has in mind for you.

 

 

This letter is a message to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.  We, Paul and Timothy, have the privilege of serving Them by conveying to you Their incredible goodness and peace..

You are so precious to me and as I recall how fully you partnered with us in those early days in Philippi I can see how the One who began the work in you is faithfully completing what He started.  And I pray that your love for Him and each other will be richer, fuller, and deeper as Jesus Himself empowers you.  As that happens, your lives will be increasingly authentic and honoring to Him right up to the Day we join Him in Glory.

Don’t be troubled by my imprisonment, it’s only widening the reach of this marvelous Message!  Prison guards and a steady stream of visitors are hearing the good news daily.  Sure, some people are jealous of how God is using me so they try to outdo me in “preaching the Gospel.”  No matter.  At least the news is getting out far and wide –and I’m good with that!

My goal in life is to be a living example of how Christ can live through us no matter the circumstances.  If I end up dying because of the Message –all the better!  Through your prayers and the encouragement of Jesus in my spirit I find myself thoroughly content.  And, I fully expect that He’s not finished with me here on earth.  I ‘m quite sure we’ll see each other and I’ll get to help you grow in joyful trust.

No matter what happens to me I look forward to hearing great reports of how well you’re working together in spreading the Message.  Don’t be distracted by those who oppose you –thank God that you, like me, are counted worthy not only to know the Truth but to suffer for Jesus as we engage in this battle for precious souls.

Again I say, it is vital that you work together in harmony with each other.  Christ lives in you to encourage this kind of compassion.  His Spirit interacts with you to stimulate deep partnership with others who enjoy His witness in their spirits.  With that organic unity as a reality you won’t be motivated by pride or jealousy.  Instead you’ll genuinely care more about other’s well-being than your own.  You’ll value their point-of-view!

Christ has certainly shown us how this works!  He, who was God by nature

  • didn’t cling to all the privileges that go along with being God
  • gladly took on the nature of a low slave
  • reduced Himself to becoming a mortal human
  • devoted Himself to obeying Another even to the point of dying
  • died a humiliating death as a criminal

To show that this is the attitude and lifestyle God approves, He rewarded Christ with the highest honors possible.   Since Jesus didn’t live for Himself, someday every human who has ever lived will recognize Him for who He is and give Him the honor He deserves.

You can do this!   Because God is working inside you -giving you the desire and the opportunities to live out His great salvation (He’s in the process of saving you from your old self, you know). 

Look at you!  As your lives demonstrate more wholesomeness and less complaining you stand out like bright lights to show the way in a dark, diseased world.  You’ve got the very life-giving words in your hands!  Even if it costs me everything I’m indescribably happy to have been able to introduce you to this Message –and you should be even happier!

I do hope to send Timothy to you soon.  That way he can give me a first-hand report about your progress.  He’s a perfect example of the attitude I’ve been writing about.  I don’t know anyone more interested in others.  It seems most are too wrapped up in their own affairs and haven’t grasped what it means to know and serve Jesus Christ.  Timothy, on the other hand, as you know, has tirelessly worked with me like a son with his father. 

I, too, hope to come to you myself but for now I’m sending Epaphroditus back to you –another fellow-worker, fellow-soldier, and dear brother.  He wants you to see that God has had mercy on him (and all of us for that matter) by healing him.  He was extremely ill, having risked his life to do for me in person what you couldn’t do.  Do show men like this the utmost respect!

So much to be thankful for!  So many reasons to rejoice in the Lord!  I don’t mind repeating myself –if for no other reason than to reinforce the Truth in you.

Stay on the alert against those who pervert the Truth!  They are all about externals and keeping rules.  As you know, our gospel is internal –our worship is from the inside, out.  We aren’t relying on our own performance but are instead joyfully connected to Christ Jesus.

If this Message was about measuring up, I’d be way ahead of those deceivers anyway! 

  • I was born an insider (a Jew)
  • I was circumcised on the eighth day
  • I belonged to the tribe of Benjamin
  • I kept the law like a Pharisee
  • and I set out to destroy anyone who thought otherwise
  • I challenge anyone to show me where I didn’t measure up to their standard

But, the good news isn’t about measuring up!  Not only does all of that not impress God, it is gross rubbish.  Think of it

  • I personally know Jesus Christ
  • my wholeness is not something I produced; God planted Jesus “wholeness” in me

Is it any wonder that I’m consumed with

  • knowing Jesus more deeply
  • personally experiencing resurrection life like He did
  • suffering for Truth as He did
  • one day “arriving” safely on the Other Side

No, I haven’t “arrived.”  I’m in the process of getting a better handle on why Christ took hold of me.  But I’m not looking back!  Everything I am is about hearing and being ready for that final upward call –entering into the fullness of what it means to be in Christ.

