A Pre-Election Sermon

The following post is my sermon manuscript from yesterday. I delivered this message to the people of my church as a reminder that this election, while significant for many reasons, is not the end-all be-all of our existence. While I didn’t read the manuscript verbatim, I did read the majority of it; I was that scared.

Some people will find the content offensive. Others might find it reason to never read the blog again. After yesterday, I’m okay with that. But regardless of how you feel when you finish reading, and no matter who wins tomorrow–Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney–God will still be the only One in whom we can find salvation, deliverance, and peace.


Back in September, President Obama framed the coming election for the delegates to the 2012 Democratic National Convention. During his acceptance speech for the party’s nomination, he said:

“But when all is said and done – when you pick up that ballot to vote – you will face the clearest choice of any time in a generation. Over the next few years, big decisions will be made in Washington, on jobs and the economy; taxes and deficits; energy and education; war and peace – decisions that will have a huge impact on our lives and our children’s lives for decades to come.

“On every issue, the choice you face won’t be just between two candidates or two parties…It will be a choice between two different paths for America…A choice between two fundamentally different visions for the future.

The last few weeks have reinforced that notion for us: that what we will decide at the polls on Tuesday will not just determine the outcome for the next four years, but realistically set the table for the next 10 or 20. With multiple Supreme Court positions likely to open up in the near term, the ongoing issue with American solvency, a world economy on the brink of utter chaos, and the multiple challenges we face in an increasingly changing culture, the stakes would seem to be highest.

It’s been reflected in the passion people have put into this election. Whether for Obama/Biden or Romney/Ryan, the amount of heat and urgency seen in this election is different from even the last 20 years. If you’re Red State, you’re really Red State; if you’re Blue State, then you’re really Blue State. Both sides are equally committed to the fundamental notion that their candidate is the one who can lead America out of the great morass, and into a future of great change and hope.

Well over one-third of Georgia’s eligible voters have already cast their ballot in this election; with over 1.5 million votes already in the ballot box, our citizenry has mobilized to make sure that their voice is heard, their candidate supported, their vision of the future registered and agreed upon. We may very well see numbers greater than the historic turnout in 2008, and if so, we’ll witness one of the greatest displays of non-wartime citizenship in our nation’s history.

Whatever the outcome, we will be able to say on Wednesday, November 7th, that the people of this great country, man and woman, conservative and liberal, religious and non-religious, were moved to exercise their rights and duties as citizens in order to guide this great nation into its future. We will be able to say that we who ran for office, campaigned for a candidate, volunteered for the polls, and cast our ballots were the very embodiment of what it means to be a patriot and member of the United States of America.

And we will be immensely proud of that fact.

In fact, one of the key components of being an American is pride in our citizenship. It may be expressed variously – either in the flag-toting, anthem-singing fervor of some or the self-examining, finger-pointing words of another – but we are at heart closely connected with the idea of not just living in this country, but being a piece of it. Being an American is not just residing within its boundaries, but placing yourself into the very fabric via your vote, your voice and your life’s work. As such, we see ourselves not merely as boarders in this wonderful land; we see ourselves as folks given a birth-right.

We are smart to understand and appreciate the power and privilege of being an American. We would be smarter to also believe that it is, at best, a worthless privilege.

Philippians 3:1-21 reads like this:

1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of Godand glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Now, I realize I left you hanging on a statement that might be charitably considered horrible, if not borderline blasphemous. I intentionally did so because I wanted you to feel as intensely about the subject of citizenship as the Apostle Paul did. In writing this letter to the Philippian church from a Roman jail cell, Paul was most concerned about reminding the saints in Philippi of the joy we have in Christ. And in the culmination of his argument, chapter 3, Paul outlines why, exactly, such joy can be found: because we are citizens destined for something greater. A better place. Another land.

We are, as the adopted sons and daughters of God, citizens of His Kingdom.

Now, Paul was a citizen of Rome. He was a citizen of Israel. He lived in this world, in this space and time, and as such he was under the rule of temporal authorities (and, interestingly enough, considered them as agents of God not to be disrespected – see Romans 13, Titus 3). But he lived his life as a citizen of Heaven; that meant that while he participated in the governments of this world, he did not find his fulfillment in them. He found that in Christ alone.

