Comforting the Bereaved

700 years before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah predicted many things about him. The famous passage in Isaiah 53 says that Jesus would be, “a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.” (Isa 53:3). Jesus was in tune with those who were suffering because he knew what it meant to suffer.

In John 11, Jesus found out that Lazarus, his friend, was sick. By the time Jesus got there Lazarus had died. Lazarus’ sisters, who were good friends of Jesus, were upset that Jesus hadn’t gotten there sooner. When you read John 11:20-37 it is obvious Mary and Martha are suffering due to the death of their brother Lazarus. You can hear it in the words they say and the disappointment they faced (they had sent for Jesus earlier but Jesus delayed because he wanted to show the power of God by raising Lazarus from the dead – 11:1-14 for that part of the story).

How does Jesus respond to these sisters, his friends, who had just lost their brother? When we think about comforting the bereaved we usually start with wondering what we are going to say. Jesus shows us that there is a better place to start than that. There are two things Jesus offers them before he says a single word. We can learn a lot from these two things that we need to put into practice when comforting those who have lost loved ones.

1 – Presence

Jesus is with them. Presence is powerful. Presence can often speak louder and more profoundly than any words or advice we might want to offer.  Presence is powerful because it communicates the commitment of an ongoing relationship with that person in the pain, through the pain and through anything else the world can throw at the person who is mourning.

2 – Listen

Jesus hears what they have to say before saying anything himself. James 1:19 truly does apply here, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak”. Jesus knows he has the solution and will raise Lazarus from the dead and yet he patiently listens to their disappointment and sorrow. We can’t raise the dead but sometimes we talk with those who mourn as if we have some special wisdom or power that we need to let them in on. Start with presence and listening before you have permission to say a word. Why on earth do we feel such pressure to say the perfect thing to those who are hurting?


Sometimes we try to offer up advice to those who have lost a loved one. That is usually not the best move. That is not the time they want to hear about God needing the one who died in heaven or trying to give reasons why things are better now even if they don’t feel like it. That brings us to our last point.

We aren’t Jesus – Jesus had the perfect answer. We don’t always have that perfect answer. We must be careful what we say to those who are mourning. It may seem smart. It may seem like it would comfort them but some things aren’t helpful at all.  What are some things you have heard people say or maybe even you said yourself to those who mourn that weren’t appropriate?

If you struggle with that maybe you need to take Bob Newhart’s advice…



Mike Cope’s Series – When a Child Dies

Mike Cope has been doing a series on dealing with the death of children. If you have experienced this or know someone who would benefit from reading this please pass this along. This series is touching and has already gotten nearly 200 comments total, which speaks not only to the quality of Mike’s writing but also to the importance and relevance of this topic.

When a Child Dies #1
When a Child Dies #2
When a Child Dies #3
When a Child Dies #4
When a Child Dies #5
When a Child Dies #6
When a Child Dies #7
When a Child Dies #8
When a Child Dies #9
When a Child Dies #10
When a Child Dies #11
When a Child Dies #12

Heaven: I Have Questions…

I am teaching a class on heaven right now and thought I would share a bit along the way. When I just sit and let my mind think about heaven there are a lot of thoughts that come to mind. Just like with any place I have never been, when I hear mention of it, I have more questions than I have answers. Obviously, scripture addresses some of our questions and others it is silent on. I have studied enough to have a decent answer on some of these questions but it is always worthy of investigation of the scripture rather than just assuming my conclusions are solid and based on a solid interpretation of what the Bible actually says. Here are a few of the questions that come to mind when I think about heaven:

Who ?– who will be there? Not who do I expect will be there but who does the Bible say will be there?

What? – What happens in heaven? What is the focus? What will we do?

When? – When will all of this happen? When will Jesus return?

Where? – Where is heaven? Where are the dead?

Why? – Why did God create the world in such a way that there is a distinction between heaven and earth? Why is there evil in the world? Which leads to…

How? –  How will God take care of the problems we face in this world? How does God expect us to live here and now and how does an understanding of heaven address that?

