[In the last while I a number of people close to me or loved ones have died. So obviously I have been reflecting on death and funerals and what they should be. Helping plan my late Mom’s funeral last year and planning a short eulogy for it forced me to start thinking. Mom was absolutely ready to go and displayed no fear, but trust. So what do I think?]

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me the conventional euphemisms:
“He didn’t make it”: Make what?
“Eternal sleep”: What a nightmare!
No-one just “passes away” before a firing squad
Or on a cross.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me those comforting inaccuracies:
I shall not become an angel:
They are created beings;
I shall not be a star in the heavens:
They are matter, governed by the laws of physics.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me those invalid philosophies:
Endless eastern recycling;
Anglo-Saxon or atheist oblivion;
A materialist’s nothing.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me tears: I won’t be needing them,
But shed them for my family and friends
Who’ve loved me and will be missing me.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me pity: I won’t deserve it.
There’ll be no more suffering, pain, despondency or disease;
I’ll be like a little kid running into his Dad’s arms.

When I’m dead, not gone,
Spare me the eulogies that ”celebrate my life”,
Because they cannot face my death.
If my deeds have helped others, that’s great and I’m glad.
For me they’ll be irrelevant and valueless, not a passport;
And anyway, it’s not about me.

Focus rather on what matters:
A wooden cross and an empty tomb.

Rom. 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.“
To read this passage in context, click: http://biblehub.com/niv/romans/3.htm

Rom 5:6 “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
To read this passage in context, click: http://biblehub.com/niv/romans/5.htm

Rom 6:8 “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”
To read this passage in context, click: http://biblehub.com/niv/romans/6.htm

You may find the following essay very comforting:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/geneveith/2013/05/two-kinds-of-funerals

A list of topics relating to death by John Piper
http://www.desiringgod.org/all-resources/by-topic/death-dying

http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/by-topic/death-dying

I went to the vet the other day. In fact just three weeks after my Mom died, I had to put my beloved cat down. The vet said Mr Tiggles was suffering and would not get better, and putting him down was the right thing to do.

Now we know this vet, and when other vets had given up with a previous problem, he had persisted until Tigger came right. I don’t class myself as an animal lover, but Tig has taught me a great deal: in fact he had previously taught me some things about God as well (which I intend to repost later); now in his death (as my wife, my daughter and I sobbed our hearts out) he was teaching me something again.

When a day or so later I was expressing some doubts about having The Tig put down, I was told, “D__ (the vet) knows him, and loves animals; you should rely on his judgement.” And here was the lesson. God knows when we should die.

Have you ever wondered why some people who are prayed for do not get visible healing? I have. And only recently have I begun to get the glimmer of an understanding about this.

Some years back our church had a lady who was a leader of a woman’s group, and was really loved and respected. She went down with an incurable disease relating to her nervous system, which led to a slow, progressive death. She was prayed for, and prayed for, and prayed for. I recall at one service the assistant minister said that we weren’t even going to pray for healing “if it was God’s will” because we knew it was God’s will for her to be healed, and so she WOULD be. I felt really uncomfortable about this, but at the time couldn’t articulate even mentally why I felt that way. Was I just in revolt because (according to the minister in charge) I did not speak in tongues and therefore did not have the Holy Spirit?

Both my wife and I had also been prayed for; been told; “You are healed: now walk in your healing;” and certainly still suffered. Because we weren’t healed, the blame (i.e. guilt) for that was plonked on us: not enough faith.

I belong to a kind of email-based intercession group. Some of the people we’ve prayed for have had healing (disease, injury, financial circumstances), and some (outstanding people in their churches) have not been healed as we know it, and have died. Did we not have enough faith? Did we not put in enough effort? Did we not twist God’s arm enough?

Whose healing is it anyway?

A close friend of mine has a very dear friend who has cancer. This has spread to various organs, including the brain. We have obviously been praying for healing; but, medically speaking, the outlook is gloomy. My friend was “tackled” for considering the possibility that her friend would die, the argument implying: if you admit to the possibility that your friend could die, you lack the faith required for him to be healed.

Again, as far as I am concerned, we have the heresy that faith implies that we can say there will definitely be a healing, and we usually mean of the physical sort.

To assert this is the same (I think) as saying Naghmeh Abedini’s pastor-husband, Saeed, is still in gaol in Iran because she doesn’t have enough faith that he’ll be released. If you believe that, you haven’t heard Naghmeh’s testimony.

If everyone were healed, we’d have people who were centuries old in their “current” physical bodies. It’s a fallen world: everyone has to die: “… people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,.” wrote Paul [Hebrews 9:27]. Under these natural (fallen) circumstances I have no wish at all to invite you to my 5304th birthday tea!