Take a quick look at what Paul so casually calls rubbish in the first eleven verses:

  1. His citizenship: “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews”. Never forget that Paul was first a Jew. His entire life, prior to meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, revolved around being a Jew. He committed himself to his people, his religion, his law, and his God. He gave himself completely to the ways and ideals of his people, and became a model of what it meant to be Jew, which dovetailed into the next item:
  2. His religion: “as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” Being a Jew meant embracing their faith, and Paul embraced the Jewish religion that he devoted his life to the study of its Law. He was a student of Gamaliel, a Pharisee of the highest order, so consumed with the perfection of God’s people that he willingly hunted down and murdered those who stepped beyond its prescribed boundaries. His race, his country, his people came before anything else, even his own personal life; it’s hard to be married to a woman when you’re so committed to God.
  3. His reputation: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” The book of Acts tells us that people bowed down to Paul – whether he was giving approval for the stoning of Stephen or securing court documents granting him expansive powers to hunt down, try and execute heretics, people knew him, knew his drive, and gave him what he wanted. Paul had power, and the early church shook at the mention of his name.

And yet he gave up all of it because of Christ. Not because he wanted to follow Christ, but because Christ showed Himself to be so much greater than all of those things combined. Paul looked at the essence of what it meant to be a Jew – one of the chosen of God! – and called it “dung” compared to being a servant of Christ.

Think about that for a minute – the magnificence of Christ outweighed what it meant for Paul to be Paul. Everything that defined Paul – his race, his religion, his reputation – was meaningless, worthless garbage compared to the person of Jesus Christ. Paul did not to commit to Jesus because Jesus promised him something; he did not commit to Jesus as an extra on top of his already impressive resume. He committed to Jesus because when he saw the face of the Risen Savior, he immediately knew Him for who He is: God made flesh.

And Paul knew nothing else mattered. Nothing.

Paul was like the man who found a pearl in a field, re-buried it, and then sold everything he had to buy the field. Compared to the pearl, everything else was meaningless.

Now contrast that with the rich young ruler, who had kept the entire law without failure. Jesus said, “Sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and come follow me.” And the young man went away very sad because he had great wealth.

You want to be a citizen of Heaven? Then you must be a citizen of Heaven.

It’s not a matter of trading this world for that one; there are plenty of us here today who have tried that exchange and found it lacking. We’ve given up things we find pleasurable in the hopes of gaining things eternal. That’s not what Paul did. Paul gained Christ and because of His surpassing greatness, Paul gave up the things of this world. Too many of us attempt to hold on to the things of this world while hoping to earn heaven in the meantime.

And far too many of us feel like we’ve already accomplished the feat.

But look at what Paul said: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.”

Paul is saying, “Look, I don’t consider that I’ve earned my trip to Heaven. I consider myself in the process of getting there, chasing after Christ with my very life, straining towards the day when I am finally made complete in Him.”

But then he goes on. “For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.”

Do you hear those words? To borrow an oft-referenced line from Star Wars, as Admiral Ackbar says, “It’s a trap!” This world, the things you desire, what you hunger for, they are your undoing! We want things that end up killing us, instead of submitting to the One who will give us life.

Tell me you don’t feel this tension lately. That niggling sense that no matter how you vote, things are only going to get marginally better. That no matter who is in office, the challenges that face this country and this world are going to be beyond their ability to truly fix. Tell me you honestly believe that Barack Obama or Mitt Romney is somehow going to change the hearts and minds of millions of people in a way that makes this world measurably better.

You don’t. If you did, you wouldn’t be here.

In the end, we are like Paul. We feel that who we are is good and important, and often we strive to be our best selves because we think it is what we are supposed to do. But the reality is that our best selves are garbage compared to Jesus. Our home-brewed righteousness is filthy swill compared to the pure Living Water. We can hope and change and restore all we want, but the fact is we’re not going to make things better. We’re not going to move forward.

We’re going to remain stuck in our sin.

