Last Words

Do you remember these commercials?  Someone's about to get "offed" and is asked, "What do you want on your tombstone?" 

It's common to ask people in their final moments what they have left to say.  I've sat with several people just before dying and heard them speak a final time to those that they love.  Sometimes they share immense amounts of wisdom, sometimes grace and love, and sometimes even anger or resentment.  Whatever those words are, they seem to bear more weight than anything we say in casual conversation at any other time.  They also seem to be the things that we've held back from saying, assuming that there will come the opportunity to say them later.

Have you given much thought to what your final words would be?  If you knew that your time was coming (and it is), what would you say?  And to whom?  If you could go back to the last moments that you spent with a family member or friend, what would you hope they'd say?  What would you ask them?

I'm doing a study with some of the adults at Mt. Bethel right now, entitled "Remembering Your Story: Creating Your Own Spiritual Autobiography."  It's been one of the most interesting groups I've spent time with, mainly because we've shared so many stories.  I've learned alot about some of these folks that I wouldn't have otherwise.  Most of them have decided to put effort into telling their story.  A couple of them have talked about writing down some of the memories that they'd been sharing, so they'd be remembered after they're gone.  Another has mentioned writing letters to those she loves, sharing important information and feelings.

Unfortunately, for every one of those people who have had the opportunity to have one last conversation with those around them, there are probably dozens who never get the chance.  The world would be a very different place if we knew when that moment was coming.  (We might even have some of those long-lost dessert recipes our grandmothers took to the grave with them.)

Tomorrow is Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday.  It's the day that we remember Jesus last meal with his disciples.  He knew it would be his last and he made the most of every second.  From that meal, we get the sacrament of Holy Communion.  We also get a collection of the last instructions of Christ.  Within all of that conversation is one command or mandate (thus "Maundy" Thursday).  In Mark 13, Jesus says, "A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this, all men wll know you are my disciples, if you love one another" (v.34)

As Easter nears and we remember the weight of a person's last words, let's meditate on those last words of Christ.  Love each other.  Love those who are hard to love.  Forgive those who have offended you.  Jesus' love for us went all the way to the cross.  Love like that.


Prayers for Healing

At Mt. Bethel, we have kept the Capes family in our prayers for over a year now.  Jason was diagnosed many months ago with Metastatic Malignant Melanoma, which you may know is an incurable form of cancer.

Two weeks ago, Jason received the results from his latest scans and the news was not good.  His condition has gotten worse and he is running out of options.  So we pulled out the stops and had a prayer service for the family.

I sent out an invitation to some of our local pastors who have ties to the Capes family and was honestly expecting a small gathering of quiet prayer.  I was wrong.

Last Tuesday night, 174 people showed up to pray!  With the help of some of my pastoral colleagues, we began with Communion and singing.  We prayed over the oil and anointed Jason, Alecia, and the kids.  And then we invited others to come and pray.

I told the pastors before we began that I had a plan for the first part of the service - all the way up to the blessing of the oil.  I told them that I had no idea what we would do beyond that point, aside from a benediction at the end, but that we would move at the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit moved.

A crowd gathered at the altar, laying hands on this family, and praying from their hearts.  I have to say it was probably the closest thing I've ever experienced to what Pentecost must have been like.  People, in their own voices, called out to God and God heard every prayer.  It was a beautiful moment that displays for you what the Church really is. 

We prayed for healing - physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational.  Honestly, I don't know if Jason's cancer will disappear - I'll leave that in God's hands.  I do know that healing took place that night though.  I know that many who were there felt God move in their own lives.  I know that the time was used to bring a sense of peace to Jason's family and friends.

Earlier this year, I heard someone say, "The church is what's left after the building burns down."  How true.  How profound.

We continue, as the Church, to pray for Jason and others like him.  We continue to reach out as we are reminded that God has called us to greater things that we can fathom.


Psalm 102

A friend of mine received some bad news yesterday.  Pray for Jason.  My prayers are best offered by the Psalmist (102):

1 Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry for help come to you.

2 Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.

3 For my days vanish like smoke;
my bones burn like glowing embers.

4 My heart is blighted and withered like grass;
I forget to eat my food.

5 Because of my loud groaning
I am reduced to skin and bones.

6 I am like a desert owl,
like an owl among the ruins.

7 I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof.

8 All day long my enemies taunt me;
those who rail against me use my name as a curse.

9 For I eat ashes as my food
and mingle my drink with tears

10 because of your great wrath,
for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.

11 My days are like the evening shadow;
I wither away like grass.

12 But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever;
your renown endures through all generations.

13 You will arise and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to show favor to her;
the appointed time has come.

14 For her stones are dear to your servants;
her very dust moves them to pity.

15 The nations will fear the name of the LORD,
all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.

16 For the LORD will rebuild Zion
and appear in his glory.

17 He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;
he will not despise their plea.

18 Let this be written for a future generation,
that a people not yet created may praise the LORD :

19 "The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high,
from heaven he viewed the earth,

20 to hear the groans of the prisoners
and release those condemned to death."

