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Thanks for visiting our website! This month’s picture is from the August 2018 retreat of Colombian preachers in Santa Marta. I was honored to be asked to participate. [Click picture to enlarge.]

Colombian Preachers

Ministry and mission work is a team effort -- Jan and I have shared the work of ministry and missions for 49+ years! Countless people have encouraged us, supported us, loved us, and prayed for us. In addition to the customary "Brother Bob," I am also known as dad and papaw. One of my favorite breakfasts is huevos fritos, frijoles, and tortillas, with a good hot sauce and a cup of rich Colombian coffee! My greatest joy in life is being part of the kingdom; my #1 priority is to advance "kingdom things" and to help develop authentic "kingdom people." I seek to serve and share the good news about Jesus everywhere I go, helping people find Jesus and helping people mature as disciples of Jesus. One of the greatest blessings of my life is to be loved by countless people around the world!


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Archive for the ‘Death-Funerals’ Category

Harvey Young: Surrender to What Counts!

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

This weekend is the Tulsa Workshop (ISWW = International Soul Winning Workshop). I will not be at the workshop today because Jan and I will attend Harvey Young’s funeral in Fort Gibson.
These two events–the workshop and Harvey’s funeral–converge in my mind today because of a conversation Harvey and I shared exactly five years ago this weekend at the 2008 workshop. Harvey was one of the elders during my eight years of ministry in Fort Gibson. We maintained a special relationship through the years. We sharpened one another as iron sharpens iron. We loved asking one another about new concepts, books read, and spiritual helps.
In 2008, Harvey had found a new “polar star” for his life. A simple saying that could make all the difference in the Christian life: “You will never be worth much to God until you learn to surrender to what counts.” The spiritual disciplines must include surrender. It is likely that surrender is the first of the spiritual disciplines–to be mastered before any other discipline. Surrender is the ultimate expression of self-sacrifice and thinking like Jesus (Phil. 2:5).
Today I write about this phrase as I remember Harvey and his influence in my life and the lives of countless others.

Two things. First, surrender! Until the lesson of surrender is learned, we will continue to think it is about us and that success depends on us. Our surrender gives the glory to God. Second, surrender to what counts. Our tendency to surrender to the minutiae, trivial, or urgent must be overcome. These barely deserve mention as we seek to focus of our lives. Surrendering to what counts is not easy, because a plethora of tasks, good projects, and commendable activities call for our attention. The choice of the best over the better or the good is seldom easy. Christian surrender means that the only thing worth giving our lives for is Jesus Christ and his cause.
Surrendering to what counts will cause us to discard as unimportant the things the world teaches us to value. Jesus describes this surrender with another term: cross-carrying. Cross-carrying as Jesus describes it will demote self-promotion and diminish the importance of possessions, reputation, and the accolades of others.
Surrendering to what counts opens new doors of genuine service and effectiveness in the Kingdom, because all that matters is the business of the King.

“God, help us this day to surrender ourselves fully. Help us to identify the things that really matter in life. May we surrender ourselves to what counts, because of the majesty of the One we know as Lord.”

The Funeral: to an unknown “god” or “God”

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

The friends and relatives assemble, the hushed whispers tell a story of layers of grief unexpressed, a thick fog that often envelops the valley of death. We need words of comfort, so we call a minister whom no one knows, least of all the deceased who was by all accounts never much of a church-goer but a good father, beloved husband, and a really good hunter and fisherman. The minister’s job is to offer up incense-like words that explain to God (or to the gods) the unreligious life of the deceased. He speaks the words from the funeral manual: “Let not your heart be troubled and be not afraid.” The tired way he speaks, going through the motions he well knows, brings to mind the phrase, “God Out of a Machine”—a bold, tired attempt to resolve the plot of this individual death story. The words are powerless to resolve the tragedy of hopeless separation that death brings when life is not lived in anticipation of eternity. A corpse, the plaintive unspoken cry, “Why have you forsaken us?” Groaning mourners, consolation denied even though the words of peace and the benediction suggest that all is well. What can one expect when one brings an offering to an unknown God or god?

Talking about death–does my speech betray me?

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Most have heard the phrase, “Your speech betrays you.” The phrase seems to have roots in the biblical account of Peter’s denial of Jesus since he was identified in part by his speech (Matthew 26:73). You probably know some of the contemporary applications: Christians who curse, people who say one thing and do another…. You can easily expand the examples.

Over the past month, I have had two experiences that provide background for this blog. First, this week I have heard or read a phrase several times that concerns me when I analyze it from a Christian-biblical perspective. What do we mean when we say, “That person lost a family member”? Do we mean we don’t know where the person is? Are we speaking of separation from something valuable? The word “lost” has several possible meanings. I will grant that some of those meanings may apply to the death situation, but read on.

Second, earlier this month I spent some time in a spiritual retreat with about 150 folks that for Jan and me have a special place in our hearts. One of our post-retreat observations as we drove home was that this group of our brothers and sisters in Christ has a different view of life and death. What difference does it make when our overarching attitude is that “Life is not always that good, death is a natural part of life and is not all that bad”?

From these two experiences, I raise my question about how we should talk about death. Are there better ways to describe the death experience than those we sometimes use? The person who dies in Christ experiences something better, even as Paul says that death is gain (Phil. 1:21). For Christians, those who continue to live here on earth gain the certainty that a loved one has won the victory and that the struggles are past. I started a list of “losses” and “gains”–my gains list is longer than my losses list.

