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Remembering

Remembering

Each time I hear a news item that I know will involve members of our armed services being sent into danger, I am jarred just a bit. This wasn’t so early in my life.

I formed many political opinions without ever thinking of the individual human cost of those actions. The fact is that if we’re going to “teach ______ (country, group, etc) a lesson” someone is going to pay for it. Perhaps they will just lose time with their families or comforts. Some, however, will lose everything.

I do not say this with the intent of paralyzing our thinking. As a nation, we will sometimes have to do difficult things for freedom, yes, but also for security. But I pray that I never lose that jolt that I feel each time, that tells me, “With this policy, or this action, or in response to this threat, people are going to die.”

With that realization comes the responsibility to make those deaths count and to take care of the people who were willing to make those hopes real.

Somebody has to be willing to risk it all.

I’ve always thought of my own military service as relatively painless. Yes, there were plenty of things to complain about. Besides, what would one do in the boring hours between various activities if one couldn’t moan and groan?

On the other hand, I had the undeserved privilege of serving with some of the finest people I have every know. Rough, rowdy, sometimes difficult, yes. But at the same time totally dedicated, totally ready to serve, and totally committed to their crew and their unit.

I recently commented to someone regarding a movie scene in which guys who had moments before been yelling at one another immediately came together to fight their enemy. I said this: “You don’t have to like the guy to be ready to trust your life to them. There were always guys I didn’t like personally all that much. But they would all put everything into the mission when the time came.”

To all who have served, I thank you. To those I served with, I want to say that my time with you was the greatest privilege of my life. To those who have passed on, and there are plenty of you, your place in my heart, and I believe in all our hearts, is secure.

Featured image is from af.mil.

Generations!

Generations!

My theme text for ministry is Psalm 78:1-8, particularly verses 5 & 6 which talk about passing the message down through generations.

Some see this as a simple passing on of the data of faith, but the passage is talking about relating the experience of the community with God from generation to generation. In other words, the teaching here would be less focused on “here is what I believe” and more on “here is what has happened in my life.” Yes, the focus is on that life with God, but it is still on the action rather than the framework.

It’s the “generation” idea that I have in mind here. On Thursday night (May 2, 2019) I had the privilege of watching my wife, retired RN, pin my daughter, graduating nurse. “Pinning” is a tradition amongst nurses, and that pinning ceremony is to them much more the moment of becoming a nurse than is the more academic commencement. I commented to Jody after the commencement that while Friday morning was my world, Thursday night had been hers.

Watching mother pin her daughter brought to my mind generations. I sensed the presence of my mother, who died last year just short of her 100th birthday. She too was an RN. And then I thought about another generation.

Martha Giles Blabey was my grandmother, and for some time at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, she was district nurse. She wasn’t educated as a nurse, but she had the skills, and was officially named to the post. I don’t know if there were any actual RNs around that area (Daughin, Manitoba, Canada) at the time. Certainly there can’t have been many.

That makes my daughter, Janet Lister, the fourth generation.

It’s not just four generations of a job, a profession, or even an avocation. It’s four generations of service. Four generations of people who have carried their faith, their experience of God, their integrity, their skills, and all the benefits of an education in their art and the science that lies behind it to those who need their help.

It’s a legacy.

There are those who might have a couple of objections.

The first is that my mother, a Seventh-day Adventist, believed in soul sleep. Her Adventist colleagues might be wondering how I might think of “feeling her presence” at an event.

I have come to see the soul sleep vs immortality argument as a distinction without a difference. You go from the finite from the infinite, from time to eternity, and what does the “when” of your death mean on the other side? In eternity, I suspect, our time distinctions won’t matter.

Others might comment on the presence of someone who has gone on to glory here. Protestants don’t like the idea of the “saints” praying with or for us. Why can’t we just pray to God ourselves?

Indeed we can. But I got an explanation from a member of the Episcopal church that has stuck with me. He asked me whether we wouldn’t ask other members of our church to pray for us and to pray with us. If so, why limit it? Why not all the church in all times?

While I continue to object (I think justly) to the making of “saints” or particular people—all God’s people are saints—I don’t object to inviting the body of Christ throughout time to join in prayer.

Second, one might note that Janet is my stepdaughter, and thus not genetically related to my mother or grandmother. I find that objection annoying. I regard generations as both spiritual and physical. I do understand DNA, but that’s not all that’s involved.

