Monthly Archives: April 2014

Selecting Appropriate Funeral Clergy or Eulogist

So you’ve basically completed your own funeral plan.   You’ve taken out a funeral insurance policy to cover the funeral costs and funeral expenses that your estate is likely to incur, you’ve selected an obituary writer and drawn up an outline of what you want covered, and you’ve even addressed other funeral needs.  But now you are faced with a problem.  You are not sure about the funeral clergy requirement and what you want said.

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience at a particular church or maybe you even doubt the existence of a Higher Being.  Perhaps you’ve been to a funeral where you thought the comments were not inclusive or they contradicted your point of view.  Or maybe it means you have personal decisions about your faith and beliefs that need to be made. Whatever the reason, determining who will officiate at your funeral is important since it will determine how your life is presented to your loved ones and friends as a means of remembrance.  Clearing the air, thinking through your thoughts and reaching an answer not only makes it easier for you to finalize your plans, it can also open your eyes and dramatically change your life.

Uncertainty is a common problem for many today.  With the nuclear family and the constant relocation of household units during a life’s career, it is more difficult than ever before.  Back in the old days, when many Americans grew up and lived their lives within a small geographic area, it was not uncommon for a family to attend the same church with a limited number of different ministers throughout their life.  Today, the changes in life have also brought with them the likelihood of attendance at many different churches, often of different denomination or doctrine, and it can be difficult to decide what specific clergyman or woman matches up with you and your beliefs.  And if you are not a church goer or are unsure of your beliefs, you need to think very carefully about what you want said at your final ceremony ending life.  It can be very confusing and even troubling.

From my personal viewpoint it is sad that there are so many of us today who don’t have a strong basis for our own lives based upon faith in a loving God, a God who gives us hope for the future through His love and grace.  But if we don’t, and since our decisions are based upon our free will, shouldn’t we at least ponder the possibility?  It doesn’t cost anything and while for some of us it will make no difference, for others it could totally change the direction of your life. It’s never too late for that.

For those of you who are unsure and questioning about your beliefs, I am providing a series of questions about faith which I hope will be helpful to you in really knowing who you are.  It will also help you decide whether or not you want a funeral clergyman or just an official with no religious significance.  Even if you think you are set in your way, it can do no harm to consider these questions for, remember, the answers are entirely up to you and only you will know what you think about them unless you desire to share the information.

 

1.      Do you believe in God as the Creator of all Life? If so is your belief Christian, Jewish, other?  These questions are designed to determine what your actual religious beliefs entail from the perspective of a Creator.  It should start you thinking about your place in the Creation.

 

2.      Do you believe in the tenets of the Holy Bible or some other religious doctrinal foundation?  Here we begin to explore the documentation with which your beliefs were developed and what they mean to you.  This is your foundation for what you believe.

 

3.      Do you believe in Heaven and Hell? If so, what do you see as the differentiation between the two and do you believe in Life after Death?  The questions of the purpose of life enter here and the resultant consequences for the way you live your life.  You have free will but you must understand that the decisions you make will impact you directly, be it good or bad.

 

4.      If no to the above, do you have a different context of a religion or do you have no religious beliefs?  Here those who have another concept of religion will have the opportunity to focus on what really provides meaning in their life.  If the resultant finding is a void it will open them up to deep self- scrutiny.  Sometimes we can find that we are truly searching for meaning and haven’t found it yet.

 

5.      Do you want a religious ceremony?  If not, do you want a secular ceremony with a memorial presentation of your life?  Eulogies by family and/or friends?  This will clearly separate those who want the religious connotations foremost in their final rites or not.  The impact of the family is considered here because the funeral actually benefits the living that are in attendance and, because of this, it may change the way you look at your presentation to others.  Example, your wife is very religious yet you aren’t.  What kind of conflict does this create and do you accept that or you may even want to change things.

