Why I Like Funerals

So earlier this week I headed out to Chicago with my family for the funeral of my wife’s grandmother.  Her name was Ruth Romin.  She left behind a loving husband of 65 years, 5 children, 15 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.  She was a long-time member of the Salvation Army church and was also heavily involved in ministry to missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  There was a small viewing time and graveside service for family and then a memorial service at her church afterward.  It was a wonderful celebration of a life well-lived.

I have to admit I like funerals.  Actually, as a pastor I enjoy doing funerals more than weddings, I always like to organize funerals and  use the Tuell-McKee Funeral & Cremation Services.  The reason is because I believe funerals have a much better opportunity for ministering to people.  Typically at weddings, people are much more focused on the formality of the wedding itself than on God’s presence.  On the flip side, at a funeral, people are looking for God.  They are hungry to hear from Him, to be reminded of His presence, and to reflect on the promise that He is in control.

Funerals are also a great time to connect with family.  All but one of Ruth Romin’s grandchildren made it to the funeral.  And the one who didn’t make it, had a really good reason.  So Julie was able to connect with her brothers and sister, cousins, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces.  Some of whom she had not seen in quite some time.

But the greatest thing about funerals, at least in the case of the death of a Christian saint like Ruth, is that it is the celebration of a loved one passing to glory.  Ruth was struggling here on earth during the last few years of her life.  She was in pain physically, mentally, and emotionally.  She was not the same woman that had lived such a vibrant, spirit-filled, service-oriented life for so many years.  And so she passed from this life to a better one.  She was, no doubt, welcomed into the arms of a loving Father, with the words, “well-done good and faithful servant.”  She is finally now at rest and peace.  So we celebrated her life and her passing on to glory this week.  We remembered her with stories and reminded each other about how wonderful things are now for her in Heaven.  We even finished off the evening with an ice cream social, celebrating two of her favorite treats here on earth: ice cream and Milky Ways.  You have to love a funeral that ends with ice cream!

But that’s the way it should be.  Because this was truly a celebration.  It is truly great to be a Christian and to know that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of eternal life with Christ.  We are reminded in I Corinthians 15:55-57, “‘Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, yes I like funerals.  And it is not morbid.  It is because I know what comes next.  And so funerals have become a celebration.  But not all funerals.  Funerals for those who die without Christ, are not a celebration.  They are not a victory.  So if you are reading this and you do not know what will happen to you when you die, I urge you to contact us and ask that question.  I would love to talk with you more about how death can lose it’s sting for you as well.

Not Enough Books in the World

This morning in my devotions I came across one of my favorite little, honest, informal verses in the Bible.  It is the last verse in the Gospel of John.  And it is written in such a simple, almost conversational style.  It is John 21:25, “Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

Isn’t that a great little verse?  It is nothing overly deep or earth-shattering.  It is not a big theological point or an area of doctrine.  It is not a controversial topic or even something that is key to our discipleship process.  But I just love it, because it reminds me that Jesus’ life here on earth was even more amazing than I already picture. 

I have just finished reading through the Gospels.  Almost every day for the last 29 days I have been reading in either Matthew, Mark, Luke or John for my devotions.  And throughout that time I have been reminded of the amazing life of Jesus Christ. 

I have marvelled at miracles like Jesus feeding the five thousand and walking on water.  I have pondered His powerful teachings like the sermon on the mount and the Olivet discourse.  I have seen his compassion during His visits with the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman accused of adultery.  I have read of His authority over nature when He calmed the storm, over the spiritual realm as He delivered the Gadarene demoniac, over the spiritual leaders of the day as he silenced them with His answers to their questions and even over death itself as He raised Lazarus from the dead.  I have enjoyed His parables like the one about the prodigal son and the one about the lost sheep.  I have witnessed His humanity as He faced temptation in the wilderness and struggled with the will of the Father in the garden before His arrest.  I have been reminded of His meekness and humility as He kept silent in the face of His accusers and willingly allowed Himself to be led away.  I have seen His love as He allowed Himself to be beaten, and mocked and spit upon and ultimately killed for my sins.  And I have rejoiced over His victory with the stone that was rolled away and the visits with His disciples before returning to His Father’s side. 

