Death is unpredictable

Today was supposed to be a birthday celebration for my brother-in-law, Blue Sky Falconer, as he turned 42 years old.  Sadly because of cancer, he died one month ago.  It is hard to believe that he is gone.  And it is easy to question why this could happen.

So I turn to Job in the Bible, the one who struggles under immense suffering.  He questions God.  He firmly believes in God.  He knows that God is powerful and just.  But he is simply having a difficult time trusting God’s goodness and love toward him personally.

Ironically, even with all of Job’s questions, the fact is that God doesn’t answer one of them.  Instead, God asks Job a whole series of questions, which in turn cures Job of challenging God.

In my morning reading in The NKJV Daily Bible, these two questions in particular spoken by God to Job have been in my thoughts yesterday and today:

“Have the gates of death been revealed to you?  Or have you seen the doors of the shadow of death?” (Job 38:17)

Do you know the answer to those two questions.  I don’t.  I have no control over death.  I can’t even predict death.

This past weekend, my youngest son and I hiked the Middle Teton.  Interestingly, on the summit, we struck up a conversation with an Exum guide and another girl, possibly his wife, who came up the Northern route of the Middle.

middle

They had come from the summit of the Grand and where making their way over to summit the South Teton in order to complete a full traverse in one day.

I started telling them about the sad story I read in our local newspaper about the climber, Gary Falk, who died on the Grand last month.  Gary died at the age of 42.  My new friend up on the mountain top responded to me that Gary was his colleague.  Who would have predicted that July 23, 2016 would be Gary’s last day on earth?  I lifted up a prayer for his wife and kids.  Gary is remembered here on facebook.

As creatures, we cannot predict when the doors of death open.  But there is One who does know.  I don’t even begin to comprehend the number of days that each one of us has to live, but God does.  He encompasses both the beginning and the end of our lives here on earth.   He knows all about Sheol.  He transcends Hades.  So on the birthday of brother-in-law, I leave my questions with God, for I certainly cannot even begin to answer any of the questions that God would put forth to me.

 

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Sackcloth & ashes?

I have a young nephew named Ocean Falconer.  He has special needs.  He is an awesome boy.  Many call him, “the Big O”. At the age of 41 on Wednesday, July 27, 2016, his dad, Blue Sky Falconer, died of cancer.  Even though my nephew does not speak in full sentences, he understood completely what had happened.

Ocean1

(picture credit – Tom Wilson)

The day after his dad’s memorial service on Wednesday, August 3, Ocean sat down in the outside yard of his house, holding his daddy’s picture.  Tears trickled down his cheeks.

In such a moment, how would you have comforted my nephew?  Perhaps one could just sit down in the yard and shed a few tears, too.  In times of mourning, those tears are “liquid prayers” heard by the angels and God Himself on the throne.

In the West, we are rather subdued when it comes to our mourning.  As an introvert, I can actually be stone quiet.  But I am deeply struck by how some in the East mourn.  Where I would keep it in, they let it all out.

Those in the Bible responded to death or even to the verdict of death with sackcloth and ashes.

  1. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him.  And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven.  So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great” (Job 2:11b-13).
  2. When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city.  He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.  He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth.  And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:1-3).

I don’t know why we would think it so strange in the West to wail or to put on sackcloth and ashes when we mourn.

The closest thing to a Church in the West experience is once a year on Ash Wednesday placing a little ash mark on your forehead.

We know it is appropriate for the summer 2016 Olympians in Rio to weep or shout in the midst of triumph or defeat.  So I am telling you, it is definitely OK to wail, shout, and tear your clothes in the midst of death.

 

 

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Death, my friend?

How many of you have watched a movie where the main character is fully intertwined with a disturbing psychosis or a painful physical disability or disease?  How the movie unfolds will depend largely upon the philosophical choices about life and death believed by those producing the show.  You might see the main character fight for life.  Or you just might watch the character deliberately seek out a sympathizing organization and friends who will assist and hasten death.  Is death your friend or your enemy?

In the Star Wars saga, I believe that Yoda says something rather hollow, “Death is a natural part of life.  Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force.  Mourn them do not.  Miss them do not.  Attachment leads to jealousy.  The shadow of greed, that is.”  So would you invite Yoda to come speak to your family in a memorial service as you remember a loved one who has died?

On the other hand, let me look at this from another angle.  In the natural world, I do find some beauty in death.  There is a Japanese type of art labelled Wabi-sabi – where one “pursues beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature and embraces the natural cycles of growth, decay, and death.”

