The Death of a Christian

Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? 1 Corinthians 15:55

Sunday afternoon I entered the room of a dear brother in Christ. He was in bed surrounded by family who were coming to terms with the inevitable. His wife was sat next to him, hand in hand as she said her goodbyes to her husband of 64 years.

There was a sense of relief as his long battle with Parkinsons was coming to an end.

I read from the book of Revelation (21:1-5) which gives us an amazing window into eternity and a taste of the wonder and the glory of what is next for a Christian when we meet our end (in this life).

John was told to write these things down for these words are trustworthy and true. So we have every right to get excited about them. Paul speaks of his confidence in the truth of what is to come, in 2 Corinthians 5: 8 where he declares that when we are away from the body we are at home with the Lord.

It is a certainty then (if you are a Christian) that when you depart from this life, your next conscious experience will be with the Lord Himself.

So I can say in full confidence, knowing of my late brothers Christian profession and faithful witness to Jesus Christ through the pangs of Parkinsons, that today he will be in paradise (Luke 23:43).

By the Grace of God, our brother has now heard the words “well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:23). He has now seen the Lord face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and now knows more about Jesus, more about the Bible, more about the profound truths of existence than any preacher, theologian or seminary professor ever will (in this life).

Our brother is no longer under the curse of sin (Revelation 21:4), his Parkinsons has gone and he is with Christian friends and family from every tribe and nation (Revelations 7:9) bathing in the glory and wonder of God.

Our brother is now in eternity, worshiping the Lord (Revelations 22:3) and in constant rich and fruitful learning (Ephesians 3:18-19, Colossians 2:3).

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city” (Revelations 22:14-15)

I write with such enthusiasm and certainty about our brother’s current state because of the Gospel that puts salvation in the hands of God and not in the works of humanity.

We are confident because it is Christ who has the victory over death and it is in Him we put our trust!

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart that Jesus is the Christ, God the Son, who left the glory of His Fathers embrace to take on this world at its worst, being born in poverty and living a life despised and rejected by His own people.

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart that on the cross Jesus took the consequences for the failures (sin) of His people and buried them in His death.

Our brother is in Heaven now because in this life He accepted with all of his heart Christ’s resurrection as evidence of life after death and assurance of a fresh start.

Our brother had faith that Jesus was His substitute, mediator, Prophet, Priest and King and as a result he did not fear death, knowing with certainty that the Son of God was with him (Psalm 23:1). Christ Jesus was his anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19)

As Christians, we know, that in Christ “we are chosen, predestined, and sealed with the Holy Spirit guaranteeing our inheritance to God’s Praise and Glory” (Ephesians 1:11-14). This truth allows us to live a life in this corrupt and fallen world (that is ever increasingly hostile to our beliefs) in the utmost joy and contentment.

Whatever trial, disease, heartache or mocking that we may face we know that we need not fear, for God is with us and will strengthen us (Isaiah 41:10).

In God’s hands, we cannot be beaten, for if God is for us who can be against us (Romans 8:31).

This truth goes someway in explaining why us Christians are joyful in our trial, because we have nothing to fear, not even death, for to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21)! And when the worst this world can through at you is of absolutely no consequence, it is truley liberating! Believe you me!

So liberating, that when sat at the bedside of a dying man, we were not in deep mourning and grief (as you see from those lost in the world). No! in Christ we could gather together in utter peace around the word and prayerfully praise God because of the certainty of our brothers future.

As Christians we can all face the last enemy without fear and this gives us greater freedom in this life.

Yes the enemy is fierce, so fierce that the richest most powerful person alive today cannot defeat it (try as they might)!

But in Christ we can say with confidence “Where O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:55

If you are reading this and are not a Christian, please consider our late brothers faith that got him through life’s trials and let it be an example to you as you remember the shortness of your days and the certainty of your end.

Do not wait until your death bed before accepting the reality of God.  Do not let your pride cause you to meet the end of yourself, before getting to the beginning of God.

Come to Him now! It is the perfect time! Come to God today and accept His Son Jesus Christ as your Saviour!