21 So the name of the LORD will be declared in Zion
and his praise in Jerusalem

22 when the peoples and the kingdoms
assemble to worship the LORD.

23 In the course of my life [a] he broke my strength;
he cut short my days.

24 So I said:
"Do not take me away, O my God, in the midst of my days;
your years go on through all generations.

25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.

26 They will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
and they will be discarded.

27 But you remain the same,
and your years will never end.

28 The children of your servants will live in your presence;
their descendants will be established before you."


Do Something

I met yesterday with a candidate for ministry.  Now that I've been ordained for nearly two years, I'm expected to mentor the occasional candidate and help them develop/discern their call to ministry.  I have to admit, it is a little strange for me, nearly 30 years old, to mentor a candidate that is looking at a second career in ministry, whose children are my age, and who has more years of experience in the church than I do.  Though the experience is a little odd, it's still rewarding.

Yesterday we talked about the gifts and graces we have for ministry.  God calls EVERY person to do some sort of ministry - there are no spectators in the Kingdom of God.  For each person he calls, whether to lay ministry or ordained ministry, he equips them with certain gifts and graces to do the job.  Yesterday, I got to share again my story and how I feel that God has gifted me.

In just a few years of ministry, I've had extensive experience.  I've preached, taught, prayed, visited, built, raised money, baptized, counseled, served, moved, mentored (discipled), administered, initiated conflict, made peace, stumbled, picked others up, married, buried, and grown wiser through it all.  I can say that all most of it has been a joy and some experiences have humbled me while others have inflated my ego.  I can admit that some have crushed my spirit and brought a tear while others have energized me and put a smile on my face.

Of everything I've done in ministry, both before and after ordination, the one thing that energizes me more than anything is serving others.  Though God has gifted me in many ways, I know that God has wired me to serve.  I've been on countless mission trips as a participant and as a leader.  I've gone abroad to places like Jamaica (somebody had to do it, right?) and Honduras and I've worked for others in my own back yard.  I've led VBS lessons in English and Spanish, built and repaired homes, churches, and chicken houses, served food, and shared my faith in word and deed.

I've been gone anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks.  Each time, I return home physically exhausted and sleep better than any other time.  Though my body is tired, my spirit is renewed and charged up.  In fact, when I've gone more than a year without participating in some sort of mission project, I can feel my spirit dragging behind me, begging for a change of scenery.

When I head out on mission trips, I secretly watch those who have never been on a trip before.  I watch to see how the week is affecting them - as the culture shock sets in, God's word takes on a whole new meaning for them, and they go through a transformation.  I have yet to see someone not changed by serving God and serving others.

I know that I'm wired this way.  I know that God has created me do be dependent on these sorts of experiences.  I believe it's not just me though.  I read passages like Matthew 25:31-46 and see that our lives now, as well as our lives to come, depend on how we offer life to others. 

I'll run the risk of turning off all of the Glenn Beck fans out there, but we'll call it social justice.  When we make the world a better place by helping the helpless, holding the hands of the lost, and encouraging the downtrodden, there is a justice that "rolls on like a river."  Not only are those who receive the help blessed, but those who give the help are blessed (sometimes more than those receiving it). 

Four years ago, I helped a group of students re-roof a house.  It wasn't the first time I had done that, not even the 20th time.  We worked in the Georgia heat for 3 days, tearing off three layers of old shingles, replacing decking, laying felt and carefully placing shingles.  The students took turns visiting with Ann, the woman who lived there. 

Ann was grateful for the free roof and for the company.  The first day at her home was clearly awkward for the kids - they didn't realize people were living like this in their own town and they weren't quite sure how to interact with Ann.  By the third day, each one was covered in sweat, grit, and tar and were sharing hugs with Ann as if they had known her for a lifetime.  The last night, we gathered the kids around and asked them about how the experience had changed them. 

They were hooked - not because they (the have's) had helped others (the have-not's), but because they had done something that pleased God that stretched far beyond shingles and nails.  The Spirit had moved in that week in the hearts of those students as they connected with Ann and saw a different side of someone they may have avoided before the experience.

There are still more Ann's out there than I can reach, even with that great group of students.  There are many mouths to feed, backs to clothe, hands to hold, and people to lift up.  While we see devistation in Haiti, Chile, and Turkey, we sometimes forget that there are people in our own backyard that we can help today without having to buy a plane ticket, learn a language, or go through training.  Sometimes it's as easy as dropping off dinner or calling to say a prayer.

Do something.  Too many Christians will live a lifetime without doing anything about their faith.  Too many churches are so inactive in their communities that the churches are dying with those neighborhoods.  Heed the Great Commission.  Move and see if God doesn't move you.  Make a difference in the world and see if there's not a difference in your life.