Death


Not twenty minutes ago I made a hospital visit to the room of a gentleman who underwent a successful kidney transplant procedure last evening. We have been praying for Brian for a few years now that God would graciously allow him a chance to have a good kidney. The surgery went without-a-hitch; the new organ is an excellent match and is functioning fine. Brian told me he felt better than he had in years. Up and moving around, he was watching a football game with his family when I left his room.

As I drove back to my office, I thought about the anonymous donor family, and uttered a simple prayer for them in light of their apparent loss. To be sure, somebody—who we do not know—had to die in order for Brian to have this new opportunity to live a healthier, better quality of life.

His is no new irony! In fact, it is a very familiar paradox for many of us. We who know and enjoy redemption could not benefit from such were it not for the fact that Someone had to die that we might live. Bless His holy name!!!!!

The principle difference between these observations is clear. In Brian’s case, an accident made it possible for him to receive his new-lease-on-life. For you and I, it was no accident. Jesus died on purpose in order for us to have the privilege to live. Didn’t He do it?

Isn’t that good news?

It’s been a week since I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. Today was my follow-up visit to have the stitches removed and my progress evaluated. Bunkered in my home for the past seven days has been a challenge, but a tremendous blessing as well. Rediscovering how others within the faith community rally to your support in a time of need humbles me greatly. You must know I am so thankful.

For the past year I have been dealing with this increasingly awkward arthritic condition. Athletics, strenuous activity (walking/climbing), and age have each contributed to the progression. I was told to anticipate surgery eventually. My appointment was at noon last Wednesday. It was an hour-long procedure. As was indicated, they had to put me out—I was sedated. This is only the second time I have ever experienced this kind of anesthetic. General anesthesia (as it is called) allows you to sleep through the operation while an anesthesiologist monitors your breathing and vital signs throughout the surgery. All I recall is meeting the team, answering some routine questions, lightly conversing as they rolled me into the operating room, and then waking up with my knee bandaged. I don’t know what happened!

This process won’t let me rest. I thought I’d reflect on it and share with you my findings. Here they are:

  1. First, I was in a controlled environment. The operating room was an actual haven wherein safety and sanitation were essential. You can’t have safety without sanctity. Faith in Jesus, likewise, positions us into the controlled environment of His church (God’s O.R.). There (unlike in the world), He is absolutely in charge!
  2. Secondly, I was in competent hands. Mine was not this specialist’s first procedure. He has a history of success stories (with photos of several professional athletes) that encouraged my decision to surrender. As a matter of fact, I was referred to him. Others had already tried him!
  3. We established a friendship. No doubt a relationship had already begun to forge and I had the privilege of getting to know my doctor better. Knowing him made me more comfortable with him, and the fact that he was a believer, too, surely didn’t hurt a thing.
  4. Lastly, I had to trust him. With little familiarity about what it would take or what he would do, I let him work on me, and do whatever he felt necessary to help make me better. I’m glad I did!

If you missed it, then look at it like this: A man I barely know, whose address I don’t have, whose home or cell phone I am unable to dial, whose credentials I have not inspected, administered to me a dangerous narcotic—a sedative that put me to sleep; and I allowed him to do it. Why? Because I was satisfied knowing that if he knew how to put me to sleep, he also knew how to wake me up, again. Whew! I didn’t mean to catch you off guard like that! Hallelujah! You should be here with me in my house! Rocks can’t celebrate for me! Thank You, Jesus!

Try Jesus, my friend! And always remember, as we all will eventually sleep, the good news is this: Jesus Christ ALONE can get you up, again! He promised He would!

Don’t delay!

For years now, I have attended the Annual Ministers’ Conference held on the campus of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. It is a marvelous time of refreshment for servants of Christ needing renewal. One visit in particular has impacted me like none other; and its value and significance had little to do with the conference itself. Not long after I arrived and had checked into my hotel, I went to the campus to retrieve my pre-registration packet and ID badge. After parking my car, I unassumingly walked across Emancipation Drive and approached the familiar one hundred feet pedestrian bridge which spanned a small creek that led to the University’s Sports Arena. As I neared the bridge’s edge, I was distracted by movement in the cane-lined underbrush which outlined the campus’ border. There, a small, brown, baby rabbit hurried into the towering foliage to find refuge. Small rabbits are not unusual sights to behold during the conference, but this one stood out. Its hide had been damaged as the bright red sinews and tissues beneath were exposed. A huge portion of the pelt appeared as if it had been surgically removed. Although it was not actively bleeding, it was clear an injury had been sustained and the small creature was cautiously seeking sanctuary. It made its way into the green shrubbery and disappeared. I went on to the registration tables.

