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Entrance to the Mitla municipal cemetery. The message above is translated to say, “for dust you are and to dust you will return.

I have had death on my mind this last week. November 1 and 2 are the holidays in Mexico called Day of the Dead. It’s a big deal in Mexico, and especially in Oaxaca, the state where I live. The Atlantic magazine had a photo spread with Day of the Dead pictures, and two of them were from Oaxaca, one from a little town down the road named Tlacolula. It’s primarily a Catholic holiday (Mexico is 90% Catholic). It comes from a mixed belief of the Zapotecs and Mayans combined with some Catholic beliefs that the spirits of the dead come back for two days every year. Those who celebrate Dia de los Muertos, usually have a shrine in their house dedicated to the dearly departed, and also go to the cemetery and decorate the grave(s) of those family member(s) who have passed on. They usually spend the night at the cemetery eating pan de muertos (dead bread) and drinking. It is a big tourist attraction, where visitors from all over the world come and tour certain cemeteries during the midnight hours. My wife, Anita, was born in Mitla, just down the road from the home for needy children where we serve. Some consider Mitla the dead head capital of Oaxaca (and I don’t mean Grateful Dead). The municipal cemetery there is normally a hoppin’ place during Day of the Dead, but these last two years it has been closed down due to Covid concerns.

Normally the Mitla cemetery would be decorated with hundreds of marigolds in preparation for Day of the Dead this time of year.
Mitla cemetery closed because of a rise in Covid cases.

Another reason I have been thinking about death is that Anita’s uncle died at the end of October. He had dementia and had been ill for quite awhile when he died. He was Catholic. He lived in Mitla. When a Catholic dies in Mitla, it’s a big deal. The deceased is put in a casket and then put on display in one of the rooms of his or her house. Then family and friends come from miles around to comfort the family. My wife was helping the family prepare food. When family and friends show up you give them hot chocolate and bread. Then, about midnight, you start making the real meal, which everyone eats about one a.m. Finally they leave about two a.m. After the clean up, Anita fell into bed about three a.m. She arose early in the morning to do the whole thing over again. The priest shows up and does a mass for the dead, and everyone walks to the cemetery, but not before packing the casket with extra clothes and food and favorite things of the newly dead. A bottle of water was also put into the coffin. Anita asked what that was for. She was told he would probably get thirsty on his long journey (through purgatory?).

At the cemetery, only the immediate family was allowed to view the burial, due to covid concerns. In July we were at the same cemetery for the internment of Anita’s mom, and everyone was allowed in, but it seems the pandemic is experiencing an uptick and restrictions have reared their ugly head. The immediate family finally came out of the cemetery, but relatives and friends hung around for at least an hour drinking beer and mezcal and eating chips. Anita and I had to get back to the mission for a big birthday party and we left. I have no idea how long they all stayed.

Day of the Dead reminded me of my mothers death a couple of years ago, and my mother-in-laws death in July. I also thought of Anita’s other uncle who died a year ago. Some were Christians, some weren’t. I thank God for the hope that Christians have in the face of death: O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

Cross embedded on the wall of the Mitla cemetery.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me will live, even though he dies. Jesus – John 11:25


“It is the Lord’s Day; my wish is fulfilled. I have always desired to die on a Sunday.” General Stonewall Jackson, Confederate Leader

Stonewall Jackson was accidently wounded by his own men at the battle of Chancellorsville in 1863. He suffered for a few days before he died. He was told by his doctor on Sunday, May 10, that he would probably not last the day. Later that day General Pendleton stopped by to tell him that all his troops were praying for him. That was when Jackson, in a sense, said that his prayer was already answered, for he had “always desired to die on a Sunday.”

Josefina Maceda, my mother-in-law, my Madre, died this last Sunday at the children’s home in Oaxaca, Mexico. I don’t know if it was a desire of hers to die on the Lord’s Day, but I wouldn’t be surprised. She loved the Lord’s Day. She loved going to the House of God to worship her Savior. It’s comforting to know that she is enjoying God eternally in His celestial House.

Saturday morning, as is my want, I read a chapter from Proverbs. It was chapter 28. I read a couple of verses that were at first comforting, and then disturbing, and then encouraging once again.

Verse 20 says, “A faithful person will be richly blessed…”

Verse 25 says, “those who trust in the Lord will prosper.”

I have always liked those verses and highlighted them in my Bible many years ago.  But this time, I doubted.  I know of few people who faithfully trusted in the Lord like Madre. Yet she didn’t seem to be richly blessed and prospering. She had been bed ridden for at least a week. In pain. Skin and bones. Every breath a groan.

I thought if that is what it means to be richly blessed and prospering, then I’ll pass, thank you very much!

