cloud of witnesses
This week was a hard one for Six Points Church as we laid to rest three people who were a part of the life of this church. Death is always hard. No matter the circumstances, the age of the person who died or how much warning you might get...it still isn't easy to lose someone you love. This week we pray for the Hopkins, Inman and Whaley families and ask for God to comfort them in their time of grief.
And as sad as this week of loss was for those families and for our church family, we take comfort knowing that those who died had put their faith in Jesus and are now in Heaven with Him for all eternity.
As my grandmother would have said, "the cloud got bigger." She was referring to a verse from Hebrews 12 that says "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
The friends and family who passed this week, and all those who have died in the Lord before, are part of that "cloud of witnesses" that helps encourage us, inspire us and give us an example of faith that we should follow as we live our lives in Jesus. They are not gone, they are with the Lord, and our cloud has grown even bigger.
A common Bible trivia question is "what is the shortest verse in the Bible?" The answer is John 11:35 which says "Jesus wept." While this might help you score a point in a game of trivial pursuit, it isn't just a fact to memorize; but a truth to take in.
Jesus wept. Why? Why did Jesus cry?
First, we need to remember that while 100% divine, Jesus was also 100% human. This seeming contradiction, is still true, Jesus was fully man and also fully God...and so he felt human emotions just like us. We should never intentionally or unintentionally minimize the humanity of Jesus. Jesus felt all human emotions just like us. He felt happiness, sadness, anger, fear, pain...all of it. Emotions aren't good or bad; they are just part of the human experience and Jesus felt them. In this case he felt sadness.
But why did Jesus feel sadness? In the story it is clear that Jesus knows what will happen in the end. He came there to resurrect Lazarus. So why, if you know the happy ending, would you feel sad? I think that it's because Jesus saw the deep grief and pain of the sisters (who he loved) and felt empathy. He saw their pain and he sympathized with them. They didn't know the end of the story, they didn't know the happy ending...and yet they had faith.
In John 11 Jesus has a conversation with Mary (the sister). He said to her, "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?" Mary answered, "Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is come into the world."
Mary had faith in Jesus, faith in his resurrection power and yet she was still broken-hearted. This is the truth of our reality. We believe in the eternal life of Jesus and yet we are still allowed to mourn and grieve when one we love dies. Jesus had human emotions and so do we. Grief is good for our souls, it means we loved deeply. Jesus wept, and so should we when we mourn.
And I believe Jesus weeps with us still. He sees our pain, our loss, our broken hearts and he still cares, still loves and still helps. Thank you Jesus.
the power of potential
A seed. Some dirt. Sunshine. Water. This is all that is needed to produce growth, to produce life, to produce fruit and harvest. Take a small seed, dig a hole in a good spot and see what happens. Depending on the seed you might get strawberries, flowers or even a mighty oak tree.
Looking at that unassuming seed it would be almost impossible to imagine this potential future. How could one expect something so big or so powerful to come from such a small start? The potential is there, but the potential seems unlikely. And yet, we see this truth every day. We drive by thousands of trees on our way to work and all of them started out as tiny seeds. We eat fruits and vegetables every day, and each of them began as a seed as well. The truth of this reality is all around us and even nourishing us.
Jesus spoke often about seeds. He lived in a farming community and this kind of language was easily understood. In Matthew 13 he talks about how just a tiny seed (the mustard seed is super tiny btw) grows and becomes a bush large enough for the birds to rest in. Later, in Matthew 17, he says "because you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to his mountain "move from here to there', and it will move." Turns out that the potential was never about the size of the seed. The potential was about the size of the God.
Your faith may seem small, but this is no obstacle for the God who spoke the universe into existence. Your faith may seem small but that isn't stopping the God who knit us together in our Mother's wombs. Your faith may seem small, but we serve the Lord who calmed the seas and called Lazarus out of the grave.
The potential is there, just waiting. Your faith is the seed and can make it grow.
not dead yet
In the classic British Comedy "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" there is a classic scene where men are coming around to bury those who have died from the plague. They take the bodies of the dead away to bury them in mass graves outside the city. As they pick up one man he cries out "I'm not dead yet" to the shock of all. It turns out the family of this man had left him out to be collected despite the fact that he was still alive. They insist he is "almost dead" and might as well be taken away.
Sadly, this is a commentary on how we often treat our older citizens. Once we see them as having no value, we cast them aside. We think that just because they can't do as much as the younger people, they have no value and might as well be gone.
But I disagree. I think that our silver haired saints have much to add to the life of the church and that when we ignore them, we miss out on the collective wisdom, experience and love that they could bring.
Years ago I recruited a wonderful grandmother named Nancy to join our youth ministry team. At first she tried to turn me down, telling me that she wasn't "cool" enough to help with the teens. But, it turns out that teens LOVED having Grandma Nancy around. She cared for them, listened to them and kind of adopted them. One teen girl even spent her Spring Break at Nancy's Florida condo because they had become so close.
Sometimes older saints tell me that they've done their part and now are retired. I hate to disagree with my elders, but I am sure glad Moses didn't say that to God (he led the people out of Egypt at 80 years old) or Abraham (who was 75 when he was called by God to start a new nation and leave his home). These saints knew that when God calls, you listen...no matter how old you are.
I am so glad to serve at a church with so many senior saints who faithfully give of their time and talents. We have teachers, prayer warriors and even VBS leaders who are in their "golden years" and they are a true blessing to us all.
So please, if you are reading these words, remember that you are "not dead yet" and that God is always calling us to give, to serve, to love and to lead. God calls the young, the old and everyone in between to use their gifts for the good of His Kingdom.
Joel 2:28 says, "I will pour out my Spirit on ALL people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." (emphasis added).
Dear saints of all ages, let's work together (all of us together) to serve God well.