The only answer for the tension you feel, the angst you have about the future is to acknowledge there is NO future apart from Christ. He alone is the answer. He alone is our hope. We do not turn to Him because we need help; we turn to Him because there is nothing but Him “who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

The psalmist warned us not to put our hopes in horses or chariots or men, because such things will surely fail. But the hand of the Lord, the power of God and the work of His Spirit, will always bring about what is necessary for the Kingdom to come. For God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

We are here today on the precipice of history, not because we will elect a president in two days, same as we have for 200 years, but because we have the opportunity to kneel before the God of all creation, and in obedience to His Holy Spirit, by the grace offered to us through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, say to Him, “Not my will, but Yours be done. Take me, Oh, God, and make me Your servant.

Today, there are two futures, both mutually assured: one is a future in the Kingdom of God, an established and unshakeable Kingdom that is fulfilled and will be consummated without question. The other is a future outside of that Kingdom, separated, cut off. The Holy Spirit is moving, calling out for those who will hear and receive the gift of salvation, will you submit?

Can you so clearly see the beauty and majesty of Jesus that you hold your life as rubbish compared to Him? Can you see His life, His death, His burial, His resurrection and His return as so precious that everything from your American citizenship to your membership in a church to your very blood relations are as nothing when compared to that grace? If so, the altar is open for you. Obey. Come. Receive.

But for those of you to whom such a transaction sounds too extreme, who find offense that the cross of Christ calls us to lay everything else aside, may I leave you with a thought? As grand and wonderful as our lives here can be, C.S. Lewis said it best:

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

“We are far too easily pleased.”

Let us pray, and may God’s will be fulfilled in our lives.


MawMaw and Pop, on their 50th wedding anniversary. Today marks an anniversary of a much different sort.

In my grandmother’s house is a little brown desk. It sits in front of two windows that look out on her front yard and the cars that race precariously by on Lenora Church Road. The desk is what you might call charming – a polite Southern word that means it’s old but not antique, nice but not expensive. My grandmother has topped it with a handmade lace doily, a little lamp, and her laptop computer.

Of all the things that I thought I would never see in my grandmother’s house, a sleek black laptop had to be near the top of the list. And yet there it sits, closed and reverent, an electronic monk just waiting for its daily exercise.

Each night, when she’s tired of tossing and turning in her bed, my grandmother gets up, turns the computer on, and visits the world of Cyberspace. And the little computer goes to work.

Mostly it takes her to Facebook, where she can look at the faces of the people she loves: her sons, her daughter, all of her grandkids and great-grandkids too. Sometimes she’ll leave a comment, a little verbal graffiti to let the world know she’s watching, but mostly she just glides silently through the gigabites of information like a tourist: interested, but far from home.

She’ll play a game or two – puzzles mostly – and the little computer moves with enough speed to let her get engrossed, sparing her the tiny but aggravating frustration of having to wait for refresh. Blocks will fall into place, words will go in their correct spaces, and time will pass unnoticed, which for her is a gift. Lost in an entirely different world, the pains of this one seem smaller somehow.

After a while she’ll go back to bed to toss and turn some more. Soon enough the sun is up, which means that the day and all of its regular worries and chores and minutes awaits. She gets busy so the day can get lost.

Others encourage her to get out, to travel, to live. And MawMaw does; she’s not cloistered herself away by any means. Her spirit, her will to live, is simply too strong for her to just lay down and do nothing. But after 62 years of routines – work routines, home routines, garden routines, health routines – it’s not easy to just throw the rhythm of your life to the wind willy nilly.

And without your companion of those 62 years to share life with, it’s sometimes downright impossible.

That’s what makes the little brown desk, with its sleek black portal of escape, such a comforting place. It’s a way to connect, to get out, minus the hardship.

If that were all to the story, it would be enough. But there’s more.

I hadn’t thought about it until I went to visit my grandmother last week. We were sitting at the kitchen table, which is on a diagonal across the room from the little brown desk. We chatted about everything under the sun – family, her garden, some upcoming trips – but spent most of our time talking about today, August 29th.