I took my doubts to God. God reminded me of Romans 12:1-2, especially the part where Paul writes, ” Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

God was telling me that faithful people who trust in the Lord have renewed minds. They don’t think like the world does. They have different definitions for things like blessings and what it means to prosper.  The world thinks money, power and health are what prospering is all about. God says we prosper and are blessed when we love others deeply and are loved deeply by others and have a hope that will never fade away. Madre had all those.

That put a new light on things, and I saw that even in the midst of her suffering, she was truly blessed and prospering. She was surrounded by family that she deeply loved and who deeply loved her. She had deeply loved and blessed people from all over the world – United States, Canada, Germany and Japan, to name just a few. These people have been showing their deep love for her ever since she received the cancer diagnosis by supporting her with financial help and prayers. One neighbor came the last month of her life, almost everyday for at least an hour to pray with her, for her, and to sing to her, even though Madre couldn’t respond most of the time during her last days.

Looking at the situation from that Godly, renewed mind-point of view, I came to the realization that she was indeed richly blessed and prospering beyond all measure. I will take that blessing everyday and twice on Sunday!

Right before General Stonewall Jackson breathed his last, his doctor recorded that “Presently a smile of ineffable sweetness spread itself over his pale face.”

I had never been with someone when they died before. I’m glad to say I got to be with Madre. And I was glad to see that just before she went home to the Father, she too smiled a smile of ineffable sweetness. It was as if she saw the Lord, like Stephen did in Acts 7, welcoming her into his eternal Kingdom with outstretched arms.

These last few days I have been thinking a lot about what Paul wrote to the Romans in chapter eight, verses 18 and 23.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us…We who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

If only we all had that attitude and perspective. What a way to live! What a way to die!



I was studying Hebrews chapter eleven, often times called the Hall Of Faith.  Here are a few things I learned about faith –

  1.  Without faith it is impossible to please God              11:6
  2. Faith means believing that God exists and that He rewards those who seek Him  11:6
  3. Sometimes faith means you don’t know where you are going      11:8
  4. Sometimes faith means you are a stranger     11:9
  5. Sometimes faith means that you do not receive the things promised      11:13,39
  6. Faith means that you will be tested      11:17
  7. Sometimes faith means choosing to be mistreated     11:25
  8. Sometimes faith means making people angry      11:27
  9. Sometimes faith means being tortured       11:35
  10. Sometimes faith means facing jeers, beatings, chains and imprisonment.     11:36
  11. Sometimes faith means death by stoning, being sawed in two and killed by the sword    11:37
  12. Sometimes faith means being destitute and persecuted     11:37

So, do you want to be a person of faith?  I like to talk about how much God loves us and wants us to be happy.  Where’s the happiness in all that?  The ultimate happiness for people of faith is Heaven.  That’s easy to see by taking another look at Hebrews 11.

Verse 16 tells us that people of faith are longing for a better country – a heavenly one, and that God has prepared a city for them.  Later we see that Moses was “looking ahead to his reward.”  Verse 36 says that some who were tortured, refused to be released, so that “they might gain an even better resurrection.”  The last verse of chapter 11 lets us know that God has planned something better for us.

The main thing to remember about Faith comes to us from verse one, “Faith is the substance of things HOPED for …”  Not so much what we hope for in this world, but in the world to come.

After studying Hebrews 11, I came across some quotes from Timothy Keller about hope and heaven:

“We are future oriented beings, and so we must understand ourselves as being in a story that leads somewhere.”

“The disposition properly described as hope, trust, or wonder … three names for the same state of heart and mind – asserts the goodness of life in the face of its limits.  It cannot be defeated by adversity.”  (Keller quoting Lasch)

“Hope does not require a belief in progress, only a belief in justice, a conviction that the wicked will suffer, that wrongs will be made right, that the underlying order of tings is not flouted with impunity.”  (Keller quoting Genovese)

“Hope that stands up to and enables us to face the worst depends on faith in something that transcends this world and life and is not available to those living within a worldview that denies the supernatural.”

“Christian hope has more power for sufferers than a mere optimism in historical progress.”

“We are trapped in a world of death, a world for which we were not designed.”

“The immortal Son of God was sent into the world, sharing in our humanity, becoming subject to weakness and death.  But then through death he broke its power, in order to free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”

“We may physically die, but death now becomes only an entryway to eternal life with him.”

“All death can now do to Christians is to make their live infinitely better.”

(All quotes from Timothy Keller’s book Making Sense of God)











Letting old things die allows God to make all things new.

 Happy is the seed that is buried.

The last two Saturdays of my life could not have been more different.  Two Saturdays ago my familyQuinceanera attended a quinceañera, a grand celebration in Latin America of the 15th birthday of a young lady.  Last Saturday our family went to a.funeral of my wife’s grandfather, a sad affair because he wasted most of his life on alcohol, and nobody is sure where his eternal soul abides.