As an illustration, my youngest boy and I drove recently to the top of the Teton Pass, parked our car, and hiked to the top of Mt. Glory.  On this mountain, you will see that the marred, asymmetrical, twisted or dead trees are just as breathtaking in their structure and beauty as the properly proportioned living trees.

DSC_0379

And in observing humans, I would be bold enough to say that the wrinkled, blemished bodies of aged grandparents are more beautiful than the hottest bodies in Hollywood.  Physical perfection is so overrated in America, especially in the I-15 Corridor of the Intermountain West.  My young Idaho pastor friend, Christopher Leavell, who died last year of cancer, portrayed the art of Wabi-sabi so well in his photography and in his life.

But as I acknowledge this Japanese perspective, it is not to undermine what I believe about death itself.  Where Sherwin Nuland writes, “Death is not the enemy, disease is.”  I wholeheartedly disagree.   Death is not my friend.

Death is not natural.   And human death is even worse than the death of trees.  When I cut down a tree in my backyard, I might have ten new shoots spring up.  When a man or woman is cut off (dies), it is the end.  The person does not pop up again; there is a sad finality.

Some of the ancient biblical writers had nothing good to say about death.  One of the reasons they abhorred death is because they would be removed from giving testimony to the truth and glory of God among the people.

  • King David reasoned with God, “For in death there is no remembrance of You; in the grave who will give You thanks?” (Psalm 6:5).
  • “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You?  Will it declare Your truth?” (Psalm 30:9).
  • When King Hezekiah miraculously recovered from a terminal illness, he declared, “For Sheol cannot thank You, death cannot praise You; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your truth. The living, the living man, he shall praise You, as I do this day” (Isaiah 38:18).
  • The wise preacher in Ecclesiastes urges, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

So the question is do we fight for life because we hate death or do we resign ourselves to death because we think it is our friend?

I recently read a story in our local newspaper about a woman in California who threw a party with her friends before committing herself to an assisted suicide.  Then I compare this to my brother-in-law who fought terminal cancer all the way up to a few days before his death.

I will never forget the courage my brother-in-law displayed.  He climbed his home stairs like one in the death zone of Mt. Everest.  Every step took effort as his body craved oxygen.  He ate and drank with determination.  He fought for life.

I see this issue as black and white.  Jesus is life.  Sin, the devil, and the world’s lies are death.  Thank Jesus that He died so that we can shout victory in the face of our enemy called death.

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Stay tuned

There will be a pause, but stay tuned on a new format for brief devotionals.

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Idaho Falls worship – Chuck A Rama style

They feared the LORD, yet served their own gods” (II Kings 17:33).

In ancient times, people were double-minded.  In other words, on some of their days during the week, they prayed to the one true God; yet during other parts of the week, they followed after their own sinful desires.  Today in Idaho Falls, we have the same struggle.  Truly, you cannot follow after both God and drugs.  You can’t serve God and money, power, and sex.  God is not just another buffet item to pick and eat at your pleasure in Chuck A Rama.  All of our earthly gods might provide instant satisfaction now, but they bring hell later.  It is not worth gaining the whole world but losing your own soul.  Fear the LORD and Him alone.  This is the beginning of wisdom.  Know this truth.  Experience this.  The truth and beauty of Jesus infinitely eclipses the pseudo pleasures of all other gods in our city.

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The giftedness of the poor man

The poor man uses entreaties.  But the rich answers roughly” (Proverbs 18:23).

Sometimes a rich man thinks he can boss anybody and everybody around.  He needs to be taught lessons in “Communication 101” from the poor man.  King Herod should have made Jesus his teacher.  Let the skills of the humble, broken man be brought into the business boardrooms and political hallways of Idaho Falls.

roots by the river,

Todd Wood

 

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Marriage in the margins

Greetings to those in our river city,

I hope to regularly share a brief “Word for Today” on this blog as I read The NKJV Daily Bible.  Feel feel to comment, insert questions, or chime in with praise.  May you enjoy God’s Word with me.

Now Sheshan had no sons, only daughters, and Sheshan had an Egyptian servant whose name was Jarha.  Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant as wife, and she bore him Attai” (I Chronicles 2:34-35).

Two things to note:

  1. Sheshan let one of his daughters marry an Egyptian.  He looked beyond skin color.  His family welcomed every race.
  2. Sheshan let his daughter marry a servant.  Love transcends social-economic status.

This is characteristic of the family of God.

roots by the river,

Todd Wood

 

 

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