Postmortem

Today’s Reading : I Kings 17

It has happened again, God has intentionally brought this message and passage of Scriptures to me this week.  Over the last year, God has been reintroducing the same concepts at different venues or times.   Last week, our children had this verse presented to them with the main idea of “Give to God” and then as I am preparing for this writing my theme is “Postmortem”.  These themes are completely different, but their main composition is the same: Give to God in all circumstances and He will provide everything.

In this story, we are introduced to one of the most prolific and influential individuals in Judaism and Christianity outside of Jesus and Moses, Elijah.  In the beginning of the chapter, Elijah tells Ahab that because of the heinous ways that the king has been toward God and his people that there will be a famine and drought throughout the land.  Once Elijah makes this proclamation, God speaks to Elijah and he retreats to the wilderness for safety.    The wilderness that he is sent to is North of Jerusalem and close to his hometown.   While in the wilderness, God sends him food by ravens and he drinks water from the brook. After the brook runs dry, Elijah retreats farther North to Zarephath, which a seaside town.  In this town, he greets a widow who is preparing for her last meal with her son.  This is truly her last meal of life because the famine has been so brutal that there is no more wheat or grain that survived to make any additional flour.  This widow has a small amount of flour to make one last cake of bread.  Elijah asks her to make him a cake of bread before she makes herself a cake.  The widow agrees and then is blessed with oil and flour to outlast the famine.  During some time later, the widow’s son is ill and then dies.  The widow is furious at the lack of respect and audacity that the prophet would allow her son to die.  Elijah then takes the son and prays over him and he is returned to life.

In these 24 verses, there is so much packed in that address our everyday life.   First, we must know who we are and whom we are.  Elijah knew that he was God’s prophet and was not afraid of speaking truth into the situation.  Second, when God directs us, we must go (without question).  God told Elijah to go and Elijah went.  He was directed to go home, but not the place he knew. Elijah was directed to go to a sanctuary close to where he was familiar.  He was then provided with food from some unlikely sources: Ravens. These birds are not known to be kind and cuddly, but viscous and tricky.   Third, find the people that God provides for us and ask boldly.  Elijah asked the widow boldly for her last piece of bread [and water].  Fourth, Give to God first and then he will provide unimaginable things.  The widow (who was not Jewish, believed in a great God and obeyed) submitted to the request of Elijah and was blessed. Finally, don’t limit God’s blessings. The widow saw the miracle that God preformed with the flour and was still not fully convince that he would take care of her son.

The word Postmortem has many definitions: 1.) the examination of the body after death. 2.) The reexamination of the details after a particular event. The postmortem of this story can be seen three-fold: Mental, Emotional/Spiritual, Physical. There is one resurrection in the story, but three distinct deaths that happen throughout the story.

  • Mental:The widow was suffering from mental death.  When she is introduced we can see that she is depressed and full of anxiety.  She has lost her husband.  She has not been able to provide for her family, and now she and her son are preparing to die due to lack of food.  This famine is one of the most trying times that the region has been through.  There are other stories of this time that people has resorted to cannibalism to survive. She has resigned completely to her situation.  How many times have we been in situations that have completely left us destitute and we have lost all hope?   This is the space that this woman is full entrenched.
  • Emotional/ Spiritual: This widow has probably tried all the gods of Ahab and the other kings of the time and they have not given her any relief. Elijah turns up at the scene and she immediately recognized that he is a man of God.  She has been spiritually dead for quite some time and is now having a revival of the spirit after she has loss so much.  How many times have we continually lost special things or people in our lives and we have become despondent to everything? We become numb and apathetic?
  • Physical death:This is when the son of the widow dies while the prophet of God is in their house.  The widow is completely upset, frustrated, and mad that this has happened to her son.  She expected not to worry about anything while Elijah was there.  This physical death completely shuts down everything else.  She could survive these other deaths that have afflicted her, but this was the last piece that she finally submitted everything.

The story of the widow is our story: we will undergo so many deaths in our lives that we continue to push through.  We face mental deaths daily, spiritual deaths often, and physical deaths ultimately and we try to do this on our own.  God has shown us that through his son, Jesus, we are not alone and we do not have to face these things alone because he has already overcome death.  Let us remember that we have the victory after death because Jesus has conquered death

A Change in Paradigm

When you think of a funeral and what Bible passages are read most commonly, which ones come to mind? Today’s reading of Psalm 23 most certainly is in the top few. When I hear this verse, I picture a person walking down a dark path lonely with a light up ahead. I’m not sure this would be the mental vision God would want me to have about death. As I read this verse more closely, what stuck out to me is that it is “the valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4. We, who are still living, are in the “shadow of death.” This is where we have fears, anxieties, and worries that cause us stress. This is when we need his “rod and staff” to “comfort me.” This is when I need to “fear no evil” and my soul needs restoring by laying in “green pastures” and by going “beside still waters.”