We were invited to the  quinceañera by a dedicated Christian woman who spent some years helping out at the home for needy children where my wife and I serve.  Now her lovely Christian daughter was celebrating her 15th birthday in a big way, with a beautiful new dress, six handsome young men decked out with tuxedos, super decorations, delicious food and great music.  What could be better?  A good time was had by all.

On Friday, my wife Anitas grandfather died in a freak accident, perhaps caused by drinking, even though it was only 11a.m.  He was sitting on a rock ledge.  He leaned back and tumbled onto a concrete floor where he cracked open his skull.  He was 83 years old.

The next day the funeral and burial took place.  His estranged wife of many years was there.  His two daughters and three grandchildren were there.  He lived with and was cared for and loved by his family in Mitla, Mexico.  He had lived in Mexico city with some family until they found it extremely difficult to deal with him due to his drinking problem.  They basically just dropped him off in Mitla for his daughter and her family to try and manage.  They seemed to be saying “He is your problem now.”

Anita’s younger brother is in his twenties.  He has Down Syndrome.  He was the only person who cried at the burial.  He cried with all his heart.  When he prays and sings he does it with all his heart.  He seems to be in touch with God on a higher plane than most of us.  Some people feel sorry for the poor kid with Down Syndrome.  Sometimes I think that we should feel sorry for ourselves that we are not in touch with God like he seems to be.   I think he was mourning for more than his dead, alcoholic grandpa cold in the grave.  Maybe he was mourning for a weak, troubled spirit who couldn’t overcome his problem; a man, created in God’s image who never experienced the joy and peace that comes from living in right relationship with God.  That is most tragic thing in the world, and maybe everyone present at the grave site should have been crying with all their heart.

Anita’s older brother is pastor of a little church in Mitla, and is also owner/operator of a Christian radio station.  At the funeral he talked about how his grandfather had made some poor choices in life, and then talked about how we have all made some poor choices in our lives.  How we have all fallen short of God’s glory, how we have all sinned.  The   cure for poor life decisions is found at the foot of the cross, in the forgiveness found in trusting our lives to Jesus of Nazareth.  “Confess your sins to God, and he is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  These were the words he used to end the service.  A great encouragement to those of us who could look at everyday of our lives and realize that we have fallen short of God’s holy expectations of us.  A great appeal to those who have never trusted in the precious blood of Christ to change bad life decisions into a new Life.

A grave side burial in Oaxaca Mexico is unlike any I ever experienced in the U.S.  The word that comes to mind is Raw.  It is not “pretty”.  It’s not ugly either.  It’s just real, maybe like it was in the U.S. 100 years ago.  There is a big hole in the ground with a big pile of dirt beside it.  Family members and friends of the deceased put a couple of ropes under the casket, and lift it up and lower it into the hole.  Sally and Kelly were very interested in the whole affair and care had to be taken that they didn’t fall in.  Once the casket is in, a bag of clothes belonging to the dead person comes out, and one by one the clothes are dropped in.  In this case, Anita s younger brother did the honor, dropping in some pants, a couple of shirts and a couple of sweaters, his tears falling in along with the clothes.  After the clothes, some flowers are added and then the dirt begins to fly.  Again, family members and friends are the ones shoveling the dirt, filling the grave.

When the shoveling is done, there is a mound of dirt at least two feet high over the casket.  On this mound of dirt was placed flowers in five gallon buckets, along with candles and a cup of soda pop. Finally everyone goes home.  My Saturday experience was finished.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 Says  it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

Death is the destiny of everyone.  Physical death, that is.  Praise God that He has made a way for people to live eternally, and that eternal life begins the second a person has faith in Jesus and in his work on the cross.  Thank God we can look forward to that day we will be seated at the heavenly banquet, the celestial quinceañera, but instead of honoring a 15 year old lady, we will be adoring our Lord and Savior.




What is this thing, this action, that in and of itself is not a sin, but when most people attempt it, they usually end up sinning?  What is it that people do millions of times a day, and usually do it wrong?wordsmouth1

The answer is talking.  Of the multitude of sins that are chronicled in the Bible, none is more common or more destructive than the sin of words and talking.  The apostle James speaks much of this in all five chapters of his little book.  Most forcefully in chapter three, where he calls the tongue a wild fire, a poison, something straight from the pit of hell.  Our words can poison relationships, burn out a community of faith and destroy years of good work.  Who can tame the tongue?

And even if a person never gossips, slanders or badmouths another person, their words can still be sin!  Paul, in Ephesians four, tells the church that every word uttered should only be for the uplifting, edification and strengthening of the body of Christ.  If not, it’s a sin.  The last two letters Paul wrote in his life that we have in the Holy Scriptures are written to Timothy.  Paul knew his time on earth was short, and his last instructions were of utmost importance, so he emphasized  the most important truths to his young charge.  In both letters he told Timothy to “avoid godless chatter”.  What is “godless chatter”?  It is any conversation with another person that does not in some way include or point to God.  If we talk a lot about the weather or sports, or other people or events,  and that discussion does not have its basis in  God, then we are skating on thin ice.  We are probably sinning.

