The Front Row

01/22/2012

We watched the Kennedy Center Awards show recently featuring five special people, two of which are my favorites, Meryl Streep and Neil Diamond. They weren’t exactly in the front row, but they were definitely in honored seats up in the balcony, front row and center there. What a wonderful tribute to their life’s work, and the other three people chosen for this award.

There are times in our lives when front row seats are awesome, when we are excited to be so up close and personal to the happenings….and there are times in our lives when we want anything BUT front row seats…as we recently witnessed at a graveside service. As I settled into bed last night after a long drive back from honoring a person’s life who is now no longer with us on this earth, I thought of his mom and his twin brother sitting in the front row there at the cemetery, wanting to be anywhere else but there. They sat staring at a casket containing the person they were closest to in life, because that’s how we get front row seats at a funeral, by being the immediate family. Everyone else at a graveside service pretty much stands, gathers around, remembers, and leaves to go back to their lives. The family, they sit in covered chairs, usually under a canopy, and they remember the years spent with their loved one. Afterwards, they go home to live on without them, one minute at a time in the beginning, and they think of the many years they had together and the many years they will now be apart. We count those days, those weeks, months and years…almost anyone missing someone can tell you—it’s been eleven months, or three years, or seven years, or 22 years…we know. We know all too well.

After having sat in the front row at our own son’s service, I certainly know those are not the seats we would ever choose because we don’t want to say good-bye. In the front row, we all struggle a bit with how we might have better spent the time we did have together. Did we value it enough? We will think about so many things, and in most cases we will want more time. We will want nothing more than to have that person back here with us so we can love on them a little bit longer, a little bit better, a little bit kinder perhaps.

This may seem like a very drab, very sad, very dismal first message from me in the year 2012, but hang with me here because hopefully it will get better as God allows me to pour out my heart through this time of writing. There is Good News in all of this, and we all need good news every day in this New Year!! We don’t want to miss what God has waiting for us as this year begins!! Just like the olden days when the young newspaper boy would stand on the corner shouting out, “Get your paper! Hear about the….!!” We need to be shouting about the Good News of Jesus Christ as this New Year begins, and live in that Good News every day of our lives!

Succinctly put, the Good News is Jesus. We can complicate it if we want to, but there really is no need. It’s as plain and simple as my friend recently explained to her friend about forgiveness—“When we think we’re not good enough, that we’ve done too much wrong to get into Heaven, the Good News is there for all of us who will embrace it!!” Jesus took on our sins so we can take on the eternal life offered to us in Heaven. When we say “Yes” to Jesus, we say yes to being forgiven, and yes to living in Heaven forever and ever in the place that God has prepared for those who love Him.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so,
would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
John 14:2 (NIV)

Don’t we wish we could have been in the “front row” watching when Jesus walked this earth and spoke those words? Wouldn’t it have been awesome to have been one of His followers, to maybe even have been one of His twelve chosen—to sit with Jesus, to talk with Jesus, to walk the dusty roads with Him listening to His heart on how this world works?

Recently, we watched a movie on NetFlix called, “The Encounter.” I didn’t know what to expect, and I can’t say as it was a high-budget film, but it was a high-impact film on my mind and spirit. A small group of people end up in a diner called, “The Last Chance Diner,” where only one person is working. His name is Jesus. Not pronounced the Spanish way as in, “Hey-suess,” but in the Biblical way of Jesus. He was an unassuming man with a scruffy beard, a warm smile and bright eyes. He told the five people gathered there that he was there to “serve” them. They had stopped in because the road had been closed up ahead. It wasn’t long until they begin to understand that this Jesus who was serving them was there to teach them about His loving and forgiving ways. He knew all about them, their thoughts, their needs, their likes and their opinion of Him. It made me wonder what I would have really thought about Jesus had I been alive when He walked this earth. Would I have believed it was really Him, really the Son of God, come to earth to share the Good News with all of us?

As the Jesus in this movie served these people, He told stories about their lives, and he loved on them, and He amazed them with just who He was…all but one man who continued to reject what was being offered—one man not willing to admit that He needed a Savior, not willing to receive the free gift he was being offered. This person wanted to do things in his own way, and he was being given that opportunity by Jesus because our Lord never forces anyone to love Him, but this man was also being given the opportunity to accept Jesus’ love too.

As we recently watched the “Airplane” movie again, our beloved “June Cleaver” put it this way, “Chump don’t want no help….chump don’t get no help.” We are free to walk away…free to be…and also free to receive if we are willing to embrace the Good News of an eternity spent in the loving presence of our God.

When we sit in the front row, in the covered chairs reserved for family, and that coffin sits before us with a person in it that we have probably known since the day we were born, or they were born, it is a humbling place to sit. Maybe for the first time we really listen to the pastor give a sermon about eternity; maybe for the first time those words about God’s grace and forgiveness really start to sink in. Maybe for the first time we think it might be time to consider the love that is being offered to us unconditionally. Maybe we haven’t felt that love as yet, but we do come up against the stark realization that we hope the person we are saying good-bye to did, because their time to make that decision has come and gone…they walked out of “The Last Chance Diner” and on into eternity. We hope and pray at that point that they were welcomed Home into Heaven and are enjoying the loving embrace of God. Sometimes we know, as best as anyone can, what our loved one believed, but sometimes we don’t know about those things in their lives because we never talked with them about it—but maybe there were others that did, and we would be grateful if they had.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who
say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7 (NIV)

Hope is what we cling to most when we are seated in the front row remembering our loved ones. With Hope in Jesus and the eternal life we gain in knowing Him, we are assured of more time together in Heaven, that is what we all long for as we sit there saying good-bye. When we think of all the things we might not have done, we can hope for all the things that will await us to do when we meet again. Jesus gives us that Hope.