 

6.      Do you have an idea of who you want to officiate or, if not, do you know if qualified persons are available near your location?  You may want an officiant, or religious official or clergy, which requires specific religious qualifications or someone instead to officiate which can be anyone you desire.  

 

7.      If you are a non-believer, what kind of official do you want and what kind of background do you want presented?  This question, after the buildup in prior questions, begs the cold, hard option of non-belief.  You may very well find that by this point in the questionnaire your feelings of non-belief have disappeared and you find yourself to be a believer, just uncertain of your specific beliefs. Introspection frequently does this.

8.      What part does your family play in this decision?  Again, as alluded to earlier, most people want their family to be proud of them and if your non-religious option causes heartache and sadness from those you love, you may want to look inward and address the cause.

 

9.      Are you still considering where you really stand on your beliefs and do you need help and guidance in addressing your needs?  If you are now in turmoil because of the earlier questions, that is a healthy sign that you really aren’t sure where you stand.  As long as you are alive it is never too late to open your heart and soul to love.  As for help; there are many good people available who will help you find yourself and your place.

 

10.  Finally, what kind of image of yourself do you want to project to be remembered by?  Bingo, the image you want to reflect, once you fully realize what it is, is what you truly want to be.  And that’s the purpose of the questionnaire, to help you identify the truth about yourself.

 

I hope that those of you who took time to address the questions have learned something about yourself.  I used it myself long ago and it really got me thinking about what I want to leave behind as my personal legacy to those I love.  The questions forced me to look at myself openly and honestly in evaluating my beliefs and, in my case, they made me a better Christian.  While I thought I knew the answers before I began, I found that my desire for having a funeral clergy of my Christian faith, one in tune with my individual views of many differing alternatives became clearly important.  Whatever your particular faith, I hope it might have a similar result for you and, for those who either don’t acknowledge a God of love and grace or have doubts about Him, I hope this might open your heart.  There’s a wonderful life ahead for all of us and it need not be limited to our life on earth.

Have a wonderful week and God bless you all.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark portrays my family life with animals living with and near me at my farm in North Florida. Animals are truly a gift from a most gracious Father above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Lives! A Time to Rejoice and Be Thankful

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know He lives?  He lives within my heart.

From the refrain to He Lives, I Serve a Risen Savior. Lyrics by Alfred Ackley

 

This week I was talking with a friend and I asked him if he planned to celebrate Holy Week.  He looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked, “Why would you celebrate this week?  Doesn’t it represent the death of Christ?”

I responded by saying that he was looking at a half empty glass instead of one half full. Yes, it is true that Jesus Christ was horrifically put to death during the week but at the end, the glorious end, He arose from the dead.  I told him I celebrated being given the opportunity for Eternal Life through his sacrifice, love and especially grace.  He nodded in response and smiled saying that I had just made him feel better.

We should all be truly thankful this week and remember the significance of the events so many years ago on our behalf. And as I ponder the significance of this joyous time, I like to think back upon my childhood and the widespread activities which were common during the Easter season and which, sadly, we seem to have lost in a secularized society.

As a boy I always loved Easter.  Oh, there was the break from school and the weather was usually glorious in my home in Virginia, but it was much bigger than that.  Being an active and sports loving boy, I didn’t always devote lots of time to matters of faith, but there was something about Maundy Thursday that really brought things into focus.  Like Christmas and the story of the Christ Child, seeing the child as a grown man preparing to die on the Cross for me and my family was just really so touching it made me cry.  Believe me, I wasn’t one normally prone to tears as a boy.

Back in those times Easter parties were the order of the day.  Before the traditional Easter break from school, mothers usually brought a party to school with colored eggs and goodies to eat and all classmates enjoyed a fun time near the end of the school day.  It didn’t matter whether you were Christian or not, children of other faiths were invited and I don’t recall anyone ever turning away. In fact, one of my best friends, a Jewish boy named Richard, ate more marshmallow eggs than anyone and Passover was also included in the festivities. 