I am going to highlight what scripture has to say in response to these questions and how that helps us to have an accurate view of heaven and to help us live in light of that understanding.

What questions do you have about heaven?

Granny Dabbs (1919-2011)

My grandmother died at 92 this week. She was an amazing lady and will truly be missed. Granny taught me about kindness, patience, and discipline. One of her most prominent characteristics was her tidiness. I cannot remember her home every changing. Ever. The only thing that changed were the pictures she had out, reflecting her aging children and grand children. I am certain that her room in heaven is already straight and won’t be changing for at least 1000 years. Granny was a pillar in our family and an amazing example as a Christian. You always knew where granny stood on an issue and you  an knew she wasn’t going to bend. She had quiet determination. Granny lived independently until the last five months of her 92 years. What a lady.

I was blessed to be with her a few days before she died. She didn’t really have any energy and had a hard time staying awake. She got to see Jonah for the second time in his life and got to meet Elijah (both her great-grands) for the first time. They both brought smiles to her face. What a blessing. Missy, the boys and I started to leave after we had said our goodbyes. She understood that this was the last time she would see us in this life. She said, “You don’t have to go.” You know that is tough to hear. So Missy and the boys stepped out and she and I talked for a while. She perked up for the very first time when we talked about favorite Bible verses. I told her one of mine was Revelation 21:5 where Jesus says, “I am making everything new.” I told her that was what God was doing with her. She lit up and started sharing about her favorite Bible verses. She said that she had hers written in the back of her study Bible. Mom went and found that list and I plan on memorizing those in the near future.

Before I left her I just had to bless her. This goes back to a family practice we have adopted with our sons, reciting “The Lord bless you and keep you over them. I bent down over her and recited, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face  shine upon you.” Then I said, “And what is he going to give you?…you know.” She quietly said, “Peace.” I said, “Granny, God is going to give you peace. This is not how the story ends.” So now Granny is at peace. Praise God for that.

It is hard to have peace when a loved one dies but Granny certainly made it easy on us by living such a godly life. Granny, you will be missed but we know this is not how the story ends. So we have great hope.

Postmodernism and the Death of Political Parties

I think the two party system will be dead in twenty years and replaced by something that better reflects the worldview of today’s Americans. There are several characteristics of our culture that lead me to that conclusion:

  1. Postmoderns aren’t concerned for clear-cut and well defined groups that have to fit a particular mold. They are more into things being on a continuum without clear-cut divisions and distinctions like political parties.
  2. Postmoderns aren’t as brand loyal as previous generations. Past generations would be a democrat or republican because that is what their family always had been. People are growing out of that mentality.
  3. The Republicans vs. the Democrats almost seems like an arbitrary and dated method for doing things.
  4. Postmoderns are open to a scrapping things that don’t make sense and replacing them with things that seem to fit better here and now.

There are more things that weigh into this but I think these are the main three and it all has me thinking the two party system will be gone within a generation and something that is on a continuum of thoughts and views is put in to replace it. We will always have conservatism and liberalism but I wonder how this will show up in the political system in the next 50 years as people get less and less concerned with us vs. them and more concerned with where this country is headed in the mix of the global community. The two party system just seems to aim too small and I think it will be breathing its last in the next twenty years.

What do you think?

Francis Chan on the Balance Beam

Great stuff…

Internet Monk, Michael Spencer Passed Away

According to the internetmonk website, Michael Spenser passed away last night. At 54 years old that is quite a shock to me and I am sure will be to many who are reading this now. Here is the link to the post at his site. Quite a loss to the Christian blogging community. I am sure his family could use your prayers at this time.

The Passing of Jim Bill McInteer

I was sad to see this in my email today, sent by Liz Howell:

Jim Bill McInteer, described as a “giant of the faith” by many church members, died Monday, March 8, 2010.

