Autumn and the Beauty of Death for the Christian

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(Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash)

I am a pastor in New England, and let me tell you–there is a reason people come from all over the country to see the Fall foliage. Here in New England, we call them “leaf peepers.” During peak leaf season, our sleepy tourist town of 5,000 goes into traffic-jam mode on the weekends. And with good reason. In our part of Vermont, we are surrounded by the Green Mountains on either side of the large valley we live in. When Fall really hits, there are a couple of weeks when the Green Mountains become the Orange, Red, and Gold Mountains.

We are currently easing into leaf season. There are bright bursts of brilliant crimson and orange on certain trees, but there is still plenty of green foliage that will have the chlorophyll leaving soon. Many leaves, however, are already floating to the ground. When a leaf falls to the ground, it is dead. The beauty of Fall foliage is death.

The Beauty of Christian Death
As I have watched the breathtaking hues begin to appear this Fall, I keep thinking about the fact that sometimes death is beautiful. In fact, for those who belong to Jesus, for those who are “in Christ,” death is always beautiful. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). If the LORD calls the death of those he has saved “precious in his sight,” then it is beautiful.

I am a pastor. I am not naively saying that the death of those who are in Christ is without sorrow, or always happens painlessly in our sleep. Just this week I visited a member in a hospice home, suffering under the ravages of Alzheimer’s. I have sat and cried with spouses and children moments after their loved one has departed this earth, sometimes after a terrible battle with death. I have visited church members in the hospital who are in excruciating pain days before their death. Accidents happen to saints and sinners alike. Cancer can visit us all. The Apostle Paul calls death the “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

No, I am not talking about Christian death being beautiful because it is somehow less physically painful or less final on this side of eternity than non-Christian death. I am talking about Christian death being beautiful because the gospel gives us God’s perspective on even our final enemy, death.

Going Home–The Joy of Jesus’ Presence
Last night in Prayer Meeting we sang, “When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation, and take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.” Great gospel truths like this one from “How Great Thou Art” can become white noise to us if we don’t stop and think about the wonder of death being the door through which we are usually “taken home.” In 2 Corinthians 5:8 Paul reminds us of the joy of Jesus’ presence that awaits us by exclaiming, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Death for the Christian is beautiful because it brings us to the place we were made for. We are only pilgrims now. We will finally be home with the Lord either when Jesus returns, or on the day that we die. This is why there is beauty in Christian death.

But there’s more. Four verses earlier in 2 Corinthians 5 we are told why the day of our death is the day of our greatest joy: “…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:4). We think that we are really living life here and that one day we will die, but one reason that the death of the LORD’s saints is precious in his sight is because he knows that our death day is the day that we pass from mortality to life. The beauty in Christian death is that it is when we begin to really live, with the One we were made to live with, our Savior–not to mention saved family and friends who will meet us there. In Jesus, it is not death to die. This is why King David can sing, “in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). It’s like arriving home to the family you love after a long trip–only a billion times better.

The Beauty of Fall and The Hope of Resurrection
Every time that I officiate a Memorial Service for a believer in Jesus, I feed my soul on 1 Corinthians 15 in the days leading up to the service. We need to weep as Jesus wept. We need to feel that death is so final on this side of eternity. But we need to remember that for the Christian, their death day was the most beautiful day they ever experienced.

And there is coming a day when Jesus will reveal that beauty to all of us. For on the day that he returns, the resurrection body given to each believer will be imperishable, glorious, and powerful (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)! “We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

The beauty in Christian death is hard to see sometimes. Winter can be long and bleak. After the leaves fall, our trees will be barren here for over 6 months.

But lift your heads, brothers and sisters, because Spring follows Winter. It may be Fall now, but Spring time–and Resurrection Morning–is coming.

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Only God Can Write a Story that Starts Out Perfect and Ends Better

Note from Pastor Tim: for privacy reasons, the names have been changed.

