Life Lessons — What death teaches us

This past week, a friend from church passed away at the far too young age of fifty-eight.

On Friday morning, we attended the memorial service and we were able to see just how much one life can mean.

Before I go on, I should note that death for the immediate family is NEVER a learning situation and anyone who attempts to comfort those closest to death with words related to the deceased “being in a better place” or it being “better that they are not suffering” deserve both scorn and any physical retribution that is meted out upon their bodies.

So for the Gaines family, this note is not for you. There is nothing for you to learn at this time — it is just time for you to grieve in whichever direction your emotions may take you although you can perhaps take a small comfort in the many things that Ruth’s life taught at least one person.

Lesson 1 — People Matter Most

The people who came to the ceremony were what you would usually expect, but the people who came from out-of-town spoke volumes.

The first that I recall was a woman about twenty-five years old who had been a friend of Ruth’s son, Steven in high school. She called her “Mama Gaines” and told about how she cared about all of the kids that she met along the way.

The second was a former boss of Ruth’s husband, Rick, who described Rick as the hardest working man that he had ever met. He and his wife and flown from Chicago that morning for the service and were driving to the airport to catch another flight out that evening.

A third family made the drive from Philadelphia. Another man flew from California to Georgia for the ceremony.

People only make these efforts when there is real love and real giving.

Lesson Two — Each Day is a gift

On my Facebook page, I have this quote in the handy, dandy quote box — Each day is a gift from the LORD. Like manna, it can only be used once and then it is gone.

The truth is that none of us know how long we have and what we choose to do with our life matters.

Somewhere along the line I have read the quote that “No one regrets on their death-bed that they didn’t work enough.”

This is not a condemnation of hard work, but simply a reminder to stop and think about what is important. Do you really need to watch one more sitcom or mow the lawn or should you pick up the phone and call your best friend from high school instead?

Lesson 3 — Living in Peace is a good thing

Another characteristic that you could see from what was said is that there was not an acrimony between Ruth and those she knew. Oh, I’m sure there was the day-to-day stuff that goes around in families, but there was no bitterness or hard feelings.

When we harbor bitterness, we hurt ourselves far more than others. I think it was one of my pastors who said, “Bitterness is a cup of poison that we drink thinking that it will harm our enemies.”

I’m thankful that within my extended family we have striven for peace and that good friends have come to me when we have a problem and wanted to work it out.

This is not easy since you may not always get the response that you want, but I take comfort in the scripture that says “As far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

You may find that you have someone in your life who you have done all you can to make peace with it and at that point, you just have to let them go.

Lesson 4 — You can always give no matter your circumstances

I am not talking about money here, of course, but giving of yourself.

Despite a four year fight with brain cancer, Ruth was always at church because that is the call of a Christian and while she often sought prayer, she also gave prayer.

She liked to hug and she would find you and give you a hug as well.

We can always encourage people and that is even easier with today’s social media. Reaching out to people who were mentors for us and sharing how it touched us brings honor and fulfillment to those who have helped us.

Lesson 5 — You are responsible for your attitude not your circumstances

Till the day she died, Ruth maintained a sense of humor.

Sometimes when the pastor would stop by the house, she would make a “jail break” with him to get some sweet tea from McDonalds.

She would tell the aides that they needed to straighten up or she would fire them.

Attempts to correct her bent glasses frames were rejected because she liked how people would turn their heads at weird angles to try to look her in the eyes.

I contrast this with my own often bad attitude brought on by the mildest of circumstantial misdeeds.

Lesson 6 — Life should be lived

There are countless metaphors from the movies The Bucket List and Stranger Than Fiction to those proposed by self-help gurus who message is to “live your life.”

Ruth lived her life — skating, hiking, working, learning, loving, worshiping, and caring.

There are two and a half months left in this year — is there someone you need to write or call, something you’ve “always wanted to do,” something that has taken over your life that you need to dump?

Two and a half months — live your life.

Do it for Ruth.

Why the Church?

Intro

I have been a Christian for many years and sometimes I just don’t understand why God created the church.

Now, I am not talking about the most scandulous accusations and deeds of the church such that have been in the news.  It is easy to see that those things have nothing to do with true Christianity.  They are simply the work of evil men doing doing evil things.

But what about the Church when it is functioning normally? 

Why does God have us as a part of such an organization when it seems that it would often be easier to be on our own without the conflicts that occur in the short term life of the church.

Providing stability

One of the first things that I see when I try to answer the question about why the Church is important and why being a part of a church (little “c”) body is important is that the church often provides a stability point for people who are struggling with life.

The struggling may be caused by something horrific (abuse or rejection), something bad but “normal” ( divorce, loss of job, etc) or even just regular life ( more kids than money to pay for them).

What many people fail to understand (especially those who have grown up with a relatively stable life) is that the simple act of connecting with trustworthy, loving people on a weekly or more frequent basis adds a great amount of stability into the life of people who otherwise feel out of control.

Modeling

The second aspect of the Church that continues throughout time is the aspect of modeling.  Paul talks to Timothy about passing on the things that he has seen and heard.

For many years as Kradan and I have lead small groups, I have gotten far more comments about the lifestyle we modeled (our interaction with each other and the kids — kind to each other, but honest about our issues as well) than I have ever gotten for somehow enlighting someone through teaching.

Yes, there are “ah ha” moments in the teaching when I see the light bulb come on for people, but far and away are the lessons learned through observation, through enjoying hospitality, and through seeing how people deal with and resolve conflict with each other.

We all need people

Often times when we have been Christians for a long time, we begin to feel like we can handle life with just us and God.  It’s not that we think we are better than other people, but rather we sometimes feel that we ought to, by now, after SOOOOO many years as Christians be able to handle life on our own or at least  just with God.

Yet God has shown me through so many wonderful Christians over the years that only He can touch me and, by choice, He quite often chooses to do it through the hands of other believers.

Generational connection

One of the most beautiful things to see is how we move on in the cycle of generations within the church.

For so long I was a child and a youth, and then suddenly I was a young adult who someone trusted to lead a small group.  And then age started to kick in and as I’ve moved into my forties, I was one of the elders and one of the “senior” small group leaders (by which they meant they couldn’t kill my group no matter what).

And now I have friends who are in their 20s and 20s who are reaching out to mentor my teenager.

I have a “tweener” who is spending time helping in the nursery providing ministry to those kids whose parents can then soak in the word without worrying about their kids.

I have parents in their seventies who continue to model giving and hospitality and multi-generational relationships.

There is a momentum in the church

The list above is not exhaustive as there are many other benefits to the church, but I think that I sum up it’s greatest value like this:

Involvement in the church builds a momentum in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

Like marriage, the Church works not when we have “give and take” but as our pastor said today when we have “Give and Give.”

I am often reminded of Galations 6:9 now that I have reached the middl-ish part of my life:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

We never know if the next prayer, the next instruction, the next devotion, or the next encouragement will be the one that pushes ourselves or another into a tighter orbit in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

We can only fall back on a God who cares so deeply about us and trust Him to know what He was doing when He created the church and to continue to press on towards what He has for us.