A Rural Remembrance Day Service

Rural communities like their community gatherings and ceremonies. I reminded of this again this week as we had our community Remembrance Day Service. We had a couple of hundred people show up at our community hall on one of the coldest Remembrance Days “in the last 29 years” according to the news. People come to show their respects. One of the highlights is the wreath laying. All the children present are invited to take part in carrying up and placing the wreaths which individuals and companies and clubs have sponsored. And then the children are invited to lead in the reciting of In Flanders Fields. It’s a real community event. And I got to play my trumpet along with another trumpet and trombone as we played for a few of the hymns.10277900_10152779181402279_4259368773732011211_n

I’m also attaching my “Meditation”. It’s hard to know what to say at these services so I thought I’d let you know what I said. Feel free to use any or all of it next year if you need ideas.

“We Want Our Life to Matter”.

We all want our life to matter. We want our life to count in some way.

Maybe we wish we could be a famous inventor or build a more fuel efficient car. Maybe we want to make a difference in our community by volunteering and helping with the normal activities of our town. We want a relationship with someone, maybe a spouse, or a friend, – where they care about us and love us. We want to make a difference in our world somehow.

Young men and women dream of starting their own business or getting a Degree in Science and discovering the cure to cancer. High School grads leave home looking to make their way in life and to make a difference to someone in our world.

When a loved one dies, we grieve. We are sad. If they are older we are sad because they are gone – we miss them. If they are younger we grieve the fact that they were “taken too young – they were taken too soon.”

We understand that our life has an expiration date, but we expect and want that it should be when we get into our 90’s and older. Not when we are young.

Job 14:1-3 describes the shortness of human life.

 “How frail is humanity!
How short is life, how full of trouble!
 We blossom like a flower and then wither.
Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.

Most flowers have very short lives. The plant itself may last a little longer than the blossom, or might bloom again each year, yet the flower itself doesn’t often last very long. The Bible reminds us that our life is short.

When we come to Remembrance Day and we remember those who served and who died fighting for their country, we are reminded again of the frailty of life and how quickly it can end. And we should remember how young many of those were who gave their lives for our freedom.

Many, if not most of those who served and died in the early years would have been young. They wouldn’t have had a chance to get a University degree or start their own business. Most of those who served were single. They may have left girlfriends behind but most wouldn’t even have had a chance to start a family to pass their name onto.

Today, more and more soldiers who serve and lose their lives are family men, a little older, with children at home. So not only is that soldier gone – that family’s husband and father or wife and mother are gone.

In some ways, we might say that those who fought in the World Wars weren’t even old enough to make a difference in the world. Yet they did.

We tend to measure the success of one’s life based on how much money they made or how famous they were or if there are songs written about them. We might think the average 19 or 20 year old is just starting out on life and hasn’t really made a difference yet – but when we remember those who have died in the battlefield, we remind ourselves that it didn’t matter how young or how old they were – these men and women made a difference.

In John 15:13 Jesus says…

 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Those who have served and fought for Canada over the years have made a huge difference by giving their lives – for their families, their friends, and their country.

Jesus is talking about sacrificial love – and he knew what he was talking about as shortly after making these comments, Jesus was crucified on a cross.

He wasn’t killed for anything he had done wrong but because he was willing to pay the penalty – the death penalty – for the sin of all mankind. Those who died for their country – even in the last few weeks – stood in between the enemy and their country. They loved their country enough to give their lives.

It was a sacrifice – no doubt!

Many gave up the chance to get married or to have a family. Instead, they did what they could to stand in the way between the enemy and their loved ones back home.

Jesus Christ gave himself on the cross, standing between mankind and sin and the penalty of death that came with sin.

Jesus was willing to die so that we might enjoy life – eternal life. He was willing to die so that we could live. Those who have given their lives on the battlefield out of sacrificial love have done so so that we who are left behind can enjoy our life. They were willing to die so that we could live.

And isn’t it fitting that many of these graves of soldiers are marked with crosses. This reminds us that just as Jesus died on the cross for our life, these soldiers gave their lives for our life.

So today is a day to remember

  • -to remember young lives lost
  • -to remember sacrificial love
  • -and to remember that our continued freedom comes at the cost of other’s lives.

Today, we remember.