It has been a great month of reading about the amazing life of Jesus Christ.  But this simple verse at the end of the book of John, this last verse of the Gospels, reminds me that there was more.  There were others who were healed, other lives that were touched, other bonds that were broken, and other needs that were met.  There were more lives that were forgiven, more eyes that were opened, more mouths that were fed, and more hearts that were transformed.   The amazing life of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in just 89 chapters of 4 books.  There is more.

What was contained for me in these Gospels is enough to compel me to believe, but it is also good to be reminded that Jesus’ life is not completely contained in those 4 books.  My Savior, my Messiah, my Lord is amazing!  And if there were a whole world full of books written down, I would want to read them all.

We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore!

I don’t like November 1.  Why?  Because it reminds me of the consumer spin that we have put on Christmas.  You know what I am talking about.  The day after that “trick or treating” holiday, while the kids are still nursing tummy aches from eating too much candy, all the stores begin to tear down the pumpkins, costumes and candy from their seasonal shelves and begin to put up their Christmas decorations. 

I don’t like this day, but it isn’t because I miss the pumpkins and other treats that that have been up on the shelves for the past month.  The reason I don’t like this day is because once the Christmas decorations go up, we begin a fast paced slide toward Christmas that is anything but the peaceful journey it is meant to be.

Between November 1 and the end of the year we have two holidays that are meant to turn our eyes toward our Heavenly Father with thanks and praise.  But instead of peacefully and joyfully celebrating this time of year, we have filled it with a flurry of gift-buying, party-going, card-sending, house-decorating, consumer-driven madness, that leaves Thanksgiving and the real meaning of Christmas wallowing in the carnage.

In just a little while we will be standing in the early stages of 2011 and looking back with dazed confusion at the blur that was supposed to be the holiday season.   It happens every year.  It seems like we go to bed on October 31 and wake up on January 2 and an entire two months have passed and we hardly had time to enjoy any of it.

I guess that is why I don’t like November 1.  The stores all rush ahead to try and be the first to get out their Christmas stuff and begin this feeding frenzy that we call the holiday season.  They push it by so fast that all we can do is reach out, grab hold and hang on for dear life. 

So my challenge for all of us this year is to get off the carousel.  This year, let’s stand up and say, in the immortal words of Twisted Sister, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”  I’m not generally a big fan of quoting Twisted Sister, but this phrase fit so well that I just had to use it.  Anyway, we need to be intentional about getting off this crazy carousel of Christmas confusion.  We need to decide that we aren’t going to get taken for a ride anymore by what the stores and the media and the world in general have done with this time of year.

I encourage you to take your time this holiday season.  Walk a little slower.  Don’t rush.  Enjoy this time.  And make it a point to reflect on what it’s all about.  Take time to give thanks between now and Thanksgiving.  Count your blessings.  Remember what God has done for you.  And then turn your sights on the birth of the Savior.  Take time to consider this Jesus who came to earth as a little baby to become the sacrifice for all our sins. 

This is a special time of the year.  Let’s not miss it just because we are too busy.  Take your time and peacefully enjoy this Christmas season.

From the Cradle to the Grave

This year for my devotions I am reading through the entire Bible and it has brought up several interesting thoughts.  For instance, last week I was reading in Matthew 27, and this morning I was reading in Luke 2.  Why is that significant?  Well, let me show you what I found to be interesting…

Luke 2 contains a very familiar account of the birth of Jesus.  We typically listen to the story retold every year at Christmas time.  Even if it is only while watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and listening to Linus retell this story.  Over the years much of the story has become very familiar to us and one of those parts is Luke 2:7, “and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

On the flip side, Matthew 27 contains another familiar story.  It is a story that we talk about each year at Easter time.  It is the story of Christ’s death on the cross for the sins of the world.  But as I was reading from Matthew 27 there was one sentence that really jumped out at me in light of the story from Luke 2.  That sentence was Matthew 27:59,60a, “Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock…”

Do you see the similarity between those two verses?  Now, I know that I am working with the NIV and not with the original Greek, but the thought that really jumped out at me was the similarity between Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ death.  When He was born, His mother, Mary, wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a manger.  And when He died his friend, Joseph of Arimethea, wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a tomb.

