Tag Archives: Death

From Generation to Generation

The Lord said to Moses, “These are the names of the men who are to assign the land for you as an inheritance….”
Numbers 34:16-17a (NIV)

I called my parents yesterday afternoon as I journeyed home from some afternoon meetings. My dad was at his weekly poker game with the boys but mother picked up the phone. This was a pleasant surprise. As mom’s Alzheimer’s progresses she is less and less apt to pick up the phone if my dad is not around. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and a few laughs together, though I knew with near certainty that within a few minutes she would forget that I had called and all that had been said between us. Mom’s journey with Alzheimer’s continually reminds me to fully enjoy the moment. I am equally reminded that the opportunity for even these passing moments will soon be gone.

Yesterday I wrote about the new stage of life into which Wendy and I are about to embark. We are being ushered into this new stage, in part, by the impending arrival of our grandson (get ready for grandpa’s photo barrage next week!).

One generation fading. Another generation arriving.

We are almost at the end of our chapter-a-day journey through the book of Numbers. In this morning’s chapter God provides Moses with a list of tribal leaders who will assist in the division and establishing of tribal boundaries in the Promised Land. If you remember, the very first chapter of Numbers had a list of tribal leaders who were to help Moses with a census of the tribes. The names in today’s list are different. They are different because an entire generation has passed between chapters 1 and 34. A new generation of leaders has taken over.

Welcome to life’s realities. One generation passes, another generation emerges. Life goes on.

Along my personal journey I’ve interacted with many, many people. In my personal life I’ve had the privilege of blessing babies, officiating weddings, baptizing people, and presiding over funerals. In my professional vocation I’ve had the opportunity of working with businesses, owners, leaders, and employees as they transition through organizational changes, leadership changes, and ownership changes. It’s fascinating to walk with people through life’s transitions.

I have experienced that the fear and anxiety I talked about in yesterday’s post (you can read it here) is common to all of us. It’s intrinsically human to have fears and anxieties when transition occurs. Fear is what God created within us as a survival instinct.

I observe, however, that we respond differently to that fear and anxiety churning within us by:

  • resisting transition
  • denying change
  • shrugging off the changes and going with the flow
  • leveraging the transition for personal advantage
  • embracing the transition, even assisting it

I’d like to think that my experiences have led me to a better understanding of how to manage my own fears and anxieties. I can’t stop change and transitions any more than I can give my mom her memory back. Acknowledging my fears, naming them, and sharing them with a capable confidant is my first step in managing change and transition well. That helps me embrace the changes and frees my spirit to be able to find the good things within it.

One generation passes. Another generation arrives. Life moves on.

Yes.

The End of the Line

In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and deported the Israelites to Assyria.
2 Kings 17:6 (NIV)

In this life, some things end. That’s the simple truth of the matter. Along this life journey I’ve come to the realization that we human beings like to feel a sense of the eternal amidst the temporal. We like things to remain fairly stable. We are lulled into a state of accepting that what has been always will be…

  • I will always live here…
  • I will always have this job…
  • We will always be together…
  • We will always be friends…
  • My parents will always stay together…
  • My children will outlive me…

And then suddenly, things end. Relationships end, jobs go away, homes are destroyed, people move away, churches split, companies are acquired, and so on, and so on, and so on.

World rocked. Equilibrium off. Heart breaking. Mind spinning.

Life changing.

In today’s chapter, we get to the end of the line for the northern Kingdom of Israel. For 190 years they had existed through a roller coaster succession of monarchs. Hoshea would be the final king. The Assyrian empire lays siege to Israel’s capital city, Samaria. It is destroyed, plundered, and the Israelites taken back to Assyria as slaves. Using the ancient playbook of conquest, the Assyrians move a melting pot of other immigrants peoples into the neighborhood to ensure that the Israelites left behind don’t unite in rebellion against the Empire. It is the end of the Kingdom of Israel.

As I read and mull over this morning’s chapter, I’m reminded of our chapter-a-day journeys through the prophets who warned that this was coming. For those who had ears to hear, the warning signs were there. Amidst the chaos, grief and questions that arise when things end, we can often look back with 20-20 hindsight and see that the signs were all there. In our desire for the eternal amidst the temporal we simply choose to ignore them.