How do you Deal With Suicide?

It was my day off. I don’t usually answer the phone on Mondays, but my wife did. It was Victim Services, requesting that I go across town to a certain address. They mentioned a name but got it wrong, so I didn’t know whose house I was going to. I just had an address. As I neared the right address, I realized that it was the home of a couple where the wife faithfully attends our church but not the husband.

I knocked on the door and entered, not quite sure of what to make of things. As this was a couple of years ago, I don’t recall if I knew it was a suicide before I got there or not. All I remember is feeling helpless. How do you help someone who has just lost her husband, and then specifically by suicide?

There were a number of family members and some friends in the house already. This had happened in the morning and it was already early afternoon. I slowly got the story of how her husband had helped her get the leash on the dog for her walk and then hung himself in the basement as she was out walking the dog.

People like to be helpful. Throughout that day and the next people were trying to make all kinds of comforting statements about how this happened and why and how God was involved. Most of those comments didn’t help. I think one of the biggest helps was just to try to get her to talk and for me to listen. And I just showed my love by being there. I didn’t know her family but tried to just be there to even allow my presence to show I cared.

I spent a number of days with her and her family as we prepared for the funeral. There were some things I tried to get across.

1. It was not any of their fault. They hadn’t made their dad and husband do this. They shouldn’t feel guilty for not noticing the signs. They shouldn’t feel responsible for not being there enough. This lady and her husband had a good relationship. He had a good relationship with his boys and their families. It was only after the fact that they could have seen any signs pointing to this final act.

2. Suicide is not the sin that will keep us out of heaven. While suicide is a terrible thing and a very selfish thing, what keeps us out of heaven is our unbelief. We do not end up in hell because we commit suicide but because we ignored Jesus. Supposedly he had prayed to surrender his life to Jesus with another pastor before I came to town. But again, the final judgement belongs to God, not to me. At the funeral I made sure not to declare that this man was in heaven. I also didn’t downplay the word “suicide”. Everyone knew it was a suicide so we might as well address it. And I wanted to address it so that others in the room would be reminded that there is always help. Sometimes it seems that when someone hears about another suicide it gives them boldness to do the same. I didn’t want anyone thinking that was the case.

3. I helped the family – especially the wife – recognize that dealing with suicide is harder than dealing with death. Not that she needed anyone to tell her that. But suicide is harder on those left behind because there are no answers. The lady is still – now two years later – fighting with reoccurring feelings of anger. We talked about the Stages of Grief, recognizing that it would take time and effort to move on.

This lady is still struggling with the results of this, as is her family. And in her loneliness has even made some moral decisions that she would never have made before.

As a pastor, we must deal with suicide honestly and scripturally. I know I don’t have any scriptures in here, but we need to answer questions as they come up with scripture and not just our opinioins. People have some very misguided opinions about suicide.

We must allow the family to grieve again and again. We can’t just tell them to move on. It is not the same as a natural death.

May you never have to face this, but if you do, may the grace of God lead and guide you.

Lonely People at Christmas

Until recently I never really thought much about the fact that there are lonely people at Christmas time. How can they be lonely? There are all the parties and presents and family gatherings. But not everyone has family or friends around. The very fact that everyone else seems to be having so much fun with friends and family makes it even worse. One small church has a special Christmas dinner on Christmas Day specifically advertised as being for those who are “Alone for Christmas? New in Town? Away from Family?“.

One reason some people feel lonely is that their friends or family have recently died. We do a “Christmas Memorial Service” in the Community Hall in town. It’s a service that some refer to as a “Blue Christmas” service. Sometimes people feel guilty that they are having fun and forgetting about the person that recently died. Others are remembering all the special Christmas traditions shared together, and it makes them feel lonely.

We plan a service we hope will give them opportunity to pause and remember. Hopefully they will leave encouraged. We take time to remember our loved ones who have passed away recently. We invite people to RSVP with us so we can personalize a nice candle with their loved one’s name. During the service we then invite them to come up and light a candle in memory of their loved one. They take that candle home after the service and can light it during the Christmas season as a reminder of their loved one. A number of people expressed much gratitude after our service last year. Our next one will take place in just over a week.

People are lonely. This is one way to help those who are lonely because they miss their loved ones.