You may not feel as strongly about this yet but you will!  All that matters is that each of us use what He’s already given us to press on!  Follow my lead!  Follow anyone who’s running this way!

Don’t admire or envy those whose lives are consumed with the pleasures and perversions of this world!  They abhor the message of the cross. Self-destruction is their destiny.

We, on the other hand, have already transferred our citizenship to Heaven.  We’re on tip-toes watching for Jesus to call us Home.  We’re dying to shed these wretched bodies in exchange for glory-built ones like He has.  That will just be one part of His powerful re-shaping all things into His perfection.

Keep this perspective and you’ll stand strong!  Know that I love you and ache to be with you again!

A few words in closing:

Euodius and Syntache, work out your differences in the spirit of humility I described above.  All of you who worked so hard with me when I was there (Clement included) have your names written in the “book of life.”  Help each other “get on the same page!”

  • Find your deepest pleasure in the Lord and what He enjoys
  • Gain a reputation for being gentle in spirit
  • Live conscious of how near the Lord is (and how imminent is His return)
  • Don’t let worry define you –pour out your concerns to God in earnest and thankful prayer
  • Let God’s transcendent peace control your hearts and minds as you rest in His loving providence
  • Meditate on Truth, virtuous and pure things, beautiful and praiseworthy realities
  • Stay on course with all that I’ve taught and modeled for you

And the God of peace will be with you.

Your thoughtfulness and generosity toward me are a deep source of joy.  I know you’ve been looking for ways to express your concern and only now had the means to do so.  As I said earlier, I enjoy a deep and thorough inner-contentment in spite of circumstances!  Whether I am prospering or poverty-stricken matters little –after all, I do what I do through the strength of the One who lives in me.

Mind you, I’m not discounting the importance of your financial support!  Over and over you’ve been the most diligent about seeing that my needs were met.  My joy, however, isn’t in the money I receive but in the reward you are going to receive for your selfless sacrifice.

My needs are met!  The support you sent with Epaphroditus is like a rich perfume ascending to the Throne of God –and He loves it! 

Every good thing we have is from Him and He’ll never run short!  He will surely supply everything you need out of the rich “treasure-trove” that is Christ Jesus and we’ll never tire of blessing Him for being the generous, gracious, selfless God that He is.

Greet all the “Christ-ians”* there for me!  Indeed, the saints here (especially the ones who belong to the emperor’s household) send their best wishes!

May the very grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

*”Christ ians” was originally a derogatory name assigned Christ-followers by mocking world-lovers.  It means “little-Christs.”  Believers soon took it on as a valued identity badge!

Enjoying God -Ephesians REmix

FOREWORD:

This is not inspired Scripture.  It is a condensed (and sometimes amplified) paraphrase of Paul’s biblical letter to the Ephesians.  It is a humble attempt to stimulate a fresh discovery of the intriguing personality and plan of the God who created us to enjoy Him.  As you read, let your imagination hear the excitement in His voice as He explains what He has in mind for you.

This letter is a message to you from Jesus Christ.  I, Paul, was picked by God to write down His words and to extend His incredible goodness, kindness, and peace to you.

And what can I possibly say to bless this wonderful God who has, because it’s just the way He is, worked out in advance (long before He said, “Let there be light!”) a phenomenal plan all for our benefit?  He didn’t leave anything out, right down to officially adopting us so that we are, in reality, His own children, loved, thought of, and cared for by Him every bit as much as is the second person of the Trinity (His son, Jesus).  He wanted us to be forever convinced of and resting in His generous attitude toward us.

This complex plan He has kept mostly secret until now is no fairy tale.  To make it happen cost His Son everything.  It was His blood that rescued us from ourselves and, through forgiveness changed us completely.

And the plan isn’t just for us but someday everything in history will come together and find its place in relation to the Son.  EVERYTHING!  Then, as if rescuing us isn’t enough, He writes us –yes, you and me, into the story as co-heirs of it all along with the Son.   Co-heirs!  What’s His is ours!