Words of Comfort from God’s Word at a Memorial Service in our Community

This afternoon, as I have the opportunity to bring you a message of hope from God’s Word, I want us to think about the basic message of the entire Bible in less than 10 minutes as we look at 4 movements in the Bible, just like a symphony has different parts or movements. Immediately as humans when we are faced with a tragedy like this, when it is forced on us that someone who we saw at the park a few days ago took his own life 2 days later, we want answers. I have heard many try to figure out answers over the last few days. What we do know though is that we will never have a final answer, except to accept that this is a choice that Sam made, and to not take responsibility ourselves. The immediate thought is, “If I had only known ______________.  Or if I had only done __________________.”

But the Bible gives answers for how things like this can happen. The Bible, as a message from God, faces reality. It does not gloss over the fact that we live in a broken world.

But this brokenness is not how it all began. The Bible begins with God, and God making a perfect creation. God created man and woman, and He created Adam and Eve in His own image. God set humankind apart because He simply spoke when He created everything else…but when He created man and woman, God touched them. He formed them with His own hands out of dust and the Bible says in Genesis that God breathed into them to give them their breath. This means that humans are different than any other part of God’s creation. We are made in God’s image. This means that every one of us in this room, whether elderly or disabled or healthy or in our 20s or in our 70s has meaning and a purpose in life. And that purpose, that identity is given to you by God Himself when you come to know God as your Savior through Jesus Christ.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The 1st movement in the Bible is Creation, and when God finished His work of creation He looked at it and said that it was, “Very good.”

The 2nd movement in the Bible is the Fall, and this is where sin and evil and suffering and brokenness enters God’s perfect creation. When Satan came to tempt Adam and Eve they had a choice to either obey God and to be His representatives on earth as they were made in His image, or to try to be King themselves and do things their own way. This rebellion against their Creator is when separation from God and suffering first began to happen, and it is the reason that we live in a world in which there is so much pain and hurt and tears.

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible explains how they no longer had a close relationship with a holy God and death even entered the world. Their own son Cain even killed his own brother Abel, and Adam now had to work hard to put food on the table and Eve now had pain in childbirth. Creation began to unravel. The rest of the Bible, from the moment of the Fall or sin entering the world in Genesis 3 to Matthew chapter 1 when Jesus comes on the scene, is a picture of what happens when people try to be King rather than letting God be King.

Then we have the 3rd movement of the Bible. First we saw Creation, then the Fall which answers why there is so much pain in the world today, then the 3rd movement is the Cross. Mark 1:1 explains it like this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Do you know what “gospel” means? It is good news! It is not just any good news, it is an announcement of something that has been done for you.

Religion tells you that you have to do “x” “y” and “z” to be able to work your way back to God, but the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—tells you that Jesus has already done “x” “y” and “z” for you. The diagnosis for you and I is worse than we ever imagined. We are more wicked and evil than we ever imagined, but the good news is that we are more loved and important than we ever imagined. Jesus came to give us life, to give us forgiveness, to bring us to God. So Jesus lived for 33 years exactly like you would expect a man who is also fully God to live—healing, loving, caring for and teaching those who were the most rejected by the rest of society like the lepers and the sick as we read in the Gospels—doing miracles because He was fully God and the wind and the waves knew His voice. And then Jesus died on a cross to pay the punishment for your sins, the punishment you could never pay, and then He rose from the dead, to show that the price for your sins had been paid in full—and so that all who trust in Him alone for their salvation can become children of God.

Jesus brings us back to God! Jesus explained how He came to reverse the work of the devil in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” You see, we saw the Fall earlier. Satan comes to destroy, but Jesus comes to give life!

But it doesn’t end there. This is where the 4th movement of the Bible comes in, the New Creation. The Bible started out in a Garden, and at the end of the Bible there is a Garden in the capital city of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. Only God can write a story that starts out perfect and ends better.

Here is God’s promise for all who will trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, and accept that the good news of the gospel is that the work has already been done by Jesus: we just have to accept salvation and confess that we have sinned, and that we want Jesus to be our King and Savior, and ask Him to save us and help us to follow Him.

Here is what God promises for all who will do that, in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will be with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Do you notice how at the beginning of the Bible humans were made to be with God, but then sin separated us from God, Jesus came to bring us back to God, and then in the end we can be with God if we have trusted in Jesus?

God goes on in Revelation 21: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  God will make everything sad come untrue.

