Posted tagged ‘heaven’

In Honor of Marie

October 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 20, 2019

                                     

I first met Marie Lyons…kinda’…at a funeral home in Mason, Michigan, the Ball-Dunn Chapel. I was there for the visitation of Harold Bickert. Harold and his wife, Mildred, were elderly members of Lansing First Baptist Church, but years before they had lived in Mason and attended Mason First Baptist Church. 

I visited with Mildred and talked to her about the funeral service for Harold that would happen the next day. In an adjoining viewing room laid the body of Robert Lyons, Marie’s brother. Mildred knew I had been talking to the pastoral search committee of the Mason church, Marie’s church. She had me go into the viewing room and sign the guest book. The visitation had already concluded and no one was still present. I felt a little awkward, signing the guest book of a departed man I had never met, but Mildred was insistent. She WANTED me to be the next pastor of her former church, and Marie Lyons was on the search committee.

About two months later I became Marie’s pastor for the next fifteen years. She was a source of strength, gentle determination, wise counsel, a listener, and a respecter of everyone’s opinions no matter how opposite they might be from what she believed. She was African-American, in a town that was almost completely Caucasian. She never married, but took on  the responsibility of being the caregiver for her brother, Buddy, who had mental limitations and was also mute. She was a school teacher, loving her elementary students as they learned. 

Marie passed away this week at the age of 86. It is one of those deaths that causes you to weep and rejoice at the same time. A faithful follower of Christ, she looked forward to her march into glory. She did not fear death, but rather saw it as the transitional step into the presence and peace of the Lord. And yet, for her friends near and far, there is a rumbling cry in our spirits. She was so valued, and valued others so, that it hurts to know she has moved on to the place she looked forward to. Quite frankly, there just aren’t that many people around these days who have such strong character and are firmly anchored to the Rock that is Christ.

The last time I saw Marie was in 2015. I had traveled back to Mason to meet with my friend and financial advisor, David Leonard. While in Mason I met with our friend, Janet Smith, and Marie at an ice cream shop in Mason and we talked for about an hour. That was four years ago almost to the day. She was getting thinner as she was traveling through her early 80’s, but she still had that same kind voice that made you feel you were important.

  There are people who you’re around for a long time and they impact your life; and then there are those folk who you’re privileged to know for a season of life that leave their handprint upon you. Marie’s handprint has stayed with me for these past 20 years since we moved from Mason.

As the Mason community remembers and celebrated her life this coming week, I shed a sweetened tear. A saint has joined up with the saints. Like a Fodor’s travel guide, the words of scripture that Marie had memorized about what Glory is and how it looks are now being seen firsthand by this just-arrived friend of Jesus. 

The Finger Grasp

January 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            January 16, 2016

                                        

He reached down with the offering plate in one hand. I placed my tithe envelope with it, and he grasped one of my fingers with two of his own and gave me a squeeze.

I looked at his wrinkled smiling face, dotted with the blemishes and signs of aging, and smiled back. I stood up and we hugged, and he whispered in my ear, “Praying for you!”

“Thank you, Rex!”

The two of us had been through some journeys together. His only son had died in a motorcycle accident a few years go. The pain of losing a child had worn on him. Sometimes we have no compass to help us navigate the storms of life. Losing his son was a time of wandering for him as he wrestled with the question of “why?” A person of faith is not immune to periods of doubt and confusion. Each day was an unsteady step in an uncertain direction.

His questions about heaven began. What was it like? Does a person go directly to heaven after he dies? How can a person be assured that he will receive everlasting life? Will his son recognize him, and will he recognize his son?

He had known Jesus for a long, long time. The questions weren’t those of a new follower, or someone who was thinking of following Jesus. The questions were searchings to bring hope to the wounds of his soul.

He was more concerned about his children, grandchildren, and their spouses. Would he see them someday in glory?

And then the cancer surfaced!