A minister for 70-plus years, the former president and publisher of 21st Century Christian and Power for Today served on the board at Harding University for decades. Harding named its center for Bible and world missions after him:

For a complete obituary, go to:

Visitation will be Tuesday, March 9, 2010 from 2-9 p.m. and Wednesday, March 10, 2010 from 12-2 p.m., at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ. Funeral services will be conducted Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 2 p.m., at Brentwood Hills Church of Christ. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Jim Bill and Betty McInteer Scholarship Fund, Box 12238, at Harding University, Searcy, AR 72149.

Please e-mail your condolences and memories to for a booklet to be given to the family.

The Crucifixion of Christ

We don’t like to leave Christ on the cross for very long. Our theology often gets in a rush to the resurrection. But the resurrection lacks its own possibility if you exclude the crucifixion of Christ. Anyone who has watched the movie The Passion of the Christ was moved by the brutality of what Jesus experienced on our behalf. The Romans weren’t out to make any crucified criminal look good or keep their dignity intact. On Sunday we get 10 minutes to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. I wonder what it would be like to reflect on the crucifixion for a full six hours? Several times I have prayed for a full hour but never for six. Imagine yourself at the foot of the cross, looking up at the dying Lord for a full six hours. Imagine the pain you would see, the blood that would flow, the words that were said, and the testimony from those standing nearby. Five minutes would seem like an eternity much less six long and brutal hours. The breathing becomes quicker, the pain more intense, the words more and more loving. And the seconds, minutes, and hours pass by slowly. To see him dead and lifeless hanging there would be heart wrenching. Could you keep your eyes on a bruised, battered and bloody Christ for six full hours? Could you keep your eyes off him?

There are several things that stand out to me when I spend time reflecting on the crucified Lord:

  1. He is concerned for others. He makes preparations for his mother. He forgives sins. He is concerned for the other crucified men around him.
  2. He experiences the full extent of the pain and agony. D.A. Carson points out the two times Jesus was offered wine in his crucifixion. The first is found in Mark 15:23, “wine mixed with myrrh”. Jesus refused this wine as it was intended to dull the pain. But the second offering of wine Jesus took (Mark 15:36). This wine was to ease Jesus’ thirst and would result in prolonging his life and as a result his agony on the cross (Gospel According to John, 620). Jesus really “bore it all” on the cross.
  3. Jesus is in full control. This isn’t an accident. It wasn’t a slip up. He was in control during his arrest and was in control of his crucifixion. Jesus gave up his spirit (John 19:30). It was his decision, his choice, and his obedience to the Father.
  4. There is glory in the unglorious. The cross was designed to degrade and shame those on it. It was a public spectacle designed to kill as much as to deter others from similar offenses. But through the unglorious experience of the cross Jesus received glory from God (John 17:4-5). What is more Jesus was bringing shame on sin and death itself.
  5. Last and most important is the obvious – love. John 3:16 says God loved the world so much that he gave Jesus. This is true in his birth. It is also true in the crucifixion. God gave Jesus fully. He didn’t let the world borrow Jesus and take him back again at a convenient and comfortable time. God fully gave him in order to fully gain us. John 14:1 tells us that through his foot washing Jesus showed his disciples the full extent of his love. That phrase might be better translated that he loved them to the end. The cross really did show them and us the full extent of his love. The creator laid down his life for the creation so that we could lay our lives down to take them up again just as he did.

From the Harding group The Firemen:

Gospel of John 16:1 – Jesus is Concerned About our Faithfulness

“All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.”
John 16:1

In reading this verse this morning I am struck by Jesus’ concern for his disciples, not that they would would live to see another day but that they would remain faithful after he had returned to God. This is emphasized even more by his very next sentence, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.”

Don’t you wonder what the disciples were thinking right about now? This might offer some explanation as to why they were so quick to flee when Jesus was arrested. Who knows. But Jesus did not say, “All this I have told you so that you would not die.” Jesus is more concerned about our faithfulness to him and his teaching than he is to our self-preservation. I don’t know about you but that is a pretty sobering thought to me.