Today, we wipe away our tears with Kleenex, but on that day God Himself will wipe our tears away. Will you be there? Have you asked Jesus to save you? It’s ok to shed those tears now. When Jesus was faced with his friend Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept even though He would raise him from the dead just a few minutes later.

One of the things that I will miss most about Sam is seeing him at the park. My family loves going to the Manchester Rec Park and in fact that is the last time that I saw Sam just over a week ago—we waved and smiled at each other. About 1 year ago, I was with my 2 youngest who loved seeing “Mr. Keene” at the park, and Sam stopped me and said, “Pastor Tim—I need to show you some things on my phone. Why do I keep seeing crosses everywhere?” And he showed me picture after picture of shadows of a cross that he would see in nature or somewhere. I told Sam that day what I beg you to believe today so that you can be part of this New Creation that God will create for those who believe in Jesus, “Sam, the cross reminds us of God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 explains, “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”

Do you know God’s love? God wants to comfort you today, but you need to come to Him and trust in Jesus only.

Why We Actively Support a Local “Crisis Pregnancy Center”

Each Spring since my family and I arrived in Bellingham for me to be the Pastor of Family Ministries at Immanuel Bible Church, we have joyfully participated in the Whatcom County Pregnancy Center Walk for Life. There are many reasons to share about why we do this, but let me explain a few:

1) God cares about every life.   “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb…Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) Every time that God talks about the unborn or children in the Bible, it is positive. God is actively and personally involved in the unborn’s life—and the LORD calls them babies even before they are born (Luke 1:43-44, Jer. 1:5, Job 31:15, Is. 44:2, Job 10:8-12).

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The 2013 Walk for Life–with a few friends from our church!

2) Doing the Walk for Life is good for my kids. Our children are too young to understand abortion, but when we go to the Walk for Life and explain that we are there to help mommies be able to help their babies live, they understand that it is important. They also understand that our faith should not just be something we talk about, but something we try to act on as much as we can. We pray together before and after for the babies and their parents, and that they would find the hope of Jesus.

3) My kids being present at the Walk for Life is good for others. Whether they are people on the street that see us walking, or the single elderly man in our church who comes out to support the WCPC every year, having kids present at the Walk for Life is a reminder of why we are doing it. These are kids who were not aborted. There are children who should be in our community who are not because of abortion. In fact, the equivalent of this year’s graduating classes at both Bellingham High School and Sehome High School are surgically aborted every year just in our county—415 who would have graduated in the year 2033.

My wife Melanie and I actively support the work of WCPC because we care about what God cares about. After almost a decade serving in Youth and Family Ministry, we have known teenagers who lived with the regret of abortion and needed to understand God’s grace, and others who needed to understand God’s truth and grace as they were pregnant and needing encouragement to have their baby. The WCPC is a place where teens and women in our community that we would never have contact with on our own can go and hear both truth and grace.

Roe v. Wade happened six years before I was born. As Christians, we cannot let abortion become “white noise” to us simply because it has “always” been there. It is always the time to stand together for life. If a woman hears the Gospel for the first time in her moment of crisis and also decides to not abort because we raised pledges and arrived before 9am on a Saturday with our children in tow, then praise God! What a small sacrifice for a life and eternity-changing ministry.

As citizens of only four countries in the world that allow abortion for any reason after viability (North Korea, China, Canada and the U.S.), and as Christians, we must do something. In addition to the Walk for Life, Melanie has helped with a Baby Shower that our church hosted, attended the WCPC Annual Dinner, and I recently brought our High School Ministry to pray in front of Planned Parenthood and then pray in front of WCPC after a Bible study on what God thinks about the unborn. At this stage in our lives, we can’t personally be there to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the women and men who come into those doors scared and looking for answers. But we can support those who are the hands and feet of Christ there on a daily basis! And sometimes that is as simple as going for a walk.

*This article will appear in the WCPC April 2015 Newsletter.

Jesus Wept with Gospel Hope

The last ten days have found me thinking about mourning more than I ever have. Just last week a dear young wife and mother in our church family, the fathers of two different church members, and a young jungle pastor many in our church know all passed from this earth into Glory.  The grief was palpable in our church last Sunday, even as we worshiped and rejoiced.  There were many tears and there will be tears in the weeks to come.