Come to God today and know the most profound joy, meaning and purpose, that goes beyond anything this corrupt and fallen world can tempt you with.

To find out more about this most amazing truth…..come to church…it is great! There is no place like it on earth! You will meet people of all ages and backgrounds that are bound in the total unity of God’s love. You will be fulfilled as you grow in Grace and see your life transformed as Jesus builds you up, giving you meaning and purpose in the body of believers. A community of sacrificial love.

I leave you with the lyrics of In Christ Alone (see below)

death

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm,
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save,
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live.
There in the ground His body lay
Light of the world by darkness slain
Then bursting forth in glorious Day
Up from the grave He rose again,
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me
For I am His and He is mine
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny,
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘Til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand
Songwriters: Keith Getty / Stuart Townend

 

 

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Sgt Pepper’s homage 2016 – Happy New Year 2017

sgt-peps

All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands for ever.” (Isaiah 40:7-8)

It is hard to summarise such a turbulent year as 2016, but the Sgt Pepper’s homage (above) has done this so well.

2016 will be remembered (by the west) for the loss of many treasured celebrities and the political shift from the mundane to the bipolar.

(For more on this read Dealing with Change – thoughts on BREXIT)

I have certainly mourned the heavy blows to our cultural heritage. As the Rev at Ringside, the loss of Muhammed Ali was upsetting (although expected). But out of all the celebrity deaths the most moving (for me) was David Bowie. To us it was a shock, but for him it was not a “sudden death”. The public-eye did not know of his battle with cancer and he orchestrated his departure (as much as possible) around his final album release. The lyrics revealed within gave voice to the dichotomy faced by all who are approaching death without the assurance of a loving saviour.

(For more on this read David Bowie “Look up here, I’m in heaven”).

There were many unsung heroes who also departed this year without any fanfare, such as Dr Donald Henderson who eradicated smallpox, a disease that killed 300 million people in the 20th century. We can also mourn the 1/88 refugees who were lost at sea whilst searching for a better life in Europe, as well as all those who have needlessly died in various world conflicts.

As each celebrity met our maker in the midst of political change and civil unrest, social media flooded with memes about the apocalypse, some suggesting that David Bowie had discovered a new dimension and was hand picking those he wanted to join him – it is quite a guest list!

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The media paints a picture of a most terrible year, but when we put this into perspective with the events of 1916 where the battle of the Somme caused 60,000 British casualties in the first day alone (420,000 across the campaign), the inevitable (albeit tragic) loss of ageing icons pale in comparison.

So what can we learn from 2016?

Well the most obvious lesson is that people die, irrelevant of their wealth, record sales, sporting prowess or comedic genius. Their glory is like the flowers of the field.

2016 is the year that death has been brought back to the forefront of the popular psyche.

Our western culture has somewhat hidden death behind the fountain of youth (consumerism), limiting death to the poor, old and sick. But as we have seen through the falling of many icons this year, death is a reality that we all have to face at different times and in different circumstances (Romans 6:23).

The truth is, death is real and today could be your last!

Even the best times of life bring us all closer to death, there is no escape. The grass withers and the flowers fall.

Politically 2016 gave us more questions than answers, but as we all approach 2017, one step closer to our end, amidst the sad loss of so many much loved personalities, we are left with just one most important question – are you ready for death?  

If (for whatever reason) you were taken tomorrow, do you know where you are going to?

Do you know peace with God through His Son Jesus Christ?

Because it is only in Him that you can be ready for death and thus be ready to embrace life at its fullest in 2017. (John 14:6).

I mourn with Jesus for those who have departed (John 11:35) and my prayers go out to all who have suffered loss and grief in 2016.

I pray that the new found realism of death in popular culture will bring people closer to the living God in 2017.

I pray that the void left by our cultures great flowers of the field will be replaced with a greater love for Jesus Christ “the word (who) stands for ever.

May you all have a wonderful 2017.

Bridging the gap – a humanist funeral

I was recently asked to take a funeral for a very popular young lady who died tragically in a motorbike accident.

This request came as a surprise!