The image of this little lagomorph wouldn’t let me rest all day. I tried to attend the conference and feed on the messages the remainder of the week, but this small animal’s malady arrested me through every lecture. I shared the experience with a few colleagues, but without any relief. Finally, I asked the Lord to reveal to me the significance of this strange encounter with a small injured mammal at Hampton. He directed me to His word and then told me to “listen to the rabbit preach!” I went to my hotel room and my eyes fell upon the 116th Psalm. Verses eight and nine provided me great comfort. They read, “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, And my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” (NKJV). Upon reading these unfamiliar verses, the rabbit began to preach to me. It was as if it took this text (these lines of the Psalmist), and started to testify about four remarkable lessons we should each learn. I heard it say:

1. “You do not have to know exactly what to be able to see I have apparently been through something!” As curious as I was about what happened, the rabbit would not have been able to tell me. In fact, I didn’t need to know. I concluded; it really didn’t matter. The picture was already clear; the rabbit had apparently been through something.

2. “It is obvious I have been hurt; and I’ve clearly been harmed; but, I am still here!” Without question, the rabbit’s very presence in spite of its damaged condition and previous difficulty was a testimony of survival. The undeniable truth is the rabbit clearly survived! It was still here!

3. “Yes, I am weak; and I have even been wounded; but, I’m still walking.” The rabbit slowly, but surely, yet found itself with mobility. Its hide and back were doubtlessly lacerated, its body bruised; but it still had the capacity to get around and find safety, even sanctuary in the brush (some trees).

4. “Eventually (one day), even soon (perhaps), I will have to die; and I am content knowing that in my dying, something else will live.” The rabbit revealed to me a degree of contentment with a life that is destined to be a sacrifice. It was born to leave here. The thing about its leaving is likely it will be helping some other creature to live.

Did you get it? The message is clear. If you’re simply paying attention to others in this world in which we all live, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover many have apparently been through something. Yes, they are hurting, and many have been harmed, but the greater lesson is they’re still here. They may be weak; some may even be terribly wounded; but they are still walking. And finally, since we will inevitably have to die, we should all—especially Christians—resolve to make certain in our dying, we are sure to help someone else to live.

That, my friends, is the way of the cross! Keep being a blessing in spite of your battle scars!

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach before a huge crowd of youth and young adults at the funeral of a fallen member—a loving twenty-four year old young man and father of four very small children. His was a tragic execution-style death. While the church gathered to celebrate his life, this throng came primarily to pay their last respects. I cannot recall the last time I spoke to so many un-churched, uninterested, unfamiliar, and unsaved young people at one time. The experience was primed for an encounter with God. At the wake the night before, local police armed in anti-gang apparel positioned themselves for anything that could happen. Additionally, they were likewise poised along the journey all the way to and throughout the cemetery after the funeral ended. Praise God, nothing happened!

As I mounted the sacred desk, the writings of the Apostle James provided the context for a thirteen-minute message I tagged plainly, “Three Things About Life.” From Chapter 4, verses 13-15, we attempted to reiterate the Bible’s obvious outline from these verses: (1) the uncertainty of life, (2) the brevity of life, and (3), you need God if you’re going to make it. It was really that simple! While this was not the usual “church crowd,” these atypical worshipers were strangely attentive and tremendously engaging as God spoke from His word. He sealed the message through an interesting personal experience.

It is my practice to polish my shoes whenever I head out for church. There was nothing different about yesterday. The shoe shine kit rests on the floor of the front bedroom of my house. Equally present is a GE digital alarm clock and radio that sits on a study desk in front of the window. It has the capacity to display the time, signal a wake-up alarm, and allows you to listen to the radio on either the AM or FM bands. Consistently, it sits with a dark display, inaudible (silent), and noticeably functionless each time I behold it. It does not reveal the time, it never sounds an alarm, and it does not offer music or news from any radio station in the area. It is interesting to note there is nothing wrong with my electronic appliance. The only reason it fails to function the way it has been designed is because it’s simply not plugged in. You see, its manufacturers have so created it that for it to function properly it has to be connected to a source of power.