I remember accompanying him to his house after school and he told his mother that he wasn’t very hungry since he had stuffed himself.  Instead of showing any negative emotion to the cause, she just laughed and told us she was glad everyone had such a good time. Everyone was tolerant of everyone else and their beliefs and it’s a shame that today we have lost this touch in America. Acceptance of others while not giving up our own traditions just seemed normal and many a time I was invited to participate in his Passover meal.

As I reached the active teen years and high school, Easter still was a huge drawing card.  We all enjoyed the Easter sunrise service, conducted at a beautiful location on historic Fortress Monroe overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and, if the weather allowed, with a beautiful sunrise over the waves.  It was usually chilly but dramatic with the Cross in front of a backdrop of gray, becoming blue skies as the first rays of the sun rose from the sea.  It was a dramatic symbolic setting for considering our Savior’s rising from his cold grave.  And, of course, we eagerly anticipated the breakfast to follow which would calm our grumbling stomachs which were always seeking food at that stage of life.

I must confess that while attending college I went through a stage, like so many students, where I neglected my worship and my faith, opting instead for what seemed to be the excitement of being away from home for the first time without anyone expecting me to get up and going on Sunday.  Yet, even then, I can remember walking across campus on Easter weekend and passing the Presbyterian fellowship just off campus and hearing young college voices singing Easter hymns.  It got my attention, and I went in and participated, making some new friends which helped me find my way back to Him and the right track on life.

And then as a parent my life went full circle. I experienced the joy of watching my own young children learn about Him and the excitement of the special Christian holidays and, thankfully, with God’s guidance learned the joys of the Christian faith.  Oh, they had their “moments” along the way as I did but I am happy to say they survived and learned the errors of their ways.  Now they are both parents working hard to bring Christ to their young children as well.

And as I move into my later years, I still get a chill to run down my back when I see the Cross and hear the beautiful words of the many praises in song that we have for our Lord. I just hope and pray that others who haven’t had the opportunity to experience this thrill can be introduced to it and I will do my best to play my part to help.  If my memories and experiences tell me nothing else, they tell me that I must always put Him first for if I do I will never have to worry about what happens to me when my days on this earth are done.

I wish you all a Blessed and Happy Easter and hope you experience your own joys in the beauty and glory that He has provided for all of us.  God bless.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble

 

The Wonders of Heaven Are Simply Divine

Last week I suggested that each of us have fun with a little exercise about Heaven.  I asked that we try to think of what we would expect our Heaven to be like and put it on paper.  I also stated that I would offer my personal perspective on the subject and you might feel free to use my approach to develop your own.  Since each of us is different and since each of us has greatly varied likes and dislikes, I will follow with some of the things I would like to see in my Heaven based upon my lifestyle.  I’m sure you will have fun interjecting your views into your own personal dream relationship with God in Heaven as well.

Based on last week’s commentary, let’s assume I have spent my three days in the cottage pondering my meeting with God about my past and that I have now completed that visit.  I have been assigned to my “own little piece of Heaven” and have entered it.  It is magnificent beyond my wildest dreams, a beautiful open meadow on rolling land surrounded by a lush forest under a deep blue sky with bright and warm, but not hot sunshine.  Since I am no longer constrained by the limitations of the body, the land reaches as far as needed for whatever wonderful plans I might have.  There is no house to live in for here in Heaven there is no need, the weather is always clear and sunny and never too hot or cold, even at night.  I was told upon entry that building a proper home, should I want one, would come a little later.

As I walk about the expansive countryside, I see animals approaching me.  There are horses, dogs and cats, even a couple of parrots and song birds.  As they get closer I see they are my old friends from earth who predeceased me.  They remember me and either whinny, meow or bark while the parrots “talk” with their customary sarcastic humor. 

