Before you’d gone there were a thousand goodbyes
Each it’s own colour, shape and size.
Most before the old worn chair,
In both clear loud voice and silent prayer.
Before you’d gone there were a hundred goodbyes
When I’d look into your kind blind eyes
And thank you for my parentage
And a Christian blue collar heritage.
Before you’d gone there were a few goodbyes
When the dark angel thought it yet unwise
To get too close to that walking cane,
Knowing with your firm grip it promised pain.
So as you go, here’s one thousand and one:
Let heaven welcome this stout Welsh son!
At one hand your Jesus, at the other your wife,
With straight back and bright eyes, run to new life!
I love you, Grandpa. See you soon, but not yet.
Holy holy holy God we sing;
It means He’s separate, set apart. Everything
We know of him says he’s over there
High and lifted up. We’re down here
We abase ourselves.He’s not like us:
He’s righteous, we’re shadow; he’s forever, we’re dust.
And sometimes we feel in his holiness
Being set apart we believe he’ll miss
The fact that we need him here.
We wonder does the holy care?
Surrounded by angel armies there
Where there’s no darkness, and the air
Is filled with voices that sing unending
Praise to this ancient King,
Does He see us- that we’ve lost everything?
There are prophets that answered all these questions
When they wrote of the Holy pierced for our transgressions-
And foretold God come to earth as man.
We still ask whether the Holy can
Take in our pain and eat our sin,
Can the Holy taste death, would He rise again?
He did, and we call him Emmanuel!
Jesus stood between us and hell;
A king with a crown of thorns, God with a battered face-
That is holy love. This is holy grace:
To have Holy arms around us, nailed in place!
Three days later death lost its sting,
This is why Holy holy God we sing!
Time is the leading cause of death. What the scientists say matters little – hot dogs might be a carcinogen and cutting down too many trees may eventually asphyxiate us all, but while we debate these things the clock remains relentless.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Enough years have passed in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to attend the funerals of a number of people that I’ve loved and admired. We celebrate their time and achievements, feeling the ache that their leaving has left. In life their very presence was catalytic, moving those around them to spaces of the heart and soul that would have otherwise remained unexplored.
There are other wakes, though, that haunt me. These are the moments when we remember people who shrivelled into themselves long before their passing. A positive spin is put on everything, propriety bestowing a last dignity upon a life that could have been more.
The question is, more what? Was something missing? Or perhaps emptiness wasn’t the problem, and their souls were actually too cluttered? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but there is no denying that some people’s eyes glaze over long before their plot is purchased.
To glean some answers I went to went to the field of wisdom known as Facebook, and asked some of you how our time on this spinning rock is best spent. Here is what you said, with a couple of my suggestions thrown in:
7 Essentials To Guarantee You’ll Be Alive When You Die
1. Be teachable. This is difficult when you presume to know everything. Too often we take our own opinions as facts, worship some fancy paper on the wall, or box ourselves in with our own notions of how the universe should be run and which direction the neighbour should be cutting his lawn. Being teachable allows us to walk through time without being overly sensitive and easily offended.
2. Smoke a cigar. Not literally, of course, unless you want you. The writer of Ecclesiastes said that “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes,” and counselled that it is best to not be over righteous or too wicked. That’s not to say that one of my goals each day is to be a little bit wicked, but sometimes it’s as though I can’t help myself. Knowing that my character and my lungs are not yet totally pure keeps me humble before my Creator.
3. Be authentic. One of my most annoying acquaintances is unapologetically Calvinistic, which I define as unteachable, dogmatic, unshaven and fundamentalist, with all the baggage that usually accompanies such labels. He, on the other hand, has big words which he uses to describe my liberal tendencies. One thing I grudgingly admire about him is his authenticity. He is a true believer. Unshakeable.
The most intriguing people in my life are ridiculously passionate. Some talk about theology; others champion the right of women to wear functional and pretty sporting attire. Whatever you do, do it from the heart.