I’m also mulling over the lessons that I’ve learned both in my journey through God’s Message and my journey through life. Things must end for us to experience new beginnings. In order for there to be resurrection, something must die. God even wove this truth into His artistic expression of creation. The seasons teach us that the new life and recurring promises of spring don’t happen with out the long death of winter. In summer Iowa has such lush green landscape with deep blue skies that it almost creates a new color all its own. But eventually we reach the end of the line. Lush green corn turns to ugly brown stalks, and the blue skies give way to the dull gray snow clouds of winter. And then it happens again, and again, and again. Old things pass away, then new things come.

For the people of Israel, this chapter of life is ended. But the story isn’t over. The prophets predicted this, as well. A new chapter has begun. Perhaps unexpected. Perhaps unwanted. Perhaps scary and unnerving. Yet that’s why we love great stories. They take us to unexpected places and new experiences we hadn’t dreamed or imagined. But we don’t get there without journeying through the end of the previous chapter(s).

Time to Wake Up

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 (NIV)

One of my all-time favorite memories took place during the visitation of my Grandma Golly’s funeral. It had been a long evening of meeting family and friends at the funeral home. Grandma’s lifeless body lay in the open casket in the large room. The crowd had thinned out some, but there was still the din of hushed conversation throughout the room.

Suddenly I caught a blur out of the corner of my eye as my four-year-old nephew, Solomon, came tearing around the perimeter of the room. He came to an abrupt stop right in front of the casket. In a sweeping gesture he looked at the toy watch on his wrist.

Okay, everybody!” Solomon shouted at the top of his lungs, “It’s time for grandma to WAKE UP!”

My nephew Solomon

Many years ago I spent five years employed in pastoral ministry. I happened to serve in a rural area of Iowa where the demographic tilted towards the older side of the spectrum. For this reason, I officiated a lot of funerals. I got to know the local funeral directors so well that they began calling me whenever they had a family of the deceased with no ties to a local church. This meant that I officiated even more funerals. (My experiences with the mixture of rural Iowa, family relationships, and death became the inspiration for my play Ham Buns and Potato Salad.)

Officiating so many funerals allowed me to witness a broad range of families in their grieving. I saw families in total chaos, families in conflict, and families whose genuine love and affection for their deceased loved one and one another were obvious. I watched family members conniving for their share of the estate, family members actively avoiding one another, as well as family members enjoying the opportunity to be reunited with loved ones after long years apart. It is fascinating to observe.

Perhaps its because of my experience with so many funerals that death doesn’t phase me like I observe it does for many others. Yes, the emotions and stages of grief associated with the loss of a loved one are common to all. Even Jesus cried at the tomb of Lazarus before He called him back to life. Nevertheless, if I truly believe what I profess to believe, then it should ultimately impact the way I think and feel about death. Jesus’ story is essentially about life through death. Death is a part of the eternal equation Jesus presented. As a follower of Jesus I believe I’m called to embrace death as a passage to Life rather than mourn it as some kind of dead end.

Jesus said… I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26 (NIV) [emphasis added]

Yes, I do. Which is another reason why I have always loved young Solomon for his innocent outburst before Grandma Golly’s casket. Thanks for the laugh, little man. My faith in Jesus tells me that Grandma is more awake than you or I can possibly imagine. The person who needs to be continually reminded to “wake up” to that fact is me.

“This Changes Everything”

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
Hebrews 8:13 (NIV)

Have you stopped to think how radically technology has changed in our lifetime? How clunky does a first generation iPhone seem to most of us today? Or a flip-phone? The first iPhone was just ten years ago. Think about your first personal computer. How different was it from what you use today? My first computer was an IBM PS1 and it didn’t even have a hard drive. I had to buy and install a 300 Mb hard drive and I thought that was all I would ever need! Oh my, how the landscape has changed on this life journey.

Yesterday over breakfast Wendy admitted to me that she doesn’t enjoy the book of Hebrews that we’re wading through on this chapter-a-day journey. Her sentiment is shared by many, I’m guessing. I understand it. We tend to love books like Proverbs with its simple wisdom, Psalms with its emotional poetry, or the Gospels with their fascinating take on Jesus’ story. Hebrews, however, rarely gets mentioned as a “favorite,” even by me. Perhaps that’s why it’s been five years since the last time I blogged through it.

