We were at the funeral of a dear brother in Christ by the name of Joe this past week. Joe loved the Lord Jesus and served Him with an incomparable smile on his face his entire adult life. Joe was a blessed farmer and he knew full well what it meant to rely upon the Lord for healthy herds and crops. His story is a very good one with a most happy ending, as he now joins his Lord and his precious wife Wilma in glory.
Joe will be deeply missed by this writer, for to meet him was to be greeted by a strong and unfeigned love and warmth. There was no self in Joe, and when he met you, it was all about you and not about himself. His was never a greeting of simply proper etiquette, but of genuine affection and interest. When I think of Joe, I think of I Peter 1:22,
“Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a
sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another
from the heart.”
Toward the end of his 89 years on earth, an end which became very imminent, his family took turns at his bedside talking to their precious Dad, reading Scripture for him, singing songs of faith to which he would often raise his hand in praise and whisper “Hallelujah.” Yes, even in great weakness, the smile was still there as he rejoiced in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Wonderful climactic days of worship which he had rejoiced in doing throughout his life as he played to the Lord the harmonica, the accordion, the organ and piano! A self-made farmer-musician. His promotion to Heaven’s eternal worship of the Lamb was not an interruption but rather a perfected extension of what Joe loved to do all along – exalt his Lord. Joe was soon to be promoted to the highest stratum of worshiping, praising, singing and cheering his Lord.
That final night on earth, as he was being ministered to by his daughter-in-law Beth, suddenly in his room there was a rustling noise in the closed-window blinds! It startled her, for even if the windows had been open, it made no sense as it was totally still that night without even the slightest breeze. As the Lord came into the room that night to take his son Joe home, He announced Himself to Beth and Joe with a gentle yet audible stirring.
Of course, that should not surprise or confound us. Rather, we should expect it. There are many instances in the Bible of Divine stirrings when God is up to something. When the Prophet Ezekiel was being commissioned by the Lord, he heard great rumbling sounds of wings and wheels. (Ezekiel 3:123-13) The angel of the Lord stirred the waters of the Pool of Bethesda in which the sick, blind, lame, and withered were healed. (John 5:4) When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost, there was a sound of a mighty, rushing wind. (Acts 2:2) On and on we could go. It would seem that:
“GOD IS THE GOD OF POWERFUL, INCESSANT ACTION AND
MOTION, AND WHERE THERE IS SUPERNATURAL ACTION
THERE IS OFTEN AUDIBLE AND VISIBLE REACTION
IN THE NATURAL.”
Immediately after that action-moment of Divine manifestation, Joe began his journey home as he breathed his earthly last. In an instant Joe’s earth-to-Heaven transition had taken place, as he went home with his Savior forever. Or as the Apostle Paul states in I Thessalonians 4:17, as I personalize it for Joe,
“…and thus Joe shall always be with the Lord.”
RELEASE MY DAUGHTER TO COME HOME TO ME
When I receive the reports of such blessed home-goings of the saints of God, I am moved to reflect upon other transitions to Heaven that I have been a part of during my 45 years of Gospel ministry. I know that when it comes to supernatural manifestations whether in life or in death, there are those religious people who feel that we should keep the door locked on such things, for they are questionable at best and therefore it would be better to keep them secret. That is all quite another discussion, but seeing that the Lord in His Word is very open about it all, and knows no locked doors or closed windows, I am going to open some more to shore up whatever eroded and uncertain feelings that we might have when we hear of God manifestly announcing the earthly departures of other blood-bought saints.
I have strongly gotten the impression over the years that when a saint of God goes home to Heaven, it is really like a NASA space mission—ever-shifting atmospheric and celestial conditions must line up just right at an EXACT MOMENT to fly through that fleetingly open “window of opportunity.” Not a second early, and not a second late. It was the wise man Solomon who wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:1-2,
“There is an APPOINTED TIME for everything. And there is A TIME
for every event under heaven,”
“A time to give birth, and A TIME TO DIE….”
Kathy was a dynamic daughter of God, and her steely faith was the strongest I had ever seen in a parishioner. You could not have a conversation with her but very soon you would feel her vital and vibrant trust in God. Jesus said of the Roman Centurion in Matthew 8:10,
“Truly I say unto you, I have not found such great faith
with anyone in Israel.”
And I can say of Kathy,
“Truly I say unto you, I have not found such great faith with
anyone in Grand Rapids, Michigan.”