The phrase, “from the cradle to the grave” is an idiom that is meant to speak of life from the time we are born to the time we die.  It has been used in song lyrics and even was a movie title, but it is very fitting when thinking of Jesus’ life.  From the manger to the tomb Jesus’ life was all about one thing.  We are reminded of that in Philippians 2:6-11, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus came to earth to die for the sins of the world.  He came to earth with that plan in place.  He was born to die.   And even though it was difficult, He followed that plan all the way to his death on the cross.  From the cradle to the grave.  From the manger to the tomb.

But there is one other interesting thing that I find in these two passages.  First of all, when Jesus came into the world, there wasn’t even room for Him in the inn.  So his mom had to lay him in a manger in a stable somewhere.  This was a very non-intimate, non-personal, open, public place for Jesus to be born.  He was out there for everyone to see.  We even know of some shepherds that stopped by to see Him.   Anyone could come by.  Everyone had access.  

On the flip side, after He died, Joseph took His body and placed it in his very own tomb.  This was a very intimate, very personal, very private place for Jesus to be placed.  Joseph opened up his own tomb, the place that was reserved for himself, and gave that place to Jesus. 

That reminds me of us.  Jesus is available for all.  He came to earth for all who would receive Him.  But while He is there for all of us, it is up to us to act like Joseph did and take that very personal place, the place that is typically reserved just for us, our heart and give it to Him.

If you have never done that, then I want to encourage you to do that today.  Realize that Jesus’s entire life on earth, from the cradle to the grave, was given for you.  He died for the sins of the world.  Let’s give Him the place in our hearts that He deserves.

You Strain Out a Gnat, but Swallow A Camel

This morning, this phrase was part of my devotions, “You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.”  I love that.  Do you know who said it?  Jesus.  Let me give you a little context.  Jesus was speaking to the crowds and was specifically talking about the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.  He talked about their hypocrisy and pride and how they do everything so that others can see them.  He talked about how they constantly burdened the people with heavy loads and made it harder for others to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  He specifically called them blind guides.

Consider Matthew 23:23-24, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cummin.  But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.  You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”

Isn’t that great!  Jesus is chastising these leaders for being more interested in the kinds of things that show on the outside than on what is really happening on the inside.  He goes on to liken them to whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but are rotten inside. 

But while this is directed at the religious leaders of the day, it also is a challenge for us to consider ourselves.  What about us?  Are we more concerned with how we appear to those around us than on what is really happening inside?  Are we more concerned with looking perfect than we are with having a right relationship with the Lord?  I love the way that Jesus is able to cut right to the core of who we are and get us to take a hard look at ourselves.  That is what light does.  It shines into the dark recesses of the soul and makes us aware of the things within us that need to change.

But sometimes in order for us to change, we need to be willing to allow our beautiful facade to be stripped away.  We need to be willing to allow others to see the rotten garbage underneath as we start to really deal with the garbage in our lives and start focusing on the camels in our lives instead of the gnats.

I don’t know about you, but I want to stop swallowing camels.  I want to let Christ have His way in my life and help me to deal with the garbage on the inside, even if it means that others might see that I am not perfect. 

Another verse that I was reading in my devotions today came from Matthew 21:44, “He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”  Here Jesus was talking about Himself and our need to be broken before Him.  Coming to Him, in humility and brokenness, admitting our sin and our need for a Savior.  We need to be willing to be broken before the Lord.  And I know that is not easy.  We don’t like to be broken.  We want to pretend that we are perfect.  But you know what?  We aren’t.  This world is full of a bunch of broken people walking around trying to hide their problems.  We are constantly focusing on straining out gnats, so that people think we are perfect, when all the while we are swallowing camels. 