Of course, if all suffering is illogical and random, the only thing that matters is what makes us feel good.

Moreover, whose Sovereignty is it anyway? Is there any purpose in suffering? If our suffering has a purpose, then (firstly) it’s not all pointless and (second) it will stop only when that purpose has been achieved. If we hold that God is sovereign, then He has a right to choose, and that probably won’t sit too well with our quasi-democratic – and definitely self-centred – notions; but we don’t call the shots: God does.

Let’s go back to Naghmeh and Saeed: since he’s been imprisoned in Evin he has brought at least 30 people to know Jesus. Given that he is an evangelist, this means he is accomplishing his purpose while suffering in gaol: his life and suffering have themselves become a testimony. Naghmeh has addressed the issue at the UN – so those people have heard the Gospel. She’s been on US and BBC programmes in the Farsi language during prime viewing time in Iran, and has testified to Jesus; so thousands of Iranians have now heard the Gospel. Of course we all pray for his release, and that of all the others who are imprisoned or persecuted for their faith in Jesus.

My wife spent 3 weeks suffering in hospital because of a totally smashed ankle: during those three weeks, I learned the meaning of Grace. My friend went through suffering in her marriage; our prayers for her husband weren’t answered according to our wishes; but, having seen her suffering and tested, I know her faith is real, and that she’s not just some perennial optimist. And so she has been a massive blessing to me and my whole family – because of her suffering.

Let’s return to her friend’s suffering. Can her friend’s suffering have any purpose, and, if so, what would that be? As Christians our main purpose is to glorify God. While we can see that a healing would glorify God, could his suffering also not glorify God? I look at their rock-solid faith and I’m amazed (I know I shouldn’t be) at it and Who it’s inspired by; I see evidence of God’s Holy Spirit in him and in my friend as they go through this. I know theirs is not an airy-fairy feel-good, warms-the-cockles-of-my-heart kind of faith. It’s not the kind of faith that wheel-spins in vain in the mud: it’s got traction; it pulls them through because it’s engaged with God. It glorifies Him because God’s strength is shown in their “weakness” of suffering.

When my friend’s friend dies, I have no doubt that he’ll go to heaven and be with the God he has served so faithfully for decades, because he is in a right relationship with God. He’s getting promotion from this world to a world of glory. He’ll be no longer susceptible to suffering, pain and death. His promotion will depend on the Boss. What right have we to demand that God should heal him? Whose sovereignty is it anyway?

Does this mean I’m callous? I don’t think so: I’ve literally cried over their pain and because the happiness of their friendship will be cut short, and I still pray for healing.

I pray God will heal him and that, if it is not God’s will to heal him, that He will grant him:

1    unshakable CONFIDENCE is his salvation;
2    CONTENTMENT with his life;
3    the CONSOLATION that his salvation and God’s Grace afford in this life;
4    physical COMFORT in his suffering;
5    COURAGE to live each day trusting God.

Am I demonstrating a lack of faith? Am I hedging my bets? I don’t think so.

I do not doubt God’s ability to heal him physically; I don’t know if that is God’s will: there is a difference.

The leper in Matthew 8:2 illustrates what I mean: “A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean’.” He exercised faith in Jesus and recognised the supremacy of God’s will in this.

Are we going to accuse Paul of a lack of faith because he was not healed from whatever it was (some think, malaria) that he suffered from?

” Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. T.hat is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” [2Cor12:7] He wasn’t healed the way he would have wanted to be; and note the reason for the suffering: to keep him dependent on God and to glorify God.

Did Daniel say “Chuck me into the furnace and God WILL rescue me from it”?

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up’.”[Daniel 3:16]

Daniel considered the possibility that God might NOT rescue him, but he still demonstrated faith: “God CAN rescue me IF He wants to; but EVEN IF He doesn’t I’ll still listen to Him rather than to you.” Our faith must be an EVEN IF faith as well as a BECAUSE faith. Our faith must be in God and not in our own faith (which I have just learned is called “fideism”).

So, if someone who has had prayer for healing is not healed outwardly/physically (which is what we tend to mean – and God understands that), we mustn’t think it’s due to a lack of faith and heap guilt onto that person or on those who are praying for him or her. Who made us the judge? It’s God’s decision whether He will heal, not ours. It’s His agenda, not ours that must count; if we don’t respect that we are denying His sovereignty.

Like the vet, God knows when it’s our time to die. God is the loving, almighty, sovereign Lord – not a genie in a bottle.

 

To read the quoted Scriptures in their context, click on the links below:

Hebrews 9:7
http://biblehub.com/niv/hebrews/9.htm

Matthew 8:2
http://biblehub.com/niv/matthew/8.htm

2 Corinthians 12:7
http://biblehub.com/niv/2_corinthians/12.htm

Daniel 3:16
http://biblehub.com/niv/daniel/3.htm

[This is a prayer by a small group of people on 3 continents who keep in contact via email to intercede.]

