Archive for the ‘death’ Category

Lessons Learned

As I reported in April, I recently underwent major surgery.  Having never been under general anesthesia before, I was more than a little bit anxious about the entire procedure. It has been nearly two months since the surgery and I’m still in the healing process.  The procedure was conducted robotically and left seven scars on my abdomen.  The first time I showed the scars to my youngest grandson he said it looks like I was in a gunfight. I try to learn from every experience, whether good or bad.

I spent 24 years of my adult life as a commissioned officer in the US Army. During my military career, I learned a lot of life lessons—things that continue to help me today.  A wise Field Artillery battalion commander once told me, “It’s ok to make mistakes, but learn from them and avoid repeating them.”  Imagine a world where everyone lived by this axiom!

A lot of Army training events and operations conclude an After-Action Review, or AAR.  The AAR is a very open discussion about how the execution of an event went. The ultimate aim is to do better next time. AARs can be soul searching experiences. To understand my surgery experience, I ended up doing a lot of soul and scripture searching. Here’s what I learned from my surgery and the leadup to it.    

I spent a lot of time praying about this surgery. I suffered doubt more than once.  Should I do it?  Will it work?  Could I die on the operating table?  My faith was put to the test. Knowing my prayers were insufficient, I enlisted the support from a host of prayer warriors I knew I could count on.  I received many words of encouragement from these friends and I was comforted just knowing they were praying for me.  Lesson learned – don’t worry!

God is in Control: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6*

Psalm 55

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.

God shows Himself in many ways and places.  You never know when He’s going to pop up and remind you that he’s present.  As I lay in the surgical ward around 9pm, still a little groggy from the lingering effects of anesthesia, I was surprised when a beep sounded from the hospital intercom and some kind soul began reading an evening prayer—I was in a Catholic hospital. What a wonderful way to mark my first night in hospital. Lesson learned – we shouldn’t need an intercom announcement to remind us that God is always there.  Just stop, look and listen.

Psalm 139

Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

Within six weeks of highly invasive surgery, I was nearly back to normal. Lesson learned: The human body’s ability to heal itself is remarkable. God’s incredible design of the human body is so amazing that it is beyond human comprehension. The hand of God our creator is clearly evident in human anatomy.

            Psalm 139

13For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

My wonderful wife was my sole caregiver for nearly a month, while I was significantly incapacitated from the surgery. I could not have survived on my own. Early Christians stood out in Roman society for their willingness to serve the sick and outcast, including lepers.  Lesson learned: Christians are called to be caregivers.

            Psalm 2

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.                                                                         Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 

4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

The robotic surgery performed by my surgeon was truly remarkable, but it pales in comparison to the abilities of our Lord. While a surgeon can help your physical needs, Jesus offers spiritual healing for broken hearts and souls. He is truly the “Great Physician.”

The Great Physician Now is Near – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDfHFaJaTwk

*All Bible quotations are from the NIV.

Dust in the wind: a Lenten reflection

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As I began writing this post it was the first Sunday in the church season of Lent, a 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. Lent is a time of preparation to celebrate Christ’s resurrection on Easter day. The blessing priests pronounce at the Ash Wednesday service is a solemn reminder of our mortality—the priest draws the sign of the cross with ashes on one’s forehead while saying, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

On the surface, this seems like an odd sort of blessing—a reminder that you’re going to die someday.  Death is an inevitable part of life, but it’s a contradiction because it wasn’t part of God’s plan for us. The Lenten ashes on one’s forehead reminds us that we are dead in our sinfulness and that our only hope is God’s saving grace, a gift offered freely through Christ’s death and resurrection.   

Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, where he bore the sins of the world, revealed God’s limitless love for each of us. Death has a way of revealing love. Over the past 100 days I’ve lost three dear friends and Army pals. For me, their deaths are also a reminder of my own mortality. I miss them all and will miss them always.  It’s easy to take someone for granted while they’re alive, but their death provides a stark reminder of how much they meant in one’s life. Though I miss them all, I take comfort in the knowledge that they were all Christ followers and they will see the Lord face to face on Resurrection Day.  