Jesus’ words in front of Lazarus’ tomb, found in John 11, are one way to describe why we are sorrowful yet rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).  I often turn to John 11 when I think about death, partly because of Jesus’ riveting proclamation: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)

Rather than comforting words, you could see Jesus’ words to Martha as a riddle, spoken in her time of grief.  Why would he talk in what seems like a paradox?  What does he mean in one breath that those believers who die yet live, but in the next breath that those who believe will never die?  Wasn’t Lazarus already in the tomb?

Jesus so often amazes me.  We should expect to be amazed by God in the flesh, but sometimes we are surprised by His words of life.  Only One who can call Himself “Resurrection” and “Life” can talk this way.

Jesus lovingly acknowledged the fact that people–like Lazarus–die.  There is a finality felt by those who lose a loved one.  While we know that our believing friends and relatives who have died are experiencing nothing but gain (Phil. 1:21), we know that we are experiencing loss.  Do you hear His words?  “Whoever believes in me, though he die…”  Christians die.  And Jesus wept as He stood in front of that tomb with Lazarus’ grieving friends and relatives.  Jesus didn’t tell them to stop the funeral and have a celebration of life service; He entered into their suffering.

We cry.  Jesus cried.  But oh, how we love and cling to Jesus’ next words:  “…yet shall he live…”  Christians never die.  This is the “gospel paradox.”  Death is real, yet eternal life is oh so real.  Christians die, yet Christians never die.  Jesus said both truths in the same sentence.

It’s ok to call it a funeral (Ecc. 7:2).  It’s ok to say that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).  It is Christ-like to weep (Jn 11:35).

Raising_of_Lazarus.

But our weeping is temporary, just as Jesus’ weeping was.  Because we know that for those who are in Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  We know that for the Christian, what is mortal is “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).  We know that the same Lord who wept is the same Lord who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).  And we know that the same Lord who commanded Lazarus to come forth from the dead will joyfully command the dead in Christ to rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).  It is true–praise God that it is true–that because of Jesus, “it is not death to die.”

A Wonderful Tension: The Importance of Fathers and the Supremacy of Christ

As I think about Father’s Day approaching, I can easily think of areas in my parenting that I need refocus in.  Voddie Baucham Jr. helped me put my fatherhood in perspective this morning:

The role of men in their families is so important that God picture21honored it by conferring upon us his own title, Father.  We’re the governors and guides of our families, and the way we lead has far-reaching implications…I’ve watched families crumble under the weight of paternal neglect…I’ve watched households transform quickly as fathers take the helm and begin to lead and disciple their wives and children.  I’ve seen marriages healed as husbands begin to take seriously their duty to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

The role of fathers in the family can hardly be overstated.  However, the supremacy of Christ is our fuel, our goal, and our comfort in this great duty.  Because of the power of the gospel and the past and present work of Christ, we can have strength to lead our families today, the vision for where we need to be leading our families, and the reality of forgiveness and help for where we have failed and when we will fail.  I need Jesus.  My family needs Jesus.  Baucham continues:

…The family is not the gospel; nor is the family as important as the gospel.  The family is a delivery mechanism for the gospel.

In Ephesians 5 and 6 the role of fathers loving their wives and discipling their children, the responsibility of wives to submit to their husbands, and the duties of parents to their children are all couched in terms that are unmistakable in their gospel-centeredness.  This is all about “Christ and the church” (5:32)…

…In the end, I want you to see Jesus.  I want you to see him in a way that drives you to pursue him personally and to keep him before your wife and children in a way that causes them to seek him as well.  In short, I want you to shepherd your family in the direction of the Good Shepherd.
(From Family Shepherds, pp. 11-14)

In Memory of Our Family Friend Leona

I had the privilege of preaching the Memorial Service message for our dear family friend Leona. I’m posting the message here in an effort to honor Leona
and give glory to the Lord.
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Memorial Service Message for Leona
This is the Day Which the Lord Hath Made:  Rejoicing & Gospel Hope
June 8, 2013

The first time I met Leona, I was two days old at St. Joseph Hospital here in Bellingham.  Leona and her husband Al were good friends and ministry partners with my Grandparents, Cordell and Virginia Baker.  There was never really a time in my life, especially growing up, that I did not know Leona, because I would see her every time that I visited my Grandparents whether in Bellingham, Toelle (Utah), or Walla Walla.

