How many funerals have you been to that ended with a standing ovation? I went to one. It was for my neighbor Dale. He had fought and eventually lost a long battle with cancer. But his life had borne great fruit, touching many people. Dale was a man who loved God and served him humbly as a deacon in his church. I was struck by how everyone who spoke at his funeral talked about Dale in the present tense, as though he hadn’t passed away.
It wasn’t just a case of feeling his lingering influence; rather, most of those gathered believed Dale was still alive. In fact, the pastor who preached the sermon remarked how much he disliked hearing anyone described as “dead.” People die, of course, but the pastor reminded us that death is an event, not a destination. It’s the point at which we make the transition into another life—one that will last forever. The applause at the end of the funeral for this former college football player, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and deacon was given in honor of a life well lived and as a celebration of the life Dale is enjoying right now, face-to-face with the God he loves.
One of my neighbors had the privilege of witnessing the moment of Dale’s passing. His large extended family had gathered in his living room. She watched as they all were drawn to the bed the moment Dale died. Then they knelt down and began to sing. She told me it was the most beautiful thing she had ever witnessed—to see this family’s reaction as their father and grandfather passed into heaven.
I won’t see Dale for a while, unless, of course, my time on earth is shorter than I imagine. But when I do see him, I hope God will welcome me into his peace with the same words I believe he has spoken to Dale: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
I love history. My favorite trips have been to places where there is a profound connection to ancient history, like Israel or Greece. Similarly, I love to read biographies of people like Teddy Roosevelt or Winston Churchill because of what their stories reveal about the past.
But don’t count on me when it comes to solving math problems. That’s just not my thing, which is why I can relate to Pastor Jim Cymbala’s self-described struggles.
“I took geometry,” he says, “during my sophomore year in high school, and for the life of me, no matter what that teacher said, I couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t know an isosceles triangle from a bagel with cream cheese. None of it made sense. Then about two months into the semester, the teacher got sick and a new teacher replaced him. Under her tutelage, suddenly, the light went on for me. For the first time, I understood triangles, angles, and parabolas. (Well, maybe not the parabolas.) I had to give credit for my newfound understanding to the new teacher. It was the way she explained things that helped me understand geometry.”
Cymbala goes on to say we need the best possible Teacher when it comes to reading Scripture and applying it to our lives. This means that whatever our bent, whether we love reading this ancient book or not, we all need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who makes Scripture come to life so we can understand and apply it.
As Paul says, Scripture “corrects us when we are wrong,” which is another way of saying it brings us to a place where we can experience more of God’s peace (1 Timothy 3:16).
The next time you meet with an investment counselor, don’t be surprised if you are handed a photo of how you will look twenty or thirty years hence. In the category of “What will they think of next?” Hal Ersner-Hershfield and a team of researchers at Northwestern University conducted a study to see whether people would save more money if they could imagine how they would look in the future. They hypothesized that most of us don’t save enough for retirement because we don’t empathize strongly enough with our future selves. We know we are going to get old, but we can’t seem to make an emotional connection with our future selves.
To remedy that, they utilized off-the-shelf software aimed at video game developers and employed an age-progression algorithm to alter photos of people participating in the study. The result? According to the study, participants who came face-to-face with their future selves were willing to set aside more than twice as much money for retirement as those who only saw their current selves.1
Of course, Jesus was no stranger to the idea of investing in the future. At one point he even offered his listeners a fail-safe investment plan—one that is neither vulnerable to scamming nor subject to market turmoil. According to him, when we share our resources with the needy, we will have treasure in heaven—riches that can never be stolen or destroyed. Faith, not the latest software, is what will help us envision our future lives. As you ask God for greater faith, act on the faith you do have by giving generously to the poor.
- Benjamin Carlson, “Facing the Future,” The Daily, March 14, 2011.
If someone asked you to name your number one worry, what would you say? Like many parents, I would have to confess that my top worry and the target of many of my prayers is my children. I realize that my aspirations for them far outpace my ability to help them. There are some things a parent just can’t do, no matter how well-intentioned he may be.
A story in the Gospels is instructive, pointing out a way to deal with worry, whether it’s worry about our children or about others we care for. You probably remember the four men who lowered a paralyzed man into Jesus’ presence so the man could be healed. Fern Nichols, founder and president of Moms in Prayer International, points out that intercessors are a lot like those four men who were bold enough to climb onto another man’s roof, dig a hole through it, and then lower the paralyzed man into Christ’s presence:
“Many of our children are paralyzed by sin, and the weight of that reality is too much for a parent to bear by herself. We become weary when we don’t see any change, when we don’t spy even a glimpse of an answer to prayer. Imagine a mom pulling one corner of a mat, as she slowly drags her two-hundred-pound football player of a son to Jesus. But then another mom comes alongside and picks up a corner. The prayers of the second mom spark faith. Then another mom and another come alongside, each gathering up a corner. Hope returns, as she hears the believing prayers of the other moms.”
Fern knows just how effective a group of praying believers can be. We may not be able to save a single soul or perform a miracle in answer to our worries about loved ones. But we can do something vital, linking arms in prayer as we bring those we love into the presence of the only one capable of keeping them safe and giving them peace.