I think a few people might be confused listening to an extended conversation in which both Janet and I are involved. She calls me dad, and references me as “my dad” in the conversation. She can suddenly, however, reference “my dad” in reference to her birth dad who passed away.

I like this. I see my daughter as a gift passed on to me. I see other people as spiritual children and spiritual parents. None of this detracts from Janet’s birth dad. None of my own spiritual parents detract from my real parents.

DNA says a great deal scientifically, but there is a spiritual, intellectual, and emotional process that also forms us and through which we form others. There are things we can pass on to others that are much more important than our genes.

A couple of years ago I heard about a church that did multi-generational confirmation classes. Their goal was to include people from three physical generations and three spiritual generations in each group. This might be a child, parent, and grandparent and the person who first invited one to church, or who taught one confirmation, and the person who taught that person.

I like that idea.

There’s also the legacy here of each class of a profession, in this case nursing, passing on to the next generation of practitioners a standard of care, practice, and integrity. This is the generational glue that makes a profession more than just a way in which one makes money.

In this the faculty and staff of Carolinas College of Health Sciences, those nurses who have cared for and advised each new nurse, all become part of this generational connection.

It’s something we need to celebrate, nurture, and preserve in all our activities, whether we designate them as secular or spiritual.

Spiritual and Physical Decluttering?

Spiritual and Physical Decluttering?

I wonder if there’s something ironic, or perhaps just odd, about working on the interior layout of a book on Spiritual Decluttering while this is behind me?

Clutter!

Actually, there’s less clutter than there used to be. I’m turning storage space into usable office space, and I’m about half done.

Are You 26th on the List?

Are You 26th on the List?

Last night I was watching the women’s Super-G. As the skiers made their runs, the commentators kept saying that it was incredibly unlikely that anyone after #20 was going to have any impact on who would be on the podium. I remarked to Jody that I wondered how it felt to be in one of those later slots and know that your chances were dismissed.

I had already quit watching and gone to bed by the time it happened, but I looked up the results this morning. Skiing #26, Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic came in 1/100th of a second faster than the leader after the first 20 runs, Austria’s Anna Veith, and won the gold medal.

Are you #26? Maybe you’re even lower on other people’s lists. Are you being dismissed? In Ester Ledecka’s case, I think it was just thought too early in her career. Not quite ready. But you may be thought of as a failure.

When it comes time for your run, go for the best run possible. You might just win that gold!

Approaching an Idiot

Approaching an Idiot

I saw a meme that read: Never approach a bull from the front, a horse from the read, or an idiot for any direction. My problem is that while I can readily identify a bull on the rare occasion when I see one, and horses are distinctive, idiots are ubiquitous and come in so many guises.

Elect a Nurse as the Next President

Elect a Nurse as the Next President

93 percent

An annual U.K. survey asking people whom they trusted most found nurses absurdly credible, with 93 percent of people trusting them. [The Guardian] {My source: FiveThirtyEight.com}

This is for my sister, mother, wife, several aunts on both sides of the family, and a bunch of friends who are nurses. Also for my daughter who is in training to be a nurse. I don’t know what the figure would be in the U. S., but I bet it would be pretty good.

Remembering Dad – 10 Years Later

Remembering Dad – 10 Years Later

Dad on graduation from medical school
Dad on graduation from medical school

Ten years ago my father passed away. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I was asked to provide the eulogy. I rarely use a prepared text when preaching but in this case I thought that my emotions might interfere so I did.

I wanted to post it today in honor of dad 10 years after his homegoing, but I couldn’t find the file. I’m a pack rat about files, so that surprised me. Thanks to the help of my sister Betty, my mother, my sister-in-law Aydah, and my brother Robert (especially!), the file was found.

I thought of posting it at the time, but there was too much emotion involved. Now I think it’s right.

I am a privileged man, privileged to have parents who loved me, provided for me, encouraged me, and provided a good example for me. The word “privilege” is used a lot now, but privilege shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. Nor should it be denied. My privilege gives me a duty to share, to help make the lives of others more privileged. Often we take the things that we have received through no action of our own and we take them as a way to feel better than others, more special. Instead, I believe our privileges give us greater responsibilities.

Dad was a person who shared and helped make the lives of others better. It is that example that I remember daily. There are many people whose lives are better because they encountered my father. That’s what we should each hope.

Here are my words at his memorial. Note that I use the KJV which dad read all his life. He didn’t object to modern versions, but the KJV was an old friend.