The husband was going to get a humanist in to do it (as he did for his fathers funeral), but owing to our links with her wider family they thought it was appropriate to ask me.

This request did come (initially) with some strict stipulations! We were to have no hymns, no Bible reading, no prayers, no church, no God!

I know many ministers at this point would have said “no thank you”. But I felt a strong compulsion to do it.

As a result I spent many hours with the family, preparing a eulogy to fill the 50 minute slot at the crematorium. The eulogy was then to be split with (popular) songs that had significance for the family.

As the family shared their memories with me I quickly realised that there are times where it is best to show the love of Jesus by simply being there and giving the Biblical view on the world when asked.

The family allowed me to pray at the beginning of the service and at the end committal (where I shared the comfort offered by God in Christ Jesus).

The Eulogy was well received and it was presented as a thanks giving service to God for the life that we were all gathered to remember.

I did not compromise doctrine at any point, whilst also being of loving service to the family.

The community were extremely grateful for our involvement and support during this tough time. Some estimates for the funeral attendance went as high as 700 people, easily achievable by the sea of people we were greeted by on our arrival. This young lady was very popular.

During one of the songs, I tucked myself away in the pulpit and came to God in prayer (not for the first time in regards to this situation).

I asked “Lord should I be doing this? Is this truly glorifying you?  The Lord instantly responded and gave me the words of John 2 ‘the wedding of Cana’ to ponder and I have done so ever since.

Here are some thoughts ……

I understand that this reading talks of a totally different situation, a celebration of marriage, rather than mourning a tragic death.

But there are some clear lessons that we can learn from this passage and apply to the situation of taking a humanist funeral and wider community engagement.

A wedding in the time of our reading comprised of a great feast, which in the tradition of the day, meant dancing and heavy drinking that would often last for days. Not the environment that you would expect a pious Christian to visit, let alone the Son of God.

But we are told in John 2:2 that Jesus went, and not only did He go, but He was obviously involved in the proceedings to some degree. I do not think that it’s much of a coincidence that the wine ran dry shortly after the disciples arrived (John 2:3). The bridegroom must have been checking Mary’s +1 invite to see how the disciples got in and fishing is thirsty work!

The point is, Jesus was there at the feast, in the community at a special time in their lives. Jesus was involved in the celebration of the wedding, just as He was involved with the mourners (who did not believe in Jesus either) at His friend Lazarus’s graveside (John 11:40).

Jesus got out there and was involved in people’s lives; our God is a missional God, a lesson for every Christian!

But it is clear from scripture that His involvement did not delve into anything that would jeopardise the truth of who He is, Jesus committed no sin (1 Peter 2:22). As Christians we must follow our Lord’s example in the same way, we must be in the world but not of the world (John 17:16). As Christians we must not shy away from opportunities that allow us to engage with the community that we are called to serve. We must exercise our Gospel freedom, mindful not to go so far as to jeopardise the truth that we know and stand for. A mistake we have all made at some point I am sure! (1 John 1:9).

Jesus was at a worldly feast and yet remained totally obedient to our Father God. I was leading a humanist funeral that I had no business at, but by God’s Grace I was able to be involved, and witnessed the love of God in a way that was palatable to those gathered, no bible, no preaching, no hymns.

We read in John 2:3 that the wedding feast took a turn for the worst; they had run out of wine!

This may seem trivial for us today, as we could just go to the shops and buy some more. But in the historic context of our reading, such a thing would have caused the greatest offence to the guests, grief and shame to the family.

Mary thus pleads with Jesus in desperation to assist, which He eventually does after a strong rebuke (that I will not get into today).

Jesus instructs the servants to fill the jars with water (John 2:7) and then instructs them to pour some out for the master of the banquet (John 2:8) and it was better than the finest wine that they served first (John 2:10).

Notice that Jesus had no direct involvement with the jars, the water or the wine, the miracle was done in an instant, with no showmanship or religious protocol. Jesus simply said to the servants “Fill the jars up with water, and then draw out the wine”.