When you’re ninety-five you expect to have ailments. They could with the addition of each decade. A splotch here on his forehead from a clumsy tumble; a darkened area on his arm resulting from multiple attempts to draw blood…old age reminders that youth has long since disappeared from view. The weight loss, however, had been the most concerning thing. The cancer treatments and drugs have taken so much of his energy, his will to live.

And so he grasps my finger to tell me of his support, of his love, and of his appreciation for our journey together.

I want to call time-out and tell him to sit for a while, but some of the congregants have meals cooking in crockpots at home, while others simply want to beat the Methodists to the restaurants.

He holds my finger for just a moment more before releasing and giving me a wink with his left eye, and then he strolls back down the cenetr aisle of the sanctuary.

I’m hoping that he is still awake when I recognize, and talk about him in the midst of my last Sunday sermon as his pastor. The weariness that he shows each day makes that unlikely…but I love him enough to awake him, walk back to where he is sitting, and give his finger a final grasp!

The Hardest Part of Ministry

May 11, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     May 11, 2015

                                     

Two weeks ago three of us from our church- my wife Carol, a woman named Kathy, and myself- went to check on a lady who hadn’t been at worship that morning…which was out of character. After finding the hidden key that Kathy knew about, we discovered her body in the house. Even though it was a difficult thing to discover, we were glad that we were the ones to discover her passing instead of her daughters.

The next Sunday afternoon we had a gathering in our sanctuary to celebrate her life. Eulogies and letters were read that honored her. The service was a mixture of laughter and tears. Death is a peculiar subject for Christians. Our faith is rooted in a death experience- the death of Jesus on the cross, and then the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The words “death”, “dead”, and “dying” are used over eight hundred times in the Bible. Death is unavoidable for each one of us, but it’s also unavoidable as you read the story of God’s people and Jesus’ followers.

And yet the hardest part of ministry is dealing with death. It’s as certain as birth, but difficult to rub elbows with. As a pastor I talk quite often about life after death, the promise of eternal life…that comes after death! We firmly believe in that promise, and yet struggle with the death part.

People say I do an exceptional job officiating at funerals, and yet I dread them with a passion. I prepare people for Glory, and yet I struggle with the releasing of the loved one. Almost all of the funerals I conduct I know the departed one deeply. I remember where they would sit each week in worship, their uniqueness, and stories that stay with me. The lady who just passed on to Glory made her own birthday cards for people, and they were always special and unique. I asked for a show of hands at her funeral of all those who had ever received a card from her. the show of hands were more numerous than the dandelions on the church’s front lawn. Those are the moments that are special.

The pastor, however, must lead the people in the journey of grief afterwards. Last week the Senior Bible Study I lead had it’s first gathering since the funeral. The dear departed woman was a part of the group. We studied the Word that morning, as we always do, but we also found comfort in being together in the midst of loss. Even as we sat in our tabled circle that day we journeyed together in our grief.

The pastor leads, but the pastor also struggles…with emotions, emptiness, adjusting to the change. The promise of Glory is a soothing embrace in the numbness of loss.

Dealing with death is the hardest part of ministry, and yet we convey the message of hope that is linked to it. Goodbyes are painful, but the certainty of their arrivals are comforting. My ministry had been blessed by preaching about eternity, and yet my ministry is burdened by the heaviness of death.

What a odd combination!

Does It Snow in Heaven…and Other Questions

April 27, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   April 27, 2015

                             

I’m sitting in my usual Monday morning Starbuck’s seat looking out at Pike’s Peak…except I can’t see Pike’s Peak this morning because it is an overcast day, and there are flakes of snow coming down. Let me write that again. There are snow flakes coming down!!! It’s April 27! I’m going to petition God that there should be no snowfall after April 15!

We’ve had so much snow this winter that I’m starting to wonder if the Lord finds pleasure in it. I know snowboarders do! I’ve got a guy at church who actually gets all giddy at the possibility of a blizzard because he loves getting the snowblower out.