Lou, a wonderful horse we had to put down years ago, is the first to greet me, licking my hand as I put it out.  And then there’s Prinny, a wonderful mama cat and Blackie, my pride and joy who I will always love.  Finally, many of my canine friends, Amos and Daisy, two wonderful Dalmatians, Gretchen, my loyal mixed breed, and Yeardley, the happy Springer spaniel approach with tails wagging.  In customary fashion, Yeardley shakes the water off on me.  He obviously was enjoying a good watering hole similar to his pond on earth.  I’ll have to check that out.

It’s really “out of this world” here.  If you think about something you want to do it happens.  For example, if you are a person who doesn’t like to sleep, you don’t have to, but if you do enjoy resting you can rest easily in many wonderful places such as by the seashore, on a lake, even in a beautiful green meadow surrounded by purple majestic mountains.  It can be daylight always or night, depending on what you like and you are not constrained by any physical requirements.  You don’t have to eat but if you enjoy eating there is a bountiful harvest and you may partake.

God and His Son, Jesus, visit with me frequently and they enjoy hearing what I think of my Everlasting Life environment.  They offer guidance to make things better and are always interested in input.  I must confess that sometimes I do long for my family left behind and the Lord listens attentively to my longings and allows me to see my loved ones and observe them from afar.  And I pray regularly for them and their souls, asking them to always live for Him.  I do earnestly do look forward to seeing my wife, my grown children, and my darling grandchildren join me sometime when they are finally called home.

One of the things I wanted to do most upon arrival was to see my parents and grandparents.  I was told that would come but that I needed to settle in to the environment and learn to appreciate the gifts that were here for me first and the rest would take care of itself.

One day I decided that I wanted a change of pace and desired to go to the city.  Here they have the City of Angels with beautiful churches and magnificent choirs with their melodic music heard all over the town.  As I thought about the city, I was suddenly there and I found myself walking down a wonderful street with large elm trees and old fashioned houses.  There was a parkway in the middle of the street and I suddenly realized I was back in my home town and in my old neighborhood.  As I came near the end of the street there sat my mom and dad on the porch out front, just like they did when I was a little boy.  As I approached, they both welcomed me and came down the sidewalk to greet me.

We went inside to the sunroom that was so good to see and Mom went to the kitchen and brought out a pitcher of her wonderful Southern sweet iced tea.  Wow, was it good and I had forgotten how much I missed it.  We chatted about our time together and I was amazed at how they both looked as they did when I was a boy.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that even though to myself I looked the age I was at death, they both commented that I appeared to them as the little boy they loved.  It was simply amazing since you see things just the way you want them to be.

Mom said she would bring dad and come to visit soon.  I told them I had a country lifestyle and I didn’t even have a house to welcome them too. 

She smiled and said, “Don’t worry, an angel will come to see you soon and he’ll tell you what to do.  God gives you a little time to relax and enjoy the environment first.”

“Gee, Mom and Dad”, I said. “It’s great to see both of you and I look forward to getting together often.  I hope that is possible”.

Mom looked at me and said, “Son, you just think of what you want to do and God makes it happen.  We’ll be together lots.  Now head back to your beautiful rural place and wait for that angel.”

As I started walking away and began to think about the rural land I had just found, I was suddenly back there again.  It’s as if a magic carpet brought me back.  And you know what else?  The next day that angel that Mom talked about, Harold, came by with a book about building your own home.  He told me to read it, think about it, and it would give me the power to build my own dwelling. 

“Don’t worry”, Harold said, “the instructions are foolproof, you just have to think about exactly what you want and in no time the supplies will arrive and there will be new friends to help you.  There are no limits to what you can do with the care of God.”

Well, I eagerly accepted his book and started reading.  This would be quite an adventure for a man who is all thumbs but it sounded exciting and I looked forward to it.  I guess I’d better get to work.

So now I turn it over to each of you.  What would you like to see in your Heaven? Think about it and treasure your thoughts, for whatever you come up with in your mind will in reality be so much grander.  The wonder and glory that awaits you is truly something to look forward to.  When your funeral plans are carried out you will not be dead but in a magical world where pain, suffering and worry will be no more and you will be in the company and the glory of God and Jesus Christ.  That’s something to eagerly anticipate and work to attain.  It will well be worthy of your best efforts.

