Mom’s Graduation To Heaven

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Mom’s Last Moments

Many of you may have already heard that Norm’s mom took her final breath and then stepped into heaven to be with our Lord Jesus.  This occurred on Saturday afternoon, March 22.

Mom had been in hospital for about six weeks, fighting a bladder infection which was resistant to the antibiotics, and was struggling with some laboured breathing.  It was discovered that there was fluid building in her lungs and abdomen which they needed to drain off.  Testing of the fluid, plus more examination of her body revealed that mom had Stage 4 cancer throughout her intestines.

Mom was moved quickly to a hospice after that.  We had been wanting to talk with mom on the phone, but time zones and communication challenges had not allowed that for us.  But on our early Sunday morning here in Papua New Guinea, one of our cell phones alerted us to a message.  It was from Norm’s brother who said time was now short for mom.

We were able to get through this time on our phone and via speaker phone were able to say our last words of love and goodbye to mom.  Jill sang “Yes, Jesus Loves You.”  God gave us that opportunity to reach out to mom, and then five minutes after our call, mom took her last breath and then graduated to heaven.

Norm’s brother Murray sent a text back later and wrote, “Yesterday, we were a complete family again during the final moments. Blake held the phone close to Mom’s ear while I held her hand and studied her face closely.  There was an almost imperceptible reaction to your voices and your song – like an internal struggle to hear.  She stopped breathing a few minutes later.  I thought you should know this.”

Our niece Becky wrote this about that special moment,

“When I saw her at 2, her eyes were closed, and her breathing still laboured, but when I sat beside her and held her hand, I felt her try to respond, and her eyes flicked open 3 times. This was around the time that Murray got you on the phone. I know my Dad has said that he believes Granny heard you. I will tell you that I KNOW she heard you.

The peace that washed over the room as you spoke to her and as Jill sang, it was different than how the room felt before. As Jill was singing, I heard Jesus speak, “I am coming soon now.” It amazed me that within moments of hanging up that phone call, her breathing suddenly changed, it slowed and her eyes became heavy and peaceful. And just like that, she walked with Jesus into glory.

The presence of God in that room was like nothing I’ve experienced. He loves us so much, that He knew Mom’s wishes was to hear your voices and your wishes were to share your hearts with her one more time. He honored that, and I just love that about Him. Your voices were the balm to her heart, and I am forever grateful that the Lord had compassion to allow for that beautiful transition to be the way it was.”

Mom is now free from all the restraints and decay that we all experience in our mortal bodies.  Now she is liberated to a new and eternal life of joy inexpressible as she now inhabits her heavenly home.  God did give us this beautiful moment to say goodbye here.  But it won’t be that long before we are saying hello once again to each other when we too will graduate into our eternal home with God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Celebrate with us this passing of a great woman of God, Mavis Elizabeth (Knight) Weatherhead, whom we affectionately call “Mom”.

Norm & Jill Weatherhead
Missionaries to Papua New Guinea

Mavis Weatherhead

Jesus Strips Away The Power Of Death

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John 11: 38 – 44

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

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41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 

44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

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This passage starts out with the words that Jesus was “once more deeply moved.”  There is no doubt that this would have been a time that Jesus would have been moved to feel the great loss at the death of His friend Lazurus.  But perhaps there is something else here tucked away within our passage that caused Jesus to be “deeply moved” with emotion.

The verse just before our current passage states, “But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’”  Is it possible that this statement was heard by Jesus, and caused Him to be deeply moved within His spirit?  Consider the situation from a divine perspective.

When God created Man, He declared, “Let Us make man in Our image, in Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26)  God created mankind to share in the qualities of personality, conscience, morality, and to have an eternal soul or spirit.  God saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and He enjoyed being in the company of mankind as is implied in Genesis 3:8.

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When Adam and Eve sinned against God by choosing to disobey the will of God, the consequences of that action resulted in death coming upon them, and every succeeding generation.  The death that is in focus there was primarily spiritual death, the idea of being separated from God eternally because of the corrupting power of sin which a pure and holy God cannot allow in His presence.

There was another death though that came about as a result of sin.  This is “the first death”, the time when a person dies physically at the end of one’s life here on earth.  And if that person is not in a right relationship with God, the first death (of the body), will lead to “the second death”, which would come at the Day of Judgment when the unrighteous are excluded from entrance into Heaven and depart into the fires of Hell.