Lent is a somber season. The focus on penance, fasting, and one’s mortality is like living Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem and His crucifixion. The beauty of the crucifixion is that it isn’t the end of the story. It is the chapter in Jesus’ life leading to the season of Easter and the celebration of His glorious resurrection, which brings a gift of eternal life to those who accept him as Savior.  Lent is my favorite church season.

“(Lent) is a period of spiritual ‘combat’ which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism.”  -Pope Benedict XVI

If you come from a church tradition that doesn’t celebrate Lent, I encourage you to learn more about it. There are many free resources available online from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Please visit the “Gift of Lent” link below. 

Lent
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

It is good to be last not first,
Pending the present distress;
It is good to hunger and thirst,
So it be for righteousness.
It is good to spend and be spent,
It is good to watch and to pray:
Life and Death make a goodly Lent,
So it leads us to Easter Day.

Saying goodbye to a brother in arms

Until this year, Veterans Day had become a relatively mundane affair for me.  As a 24-year veteran of the US Army, I’ve had my share of “Thank you for your service,” free meals from a special menu at (name your restaurant), and 10% discounts “for one day only” at various stores.  However, after this year Veteran’s Day will never be the same, as it is henceforth the day I said goodbye to a brother in arms.

In 1981 my wife and I were assigned military quarters in a duplex on a hilltop overlooking Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox, Kentucky. I was a young captain serving in the Field Artillery. The couple living on the other side of the unit was approaching the end of their tour of duty at Fort Knox. It wasn’t long before they were gone and a new family moved in.  Although we were unaware at the time, God’s hand was moving in our lives by giving us these new neighbors.

Bill and Susan were a unique couple.  Susan was a former Army officer and a member of the last generation of the Women’s Army Corps—the women’s element of the US Army. The WAC, as it was called, was disbanded in 1978, and all units were integrated with male units. Bill, or “Flip” as he was better known to many of his friends, was a figure larger than life. He was a soldier’s soldier—what every professional soldier aspires to be.  Commissioned as an Infantry officer, Flip was highly decorated in Vietnam, winning a Silver Star for valor in action against the enemy, two Purple Hearts in recognition of his status as a twice-wounded soldier, the Legion of Merit, and two Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry. He also earned the Ranger tab and a coveted Combat Infantryman Badge, or C.I.B., in recognition as his service as an Infantryman in combat. When I met him, Flip was an officer in the Army’s Aviation Branch, a helicopter pilot flying Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters, better known as “the Huey.” I was in awe!

Despite my being 10+ years younger and of lesser rank, Flip never let that stand between us.  He quickly became both a friend and mentor. Most importantly, he was a man of God.  Flip had a deep faith that he was not shy about sharing with others. He and Susan introduced my wife Linda and me to the Anglican form of liturgical worship, which eventually led to us becoming Anglicans ourselves. What a wonderful gift!  Bill and Susan would later become the godparents of our two daughters and, in turn, their two children would become like daughters to us.

My friend Flip died on August 21, 2020. During this time of pandemic, we were fortunate to participate in his online memorial service on Veterans Day.  Like too many Vietnam veterans, late in life Flip suffered numerous ailments connected with his military service.  The brave men and women who served in Vietnam are quickly declining in numbers today—many have reached their 70’s and 80’s and there are even a few in their 90’s. They deserve our thanks and admiration, as well as the Veterans Administration’s medical support and other services that a grateful nation owes them.

For those who might have served as Army officers at Ft. Knox, KY in the early 1980’s, you’ll understand when I tell you that Flip and I often shared time together at the Fiddler’s Green.  But unlike forlorn cavalrymen in the poem by the same name, who are eternally destined to quench their thirst at an old-time canteen, the passing of my friend is no cause for sorrow or melancholy.  It’s a time for celebrating a life lived for God, family and country.  As with the passing of every Christian brother in arms whom I’ve bid a similar farewell, I rest assured knowing that I’ll see Flip again on that day when Christ restores all things on Earth to the original order that God intended. His departure leaves us with an emptiness which only Flip could fill, but we take comfort in assurance of the glorious reunion to come. Until that day, rest in peace brother!

In Memoriam

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) William John Filippini

August 26, 1944 – August 21, 2020

Fiddler’s Green

Managing Change

Changes“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” –C.S. Lewis

 

(Note: All Bible quotes are NIV.)