The first anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

As we talked – well, as she talked; I just listened – the pain and anxiety came up into her face, and I knew that today would be the hardest day she’s faced since the same day last year. She would have to say goodbye all over again. She would have to relive her greatest heartache, and in a life full of painful memories, that’s saying something. She would be powerfully reminded that she is now alone.

And as she was saying all of this, it hit me: the little brown desk and its sleek black computer sit in the exact same spot where my grandfather’s hospice bed stood. In the middle of the night, when she can’t feel his body next to hers in bed, she retreats to the last place his presence was felt, the last physical space she occupied with the love of her life.

And as she sits there, connected to the Internet, she connects to him too.

I’m no fool. I know that one day in the future that little brown desk will stand empty, the sleek black computer unused. One day, she will leave us too, and when she does I believe with all my heart that she will find herself in his arms, dancing across eternity, in a place where death is a powerless dream.

God help me, I hope that’s years from now.

But when that time does come, my heart will simultaneously weep and laugh, because that small spot in that small house on Lenora Church Road will radiate with memories, will radiate with both of their presences. When she is gone too, I’ll stand in that spot and feel connected – with her, with him, with my entire history. I’ll stare at the little brown desk and think of her, whiling away the hours in an imaginary world while dreaming of seeing Pop again in a world that exists beyond our imaginations.

Today, on a painful anniversary, that blessed hope of connection to loved ones present and passed is what makes the day bearable.

And it is enough.

Look Towards Heaven and Home

Today, I lost one of the finest men I’ve ever known. I love you, Pop.

There are so many things that fill your head when you watch someone you love pass away – fears; hopes; prayers. Your mind is aflame with a thousand different thoughts, a thousand different emotions, until you’re suddenly jerked back from within yourself and into the moment at hand.

It was that way for me this morning. I found myself battling an almost overwhelming fear that watching Pop’s death would override every other memory I had of him. I wrestled with the knowledge that I would have to stand and speak in his honor, to somehow find the words and stories that best encapsulate his life. I worried over how MawMaw would respond – not just to his death, but to life without him. Scanning the faces of my father, my aunt Pat, my uncle Greg, and all of the assembled family, I wondered what would become of all of us without Pop.

All of this vanished when the moment came.


The day started, for me, around 4:30 AM. I woke up for the third or fourth time since going to bed around midnight. My mind was a mess of nightmares and incomprehensible dreams, so not being able to sleep was a bit of a blessing. I spent the next hour and a half either praying or crying, wondering if today was going to be the day, or if Pop might hang on another day or so.  Eventually I dozed back off around 5:50.

My phone rang at 6:00. The caller id read, simply, Dad.

“Hello,” I managed.

“Jason,” my dad said, his voice composed for a moment. “It’s…”

Dad fought back tears. So did I.

“…it’s close. He’s close.”

“Okay,” I said, “let me get dressed and tell Rachel what’s going on, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Okay,” dad said. “See you in a bit.”

I jumped out of bed and tried to get my brain to work. Clothes were a necessity, as were my wallet and phone. I fumbled in the dark for my glasses, and hastily got dressed. Rachel stirred, and I told her what was going on.

“I’ll call you,” I said, then kissed her goodbye.


The morning air came in cool through my car windows, hinting that summer was nearing its end. It was hard for me to stay in a decent frame of mind; I was in a hurry to reach my grandfather’s bedside before he slipped away from me, but the rest of the world went on as if nothing were happening. I got trapped behind a school bus that didn’t seem overly concerned with getting to school on time, as well as three or four cars that had difficulty navigating in the pre-dawn darkness.

That was a moment of real anger for me, of deep insult at the world’s callousness. I felt slighted by the fact that every other human being on the planet didn’t defer to me and my grief, didn’t stop to acknowledge that one of its finest inhabitants was preparing to exit. I wanted cars to pull over to the side of the road, for flags to be flown at half-mast; I wanted people to stand along the road, hats over their hearts, out of respect for one more member of The Greatest Generation gone. Instead, I got slow buses and directionally-challenged people, and the end result was that I wanted to scream. I felt a rage in my chest that needed out, but couldn’t be allowed to roam free.