Wherever she went the light of her faith was invitingly shining. People were drawn to that light. She led her husband to the Lord, and her children followed their mother in the faith walk as well. No matter where or when you met her, a prayer huddle would inevitably take shape, for the upward lift in her life would irresistibly carry everyone around her heavenward.
By the time it was discovered, cancer had already ravaged Kathy’s body. It was a crushing blow to her husband and children, as well as to all who knew her. She seemed to be so invincible and indestructible, which none of us are of course. But I am sure you know the kind of person I am talking about, and when they are felled by this or that, we are left stunned and numbed that such a fortress of faith could fall. It is a painful swift kick to the midsection, and it takes your breath away.
If anyone had faith in God for healing, Kathy did. She was constantly prayed over, and the church leadership including myself prayed with her and anointed her with oil as the Apostle James in James 5:14 commands us to do. It seemed that everyone who came to pray with her was brandishing a six-gun of olive oil imported from Israel to shoot down the cancerous enemy that was taking her life from her. Yes, I knew that the power was not in the oil, or even in our faith, but in God alone. But exact theology is not the issue when you are facing death up close, so those were times that we all came armed and ready. Praise God for His faithful prayer warriors!
There is a Divinely-appointed time to die, scheduled by God down to the very second. We read about it so inescapably in Job 14:5,
“Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with
Thee, and his limits Thou hast set so that he cannot pass.”
I have often preached at memorial services and said that we are never conceived or born too early, and we never die too soon or late. There is always the Divine context of our coming and going. Nothing is by chance, and there are no loose-ended births or deaths.
Kathy fought so valiantly as you might expect a mighty woman of faith in God to do. Her body was now frail and emaciated due to that dastardly cancer. The cancer had eaten through her flesh, and a horrific odor lingered in the hospital room. Her legs were grossly enlarged with fluid. She was in a coma in the hospital, as the family kept their prayer vigil at her side night and day.
On another one of my pastoral visits, I told her sleepless husband and children to go home that afternoon and try to get some sleep, and that I would keep watch and pray in their stead until they returned. They reluctantly did so, and Kathy and I were then left alone in her hospital room. Of course, we were not alone, nor are we ever alone for even a second in time.
As I read Scripture to her and sang some gospel choruses and prayed, I had the sure sense in my spirit that comatose Kathy heard and rejoiced in every Scripture, song, and prayer of faith. It was then that I was interrupted, as I heard the a voice speak so clearly and dramatically if not audibly. I remember looking around to see who might have come into the room without my knowing. There was no one visibly there, and being human I thought at first that I had imagined it all. But the persistent voice spoke to me again and said:
“REBUKE THE TORMENTOR AND COMMAND HIM TO LET
MY DAUGHTER COME HOME TO ME.”
Trying to stabilize my weak knees and catch my breath, it was then that I began to realize for the first time that the cancer was taking vicious and sick delight in tormenting Kathy to the point of death, but not letting her die. Cancer, as it were, was inflicting her with unspeakable misery and pain, and not letting her go. I also knew all along that Kathy was valiantly fighting to stay alive for the sake of her beloved husband and children. But now the Divine warrant had been issued by God Himself to arrest this tormentor and order him to release God’s daughter to come home to her Lord.
In that stunning moment, I recognized the voice of the Master. His language was familiar as well. It was the voice of Scripture as we read in Luke 4:38-39,
“Now Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever…and standing
over her He (Jesus) rebuked the fever….”
Again, the vocabulary of Scripture in Matthew 8:6 KJV,
“And saying, ‘Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy,
and grievously tormented.”
I was not without a point of reference, but I felt totally overwhelmed with the awareness that I would be speaking words to my dear sister in Christ to leave earth as well as her husband and children who loved and needed her so much. I had never been in such a position before as it was totally unheard of and without precedent in my experience. In that moment I fought every doubt and fear that Satan could throw at me, for I unknowingly had walked into a theater of war when I came into that room. The central crisis had come, and the Lord had put me right in the middle of the intense battle.
I recall pausing to try to gather myself, and then surprising myself, with a trembling voice I spoke the words that I had been mandated to speak by the Lord, and I imperatively said:
“TORMENTOR, IN THE NAME OF JESUS, I REBUKE YOU AND
DEMAND THAT YOU LET KATHY GO AND COME
HOME TO HER GOD!”