It makes me wonder if it snows in heaven? I can’t use “at the higher altitudes” as a reason for whether it does or not.

It’s one of a number of questions that I never ask anyone around me out of fear of the looks I’ll receive. A lot of my questions actually dance through my mind in this Starbuck’s seat around the end of my first cup of dark roast. By then I am neatly dangerous!

Imagine a safety umbrella above my head as I ask the following brain drains.

-Why doesn’t Old Navy make men’s jeans in size 35? I’m dealing with waist discrimination! If I spend a month at the Golden Corral buffet bar I could easily solve it. Conspiracy theory! Old Navy and Golden Corral plotting together…especially targeting me!

    -Is there something I’m missing? Are sagging pants sexy? I just don’t get it! Of course, if I wear size 36 without a belt I could be sagging as well. Are sagging pants on a sixty year old man sexy or a sign of dementia? Just asking…while I still remember!

    -Why is my vertical leap now about two inches?

    -Why does high fiber cereal always have to look like rabbit droppings and taste like grass clippings? Is it to convince us that we are eating something that is healthy for us?

    -Why do I still listen to the flight attendant give the pre-flight instructions? I’ve heard it a hundred times. Is it my Southern Baptist growing up years rising to the surface and shoveling guilt into my thoughts…or is it in case I’ve missed something during the previous times I’ve heard it?

    -What are all the recent stories about various police officers shooting citizens, and other citizens rioting in protest telling us about our culture? This is not a slam on law enforcement, but rather a question that pertains to the rise of violence in our society. Video games…professional athletes beating up people…school shootings…crowded prisons…Two A.M. bar fights…will we ever be able to honestly admit that we have a problem…and will we ever, ever, ever be able to say that it is related to a diminished regard for life itself?

    -Why does hair grow in my ears like weeds gone crazy?

    -Why does the dog in the yard behind our house bark at all hours, and why can I hear it as clearly as a car alarm going off but his owners not seem to be able to?

    -Why does a middle school boys’ locker room rival an overflowing rollaway dumpster in odor? 

    -Why are so many Christians as excited about their faith as I am about eating whole hominy?

I have other questions that take journeys through my mind every day. Questions that, for the most part, have no answers, but rather remain as puzzles in my head like a boatload of Rubik’s Cubes.

I’ll stop here! I’ve got to get a refill!

The Smell of Eternity

September 23, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    September 23, 2014

                                        

One of my unanswered questions got answered today. I had been wondering what eternity smells like…like in heaven, that is! In today’s mail I got the answer. Of all places, it came in the middle of the Kohl’s ad. To my surprise a sniff sample with the title “ETERNITY” was included in the ad.

I slowly raised one of the flaps on the sample to experience eternity. Would it be close to the tantalizing smell rising from a bucket of fried chicken, or the aroma one’s nose breathes in when the fresh bag of ground coffee is opened?

What does eternity smell like?

I was a little taken back by the fact that the scent sample of Eternity was coming from Calvin Klein, and to further confuse my theology a beachfront picture of a woman laying on top of a man, who is kissing her forehead, splashed across the cover of the scent experience.

Calvin Klein had evidently done a lot of study and research on Eternity, because one lift up flap presented a masculine eternal smell, but the flap on the other side of the sample was the feminine version of what Eternity smells like. Neither, in my opinion, smelled as spiritual and persevering as my grandfather’s Old Spice did many years ago, but I’m biased.

I’m going to sneak out and go to Kohl’s tonight, but some Eternity, and see if Carol says, “Wow! You smell heavenly!”

If she wrinkles up her nose and says with a grimace, “What’s that smell?”, I’m going to talk to her about her eternal destination. Not recognizing the smell of Eternity is reason to question where she is in her ability to smell what is of God.

Of course, our sanctuary right now has a musty smell to it. Carol has noticed that. Perhaps if I canvas the neighbors I can collect some additional Eternity scent samples and string them up like fly strips around the worship area. Is it possible that people would start thinking about Eternity more if they smelled it every Sunday?

