If I invest myself into the wealth of this world then death will be loss of everything I live for.
I was mowing our lawns today, and because the catcher doesn’t work very well on our lawn mower, was using an old bamboo leaf rake inherited from my grandfather to gather up the grass clippings. The irony is that this old rake, with many tines broken off, is still more effective than a newer metal one that I have in the shed. The thing is probably older than I am, yet still it gets the job done.
But effectiveness is only part of the reason I like using the old rake. I don’t recall actually seeing my grandfather use that particular tool, but when I use it I’m reminded of him. He could be a cantankerous old sod, but it is still good to remember him. He certainly took care of his tools and implements better than I do, his workshop was always orderly and he took great pains to mend things and keep them in good order. To the extent that his wheelbarrow had an improvised tyre made from an old bicycle tyre wrapped around the wheel several times and held in place with bits of wire.
Using his old rake also got me thinking of their house, with it’s funny outside toilet that had a golf ball on a chain to flush it with. There was always a box of neatly split kindling by the back door, and the old wooden building blocks that my father had as a child. The way Nana and Granddad always used cloth napkins and had the table properly set for every meal. Sunday roast dinners that my grandmother managed to cook in a tiny little kitchen which became swelteringly hot when the oven was on.
Which got me thinking of the tragedy of my grandmother ending her days in the confusion of Alzheimer’s disease, forgetting and forgotten. I now wish I had put more effort into visiting her in the nursing home during her final few years. It was hard to visit someone who had no idea who I was, and those were the years when my own children were babies and toddlers so life was already very full.
Recently I read an article about caring for elderly parents as they slowly died. Something which stood out to me was the following:
Around holidays and birthdays, rejection and abandonment surfaced, especially when the “family expectations balloon” popped because distance and responsibilities prevented other family members from gathering. (H. Curtis McDaniel How Long Till I Can Die? A 5-Year Journey in Hospice Caregiving)
There will always be conflicting responsibilities and demands on my time and resources, but this article reminded me that to someone who is facing the loss of everything, what they value most is being loved by those they have spent their own lives loving.
As lives are lived and years tick by, families generate their share of issues, disappointments and disagreements. Things are said or not said, done and not done. Choices are made by people we thought we knew that show how much we have grown apart. Our own lives and families are an immediate demand upon us. Yet I suspect that my parents and siblings still long for a phone call, letter or visit to reassure them that I’m still thinking of them and want to remain part of their lives.
In the end all we are left with is memories, regrets and odd items that remind us of those who went before us and in their own way loved and nurtured us as part of their family. So maybe it is just a beaten up old garden rake, but to me it means much more than being just a rake.
Living in New Zealand, we have our seasons at the opposite time of year to northern hemisphere folks. This is most obvious at Christmas when we are eating salads, having barbecues and going to the beach while the US and Europe are eating stodgy winter food and peering through frosted windows at snow.
Easter is another festival that for us is ‘back to front’ with respect to the seasons. Here it is autumn, not spring, so the tenuous link between eggs and Easter is lost, let alone how rabbits come into the picture.
Some suggestthat the date of Easter should be moved so that southern hemisphere churches can better appreciate the seasonal nuances of a spring festival, or we should reflect on the ‘refreshing coolness’ of autumn as symbolic of the resurrection. The first suggestion is unworkable and the second is grasping at another tenuous seasonal gimmick.
Autumn gives its own meaning to Easter, with a depth that goes beyond mind games. To every Christian, Easter means the death and resurrection of Jesus. Autumn brings a natural emphasis to the first part of this meaning.
The days cool down, mornings and evenings darken, and nature braces itself for the temporary death of winter. So too we walk through Lent aware of the impending death of Christ. His was also a temporary death but no less decisive for being overcome by the resurrecting power of God.
Seeing trees change colour reminds us that we’ve been here before. The winter to come may be hard but the seasons do change, the approaching season of coldness and death will also pass. This is the value of the liturgical calendar, reminders of what faith means in all the changing seasons of life and that through all such changes Jesus remains constant as our rock.
Fading light adds a solemn weightiness to our experience of Easter. The cross is symbolic of our faith and I appreciate the added emphasis autumn gives to this crucial element of Easter. Summer is over, the hardest part of the year lies ahead. At Easter we remember our desperate need of salvation and the awful cost of it. We move on into the darker months knowing the hope we have in Christ who rose again and conquered both death and the sin that causes it.
