Saturday, July 13, 2019
Celebrating the Individual Masterpiece God Created: A celebration of life vice a traditional funeral service.
Celebrating the Individual Masterpiece God Created:
A celebration of life vice a traditional funeral service.
By: Pastor Bob Tousey, MACM
We are each God’s masterpiece that He created anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the things God has planned for us (Ephesians 2:10, NLT). He designed each of us for a unique role (Erik Rees, S.H.A.P.E, Finding & Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life, 2006, pg 18). It would seem that when our journey on this earth ends, we should celebrate the Masterpiece that God created, but sadly that is not often the case. We often focus on the loss that we are feeling because our loved one will no longer be part of our daily lives instead of focusing on the gift that our loved one was to us during his or her time on earth. We mourn instead of celebrating the gift we were given.
As a child I remember funerals being a gloomy event, where the focus was on the loss of a loved one, rather than celebrating a life well lived. The viewing would typically last two days after the death with the burial taking place on the third day. There was little to no laughter in the room, most people were dressed in black and weeping could be heard. The room was filled with flowers rather than memories of the life the person lived. The funeral service or mass would be very ritualistic and boring. It didn’t end there because the family was expected to wear black for an entire year to mourn. I remember when my dad died my mom had to go out and buy black clothes so she could “properly” mourn.
This ignored the Christian teaching that life on this earth is intended to be for a season, a very short season at that in comparison to eternity. Our loved one in fact does not die but goes on to eternal life. Several years ago, before his death Billy Graham reminded us of this with the words "Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don't you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God." Ideally this should be the destination for each of us. When our life on this earth ends, we enter eternal life in which, ideally, our loved one no longer will suffer earthly pain, suffering and loss. Isn’t this something to be celebrated?
Today, the family has more freedom to choose when the viewing and service is scheduled as well as setting the tone for the event. Sometimes it is even a week or longer after the death. This allows loved ones to travel in. The family can decide how long the viewing will be often choosing to hold the viewing and service the same day. Very often an atmosphere will be created to celebrate and honor the life of their deceased loved one. There will be pictures at the viewing, if the person had an artistic gift, some of his or her creations would adorn the room or if they were competitive, trophies won will celebrate those achievements. I recently even saw the deceased’s motorcycle next to the casket and have been greeted by the deceased’s well-behaved dog who was allowed to attend the viewing.
The service whether religious or not can also be used as a time to celebrate the life lived. While most of the services I conduct are Christian, I have on occasion lead a service for a family who preferred to celebrate the life without religious references. Unless the family is asking me to do something that would violate my convictions, I am more than honored to help the family obtain closure in a manner that they are most comfortable. Whether the service is Christian or non-religious we can always celebrate the life. I find that celebrating the life is consistent with Christian beliefs as God as created each of us to be a unique individual and the celebration of life honors the masterpiece God created. This takes a little more time than it would if I just simply read from a prayer book. I need to speak to the family and learn about their loved one. This can involve a phone call, multiple phone calls, a visit to the family home, a meeting in a diner or at the funeral home. I have done each of these. Sometimes it takes a few minutes and sometimes the better part of a day, but my philosophy is to do what it takes to minister to the family and help them heal. I often arrive at the funeral home early or even the night before the service to meet extended family and friends to view the pictures and get a better sense of the life the person lived. I encourage family and friends to speak at the service if they are comfortable doing so and if they are not but want to share something, I will offer to read it for them. I also provide the family with a copy of the service so they can read it later or keep it with mementos of their loved one’s life.
The religious portion of the service contains uplifting scriptural readings and prayers followed by short explanations of comfort and often will connect the reading to the deceased’s life. I will typically use a poem to transition from the religious portion to the celebration of life portion of the service. The idea is to honor the way the deceased lived and assist the family with closure.
Wednesday, April 10, 2019
Movie Review: Unplanned
By: Bob Tousey, MACM
Normally, I will view a movie on its opening day so that my review can be out early, but this was not the case with Unplanned. As much as I hate to admit it, I had reservations about watching this movie as I was not sure I was strong enough to handle some of the more graphic scenes. However, this morning God clearly placed it on my heart to watch the movie and I am glad I did. There certainly were scenes that made me uncomfortable and some that even brought a tear to my eyes but that is what makes it such a powerful movie. The story it tells is an important one and I pray that those who need to see it will see it.