Obviously, Calvin Klein has some funds invested in this project. They even carefully worded the description of the product. It is “ETERNITY: timeless, intimate, romantic. The perfect scents for him and her inspired by the ideal of lasting love and intimacy.”

    There you know! I’m still a little skeptical, so for right now I’m going to just put the smell of eternity in my car. Perhaps it will help it last forever!

Speaking to Mom

September 7, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W                                               September 7, 2013

 

 

Most who are reading this know that my mom passed away on September 3. Her funeral was yesterday. After the service at Hall’s Funeral Home in Proctorville, Ohio, the family traveled about an hour and a half to Highland Memorial Gardens outside of Staffordsville, Kentucky for her graveside. I was asked to conduct the graveside service. Now, understand that I’ve conducted a lot of graveside services over the years, but this was different. This was for Mom, the one who changed my diapers and kept me in line. One doesn’t just read a scripture, recite a poem, and close in prayer at his mother’s cemetery plot. The following are my last words to Mom before her casket was lowered into the ground just to the foot of her parents’ graves, and also in the company of her sister Irene, and husband Milliard Vance, her brother Dewey Junior Helton (who I always thought  was actually named Junior…Uncle Junior!), and his wife Grethel, and Mom’s brother-in-law, Bernie Whitt. Her sister, Cynthia Whitt, age 91, is the last of the six children still living.

“Family plot” is an appropriate term for that section of the cemetery! And those of us who are still walking upright were gathered there with them.

Dear Mom,

    I know that you are in heaven now. As I thought about who you are- your personality, likes and dislikes- and who you have been, and I thought about where you are now, I started pondering what it is about heaven that impresses you…not that there is anything in heaven that is unimpressive!

     I know that you will be taken back by how immaculate everything is in Glory. Everything is perfectly placed. There is no hint of chaos. There isn’t a place in the whole expanse that “looks like a tornado hit it” (Your term used often to describe my bedroom!). 

      Everything is clean! Cleanliness is next to godliness…and now you know that it also describes the area next to God! The order of heaven has brought a smile to your face. If heaven has magazines they are neatly arranged. Good Housekeeping would figure prominently in the tidy mix.

      I know you will also be thrilled to discover that there is no death, mourning, crying, or pain there. The last few years have had their share of those things…from the passing of siblings and friends…to the pain of your illnesses. Dad and Rena often found that there was nothing they could do to comfort you, to make things so you would not hurt. They did not want you to be in pain, but there was a pained helplessness within them as they waited by your bedside. Heaven, as you have discovered, does not have a hospital ward…or doctor’s waiting rooms…or pills to take and health insurance forms to submit.

      In heaven I’m sure you are rejoicing with those who have gone before you. I know you’re experiencing a reunion of the saints. There’s been a separation that has now come back together. 

      Can you hear Aunt Rene’s laughter? 

      Do people still have Kentucky accents there, which, I know, Kentuckians have thought are pretty heavenly on this earth? 

       Is the aforementioned Uncle Junior still allowed to pinch the legs of unsuspecting little boys…like he would do to me while sitting in the swing together at Mamaw and Papaw Helton’s house? 

       Have you seen Papaw yet, and does he drink buttermilk in heaven? I always thought that buttermilk was disgusting, so I’m assuming he is having to go “buttermilk cold turkey” for the rest of eternity.

      And, Mom, you’re seeing the Lamb of God, Jesus, with the multitudes encircling him in praise and adoration of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Since I know you were always impressed with Easter Choir Cantatas, you must be standing there with your mouth wide open in awe of what you are now hearing and seeing. 

      We grieve your death, but we rejoice in your life, and now…new life. As the scripture says “…we live by faith, not by sight.”

      Because of our shared faith we know that someday we will be reunited with you, and for that we are thankful!