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Perhaps Jesus had all of this in mind when He was “deeply moved”, when he heard the people wondering if He might have been able to save Lazurus from death.  The grave has has such a powerful hold on people since the beginning of time, and Satan has had such a powerful hold over the souls of people.  Jesus had come to break the power of both the grave and of Satan.  But it wasn’t quite time yet.  Jesus had not yet died upon the Cross to break these powers over mankind.

And so Jesus went to the tomb to raise Lazurus from the dead.  It was an act of compassion for sure as He saw the grief of Mary and Martha.  But it was also an opportunity for Jesus to display the awesome power of God who holds the power over life and death.  Martha was limited in her belief when she reminded Jesus that her brother’s body would be rotting in the grave by this time.

Jesus though, reminded Martha that just as He would have the power to spiritually raise people to life with God on that final day when He was revealed to be the One appointed by God to save people (see verses 25-27 above), He was also able to call upon the glory of God to strip away the power of physical death in the present.

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Now the term “glory” can be translated along the lines of “brightness” or “wonderful” or “awesome power”.  This last meaning is the one that fits here.  And what is most interesting is how Jesus prays and is thankful that God had already heard His prayer to have the Father reveal His power through Jesus to raise Lazurus.

But Jesus spoke this out loud so that no one could miss the important truth that Jesus had been sent to earth to represent the Father and to display His “awesome power” among people.  And what greater power could He display, than to strip away the power of death.  Once this great miracle occurred, and Lazurus came out of the grave, then the people were told to strip away the linen burial clothes that were no longer needed.

As I close here, let me ask this: have you placed your trust in Jesus to forgive you of your sin?  If you have, then you will not need to fear the “first death”, for you will be raised to eternal life with God at the end of all Time.  But if you have not placed your trust in Jesus, then death (both physical and spiritual) is awaiting you.  Why not let Jesus strip away the power of death that still clings to you, just like the funeral clothes that clung to Lazurus.

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And Jesus Wept

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John 11: 28 – 37

28 After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside. “The Teacher is here,” she said, “and is asking for you.” 29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 

31 When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing she was going to the tomb to mourn there.  32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

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33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind manhave kept this man from dying?”

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In the last article, we took a brief look at one of the most powerful statements that Jesus ever spoke.  He declared, “I am the Resurrection, and the Life.”  This is such a profound and deep theological truth.  One of the major worldviews among western people today is that we live within a closed system, that there is no God, that life began as just a chemical process over great millennia of time.

But Jesus’ words greatly challenge this worldview.  He claims that He is the true source of Life.  And Scripture backs up this claim.  Take a look at what John said in the first chapter of his book, realizing that “the Word” is a reference to Jesus who came into the world:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

John is not alone in this view of Jesus being the source of all life.  Paul puts it very clearly for us in Colossians chapter one:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

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This is all important background as we see what happens in our passage above.  When Mary heard the news that Jesus had come and was nearby, she immediately got up and ran out of the house to go and meet Him.  The people thought that her action was a reaction to the grief she was feeling over the loss of her brother.  Yes, she was experiencing grief, but with Jesus’ presence now, I believe she had hope that Jesus could make a difference in the situation.

It’s interesting that the words she spoke to Jesus were identical to that of her sister Martha, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  But Mary is also not trying to challenge Jesus or be critical of Him.  In fact, we see Mary demonstrating both faith and worship as she fell at Jesus’ feet while speaking to Him.  And then we see what we may have been expecting all along, Mary breaks down and weeps for the loss of her brother.

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What happened next is very powerful.  Jesus was deeply moved by the emotional pain that was displayed, not only by Mary, but by so many of the people who were also there at the time.  And their grief touched His heart.  And Jesus wept.  When we realize as we stated above that Jesus was the Author of Life itself, then it is extremely significant when we read, “Jesus wept.”

This statement, “Jesus wept,” is so instructive.  There are many false opinions and beliefs around that even if there is a God, that He is not a God who cares.  No, Jesus demonstrated for us that He shares in the pain of someone else who is suffering emotional pain.  And we learn about the heart of God by looking into the heart of Jesus, who was God in the flesh.