Similarly, there were many present at this funeral and countless others around the world who are very much like the GE alarm clock/radio in my home. For the most part, they just do not realize they have been uniquely designed by the Manufacturer to function—act, behave, conduct themselves, etc.—properly and usefully. The problem with those who clearly fail to function as designed is they’re just not plugged in. In order for any of us to live, move, and have being—that is, legitimacy, usefulness, value, and utility—it means we must be properly connected to the only Source of power which can enable us to live. That power source is God!

I only have one question! Are you plugged in? Put differently, are you properly connected? If not, you should take care of that today!

Peace and Terryfic regards, today and always; from me!

On January 25th, I flew to Arkansas to conduct a leadership conference at a thriving church. The flight there was pleasant. An ice storm had settled in the capital city as we landed, and made driving extremely hazardous. As I stood in baggage claim awaiting my luggage, I called my brother to get first hand a report on the road conditions. He told of a fatal accident he saw along his trek to work. These were clearly dangerous conditions.

After retrieving my rental car, I strangely verbalized (aloud), “The Spirit wants me to stay off the highway and go another route.” When these curious words came out of my mouth, I laughed and said to myself (also out loud), “I guess it would be dumb for me to credit the Spirit and then not follow His directions.” So, I took the back way up Roosevelt Road (a rather short jaunt from the airport) that would equally allow me to reach my hotel. In about five minutes I was at the intersection of Roosevelt and Independence Boulevard. While awaiting the light to change, I casually looked to my right and realized I was beside the Veterans National Cemetery. Without hesitation, I turned around and entered the grounds. Therein was my father’s remains (I hadn’t been there in the fifteen years since he had been laid to rest). I drove to the area I faintly recalled as his grave site, but was unsuccessful at finding the spot–no stone was there when we buried him. Eventually I had to return to the information center—a small, red-brick building that served as an office for this facility—to get what I needed. The convenient on-site kiosk was malfunctioning, and I had to wait on the attendant to return before I could receive help.

Mr. Jackson was a seasoned gentleman who kindly greeted me, and we proceeded inside to manually do the search. I told him my last name and we found the actual card with my dad’s name on it. The information thereon was clear: “section 19, lot 335.” I had not known this; but I will never forget it. He related to me how to get there and I thanked him and left.

As I drove near the area where I was first browsing, I quickly saw the sign, “Section 19.” In a few more feet, I drove past the row of 500’s, 400’s, and at last reached the 300’s. I saw 338, 337, 336, and there it was, 335. I parked and for the first time beheld the marker where my father’s lifeless body was laid. It read: Alvin W. Terry, U S Navy, FN, Korea, January 29, 1933 to April 15, 1992. While standing there in the freezing drizzle and beholding his head stone for the very first time, tears began to crystallize on my cheeks. I started thanking my daddy. “Thank you, daddy,” I uttered; “because everything I know about being a man I learned from you—like how to hold a hammer, and drive a nail; how to lay tile and shingle a roof. Thank you, daddy, for teaching me how to rake leaves, and cut grass; how to change a tire and bait a hook; thanks, dad, for taking me hunting and fishing, and for showing me how to load and fire a shotgun.” I thanked my dad for teaching us how to swim and how to train German Shepherds. My daddy often stood alone and forged the path for justice in our community during the civil rights era. He showed me what it means to take care of a family, and I’ve tried desperately hard to emulate his example as best I possibly could.

My conversation soon changed from one with my once-earthly daddy (I knew he couldn’t hear me) into one with my heavenly father—God. I thanked God for my daddy! I thanked Him for the privilege of having a daddy who loved us, provided for us, played with us and prayed with us. I was grateful to have a daddy who disciplined us when we needed it. I thanked God for a man who lived with us and slept with my mother; and for how his DNA was actually consistent with my own. I thanked God for the little things I had heard my daddy say (many of which I could not remember); but more especially for the many things I remember he did! He wasn’t close to perfect (by no means); but he was my daddy. With all those things—the good, the bad, and the ugly—the greatest joy I have even today about my now gone biological father is simply that he was there!

This fact comforts and convicts me in my own approach to being a parent, a pastor, and a person. I regularly encounter families and children who will never know the joys I have known. Many will never know their fathers, nor ever hear them call their names. Many will never have the privilege of having their father do for them what mine did for me. Some who know their dads sadly are unable to spend time with them because they are either in jail or prison, or perhaps some dads prefer not to own or ever want to see the child (or children) they made. These realities demand of me to live responsibly as an act of genuine gratitude for what God gave to and did for me through my daddy. I am constrained to behave honorably and to model manhood before the men, women, and children I serve; so that I can encourage them further by giving them a small glimpse of the giant-of-a-man I came to know, to cherish, and to love—my daddy!

