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Posts Tagged ‘death’

The world noted the passing of Stephen Hawking yesterday.  Hawking was a renowned physicist.  He was also a very outspoken atheist whose godless beliefs were routinely touted as the height of intellectual honesty concerning origins of the universe and the fairy tales some people believe.  I did not personally know the man.  And I do not know if there is anything that I could have done to help him.  But I do feel a degree of sadness at his passing.  You see as intelligent as he was and despite all his accolades, he was dead wrong about the most important things concerning life and death.  Even more sad is the fact that his position upon the pedestal of worldly acclaim meant that his theories about God, or the non-existence of God, were viewed by many with the weight of truth.  But they were dead wrong.

Like Mr. Hawking, my belief system is the result of my life experiences, the things I’ve read, my observations of life and assumptions I have made related to those things.  A huge factor in our belief system is our frame of reference or the paradigm we establish.  Our paradigm influences how we receive and process all the information that comes our way.  The scientific mind seeks to have a truly open mind, to be impartial in observation and interpretation of the results.  Unfortunately it’s not possible to completely divorce ourselves from our paradigms.  Our paradigms therefore create in us blind-spots where we cannot see correctly.  We all have blind-spots.  The solution to blind-spots is to be aware we have them and then constantly strive to see things from multiple perspectives.

For a reminder, everyone has a worldview.  It is simply the combination of thoughts and beliefs that make up how we understand and view the world.  This in turn sets up our paradigm about how we interpret everything.  I recognize this to be true in me and therefore I have chosen to compartmentalize the information that makes up my worldview into three buckets.

The largest bucket is my “Things I Think” bucket which contains a lot of things I am reasonably sure are true and accurate.  This is also the information that, while I am fairly confident is true, I give my confidence about a 75%.  These are things I might joke about and debate on, but I won’t argue over.

The second bucket is my “Things I Believe” bucket.  This is a good bit more serious because I live my life in accordance to my understanding of the Things I Believe and the third bucket.  I would be hard-pressed to give up these beliefs, however, I do not hold these so rigid that I would fight for them.  I would argue my point and not concede without strong evidence contrary to my belief.  I do leave a little wiggle room for new information to adjust my belief though.  The opening is narrow and the bar for new information to become a paradigm-changing truth is pretty high, but I know my beliefs are not complete.  God has routinely revealed subtle errors in me, or more accurately, fuller understanding of things to me, that cause me to realize there is so much more I don’t know than I do.

Then there is the third and smallest bucket which is the “Things I Know” bucket.  While this bucket is not large, it contains the things that define the core of who I am.  If the things I believe are the lens I view everything in the world, then the things I know are the indestructible frame that holds it all together.  These are the things which I will die believing, the things I will die for.  These are absolute truths and they are not open to correction because they are the established as true on multiple levels and been verified as absolute.  One of them is that there is a God Whom we will all stand before in judgement.  Mr. Hawking knows that now.  No matter how firmly he believed there was no God while he walked this earth, he has learned he was wrong.

Here are the three primary reasons I know Mr. Hawking was wrong.  The first is the evidence of intelligent design in the universe.  It surprises me greatly that anyone who closely studies the universe in all it’s complexity AND order doesn’t see the absolutely essential need for a intelligent designer behind the design.  The odds of the things that have had to occur in the creation of all that is happening by random chance are truly insurmountable.  They are literally impossible.  And yet from a paradigm that says there cannot be a God, an otherwise intelligent human being, argues for something that is mathematically impossible.

Second is a two-fold answer – the deep and historically accurate information from the bible and the person of Jesus.  We have a book compiled over the course of some 2000 years by over 3 dozen different authors that uniformly holds together as a testament to a God that is real, active, and seeking to be known by humankind.  There are many things identified in this book as future-looking prophecies that have been fulfilled that the uniqueness and veracity of the book are beyond reproach.  The prophecies about God’s messiah such as the virgin birth, the birth in Bethlehem, Herod’s murder of the innocent children around Bethlehem, Jesus crucifixion… the list goes on with dozens of old testament prophecies that were exactly fulfilled by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that are, again, mathematically impossible to have happened by chance.  Yet there is an absolutely clear historical record that shows that these impossibilities occurred.

There is so much to say about Jesus, but for the sake of hopefully debunking the late Mr. Hawking’s biggest error, I would point to the resurrection as the hinge point.  For persons who hold an atheistic, agnostic, or even a religious world view other than Christianity, there is one event that Christianity either rises or falls on and that is the resurrection.  If it didn’t happen then we are fools, our religion is a lie, and our hope is in vain.  It truly is that simple.