The darkening days of autumn also call to mind what Jesus spoke in relation to the death he would die:
So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35-36 ESV)
Let us walk in the light of Christ and the hope of the resurrection.
I found this interesting little quote in the journal Pediatrics, Volume 76, Number 3, September 1985, page 370:
Death and the Victorian child (1869)
Today’s children, at least in this country, are shielded from death and most are never exposed to a dead body. The quotation below taken from The Fairchild Family by Mrs Sherwood (1775-1851), a widely-read book written for English children offered them a graphic and repulsive view of a decaying corpse.1
When they came to the door, they perceived a kind of disagreeable smell, such as they never had smelt before: this was the smell of the corpse, which having been dead now nearly two days, had begun to corrupt: and as the children went higher up the stairs, they perceived this smell more disagreeably. The body of the old man was laid out on the bed… The face of the corpse was quite yellow, there was no colour in the lips, the nose looked sharp and long, and the eyes were closed, and sunk under the brow; the limbs of the corpse, stretched out upon the bed and covered with a sheet, looked longer than is natural: and the appearance of the body was more ghastly and horrible than the children had expected… At last Mrs. Fairchild said, “My dear children, you now see what death is; this poor body is going fast to corruption. The soul I trust is in God; but such is the taint and corruption of the flesh, by reason of sin, that it must pass through the grave and crumble to dust…“
1. Temple N: Seen and Not Heard. New York, Dial Press, 1970, p 217.
It is 5 minute Friday in which I write feverishly for five short minutes, find a picture to fit my story and then post without reworking and rewording the entire thing before being brave enough to publish!
This week the prompt is brave.
And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
(Luke 9:23–25 ESV)
As a man I am supposed to be brave.
I am not.
As a Christian I am called to be courageous.
I am not.
However, I can tell you of some people who are brave and courageous in the very way that Jesus called them to be. These people come from Burma, a nation oppressed by a military who have killed and persecuted their own people for decades. Ethnic minorities are particularly persecuted. Many of these folks flee from the army into Thailand. All worry about their families, friends and relatives who were left behind.
Some brave souls amoungst them train up and return to help their people, spreading the Gospel as they do so. It is dangerous work, occasionally the army finds them and they risk being shot. Or the jungle and mountains take the lives of some such as Hsaw Reh, who recently drowned while on a medical relief mission in Burma. These are people I admire and would like to emulate in their bravery to serve Christ
Photo of Hsaw Reh: Free Burma Rangers
Click here for the story of this picture.
… the people dwelling in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death,
on them a light has dawned.
(Matthew 4:16 ESV)
Reading this today I paused to consider the horror of living in a place which is described as “the region and shadow of death” – my heart shrinks back from even the idea. Yet, in places such as Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, Burma, Afghanistan – these could all be described as living under the shadow of death.
I suspect that if seen spiritually my own nation might be similarly described, with greater terror and horror because the death is eternal. Through the same sort of callous indifference which sends poor people to perish of hunger and disease and slaughters entire villages, I am unmoved as people I know plunge into an eternity of hell without making any attempt to warn them. Will I watch and take pictures as others perish?
Yet, there are differences between the soul-need of people around me and he starving people in the world – physically hungry people will generally eat food if it is offered to them. The spiritually starving are more like anorexics, they think they are fine and cannot see that they need to eat.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(2 Corinthians 4:3-4 ESV)
I cannot open their eyes, but I can at least abide in Christ and act in love such that if their eyes are opened by God they will see some dim reflection of Christ in me and know that he is good (Psalm 34:8).
And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire;
(Jude 1:22-23 ESV)
In order to have something to give the spiritually hungry, soul-starving people all around me I must abide in Christ and bear fruit. That fruit may be in the very words I use, spoken or written. The Word of God created the world, used rightly, our words can change the world. The light which has dawned upon those living under the shadow of death is the Word, the One who with a word can say “live!“ and it will happen.