I am going to try to change my speech with regard to death. To begin, I will simply speak of death and avoid the metaphors–passed on, passed, etc. I will try to incorporate more biblical terminology into my speech and conversations concerning death. Perhaps most important, I will change my attitude toward life and death by thinking about these realities in more biblical terms.

What suggestions do you have? What biblical terms do you like or prefer in describing life and death? How could we reflect a healthier, more biblical attitude toward death?

What is Your Life?

Friday, July 1st, 2011

Today I will attend the funeral for the mother of one of my elders. This brother in Christ is a dear friend, and we work together in mission activities. Jan and I have driven eight hours to be here. We will make the same journey in reverse today as we return home. Why? What is life about?

James writes that our lives are only as a brief vapor that appears and then vanishes (4:14-16). I wonder what James had in mind. What had he seen that he was referring to? What might we think of? Do you think of the steam rising from a boiling kettle? The early morning mist that lingers over a pond in summer, or the morning mist on the valleys of the Appalachians in West Virginia? Do you think of a cloud that will soon be gone?
James reminds that the substance of life is not in the external but in the internal, not in the visible but in the invisible. After the water vapor from the boiling kettle enters the air and cools, it still exists, but it is no longer visible. This describes our lives–the vapor makes us visible. Genesis 2 calls us dust. A layer of dust on a curio table may be visible; dust in the air is visible only in the particles that dance in a ray of sun shining into the room.
May we so live life that when the visible part of life is gone, the invisible remains and continues. The invisible continues in our influences, the love we share, the examples we give, and the sacrifices we make. Even after our time on earth is gone, our lives remain through those we have touched.
Our lives also continue because we are not only earthly beings but image of God creation. We are made to exist in this biological sphere, but we continue to exist as spiritual beings when earthly life ends.

Thus the question of our title may be answered in two realms. Physical life can be filled with physical things–pleasures, things, experiences, possessions, much as Solomon describes in Ecclesiastes 1-2. But this definition of life comes up short. It makes life seem good, but it is temporal and fleeting.
The question is better answered in the unseen realm of spiritual realities, lasting relationships, life spent in things that are bigger than we are and things that will last longer than this world. I want to answer the question by pointing to a life spent to help people be better, help people find Jesus, meet the basic needs of people, build relationships, exhibit the spirit and attitude of Jesus. I want to answer the question by living out commitments, sacrifices, love, friendship, and brotherhood through Jesus’ presence and power in my life in the Spirit.

Tribute: Carl Heffington

Friday, August 20th, 2010

I received word last night that our dear brother in Christ, Carl Heffington, has gone to be with his Lord. Jan and I first met Carl and Claire during a trip to Guatemala. They were seeking to make a difference in their little part of the world. They are examples of what every Christian can do when we are serious about the world into which God has inserted us.

We enjoyed attending Carl’s Sunday evening English Bible class in Antigua, and enjoyed seeing the work that was progressing in San Lorenzo and the surrounding area under their tender encouragement. Our prayers are with Claire and the rest of the family. Pray today for God’s missionaries–wherever they may be. Pray that you might see the place where God has placed you as his missionary.

Every heart where God dwells is a missionary. Every heart where God does not dwell is a mission field.

Another Funeral

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I just came back to my office from lunch with the family.  I will leave for the funeral home in a few minutes.  Death is always surprising but never should be.  We merely participate in the rhythms of life.  We gather to celebrate life–we gather to acknowledge death, and along the way we establish memories.

Funerals are opportunities to put away the memories, to store them in those places where we can be sure to find them.  I cannot list for you all of the funerals that I have helped conduct over 40+ years of ministry.  I wish I had begun by keeping a list.  I am sure the number is well over 100–perhaps nearer 200.  While I do not have a list, I can assure you that if you mention a name of a person whose funeral I conducted, I will have a memory of that event with details.

Some do not like funerals.  There is finality, there is grieving, loss, questioning, uncertainty.  In that short list, we who minister should find guidance in what we will say.

Carl Capers: A Tribute

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Births are part of life.  This week Jan and I are anticipating the birth of another granddaughter.  Funerals are equally part of life.  Many in our society seek insulation and isolation from death.  I am amazed at how many young people have never attended a funeral.  I am on the “call list” for a local funeral home–a minister on call when a family does not have a minister.  I am amazed at how many families are unconnected spiritually (unchurched).

The first place I preached full-time, I did 27 funerals in 27 months.  Yesterday found another funeral on my calendar.  Funerals are interesting.  Ministers do not preach funerals.  Every person preaches their own funeral.  Ministers only give structure to the memories.   This was a “good” funeral.  Carl Capers preached his own funeral.  His love for people, his love for his family, and his love for the church were obvious.  He was a servant.  He was dependable.  He was generous.  He was special.

In the last days of his life as his health waned, I saw parts of Carl I had not seen before.  He had a sense of humor.  He said to Edna, “You’re probably the best wife I’ve ever had.”  Carl was a philosopher.  As this brother who had been active all of his life became bedridden, he sagely observed:  “A man is real fortunate if he gets to live until he dies.”

Thank you, Lord, for the reminder that I am preaching my own funeral.  Thank you that I knew Carl.  Thank you for his example of faithful service.  A man is real fortunate if he gets to live until he dies.  So he is–and Carl did.

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