However, if the resurrection is a true historical event, then God is validated as the God revealed in the bible and the Christian faith is upheld as true.  Furthermore atheists, agnostics, and any religion that does not have Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world are wrong.  History, even recent history, is full of persons who have set out as committed atheists to disprove the resurrection and, after careful research, found the claims of Christianity and the veracity of the resurrection to be paradigm-shifting and life changing.  Two very good authors to research on this are Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel.

There is one, more personal reason I know Mr. Hawking is wrong.  It is because he denies the existence of a person he has never personally met.  He argues that a place doesn’t exist that he has never been (until now) nor ever researched.  The funny thing, he has to argue against people who have met God and people who have thoroughly researched (and a few who have been to and returned from) heaven.  I am one who has met God.  I have personally experienced a number of miracles in my life and the lives of people I know well.  Miracles that have no other explanation… a dream that sent me to the doctor to find and repair three blockages in my heart, nudges to pray for people out of the blue that turned out to be at exactly when an urgent need arose, healings of illnesses including cancer, divine peace in times of great difficulty.  I have literally a dozen or more verifiable instances of miracles that God brought about because His people prayed.  That is simply counting the ones I have been directly involved in.  Multiplying that by the millions of believers around the world who have stories of God’s direct intervention, and the body of evidence is overwhelming.

Yes, I am sad as I consider Mr. Hawking’s passing.  But it is not so much for him.  He had a lifetime to seek God, but he chose not to.  And God allowed him to chose an eternity of separation from all that is good.  God, Who is love, grants us the right to choose.  So my sadness is not really for Mr. Hawking, but for all the persons Mr. Hawking represents.  People who refuse to consider, “Is God real?”  People who fail to seek Him.  People who are gullible enough to be duped by the many half-truths, lies, and falsehoods that distract and lead away from knowledge of the One True God.

If you don’t know God, I suggest a couple simple steps.  Right where you are say this simple prayer.  “God, I don’t know if you are real or not.  But if you are, please reveal yourself to me.  Please show me who you are and what I am to do to get to know you.”  Pretty simple, right?  And thinking logically, there is nothing at risk if you do this and I am wrong and everything to gain if I am right.

That is the first thing.  The second thing is to get a bible, preferably a more recent translation like a New International Version or the New Living Translation and start reading in the gospels.  Actually you can get the free bible app, YouVersion, and read multiple translations.   I suggest beginning with John.  These are simple steps that, if God isn’t real you won’t be losing anything.  But if He is real (and I can assure you that He is, but you must realize that for yourself) He will open your mind to truth and lead you to people that will help you to know Him.

There are many things in life that being wrong about doesn’t really matter much.  This is not one of those things.  Not believing in God, not recognizing Jesus for Who the bible shows us He is, is not something you want to be wrong on.  It is appointed unto mankind to live one life and then die.  And after that to face judgement.  For those who have accepted Jesus sacrificial death on their behalf and submitted to His leadership, death is no longer the end, but rather the beginning of a larger life spent in the presence of God.

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It has been a hard week.  Last weekend a tragic car crash took the lives of four of my son’s friends – one a roommate, two other teammates with him on his college soccer team, the fourth a senior female tennis player who epitomized friendliness and zest for life.  I have watched and at times tried to help, but in the immediacy of the situation, words are of little comfort.  The past two days I have given my son space that he and I both needed.  He has been with friends comforting and being comforted.  I slipped up into the mountains and let the Lord minister to my soul.  I have four things I have had reinforced through this that I would like to share with you today.  I doubt any of these will be new to most of you, but they are foundational truths that will help us in the good times and the tough times.

The first truth the Lord spoke to me Wednesday night after attending two of the funerals.  Admittedly I was feeling sad for a different reason than you might suspect.  While I empathized with the parents to the extent that I could and I can relate with the students to a degree because of losses I have suffered, my sadness was that I had spent 12 hours “being there” for Sam and it didn’t seem like he needed me.  Even at the time I realized that my feelings were indicative of my own insecurity and, to a degree, selfishness.  I wanted to be needed.  As I sat there praying, I groaned, “Lord please help my son, please draw him close to you and comfort him.  And please help me to know what to do to help.”  And the Lord spoke to my spirit, “Who’s son is he?”  I was a little taken back by the firmness in the question, however I quickly realized my mistake.  As our children were growing up, we often prayed prayers of relinquishment over them.  We are given responsibility to train up our children, but we are only stewards for a short time.  They never cease to be God’s children.  And as they get older the relationship shifts such that we must… MUST… get out of God’s way.  He loves them more than we ever can.  Even our most faithful, most effective parenting falls short of our heavenly Father’s love for them.  I have to chuckle as I write this because there are times when prayers of relinquishment are easy… like when you have about pulled out every hair on your head and you are down to your last nerve…  But Sam and his friends were hurting and my desire was to wrap them in my arms and to take them to a safe and peaceful place… but that was NOT my role.  Needless to say, I prayed the prayer of relinquishment.  God is Sam’s heavenly Father.  I love Sam and I will be there for him, but he is God’s child and as such I can fully trust the Lord to provide for him.