I think what I really felt was the smallness of being human; despite how it feels to our own minds, we are not the center of the universe. It was hard to accept that, as my world seemed to be falling apart, the real world kept right on spinning. Driving down the road this morning, that truth simply would not go down easy.

I got to MawMaw and Pop’s just as the sun was starting to rise. There were already several cars in the driveway – my dad’s; Greg and Marcia’s; Pat’s; my grandfather’s brother, Weyman, and his wife, Opal, were there too. And when I walked in and saw everyone’s faces, I knew: it wouldn’t be long.

My grandfather’s chest was rising and falling so shallowly and so fast. His mouth was wide open as his stomach struggled to pull in the air his body needed, as his lungs were long past working. The fluid that had been building up in his throat (the result of his digestive system shutting down) was now visible in his mouth, bubbling up and over his tongue with every slight exhale. It seemed very much as if Pop were drowning.

MawMaw was hunched over, holding the hand of Pop’s niece, Shurba, so I sat down beside her and simply rubbed her back. She turned, her eyes dark with grief and fear and sorrow, and let out a small moan.

“Oh, Jason,” she said, “they won’t let me help him.”

The truth of the matter was that she could do nothing more for him. But having been a faithful wife for so many years, having nursed him in these final days with the kind of love and dedication that seems beyond human capacity, she felt – and her eyes revealed how deeply this feeling ran – that if she could just do something, he’d turn around, get better, return to her. Instead, she simply watched as every breath took him further from her than he’d ever been.

My brother Ryan soon arrived, as did my cousin Chasity. I’m not sure who else was there when the moment finally came, but the room was full and we stood surrounding Pop’s bed, a human wall of love and adoration and hope and hurt. We moved so MawMaw could be near him, and she rubbed his chest and spoke lovingly to him, trying to reassure him, trying to hold on to him as long as she could. She spoke to him, and called him the most precious of names, one that certainly fit.

“Daddy,” she called him.

His breathing grew shallower, and then, as if each one of them shared some sort of unspoken spiritual connection, MawMaw, dad, Pat and Greg leaned in, their hearts pounding out of their chests, their eyes red with tears and expectancy. His head moved slightly, his chest drawing in, and then the miracle happened.


As the sun broke through the trees outside his window, Pop Harold opened his eyes, looked at his beloved MawMaw and then at his family; then he turned his eyes as if looking above him to the left. His last conscious act in this world was to look towards home.

And with that, he was gone.


My grandfather left this world on the same day my father entered it 57 years ago. Surrounded by his faithful wife, his loving children and grandchildren, he slipped into our memories and eternity.

We stayed right there beside him until the funeral director, Tim Stewart, and his assistant, Todd Burton, came to take Pop’s body for burial preparations. I was amazed at how small the gurney for Pop’s body was; roughly 24-inches wide, it seemed far too small to handle a man as big as Pop. But when they lovingly wrapped him up in his sheets and transferred his body over, it fit with room to spare. And standing there, staring at someone who for so long had been larger than life, I was struck by this thought:

It is the soul of a person that gives them size, gives them weight, in the physical world. It is the soul that contains their essence and gives life and presence to the body. Absent the soul, the body shrinks to an almost unfathomable size; I know this because that’s twice now two men whom I’ve held so dear – Pop Harold and Pop Emmette – have left this world, and in both cases their bodies, which once seemed so massive to me, seemed incredibly small in death.

We followed Pop’s body outside, and before they could load it into the hearse, the nurse’s assistant who’d been Pop’s primary caregiver, who had bathed him and helped change him, came walking down the driveway. And if we had ever doubted the sheer goodness of the man, those doubts were forever put to rest when Ms. Marie, who’d known him only so briefly and only in his lowest state, put her head on his chest and wept as one weeps for their own. MawMaw draped an arm around her in comfort, and then we all stood back as Pop’s body went into the hearse and disappeared behind its closed door.


I can say, without hesitation, that on behalf of my family, we are grateful for the many prayers and sentiments shared with us over the past few weeks and again today. Pop, for as much as he will be missed, is now in a far, far better place of hope, restoration and peace.