Let me remind you, He is the only One in the universe who can plan, promise, and prepare something this staggering and make every detail turn out just the way He intended.  And They had such a great time planning all this for us!

All you and I did was hear the message and trust that it was true.  He’s done everything else.  He gets all the credit for the outcome –He’s amazing!  And, to make sure we know He’ll keep His word, He’s put His very SPIRIT into each of us who believed –a deposit guaranteeing the full deal in that coming day when everything “comes to a head.”

I’ve been thanking God and praying for you ever since I heard that you had embraced this message.  Here’s what I keep asking:

  • that our amazing God who loves to reveal Himself will do just that –giving you more and more insights into spiritual realities and His wonderful heart.
  • that His Spirit will open your “inner-eyes” to what He has in store for you by way of inheritance so that your hope will soar.
  • that you’ll begin to live in the incredible power He’s poured into you –the resurrection power used not only to raise Christ from death but, in fact, to put Him in charge of everything everywhere forever.

We’ve got to realize that Christ is so far beyond any so-called authority in this world and He has created a new organism through which He can express Himself –the Church, His “body” localized on earth even though He fills the whole universe.

What a change!  All of us were

  • completely disconnected from God in the core of our being (spirit)
  • pulled along by a world-system that was disconnected from God
  • actually under the influence of evil spirits we couldn’t see
  • living like animals controlled by our selfish impulses and desires
  • helplessly destined to an endless future estranged from our Maker.

but God who

  • loves to show extravagant mercy
  • is driven by love that always does what is best for the object of His love regardless of the cost to Himself
  • wanted us to experience His kind of compassion that wasn’t based on our good performance.

gave us (yes, as a free gift we couldn’t possibly have earned)

  • new life from the inside out –resurrection life just like He gave Christ
  • adoption into the Royal Family right alongside His Son that will go on forever
  • projects and opportunities to be extensions of His love to others while we are here on earth

Don’t forget, we have nothing to be proud of in and of ourselves!  Everything we are and have we owe to God’s generous heart.  All He asks of us is that we trust Him –living as though everything He says and does is good.

———–

For generations God had revealed Himself primarily to a particular group of people –the Jews.  They had a special relationship with Him.  The rest of mankind was “on the outside” and it was as if there was a wall between the two.

But, in this new era, made possible by what Christ accomplished on the cross, God has invited one and all to come to Him humbly, through the cross –not through a system of rules and regulations like the old covenant had.

In this new arrangement

  • all of us (Jew or Gentile) are on equal footing
  • we all have the same kind of access to God Himself because we all have the same Spirit
  • God considers us all to be His children – we really are one big happy family
  • in some mysterious way as we fit into each other’s lives we become a unique “temple” for God to fill with Himself

Even though God had this in mind all along it’s been hidden ever since creation.  So I’m sure you can imagine how honored (and humbled) I am to get to be the one to share this “secret” with all of you!  It’s a privilege I’m more than willing to suffer for –including this prison!  The idea that all mankind can be equal partners in God’s promises and have access to and enjoy confident friendship with Him is so mind-boggling even the angels stand in awe of the complex wisdom of God.  I’m speaking, of course of the ultimate mystery –the Church- where it all comes together.

What a God!  What a “father’s heart!”  Approaching a God like that I pray specifically for you . . .

  • that each and every one of you will feel the presence and power of His Spirit deep inside your souls –strengthening, encouraging, revealing
  • that the more you trust Him the more you’ll sense Him (Christ Himself) living in you
  • that the more you (in happy fellowship with your Christian brothers and sisters) discover and live in His inexhaustible love the more you will experience yourselves being filled to overflowing with God Himself.

How can this possibly happen?  Only by Him who by His power within us is able to do far more than we ever dare to ask or imagine.  As this great plan for Jesus and the Church comes together all creation will stand in awe and wonder at God’s glorious perfection.   For ever and ever, amen!

———–

Alright, so with all that in mind, let me tell you what God wants to do with your life.  Remember, I am in prison because of this message.  It does affect your lifestyle!  And it should!!  Imagine the honor and privilege of being personally related to the Supreme Being of the universe!  What a calling!  So . . .

1. Accept life with humility and patience, making allowances for each other because you love each other.

2. Believe that you share the same Spirit together with all who believe and you will inevitably be at peace with one another.