The second truth is that we all have choices.  We gain wisdom from many different sources – our parents, teachers, coaches, pastors, friends.  It is vital that we take that wisdom and use it to make wise choices.  Our choices have consequences.  Good choices lead to more positive outcomes.  Poor choices, or not making a choice but just going with the flow, can lead to outcomes that are less desirable.  Professionally I am a Reliability Engineer.  One of the things that I have done a lot of is failure investigations.  In every significant failure there are a number of things that went wrong to result in the failure and negative outcome.  While we will never have absolute control over all the circumstances we find ourselves in, we do have an opportunity to make wise choices that reduce the risk of negative outcomes and increase the probability of good outcomes.

The third truth is relationships are paramount.  We can accumulate things, we can be successful in our professional life, we can even cultivate a good reputation, but the reason we are here is for the relationships we build and the lives we touch.  Jesus came to earth and became a man.  He lived a full live in his thirty years from infant to adulthood in relationship with others.  Living in meaningful relationship with others has certain key components, the chief among them is love.  Kyle, the roommate and best friend to one of the boys who passed away shared a brief vignette.  He described how passionate James was, not just about his sport, but about life.  One of the things James would do is he would always tell his friends, “I love you, man.”  And he would wait expectantly for his friend to acknowledge and respond.  It was a game of sorts, but at it’s heart was a young man who understood the importance of relationships.  Almost every Sunday James would take as many friends as he could back to his parent’s home to have Sunday dinner and hang out.  He knew the value of relationships.  And James’ investment in others has not gone in vain.  I got word of appreciation from James’ mother last night.  It seems this week was James’ younger brother’s birthday.  My son and some other boys went to their home and spent the day with Landon celebrating his birthday, making it memorable.  That’s what you do when you love, when you understand the value God puts on relationships.

Finally, the fourth truth is that this life is but a prelude.  This has been a theme that the Lord has hammered home for me for about seven years, but experiencing the end of the earthly life of four great young adults emphasizes anew the brevity of life.  Scripture tells us that this is not the end, but only the beginning.  Every one of us are created by God to exist forever.  The part of us that is spirit and soul will continue after our physical body has stopped working.  His desire is that we live with Him forever, but He has allowed us to make that choice.  Actually this point is a summation of all the previous points – real life is found in the perfect Father – God.  We all have choices with the most important choice being what are we going to do about Jesus.  And our relationship with Jesus followed by the myriad other relationships are the ultimate reason we are here.  Our relationships now give color and value to life on this side of the grave and, to a degree we can’t fully understand until we have crossed over, they impact life on the other side of the grave too.

The two young men whose funerals I attended this week had experienced salvation by trusting in Jesus earlier in their life.  Today they are experiencing REAL LIFE, a larger life than we can imagine.  As I hiked and experienced God’s refreshing over the past two days, I was repeatedly reminded that the best this life offers, – the most stunning sunrise, the most beautiful location we will ever see, the most touching moment of intimacy, the most exhilarating thrill we ever experience is but a foretaste of what God has in store for His children when they come home.

Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (47) Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (113) Pretty Place, Camp Greenville, SC, Oct 16, 2015 (129)

Thank you Father for the lives of James, Josh, Mills, and Sarah who my son and many others had the privilege of knowing and being friends with.  Bless and comfort their family and friends.  Please use their loss to touch many and to draw them closer to you.  Thank you for the manifestation of your great love in mercy and grace.  Amen.

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What is the first thing you do in the morning when you wake up?  It’s  probably not what most of you just thought of.  The answer I am looking for is what you do as you are going to do the thing you likely thought of.  You walk through an open door.