While I do a very imperfect job of it, I am a Dad and I love each of my children very, very much. My biggest fear is that something bad might happen to them – if anything bad is to happen to my family I would prefer it to be me who suffers rather than my wife or children. When I pray for my kids at night I ask Jesus to hold them close and keep them safe, knowing full well that in fact bad things do happen to Christians and their kids just as bad things happen to other people (see Luke 13:1-5).
In praying for God to keep my kids safe, my primary thought is that He will give them the faith to trust Him and keep that faith intact no matter what happens. I try not to think about the things that could happen to them, partly because it is a pointless, anxiety-producing exercise and also because God tells us not to worry ourselves about ‘what-ifs’ (Matthew 6:34). A more grey area is anxiety regarding how I might respond to a tragedy or suffering in my family – in part such anxiety is about something that may never happen, but it also relates to how deeply rooted my faith in Jesus and God’s goodness is – will my faith survive being tested?
Having been a Christian for over twenty years, my faith has been tested in various ways over that time but not by anything really major. I very much feel like the father asking Jesus to heal his child:
And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23-24 ESV)
I believe, Jesus help my unbelief. In fact, I have felt this deeply in praying for my daughter to be healed of severe ezcema – I know Jesus has the power to heal her, yet also know that mostly healing comes through medicines and doctors and often people just have to endure sickness in this fallen world. Am I praying with faith when thinking like this?
When I worry about the safety of my children, a child who comes to mind readily is little Aisling Symes who died tragically a year ago, leaving a devastated family grieving her loss while clinging to faith in Christ. I’m sure they have struggled much over the past year, but their faith and the support of their church last October was inspiring to me and still helps me to be mindful of where my trust needs to be.
A couple of extracts of what was said by Pastor Russell Watts of Ranui Baptist Church in Auckland at the funeral of Aisling Symes on October 16, 2009:
“Last week we searched day and night, we posted flyers, we prayed for Aisling, for the family, for the police, for the nation to find her.
On Monday night we were still praying here in the church and many other churches joined us in prayer for her safe return. While God speaks to prophets about tragedies or impending disasters, to most of us He gives words of encouragement or comfort or words that will build character. And so, motivated by hope and love, we really felt that she was safe and that God was going to return her to Alan and Angela. When you love you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray, and often a miracle will result.
By this time Aisling had been in heaven for a long time, by our standards. And yet, I believe that God took those prayers which we prayed too late, and He stored them up and poured out His help in different ways. The Bible says that He treasures the tears of every believer. We did not get the answer to prayer that we really wanted; it was already too late, a tragic accident had taken place. But I know God still responded with compassion to our tearful pleas.”
“When you love, you hope, when you want to put practical legs on hope you pray,” this may seem odd to an action-oriented, make-it-happen-yourself type of society, but actually goes straight to the core of where the power to make things happen lies – with God, not us. Only God knows what the real purpose was in taking Aisling home so soon was, but her disappearance moved this nation to pray and helped many of us to see more clearly what is truly valuable:
“In a hundred years’ time that great house we built will be crumbling and decaying, that career we worked so hard at will not matter to anyone anymore, that sporting trophy or medal or money in the bank that we accumulated just won’t hold any significance to anyone anymore.
Paul, in writing to the church at Corinth, said all that stuff would pass. Those things aren’t eternal but these three qualities will remain: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
I would suggest to you that in those intense seven days of prayer, of searching and supporting, that you did something better, and bigger, than win a gold medal or gain world recognition. You displayed three qualities that really matter, three qualities that really count, three values that are of eternal significance – faith, hope and love.”
(Quoted with permission from an article featured in the November 2009 issue of the NZ Baptist newspaper.)
I have read 1 Corinthians 13:12 many times and have read commentaries about this verse, but this is by far the best and most vivid summary of the meaning and application all integrated in one that I’ve ever encountered. Love, hope and faith all in action as tearful, even fearful people pray desperately for God to have mercy on a little girl.
What I am talking about here is not some abstract, theoretical ideal of how faith should work – many of us prayed for Aisling to be found, her family and church grieve to this day, and so the reminder that the love, prayer and support given to them, the hope in Christ that she is right now in God’s loving arms, and the faith behind all of these – this is real. When I fear for my children, I am grateful for the reminder that faith, hope and love are what counts for eternity.
Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
(Mark 5:36 ESV)
God bless you Aisling.