The instant Esther died God saw as the instant she began to LIVE with him. For death completed her purpose on earth. God created her to find eternal life in Christ and in Jesus she found it II Corinthians 5:1-5.
That’s the challenge facing everyone: will death complete, or disrupt our purpose in life? Will it be the day we’ve been waiting for OR the day we’ve desperately tried to avoid?
An 18 year-old college student went swimming in the ocean off Luzon, Philippine Islands. A shark bite left him near death. His final words were, “This is the day I’ve been waiting for.” We can understand Winston Churchill saying that when rising to Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1939 when 65. His entire life had prepared him for that moment.
But no...that was simply Churchill’s career-day, not his life-purpose day. The 18 year old boy lying on the beach bleeding to death had reached his life-purpose day. He had lived for Jesus to his 18th year and would see GOD that very day and forever after.
However young or old we are at death, have we prepared for our Life-purpose day?
Point of interest, then...instead of mourning our loss of Esther, let’s instead rejoice in her gain. For what would we leave our family as our last bequest? Weep for me, for I’m gone? Or, don’t weep for me, let not even one tear fall. What you dream of I can see, and friends, it’s worth it all.
I trust...do not get buried in the losses family survivors have experienced. Focus instead on the gain each deceased member inherited: each one I know a baptized, forgiven, faithful disciple carried by angels into the presence of Jesus who enveloped them in his joyous embrace.
And if we think faith in Christ is too hard to express at this time—is it easier to drown in sorrow than hope in God? Shall we seek to assuage our grief with MORE grief or lessen it with much MORE hope?
Hope. Confidence. Assurance: the message God gave John on Patmos. The same message he gives us. Don’t see what IS now; see instead what is to BE!
When everything vanishes, and only Jesus remains, we’ll be eternally glad we had prepared to meet him. When everything vanishes, and only Jesus remains, we’ll never be glad again if we haven’t! Fini
Christians will experience the impact of afflictions, despair and grief common to mankind, but God will never desert us to their power. In the world we’ll have trouble, Jesus warned in John 16:33, a reality we can’t avoid. Trouble we can manage, or sometimes can’t. Trouble that’s minor, or catastrophic. Trouble we soon forget, or leaves us scarred for life. Inevitable, indiscriminate, never-at-an-opportune time tribulation—at which Jesus snaps his fingers in scorn since he faced and overcame it all!
Jesus...the ONE in our corner when circumstances have backed us there; who sees us through when others say we’re through; who stands BY us when we’re weak since he stood UP FOR us when we were sinners. Jesus...whose bodily resurrection transformed death from finality to introduction and declares death the opening, not the closing, act of life.
An Oceana man died in 2004. Conversant in multiple languages, he had eventful careers in teaching, business and real estate. Yet, when his son sat at the death bed weeping, the man could say only, “Don’t be sad, son. Eighty-three years are enough.” Then there was a Christian man who died at 95, but they hardly began for him, let alone proved enough. A man lived in the wilderness of Wheeler Mountain, Vermont. When he suffered a heart attack, paramedics came and wheeled him from house to ambulance. Before being hoisted inside he begged for one last, long look upward at what he was leaving.
Yes, the way of the world...looking back at what’s GOING. While the Christian looks forward to what’s COMING! Billy Graham pondered his coming death. And said, when you hear that Billy Graham has died, don’t you believe it. In the instant I take my last breath, I’ll be more alive than I’ve ever been. End Part IV
Never doubt: God’s word still predicts doom for all who oppose him. And never doubt: he guarantees victory for all who love Christ’s appearing. It sometimes seems that serving God costs more than we can pay. He seems to take little notice of his people, whatever their problems. He allows the unconverted lavish displays of success and wealth.
Indeed...sometimes...only FAITH in God’s goodness keeps his people stalwart in discipleship. But IT DOES! Speaking from personal experience: when in prayer I declare faith in God, regardless, whatever circumstances may be, my fears subside and my peace of mind grows.
Christians still trust God’s word when life seems harsh and unfair; when our life grows more complex and mysterious. For there we still read: God is our refuge and strength. And underneath are his everlasting arms. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God.
God’s word continually reinforces our spiritual lives, even as we’re hard pressed on every side, for we aren’t crushed; we’re perplexed, but not in despair; we’re persecuted, but not abandoned; we’re struck down, but not destroyed II Corinthians 4:8-9.
God’s Presence unfailingly lowers our fears as it raises our expectations. And unfailingly charges us to take courage when opposed or hurt, to advance when attacked and to persevere when all seems lost, God doesn’t care and we don’t matter. End Part III
God sent his Revelation to the apostle to shine light where life went dark; to give freedom where life oppressed; to give hope where life ceased. He wrote to a besieged church with a celebratory message needed by them and appropriate to our celebration service for sister Esther Wallace.
God filled the Revelation scroll with strict injunctions against compromise, surrender, defeatism or self-pity. It also shattered gloom with unmistakable assurance: Christians wouldn’t be untouched or unhurt, but God would make them unafraid!
