The Making of a Man: Your Obituary

What will be written about you when you die?

Even though I am heavily involved in the use of electronic devices, the internet, and social media, I still like to read the newspaper.  In yesterday’s edition of our local paper, two articles caught my attention.  One was the obituary of a decorated veteran who served in World War II and the Korean Conflict. As I read about his military accomplishments and grit to overcome being severely wounded in combat, my heart swelled with patriotic pride!  And then near the end of this long obituary was this sentence, “He was a member of __________________ Church.”

From there, I turned to the Sports section and read the lengthy article concerning the passing of the legendary basketball coach, Dean Smith. I remember watching him coach the Tar Heels all the way back to the days of Charlie Scott, Mitch Kupchak, Phil Ford, George Karl, Bob McAdoo, and Tommy LeGarde and the famous “Four-Corners Offense.”  There is no doubt that Coach Smith was one of the best to ever coach basketball.  As I read on into the article, I came upon some information that really grieved my heart.  His life was also given to support vocally and financially some causes that are not biblical, even though he was a member of a Baptist church.

As I look in the mirror today, I know that one day, if Christ does not return before, I will die and an obituary will be written about me.  I have blemishes in my life.  How thankful I am for 1 John 1:7-9 that reminds me, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I need the power of the Gospel every day; I am a man in desperate need of grace each day.   But today, I must be living with the finish line in mind, the Bema (2 Corinthians 5:10), and the resolve of Paul who said, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

What will be written in your obituary?  The purpose of this whole post today is wrapped up in the words of missionary statesmen, C.T. Studd:

“Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgment seat;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Heavenly Sunshine!

Two years ago today at 6:30 p.m. my mother took her last earthly breath and entered into the celestial presence of her Savior and Lord!  My heart rejoices as she, my dad, my daughter and many, many other loved ones dwell in the land of heavenly, eternal sunshine!

Mom began playing the piano at the age of six.  She listened to the radio broadcast of the Old Fashioned Revival Hour and learned the style of pianist Rudy Atwood.  As a result, she played with the same gusto and passion as her unseen teacher on the radio until the last time she struck a chord in November 2012.  Many, many Sundays, Dad would open their church services with the chorus, “Heavenly Sunshine.” I can hear it now. Here’s a link of the OFRH Choir and Rudy Atwood playing the piano.   Great memories.  Great parents.  To God be the glory!!

Heavenly Sunshine

Genuine Freedom

My dad had many sayings throughout his lifetime that were oft repeated.  His word-picture definition of freedom was, “I have the freedom to walk down the street and swing my arms all I want, but if I happen to hit someone, my freedom ends where his nose begins.”  Everyone wants freedom.  Toddlers want to be free to whine and cry when then don’t get their way.  Grade-schoolers want their freedom to play rather than complete their school work.  Teens long for the day they will be out from under their parent’s authority, and in their minds, to be free at last!

Truth is, freedom comes by death—death to self.  We think freedom comes when we get our own way.  That is never the case.  A toddler, a grade-schooler, a teen or anyone enjoys freedom when they die to self and come under authority placed over them.

Philippians 2:6-11 describes the ultimate, supreme display of freedom produced by death when Jesus Christ, under His Father’s authority, died for the sins of all men to ransom them for absolute, true freedom.

Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (HCS)

Christ left the glories of Heaven to take on the form of man, live a sinless life, respond perfectly to all the sinful acts of man against Him, and then be obedient to God the Father by dying the worst of deaths which included bearing our sins and enduring the forsaking of His Father.  Christ did all this for every man to have the opportunity to be truly, genuinely set free.  He died that we might live.

Today, I am enjoying freedom in the United States of America due to the thousands who have given their lives.  I am enjoying freedom due to all those who set self aside to serve for a greater cause.  For all who have or are currently serving in our military, you have died to self to maintain or give us our freedom.  From my heart, I gladly and with utmost appreciation say, “Thank you!”  And, what thrills my patriotic heart so much is to say, “Thanks, Dad, for you years in the Army, in Japan and Korea, and for serving in the Korean War.  Also, a special thanks to my father-in-law who likewise served in the Army.  Two heroes.”

Being that I have been a born again child of God since the age of five, I understand true freedom because Truth has set me free from sin, death and hell.

John 8:31-36 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?”Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

Romans 3:23-25  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed.

Therefore, I am most grateful for Christ’s death on the cross.  But His life was not left on the battlefield of sin.  He went into the tomb of death, conquered its grisly hold, led captivity captive and came out victorious!   Now He lives to set men from free from sin, death and hell.  “Thank You, Jesus, for dying so that we could be made eternally free!”

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.  For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.  (Romans 5:6-11)

For freedom to be maintained in America, soldiers must continue to die to self and life.  Christ died once.  It is finished (John 19:30).  He now lives forever, never to die again, to give every man who receives Him genuine, eternal freedom.