My family and I were richly blessed by Leona in more ways than I can share today.  The impact that Al and Leona had on my Grandparents’ ministry alone is impossible to calculate.  Al and Leona moved from Bellingham to Utah to support my Grandparents in home missions.  After Al passed away Leona stayed in Utah for a decade, living in a condo under my Grandparents’ condo for many of those years, until my Grandparents moved to Walla Walla.

She was such a good friend to them that she followed them to Walla Walla and lived there for years before later returning to Bellingham.  My Grandma called Leona her best friend.  Only the Lord knows the ministry encouragement, the people saved, and the spiritual fruit in people’s lives that happened because of her direct ministry to other people as well as her ministry to my Grandparents.

There are six specific traits that I personally remember about Leona as I think back over all of those years:

She was a hard worker.
She was a life-long nurse.
She had more energy than almost anyone I have ever met.
She was never late.
She had a contagious grin.
She had a strong faith and trust in the Lord Jesus.

There are probably very few in this room that don’t remember her smile and nod and her characteristic phrase after any plans were made, “Lord willing.”

That’s why it was no surprise to me to learn from her son Craig and daughter-in-law Judi that Leona’s favorite verse, printed on the front of your bulletin, was Psalm 118:24,
“This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

For Leona, life was meant to be lived with joy and trust in Christ.  Even in times of sorrow, the Apostle Paul’s phrase in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” seemed to be a mantra for Leona.

Craig and Judi shared a special time that they spent with her earlier this year.  She was having an especially hard day and the effects of Alzheimer’s were making it hard to say any words at all.  Yet, Leona suddenly declared, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”  It came out of her soul, an expression of praise to her God even as she went through the deepest trial of her life.

The best way that we can honor Leona today and also give glory to the God that she praised is by agreeing with Leona and the Psalmist, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

But the kind of rejoicing that Leona expressed and that the Psalmist is talking about is not some sort of vague rejoicing or hope that is grounded on shifting sand.  Rather, it is what the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God.  And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

This is why her son Craig put the words on the front of the bulletin, “Born September 26, 1925 … Graduated to Heaven April 13, 2013.”  Leona knew without a doubt that Jesus had died for her and risen again, and lived in a way that showed her belief.  She could say no matter what was happening, “This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” because of the rock solid hope of the Gospel.

She knew and believed, and wanted others to know and believe, what is printed in the bulletin you hold in your hands, that “all have sinned” and that we need a Savior.  We cannot save ourselves.  The Bible says in Romans 6:23 that sin results in eternal death.

We need to repent of our sins, trusting only in Christ’s complete sacrifice on the cross.  The only way that we can have the kind of rock solid hope that Leona knew is by putting our faith in Christ alone for salvation.  Romans 10:9 says, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”

That is why we can grieve–because we miss Leona–but we can grieve as those who do have hope.  The family’s prayer is that each person would leave even this Memorial Service today trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, believing that He died on the cross for your sins and rose again.  That is why we as Christians would put “This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it” on the front of a Memorial Service bulletin.

Leona believed years ago what Romans 8:38-39 declares, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, [I would remind us—nor Alzheimer’s], nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Leona loved Christ so much and so looked forward to Heaven that she told my Mom years ago that she wanted her to play the song, “Ship Ahoy” on the piano at her Memorial and that she wanted Wes to sing it.  That love for Christ was in response to a God who loved her and saved her and held onto her.

There’s a truth in this song that Leona chose, that we need to make sure we hear.  Being saved from her sins by Christ Jesus her Savior when she was 30 years old in 1955, the same day as her husband Al, changed her and she wanted others to know and experience this salvation in Christ too.  Listen to these words that she wanted us to hear today:

The good Captain commanded a boat to be low’red,
And with tender compassion He took me on board;
And I’m happy today, all my sins washed away
In the blood of my Savior, and now I can say:
“Bless the Lord! Bless the Lord!”
From my soul I can say: “Bless the Lord!”