God bless you all and have a great week.

Next week: The Wonderful Memories of Easter

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

 

So Your Final Plans Are Made, Now What?

You’ve been responsible all of your life and have lived within your means.  Moving into the retirement phase of life, you’ve drawn up your estate and probate plans and your funeral plan is in order.  Planning ahead with your devoted wife, you’ve determined who will be your obituary writer, even providing an outline to go by and you’ve set aside sufficient funeral funds to cover all funeral needs and funeral expenses.  Yes, indeed, your funeral plan is ready and written, locked away with your last will and testament for the day it is needed.

For the first time in your life you have time on your hands and can do the things that you’ve wanted to do but convinced yourself you didn’t have time for.  As a Christian, you’ve always been a church goer, offering time and money in support of His cause but you’ve never really taken the time to study what it’s really all about.  So many of us Christians find ourselves in this predicament, but the retirement phase of life offers the opportunity to continue to learn about our God and Savior through The Good Book and in prayer.  We’re never too old to learn more and in so doing get closer to Him.

Since you are a thinker, some call you a dreamer, you decide to sit down and really think what the goal is for a good Christian, what it means and what the ultimate glory provides.  Becoming a bit tired since you were up late the night before, you stretch out for a little early afternoon nap, something you never had the luxury to do in your prior busy life.  After all, you have the time and you want to recharge your physical batteries.  You drift off thinking about what things will be like after your time is up on this earth.

                                                                        ***

Suddenly you are awakened in a soft, yet warm light.  Your body seems suspended in air yet it is racing down a corridor toward a golden beam in the distance.  You pass out of the corridor into the lightness and find yourself in a meadow with beautiful blue sky and puffy white clouds drifting by.  Even though you are on the floor of the meadow, your new unlimited senses allow you to see the earth below and you begin to realize that you are no longer earth borne.

While looking at your former home planet, you think about your life and family below and suddenly your mind is able to focus on the exact place from which you just departed.  You can actually see your lifeless body lying on a bed at the hospital where you died with your family crying and comforting one another in their final visitation before your body is removed.  You try to speak out to them but cannot and your consciousness just as suddenly returns to the meadow and you realize that you are either in Heaven or a place nearby.

An angel appears.  No, he does not have wings but he is dressed in a perfectly pressed linen suit and he has an aura of peace and light surrounding him.  He smiles and motions you to follow him but he does not speak.  As you walk through the meadow you see a wide assortment of animals and even shepherds and farmers tending to them.  They smile and nod as you pass.

Finally the angel leads you to a golden gate which has a bright sign on it which says “Welcome to the Gateway to Heaven.”  The angel motions you to a large cushioned bench on the porch of a beautiful little cottage just outside the entrance which looks like something out of a fairy tale.  You both sit down and he turns toward you and speaks for the first time.

“John, I am your guiding angel Harold”, he says with a smile. “And, yes, you are at the Gateway to Heaven.  You will still have to meet with the Father and discuss your successes and failures in life and receive His instructions for the future but you will be staying with us forever.  Your life was lived well for a mortal and you did a good job with your family.

“Your immediate task is to decide what it is you expect out of Heaven.  Time and space are no obstacles, and only good and favorable things are included, but God will want to know how you see yourself as a Member of the Eternal Flock.  For the next three days you will stay here in the Welcome Cottage and pray for the answers to what your place in Heaven should be.  The Father knows that each person is different and He wants each of His family members to have the Heavenly Experience that they seek.  Think about it, pray on it and when I come back I will take you through the gates to meet him. 

“Oh, and this is also a good time for you to plan what you will say when you meet with your Maker.  He knows what is in your heart and soul and He wants to make sure that you know both the good and bad of your life past.  Going forward, you won’t have those problems as you are now in the direct company of the Lord Jesus who you will also see in person soon.”