The movie is based on a true story about a former Planned Parenthood clinic Director, Abby Johnson. Abby was raised in a conservative Christian home with staunch pro-life parents. Her husband was also pro-life. Abby was very transparent in her story sharing that in her early years she had two abortions herself. Abby rose from the ranks of a volunteer at Planned Parenthood to one of its most successful clinic directors. In fact, shortly before her transformation she was named Planned Parenthood’s Employee of the Year. Her career with the organization appeared to be on the fast track until she questioned some goals that were established to double the number of abortions performed. She was reprimanded for questioning the goals but went back to work the next day more determined to carry out the mission of the organization. This determination all changed when Abby was called into a procedure room to assist with an abortion and she watched it on the ultra sound. What she saw changed her life forever. She not only left her position as clinic director, but she became an avid advocate for the pro-life movement.
The scene with the ultra sound hit home with me as my conversion from pro-choice to pro-life came as the result of an ultra sound. Although mine was not viewing an abortion. Mine came about when my wife was twelve weeks pregnant with my daughter, who is about to turn 29. I accompanied my wife to the ultra sound appointment and when I saw my daughter moving, I knew she was not a clump of tissue, but she was a baby, my baby. In a matter of seconds, I knew I could no longer support abortion.
I encourage you to see this movie. The story is one that we all must understand. I encourage you to also read my blog post “Healing: Mark Bradley Morrow, Post Abortive Father.” This tells Mark’s story of 4 abortions, a vasectomy, 1 adoption, 2 reversals, a miscarriage, and 2 beautiful babies.
Friday, April 5, 2019
Iron Sharpens Iron: The importance of mentoring
By Bob Tousey, MBA, MACM
When we think of mentorship the biblical verse that often comes to mind is Proverbs 27:17 (NIV) which teaches that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. For teams to be strong it is important for senior members of the team to take time to share their experience and wisdom with junior team members. For this to work it is equally important for the junior members to be humble enough to accept the guidance of their mentors.
The power of mentorship can be seen in Exodus 18:13-22 (NIV). In this passage Moses father in law, Jethro, observed Moses hearing disputes of the people from morning until evening. When Jethro inquired why he was spending so much time hearing these disputes, Moses replied these people have come to me to seek God’s will. Jethro admonished Moses that this was not good, it was too heavy a burden and would wear him out. Jethro then goes on to advise him to find other capable and trustworthy people and allow them to hear the minor disputes pointing out this would free Moses to hear the more difficult disputes. This advice resulted in disputes being heard in a timelier fashion and Moses did not wear himself out by hearing all the disputes himself. Moses was humble enough to follow the advice of his father in law and adopted the system he suggested.
In a future post I will discuss the importance of delegation as I see too many leaders who fail in this task but today, I will focus on the importance of mentorship which is a valuable developmental tool. Early in my career I was taught that the first responsibility of every leader is to groom his or her successor. This is what keeps an organization healthy and when done properly allows for an orderly succession plan, which prevents chaos when a leader leaves the organization because there is already someone ready and able to fill the outgoing leader’s shoes. It also helps the organization grow. As the more junior members of the organization grow through mentorship, they can begin to assume more responsibilities which free up the senior members of the team to spread their wings a bit by taking on other new and innovative tasks, which can improve the organizations overall effectiveness.
Too often I see organizations stagnate because of the lack of growth and worse yet fall apart when a leader suddenly leaves and there is no one ready to assume the mantel of leadership. It is important to prepare for the unexpected as it can occur. We must remember that leaders can be tempted away from an organization with more lucrative offers and even if they are not, they can become disabled and or worse yet die suddenly. When this happens there is a big hole to fill when no one has been groomed to take over. So, begin now. Mentor the next generation of leaders. This will keep your organization healthy and more effective for many years to come.
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine
The Mercy Me song “I can only imagine” has always had a special place in my heart and very often I will use its lyrics when delivering a message at a funeral to illustrate that while we are on this earth we can not possibly imagine what Jesus has prepared for us. So, when I heard about the movie I was excited. I am happy to say I was not disappointed. While the movie has a slightly different plot than I imagined when I first heard about the movie my heart was touched as I watched the story unfold.
The plot centered upon the story of song writer Bart Millard and his family as he was growing up. His parents divorced, and he was raised by an abusive father. If anyone is sensitive to scenes of domestic violence the movie may not be an appropriate choice for you. However, it delivers a message of redemption and grace. As Bart matures into a young man and sets out on his own to pursue a musical career, he and his dad are estranged. However, his dad is diagnosed with cancer, begins to read the bible and is transformed into a loving and kind man. The two eventually reconcile and his dad’s transformation was the motivation for the song “I can only imagine”.
There are other story lines in the movie which depict Bart’s wife’s life long love of Bart, Bart’s struggle in showing his love back. The movie also depicts the struggles the band Mercy Me faced in their early days. All in all, it is a wonderful and enjoyable movie which I highly recommend. While this review shared some details, there will still be many enjoyable surprises for you as you watch this movie. Go ahead, buy some tickets, you will be glad you did.