Most people naturally resist change. Some scientists have theorized this is caused by an innate survival response programmed into human beings at the genetic level. Businesses desiring to grow and remain competitive are often forced to change or face failure.   Change Management is a business discipline used to bring about organizational change while minimizing the impact on the affected individuals (employees, suppliers,  customers etc.).  Dr. Rosabeth Moss Kanter is a professor at the Harvard Business School.  She has written about the 10 common reasons people resist business change. They are:

  1. Loss of Control – Change interferes with autonomy and can make people feel that they’ve lost control over their territory.
  2. Excess Uncertainty – If change feels like walking off a cliff blindfolded, then people will reject it.
  3. Surprise, Surprise – Decisions imposed on people suddenly, with no time to get used to the idea or prepare for the consequences, are generally resisted.
  4. Everything Seems Different – Change is meant to bring something different, but how different? We are creatures of habit.
  5. Loss of Face (dignity) – By definition, change is a departure from the past.
  6. Concerns About Competence – Can I do it? Change is resisted when it makes people feel stupid.
  7. More Work – Here is a universal challenge. Change is indeed more work.
  8. Ripple Effects – Like tossing a pebble into a pond, change creates ripples, reaching distant spots in ever-widening circles.
  9. Past Resentment – The ghosts of the past are always lying in wait to haunt us. As long as everything is steady state, they remain out of sight.
  10. Real Threats – Now we get to true pain and politics. Change is resisted because it can hurt.

Fortunately, the business world has amassed a substantial body of knowledge describing effective methods for managing organizational change. Change Management consulting is a lucrative field of business and can be very effective in ushering in change.   

The seasons of our lives are full of changes as well. People resist life changes for many of the same reasons they resist business change. Human lives are in a constant state of flux. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 describes this quite poetically:

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

 a time for war and a time for peace.  

Life changes come in two overarching categories. The first encompasses personal lifestyle changes one might need to make, like losing weight, exercising more, eating healthier, quitting tobacco, eliminating or reducing alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, spending more time with family, reducing social media time and the like. These changes often never come about because they usually involve great individual effort, sacrifice and self-discipline. When one accomplishes such a change, it can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in their life.

The second category of life changes consists of unplanned/unexpected events that life seems to drop on one’s head. Each morning one awakes never knowing what the day might bring—a serious accident, grim medical diagnosis, stroke, heart attack or other life changing event might occur. This category also includes external influences such as political upheaval and societal changes. Unfortunately, the body of knowledge for managing this sort of change is very broad, continually evolving and is riddled with disagreements between the so-called “experts.”  Several fields of study offer solutions for managing the changes of life. These include psychology, psychiatry, sociology and their related disciplines.  

Fortunately, for believers there is a body of knowledge for managing life changes that is totally reliable, one-hundred percent accurate, and immutable. Of course, I’m referring to the Bible. Biblical truth never changes because God never changes. Jesus Christ is a solid rock, an unalterable holy alter upon which we may lay all our hopes and fears.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.  James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind.  Does he speak and then not act?  Does he promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.  Hebrews 13:8

Believers have no reason to fear changes in their circumstances.  Scripture assures of this:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deuteronomy 31:8   

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5-6

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

As children of God, believers have no reason be afraid of life changes. Oswald Chambers said it like this, “If your faith is in experiences, anything that happens is likely to upset that faith. But nothing can ever change God or the reality of redemption. Base your faith on that, and you are as eternally secure as God Himself. Once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, you will never be moved again.” 

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.  Psalm 40:4

Easter 2019

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Holy Week

Triumphal Enter into Jerusalem - HosannaJesus entering Jerusalem

Traditionally, the week before Easter is called Holy Week. It starts on Palm Sunday. Holy week began today.  It is the last week of the penitential church Season of Lent. 

Palm Sunday
In the Bible, Holy Week begins with a religious festival. People have flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover and see the controversial prophet Jesus. Many come to cheer him on as Jesus rides into Jerusalem. They wave palm Branches and shout “Hosanna,” which means “save us,” a Jewish call of lamentation that has since become a call of praise. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a Donkey.  Jesus’ triumphal entry fulfills an Old Testament prophecy and is seen as a sign of humility. Some who cheer him that day will inevitably cry “Crucify him” only a few days later, so the memory of Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem is a time of mixed joy and sadness.