Three-Hundred-Million Years From Now

Monday, I began reading a book entitled One Thing You Can’t Do in Heaven by Mark Cahill.  The introduction contains a compelling question:  “Three-hundred-million years from now, what will be the only thing that will matter?”  Before you read on, please consider this question and give an answer.  (I’m waiting to type any further while you formulate your answer . . . . . . .)
The author goes on to say, “Will it matter what kind of car you drove?  Will it matter who won the NCAA football and basketball titles this year?  Will it matter who you took to the homecoming dance?
Cahill gives his answer in the next paragraph.  “Three-hundred-million years from now, the only thing that will matter is who is in heaven and who is in hell. And if that is the only thing that will matter then, that should be one of the greatest concerns now.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:11, The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. If is of the utmost importance for Jesus to reach the lost, shouldn’t it be a major priority for you?”
What was your answer?
The author goes on to say, “The real question then is:  What are you doing of significance today that will matter three-hundred-million years from now?”
As I was typing this, I received a phone call from a dear man that attended our church a long time ago. We have kept up with him here and there. His life had recently spiraled out of control due to alcohol and drugs. The call was this dear man sharing the good news that he had just trusted in Christ as his personal Lord and Savior!  Three-hundred-million years from now, this dear brother will be in Heaven as will the man who cared for his soul!

Romans 10:9-15  That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.  For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.  For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

Wow!!

Recently, I have posted about the Home-going of pastor friend, Tom Craig, from Oak Ridge, TN.  One of his faithful church members and a former college classmate of mine, Brad Zockoll, has written some excellent posts on his own blog, zockollthoughts, that are a must share.  Today, here’s a post that is a true illustration of Psalm116:15, and as for me, eclipses some of the recent books that have been written.  Thanks, Brad, for sharing your heart and being intimate with all of us about something so precious, yet teaching us so much about the precious side of a believer’s death.

I had a conversation with Kim Craig, Tom’s wife, about the last days of our dear pastor’s life.  She had mentioned that he saw some wonderful things, and I received her permission to write about it and share it with you:

It was the last week of Tom’s life.   He would be gone by Wednesday evening.

The hospital room was quiet.  Tom, alone with his wife Kim, lay quietly gazing at the ceiling, fighting the pain and weakness brought on by the crush of pancreatic cancer.

1dHe was tired.  His energy was gone.  But he was alert… and Kim noticed that his eyes were fixed on a scene…

Tom stared at the ceiling, looking intently at something.

Kim, seated on the bed beside him, stroked his hair, “What is it, Tom? What do you see?”

His voice was weak but audible.  “Angels.”

Kim leaned closer.  Her heart skipped a beat.  “Angels?”

He nodded his head. Yes.

“How many of them are there?”

Tom moved his lips quietly as he lifted his two hands, counting his fingers softly.  He turned and gave a definitive answer:  “Twelve.”

Kim leaned in closer.  “What do they look like?” “Do they look like female angels?”

Tom, unable to talk freely, shook his head no.

“Are they male angels?”

He clearly nodded his head yes, then lay back exhausted, but enthusiastic.  Kim realized his fatigue, but was struck by his determination in what he was witnessing. No doubt about it; Tom knew he was seeing angels.

He lay quiet for a time, perking up upon greeting numerous friends and family as they stopped by, occasionally attempting to converse, but growing frustrated that he did not have the energy to utter more than a few words at a time.  However, he didn’t give up; three words he was able communicate: “I love you.”

Later on, Kim and daughter Allie told me, he grew excited and animated.  When they leaned in to hear, he exclaimed that he saw something new.  Something almost indescribable.  He saw colors.  New colors.   Incredible hues and shades. Colors not realized on this earth.  Possibly the colors of heaven?  Tom was adamant that they were unseen by him before.  Kim and the family pondered this.

He spent his last day with family around him, quietly adding a word here and there as he was able.  But then he’d stop and look at the ceiling.  His eyes were open, gazing above the group.  It was a different kind of look, as if … well, as if he were listening for something.  It became apparent that he was indeed hearing something, and he let them know through gesturing that this was something different …

“Do you hear … music?” Kim asked, drawing near as he nodded his head yes.

“What kind of music, Tom?”

“Beautiful,” he whispered.

“Are you familiar with it?  Do you recognize the song?” Kim asked quietly.

“No,” he replied.

“You’ve never heard it before? Is it a new song?”

“Yes,” he replied firmly.

And then another visit by the angels…

Tom saw the angels, as family members stood about him.  “How many do you see, Tom?”  He was weaker but he was determined to let them know.  Once again he counted with his fingers, One, two, three…

Five, he told them.

This got us all to considering what was occurring to Tom, aligning this with a Biblical account of Heavenly messengers.  When Jesus related the story of Lazarus, He made mention that when the beggar died, he was carried into glory by angels.  Think of it.

Stop and ponder this truth.  It was Tom’s time to have his load carried for him.

Pastor Tom had indeed been carrying a lot of burdens in his ministry, numerous responsibilities that would test the strength of any pastor.  His compassion loaded him with the responsibility of seeing folks who were in physical need.  His desire to show Jesus charged him with preparing messages saturated with Biblical truth.  His oversight of the church weighed on him the financial responsibility of the assembly.  His outreach vision added the burden of making sure missionaries were being supplied with their necessities.  Visiting, counseling, leading, speaking, praying, exhorting … being available 24 hours a day.