And this statement, “Jesus wept,” is also so comforting.  Jesus was so completely human, sharing in all of the range of normal human feelings.  I know that He understands me and my emotions.  He can identify with where I am emotionally.  And being God, He is not only fully aware of what my emotional needs are, He will be able to come and help meet me at my point of need.

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Now I need to ask you to consider your relationship to Jesus.  Have you come to recognize that He is God, who came to live among us as a human?  I pray you have.  That is a good place to start.  Have you bowed in recognition before Jesus as the Son of God, like Mary did so long ago?  That is the path that leads to eternal life with God as Jesus stands as our Saviour, redeeming us from our sins against God.

In this article though, I want to suggest we go one step further.  I encourage all of us to see Jesus as our Friend who will stand by our side in life and who will empathize with us in our times of greatest need.  We all know how important it is to have someone to turn to when our hearts are grieved.  Wouldn’t it make sense to turn to the One who made our hearts?  Just remember these words, “Jesus wept.”

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Jesus Is The Resurrection & The Life

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John 11: 17 – 27

17 On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them in the loss of their brother.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed at home.

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

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24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God,who is to come into the world.”

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As we look into this passage, we will need to keep in mind the cultural and religious background of the Jewish people of the 1st century.  The very first thing we need to consider is the process and issues involved when a person died back then.  There were some cultural groups, such as the Egyptians, who regularly practiced the embalming of dead bodies.  But even for the Egyptians, it would have been done only for the royal families and very rich people.

For a Jewish family then, when someone died, it would be necessary to immediately take care of the body and place it in a grave.  But this would not be a six-foot hole in the ground that we are used to in the West.  So much of the ground of Palestine was rocky ground that it was much more common for the people to dig out caves into the rock face of a hill.  Corpses would be wrapped up in linen clothes along with perfumed spices, and then within the cave/tomb, the bodies would be placed upon carverd out ledges.

We see from verse 17 above, that Lazurus’ body had been in his grave/tomb for four days.  Obviously, the body would have decayed quite a bit by this point and had quite a bad smell.  What is not obvious to us unless we know ancient Jewish culture, was the belief that a person’s spirit might remain nearby for up to three days before finally departing.  And so when John wrote that Lazurus was in the tomb for four days, it would be understood by readers that there would not be any chance for Lazurus’ spirit to rejoin his body and produce a “resurrection”.

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There is no question then that Lazurus was very, very dead.  And yet we see in Martha, who ran immediately to Jesus when she heard that He had arrived close to her town of Bethany, a very strong faith that He had the power to overcome death itself.  Her statement is what is called a “contrafactual” statement and might sound like she is critical of Jesus.  It would read more completely like this: “If you had been here [but you weren’t], then my brother would not have died [but he did].”

Jesus tried to reassure Martha that her “brother will rise again.”  To her credit, Martha agreed that Lazurus would rise again from the dead “at the last day”, which refers to when God would resurrect all people and have them stand before Him on the Day of Judgment.  But Jesus had been given power by God to have control over life and death even now, not just at the end of time.

Jesus went on to speak one of the most powerful statements in all of Scripture, “I am the Resurrection and the Life!”  Wow, what a statement.  But do we really understand all that Jesus is saying in this one statement.  I think not.  Mainly because this statement contains nouns “resurrection” and “life”, and for most of us, we understand verbs (or action words) more than nouns.

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Let me try to unpack this statement by using verbal language then and see if it will bring home better for us the meaning of Jesus’ words.  One way we might translate this could be, “I am the One who causes people to rise again after they have died, and I am the One who causes people to really live.”  The source of real life, both here in this world and in the world to come is found in Jesus.  And access to this life is made possible when one puts his/her faith in Jesus.

Jesus then challenged Martha directly to see if she did possess this kind of faith.  And she did.  As a good Jewish person, she had awaited the coming of the Messiah, the “Promised One of God”, the One who would rescue the nation of Israel, and ultimately all people of the world.  Martha went one step further to recognize that not only was Jesus the coming Savior, He was the Son of God.  Other than Peter, no one else within the Gospels, prior to the resurrection, had made this statement of faith.

What an incredible moment that must have been.  In the midst of great grief, faith rose up within Martha as she stood in front of the One who is the Giver of Life.  She recognized that death was not final, and that Jesus was the One who could overcome death and grant the promise of a resurrected life.  What she didn’t realize was that she would see this come to pass right in front of her that day.  But that part of the story will be next week’s article.