My challenge for all of us today is to stop it!  Stop straining out gnats and swallowing camels.  Stop pretending to be perfect while we are struggling inside.  Stop hiding the sin, pain, doubt and whatever else we are struggling with and deal with it.  Be willing to be broken on the Rock of Jesus Christ!

What if this Thing Starts Beeping?

So I stopped by the library today and while I was checking out my items in the self-checkout line, I thought about something that I often think about when I am at the library, “What if this thing starts beeping and won’t let me check out any more items because I have already used up all I can have?” 

You see, I use the libary a lot.  Since I don’t have an office, the library is one of the places where I like to do my work.  And the library is also a place that I like to visit on my day off.  I just like to spend time at the library.  And I also like to make liberal use of the resource materials.  I am always checking things out.  I check out books, magazines, audiobooks and videos.  I check out things for myself as well as things that I think Julie or one of the kids might like.  Because of that, I often have a whole bunch of library materials lying around at home. 

So I was standing there checking out 3 magazines and a video and this thought was going through my mind, “What if this thing starts beeping and won’t let me check out any more items because I have already used up all I can have?”  You see I already had at least 3 books, 4 magazines, and 3 audio books from the library sitting at various places in my home.  That means that with this next group of items, I would have 14 items out at one time.  And that is not abnormal.  I have been here less than a year, and I imagine that I have probably checked out over 200 items already.

But one of the really great things about the library is that no matter how much you check out, you can still check out more.  And that is pretty cool.  And while I am sitting there thinking about all of that, I find myself thinking about God and how amazing it is that no matter how many times I have had to rely on His love and grace, He is always ready with more the next time.  I never have to worry that if I go to my knees in prayer asking for God’s love and grace to prevail that something is going to start beeping and I am going to get a message that I have already used up all the love and grace and that is all I can have.

Who would have ever thought that the library would provide me with such a great reminder of God’s unending love and grace?


Yesterday in church I talked about loving your neighbor.  The sermon was from Matthew 22:34-40, where Jesus answers the question, “which is the greates commandment?”  To hear the sermon you can go to “pages” above and use the link for “online sermons.”  I wrapped things up this week with a very specific, almost homework-like challenge for us to love our neighbors this week.  We are to do that by praying for them throughout the week and then doing some act of kindness for them on the weekend.  This coming Sunday we will follow things up to see how it went. 

I am excited to hear the stories when we get back together next Sunday.  This is something that God has commanded us to do, so we know it is His will.  And when we are operating in His will, watch out, because He does some pretty incredible things. 

So maybe you were in church on Sunday and heard the challenge, or maybe you are just hearing about this for the first time right now.  Either way, let me challenge you to choose to tangibly love your neighbor in some way this week.  And in order to help, here are a few suggestions…

  • Mow their lawn
  • Rake their leaves
  • Take over a pan of brownies
  • Order a pizza over the phone and have it sent to their home instead of yours
  • Make a nice homemade card just to let them know you were thinking of them
  • Pick up the trash on your street
  • Help them with a project they are working on
  • Wash their car
  • Deliver the newspaper to the front step
  • Invite them over for dinner

If you have any other ideas, please feel free to post them.

Special Event on October 31

We have a special Sunday event coming up on October 31.  “Revealing The Fingerprints of God” with Dr. Don Bierle, FaithSearch International.  Dr. Bierle will use evidence from nature, history and personal experience to answer the question, “Is the existence of God only imagination or wishful thinking?”  Come and join us on October 31, 9:30 a.m. at The Rex Cinema.

Have You Any Right To Be Angry?

Yesterday in church we talked about letting go of those things that happen in our lives that cause us to become bitter, angry and hard people.  And to instead become kind, loving and forgiving.  Well, today in my devotions I found myself in the book of Jonah.  This was a very fitting place to be the day after that message.
You see, the story of Jonah contains a great lesson for us about God’s compassion and man’s anger and bitterness.   Why did Jonah run away when God called him to go to Nineveh?  Well, we don’t really find that answer until the end of the book.  But before we get there, let me remind us of the story.  Jonah was a prophet of God and God told him to go to Nineveh to preach against it.  But Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, so he went in the other direction and boarded a ship for Tarshish.  But God would not let Jonah get away.  He sent a storm that stopped the ship and threatened to sink it, but when the sailors realized that Jonah was the reason for the storm they through him overboard.  Then God had a big fish come along and swallow Jonah whole and while he was in the fish, Jonah prayed and repented and told God that he would obey.  And so God had the fish vomit Jonah onto the dry land.  And Jonah did obey and go to Nineveh and preached there.  And the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message and repented of their sins and God spared their city.  Then in chapter 4 we find out why Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh in the first place.  In Jonah 4:1-3 we read, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry.  He prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at hom?  That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.  I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.  Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.'”