Revelation 21:4 tells us, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be morning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” When I die, I want my funeral to be a celebration that I’m living in Heaven in perfect peace worshiping the only King forever. I want a band playing songs of praise with everyone standing and worshiping Him reminding all there of the joy they can have in eternal life through confessing their sins and belief in Him and His resurrection! They don’t need to be sad for me…I’m not in a dark valley standing there by myself lonely. I’m experiencing a joy we can’t even imagine on this Earth worshiping Him in a similar way to how I hope they are at that moment.

The first part of Psalm 23:8 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” telling us maybe Psalm 23 is more appropriate for a baby dedication, a first communion, a baptism, or even a wedding. We can live in perfect peace throughout our life because the second part of Psalm 23:8 says, “and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” When we fix our eyes on that which is eternal (the only thing that matters), we will have comfort and respite from the challenges in this life.

Here is the song 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman which was sung at my wife’s great uncle Lee Dexheimer’s funeral. It reminded me we will experience a peace that passes all human understanding just like Lee did that day and still is today, forever and ever. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXDGE_lRI0E

Dead Weight

stretcher gurney for patient in hospital (blur background and wooden table for displaying your product)

Leviticus 22, Psalms 28-29, Ecclesiastes 5, 2 Timothy 1

I was really looking forward to sharing this new book of the Bible I found called Ecclesiastes. Well, it was new to me anyway. I’ve been working for a few days in a row at the hospital. Now that I’m sitting down to write and catching up on my reading I see that this short book has been the subject of a few reflections this week. I’ve been drawing out a little “blueprint” of Ecclesiastes all week. Of course, we already know that it was written by King David’s son, Solomon almost 3,000 years ago. It seems to me that nearly nothing could be the same then as it is now. But, with a closer look, there are 5 key themes that are very relatable.

  • Searching
    • Without God there will be no true pleasure or happiness, searching for wisdom, knowledge or joy is futile outside of Him.
  • Emptiness
    • Fill your life with God. The cure for emptiness is Him.
  • Work
    • God gives you the ability and opportunity to work so that you can use your time to glorify Him.
  • Death
    • God gives us hope that goes beyond death
  • Wisdom
    • We must get to know God and honor him in order to have wisdom

See NIV, ESV and HCSB study bibles for more on these themes, I did NOT come up with them myself

When you place Solomon’s words in those 5 categories, it brings us back to what I think is the most important theme: without God life is empty. I spent the weekend thinking that the lessons presented to us in Ecclesiastes are darker and more serious than Proverbs. Tonight as I sit and reflect on how to really bring them alive in my life, I realized that God had given me an example through death.

My Saturday started in the basement of the hospital. I’m a physical therapist there and I cover a weekend or two a month. I had my clipboard in hand with a long list of patients to be seen for the day. As I punched the up button on the elevator, a security guard rolled up with a metal gurney. A few years of experience told me that she was on a transport mission. A patient had died, the family had come and gone and now it was time for the body to be moved. We rode up together with few words passing between us. We exited on the same floor and I went about my business checking charts. Next to me the security guard was focused on her task, checking boxes on a list and packing personal items into a box. It’s important to take care of sensitive matters at the hospital before visiting hours begin. I asked the guard which room she was going to, so that I could avoid bringing patients into that hallway. Before she could answer, a nurse turned and said, “We could really use some help lifting the patient, it’s kinda like dead weight.”

A life. Transformed in an instant from a vibrant presence to dead weight. For the record, this nurse is a patient, compassionate and kind person. This ill-timed pun wasn’t meant to diminish the life lost. It did get me thinking though about my own dead weight on this earth. The HCSB Study Bible opens the book of Ecclesiastes with this introduction:

“The Bible is never shy about confronting painful truths or hard questions. The book of Ecclesiastes faces the issue of how we can find meaning on life in light of the seemingly futile nature of everything. It will not allow the reader to retreat into superficial answers. It does not answer the problem by comforting us with hollow slogans. To the contrary, its motto is “Everything Is Futile.” But by forcing us to face the futility of human existence, it guides us to a life free of empty purpose and deceitful vindication.”

I got to thinking about the patient that I didn’t know. He or she did not take wealth or poverty with them. The struggles he or she faced in illness and death are now gone. I wonder, was it a life well lived? What truly held weight at the end and what simply didn’t matter anymore? My favorite verse in today’s scripture is this:

“For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.” Ecclesiastes 5:7

 Am I so full of words, and dreams and aspirations that there is no room left for obedience to God? The foundation of this teaching is our eventual mortality. We can try and try to impress God with our gifts and promises but in the end we cannot deceive Him. He calls us to be humble and obedient. He is asking us to depend on him and his grace. Without Him, life is meaningless. Back in the hospital room as the clean white sheet was drawn up and the wheels began to turn toward the door, I saw an end as well as a beginning. I asked God to lead me into fulfillment in Him. I asked for more reminders to broaden my vision from the context of today into his plan of eternity. As I heard the elevator ding and the heavy doors slide open, I realized that there is no timeline. There is no promise of tomorrow, only the promise of right now. Lord, help us to seize this moment, this Monday, this week. Help us to delight in you here until we are there…