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Death And Christian Faith

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John 11: 1 – 16

11 1 Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”

When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Anyone who walks in the daytime will not stumble, for they see by this world’s light. 10 It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”

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11 After he had said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”

12 His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” 13 Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

14 So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, 15 and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

16 Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

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The opening sentence of John chapter 11 is quite brief and to the point, “Now a man named Lazarus was sick.  It almost sounds very impersonal, like some kind of fictional story.  It might go like this: “There once was a man called Lazarus.  He was a very sick man.”  That sounds more like a fable than a historical narrative, doesn’t it?

To make sure that his readers knew we are dealing with a real story, John gave us some important historical context as background to this story.  We learn that Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary, the latter sister being well known by early Christians as the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume and wiped his feet with her hair and her tears.

We also learn that Jesus loved this man Lazarus.  Not in a bad or inappropriate way, but as one who had become a very dear and close personal friend, along with his two sisters.  It is in light of this close personal friendship that Jesus had with this family that makes some of Jesus’ words and His actions so strange, and yet also so wonderful and miraculous.

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You would think that once Jesus received the news that Lazarus was deathly sick that He would immediately set out to go and be with the family.  Instead, He states that his sickness would not end in death, and He delayed His departure for two more days.

The second incredible thing that Jesus said was that out of this situation both God the Father, and He, God the Son, would receive glory out of what was happening.  And what exactly does that mean?  Probably a better way to translate this is to say that people would give praise to God and His Son because of what was happening and what was about to happen.

Wow!! How contrary this is to how many of us respond to sickness and death today.  Isn’t it true that when we or someone we care about gets extremely sick that we quickly send frantic worried messages to others and ask people to fervently pray?  Now don’t get me wrong, we do need to pray for one another, and ask God for their healing.  But sometimes we come begging for God’s help, and acting like sickness and death are the worst things that can happen to us.

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Jesus blows this idea right out of the water though.  Jesus knew what was going to happen.  He was in control of the situation, rather than the situation controlling Him.  And Jesus called death “sleep”, for He saw that death is simply a passing from this life of pain and suffering into a new and glorious life with God forever.  We will all “wake up” one day after dying in this temporary world and enter into the eternal world

And so Jesus went back into Judea, where all His religious enemies were waiting for Him.  Jesus, whom we know from John 8:12 and 9:5 as “the light of the world”, would only have a short time to complete His work on Earth.  This helps explain verses 9 and 10.  Jesus wanted to show clearly to His followers that He possessed power over death itself and that by conquering death, His disciples would more fully put their faith in Him.

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And what about you my friend?  How do you view death?  Is sickness and death something to be feared?  Or do you see them as a normal part of our lives which allows us to step through the door of this life and enter into the glorious life that God has in store for those who believe in Jesus.

I pray that you will be ready to stand before God when your day should arrive when death comes to you.  I know I am ready, and I give praise to Jesus for this hope of faith that I have in Him.

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Death Is Just The Beginning – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 12

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 6: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOUR FINAL CHAPTER BECOMES A PREFACE

Question #2: What experiences have most influenced your view of your own mortality?  When have you grappled with your own death or the deaths of those you know and love?

In some of my articles, I have shared about how frequently there were deaths among the people in the village where we lived and worked in Papua New Guinea.  The average age span for a Papuan is about 46 years.  And there were quite a number of children who died at birth or within the first two years.  Even mothers were dying due to retained placentas.  So death was all around us.  All of these deaths made us quite aware of our mortality.

Interestingly, there was a death of a different kind that shook up our family and brought about a transformation in the life of one of our sons, Glen.  He was only 6 years old and we had just been in PNG for a couple of months.  He was playing with a kitten and didn’t think anything of it when he threw the kitten up in the air and then caught it.  But the one time he missed catching the kitten, it fell and broke its neck and died.

Needless to say, we had a long talk that day, my son and I.  Then we went out to the jungle and buried it.  Glen then asked questions about life in general and what happens when a person dies.  That led to a long discussion about life after death, and the need to believe in Jesus who grants eternal life.  He already knew a lot about the Bible.  But now he had to grapple with the question of eternal life after death.  Praise God, eight months later Glen accepted Jesus into his life and had his name written in God’s Book of Life.

Question #3: What would you say to someone who claims to be spiritual but doesn’t believe in the resurrection?  How would you describe the role the resurrection plays in your own life?  What difference does it make?