With that, Angel Harold stands, turns toward the roadway and walks through the Gates of Heaven and disappears into a fog.

As you sit and ponder what you were told and look at the beauty of the small taste of what is to become the beautiful Eternal Life you are entering, you begin the initial steps of formulating the answers to your assignment.  You pray that you are up to the task and that God will be pleased.

                                                                         ***

Suddenly you hear the door close and realize that you were sleeping.  Your wife walks into the room and smiles asking, “I’m glad you got some rest.  You have quite a magical look on your face.  Were you dreaming?”

You look at her with a radiance to your face and tell her, “Oh, yes, but I’ve got to think about it before I tell you about it.  It was wonderful; actually it was Heavenly.”

And with that the reason for the dream becomes clear.  God has spoken to you and told you what to expect and with the wonders you have seen you want to work hard to live up to His trust.  You now know that you must devote the remainder of your life to furthering His love and grace so that others will use their lives to fulfill his Heavenly wishes for them as well.

Who can say what is going in the hearts of others?  No one knows except God who knows all.  Who knows what Heaven will be like if we attain that lofty eternity?  No one until they experience it.  But I can tell you this much.  We do have some hints.  Here are just a couple of them from the Bible:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

                                                                        Revelations 21:4 (ESV)

But as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of men imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

                                                                        1 Corinthians 2:9

It sounds pretty magnificent doesn’t it?  So while we’ve got our funeral plans done and our life aiming in the right direction, let’s devote the remainder to He who is responsible for it all. Let’s live the rest of our lives with the Love of God in our hearts and souls and act accordingly.

Oh, and I hope you will seriously consider the exercise of thinking about what you would expect out of your Heavenly Life in the hereafter.  I think it might be fun and next week my blog will be my personal desire in this matter drawn from my individual perspective of my life experiences and loves.  Maybe we can even compare notes.  Until then, have a wonderful week with God in your heart.

James Dick

Website:  www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark or

                        www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a Best Read Selection (2014) of American Pet Magazine

 

 

In Memoriam: Jeremiah Denton, A True American Hero, 1924-2014

A truly fine Christian man and great American hero passed away last Friday.  I had the good fortune of  hearing a speech by Admiral Denton at his retirement and he was a man who truly loved his country and lived a life that any of us would do well to emulate.  We have truly lost a good man who always put his country and his God first.  I hope each of you will take a moment to ponder what he did for us and say a prayer of thanks to God for putting such a fine man on earth.  May he enjoy his rest which is so richly deserved.

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Former Senator and Retired Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton passed away on March 28th at the age of 89.  Admiral Denton was a gentleman, a Christian, a great Patriot and an American hero who always put his country first.  His firm but kind words will be missed by a country sadly losing her destiny.

Admiral Denton, a Navy pilot at the time, was shot down in 1965 over North Vietnam and spent nearly eight years in the brutal “Hanoi Hilton”.  Always devout and a courageous leader, he communicated with his men by tapping Morse Code messages to his fellow prisoners.  As the senior American and despite his hardships from torture and illness, he did what he could to keep their morale as positive as possible.  He stated later that he turned things over to the Lord who gave him the strength to endure.

When put before the cameras by his captors to supposedly apologize for his nation’s sins under extreme duress, he sent a message of Morse Code by eye blinks which spelled out the word “Torture”, letting the world know the truth.  He was released and returned home in 1973.

Seven years later after retirement from Naval Service, Admiral Denton ran successfully for the Senate from his home state of Alabama and served one term in office.  He was an outspoken critic of those attempting to weaken our military and he said to his dying day that victory in Vietnam was taken away by the actions of liberal politicians.  He was a plain spoken and honest man always.

America owes a great debt of gratitude to this fine man and I hope each of us will take a moment to thank God for giving us such a fine Christian and for the sacrifices he made for his country.  And as the Navy likes to say, I wish him “fair winds and following seas” on his journey home.  May he finally receive the peace that he so richly deserves and may God bless his soul.