“WHAT SHALL I CRY?”

The season’s festivities have already begun for another Holy Day celebrating our Lord’s miraculous birth! He is Emmanuel, God with us; here to bring us into fellowship with the Father. Bless the day of His arrival to Bethlehem!

The season’s greetings and celebrations this year, more than ever, will be shrouded by a cloud thoughts and feelings of terror and fear. Our reality almost every day is some form of violent and tragic incidents inflicted upon innocent everyday people somewhere in the world. We’re all afraid that one day it may be our town, our neighborhood, or our family.

What are we to do in the light of all of these harsh realities and deep rooted feelings of fear? What are we to say in the face of the world’s cynicism, hopelessness, and fear?

Isaiah faced a lost nation with the same desperate inquiry: “A voice says, ‘Cry!’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’” (Isaiah 40:6 ESV)

The answer is clear and powerful for a generation long removed from Isaiah’s reality: “Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength; O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” (Isaiah 40:9-10 ESV)

Listen to His promise to a people lost under pretentious religious formality, insensitive consideration of their own countrymen, and where wickedness abounded. It is a word fresh with life for a new millennial age of skepticism, unbelief, fear, and moral bankruptcy. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to Him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV)

It is an old and familiar word to the church! Above all, it is relevant to where we stand in the midst of terrorist violence that is being imposed upon the entire world. We are all vulnerable in this global reality. As Christians, we are also blessed that our God is still on the throne and changes not. He is both aware of these latest happenings among us and He has us on His mind to care for us whether alive or facing death.

Choose Him today, as His promises still live with assurance and power for these days of uncertainty. Our strength is in the Lord!

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ARE YOU GOING TO THE FUNERAL

Are you going to the funeral?  Is anyone concerned that a great deal of time, money, energy and planning are being put forth for the deceased?

The practice of waiting to bury loved ones days and weeks has become the trend to prepare glorious celebrations, high priced festivals and fanfare to glorify the person being laid to rest.  Hours and hours of testimonials and singing during visitations, wakes, and funeral programs have become the norm.  Processionals of cars, limousines, and other vehicles are assembled for the  long ride to the final resting place.  People travel miles and miles to be present for these grandiose exhibits for the beloved deceased.  And the deceased are prepared for display before family, friends, and total strangers who pass by!  Venues are chosen for their size in order to contain all those who come to see and share in all of the arrangements that have been made for the ‘home going celebration.’

On the surface, this may be harmless demonstration of caring and concern.  Looking more closely, however, we may discover that all of this fanfare may be superficial and overrated.  You ask why?  Well, consider the fact that the person in the middle of all of this, the deceased, has no knowledge of all that is being said or done.  The person in the box is unaware of all of the feelings expressed in long well-meaning orations and demonstrations.  The flowers are beautiful but cannot lend to the plight or passage of the one being spoken of and around whom they are arranged.  The music, though warm and feely in conveying thoughts of hope and heaven, cannot lend a hand to the deceased in their transition from life into death.  And while the deceased’s family can benefit some from all of this, they serve little value in assisting family members with the harsh reality of death of someone they’ve loved and shared their lives with for a lifetime.  Quieter and more private moments will be needed to find peace and strength to work through ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’

With more thought, the most revered among those of the household of faith, their family or friends, didn’t wait for all of this kind of recognition or even plan for a funeral.  Of course, the general practice during death vigils didn’t allow for all of these grand displays.  People were buried as soon as possible after their deaths and it was done with discretion to allow privacy for family members directly affected.  And consider the words of Jesus, ‘let the dead bury the dead,’ in response to a question about a potential follower postponing joining with Jesus in order to bury a family member.  Is it possible that too much is invested in the death of our loved ones and friends?  Furthermore, when the news came to Jesus that John, his cousin and forerunner in His own work of ministry, had been beheaded, He left town and resumed His work of preaching, teaching, and ministering to the masses of people needing Him.

Are our priorities out of order?  Are we doing too much?  Does it take all of this time, money, effort, resources, words, music, etc.?

In the larger scheme of things divine and important, should all of these things be done when someone dies?  What is it for?  Who is it for?  Why?

Can we add to anyone’s life?  Can we improve upon the quality of one’s living?  Do we contribute to a person’s achievements over the span of their lives?  Are we judge and jury of whether this person deserves to be rewarded with a life after death with reward and glory?  Really, what does it all mean?  Will any of us be able to make things alright with this scenario of glorious accolades, crowds and beauty?   Do you want all of that while you lay pristinely prepared on display?

All of this may sound insensitive and uncaring?  To some, it is too much about nothing.  But, some thought might be given to this notion of death and its finality.  Is there anything that can be said or done that will change the outcome of this life that is ended?  Probably not! 

The people who really matter will be there after all of the fanfare to help with adjustments and encouragements.  The people who don’t matter will resume their usual programming.  And the people directly affected, loved ones, will find the strength to move on into their new reality remembering ‘the person’ who made a difference in their life experience.

A DEAD TREE STANDS

There it stands . . . a dead pine tree.  Decaying and lifeless, but it still stands pushing upward into the sky among vibrant living trees.  It makes a statement of its own existence and presence in the world.  Though its lifetime is past, it stands without its vitality, flowing sap and beauty to remind us of the reality of life beyond its days.

Like this tree, our lives may end, but our works live on to influence, encourage, inspire, and to make known our contributions to others and to the world.  (Revelations 14:13 NKJV)  Each of us leaves something to the world that goes on and on.  Our challenge while we live is to give something worthwhile and full of life to others that can continue its inspiration after we’re gone.  Everything we do in life cannot be about ourselves or self serving.  No matter how long we live, our aim is to be purposeful beyond our own desires, inspiring beyond our own personal gains, and eternal beyond our days.

And really now:  Is this tree dead?  Closer examination of the surrounding landscape reveals other growing pine trees.  Once seedling tree plants are now growing into shrub size trees on their way to their own towering stance as full grown trees.  The dead tree lives on through the seeds that fell within its reach or carried away by birds or animals.

New life springs forth and grows to full maturity to stand tall as another generation of givers and contributors. The greater good of society is served by what people give rather than what they take from the world.  Each generation should try to do its best until it will be time for its chapter to close to open afresh new beginnings and new possibilities.  It is a continuing legacy!

How will your life be extended beyond your days?  Are you planting seeds? Are you bearing fruit and laboring to help people while you live?  The old saying becomes more and more real for those who know the blessing of aging, ‘a tree is known by the fruit it bears.’  The meaning of life is in our ability to perform at our best, offering our gifts and resources to others while we live.  After death, what we have given will live beyond our days,  “ . . . and their works do follow them.”  (Revelations 14:13 NKJV)

The life you live today will determine your possibilities for heaven and the strength of your witness from beyond the grave.  Only in Christ will you be able to live beyond your days?  Be sure to give Him your best service by serving others!