Then I bent down and looked into Kathy’s partially opened, glazed eyes and said to her, “Kathy you can now go home to be with Jesus, and God and God’s people will care for your husband and family. Don’t be troubled about your family, they will be just fine. Kathy, Jesus wants you to go home to Heaven and be with Him now.” In that instant, a beautiful smile, an incomparable Kathy smile came over her face as the enemy released her and she breathed her earthly last as her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had come into the room to claim His own. No one goes home to be with God unless God comes to take him or her first. He always walks with His own through the valley of the shadow of death—YEA THOU ART WITH ME.
All of Kathy’s monitored vital signs dropped instantly when the command was issued to the tormentor. The nurse from the central nurse’s station came running into the room and told me to step into the hallway. The nurse’s hurried desperation was most honorable and caring but totally unnecessary, for Kathy had already gone home!!! She had just left the hospital with Jesus. There are some winter nights that are so cold that the only really warm place is in bed. There comes that time in this cold world when the only warm place is to fall asleep in the arms of Jesus. Good night Kathy, we will see you in the morning.
I still tremble with awe and wonder at those holy, final moments with Kathy and the Lord. I share them most humbly to exalt Him Who alone holds the keys of life and death.
THE RADIANCE OF HEAVEN’S JOY
Helene was a most proper, most loving, and very stayed daughter of God. She was a serious minded, serious faced child of God who had been brought up in a pastor’s home. She had lost a four year old younger sister Ruthie to rheumatic fever in Paterson, New Jersey. She had lost her pastor-father when he was 44 years old when pastoring with his family in Zutphen, Michigan. They didn’t know what to call it then, but upon hindsight it was most likely Lou Gehrigs disease that took her Dad. She had lost a sister Nell to breast cancer, and a brother Peter to esophageal cancer when both of them were in the prime of their lives. Her beloved husband Bill at age 66 died of a massive heart attack. Bill and Helene had three children who were loved by their Dad and Mom passionately, and in return were loved passionately by their children. An intensely close Christian family!
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus. Husband Bill had a great sense of humor, and even though his wife Helene smiled infrequently, he could bring a smile to her face that was irresistible. But mostly she would have to be made to smile and laugh, and sometimes it took hard work for those around her. Not that she was without joy or laughter on occasion, but there were many painful and sorrowful reasons for the deep furrows on her brow. They were etched there by many years of deep grief and loss, which eventually included the passing of her mother Helen. Her brothers John and Art survived her, both of whom have now gone home to Jesus as well. I was reminded at times in her life by the words of Jeremiah 45:3,
“Ah, woe is me! For the Lord has added sorrow to my pain….”
Through it all, Helene was a strong believer in her Savior Jesus Christ, and her husband Bill joined her in that unshakable faith over the 39 years of their strong and loving but all too brief marriage. They were always together, except of course when husband Bill was at work as a watch repairman and jeweler in Zeeland, Michigan.
Their second home on earth was their church, as they both longed for and rejoiced in the worship of God in the great congregation. It truly was their spiritual home, as it could be said of both of them what the Psalmist said in Psalm 122:1,
“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to
the house of the Lord.’”
Now on fast forward, Helene in her latter years was stricken with congestive heart failure, and at age 80 struggled with difficulty in breathing because of eventual fluid in the lungs. I was informed that Helene had been rushed to the hospital from her senior’s apartment suffering from labored breathing. Upon arriving at the hospital, it was made known to us that the crisis had come, and that Helene already had had two quarts of fluid removed from her lungs, and that her heart was showing signs now of total fatigue. It in fact was giving up.
I was reminded at this point of Psalm 73:26,
“My heart and my flesh may fail, but God is the strength of
my heart and my portion forever.”
When we walked into her room, her breathing was most labored, but there was a presence in that room that was glorious and Heavenly. She could not talk, but on her face was a radiant joy that was other worldly. Never before had I seen such a holy glow of joy on her face or on anyone else’s face before or since. It was a sensational smile of luminescence, as she was joyously lit up from ear to ear.
This was far more than just a broad smile, rather, this was a Heavenly Sonrise on her face that literally lit up the entire room. Most hospital rooms are gray, but Helene’s room was a veritable rainbow. This was not the chill wind of death, but the warmth of love and light. This was not a few glimmers of joy, but a floodlight of joy that poured forth from her transformed countenance. These were not earthly or temporal moments, for I somehow knew beholding this miracle that we were in the immediate presence of Jesus Christ Who is indeed the light of the world. Behold, the place whereon we stood was holy ground.