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Will this be the last Christmas?: A wooden cross on the highway
Pastor Bob Tousey
A few weeks ago, I was a passenger in a car traveling on northbound Interstate 95 approaching the exit for Route 100 in Howard County, Maryland. As I was looking upon the grassy median, I started to wonder—why wasn't there a wooden cross situated on the side of the road with my name on it? I realize to some; this might appear to be a strange question-- mainly since I am alive, and a wooden cross often represents a scene of a fatal car accident. Being alive at that moment, for me, was indeed a mystery.
So, please, allow me to rewind time for just a moment as I explain an incident that occurred on October 8, 2017, at about 8:30 p.m. On this evening, I was driving my car on 95 North. All of the sudden, for reasons unknown, my car went out of control. The next memory is of a paramedic treating me. It all happened in a matter of seconds, I had just gotten on 95, and I was traveling at the posted speed limit, and the road was clear. Despite traveling the speed limit and having a clear roadway, my car was spinning out of control, and my last memory was a white SUV passing me. My only thought was "this is not going to end well." I do not recall impact or being extracted from my car, but I do recall that brief moment of clarity in the ambulance. This brief moment of allowed me the opportunity to identify a familiar face of the paramedic treating me. I recalled her face from my previous ministry as a Chaplain for the Howard Country Fire and Rescue. Just as quickly as I regained consciousness, I lost it again, only to wake up at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma.
As I had awakened again, I was greeted by a Maryland State Trooper. I was very disoriented, but the conversation with the trooper I recall very well. The trooper commented that he was happy to have the ability to speak with me. You see, the trooper explained that from the appearance of the accident scene he did not think I was going to be alive. From the pictures, it was evident this accident was significant, but fortunately for me, I only sustained six broken bones, and I was spared from having any permeant injuries. The best news of all is that my injuries did not require surgery. However, my injuries were severe enough that I was admitted for five weeks of medical treatment and rehabilitation.
After speaking to my pastor on the phone, I explained to him that Jesus stood between me and the tractor trailer. My pastor being the clever and quick-witted person that he is stated, "You should have let Jesus drive." If, I may, please let me share some of the history of my pastor's statement. For those that are not familiar, this accident was not the first time I had dodged death or serious injury. You see, twenty years earlier—just a few miles away from the above location on Route 100 West, I was travelling in a car on westbound route 100, and I saw a car from the eastbound side jump over the median and into westbound traffic. My initial thought was that death was on the horizon, so I closed my eyes, I held on tight and uttered to myself, "Jesus, help me." Jesus responded by diverting the collision and my life was spared. As I describe this experience, I always refer to Carrie Underwood's song, Jesus take the wheel, and fortunately for me "Jesus, took the wheel." Jesus is the only way to explain how this potential tragedy was avoided. My testimony concerning this experience is available on You Tube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AabAbkWSamI.
I must wonder--why God chose to spare me on multiple occasions, yet others are not so blessed. I may never know the exact reason why, but as we are taught in the Book of Job, only God sees the whole picture and has a complete understanding of His plan. Often, we may never understand why life unfolds the way it does, but I have to remember that God has a plan and a purpose for my life, and all of our lives. All I can do is be open to that plan and be willing to do what God calls me to do. I pray each day for the Holy Spirit to guide me towards that plan and for the ability to carry it out in a manner that honors and glorifies God.
I began this story by sharing how God has shown me grace and mercy throughout my life. I am far from a perfect person and have fallen to temptation, but each time God has extended me grace. For this, I am eternally grateful. I recognize that each day is a gift from God and that I must treasure it as such. May God bless each of you reading this, and I encourage you to improve those strained relationships in your life and to use this Christmas season as a time to repair those relationships, while you have the opportunity. Most importantly, invite loved ones over, hug them, and tell them how much you love them. One thing I realize, more so, than ever is that this life can change in a second. Don't live it with regrets, because you never took the opportunity to repair those relationships. I say this with all sincerity that you cannot take life for granted because this might be the last opportunity you have to celebrate Christmas with them. Celebrate the birth of Jesus by reconciling with others, show them love and grace. God bless each of you and have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Friday, April 7, 2017
Movie Review: The Case for Christ
I had the pleasure of viewing the movie “The Case for Christ”, which is based on Lee Strobel’s, bestselling book of the same name. The movie was very well done. The acting was excellent, the plot interesting and frankly much better than I was expecting. I read the book and found it interesting and enlightening. However, when I first heard it was being made into a movie, I frankly expected a boring documentary that was heavy on detail and low on entertainment. Happily, that is not the case.
The movie is rated PG, primarily due to the medical description of the crucifixion and incidental smoking. If your children are mature and have an interest I would not hesitate to recommend that you allow them to see it with you.