It would seem to me that if a person said that they were “spiritually-minded” but did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then in reality that person would be either performing humanitarian acts of charity and calling that “spiritual”, or they are trapped in the concept of “doing good deeds” in the hope that their “goodness” would be sufficient to save them from Hell and God’s punishment against the sinfulness of man.

As a Christian, I recognize that there would never be enough good deeds that I could do that would make up for or “pay” for my sins.  My goodness could never wipe out my bad deeds I have done in life.  My only hope would be if there was someone else who was perfect and without sin who could agree to take my punishment from God for my sins that I would be free from the penalty of sin.

That is what Jesus did on the cross.  That takes care of my sin.  But if that is all, then we can only see death as the final act of life.  But by Jesus rising from the grave, He proved that He had power over the most powerful thing we know in this life, and that is Death.  Jesus’ resurrection proved His power and His authority to give life to those who die.  And since our sins are forgiven, then we can rise in this resurrection life as perfect, sinless people who will live with God forever.

Question #4: Do Christians today act more like the disciples behaved before or after the resurrection?  What could we do to be “resurrection people” in the way we worship, serve, and relate to one another?

I am very concerned for Christians today, especially those who live in the affluent democratic countries of the world.  Life for most people, including Christians, so easily becomes one of materialism.  Jesus warns us to not build our treasures here on earth.  Those who do, so often they work so hard to get them, and then they worry about losing them, and life is all about material possessions instead of seeing life and others around through the eyes of God.

What we must remember is that all these things will pass away and be destroyed.  We cannot take these earthly treasures to heaven.  And those who do not follow after God in this life, will not live with Him in the next life.  We must put a high priority on helping our family members, friends and neighbors to come to know Jesus.  Bigger homes, nicer cars, and even beautiful church buildings will mean nothing if we are not telling others about Jesus.

I’m not saying we have to become preachers, evangelists or missionaries.  But we must put God and others first in our lives.  And people must see that our words and our actions are consistent and spiritually attractive so that they might turn to us when they find that they are in a time of real need in their lives.  As the saying goes, “We may be the only Bible that people ever read.”  So let’s let our lives shine the truth and love of God to others for the sake of their eternal destiny.

                                          

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Death Is Just The Beginning – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 11

Death!  It seems so final.  A Person is born, lives a number of years – perhaps as much as 100 years – and then dies.  That’s it, lights out!  Into the grave or the crematorium goes the body.  All that is left is the ashes or a slowly rotting body in the ground until there is nothing left of that person except a few bones.  The only way to identify who lay there is a name etched on stone, and perhaps teeth that can be matched to a dental record.

This is the ending that every person who has lived on this earth has to look forward to.  There is no escaping it.  As our author (Max Lucado) quotes on page 96 from Fred Carl Kuechner:

“Death is the most democratic institution on earth….It allows no discrimination, tolerates no exceptions.  The mortality rate of mankind is the same the world over:  one death per person.”

Looking at it this way, it would be easy to become either very depressed about life, or to value it so much as to try to get everything you can before the end comes.  And the worst part is that none of us know the future, so we really don’t know how many more days or years we have left to live.  No wonder there are so many people today who follow the saying, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

    

As a missionary who lived in a remote village of Papua New Guinea for five years, death took on a whole new reality for me.  The only people who were close to me and died before going to PNG were my grandmother and my sister.  My grandmother was 88 years old and the funeral was a celebration of a believer in Christ and a life well lived.  My sister died while in Jamaica in her 30’s and we held a memorial service for her.  Death hit our family, but I never really saw it up close.

This changed quickly when we went and lived in our little village in the jungle.  In those five years, there were quite a number of deaths: some people died of old age; some children died from cerebral malaria and some from eating rotten food which led to fatal food poisoning; and some women died in child-bearing due to retained placenta.  The worst experience was watching one of my best friends and a co-translator suffer over a six month period and finally die due to a brain tumour.

    

What made these deaths so hard to witness was watching the despair and the fear that everyone else displayed at the time of these deaths.  There is nothing else I know that is so piercing of a sound that cuts deeply into your heart and soul as when the shrieking death wail went up when someone died.  That piercing cry is started by a family member as soon as the person dies, and then it is joined by other family members and friends when they come to the hut to share in the sorrow.