Back to the book of James.  He says that anyone who controls his tongue is perfect.  We all want to be perfect and mature before God and man, so we need to control our tongues.  The best way to control our tongues and thus be perfect is to not talk at all.  Never utter a word.  Most people are probably aghast at the thought of not being able to voice their opinion, tell the world what they think, or stand up for themselves with their words.  They are probably sinning.  We have all  heard of monks who take a vow of silence; who don’t talk.  Perhaps we think them crazy.  We should think them very wise.  Perfect.  They have tamed the tongue.

Of course the Bible talks about good words.  Happy, encouraging words can be like medicine to a broken heart.  Doctors don’t hand out any type of medicine to their patients in a helter skelter kind of way.  First they diagnose the problem and then give out the exact prescription that is needed to bring healing.  We should be like that with our words. Paul writes in Romans ten that people need to hear the words of the gospel to be saved.  We need to offer life saving gospel words to lost people in a sick world.

In order to speak helpful words and not sin words, we need to put a filter over our mouths and carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully think before we speak.  All of our cars have air filters, oil filters and gas filters to keep harmful particles from going in the engine and causing destruction.  We need the same kind of mental and spiritual filters between our brain and our mouth to keep harmful words from going out and causing harm.  The Psalmist writes “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! ” (141:3)

If we are careful to maintain these filters or guards or doors between our brains and our mouths, we will speak words of life and not death, words of health and not poison, words of hope and not destruction, words of righteousness and not sin.  If we watch our words we will glorify God and enjoy him all the more!

Words about words from Proverbs –

12:18   There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
12:19   Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
15:2     The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
15:4     A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
17:4     An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
18:21   Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
21:23   Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.
25:23   The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.
26:28   A lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin.
28:23   Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.
31:26   A virtuous woman opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

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In our chatty world, in which the word has lost its power to communicate, silence helps us to keep our mind and heart anchored in the future world and allows us to speak from there a creative and re-creative word to the present world.

Henri Nouwen – The Way of the Heart

I’ve been reading Ephesians lately.  It’s a pleasant change from Ezekiel.   Ezekiel was full of sin, disobedience, judgment casketand the wrath of God.  It contained strange visions and bizarre symbolic actions.  Some things were hard to understand and confusing.  When I read scripture in the morning I try to find a phrase or encouraging word that I can meditate on throughout the day.  Those words and phrases were few and far between in Ezekiel.  Thank God for Ephesians!

With Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I find words or phrases that I can hang my spiritual hat on in almost every verse; certainly in each paragraph.  After a couple weeks of basking in the glory of chapter one, I came to the second chapter.  It starts out with the words, “As for you, you were dead”.

It’s unfortunate, in some ways, that there are chapters in the Bible.  It was not originally written with chapters. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, he did not separate his letter into six different chapters.  It was a unified whole. But when we read it, we see chapter division.  Each chapter is intricately connected with the chapter that came before and the chapter that follows.  Many times we miss that connection, because we have a tendency to read the Word of God one chapter at a time; one chapter a day, and we miss important connections.  That initially happened to me upon reading chapter two.  Ephesians two is a well loved chapter to most Christians, being rich with images, words and phrases about salvation, grace and mercy.  I was anxious to reread those beloved verses and practically skipped the first, rather unflattering words of Ephesians two.

I caught myself and went back to the opening words of the chapter.  “As for you, you were dead …”  I thought about the first three words, “As for you” .  I recognized those as transition words.  Now he is talking about “you”.  You Ephesians, or more generally, you believers, or you Christians.  Well what was Paul talking about before, at the end of chapter one?  What was he comparing us to?  I went back and reread the last paragraph of one.  Paul was comparing us to Christ.

We were dead.  What was Christ?  Christ was raised from the dead.  Christ was seated at the right hand of God, seated in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked.  All things were placed under his feet, and appointed as head of the church.  He fills everything in every way.

And who were we?  What were we?  We were dead.  What an incredible contrast the apostle Paul presents between us and Christ!

My meditation phrase for that day was “and you were dead.”  Or more personally, I reminded myself that “I was dead!”  Maybe you want to try out that phrase within your day.  Remind yourself over and over that you were dead.  You were a spiritual corpse, without hope of true life, abundant life, eternal life.  Then go and read the rest of the first paragraph of Ephesians two.  See how great is the impact, how meaningful and significant those following words of Paul become – But God made you alive!

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While we remain in Adam, we are entirely devoid of life; and that regeneration is a new life of the soul, by which it rises from the dead.      John Calvin


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