I was woken up this morning to the sound of my cell phone ringing.
It was from one of our pastors saying that a local funeral home was trying reach me.
Paul was dying and the family was asking for me.
Now, Paul is not a member of our local church, or any local church, but I’ve known him most of my life (I’m living in the area I grew up in.) But most of that knowledge was in my old life.
Paul wanted “last rites” and he wanted me to do it. I understood the terminology, growing up Catholic, but I don’t do the sacrament of last rites. I pray with people and talk with them so they know for certain where they’re going and that they are loved…and that they are not alone.
And that’s actually what Paul wanted.
Paul was always a very kind person with a tender heart. He mostly knew me through my guitar playing days in bands in the late 70’s. I had been at many fellowships of another kind with him “back in the day.” We both lived hard back then.
But Paul continued to live hard long after.
So, many years later, after I had given my life to Christ, eventually going into vocational ministry and having moved my family back here from Chicago, Paul would occasionally stop me on the street, even stop by my house, inviting me to come down to the local bar and jam…or if there were any hopes of the band getting back together (think “Blues Brothers”). I was actually never against the idea of any of those things under the right circumstances, but it never worked out.
So we come to the phone call this morning.
Paul lived fairly close to me and so I got myself ready, jumped in the car and off I went, not really knowing what to expect. After arriving at his house, greeting and consoling his wife, I went into the bedroom to see Paul. One of his closest friends was with him. Paul was sitting up but wheezing even though assisted by oxygen, very frail, showing every sign of the final stages of life due the devastation of lung cancer. His friend left the room and so it was just Paul and me.
He certainly looked nothing like the Paul I knew.
I sat down next to him and held his hand and we talked (I mostly talked, he nodded because of his condition.) And not having talked to him in a long time, I asked him if he had put his trust in Jesus as his Savior. He nodded that he had.
Then I read my favorite words of Jesus…
“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way where I am going.” 5 Thomas *said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” 6 Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:1-6 NASB)
After reading this, my somewhat one-sided conversation went like this:
“Paul, God loves you so much that He wanted to include you with Him. This is the Father’s heart for you, why Jesus came. So that you could know Him and have endless days full of joy and friendship in His presence forever.”
Paul nodded and a small smile began to break through the constant struggle to breath.
I continued, “And since you have accepted the Father’s invitation to this grand dance, this endless love fest, this royal family and fellowship of the King, you now, and forever, belong to Him and with Him.”
He nodded and again smiled the best he could under the circumstances.
We continued along these lines, praying together, then his close friend came back in the room. And his friend started talking about God, how that he had always believed in Him but not the “forced march” (his words) of the church he grew up in.
What struck me was that he hadn’t run away from God, he’d run away from an interpretation of God, and what it looks like to live that life in Him. He actually wanted the God I was talking about but religion had driven him away.
I also thought again about how many people there are in this world like Paul’s friend.
I said, “I understand what you mean. God invites us to this great dance with Him, full of love, full of joy, full of Him…and religion turns it into a “forced march.”
Now Paul’s friend was nodding in agreement. Amen.
I continued talking to both of them about how God is the source of everything good, everything joyful, everything beautiful and meaningful about life–all happiness, love, togetherness, companionship and wonder. And how He loves us so much that He became us so that we would know and be with Him now and forever–to live in that Divine dance.
That we would trust Him to be perfect for us so that we could be in His presence forever.
Actually, everyone who breathes knows this in their deepest of hearts. They know that there is something full of joy, peace and perfect love. That there’s been an invitation given, to something most wonderful, full of overflowing life and togetherness (John 10:10 AMP).
And it haunts them until they find it.
And sadly, when we can’t find it in Christ, we make up our myths and try to synthesize this Dance to fill a void that only the Father’s love can fill.
Beloved, we are here for each other. We’ve all been invited to God’s Grand Ball Par Extravagance. But most people either don’t know it or they’ve been driven away from it by our callous judgments, our dismissals, by our lack of affection, by our fears and own feelings of rejection. And by our own religious mythology that tries to separate us from the finished work of Christ’s atonement.
We replace the Dance with empty philosophies and requirements that Jesus wiped away on the Cross (Col.2:6-23). We replace this amazing act of love and grace with our own inventions that never bring life, only shame and condemnation driven by fear.
So please pray for Paul’s family today, and then go hug someone and love on them. Be the best “friend” you can be. Tell them how much you love them, how much joy and happiness they bring to your life. For they are truly a gift of fellowship and shared life for you from God on this journey we all must take in this world.
And if they haven’t received the invitation yet, invite them to the Dance.