O soul, sinking down ’neath sin’s merciless wave,
The strong arm of our Captain is mighty to save;
Then trust Him today, no longer delay,
Board the old ship of Zion, and shout on your way:
“Jesus saves! Jesus saves!”
Shout and sing on your way: “Jesus saves!”

When I think of Leona, I think of a life well lived.  She loved her husband Al for over 43 years, she raised 3 children—Craig, Ross, and Lynn—and she loved her grandchildren dearly and would glow when talking about them.

I remember playing basketball with Leona’s grandson Michael while he visited her for the Summer, and her granddaughters Holly and Heather are both missionaries.  Leona loved serving others and that is evident in her family.  We all remember Leona as a nurse, passionately caring for others and trying to help them heal for over 50 years.

The Lord sometimes placed Leona in just the right place at the right time.  Once she performed mouth to mouth resuscitation on her daughter Lynn from South Lake Whatcom all the way to the Sedro Wooley hospital and saved her life.  Another time she saw a young child chocking in a grocery store with a hysterical mom that did not know what to do.  Leona quickly performed the Heimlich Maneuver and saved the child’s life.

Even after retiring as a nurse in her 70s I remember being amazed but not surprised when I heard that Leona was volunteering at a hospital in Walla Walla.  Some of her caregivers at Christian Health Care Center in Lynden were people that she had trained.  She loved to serve others and that flowed out of the love that she had for the Lord.

Everyone who knew Leona well knew that she was always early.  I remember walking past her car and seeing a suitcase in the back.  When I asked her where she was going, she replied, “Oh, I’m going to visit Bellingham in 10 days.”  I’ve never met anyone who was so early all the time.  If my family was inviting her over to a special Sunday afternoon dinner like Easter and my Mom wanted her to arrive at 1:00, she would tell her that dinner was at 2:00 because we all knew that if you told Leona 2:00 she would arrive at 1:00.

But, Leona was right on time early in the morning on April 13th when the Lord said, “Leona” and she knew His voice as she closed her eyes and stepped into glory.  She experienced at that moment and is experiencing now what she had believed for so many years, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  In Christ, death is swallowed up in victory!

This is why we say even through tears today, “This is the day that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.”

What Does the Resurrection Have to Do With Ministry?

picture 18I have a friend in Juarez, Mexico who is a native Mexican pastor of a small, poor church in the outskirts of the city.  He and his beautiful family have gone where most would fear to live and have planted a thriving church that loves the Lord and that loves to share the Gospel.  I had the privilege of visiting him often when I lived in Albuquerque, and there was one verse that we would often remind each other of as an encouragement when ministry was hard.  First Corinthians 15:58 declares, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”  Even now I can hear him responding, “Amen!  Amen!”

There is a great truth that drives Josue and all of us as we seek to serve the Lord day in and day out.  It is the simple but earth-shaking truth of the Gospel.  One of the first principles of Bible study when you read a verse that says, “therefore…” is to see what the “therefore” is there for.  In 1 Corinthians 15:58, Paul has just finished an extensive chapter all about the resurrection.  He begins by reminding us “…of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you…” (1 Cor. 15:1-2)  This includes the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, but also His burial, resurrection, and appearances before His ascension which proved and confirmed that He was truly risen from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3-8).  Later the apostle defends the bodily resurrection of believers, based on the fact that Christ has risen.  He points out that if we don’t have the hope of the resurrection, then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Cor. 15:17), and that there is no real hope in Christ if we only have hope in this life (1 Cor. 15:18-19).  Then Paul brings us back to this glorious, life-changing reality:  “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead…” (1 Cor. 15:20)!

Because Christ has been raised from the dead, we are to live our lives in light of eternity (1 Cor. 15:32-34), knowing that we serve a risen King who has all authority in Heaven and on earth.  Because Christ has risen, we have the sure hope of the glory of Heaven (1 Cor. 15:42-49) and the confidence that in Christ even “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  The truth of the Gospel–that in Christ my sins are forgiven and I am reconciled to God–and the reality of the resurrection, are all the motivation we need to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord!  What does the resurrection have to do with ministry?  Everything.