Now one of the reasons this didn’t come to mind is because we do it all the time.  I think it is safe to say we pass through dozens of doors every day.  My father raised my brothers and I to be courteous of others and to be gentlemen.  (Truth in reporting, any shortcoming in this area is not due to a lack of effort on Dad’s part, but stubbornness on mine or my brother’s side.)   What did sink in is that doors represent an opportunity.  If I am walking with a group, I will quicken my pace as we approach a door so I can hold it open for others.  In particular, Dad taught me to hold a door open for ladies and children.  What to do for other men was never really clear in my mind…  As I ponder it a moment I have to chuckle as I think of the number of awkward moments as I would approach a door at the same time as another guy and we would both wave the other through.  As we would stand there pedestrian traffic would back up waiting for us to decide.  Many times we would decide to walk through at the same time and then it really got interesting as we now weren’t sure what to do.

A door is simply the access point from one area to another that a person can pass through.  In our home we have doors into the bedrooms.  As I slip out earlier than my wife on most mornings I ensure that the door is closed to minimize the noise that would disturb her sleep and to let the grandsons know not to go inside just yet.  One of the things we liked about our home before we bought it was the welcoming front door.  It is attractive and inviting.  However it also has a deadbolt and is sturdily built.  For friends and visitors our door is opening and welcoming.  But for intruders and persons of ill-intent the door is a barrier.

I can think of many other doors I’ve seen and passed through in my life.  For some of those there is a lot of emotion tied to them – job interviews, the doors of the church as I headed in to await my new bride at the altar, classroom doors at school for the first time, the office door of an unhappy boss, the door of a new shop, emergency room doors.  There are other doors I have not passed through and, for some I hope I never have to – the doors of a courtroom where I am a party to the litigation, into a jail cell, a police station, the door at a home for an employee who has been injured or worse on my watch.

Scott was my best friend in high school.  We did all the things best friends do; we argued some, we played a lot, we had each other’s back all the time, and we grew from boys to young men together.  My job out of college took me several states away and Scott and I didn’t get to connect as often, but when we did it was always great to catch up.  It’s funny, I remember reading Scott’s last letter a number of times… the handwriting was the same, his sense of humor still showed through, and my heart was warmed by the friendship we still shared even though we were hundreds of miles apart.  Shortly after Scott’s 40th birthday my wife called me at work. She had just gotten word that Scott had died in his sleep the night before.  I can honestly say that was one of the hardest blows I have ever suffered.  Scott knew about my faith and he had said he was happy for me, but we had not really taken the time to grow in our faith together.  I still miss my friend, but it is not a sense of gone forever since I am confident that we shared a faith in God and in the completed work of Jesus.

Two and a half weeks ago, I found out on Facebook that Scott’s mom, Liz, was very ill and in her final days.  My heart went out to her husband and her family.  Obviously I prayed for them and their comfort.  I also prayed for the easing of Liz’s pain.  But I also could not suppress a sense of joy as I prayed for Liz.  I can still picture her as the beautiful, young mother who always had a smile even as she foiled another one of Scott’s and my schemes.  I can hear the sweet southern lilt in her voice as she said, “Now boys you know that you’re not supposed to…”  As I prayed for Liz in the days leading up to her passing the recurring picture I had was of Liz approaching a large door.  I could feel the mixture of emotions as she was sad to be leaving her beloved husband, children, and grandchildren, but I could feel the excited anticipation of seeing Her Lord face to face and being reunited with her son, Scott.

I attended Liz’s funeral a week ago.  To me it was a perfect blend of sad farewell, celebration of a life well-lived, and the joy of graduation to something greater.  The memory of it lingers with me.

Additionally the picture of the Final Door remains.  They say that death is one of the two certainties in life.  It is inescapable.  For each one of us we will face that Final Door.  Do you know what is beyond that final door for you?  Do you have an understanding based upon first hand knowledge of someone who has been there and come back?  There is One who is an authority.  The bible says Jesus conquered death and the grave.  Over 500 people saw Him physically returned after He was crucified.  Many of these followers died martyr’s deaths refusing to give up on the truth of having seen Jesus alive after His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.  His promise is life, eternal life, to all who would put their trust in Him.

I encourage you in the privacy of your own home, in your secret place to look into what I am telling you.  Pick up a bible and read what it says.  Begin in the gospels.  Ask God to show you truth.  Comment back to me if you would like to start a conversation.  God wants to enter into a relationship with you and He wants to give you a surety about what you will see on the other side of that Final Door.  Today, right now is a good time to nail that down.

If you already know Jesus and to you the Final Door is simply the passage to your final home, then rejoice with me in the grace God has given us tell someone today about the hope you have within you.

Take care and have a most blessed day.

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