This kind of unity isn’t something you have to make happen.  Look at everything we have in common:

    • as I just mentioned, we all belong to one “body,” indwelt by one Spirit,
    • we all experienced the same calling to the exact same hope.
    • we have only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Father of us all, who is the one over all, the one working through all and the one living in all.

True, there are differences among us –God has gifted different ones to do unique tasks.  But all the “gifts” come from the same Person and are for the single purpose of helping the whole Church develop into a healthy unit –a “body” doing everything the “head” wants it to do (coordinated and functional).  This body grows only as the relationships (joints) between the “body parts” are strong and faithfully supplying what each other needs.

  3. Remember how bad the “old life” was

    • cut off from the life of God
    • desensitized in your conscience
    • constantly looking for new ways to find pleasure no matter how perverted

   4.  Since you’ve heard Christ’s voice and He has helped you understand the Truth

    • think of the old life like a filthy set of work-clothes you’ve taken off and thrown away
    • see yourself wearing a perfectly clean outfit –made of the same material as Christ
    • now you’re free from any need to deceive or lie –we’re all in this together
    • you can let anger go instead of allowing the devil to stir things up
    • you’ll be working hard to have money to give away rather than stealing
    • your conversations can be peppered with encouragement instead of foolish, cutting remarks
    • you cooperate with the Spirit who was given to you
    • no more resentment, violence, bursts of anger, slander or malicious remarks  -now you can be kind, gracious, and as forgiving toward others as God has been to you through Christ
    • not sure what to do in some situation?  imitate God the way children copy their fathers
    • live out the generous, sacrificial love Christ extends to you in all your relationships
    • you don’t have to be seduced by sexual immorality of any kind
    • you no longer are obsessed with wishing you had what others had
    • nastiness, silliness or flippancy are gone because you live with a sense of all you owe to God for His goodness to you

Don’t be fooled by the people around you who live “in the dark.”  They think they’ve got the good life –immoral, dirty-minded and covetous all the while missing out on the truly good life.  They are proud of getting away with things but their lives are empty and aimless.  Instead of getting in on the glorious inheritance God planned they face eternity away from everything good.  Don’t have anything to do with them or their darkness.

As you “live in the light” your lives will expose the emptiness of the old way of life.  And, you’ll experience God’s pleasure as you live this way.  God may even use your life as a wake-up call for those poor folks “sleeping in the dark.”

    • now that you know why God made you, live purposefully
    • use every minute wisely even when the going gets tough
    • don’t drift, do what you know God wants done
    • you’ve seen drunk people under the influence of alcohol, drink deeply of the Spirit so you’re under His influence
    • sing for joy because of all God has done  -make up songs just for God –sing them to Him!
    • gratitude should define you
    • fit in to one another –a healthy, mutual submission to each other

5.  Wives, for you this new way of life means that you graciously take your place “under” your husbands the way the Church fits “under” Christ, looking for His direction.  He’s responsible before God for your well-being so honor him in that role.

6.  Husbands, that means you play the role of Christ –sacrificing yourself for your wife, devoted to her well-being, protecting, providing and enhancing her beauty –because that’s what Christ is doing right now for us, His “bride.”  Love, true love, should govern your attitude toward your wife.

7.  Children, you’ll demonstrate the new life by quickly and gladly obeying your parents.  As you do this you show that you really believe the promise God made in the Ten Commandments:  ‘Honor your father and your mother, that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.’

8.  Fathers, be careful as you train your children that you don’t over-correct them or confuse them with double standards.  Carefully think through what they need to learn and faithfully explain God’s ways to them.

9.  Employees, obey your bosses sincerely with a proper sense of respect and responsibility.  Picture yourself working for Christ and work hard not so that you’ll be noticed by people around you but because you fully expect God to reward you.

10. Employers, be as conscientious and responsible towards those who serve you as you expect them to be towards you, neither misusing the power over others that has been put in your hands, nor forgetting that you are responsible yourselves to a heavenly Employer who makes no distinction between master and man.

                                                             ———–

A few more words as I conclude this short letter:

Learn how to get your inner strength right from the Lord.

This is vital because we are in a fierce war, not just coasting into Heaven.  We have a vicious enemy who is organized and determined to undermine every good thing God has planned.  Yes, even though we can’t see them they are running much of what goes on in our world from their evil headquarters.