Memorial Talk for Dr. Ray Neufeld, 10/10/06, by Henry Neufeld

We’re here to celebrate the life of Dr. Ray Neufeld, doctor, father, brother, grand and great-grandfather, uncle, missionary, and humble disciple of Jesus. Most of you have your own stories and your own memories. Much of the time I spent with dad was related to electronics and particularly to amateur radio. He had an ease with understanding electricity and radio that led him to eventually test for and receive an Amateur Extra class license.

He was involved in this hobby most of his life and used it in the mission field. Robert recalls receiving a call from an amateur operator in Tennessee when he and our sister Betty were attending Highland Academy, and the rest of the family was in Mexico. A number of people on our mission station had been poisoned, and he was seeking help from a poison center at Vanderbilt University. Somehow the message didn’t tell just who was poisoned, so Robert and Betty had to wait days for the mail to bring more detailed news.

Our cousin Lolita remembers waking up to the static as her father, Don Neufeld, tried to contact dad in Guyana.  With the price of long distance phone calls, it was one of the key ways we kept in touch with family at home.

Patty’s memories of the mission field include following the map and directing dad through villages in Mexico as he drove our station wagon and trailer over roads they were never intended to survive. All of us had times of getting as close to medical procedures as we could wish—for some of us much closer than we wanted. I recall standing on a chair and holding a flashlight on a surgical site after the power generator had failed in the midst of surgery.

Grandson Bob Neufeld (Robert’s son) tells of dad teaching him carpentry using the coping saw, and Robert remembers Dad making a model boat for him, though he wasn’t taught to use the tools.

But the key fact of dad’s life is one of faith. I searched for balance in this presentation between the stories of his life and his faith, but faith was central for him, and so I feel that it should be central here. I recall asking him when I was a teenager what would happen if he found out that there was no God, no heaven, and no hell. He told me that he hoped he would have lived his life in the same way he did.

And so I turn to the scriptures from which dad received strength, encouragement, and challenge daily as he went through life.  I’m going to read from Hebrews 11:32 through 12:3.

And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: (33) Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, (34) Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. (35) Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: (36) And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment:  (37)  They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (38) (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

(39) And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: (40) God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (12:1) Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, (2) Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (3)  For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds.  — Heb 11:32-12:3

There are many scripture passages that we tend to read half-way, and this is one of them. I don’t mean that we stop our reading in the middle of a verse or of the chapter. Rather, I mean that the verse stays locked in the past, a time when wonderful men and women of faith did wonderful things for God, a time in which we believe, but do not participate. The Bible becomes a book filled with stories about people not very much like we are, doing things we can’t or won’t do.  It’s edifying reading, but when all is said and done, as the saying goes, a good deal more is said than is ever done!

But Hebrews 11 is intended as a continued story. How many of you remember the old Junior Guide stories that were continued from week to week? There was that annoying phrase at the end, “continued next week” that told you the current conflict would not be resolved today. You’d have to wait. It was supposed to make me anxious to come to Sabbath School again in order to get the next episode, but it really just annoyed me.

But Hebrews 11 has an even more annoying “continued next week” in it. Did you miss it?  Let’s listen to the beginning of chapter 12 again:

(12:1) Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us. . . .

This is not a finished story, it continues. This is not a “them” story; it’s an “us” story. It is a story that each of us is to continue each and every hour of every day until that blessed moment when “this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:53).

So today, as I talk about dad, I’m reporting to you a new passage in the ever growing story of faith. Time would truly fail me to tell of Dr. Ray Neufeld, who through faith:

  • Went to medical school, even though he did not know how he would pay for it
  • Faced death in Mexico in order to help the helpless and witness to his faith in his Lord
  • Answered God’s call in four countries on two continents
  • Brought four children into the world and provided for their education
  • Rejected the security of an assured pension and trusted in God for his retirement
  • Survived medical problems when he arrived in Guyana that would have sent others home in defeat, then spent seven years in service there
  • Saw the building of a new hospital and health conditioning center from the ground up, with some of the bricks and mortar placed there with his own hands
  • Saw the world change dramatically over his lifetime, but never lost his faith in the creator

Indeed, time truly would fail me, and you, should I tell you all of these stories. I just want to relate two in particular that tell me who my parents are—and this includes my mother, Myrtle Blabey Neufeld as one part of the “two-become- one.”