Single women
Father, I pray for all single women and ask that they may turn to You for love, acceptance, affirmation and affection. I ask Father, that You show them Your love and Your goodness. Please open their eyes to see how much You love them. Help each one of them to find fulfilment in You. Allow each of those who have accepted Jesus as their Saviour, to obey Your word and to put You first in their lives. Help each one of them to repent of any ungodly relationships. Please heal and restore them, in Jesus’ name. Help those who have a desire to be married to find the marriage partners that You have for them. Help them not to accept second best. Help them, Lord, to find security, significance and self worth in You, and NOT in anything else.

Single/divorced/widowed women who raise their families on their own, often with little or no help.
Father I pray that You would encourage and strengthen these women; many of them do an incredible job without much help. Please, Lord, help them to rely on Your goodness in faith rather than in anxiety. Please reassure them of Your love for them, and give them resources and support, and the wisdom, not only to cope but to be “more than conquerors”.

Women whose husbands are away from home working in other places.
Father, I commit to You women whose husbands work far away from home and so are absent for extended periods. I pray that those women will be given the strength to manage their homes and all that this entails: working, bringing up their children with possibly little help, being both mother and father. I pray that they would find in You a source of love, encouragement, inspiration and patience. I pray You will keep them and their from a loneliness that encourages or makes them susceptible to infidelity. Please give them the strength to resist temptations. I pray that their children, especially boys, will have good and Godly role models in their fathers’ absence.

Women who suffer from abusive husbands/partners/boyfriends.
Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Father, it was never Your plan for women to be abused and oppressed. I plead with You on their behalf. I ask You to give them strength and wisdom. I ask You to open the eyes of those who don’t know that they are abused and think their treatment is normal; to open the eyes of those who willingly let themselves be abused because they think it’s love. Please protect these women (and often children), Lord, and give them the insight to know when to leave their abusers and the courage and means to do so. Please free them from self-destructive bitterness, which is itself a prison. They are precious because they are made in Your image. Thank You for those whom You have rescued from such situations.

Women who have to cope with husbands/partners/boyfriends/children who abuse drugs/alcohol.
Father, I commit these heroic women to Your faithful care and protection. I ask You to bless them with abundant wisdom. I ask You to strengthen them; to enable them to give tough love (even if it goes against their natural instincts) and help them to stand firm. Please reassure them of Your love for them. And please give them the insight, courage and means to leave when they have to, without guilt and feelings of failure. Thank You for those whom You have removed from these situations.

Women abandoned by their husbands/partners/etc.
Father, You never abandon us. I ask You to be especially loving to those who have been abandoned by faithless husbands/partners. I ask You to protect and care for them (and their children), to encourage them, to see that they have people to support them; to be able to see themselves as people worthy of love. I thank You, Father, for those women who, in spite of their husbands’ unfaithfulness have chosen to be faithful as they show us Your faithfulness to us in spite of our faithlessness.

Women who have been raped or sexually assaulted.
Father, You know that I can have very little idea of how deeply these women must feel, and I’m really too scared to ask You to show me in case I couldn’t cope with those feelings. I pray for them to be released from fear and terror; I pray that they will be able to feel the love I ask You to pour out over them; reassure them of their worth in You; protect them from pregnancies and diseases and judgementalism and other injuries; help them to be able to love themselves.

Women who live in oppressive cultures
Father, I bring to You women who live in oppressive cultures, where they can be forced into marriages, have no rights as regards their own children, are victims of so-called honour killings. where female babies are allowed to die or where mothers of female babies are forced to undergo abortions or even abandon their babies; where women can be easily forced into prostitution. I pray that You will bring these women comfort, strength, hope and the liberation that faith in Jesus’s Resurrection brings. I pray that You would enable them to escape from places where they may be held as virtual or real prisoners. I pray that You would free the males in these societies from the slavery of these ideas so that all may have justice.

Men & Husbands
Father, I pray that You will enlighten the minds of those who scorn women and treat them with contempt and disrespect. Please help them to see that we all have worth because You have made us in Your image. Please help them to understand their own worth in You so that they don’t have to compensate by putting women down.

Father, Your Word to us as husbands is: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” (Ephesians 5:22) [To se passage click: http://niv.scripturetext.com/ephesians/5.htm] Please help us to practise this. Sometimes it is so difficult to put this into practice as our male egos get in the way. I ask You to give us grace, not so that we are grudgingly manipulated, but so that we willingly give and give way, and love sacrificially as You do.