Maundy Thursday
In the evening of this day Jesus met with his disciples for the last time before his death. Before the meal, he washes their feet, another sign of humility. During the meal, he prophesies that one of the disciples will betray him. On this evening, Christians are thinking of Christ’s establishment of the sacrament of Holy Communion. In many congregations, a worship service occurs in the evening, in which the congregants come together for a Eucharist meal, just as the first Christians celebrated it. Often after the communion, the altar is cleared, and left unadorned on Good Friday.

Good Friday
On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. He was tortured and killed. His suffering is therefore at the heart of this day. But it also commemorates the suffering of mankind in general, because through Jesus, God has sided with the suffering. The day is quietly celebrated as Christians contemplate Jesus’ suffering and death. Together with Easter, Good Friday forms the centerpiece of the Christian message of good news: God is stronger than Death! On that day Jesus suffered all that a man can suffer to atone for the sins of mankind. Sin and Death did not have the last word. God raised Jesus as he will one day raise all believers who die in Christ.

Holy Saturday
On the evening of Good Friday, Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried. On Saturday, the Sabbath, that would not have been allowed. So Saturday is the full day that he was dead. In the creed, this means Jesus descended into Hell, or the realm of the dead. We aren’t sure what that is and what it is like there, but the message that Jesus was “resurrected on the third day” provides confidence that at the end of the age God will resurrect Christian believers.

Easter Night
The Bible doesn’t describe the physical resurrection of Jesus. On Easter morning, the women find the empty tomb and are told by an angel that Jesus was resurrected. That might have occurred at night, because in the Jewish Tradition the day begins with the night (“It was evening and it was morning, the first day”). Easter (Saturday) night belongs to Easter Sunday. The resurrection is celebrated on this “night,” mostly in the early hours of the morning, but in some places it is celebrated on Saturday evening. It is a celebration that, in its design, leads from darkness to light. At its climax many congregations light the new Pascal candle declaring “Hallelujah, Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.”

Easter Sunday
The women who discover Jesus empty tomb are the first to spread the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection. In the course of this and the next few days many people meet Jesus and witness the resurrected Son of God. In the early church congregations met regularly for a common Sacrament the day after the Sabbath to commemorate the resurrection. In the Christian context, Sunday was thus marked as the most important day of the week and as a day of rest.

An invitation:
Easter occurs on April 21st this year. For readers in the Sioux Falls area, you are invited to attend an Easter Sunrise service conducted by Church of the Resurrection (www.resurrectionsf.com). The service will begin at 7a.m. at the McKennan Park bandshell. Bring lawn chairs. The service will occur rain or shine.

 

 

Farewell My Friend

Jesus on CrossGreater love has no one than this,  that someone lay down his life for his friends.

                                                                                                                            John 15:13 (ESV)

The digital age we live in is truly amazing. It has enabled me to land two jobs with companies I never set foot in before being hired. In both cases, I was recruited online, interviewed by phone and hired sight unseen.

I worked a total of over seven years in these positions, all the while communicating via email telephone and Skype and exchanging data through encrypted virtual private networks. I visited each company only once. When I was born in 1955, such technologies existed only in the minds of science fiction writers. Today they’re quite common.

One of the most amazing digital wonders I’ve enjoyed is having cultivated three good friendships with individuals whom I’ve never met face-to-face. I’m not speaking about Facebook friendships either. These friendships are with people whom I’ve shared things about my life and theirs of the sort that can only be shared with people you trust.

I was recently shocked to learn that one of these friends, Bob, has been diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer that will take his life in a few short months.

Bob is a good man who has spent much of his life working to make others’ lives easier.   Sadly, I know that being good isn’t enough. He has not been open to believing the Gospel message and remains to this day an agnostic.

Bob is spending his last days surrounded by family, many of whom practice the Serbian Orthodox form of the Christian faith. Please join me in praying that during this time of transition his heart might be opened to receive Christ, so that in the final hour he might say:

“The time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing”                                      

                                                                                                                                2 Tim. 4:6-8 (ESV)

Postscript August 3, 2015–my friend Bob Hall passed away peacefully on July 28, 2015.