One of the reasons I think we struggle with Hebrews is that the letter was written to a very specific audience for a very specific purpose. The author was writing to first century Jews in an effort to unpack the tectonic, theological paradigm shift  they were experiencing. For the original readers, this was life changing stuff. This was a rotary-dial, chorded phone to an iPhone 8 kind of shift in thinking about God. It’s hard for us to appreciate just how radical of a change this was for them.

In Jewish thought, the concept of “covenant” was/is an important one. Covenant means agreement, like an official binding contract. Throughout the Great Story there are a number of important covenants God makes with humanity. The most important of these covenants to the original readers of Hebrews was the covenant God made through Moses that included the ten commandments, the “law” along with an entire system of sacrifices, offerings, and feasts.

Jesus was a Hebrew as were all twelve of his inner circle. The early Christians were known simply as a Hebrew/Jewish sect before the teachings of Jesus spread through the Greco-Roman empire and “turned the world upside down.” Now, the author of Hebrews argues, God fulfilled what was prophetically foretold by Jeremiah 600 years prior. Like emerging technology is to us today, this was emerging theology for first century Hebrew believers. It’s just as the Apple ad for the first iPhone said: “This changes everything!” God is making a new covenant through Jesus that makes the covenant of Moses obsolete.

One of the overarching themes in the Great Story is rebirth, regeneration, renewal, and resurrection. Old things pass away, new things come. Death leads to life. The old covenant has given way to a new covenant. That’s the point the author of Hebrews is getting at.

This morning I’m sitting and pondering the many things that have “passed away” in my life across my own personal journey. I’m thinking about the many new things that I’ve experienced which were unthinkable to me in my earlier years. This is part of the fabric of creation. It’s part of any good story line. Few of us would read a book or watch a movie in which nothing happens.

In the quiet I find myself expressing to God my openness to embracing wherever it is this journey is leading. This includes being open to things that may need to pass away, and new things that may emerge unexpectedly…whatever those things may be.

Btw, I’m not talking about the iPhone 8 😉

 

Spiritual Self-Examination

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.
2 Corinthians 13:5a (NIV)

I have basically gone to the same family doctor since I was twelve years old and he pulled a big chunk of a splintered, wooden skateboard out of my left thigh. He’s treated my grandparents, my parents, my siblings, and me for almost 40 years. He’s what I call an “old world doc.” He’s a great diagnostician, he takes the time to listen, and he’s a straight shooter to the point of being uncomfortably blunt.

As I grew up, Doc taught me a lot about self-examination relative to my own health. He taught me that a man’s periodic self-examination  for testicular cancer was every bit as important as women doing a self-examination for breast cancer. As I developed a number of moles on my body he took the time to teach me what to be wary of with the regard to skin cancer and encouraged me to pay attention to moles and spots as they appeared over the years. Based on my family history, he would grill me on warning signs for different things that run in the family. He told me of symptoms I didn’t have to worry about and the things I should definitely be worried about if I noticed them.

We all know that self-examination is important to our physical health. We want to catch small problems before they become big ones. In today’s chapter Paul reminds the followers of Jesus in Corinth that spiritual self-examination is critical, as well. I believe it has eternal consequences. Step Four of the Twelve Steps is that we “made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Along life’s journey I’ve attended a host of Twelve Step groups and meetings, and I noticed that it is quite common to stall out after Step Three.  Self examination was a foreign spiritual (or moral) concept to me at first. It was scary, awkward, and uncomfortable. Searching myself fearlessly and making a thorough moral inventory felt like a lot of work and I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit to or deal with what I might find.

A self-examination of my skin might reveal a fast growing, oddly shaped growth than could indicate a more serious issue with cancer. Testing it, I might not like the blunt news from Doc, but addressing it quickly and early might stave off a premature death. In the same way, I found that a searching and fearless self-examination of the soul leads me to honest conversation, wise counsel, and to addressing relational and behavioral issues that just might stave off both spiritual and relational death.

This morning I did a search for “Step Four Questions” in my favorite browser and I quickly found a host of different lists of questions for adolescents, adults, and Twelve Step groups of different varieties. There is no one magic list. It’s relatively easy for me to pull one up and dive right in.