The scroll also issued blistering epitaphs of doom against the besieging power: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!...Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself.” While denouncing the enemy, God promised unconditional guarantees of rebirth for all trusting his Son. “Rejoice saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you....” Thus, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns!” And “the Kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever.”
Thus...God’s defiant, mocking words taunting the power belaboring and massacring Christians while exercising no power at all over them. God’s defiant mocking words spoken three centuries before barbarians sacked Rome’s treasures and estates. Amen. End, Part II
(This blog, taken from a funeral message based on Revelation 7, 11, 12 and 19, was preached Saturday, 7 September, 2019 for Christian sister Esther Wallace.)
Trouble doesn’t have to be national or international to hurt, cause pain or inflict sorrow and distress. Most trouble begins individually before it affects families and societies.
The women of the Nolasco family have experienced a high mortality rate. Of six daughters born to Serafin and Ulpiana, three have died of cancer, two are present cancer survivors—one of them the victim of a devastating stroke. Only the youngest daughter remains free of cancer at this time. Their two brothers are both healthy seniors.
(Judy and I chuckled mournfully when a family member told her that a staff member at Glen Abbey Mortuary said she looked familiar. She should be, the family member replied, since she’s been at Glen Abbey too many times in the last several years.)
What will happen next, and to whom? We cannot say. We can say that the family’s experience with cancer and death somewhat parallels the trouble afflicting the church near the end of the first century. And we can offer to the family the same hope and assurance God gave John the Apostle in Revelation.
A point of history. The Revelation of John the Apostle, came from God about AD 95, a year before bloody Emperor Domitian died, and several since he had smashed a mailed fist into Christian assemblies empire-wide. He encouraged his cities to stage spectacles of persecution of Christians: crucified in arenas; tarred and lighted into torches in the Colosseum; sewn in animal skins and flung before ravenous beasts as spectators applauded and shrieked in delight.
Everywhere in the Empire: Christians victimized, brutalized, helpless, anathematized with Rome triumphant. End Part I
Of several more, let’s learn two valuable lessons from David’s return from exile.
One, each person is responsible for his behavior. Absalom’s own nature accounted for his wickedness. David’s lenience had served his son’s worse instincts, but it didn’t make him evil Absalom’s handsome face and body ballooned his vanity, but didn’t cause his vanity. Praise bloated his ego, but didn’t create his ego.
No, the little man he was spiritually turned every whisper of admiration into a shout of adoration. He turned a violin solo played in his honor into a violin orchestra worshipping him. He simply swelled when praised, not grew.
Because he had nurtured a life full of sail, with too little ballast, always in danger of turning turtle. Like Richard the Lion, his life seemed a magnificent parade, but left only an empty plain when he passed.
Absalom learned to love himself by practicing self-importance. He learned the science of pleasure without accepting the art of accountability. He never understood that privilege without responsibility invariably invited disaster.
Now, we understand that God’s love loves even the unworthy person. And while we criticize David’s blind affection for Absalom, what parent wouldn’t appreciate it? Parents don’t stop loving their children when they don’t live right.
Christians can certainly understand. We disappoint God; sin against God; momentarily lose faith in God; and sometimes disgrace the very Faith of the One who loved us and gave himself for us. Would we want him to stop loving us, no matter how bad we are?
Two, and let us learn from David’s mistake. Never take on yourself someone else’s guilt. Remember the earlier point in this blog that Absalom alone decided the kind of person he would be. And he alone bore the penalty for his decisions. But until Joab’s rebuke awakened the king’s conscience, he blamed himself for Absalom’s decisions.
Scripture everywhere makes guilt personal, not corporate. Ezekiel 18:3ff, 33:12-16, II Corinthians 5:10 are a few of such passages.
In other words, no shared blame exists in guilt. God expects each person to rise above his environment and his temptations to make righteous decisions. Or, failing to, seek forgiveness of his sins. We can’t have someone else bear our guilt, confess our guilt or be forgiven our guilt. The opposite is also true. No virtue one possesses can be shared by another. God’s Grace suffices to save all repentant sinners one by one. No grace exists to save them in tandem! No one will be saved by another person’s merit when each is saved by Grace alone! Fini
B. David at His Best
He had been every inch and ounce the king once he discarded his rose-colored glasses when seeing Absalom.
He inspired followers to act on his behalf in critical situations. He kept the loyalty of his army. He recruited supplies for the civilians with him and resources for his military. He put his army under officers capable of leading them.
And, once knowing he was safe, and confident of his Power as God’s Regent, he reviewed his victorious troops. Then, returning to his throne, on his way to Jerusalem he reconciled bitterly divided loyalties within the tribes; settled a land dispute; forgave his personal enemies, represented by wicked Shimei; acted with haste in hunting down Sheba’s abortive insurrection; rewarded those who had remained faithful during his troubles.
And, not forgetting the overlooked victims of the royal power struggle, he expressed mercy, not revenge, to the ten concubines Absalom had violated. He dedicated a house for their occupancy, a guard for their security and life-long provisions for their daily sustenance.