Isn’t that sad?  Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, and actually ran away from God, simply because he knew that if he went to Nineveh and preached that the people would repent and God would have compassion on them and not destroy their city.  And Jonah didn’t like that because he wanted God to destroy Nineveh.  Nineveh was a bad city and they had caused much pain on Jonah’s people, and Jonah was bitter about that.  And so he didn’t want to see them spared.  He had no compassion for them.  He wanted them destroyed.  And so he tried to run away, but he eventually obeyed God and after the people responded and God spared the city, Jonah was angry.

But notice what God says in verse 4, “But the Lord replied, ‘Have you any right to be angry?'”  That is a great question for us.  Do we have any right to be angry?  Do we have any cause to be bitter?  We look upon those who have harmed us with bitterness, and scorn, but God loves them.  He hates their sin, but He loves them.  We need to be willing to let go of the things that happen to us and move on with our lives. 

Holding on to things, becoming bitter and staying angry is easy.  It is much harder to forgive, to be kind and to have compassion.  But God calls us to those things.  We need to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice.  And we need to be kind, compassionate and forgiving.  We need to let God’s love for us overflow in our lives so that we too will love others.


So I have this app on my phone that allows me to flip through the day’s news headlines and then click on a headline if I want to read the story.  So I was scanning the headlines the other day and here is a sampling of some of the headlines for September 14, 2010:

  • Tropical Storm Karl Forms in Caribbean
  • Italy Seizes Billions in Suspected Mafia Goods
  • Egg Farm Knew of Salmonella Investigators Say
  • American Freed by Iran Arrives in Oman
  • Eiffel Tower Reopens After Bomb Threat
  • 30 Insurgents Killed in Afghanistan Ahead of Vote
  • Starbucks to Put 12-OZ Tall Drinks Back on Drive-Through Menus

Do you notice anything out of place there?  We have major national and international news including bomb threats, freed hostages, killings, storms, a possible cover-up, and then there is this headline focused on drive-through coffee menus?  Now I know Starbucks is a pretty big deal, but I just had to laugh when I came to that last headline.  I could see having a Starbucks as a news headline if ownership changed hands, or if there was a major change in the corporate philosophy, but we are just talking about their menu board.  I find that a little ridiculous for such a minor point to be considered such a big deal that it becomes a headline.  When you take a moment to consider the impact of putting 12-oz tall drinks back on the drive-through menus compared to a bomb threat and insurgents killed and a tropical storm, the Starbuck’s drink menu just seems to pale in comparison.

But as I was thinking about that, I realized that we have a tendency to do the same thing in Church at times.  We take minor things and give them a major emphasis.  Like for instance, one of the things that the church became known for over the last 15 years was their “worship wars.”  This was because many churches went through a transition from one style of music to another.   The transition is fine, but the fact that in many cases it became a war is a great example of how we major in minor things too often. 

I don’t want to step on toes here, but the kind of music we use to worship God is not as important as the number of people in our community who need us to “be the church.”  Too often we spend more time talking about the kind of carpeting to put in the new sanctuary, the kind of food to serve at our next banquet, the kind of coffee to have at our fellowship time, and even the kind of book to study at our next group meeting than we do on the kind of lives we need to live to glorify God in our community. 

I want to challenge us to not get caught up in the minors.  That doesn’t mean we let things fall through the cracks, or that we ignore details.  I believe we are to do what we do with excellence, but let’s not become so focused on eternally insignifcant details that we miss out on what God is calling us to focus on.