When my father had emergency surgery just after our arrival in Guyana, one of the church leaders, I forget who, came to them and began to discuss arrangements for a return to the United States.  He felt that surely with emergency surgery and some question at that time of dad’s very survival, they would be preparing to go home if nothing else for better medical care. Their response? “God sent us here to Guyana to do a mission, and we haven’t done it yet.” The subtitle could be from our scripture–”we’re going to run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Shortly after this my uncle Don Neufeld received a letter from my mother outlining the situation.  The letter was written at a time when dad’s condition had not yet been resolved. It was possible that he would not make it. Uncle Don spread that letter before the Lord and prayed over it, and while he was praying, the phone rang, and the surgeon who had operated on my father, who had just arrived back in the United States, was calling to tell him that my father had turned the corner, that he was not only getting better but was planning to stay and work.

And indeed our family did stay, for seven years. I was there with them as they called for the elders of the church, anointed my father with oil. I was a witness as he returned to work, and became the sole physician for a 54 bed hospital.

One doctor had said he would never work again, and would not live more than 10 more years. Now you can be witnesses that God doesn’t look at things the way people do—this funeral is happening 25 years late, by human reckoning.

Aren’t you thankful for God’s way of looking at things?

But there’s another part to all this. We don’t get to sit here in this beautiful chapel and think about the wonderful things that Dr. Ray Neufeld did, and look at them as things that are far away, impossible, unattainable. We might like to do that, but that’s not how it should work. We are also called to add to the story of faith.

I had to think about whether to call this a eulogy. I have a little habit of putting a Greek word into my sermons, not because it’s useful (it usually isn’t) but because people expect it of someone whose degrees are in Biblical languages.

Once I’ve done it, I can get on with the real stuff. So here’s your Greek word— eulogy comes from the Greek “eu” for good and “logos” for word or message. It’s a good message or a good report. But I don’t think that Dad would really be happy with a eulogy, a good report about him. He would not want to receive the glory.  He would lay it all at the feet of the “author and finisher” of his faith.

I picture dad on that day when he meets Jesus and receives a crown—and it will be a serious, heavy, beautiful crown—and he’ll lay it back at the feet of Jesus, not just because he knows he owes it all to his Savior, but because he won’t believe it’s his crown. He’ll figure it belongs to someone else, and heaven made its first mistake!

The comfortable thing for us would be to think of dad as simply an extraordinary person. In that case, we, as ordinary people, could get on with ordinary lives and be satisfied with ordinary results.

But dad will be in that “great cloud of witnesses” and he will know how he got there.  It was not by being an extraordinary person but by putting himself into the hands of an extraordinary God and going along for the ride. I don’t mean the ride was easy.  It was a race, and it required patience and endurance.  But Jesus is the author of the faith that was required, and Jesus is the finisher.

There’s nothing that God gave dad that he hasn’t given to the rest of us. He’s authored faith for us, and he’s ready to bring it to completion. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  Often the challenge we feel we can live up to is that provided by another disciple. And so we come to this point in our lives not just to remember and celebrate dad’s life, disciple of Jesus Christ, but to be challenged by it.

We cannot, we must not respond to that challenge with ordinary lives, lives that are less than the high calling that we have in Christ Jesus. It’s a demanding calling and a tough race.

As we remember Dr. Ray Neufeld, there is grief, but not hopelessness, sorrow but not despair, wonder but not fear. Dad has fought a good fight, finished his course, and kept the faith. Now he has the “crown of righteousness” prepared for him in the kingdom. Because his was not a faith without an object, a race without a finish line, or a fight without victory.

I was discussing this with mother Sunday evening, and I told her that from the time that my son James passed away to the present I have had moments when I feel heaven so near and so real that it almost overwhelms the experience of the real world as I know it. She said that with daddy’s passing, she also felt that new homesickness. “Why is it,” she asked me, “that we didn’t feel that same homesickness when it was for Jesus himself? Why does it take the passing of a loved one?”

God knows how he made us. Mother, he has given us the love that you have felt for your husband and companion in ministry, as just a tiny window on the passionate love that he has for each one of us. Through separation, he allows us to get another tiny glimpse of how he feels, separated from an unreconciled world.  “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19) and “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jeremiah 31:3).

Our feeling of loss and separation is just a shadow of the separation God feels from a rebellious world, just as our love and passion for a spouse is just a shadow of God’s love and passion for each of us, the love and passion that led to the cross.

Through this separation each one of us now has a new understanding of God’s love to which we can give witness. We know the separation, and we know the victory.  We can overcome with that testimony!