There was no command from Jesus for the water to change into wine, in the same way Jesus commands the storm to calm (John 4:39) or the demon to depart from the possessed man (Luke 4:35) or when He called Lazarus out of the tomb (John 11:43). We read of no action taken to the water, or the jars by our Lord, we are not told that He touched them in any way, like when Jesus put mud on a blind man’s eyes to heal Him (John 9:6). We are not told that the water touched Jesus, just as the sick woman touched His gown and was healed (Luke 8:45). Jesus did not ask all the guests at the wedding to sit down whilst He publicly offered the water up to God in prayer before the miracle took place, just as He did with the loaves and fish when He fed the thousands (John 6:11). He did not ask the servants to move the jars or change anything that was currently in use (pre-miracle) as He did the disciples who He told to cast their net on the other side of the boat to find them filled with fish (John 5:6). Jesus simply said, “Fill the jars up with water, then draw out the wine”.

The water miraculously changed, instantly, without any showmanship or activity, grand religious gesture, or command. It was done in an instant, which for me gives further gravitas to the miracle. Jesus simply willed the water to become wine and it was. Amazing! He is truly God.

Within the context of the day, running out of wine at a feast would come with the deepest of despair for the host; it was a situation of utter weakness and shame. Yet by simply being there, Jesus not only showed love and comfort in the situation, but transformed a terrible event into one that was far better than what they knew of before. All without the religious protocols that we insist on. The master of the banquet said “You have saved the best till now” (Luke 2:10).

For the miracle to happen, Jesus had to be welcomed to the wedding feast on the terms of the host, under their restrictions. Jesus still went and His Glory was revealed (John 2:11), without the submission to, or insistence of, various religious acts and worship styles. On this occasion God’s glory simply came through our Lord’s presence at this worldly feast.

It is through the Word of God that we are saved and grow as Christians. I am not saying that this passage argues otherwise. A Christians presence in worldly activity, whether marriages or funerals or birthday parties or rugby games is not enough to transform the lost soul, people do need to come under the Word of God. But forcing the un-churched who do not know the Lord, into our formula of religious protocol, to sing hymns they do not know and sit through a message they will not hear, will not save them either!

What Jesus is showing us here in John 2 is that by insisting that a funeral is done “our way” or not at all, at the cost of an opportunity to witness the love of Christ (without Doctrinal Compromise) can be counterproductive to the furtherance of the Gospel.

It is clear that my doubts that brought me to prayer at the funeral were in fact doubts towards the power of the Gospel!

It has made me ask myself; Does my faith lie more in the conduct and place in which a ceremony such as a funeral is taken? Or is my faith in Christ who can turn water into wine simply by His Will at a worldly feast.

In a perfect world, I would love to have held the funeral at Noddfa, read God’s word aloud, sing Hymns with those gathered, to God’s Praise and of course share the hope of Jesus to the 700 people that day. But we are not in a perfect world (Genesis 3:17), we are in a post-Christian society where people no longer know how to sit through a message, do not know the many great hymns penned from our very own land and do not even know who Jesus really is! As a result there are more and more humanist funerals each month that offer no hope to the lost soul.

Is it not better as Christians to be involved in such lawful situations that we have no business to be at, to show the love of Jesus, trusting in His will to soften the hearts of our generation, than to not be there at all?

Is it not better to be the light in the darkness, rather than insist that the darkness comes into the light? (John 1:5).

Please pray for the family and friends of the deceased, I hold them in the highest regard, they are wonderful people and close to my heart.

Please also pray for all those gathered at the funeral, that by our very witnesses, they would seek to come to Noddfa to learn more of God’s love, to come under His word and come to trust Jesus as their saviour.

 

water-to-wine

David Bowie “Look up here, I’m in heaven”

As a young sprog (over twenty years ago), my Auntie Jeannette (Jean Genie) introduced me to the work of David Bowie – I instantly fell in love. A passion for his art stayed with me through my adolescence, teenage years and into adulthood. The man’s talents were remarkable and I was looking forward to hearing his new album “Black Star” released on his 69th birthday.

As we now all know, just two days after the album’s release, David Bowie died after an 18-month battle with cancer.