Tomorrow afternoon at Tim Stewart’s Funeral Home in Snellville, we’ll receive what is likely to be a considerable number of visitors from 2-4 PM, and then again from 6-8. On Wednesday afternoon, in the little church he loved so much, we’ll remember Pop and celebrate his life, just before we lay him to rest next to his son, Terry.

Who knows what Thursday will bring.

Much like Pop’s body, the world is now a smaller from his absence. But one day, in a world much larger than this one, we’ll see Pop again, unbound by time or illness or the restrictions of this life, and we’ll fall into each others arms, laughing, rejoicing and praising the God who gave us life that there will be no more goodbyes. We’ll pull Terry, and Ruthie, and whomever else we loved into the fold and we’ll give thanks that finally, we’ll always be together.

Until that day, we wait. Until that day, our eyes, like Pop’s, will look towards heaven and home.

You Talk, I’ll Listen

After 62 years, you’d think the topics of conversation would be exhausted. Living with someone for 24 hours a day, you’d think you’d pretty much know what the other person is going to say. But one of the most wonderful things about human beings is our never-ending capacity to surprise; we are marvelous creatures, constantly forming new thoughts or forging new dreams.

And so, when you’re with the right person, there’s always something to talk about. Even after 62 years.

That’s what makes something my grandmother said the other day so sad. I’ve mentioned it before, I think, but she repeated the story last night as we watched Pop struggle to breathe. His breaths are so shallow that you have to keep your eye trained on the bedsheet in order to tell he’s breathing. You see the stripes or the pattern change from the rise and fall of his chest, and you know that he’s still with you.

We were watching this, and I asked if he’d been talking to anyone.

“No,” she said. Her voice was small, quiet. “He’s not said a word all day.”

Her eyes got red. “He’s not really talked to me in a long time. The past year, you know, I’d say, ‘Talk to me, Harold. Talk to me.’ And he’d say, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t care just talk to me.'”

She dabbed her eyes with a Kleenex. “And he’d lean back in his chair and say, ‘I don’t have nothing to say. You just talk – I’ll listen.’ I just wish we could have one more conversation.”

MawMaw moved to his side and grabbed his hand. “Just one more, like we used to.”


Last night was particularly hard. Everything seems to point to this weekend as the time for Pop’s homegoing, and even the nurse told the family yesterday to stay close if they wanted to be there for the end. So we were all crammed into MawMaw and Pop’s house, eating, telling stories, alternating at Pop’s bedside to hold his hand, or say something to him in hopes of getting him to look at us. The tears flowed freely among us all.

It was funny, but there was a brief time where my professional life collided with our time of grief. My uncle Greg had some questions concerning supernatural phenomena, and being the family minister, those questions naturally got posed to me. I did my best to answer them as honestly and fully as I could, and Greg seemed satisfied with my answers.

“Okay,” he said, “but I’ve got one more question.”

Before he could ask it, though, we got distracted – I think either one of my kids did something, or someone announced it was time for dinner, or possibly both – and he never asked the question.

Rachel and I stayed as long as I could, and when Jonathan began jumping off of furniture, we knew it was time to go. But as we pulled out of the driveway and headed home, I told her I wanted to come back to the house once the kids were in bed. She said that was fine with her, so once I had put Jon down and kissed Ella goodnight, I hopped in my car and headed back to MawMaw and Pop’s.

Part of me wanted to be there in case the end was near. But the other part of me couldn’t let go of Greg’s one more question. And in my heart, I knew I needed to go back and answer it.

I pulled into the driveway, and went inside. My aunt Marcia met me at the door.

“Oh, good,” she said. “Everybody just said, ‘Marcia, someone’s here. Someone’s coming to the door’ so I thought I’d check.”

I went in and grabbed a water from the fridge. My mom looked at me and said, “What are you doing back?”

I patted Greg on the leg. “Because Greg said he had one more question he wanted answered.”

Greg smiled, and as I grabbed a seat on the floor next to him, the entire family gathered around, and I’m not exaggerating. There must have been three or four different conversations going on that just stopped, and everyone moved into the tiny family room around Greg and myself.