The mom who sat in the front row had just called her son hours before she got the news that he was gone. She had been told that he was sleeping…two hours later she was told the devastating news of his departure. Forty-six years old, cause of death unknown as of now. The brevity of life is so shocking in those moments, and the days and weeks and months to follow continue to pound that into our hearts and our minds…where did the time go? It’s was Christmas after all….a time of joy and merriment for so many, but not for some… The true meaning of Christmas, the, “I’ll be Home for Christmas” tunes taking on a different meaning all together. I know, I’ve been there, I’ve walked in those shoes when grief was fresh during the Holidays…when that little Baby Boy born on Christmas day was truly the greatest gift there could ever be because there was nothing else to really think about that mattered.

There’s a song called, “Mary Did You Know.” It’s a beautiful song by Mark Lowry about a mother and a son, Mary and Jesus.

Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new
This Child that you delivered…will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation
Mary, did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations
Did you know that your baby boy is Heaven’s perfect Lamb
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I AM

Many times we complicate the Good News, we make it more difficult than it has to be, not living in the simplicity that Jesus has offered us. The thief on the cross hanging next to Jesus simply turned to Him and said, “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” And Jesus answered back, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Jesus isn’t asking us to jump through hoops to reach Him, He is simply asking us to turn to Him and receive the gift He is offering to us. Perhaps that is part of our difficulty, the receiving part. Most of us would much rather give a Christmas gift than receive one. It is easier to help someone else than to be helped much of the time. Pride gets in the way as we grow up, unlike children on Christmas morning who are just waiting to unwrap whatever gift has their name on it! Why are we so unwilling sometimes in our adultness to unwrap the gift of salvation? Where is the excitement for what we have been offered? No wonder Jesus used children as an example for how we should be. Maybe that’s why God chose to have Him enter into this world as a baby boy, because the simplicity of a child is so very precious to our God.

When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them,
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
Mark 10:14 (NIV)

As “Jesus” served those in the “The Last Chance Diner” in the film we watched, I wonder, would we be willing to receive the Savior if He lived today? Would it be any easier if we actually met Him face to face and heard His words in person? Would we quickly reject that He is the One True Messiah just like some did who walked and talked with Him in person? Maybe the same who accept Him today, though we have not seen His physical presence, are the same who would have accepted Him then when they did—for one simple reason, because those who receive Him are willing to take that step of faith, to believe Jesus is the Son of God, and to put our trust in His promises.

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed;
blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:29 (NIV)

Each morning now I have what I call a Bible Buddy. My friend and I make a brief phone call to each other, we pray a simple prayer, and we read through a small part of Scripture, first her translation, then mine, or vice-versa. We talk about what we have read, we discuss anything new or confusing or applicable to our lives in that moment, and then we pray and say good-bye. If you don’t have a Bible Buddy, may I suggest you find one in the coming New Year! It is amazing how God blesses that short time together in His Word. After our time on the phone it is so fresh on our hearts and minds that as the day unfolds, what we have read and discussed weaves itself in and out of our lives in amazing ways. By “meeting” with Jesus every day together, by believing in what He tells us in His Word and then walking it out with Him through the ups and downs of the day, we learn and grow a little bit each day. “One small step” for two women, one giant leap of joy in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Will you not learn a lesson and obey my words?’ declares the LORD.
Jeremiah 35:13b (NIV)

My Bible Buddy and I had just read in Galatians 3:26, “So you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” It wasn’t long after that that I listened to the pastor at the service we went to speak about the children of God, and how we cannot know the relationship another person has with God through Jesus Christ, but we can know that God cares for His children, and we can trust Him in that.

Each day, we can be comforted in God’s Word, and we can find the guidance and the wisdom we need for all the things we go through in this life. It’s not hard to have a Bible Buddy, but it is hard to get through life without the love we find in God’s Word. A Bible Buddy is our “traveling companion,” through this life. We need our traveling companions as I just heard taught at church, and I know why…friends and family show up when we are honored at the Kennedy Center for our life’s work—sitting there with tears of joy running down our cheeks—but when tears of sorrow fill our eyes we most definitely need our traveling companions to be there to comfort us with words of Hope. It’s fun going through the highs together, it’s imperative that we go through the lows together. Not only did my family sit with me in that front row when we said good-bye to our son, but my best friend was also by my side, as well as other very special friends who surrounded me during that front row experience ten years ago. I was encouraged by their great love, as well as the love of Mary’s Baby Boy Jesus.

There are no words to say to a mother and a brother who are sitting in the front row seats at a graveside service other than, “I’m so sorry…” But there are words that are needed to endure what follows, they are found in God’s Word. Let’s go there often and meet with Jesus. He may not be physically with us today, meeting with us at a diner, walking with us down a dusty road, or eating dinner at our house, but He is with us in Spirit and in Truth, and we will see Him one day face to face as a grown man sitting at the right hand of His Father.

I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
Deuteronomy 30:19b (NIV)

Let our New Year’s Resolution be that we won’t live one more day in this New Year without the Good News of Jesus Christ being front and center in our lives, and let us be the very feet of Jesus as He lives through us sharing that same Good News with everyone we meet!! We can start that daily journey each morning with a friend, with a Bible Buddy. Get yours today!

Until we meet again,

Diane