In that conversation with mother, I recalled a vision Ellen White had of heaven. “Early Writings” was a special book in my mother’s spiritual life, and I’m glad to find there these key passages:

She says:

While I was praying at the family altar, the Holy Ghost fell upon me, and I seemed to be rising higher and higher, far above the dark world.

She goes on to describe a number of scenes, but in sum, all she can say is, “The wonderful things I saw I cannot describe. Oh, that I could talk in the language of Canaan, then could I tell a little of the glory of the better world.”

She continues:

[Jesus] said, “You must go back to earth again and relate to others what I have revealed to you.” Then an angel bore me gently down to this dark world. Sometimes I think I can stay here no longer; all things of earth look so dreary. I feel very lonely here, for I have seen a better land. Oh, that I had wings like a dove, then would I fly away and be at rest!

After I came out of vision, everything looked changed; a gloom was spread over all that I beheld. Oh, how dark this world looked to me.  I wept when I found myself here, and felt homesick. I had seen a better world, and it had spoiled this for me.

I have come to realize that before the experience of the death of a son and now of my father, I only thought I was homesick for heaven. Homesickness was a doctrine, the “Sabbath School” answer.  You know how Sabbath School works.

There are certain questions you raise your hand for. “Do you love Jesus?” “Do you believe the Bible?” “Do you want Jesus to come?” We all know it’s right to raise our hands for those questions. I once stirred up a class by asking “Do you trust God?” Now what Christian can possibly keep their hand down for that one? And dutifully every hand went up. Then I asked, “What is it that you trust God to do?”  There was an uncomfortable and long silence.

I had broken the rules.  They had given the right answer, but I wanted more. Unfair!

Well, I’m being unfair again. Experiencing a loss made me suddenly truly homesick for heaven. The song goes, “I’m homesick for heaven, seems I cannot wait! Longing to enter, Zion’s pearly gate.” Before it was just a song. Before I didn’t understand Ellen White’s sorrow after her vision of heaven. Now it’s real. I get tears in my eyes when I sing songs of the kingdom. The “Sabbath School answer” when you’re asked whether you want Jesus to come soon is, “Yes!”

But the next questions are these: How badly do you want it?  What are you going to do about it? When God called, dad answered. Whether there was money or not, comforts or not, even what many would regard as needs, mom and dad were ready to answer the call. There’s a fun song called “Please don’t send me to Africa.” It’s the plea of a Christian for God to use him, but just don’t make it Africa.

We all have our “Africas.” Your “Africa” may be a calling for which you feel unworthy. But Jesus has made you worthy. Where you are weak, he is strong. Your “Africa” may be your next door neighbor’s driveway, someone you’re supposed to befriend, but you just can’t make it over the kerb and up the sidewalk to the door. It might be the children’s class at church. God can’t possibly call you to work with annoying children!

But that’s not the way dad lived. We now have the example of his discipleship. He would never think to say, “Be imitators of me, as I imitate Christ,” but he could! The challenge of his life is the challenge of the people of Hebrews 11, the great cloud of witnesses, the folks who didn’t receive the promises, but nonetheless were faithful.

Dad, you did fight the good fight, you did finish the race, you did keep the faith. That golden, jeweled crown really is yours, even if you can’t believe it. I thank you for your love, your faithfulness, and your example. I miss you. We all miss you. But we’re going to meet before the throne of God and lay our crowns at Jesus’ feet, together, by God’s grace.

One can only hope …

One can only hope …

One of my favorite TV episodes of all time is the West Wing episode In Excelsis Deo. In it, Toby Ziegler arranges a funeral for a homeless veteran of the Korean War who died of exposure. Toward the end, President Bartlet is asking Toby about his use of the president’s name to arrange it.

” … you don’t think every homeless veteran will come out of the woodwork?” he asks.

“I can only hope,” says Toby.

Just so.

This also illustrates for me the potential power of fiction. There is no President Bartlet, nor any Toby Ziegler as White House Communications Director. They are characters in a drama. Nor is there really any Walter Huffnagel with a brother named George who is “slow.”

Yet there are thousands of Huffnagels, and many of them will not find a Toby Ziegler, no “powerful person” as Toby calls himself, to arrange something for them. There are also thousands of potential Toby Zieglers, potential moments such as the this fictional moment.

Will those people come out of the woodwork?

One can only hope …

You can watch the final portion of the show on YouTube (playback elsewhere has been disabled by the owner).