God has provided everything you need to take your stand against this unseen power.  Check this list and don’t skip over any piece.  Wear them like bullet-proof armor.

    • Integrity –governed by honesty in all your words and actions
    • Right living –doing the right thing even when no one is watching
    • Peace –extending peace/reconciliation wherever you go, living out of the inner peace He gives you
    • Trust –leaning fully on the promise of God’s salvation and all that comes with it
    • Scripture –immerse yourself in His Word so you’ve got His ideas and His authority
    • Trust –quenching the enemy’s taunts with your confidence that God is good
    • Prayer –alert and persistent in lifting up all who are in this battle.

In closing I ask that you pray for me.  I want to be fearless and faithful in sharing the good news even while I’m in chains.

BENEDICTION:

God the Father and the Lord Jesus send their peace and love.

God’s amazing grace flows in all those who sincerely love our Lord Jesus Christ*.

 

 

*this is, in fact, the ultimate reason God created the universe and put this marvelous plan together –to give us the pleasure of participating in the “love-community” that was the Godhead from all eternity.

Live Wholeheartedly

Always enjoying the scenery!

Always enjoying the scenery!

So, while many see the closed door re a bone marrow transplant as a setback, I am grateful to now give full attention to the writing projects the Lord has laid in my lap instead of exploring medical mazes.

One of my priorities is to expand on the 12+ couplets I used in various memorial services for Jeremiah last year.  But, I want this to be a collaborative effort.  So, I’m presenting (by way of overview) the text of one of those services.  If your life was uniquely touched by Jeremiah in one (or more) of these dimensions and you recall a specific event/situation in which he demonstrated it, I’d love to fill a book with stories that will help readers embrace these life-shaping “markers.”

What a tribute this has been to our son’s life and legacy.  Thank you for sharing in what will last in our family’s heritage for generations.

Jeremiah was keenly aware that his talents and virtues were not the result of some personal strength or inner potential –he journaled about the people God had put into his path, the heritage of generations who feared God, and the influence many of you had in shaping his life.  So, although this is a celebration of his life, it is very much a celebration of life-giving relationships.

This is the fourth memorial service we’ve had for Jeremiah.  In the city of Sulaimaniyah we were surrounded by hundreds of his students, their families, co-workers from the school, news media, dignitaries, and many who benefited from his community development projects.  It was a very significant gathering as the nation awaited confirmation that we were not going to demand a blood price for our son’s death.  News of our public forgiveness was broadcast around the world because Jeremiah’s death had stunned the Kurdish people –he was the first American to be killed on Kurdish soil.  We were overwhelmed by the sincere condolences expressed by the governor, the prime minister, and even strangers who approached us on the plane after we left Iraq.  If they doubted our sincerity, the fact that we buried Jeremiah in their city was the inescapable proof that we meant what we said.

As you can imagine, we could go on a long time with stories about Jeremiah’s life and the many testimonies that have been shared with us.  The past two weeks have convinced us that while Jeremiah touched hundreds of people deeply during his life, his death has the potential to affect many more.  It is humbling for our family to be on the front row as God works His mysterious ways through this tragedy.

From the day the story broke we have been inundated with news media seeking any stories behind the story.  One of the recurring questions has been, “Who was your son?” or “What made him the successful young man that he was?”  Trying to capture the essence of Jeremiah into a sound bite for their cameras was hardly possible.  As the days have unfolded bringing more and more testimonies of his influence in lives young and old, I began to organize the impressions into a series of couplets.  

The first pair of words that formed in my mind just hours after getting the phone call is LIFE MATTERS.  Shocked by the suddenness and finality of the news, I desperately hoped it wasn’t true.  Everything inside me convulsed at the thought that our full-of-life, 33 year-young, first-born son with whom I had spoken on the phone for 45 minutes just the night before –lay dead in his classroom; that I would never again hear his voice on the other end of the phone, that there would be no new emails in my inbox from his address.  The pain all of us have shared over the past week is a testament to the universal Truth that life matters!

The sad reality is, though, that meeting someone who lives as though everything about LIFE MATTERS is rare.  Jeremiah’s approach to life wasn’t theoretical or generic.  He grew up knowing that his life mattered deeply and he treated everyone he met as though their life was of infinite significance.  Whether it was the kids he was chasing down the hall, shopkeepers in the Bazaar or poverty-stricken men from Bangladesh needing food and clothing –he valued whoever he was with.