Day and night this wailing can be heard across the village for days.  But even as the death wail continues, rumours and murmuring go on among the people, for everyone is asking the question, “What evil spirits were involved, and who among the village is responsible for these deaths.  These are the natural questions that are asked by people who live in an animistic culture.  They live in fear of all the evil spirits that surround them, and they fear death most of all.

    

 The Bible on the other hand, speaks to us about the victory that we can have over death.  Up until the time that Jesus lived, the world did lie under the curse of disease, destruction, despair and finally death.  Bur Jesus broke that power of death by rising Himself back from the dead.  He was then able to say along with the Psalmist, “O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory?”

Jesus told His disciples in advance that He would die, but also that after three days in the grave He would rise again and be alive.  The promise Jesus gave was that just as He would conquer the grave and live again, so also would the people who put their trust in Him.  It is at this very point, this claim of resurrection life, that the whole of Christian faith stands.  If Jesus claims (as He did) to grant life after death, but He Himself never rose physically from the grave, then all His promises are not worthy to be accepted as true.

    

 Now some people still think today that Jesus’ claims were outrageous and couldn’t be true.  The most obvious alternative would be to say that the disciples invented this hoax, or at least created this myth about Jesus and the “risen Christ”.  But I challenge any person to read the last few chapters of all the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  The Bible presents terrified disciples, and women who went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body there.

But instead, we see very quickly a faith story burst out after very serious misgivings and denials of the resurrection.  And those men all went on to become martyrs for their faith.  Only a true and real resurrection can account for this change.  And so, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then death is no longer the end of the story for all of us.  Therefore, we do not need to be afraid of death anymore.

Rather then an ending, death can be seen to be a beginning, a new start to an eternal life with God.  In fact, I see death as simply a doorway that all of us must go through one day.  Or perhaps an even better picture is that death becomes a graduation from this limited life to the unlimited life in the next one.  Hallelujah, He is risen.  And one day, so will we.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

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And The Angels Rejoiced

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A “Hevi” Moment Turns Hearts to God

I just recently came across an article that we had written sometime after the first year of our time living in a remote village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.  The vast majority of Papuans consider themselves to be Christians, based on the fact they had been baptized in infancy, and they were able to confess their sins once a year when a priest came around.

For the rest of each year, the people mostly revert back to their animistic roots.  They are afraid of evil spirits, and would like to find out how they can harness the spiritual forces of all the spirits and spiritual forces that surround them so that they can use these powers to be beneficial for themselves.

So there is a surface veneer of Christianity, while there is a deeper core belief in the power of the animistic forces that surround them every day.  This is the backdrop against an event that happened in our village.  Here is the story….

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When an unexpected or unhappy event happens in the village it is called a “hevi” (heavy).  During an afternoon meeting we heard “wanpela pikinini em i dai” which translated says, “one little child has died!”  (An important bit of language learning here, the pidgin word “dai” by itself meant to faint or be unconscious.)

John brought his son, Nika, to our PBT house and we had prayer for him. (Names changed for privacy sake.)  John was convinced that the illness was brought on by the workings of black magic.  Jill went to the clinic to ask the doctors their opinion and the word was that Nika had cerebral malaria.  With the amount of seizures he had, they were not very optimistic about the outcome.

The next day, word came that Nika had “dai finis” (died completely).  But John couldn’t find a way to deal with this sudden death of his son.  He was convinced that an old man of our village was a “sanguma man” (sorcerer) and had worked black magic which caused not only the illness but also the death.  When the old man heard the accusation, he fled into the jungle afraid that John would now seek to kill him in return.  But I sent word to the old man to come to see me, and let me talk to him.

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I also sent word out so that many PBT people and friends would pray for both of these families, and for wisdom for all the leadership of the village.  The old man did come back and they all marked Sunday afternoon to have a village meeting.  The local council leaders would come and hear the “evidence” as John would set out to prove that black magic was used to kill his son.

I was invited to attend the meeting.  After listening to all the arguments, I then added my thoughts about how the child had been under our care, was on the mission property (which they considered to be God’s territory) when he had actually died the week earlier, and had also been covered by the prayers of many people.  I presented the thought that the child was in God’s hands before he died and that no force of this world could “cause” the death.