4. Risk. Some mothers scold their youngsters with, “Just because your friends jump off a bridge doesn’t mean you should too.” My mom, on the other hand, is usually the first to take the plunge. I can’t imagine a life without some risk. You can’t love without it. Steak is best served with it (at least a little pink, please). It isn’t an end in itself, mind you. Which brings us to number five.
5. Invest in Others. Authenticity, risk, humility, and balance are of very little benefit if they are employed to serve only yourself. You want people to weep tears of sadness instead of joy when you kick the bucket? Invest in them.
6. Practise dying. When we are placed in coffins it becomes clear that the value of our lives is measured in those who come to say goodbye. The problem is the extent of the sacrifice it took to get them all showing up on the same day. The good news is that we can train ourselves to die. Little choices every day add up, and when we choose others before ourselves, forgiveness before bitterness, and the difficult good over the expedient less-than we get better at dying.
7. Slow down. You. Are. Going. Too. Fast. How do I know this? There is a 95% chance that you came across this blog post via Facebook, which is what we do when we could just be sitting still or gently kissing someone.
Which are you good at? What did I leave out? Do you sense that you are truly alive? If not, are you missing something, or is it soul-clutter that’s getting in the way?
Freedom, and communion. It’s important that we put each in its proper place. One describes how we live, but the other is true life’s source and sustenance.
My first taste of freedom in a religious context involved a cracker and some grape juice.
Once a month at church the ushers would pass around a mid morning snack, and my father would forbid me to partake. The injustice of it all was galling. I had heard that Jesus liked kids, but my elders possessed some secret knowledge that I apparently did not, and my ignorance sat like chains and shackles upon a young spirit that longed for freedom and something to eat.
Well, there came a day when I was prepared with all the right answers. I was barely able to see the preacher without standing on the pew, but I had been listening. When my dad asked me what I thought communion was all about, my answer was King-James perfect and I was allowed to grab a tiny helping as the crumbs and cups were passed.
“Mm mm,” I exclaimed! “That’s good!” And although I didn’t think such a small amount would satisfy me until lunch, I was quite pleased with myself. In hindsight, the subsequent cuff upside the head is something a more astute young lad may have seen coming.
Over time I came to understand a couple important things about the freedom that I so desperately hungered for. The first thing was that the liberty I sought had already been planned for, bought, and delivered long before I knew the difference between a Saltine and authentic Unleavened. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians church is rich with passion as he expounds on the wonder of grace. He makes it quite clear that communion free from religious regulation is a God-breathed wonder; something to be celebrated and worth fighting to protect.
And nestled into Paul’s letter is a little statement that sets up the second important caveat: apparently it’s not all about me. The freedom and communion that I enjoy in and through a relationship with Jesus apparently doesn’t revolve around moi, or moi’s inability to get through a church service without a snack. He writes,“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians chapter 5, verse 13)
Let’s be frank, shall we? We all have appetites; some are satisfied with a little nibble here and there and others are voracious. The great truth about Christian Liberty is this: we are no longer slaves to those things, regardless of how our stomachs are grumbling at any given moment.
Regarding communion, we belong in a realm where intimacy with God is actually expected. I’ll go so far as to say that Jesus’ death was simply a means to this end, judging by the prayer that is recorded in John chapter 17. This communion is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and His presence in our lives is like bread and wine to a weary traveller. Paul goes on in Galatians to explain that living by, and keeping in step with the Spirit is what sustains our freedom and guards us from become slaves again to our appetites. God has bound Himself to us with chains forged in the heat of sacrificial passion; this is what has secured our freedom.
The question I’m asking myself today is, what is it that I’m craving? Do I long to rest and play in a deep communion with God, or do I desire to rush around that, making the freedom to rest and play in and of itself the ultimate prize?