How does a life like that develop?  What are the building blocks of such a life?  I suggest that it begins with LIVING LOVED.  Jeremiah was raised in a family that was committed to learning to love one another.  But far more life-shaping than the love of family was when Jeremiah came to embrace for himself the amazing LOVE with which God pursued him.  Jeremiah was convinced that his life mattered to God and that God’s love for him was intensely practical and personal.  His loving nature was the result of LIVING LOVED by God.

Another dimension that defined Jeremiah from an early age is that he FEARED or HONORED GOD.  Yes, he knew he was LOVED but this was not the doting, permissive “my little boy can do no wrong” kind of love –this was bold, intentional, disciplining love of the Almighty, Ruler of the Universe, Maker of heaven and earth.  Jeremiah learned early on that every thought, every action, and every choice he made was done under the watchful, righteous eyes of a powerful God.  So he learned to FEAR/HONOR the GOD who LOVED him.

And another new couplet that pushed its way into this outline as I scanned page after page of his journals and as I listened to co-workers and friends describe him was that he COMMUNED CONSTANTLY with his Lord.  Prayer was not a checked box on his to-do list, it spontaneously burst onto the pages of his journal, it was like breathing to him and his last breath on earth was spent saying, “amen!” as he prayed over his class that Thursday morning.

That “fear-of-the-Lord,” love-driven communion with God, fueled by his study of God’s Word, produced a sense of destiny, a vision for the unique things God could do on earth through him.  By shaping his life choices around that growing burden he was able to LIVE CALLED.  There were things he could not or would not do because of God’s call on his life.  This focus energized him to pack a lifetime’s worth of productivity into 33 short years.

I must squeeze in another couplet that I found in his journal just yesterday:  FORGIVE LIBERALLY!  He notes that forgiveness is the ‘tipping point’ in the Lord’s Prayer, that it is NOT a utilitarian tool for achieving peace but is, in fact, the very nature of God (and he references Psalm 86).  He says, “because God has forgiven, our persons are transformed:  there is no longer room for illiberality.”  He suggests that whenever we have trouble forgiving we revisit the GOSPEL of our own salvation –that forgiveness enables us to rest in the mercy of God.  Therefore, friends, FORGIVE LIBERALLY!  As God, in Christ, has forgiven you.

Jeremiah would want me to quickly add to these personal, subjective components the vital need to FIND MENTORS.  He knew that there was much to learn in every part of life and he placed himself under teachers and leaders who could supply what he was lacking –whether that was spiritual, theological, philosophical or scientific, Jeremiah read widely, studied voraciously, and humbly took hold of TRUTH taught him by others.  The fact that he learned from others made him a much-sought-after mentor by many friends, students and co-workers. 

Yet another compelling duty in Jeremiah’s mind was to SEEK TRUTH. His appetite for TRUTH meant he was never content with pat answers.  He had to do the hard work of study and critical thinking.  As a result, not only did he learn TRUTH but he learned how to pass on to others a passion for SEEKING TRUTH.

I hear Jeremiah saying, “but don’t forget to LOVE LIFE!”  The majority of his facebook pictures and comments from those who knew him describe a man who loved nature, loved people, and loved being alive in God’s world.  He had the potential to waste away his life in introspection and self-examination (being a perfectionist when it came to self-expectations) but he overcame that with a compelling appetite for adventure.  And his love for life was “contagious” –he infected everyone around him with it.

Part of loving life meant that Jeremiah wasn’t afraid to TAKE RISKS.  He wasn’t one for staying safe.  Several of his students commented that the way Jeremiah forced them to overcome their fears and do things they didn’t think they could do was their most life-changing memory.

Something else that was true of Jeremiah was that he firmly believed God rewards those who seek Him and serve Him, so he INVESTED ETERNALLY.  Through the years there were opportunities to make money or pursue careers that would have provided “the good life.”  Jer opted for a more long-term investment, deferred annuity, if you will.  Or as one of his students put it, “You preached delayed gratification over instant and through your death, you practiced it.”

Jeremiah’s belief in eternal reward was not some “pie-in-the-sky” idea that rendered him passive or “so heavenly-minded he was of no earthly good.”  No, his understanding of TRUTH was that the most satisfaction and fulfillment in life only comes when you GIVE YOURSELF!  Jeremiah GAVE HIMSELF to the point where many of us worried about his health.  He seemed to give away more money than he kept for himself.  He gave time to those around him day-after-day, weekends, holidays, and whenever else they called him. 