The meeting broke out into a heated argument from both sides.  And even though I tried to help them see what Scripture has to say about the power of God and the power of prayer being more powerful than any spiritual force of this world, John refused to change his opinion about the old man.  This had gone on for a few hours, and no final conclusions were made.  I was quite upset with how things had turned out.

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So all the discussions stopped and since they couldn’t come to an agreement on the case, it would then have to go to the provincial court.  This would not be good for anyone, and our village would be marked as one that has a history of black magic trouble.  The meeting broke up, but then the women began to bring food out for everyone.  (This is the normal way to show hospitality after any kind of meeting.)

I felt emotionally sick about the whole meeting….so I just handed my food to one of the men and said, “I’m too upset to eat,” and I came home.  Now in this culture, it is a major insult to refuse food.  However, it also shows that someone is “bel hevi” (heavy-hearted) when they do not accept the gift of food being offered.

And so I left the meeting, and crossed the shallow stream to go to my house, and I was so upset that I stomped back and forth around my house feeling frustrated at the whole affair.  But about 15 minutes later, two council members came by and said they wanted to talk to me.  I came out and they said, “It’s a miracle!  They’ve shaken hands!”

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Since “shaking hands” is a cultural way of saying that someone has forgiven wrongs done to them by someone else, I was absolutely amazed.  So I asked them to repeat what they had said, thinking that I had missed something in the language.  But both these council members could speak English too, and they said in very plain English, “It’s all settled.  God has brought us a miracle.”

And in a state of disbelief, I asked how this miracle came about.  And one village elder said, “Well, didn’t you say you and many of your PBT friends were praying?”  I said “Yes.”  And he responded, “Well, God answered those prayers.”  And that was good enough for him, and it also was good enough for me.

And just as we were speaking, we heard the sound of singing.  It was a group from the church that had come back from a village hike and they were singing and praising God for their safe return to our village.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  It reminded me of Luke 15:10 about the angels rejoicing whenever a sinner repents.  I wish I could have peeked into heaven at that moment.  But I have a sense that yes indeed, the angels were rejoicing that day.

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Are You Longing For His Return?

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The following devotion comes from my email subscription to

Connection! Devotions for Every Day Life“.

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Are You Longing For His Return?

Posted: 04 Jun 2011 12:00 AM PDT

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:10–14)

The passage says, “…as you look forward to the day of God.” Are you looking forward to the return of Jesus? I think a lot of Christians are afraid to say no to that question. They instinctively know that the answer should be “yes, of course I’m looking forward to His return.” But in our heart of hearts is that really so? Are we longing for His return?

If we are not looking forward to the Lord’s return, we will not be serious about prayer that prepares us for that great event. We will never make the effort to give ourselves to the awesome issues of intercession that can usher in His appearance again on planet Earth if we are not looking forward to it. We must move into a place of eager anticipation and expectation.

–Taken from Prayer and the End of Days (Praying God’s Purposes in Troubled Times) by David Butts. (Click on the blue title for more information about this resource).

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This devotional raises some good questions?  Are we really ready for the return of Jesus to earth?  I feel similar to the author here, that I’m afraid that even Christians might not be ready for that day.  I’ve been in conversations with other believers and talked about Christ’s return, and jokingly they have responded by saying things like, “But I want to get married first!” or “Oh, I’ll never see my grandchildren.” or even “But I want to see the world first, like go to Tahiti or Fiji or…”

Now I think that these people, when they stop to think about it, will see just how ludicrous it is to want to experience what they deem to be a “great event”, when the greatest event of all of Time itself will be the return of Jesus.  When Jesus comes back, true justice will be established; pain, sorrow and suffering will never be experienced by those who are followers of Jesus; and we will have all of eternity to enjoy every possible experience that we want to pursue, and many more that we have never even thought of yet.

But the greatest joy of all will be to see Jesus face to face, and to be able to come into the very presence of God.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”  It is truly beyond words to express the completeness, the wholeness, the pure joy it will be, to be there with the God of the Universe, and to hear Him call us by name and tell us how much He loves us.

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In a recent article, I examined Matthew 24:14 and spoke about how our mission work of translating God’s Word into the languages of the world could very well be a key instrument in bringing about the return of Christ.  I really do believe this to be the case, and that is why I am so committed to being involved in the Bible translation ministry.