“Look at that,” Greg said, “everyone wants to hear the answer to this one.”

Then he turned to me and said, “What I want to know is: when Pop leaves this body, will he go straight to heaven?”

He paused for a moment as his eyes rimmed with tears. I knew what was next.

“And when we get there, will we know him?”


I believe that heaven is real. I believe it exists beyond this universe, though it will one day be united with this creation when everything is made new. I believe that, as the apostle Paul said, to be gone from the body is to be present in Christ; and I also believe, based on the apostle John’s descriptions of heaven in his book of the Revelation, that wherever Christ is, heaven is, because Christ is the focal point of heaven.

I also keep in mind that Jesus told the repentant thief that, “This day you will be with me in paradise.”

I believe all of this, just like I believe that the people who will be in heaven will know one another, even if they’d never met on earth. So I have no doubts that I’ll know Pop, or my uncle Terry or my daughter Ruthanne.

Heaven, for me, is not wish fulfillment. It’s not an opiate to help ease my troubled mind in times of pain or difficulty; it’s the Truth, the reality of this universe. And while I may be wrong about it’s characteristics or properties or operational specifics, while I may not fully understand just what heaven is (and really, what human mind could?), I have bet my life upon its existence.

I said as much to my family, and more. They asked questions whenever I was unclear with my explanation, and we genuinely had almost a solid hour of just talking about what the Bible says about heaven, and what it will be like – what we will be like – when we get there. It was, to be honest, a moment that will forever be one of my favorite memories, and here’s why:

As I was talking about heaven, about knowing one another, about being consumed with the glory and beauty of God as He’s revealed in full, Pop started making noises. After a day of next to no sound, his moans drew MawMaw and Pat’s attention. They went to his side and leaned in. I kept on talking.

Suddenly Pat looked up and said, “He’s saying, ‘Uh-huh.’ He can hear what you’re saying, and he’s agreeing with you.'”


I can’t count the number of times in my life that Pop, when he was in good health, would lean up in his chair, rest and elbow on his knee, point a finger at my head and say, “Now, Jason – let me ask you something. As I read the Bible…” Anytime he did that, I knew we were in for at least a good 30 minutes of talking about scripture, theology, and the wisdom that an old man can give a young one. There were times that we didn’t agree on all of the finer points of a topic, but that’s just generational differences, I honestly believe.

Most of the time, when we’d talked the topic to death, he’d just lean back in his chair and smile, and say, “Well, that’s how I read it, anyway.” And we’d move on to something else.

Last night, we had what might have been our last conversation on matters of the Book. And while he said precious little, what he said was enough.

Last night, I talked. He listened. And, for me anyway, it was a glory to behold.

Someday soon, heaven will no longer be unknown to him. Someday soon, all of the questions we have will be answered for certain for Pop. We will grieve. We will mourn. We will feel his loss as deeply as we’ve ever felt anything.

But I believe, and, through these weeks of his decline, have become resolute, that one day I will see him again. And in that place where there will be no more tears or sickness or pain, we will be able to talk about those things which once we knew in part, but there will know in full.

One day.

Blue Like the Sky

I’ve been re-reading a book by Francis Chan called Crazy Love, and one of the first things that Chan challenges his readers to do is consider the magnificence of the physical universe. He points his readers to a video on YouTube that outlines the complexity and scope of the actual universe, and to another video that invites the viewer to contemplate the beauty of nature that reveals God’s handiwork.

The book is a challenging read, in case you’re looking for one. It’s certainly something that moves me to think, and one particular section has been lurking in the back of my mind for a while now. Here’s Chan, from page 29 of Crazy Love:

There is an epidemic of spiritual amnesia going around, and none of us is immune. No matter how many fascinating details we learn about God’s creation, no matter how many pictures we see of His galaxies, and no matter how many sunsets we watch, we still forget.

Chan’s talking about our propensity to reduce life into l i f e, to take the magnitude of what it means to truly live and equate it with crap that dilutes our perspective. And if you think about the immeasurable pleasure that we should derive from the mere fact that we are breathing (not to mention walking, talking, thinking, loving, eating, sleeping, or any of the myriad other amazing things we do that we take for granted) compared to how grumpy a good many of us are, Chan’s on the mark with his critique: we have short memories.