This period of David’s life must have been agonizing as he came to terms with his pending fate (one that we will all have to share). But to us “fans” David’s death was “sudden,” as nobody knew about  his diagnosis. Such secrecy (you could argue) gave David time to plan his affairs outside of the media gaze and made his death, in many ways, a final artistic expression.

When the news broke the media was filled with tributes.

His face was all over the National Newspapers. The Sun, the Star and the Daily Express were of particular interest to me as they referenced on their front pages a lyric from David’s new track “Lazarus”, where he sang “Look up here, I’m in heaven”.

Some have said this track is a “goodbye” from David to his “fans”. It is clear that the mind behind such a track was obviously in turmoil, dealing with the truth of eternity and the vanity of life. Again something we will all have to ponder at some point.

David Bowie

In truth none of us can say where David Bowie is today. His public life (and his work) did not allude to any saving faith. With that said, the Lord could have graciously met with David in his final moments (as He did the thief on the Cross). With repenting heart David could have put His trust in Jesus Christ and thus now be in Heaven as an adopted Son. I pray (for his sake) that this is the case.

What has encouraged me through this shared experience of mourning is how; in an age where churches are at best poorly attended and even closing, where Christianity is ostracized and atheism praised, the papers where still happy to publish “Heaven” on their front pages and that there has been no retaliation from the public ( in light of David’s sad passing). Several known figures from the world of entertainment and politics have also publicly shared their condolences and have  agreed with the concept of David now being in “Heaven”.

It would seem that “Heaven” is clearly still accepted by general consensus to be a reality. (Praise God).

The same people who would otherwise reject the teaching of Jesus Christ and His church, who would dismiss me at any other time as being “a nut” for believing in the Bible, are now all in chorus agreeing with the Biblical concept of Heaven.

Yet, this should not surprise me, human beings are body and soul, we are all spiritual beings and the Bible does tell us that God has put such knowledge in our hearts.

I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end“(Ecclesiastes 3:10-11).

David’s death has once again proved that at times of sorrow and in times of grief, the general populous do concede to this knowledge and this is because it is true.

However, we do also learn (with great sadness) that the general populous believe that everyone (including themselves) will be joining David there, without thinking through the logic of such a position.

Yes! They are right, Heaven does exist and  it is a perfect place. So why (you may ask) do they then think they have any right to go there?

None of us can claim to be perfect? Paul himself writes “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10).

If we all went to Heaven, our imperfections would be amplified throughout eternity, Heaven would cease to be perfect, because we are in it! Your very presence would ruin it!

If you (rightly) judge yourself not to be perfect and are by your own admittance an imperfect judge. How damming do you think the verdict will be against you when you come to meet the perfect God, who has perfect judgement?

Where do you think He would put you? Heaven? I don’t think so!

I know I am not perfect, I know that I do not meet the standard to enter Heaven. So before God, I could never sing in my own strength as David did, “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. It is illogical and un-Biblical!

This is the sad state of man! We are lost by our very imperfect nature!

BUT! There is some good news! The same book that tells us of Heaven also tells us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

It continues … “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned

Hope! Hope in our imperfections!

In Christ Jesus we can sing “Look up here, I’m in heaven”. Because in faith, in Him my sins are forgiven and forgotten.

God says “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Isaiah 43:25.

Jesus lived the perfect life that I never could and He took the punishment, the justice I deserve for my crimes against God on the Cross.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” Romans 8:1

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17

This should be front page news today and every day!

By coming to Jesus, repenting of my sin and asking Him to save me, I can  go to the mercy seat saved and justified. Not because of my good deeds, but because of His, Jesus Christ. For God the Son is my advocate before my Father, it is in Him that I trust my salvation. I mourn my failures, my crimes against God and  I know there is no way I could get to Heaven without Him.

What blessed assurance we have in Jesus!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

In our sin, none of us have any right to sing “Look up here, I’m in heaven” but in Christ we can and we will!

What is for sure is that David Bowie has met his maker, as we all will one day. I pray He had Christ with Him at the time.