Let me explain as best I can. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai where he had met with God for the receiving of the Ten Commandments, we read in Exodus 34:28,
“And it came about when Moses was coming down from Mt. Sinai,
(and the two tables of stone were in Moses’ hand as he was
coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not
know that the skin of his face shone because of his
speaking with Him.”
Helene did not know either that her face was illuminated by the coming of Jesus Christ to take her home. I recall saying to my wife that something supernatural is taking place here. Her face was filled with the joy of the Lord, as she was reflecting the radiance of the glory of God. I had never seen Helene ever being close to being lit up like this, and I mean lit up! I am quite sure that Moses did not have a smile on his face, for God met him on the mountain with lightning and thunder and violent shaking. It was the revelation of the law. But Helene wore a transcendent, joyful, holy glow on her countenance because her Savior had come for her in shining grace.
Jesus took her home with the glory of the Lord shining all around her and from her. It was something to see. She was the strongest we had ever seen her, and that in her weakest of moments. She was the brightest she had ever been, and that at a time which for others tending a dying loved one would be considered dark and foreboding. She was the happiest she had ever been, which made it difficult for us to be sorrowful. What a fantastic dilemma!
Oh, I should tell you that I knew Bill and Helene very well, because they are my precious Dad and Mom. I am blessed to have had such godly and loving parents. So many homes are a constant stressfest, but I was brought up in a holy temple of love. I also should share with you that my father’s last words to me in the coronary critical care unit were these:
“SON , I WANT TO GO HOME.”
He did and so did mother. What a day of rejoicing that will be, when we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.
SHE WILL BRING HIM THERE
As his former pastor, I had not seen young Adam for many years. The last I had heard, he was not walking with the Lord, but away from Him. That night at a high school Christmas basketball tournament, suddenly he came walking by me down the bleacher aisle with his baseball cap turned backwards on his head. He was followed by a very attractive young woman who likewise wore a baseball cap in reverse. I did not know at the time that she was his wife. I saw them but they apparently did not see me.
Then something happened in those moments that was most unlikely at a basketball game, and coming to think about it, most unlikely anywhere. When Adam and that pretty young gal walked by, I heard a voice in the midst of all the cheering and shouting say, “She is the one who will bring him there.” What? Who? Hello! Is anyone there?
Yes of course, I knew as a Christian and as a pastor that God does speak to individuals anywhere at any time and anyhow He sovereignly chooses to. The Bible is full of it, but of course those instances were in Bible Times, but this was basketball time. God came to young Samuel when he was lying down in the temple, and when the Lord called Samuel by name, Samuel thought it was the priest by the name of Eli, as we read in I Samuel 3:4-5,
“…that the Lord called unto Samuel…then he ran to Eli and said,
‘Here I am, for you called me….”
God had to call more than once to Samuel before he got it all straightened out.
At least Samuel was in the temple, a place where if God called out to you, you should there of all places be able to hear and know God’s voice. But understand now that I am in a basketball arena with screaming fanatics like myself. Understand also that I am an obsessive sports’ nut, and at a basketball game of our youngest son’s Alma Mater, I am not even present to God, let alone to my wife or to anyone else. I am in a zone that no one can reach, and I often do not leave that zoned state until the next morning. I am the least likely fan-candidate to hear any specific voice talking to me, but then I heard the voice so clearly say to me a second time, “She is the one who will bring him there.”
That night on the way home from the game, I hesitantly shared with my wife what had happened to me in the gymnasium. I was afraid that she would conclude that I had watched Field of Dreams once too often, you know, the voice that said, “Build it and they will come.” She did not react in that way at all, but instead suggested firmly that we pray for that young gal to be used powerfully in Adam’s life even though to me she appeared the most unlikely person to influence anyone for spiritual good. That night we prayed, not really knowing what we were praying for.
As it is with the passing of time and the business of life, the event slid to the back of our minds but never left. All the while I could not dismiss the somehow haunting words, “She is the one who will bring him there.” It didn’t make sense! Who was she? Where was there? The voice did not say, “She will bring him to Jesus.” And what is more, had it been the Lord who spoke to me, or was I simply over-zoned on basketball and hearing voices that were not real. We would soon learn ahead that God was not going to let us forget. The voice would dramatically speak again in due time.