But whether our work will speed up Jesus’ return, or is independent of that great event, I want to always be prepared in my heart to meet my Lord.  And whether I die while I am engaged in doing this translation ministry, or if He should return before I die, I want Him to see me hard at work at expanding His Kingdom here on earth.  As cowboys used to say, “I want to die with my boots on.”

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There are two more verses that motivate me to be working hard for the Lord.  How wonderful it would be if Jesus came back while I am doing his work and to be told, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21)  And then in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, it talks about those who have done nothing with their lives for the Lord and those who have served Him well.

It says the work of the former is like wood, hay or straw, while the latter person’s work will be like gold, silver and jewels.  So not only is it a joy to be serving the Lord, but we are given the promise of a heavenly reward when we offer our lives in service to Him while we are living here.  So what will your choice be?  Why not serve Him well now, and work towards His coming back, and be rewarded in eternity for your faithfulness.  That’s what I plan to do with my life.  And so can you.

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To Live is Christ (Phil. 1:18b-26)

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A Reason to Live

Philippians 1:18b-26  Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,  for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  

If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith,  so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

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In our last study (click here), we saw that Paul was in jail for his faith, for he was well-known for his preaching of the Good News about Jesus Christ.  Whereas he had proclaimed the truth outside in public view before, now he was imprisoned and being called on by God to defend the Gospel privately in the Roman courts and judicial system.

His words in the previous verses show his concern for the Philippians as he tried to encourage their spirits and realize that his imprisonment ultimately was bringing about good for the advancement of the Gospel.  In these verses though, we see that Paul has taken a close look at what had happened to him and realized that he was at a crossroad in his life.  He knew that God was quite capable of rescuing him from the situation, but at the same time, he recognized the possibility that he might die as a prisoner.

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As I think about what Paul is saying here, “Living is good, but dying is better,” I must take this in context and see this is a statement of great faith, not the last wish of a desperate man.  Since his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus (see Acts chapter 9), Paul had spent pretty much every day of his life serving the cause of Christ, proclaiming the Gospel, and planting churches across lower Asia and southern Europe.

For Paul, the most real and most meaningful thing to do on earth was to bring honor to Christ in everything he did.  But as he contemplated his possible death, he said that would be even better.  Why?  Because he knew that he would spend eternity with his Saviour in the glorious realms of Heaven.  The struggle for Paul was that he felt caught between living and helping people for Christ’s sake, or to die and to be with Christ forever.

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Now I will be very honest here and say that I am in no way close to the man that Paul was.  I do identify though with his desire to serve Christ throughout his entire life.  Except for a few minor detours, most of my life has been in training for Christian service, or has been in active pastoral or missionary service.  To contemplate anything else seems unthinkable.

I will be honest though and say that in these past three years of living with my muscle disease, that I had despaired of being of any use to the Kingdom as I secluded myself at home while enduring the constant fatigue and pain.  But then I had a good talk with God about this (and my wife, bless her soul), and came up with a similar attitude as Paul’s in this passage.

I was determined to do as Paul said, to “exalt Christ in my body“.  The literal Greek phrase here is, “I will cause Christ to be honored (magnified/exalted) in my body”.  The words “in my body” could be translated as “in everything I do”.  It is the idea of showing great respect “to a person on the basis of the importance of such an individual”.  Now I believe that no man must be ultimately put up in such high esteem that all others should bow before them.  Only the Man, Jesus Christ deserves this honor.

What I have found while I carry this disease in my body, is that as I continue to offer my service to Him, traveling to do His work (especially in the area of helping to bring God’s Word to people in their own language), is that people give praise to God as they see Him working in and through me.  I have truly seen more people blessed while I work with this infirmity, than I did while I was strong and healthy.

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The point that I see Paul making in this passage is that what we do in this life is meant to bring honor to Christ.  And one of the main reasons why God allows us to remain alive on earth after we have given our lives to Him, is that there are others to whom we are to minister in the name of Christ.  This coincides with what Paul says, that he wanted to see them “grow in their faith” and to have “a deep sense of joy” in their faith.

That too is my prayer.  For many years I have been a Bible translator and now recently, a consultant to translations.  In these past 6 months, God has also opened up this “Armchair Ministry” of The Listening Post.  But even if it is to simply nurture the faith of my family members, attend my small group Bible study, or be a good neighbor, I have learned and am still learning that I am here to “live for Christ”, and to honor him in whatever I am doing.

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