[Parody: Electric Light Orchestra (ELO): Hold on tight to your dream]

Hold on tight to God’s Word
Hold on tight to His Word
When you feel that your soul is ailing
When you’re down and your strength is failing –
Hold on tight to His Word.

In His strength you can be strong
When your own strength is gone
When it feels your whole world ‘s crashing
Fire and brimstone, lightning flashing
Hold on tight to His Word

CHORUS
At the end of your rope when there seems no hope,
He will help you on and keep you strong
You know that you’re going where He’s gone before
And after all this, yes,you know that there’s more

Klou styf vas aan Sy Woord
Hou styf vas aan Sy Woord
As die storms rondom jou woed
As die dinge lyk nie so goed
Nie, klou styf vas aan Sy Woord

REPEAT CHORUS:

Guard your faith in His Word
Guard your faith in His Word
When you see the mountains tumble
When you see this whole earth crumble
Hold on tight to His Word

Hold on tight to His Word

 

[23 January 2012]

 If you are unfamiliar with the original song, you can click the link below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8TLmpL2AzLs

 

Matthew 24:35

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

To read the verse in its context, click:

http://niv.scripturetext.com/matthew/24.htm

See also:

http://niv.scripturetext.com/mark/13.htm

http://niv.scripturetext.com/luke/21.htm

[Many people tend to skim over Jesus’ prophecies concerning Jerusalem. Because of my background in Classics, I find them interesting — and frightening.

The prophecies surrounding the temple were fulfilled as a result of the Jewish rebellion which broke out against Rome in AD66. This and the preceding period were characterised by “bloody sectarian strife between Sadducces and Pharisees … Jews and Greeks were fierce enemies. ..the Christian population … was anathema to the Jews.” (E.T. Salmon: A History of the Roman World 30BC to 138AD Methuen 1968 pp 194 -197). The dissention was so bad that, even while the Romans were beieging Jerusalem, the Jews were killing each other.

The Romanised Jew Josephus (who had been a Jewish leader in this war) paints a terrible picture of conditions during the Roman siege (Josephus: The Jewish War Penguin classics chapter 19). Eventually the Temple and most of the city were either burnt to the ground or demolished. The Romans sacrificed where the Temple had stood and it became a place of worship to Jupiter and the Emperor. Josephus puts Jewish casualties at over one million (his numbers are prone to exaggeration, but this was during the time of a major feast). Survivors faced slavery or mass execution later. For them it was the end of the age.

In AD 130 the city was still in ruins and no Jew was allowed to enter the area. (Salmon, op.cit. P307)

This was certainly a time to “hold on tight to the Word.”]

[There seem to be two sides to life, in a way: the side where everything goes fine (as Matt Redman’s song Blessed be Your Name says: “In the land that is plentiful/Where Your streams of abundance flow”); and those times when we face uncertainty (as Mat Redman puts it:”When I’m found in the desert place/ Though I walk through the wilderness”) . This poem reflects that duality.

The first two stanzas were written while I was gazing out of my study window at the garden and the sky towards the end of summer; the last two stanzas were written some weeks later, a day or so before we had a staff meeting to decide which of the five of us middle-managers would be declared “in excess”. Each of us thought he or she would be “the one”. Three years down the line the five of us are still all here.

For me it is great comfort to know that, when my strength is finished, there is always God’s inexhaustible strength left, and He can carry me without breaking a sweat.

(Incidentally, if you don’t know the words of Blessed be your name, you can find them via Google. This is a song every one of us who live in the valley of the shadow should know.)]

[18 Mar 2006]

It’s such a glorious day
The sun has now risen
The clouds have gone away
I just want to be with you
To spend my whole day with you
You’re my Alpha and Omega
My beginning and my end.

All the birds are singing
The squirrels are chasing
I see your geese winging
And the sky’s so blue, the kiss
Of your sun on my cheek’s warm
You’re my Alpha and Omega
My beginning and my end.

I’m frightened, here, inside:
I really have no idea
Just what the future hides
It’s grey and cloudy here; doubt
And things uncertain loom, but
You’re my Alpha and Omega
My beginning and my end.

Sometimes seems it’s all too much:
Slog and pain and sorrow.
I need your calming, healing touch,
Your voice that speaks of love
Yesterday, today,  tomorrow
Be my Alpha and Omega
My Beginning, at my end.


Rev 22:13  I am the First and the Last, the start and the end.

Rev 1:8  I am the First and the Last, says the Lord God who is and was and is to come, the Ruler of all.

Rev 1:17  And when I saw him, I went down on my face at his feet as one dead. And he put his right hand on me, saying, Have no fear; I am the first and the last and the Living one.

Rev 21:6  And he said to me, It is done. I am the First and the Last, the start and the end. I will freely give of the fountain of the water of life to him who is in need.