Tom carried a load.

Now it was time for the angels to carry him to the Father.

“It was so precious,” said Kim.  “The way he described it, well… I wanted to go myself!”

Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants…

I used to get puzzled about that Psalm.   I mean, death is precious?

Yes, it is to the one who is heading to the Heavenly Reception.  The Portals of Real Life.  The Grand Celebration with the Author of Life.

The family told me that, one of the last words they heard escape from his lips was “Wow.”

I get the feeling that’s what we’ll all be saying as the angels come down to escort us to the Heavenly realm.

Wow.

—Written October 11, 2014

A Broken Down Shuttered House

Recently while visiting with a dear saint of God, I listened as she reminisced about her old home place and said, “The last time I was there, the house was run down and the grass had grown up around it.  Why, it didn’t even look like it used to.  Even the church I attended is not as pretty as it used to be, and they only have one or two services a month.”  As I sat there looking at what age and the curse of sin had done to this dear lady, pinching its wrinkles in her face, causing her to use a walker for stability, and making her wish for times of fellowship at church and in town with her friends, this passage of Scripture  came to my mind.

For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, 3 if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-8)

While listening, I could not help but notice the twinkle in her eye accompanied by the precious smile etched on her face as she recounted days gone by.  Within moments, she said, “So many people are unhappy these days.  Me? I’m happy.  I’m content.  I’m ready to go Home whenever the Lord is ready to call me.”  It did my heart good to listen to the lilt in her voice and to see her God-prepared confidence that someday soon she would exchange the old broken down shuttered house for a glorified habitation not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

The Life and Death of a Vapor

While eating dinner yesterday in celebration of a dear lady’s 89th birthday, the server came to clear off our table.  The “birthday girl” was still working on her plate, and she said to the server, “I’ll be finished in a moment.”  With that I said, “Take your time.  You’ve waited 89 years for this!”  That sounds like a long time.

Yesterday evening, my wife and I attended a memorial service for a man found dead in his apartment at the age of 38.  The words spoken by his father during the service were, “My son lived 78 years in those 38 because he got all he could out of life!”

Interesting, that in the same day, my wife and I would celebrate a birth and then later on sit through a memorial service; life and death.

The truth is, no matter if you truly live to be 89 or try to squeeze 78 years into 38, time is fleeting and life is but a vapor.  James 4:14 reminds us, For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

A gentleman who spoke at the memorial service is a well-known artist in Kentucky and pastor.  In his message, he said, “I used to make good money painting, but that is not my goal anymore.  It is telling others about the brevity of life and the gospel.”

So the question comes, what will you do with your “vapor”?  What are you doing right now with your “vapor”?   James goes on to give us the answer to those questions, Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that. But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (4:15-16).  The Lord wills that you be born again, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).  God wills that you have a true view of Him and His Son, for only when you do are you really ready to live! God is in total control of your vapor.  He started it, and He knows when it will end.  Life is a vapor, but only God can give substance to what is so fleeting (John 10:10, 28-30).

Tom & Roger

March 18, 2007, I stood on the parcel of ground where Oak Ridge Baptist Church is now located.  There, Pastor Tom Craig, Pastor Gary Ledbetter and myself gathered in prayer for the future construction of their church building.  As we joined our expectant hearts together before the Throne of Grace, we asked God to do a mighty work for His glory.  God answered our prayers as well as the prayers of a host of others. Not only was the building constructed, but greater still, lives were and continue to be transformed and built for God’s glory.  Tom was sure that would happen.  He discipled, loved, cared, and ministered the Word of God with grace and balance.

Interesting enough, that March 18th morning, another individual who impacted Gary’s and my life through his music, Roger Bennett, passed into the presence of the Lord after a long bout with leukemia.  The connection with Roger and his ministry team, Legacy Five, was the primary purpose for Gary and I being in Oak Ridge that weekend.  I remember walking into the Hampton Inn to meet Gary and his family on that Friday afternoon.  There in the front lounge area was Tom and Bobby cheering on their UT Vols in the college basketball tournament!  How surprised he was to see us.  He thought he had missed some conference in the area.  🙂

Tom and Roger, two men from two completely different ministry orbits, but today in the presence of the Lord! Both involved in a journey with cancer now forever over. How thankful I am for those the Lord brings into our lives to edify, encourage, exhort, and enjoy!  Thank you, Tom, for being such a man.  Gary and I will continue to sing and preach the Word until we join you on the other side.  Until then, My Hope Is Jesus.

A God-Ordained Cancer Journey, Now Over

Last evening, our brother in Christ, fellow-discipler, and faithful servant of Jesus Christ, Tom Craig, left the night here to enter into that eternal day.  He left behind the weeping and entered into morning joy (Psalm 30:5).  He exchanged the crushing pain of cancer for the cheerful presence of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:1,6-8).  And, not too very long from now, we too will join him and the millions in the presence of our Lord (Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).  In the meantime, please intercede for his wife, Kim, his daughters, Aimee, Allie and Anna, and the dear folks of Oak Ridge Baptist Church.

Tom, we praise God for you.  Soon, we will once again praise God with you.