A few months later in very early spring the telephone rang, and it was of all people Adam who was crying uncontrollably on the other end. Instantly I had the strangest sense of the prophetic, but the exact definition of the gymnasium prophecy would only come later. With a sobbing voice he told me that his wife was leaving him for he had been unfaithful, and that she had found out about his infidelity. Oh no, not again, not the dreaded “A” word – “Adultery.” Generally speaking there is no more emotionally supercharged word to a spouse than the big, bad “A” word. And when will we ever take seriously the Lord’s counsel about the bitter after-taste of adultery, as we read in Proverbs 5:3-4,
“For the lips of an adulteress drop honey, and smoother than oil
is her speech, but in the end she is as bitter as wormwood….”
Weeping with the bitterness of wormwood in his mouth, Adam confessed how sinful and foolish he had been, and that he loved his wife so much, in fact, now more than ever before. The grass was not greener on the other side of the fence as lust and Lucifer had convinced him it was. Adam had been drawn into Satan’s “A” Game and he came out bloodied and beaten. Now his wife Bobbi had lost all respect for and trust in her husband, and needless to say, her delicate womanhood had been painfully wounded. As I pursued him further, it became clear that neither of them were serving the Lord. In short, they were living in the world like the rest of the world.
I had been drawn as a catalyst before into counseling in the seething caldron of adultery, and my track record as a pastor/counselor was mixed at best. Adam then asked me if I would be willing to counsel them, and with that strange sense of Divine destiny – SHE IS THE ONE WHO WILL BRING HIM THERE – I said yes. But to do that his wife would have to be willing to come with him. Furthermore, what could I do to reach his wife through her obvious pain and anger? We prayed on the telephone together for his wife to be touched by the Holy Spirit to agree at least to one session. I was not optimistic.
When Adam and his wife Bobbi came together for counseling two nights later, I was deeply struck with the realization that I had heard from God in the sports complex, and that God was up to something huge. Just what it was I did yet know. The counseling was going nowhere, for as I suspected, she told me that she would never be able to trust Adam again.
I must admit that I was feeling frantic, and then in the midst of the death throes of a dying marriage, the Lord spoke to me and commanded me to tell her what the voice had said to me in the basketball arena – SHE IS THE ONE WHO WILL BRING HIM THERE. And the exact moment that I spoke those words, her entire countenance changed from hurt and anger to love, tenderness, and wonder. As it is with the gift of prophecy of the Holy Spirit, I could see that it spoke both conviction and hope to her spirit.
I did not attempt to explain the prophecy, but simply repeated it. I added that it was my conviction that if she missed whatever God was saying, she would fail in the central purpose of her life. That night in our screened-in porch, Adam and Bobbi committed their lives to Jesus Christ in weeping surrender to God and to one another. Adam cried out for forgiveness from the Lord and from his wife. Bobbi tearfully asked Jesus to be her Lord and Savior, as she received God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ for her own sins, and then gave that unconditional love and forgiveness to her husband. Truly heart-first deliveries by the Holy Spirit. I was so fearful that something might go wrong as I was witnessing the rebirth of two lost sinners being saved by grace, and the restoration of a destroyed marriage which a few minutes earlier was gasping in agony.
Was this the “SHE IS THE ONE WHO WILL BRING HIM THERE?” Yes and no! A few months later at age 36 Adam was diagnosed with Lou Gehrigs disease. That slow, cruel, and relentless sickness attacked Adam for three and half years. It was a journey that had been prophesied by the Holy Spirit at a basketball game. It was both awful and yet wonderful to behold as Adam and Bobbi grew in glorious oneness with the Lord and with each other. Never had I seen a wife, and a very young one at that, so tenderly and lovingly minister to her husband who eventually lost control of every function. Only Bobbi could be the heart of Jesus until the very night when she carried her husband home to Heaven’s gates.
It was during Adam’s final days on earth that I came to fully understood the meaning of “SHE SHALL BE THE ONE TO BRING HIM THERE.” The “THERE” was “HEAVEN.” Bobbi had walked her husband to the gates of glory as no other woman could, MAKING JESUS AS REAL TO HER HUSBAND AS THE AWESOME LOVE AND FORGIVENESS SHE HAD P0URED OVER HIM. What an absolutely amazing daughter of God! She became the embodiment to Adam of Jesus Christ’s incomprehensible love and amazing grace. Then the unforgettable time came when Jesus Christ came and took His son from Bobbi’s arms into His arms and completed Adam’s journey home. At his funeral, I preached on John 14:3 where we find these words of Jesus which held the secret to the “WHERE” all along,
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive
you to myself; that where I am, THERE you may be also.”
We will one day soon meet you “THERE” Adam, we will meet you “THERE.”