Or, to borrow an example from my son’s recent favorite movie, we are all Dory at heart.

I’m guilty of looking at a sunrise and thinking, “Crap. I gotta get up.” I’m equally guilty of looking at almost any natural phenomenon and thinking, “Is it time to eat yet?” I tend, despite my being a bit of a dreamer, to get lost in minor details that don’t really matter much in the Bigger Picture. A lot of us do.

And I think that, sometimes, we kind of want to get lost in the details. We want to be consumed by those things that remind us of our lives, of our existence and reality within a world that might otherwise not care. So we worry about hairlines and waistlines and eyeshadow and lipstick and snakeskin boots because those microscopic details are usually the things we most associate with our us-ness, with being me.

In other words, much like that picture of our whole graduating class, we don’t like the Bigger Picture because it’s so hard to find ourselves within it.

When Pop first got sick, I had a hard time visiting for more than 30 minutes or so. Part of that difficulty, I told myself, was the fact that my kids can take a fully furnished room all the way back to plywood decking and un-mudded drywall within 12.78 minutes. You just can’t let small children have free play for very long.

But the real issue, and I can admit this now, is that I was uncomfortable with seeing the Bigger Picture. Watching your grandfather die is not easy, because it is a constant reminder of mortality. You look at his frail figure and you realize that you too will one day come to that place in life when you swap places with your children. You realize that the vitality and energy you have today will one day be taken away from you. You realize just how brief your time on this spinning ball of mud and salt-water really is.

And these realizations make you want to run away into the smaller details, to get lost again inside yourself. To embrace the illusion that is the Smaller Picture.

That’s why Chan’s quote about spiritual amnesia struck me so solidly; for a long time, I willingly forgot about the gravity of Pop’s condition. Not that I forgot he was sick, or neglected to visit, but that I just didn’t think about what was really going on. I willfully pushed the reality of his impending death out of my head.

Chan’s quote also struck me because he references sunsets, and that got me to thinking even harder about Pop.

Throughout my entire life, Pop has been blue like the sky – deep, beautiful, and seemingly without end. He’s been an uninterrupted part of my world and I’ve taken him for granted. Much like we don’t often stop to contemplate just how gorgeous the sky can be when the sun is shining bright, or how the blue of an October sky in Georgia is radically different from the blue of an October sky in Maine, we don’t usually stop and think about the people who are our constants. They are simply there.

And so, when that constant begins to fade, begins to give way to the colors of diminution – pink, saffron, lemon, maroon, blood orange, blood red – we begin to see that blue sky differently. A sunset marks the end of that blue sky and brings on the darkness of evening. I’m torturing the metaphorical language a bit, but there’s something poetic about the transitioning between the bright, openness of day and the dark mystery of night; there’s equal poetry in the way a life slowly fades from our view and into the dark mystery of death.

I went to see Pop this morning and while he’s had a few good days in a row, there is no mistaking that he is in the sunset of his life. The colors are all changed, his presence markedly smaller, just like the sky seems to shrink as the sun dips behind the curvature of the earth off on the horizon. But there’s so much beauty to behold, and it speaks to the wonder of God. The love between Pop and my grandmother; between Pop and my aunt and uncle; between Pop and my dad. The constant coming and going of friends and family and long-distant folks who come to gaze on the majesty of a life well lived. There’s laughter; the telling of old stories to new audiences; the sound of children playing in another room, innocently unaware of the process of life coming to an end, teaching each of us something in its own peculiar way.

I go now and sit without hesitation, without feeling the slightest bit awkward, because I finally know what I’m witnessing. I’m watching the greatest of all sunsets, an extravagant masterpiece of color and beauty and light. I can appreciate this close of day because I know that for Pop, as it is for all Christians, there will be a dawn that breaks immediately. Only we who are left behind will have to endure the nighttime of grief and loss and pain.

But we are comforted by the words of the One who causes the sun to rise and set in everyone’s life, words that speak to anyone going through the dark night of the soul:

Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.

Amen, and amen.