How do you think a victorious Absalom would have responded? Indeed, at his best, Absalom was worse than David at his worst! End Part III – Lessons to be learned in Part IV
When Joab heard David’s response, he first turned every kind of purple. Then, in giant strides angrily left the people, stomped up the stairs three at a time (author’s freedom) and, uninvited, charged into the king’s presence.
As the teary-eyed monarch glanced his direction, Joab unloaded a scathing tongue-lashing. David had humiliated his own men—the very ones who had saved his life and throne. He hated his friends and loved his enemies. He would have been happy if everyone else had died if only Absalom would have survived.
The outburst from the grimy, just back-from-the-front warrior shocked the king out of his self-pity. Which, by the way, he needed. Only Joab could have had made such an impression.
Particularly since he reinforced it with an ominous warning: if David didn’t go downstairs right then and greet his men, Joab would take them away by nightfall...and even David couldn’t calculate the baleful results.
No one had ever talked so roughly to the king; and no one needed it more than he right then! It suddenly jarred him from personal problems to national responsibilities. He rose, washed his face and, chastened, walked downstairs, through his troops to the gateway: smiling, shaking hands, expressing appreciation. And when news circulated that a waiting line had formed before the king, jubilation returned to all! End Part II
Parisians flocked to the heart of Paris Monday, 26 August, 2019. Many rode WWII tanks, jeeps, trucks and armored vehicles. Women wore WWII dresses; men WWII uniforms. They celebrated the 75th anniversary of French and Allied armies returning to Paris 26 August, 1944. They followed the route General Leclerc and his French command marched as they made their way into the City of Light. San Diego U-T, 8/25/19, 8/26/19
This blog celebrates David’s return from exile after evacuating Jerusalem, then fighting a life and death battle with Absalom’s rebel army. Consider how God’s sovereignty used Joab to save David when he appeared at his worst, so he could return to being at his best.
A. At His Worst
First, he commanded his generals to “be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake,” The most irrational of all war-time orders.
Be gentle with the enemy, the usurper, the traitor, the megalomaniac? Issued to the very soldiers he sent to defend his reign from that man? David forgot the axiom of war that General Patton embodied: the greatest purpose in battle wasn’t to die for your country but to make the other guy die for his.
Second, David’s response to VICTORY. He learned that Absalom was dead, his army dispersed, David’s men victorious everywhere—and God’s Kingdom had survived! He should have immediately hastened to the city gate; stood with festive civilians as every troop unit approached in parade formation; smiled ear to ear; and saluted each detachment as it paraded before him.
But no...David instead cowered in his upper room, inconsolably grieving, eyes swimming, his hands shaking and wringing themselves...all because Absalom was dead. Yes, grief for the very man who plotted against God’s anointed leader; who would have executed the king had he not fled the city. The king wailed over that unworthy man’s death. End Part I
We can learn a lot from this text, but I’ll mention but two lessons.
One, giftedness must be united with character to have a positive influence. Both Absalom and Ahithophel seemed to offer much, but as political opportunists gave only trouble. Let the lives of these infamous, clever men warn us. Clever can be dangerous.
Second, the kind of men who defended David’s crown modeled the kind of believer in Christ many senior citizens ARE—though overlooked and undervalued by the church’s youth culture. In every church with senior citizens God has in place the kind of people the youth culture can never be, IF ONLY because they haven’t had the time and experience with God to mature in discipleship.
Hurrah! for mature Christians of every age group. They may be long-dry from the baptistery, but remain flexible in discipleship, seeking new challenges and embracing them when they find. They can “leave it all” by remaining certain they retain “all that matters.” They admit to sometimes losing a spiritual battle but never to being defeated. They try, and fail, but never fail to try again, repeatedly.
They pray confidently for answers to prayer, but never make an appointment with disappointment when they don’t come. They consider unanswered prayer God’s expression of trust in them: they don’t need it to feel secure in faith. Indeed, as C.S. Lewis wrote, the Christian faith is never more secure in a Christian’s life than when it seems God doesn’t care, but the disciple still lives as if he does—because GOD SAYS he does. While exceptions occur, usually only people with convictions, commitments and assurances bolstered by years of experience have such robust faith—something younger Christians are too inexperienced to master.
Skeptic and critic Will Durant sat in his Chicago hotel room when he heard a church’s carillon ringing an old Christian hymn. The old infidel found himself bursting out with, “Oh, God, how beautiful.” He later wrote, it would be easy to believe in God when the music played. Then the bells stopped tolling, and back into his skepticism Durant sank.
The mature disciple of Christ will go through troubles, sorrows and losses WITH faith: when the music plays; and WITH faith when it stops. But their life experiences will never let them recede into doubt and despair when it stops! Mature Christians make one more decision that younger Christians often can’t. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress falling into the Slough of Despond—both believers and unbelievers get discouraged, the mature believer will always PRAY, “Lord, when I experience what I must, not what I please. PLEASE...when it’s past, let me be closer to you than before, not farther from you; let me love Jesus more than ever, not less.” Fini