When I had finished in the cemetery and was driving away, I heard in my Spirit a still, small, voice say, “See there; that really was Me; and you needed these moments with Me and your daddy.” Suddenly it occurred to me we would have been celebrating my dad’s jubilee the following Wednesday (it would have been his seventy-fifth birthday). I thanked God, again, and continued to marinate on my unscheduled pit-stop for the rest of the day until I finally drifted off to sleep for the night. Memorial moments can be quite cleansing. God truly knows what we need! I miss him so much!

Hallelujah!

Some view Omaha as a rather exilic existence; as if it were some lonely island. As intimated in a previous posting in many ways I have been “in school”—learning valuable lessons about life, people, relationships, me, and more especially our God. I haven’t been making all A’s; but I am making progress. One such lesson is about establishing lasting relationships. They’re important and they require hard work. To create them people must be willing to give others the very things we each need from others when the-shoe-is-on-the-other-foot. A few of these things are:

1. Room to groweveryone is not where you are. Just because they are not in the same place (as you) does not mean they are in a wrong place; they could just be in a different place. In order for them to forge ahead and for friendship (or any relationship) to survive, it may likely take time. Lighten up! Give them a break! Learn to give others room to grow!

2. Freedom to chooseFree speech is our nation’s first constitutional right and privilege; and the freedom to make independent choices is inherent within it—depending on if those choices are not (1) criminal, (2) consciously offensive, or (3) sinful, unethical, or immoral. We may not agree with the decisions others make, but everyone should have the freedom to choose! One clear exception is you cannot give this choice to children too soon—if you do, they will eat candy for breakfast, and have ice cream for dinner every day. (smile)

3. Opportunity to make mistakesIt is a natural (especially parental) human tendency to want to help others avoid the pitfalls you have already overcome. Regrettably, some just won’t learn the “stove is hot” until after they have touched the burning cylinder. As tough as it is for us (at times) to have to watch, people need the opportunity to make mistakes.

4. The rare privilege of hurting us deeplyNobody likes pain; but human relationships are saturated with it. There’s no way around it. When nurturing relationships, hurt is inevitable. Look at it like this: if a woman is to ever bear children, she must be willing to experience pain. Likewise, we must all become vulnerable if relationships are going to make it. People should be given the rare privilege of hurting us deeply! Keep in mind I said, “rare” privilege; because if it is more repetitive rather than rare, then that’s called abuse. One should not have to endure repetitive, un-redemptive pain or abuse.

5. The assurance of one’s unfailing and unconditional loveeven after insult and injury, people need to know the relationship can and will survive. This is key for moving forward and getting past potentially deal-breaking breaches. Fellowship may be broken (for the moment), but everyone needs the security of knowing the relationship remains intact—even if you have to love them by long distance for a season!

Mrs. Fannie Kirksey was a 4’, 10”, about-a-hundred pound, 87 year-old-lady who went home to be with the Lord. Her husband (of sixty-eight years) passed a year earlier. As I stood at her bedside after her transition, her tearing daughter asked me, “Pastor, did mama ever tell you the story behind her ring?” A single, very thin, silver band rested on her frail wedding finger—no precious stone; just an inexpensive solitary hoop. I told her, “No.” She then related how her mom and dad purchased this small piece of metal as her wedding ring by mail order over sixty-nine years ago for only one dollar. Mrs. Kirksey never took it off. I was speechless! Incredibly she wore it for sixty-nine years—a year beyond her husband’s departure. Can you imagine that? For sixty-eight anniversaries, sixty-eight birthdays, sixty-eight Christmases, sixty-eight Mother’s Days, sixty-eight Valentine’s Days, she never wanted a diamond to go with it, another new set; nothing! I wondered why. As if Sister Kirksey was speaking from the other side, I heard in my spirit, “the reason I never thought to replace my ring was simply because I was married.” In that moment, the Lord said to me to add one more thing to the list of five things needful for making relationships last. Here’s the sixth and final principle:

You must always be careful to treat people more importantly than you do things! If it actually wasn’t Ms. Fannie who said it, she surely should have. Man, if we could learn this one, we’d be so much further up the road towards making our relationships more meaningful and lasting, all to the glory of God!

Thank you, Mrs. Fannie Morgan Kirksey! You are sorely missed!