I could go on and on with more insights into Jeremiah’s life.  I’d like to end with one more couplet that is vital to all of us as we move forward through this veil of tears.  If Jeremiah could say only two words to us this afternoon, I believe they would be: TRUST PROVIDENCE.  Jeremiah knew that a God big enough to work all things together for the benefit of His beloved child was a God he could trust.  His was a God who routinely took what others “meant for evil” and “mean it for good, for deliverance.”  The facts surrounding his death contain great mysteries.  Only as we deeply trust a compassionate, sovereign God can we hope to build a life that matters. 

You will honor the legacy of Jeremiah best by LIVING LOVED, FEARING GOD, COMMUNING CONSTANTLY, LIVING CALLED, FORGIVING LIBERALLY, LOVING LIFE, FINDING MENTORS, SEEKING TRUTH, INVESTING ETERNALLY, GIVING YOURSELF, and TRUSTING PROVIDENCE all the way.  The end result will be a life lived WHOLEHEARTEDLY!

One final epilogue:  Just before returning to Suli for the last time, Jeremiah talked with a friend who encouraged him to ask God for a one-word THEME to define his life in 2012.  The next day he told us that the word he wanted to define him in 2012 was “INCREASE.”  We believe that was providential.

So, friends, students, co-workers (basically anyone who spent time around Jeremiah), you have your assignment.  Let’s write a book!

Taking attendance

Few of my readers will be able to relate to this but, in my elementary years growing up in a small Upper Michigan town, every morning school classes began with the routine of “taking attendance.”  This amounted to the teacher opening her ledger and, alphabetically, reading the name of each student at which time the pupil was to respond with “present.”  Occasionally we would vary the response by saying, “here” but NEVER would we get away with a mere grunt or disrespectful, “yah.”

So, here I am on the morning of my 59th birthday.  Most years I’ve nonchalantly coasted through the annual marker with a casual nod or “uh huh.”  This year I’m “present.”  I’ve been studying the attributes of whole-heartedness trying to uncover what makes some people seem fully alive while others pass through their days with a distracted grunt acknowledging that, yes, they’re still breathing, but not sure why.

One author describes whole-heartedness as “the capacity to give oneself thoroughly to the present moment.”  I can picture Jesus being like that.  As I read accounts of His busy days there are glimpses into “random” moments when a child or hurting stranger crossed His path and, in that moment, experienced the full attention of Someone who was very interested in them.

By contrast, when I am self-absorbed or occupied in a project, the most you should expect from me is a glance or, perhaps, slightly agitated acquiescence to whatever it is that you want.  My body may happen to be “present” but my heart is somewhere else.

How to become whole-heartedly present in any given moment?  I think, for me, it started with discovering (and choosing to live as though it was really true) that the indwelling Presence was, in fact, PRESENT -ready, any and every moment to connect consciously with me in conversation, comfort, counsel, etc.

As such, I began to realize that “getting stuff done” wasn’t the highest priority to Him.  In fact, He rather insisted that I stop performing and producing at least one full day a week so we could just be together.  I’ve never been very good at living that way -my identity (& income) has always been too wrapped up in accomplishments.

Sadly, I ended up barely noticing life passing me by -until (in my case) He gave me a heads up that life (as I’ve known it) may be coming to an end sooner than I thought.  When I was first diagnosed with Primary Myelofibrosis (mid-July) and told that I may only have a few months to live, all my projected plans and priorities imploded.

Then, when it appeared that a bone marrow transplant could likely correct the problem and I might go on another 10-20 years, I dusted off some of the projects and felt as though I’d “dodged a bullet.”

Then, last week, when we discovered that, not only did I not have a sibling match for stem cells but that the success rate for such a procedure was closer to 15% given my symptoms, the “bullet” was still coming at me.

Yes, I’m benefiting from the prayers and meds  -able to be up and about but not too active, but I also feel the wear and tear of my over-worked vital organs and know that each hour is a gift.

But perhaps the greatest “gift” I’ll experience today is that of enjoying PRESENCE.  God’s presence, of course, but also my ability to be more fully present with my wife, children, grandchildren, and guests.  I can only wish for you this gift -minus the circumstances that enabled me to receive it so whole-heartedly!

Happy birthday to me!