Dear Mr. Graham,
I attended one of your daddy’s crusades. As young as I was, my parents were able to make it clear that this was a rare honour. Their voices carried tones of reverence and awe. Decades later the only details that linger are the crowds and the verses of “Just As I Am.”
When I was a little bit older I joined the masses at one of your own crusades. To be honest, my first impressions were that your preaching was simple and unremarkable. Having said that, I couldn’t deny the power; unfelt and unseen, there was something there that made people get out of their seats and come to Jesus.
My first experience with Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child was years ago in a middle eastern country that is close to your heart. The shoeboxes were distributed by Muslim university students, who – with my help – went through the boxes ahead of time to remove any hint of Christmas or Christianity. We were trying to avoid outright animosity in a region where Islam had deep, fundamental roots. My prayer was that the gifts handed out that day would at the very least provide a bridge into the community for the “aid worker” who helped organize the event.
Years later I was in the right place and time to help with the logistics of distributing 9600 shoeboxes in a West African country recovering from ten years of civil war. For a young man, doing Christian work with the help of an armed escort was ridiculously exciting.
These aren’t the only times I’ve been able to partner in some way with the ministries you lead, but I mention them so that you know that I’m not just an outsider bent on maligning your good name. The knowledge I have regarding the work you do goes beyond the well-produced four minute video shown on the big screen on Sunday morning. Samaritan’s Purse demonstrates a real-life gritty love in the uncomfortable, unsafe regions of the world. My hat is off to you, in this regard.
I’m just an average Joe, wondering if you’ve listened to yourself lately. From all the research I’ve done, it seems that you’re truly in favour of totally shutting down immigration to the United States until a more hardy screening process is erected.
Here’s the thing: For years, we’ve mourned over the political and ideological barriers that made it unsafe for many people to mention the name of Jesus. We labelled these places the 10/40 Window and wrote books about them. We prayed for walls to fall and for the godless to see the light. How we longed to send more missionaries, given that for the most part we preferred to stay.
Day by day, year by year, our prayers were answered. The borders disappeared, some at the end of a pen and some by the end of a gun. But what a shock it has been to us that the roads that lead into these places have lanes that allow people out!
I have a friend who thinks that my issue with your stance on immigration stems from my Canadian niceness; that the big difference between you and I is cultural. He’s probably correct, to a degree. I don’t own any guns. Yet.
But then I think of how you and I both want to point people to Jesus. I think about the incarnation, and how this Jesus whom you and I both serve took some pretty serious risks all those years ago when he injected himself into this diseased world. I think about his sacrifice thirty-some years later, and how it must have hurt…literally. Could it be that following in his footsteps might require us to sacrifice some of our security, and a discomfort that Tylenol can’t touch?
“The kingdom of God is at hand…” He said; a kingdom with no screening process, save the one put in place with his own blood. The Jewish screening process was, in fact, torn in two from top to bottom. What if the time has come for us to choose between the citizenships we cling to so tightly? What if the time has passed where you could be an American Christian, and me a Canadian one?
The view from this side of the 49th parallel suggests that you and your fellow Americans are incapable of separating church and state. I think we’d better start practising, because when Jesus comes back it won’t be a democracy, and he’s going to invite way more people in than you or I are comfortable with.
In conclusion, let me mention one little question I can’t seem to get out of my head: Can we invite one individual to come to the altar singing “Just As I Am”, when we refuse to invite the masses to our collective table just as they are?
Thanks for listening.
God let the walls come down we’d pray
We’ll send our best hoping that they
May preach good news and escape the blade
For we, dear lord, prefer to stay.
God when the borders disappear
We vow to send more over there
For we want to see your kingdom come
To them while we remain right here.
“I think perhaps you’ve missed the point,
Said a broken God with misplaced joint,
pierced hands and feet, and torn, bruised skin,
“Your constitution is not my focal point.”
“These are all my children dear:
The ones you love and the ones you fear
And like me it may cost you all you have
To eat their sin and draw them near.”