This morning I’m remembering starting down the path of Step Four for the first time. It was scary, awkward, and uncomfortable when I embarked on the process of writing my answers to the host of questions that had been given to me. What I discovered what that those questions led me to healthy, life-giving places. I’ve never regretted learning the process of self-examination.

Fixing Our Eyes on Life

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)

This life journey definitely moves through different seasons and stages. As a parent I am watching our girls move through the turn into adulthood with the establishing of lives and careers. It’s a time filled with a heady mixture of adventure, excitement, doubt, faith, and hope. It carries with it a subtle sense of immortality. I think back to what my life looked like at their ages (and shake my head in disbelief).

As a child I am watching my parents trekking into life’s final stretch with all of the unknowns regarding how events will ultimately play out at the finish line. I’m watching the mixture of feelings, experiences, and emotions that they walk through, and I’m trying to be open to what I can learn from their examples.

Wendy and I are currently feeling the back stretch of life. Literally, I now need to stretch my back every day as my body begins its natural aging progression.

One of the most fascinating observations for me  of late is to watch how we and others handle the process of aging and the troubles associated with our natural, physical decline. Every person has their own journey, their own struggles, and their own path to walk. I’m trying hard not to be judgmental, yet I am noticing stark differences in the way individuals traverse the process of physical decay. I’m observing that it is a cocktail mixed with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual ingredients.

In this morning’s chapter Paul addresses his own experience with life’s natural struggle of progressive decline. Having been pondering these things, it leapt off the page at me.

Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

In Paul’s experience the physical and the spiritual coexist but are independent of one another. The physical continually declines while, in Christ, the spiritual continually grows. The former is in decay while the latter is budding into eternal Life. The key comes with where we choose to focus. Paul “fixes his eyes” on the spiritual with its perpetual growth and life, not on the physical and its perpetual decay.

This fits with what I have observed of late. Our thoughts and emotions  gravitate to wherever the eyes of our heart are “fixed.” If we are fixated on the grief and pains of physical decay then our thoughts and emotions are given to the pessimism and fatalism of impending death. If we, rather, reach further up and further in to fix our eyes on Life and Spirit, then our thoughts and emotions deal with our physical decline in a different manner.

Wendy and I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal a year or two ago about a group of friends in their 80’s. Together the group decided that when they joined together in conversation they each could say one thing about their present physical situation. After that, the conversation had to go elsewhere. It was their way of “fixing their eyes” on living and not on dying. What a great example.

This morning Wendy and I are preparing for a long holiday weekend at the lake with friends, fixing our eyes on life. We are planning to spend next week at the lake, and I’m going to be taking a week off of blogging to rest and live a little (right after I stretch my back).

The Fragrance of Presence

 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
2 Corinthians 2:15 (NIV)

I’m on the road on business this week. I’ll be coaching three different teams of people over the next two days. I meet with these individuals every 2-3 months. In my job I often have the opportunity to be around people whom I only see on occasion. I come into their offices for a day or two, work with their team, and then I am gone for months at a time.

Early in my career I learned the importance of making the most of my visits. I don’t want clients to think, [rolling their eyes] “Oh great, it’s him again.” I want people to be happy to see me. While there will always be those who don’t like me (or perhaps they don’t like the process of being coached), the truth of the matter is that I have a lot of control over how people react to me with my dress, my demeanor, my facial expressions, my enthusiasm, my words, my conversations, and my actions.

This is not something that I take lightly. In fact, it’s motivated by more than good business. It is truly a spiritual motivation for me. I know that our jobs and working in our offices can so often be places where people feel like they get the life sucked out of them. I’ve literally had people tell me in coaching sessions that they feel like they’ve slowly been “dying” day-by-day in their jobs. Ugh!

When I’m working with clients I often think about the word picture Paul gave to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. I want my presence to be the fragrance of life for the people I work with. Many already experience the stench of death every day. I want my presence to bring something different to their environment. I want their spirits to sense the fragrance of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness. I want them to feel better when they leave our session than they did when they walked in.

I  know I’m not always be successful. I have my days like everyone else. But I always think about it on days like today when I’m preparing to go on-site. I don’t want to stink up the place. I want to have the opposite effect.