The movie is a true story which occurred in the early 1980’s. The styles depicted in the movie, Lee’s Z-28 Camaro, and his love of Schlitz beer sets the scene well.
The movie has a great plot revolving around Lee’s family and work life. There is a sub plot involving a police shooting and there are scenes of the realistic struggles in Lee’s family life. The characters depict real people who care for and love one another. While Lee gets emotional at times there are not any bitter adversarial scenes that would make a viewer uncomfortable.
Lee Strobel was an award winning investigative reporter and legal editor at the Chicago Tribune and a devote atheist.
Lee’s journey begins while he, his wife and young daughter are in a restaurant celebrating his recent promotion to legal editor. His daughter begins to choke. Fortunately, there is a nurse nearby who provides emergency assistance and saves his daughter. As Lee’s wife thanks the nurse, she responds that Jesus’ had a hand in this as she and her husband had plan to eat at another restaurant but they felt the need to eat at this one. This comment had a profound effect on Strobel’s wife and caused her to explore Christianity and eventually give her life to Jesus. Having a born again Christian wife did not sit well with Lee and he began a journey to prove that there was no reasonable basis for Christian beliefs.
Lee’s journey included him seeking out leading experts in archeology, history, theology and medicine. The experts included a fellow atheist, a Catholic Priest and Protestant scholars. Lee realized that the true question revolved around the Resurrection. If the Resurrection occurred as believed then there was a solid basis for Christianity. If it did not the whole basis for Christianity is destroyed.
While the movie is not as detailed as the book, it does provide the key facts to support the Christian belief in the Resurrection.
The title gives away the ending as Lee concludes that the argument for Christianity is strong and gives his life to Jesus. He has retired from journalism and now is a teaching Pastor, teacher and writer.
This movie is very well balanced. It provides Christians with a road map to strengthen their faith. Agnostics some points to consider and I believe atheists will enjoy the plot and how it is presented. I highly recommend this movie for everyone. I consider this the best movie of its type. God bless and have a great Easter.
Friday, March 3, 2017
Last night I had the pleasure of watching the movie premiere of "The Shack", which is based on William Paul Young's novel of the same name.
"The Shack" tells the story of a fictional father, named Mack, who is struggling with the brutal murder of his young daughter, Missy, while on a family camping trip. One touching moment in the movie was the night before her murder when Missy asks Mack to pray with her to Papa. Papa is the family's affectionate name for God the Father.
While the family is a church going Christian family and has the strong support of their church community, Mack is very angry with God and his older daughter, Kate, blames herself for the tragic death of Missy.
While the rest of the family is away Mack receives a mysterious invitation to the Shack in which his daughter was killed and it was signed Papa.
He decided to make the trip and spends a fictional weekend with the Trinity. While there was considerable artistic license taken in portraying the Trinity, the story of the weekend teaches some very important lessons.
One of the lessons is that God is a loving God who is pained by human suffering. That there are times we must go through pain in order to grow and become the person God intends for us to be. There is a scene were God the Father is encouraging Mack to forgive Missy's murderer. You can see how this is obviously painfully for Mack. This was, however, very necessary for his own healing and for him to eventually help his older daughter, Kate, free herself for the guilt she felt over Missy's death.
We also learn that we can accomplish things with Jesus walking beside us that we could never accomplish on our own and that the Holy Spirit is there to guide us. We are also shown examples of free will, reconciliation and that Heaven is a beautiful place in which there is no pain, no suffering and no words that mean goodbye.
After the fictional weekend, we see a miraculous change in Mack's life and how he is able to help Kate release herself from the blame that she carries for Missy's death. This change results in the family once again being joyful and using their joy in the face of tragedy to glorify God.
The key to enjoying this movie and getting the most out of it is to realize that it is a work of Christian fiction and not a theological work that claims biblically accuracy. Those who have read my reviews in the past know that I have been critical of other movies that stray from the truth of the Bible. The distinction is that those movies attempted to present themselves as an accurate portrayal of biblical stories. The Shack makes no such attempt. It is a fictional movie with an inspiring message.
In my view this movie was well done with wonderful acting and tells a compelling story of grief and healing. It demonstrates how healing can be used to glorify God.
Some have criticized the movie as suggesting that it ignored the wrath of God. I did not see it that way. While talk of hell and damnation were missing, I didn't take that as a suggestion that hell does not exist. Rather that it was omitted because it was not consistent with the story's message of love, forgiveness, redemption and healing. There are other platforms where the discussion of God's wrath would be appropriate, this in my opinion, was not such a platform.
What I particularly liked was that The Shack emphasizes the Trinity. While there is considerable artistic license taken with the portrayal of the Trinity, which some might take issue with, I am pleased that the Trinity was not ignored. I was also pleased that the movie acknowledged that the Trinity is three in one, an important theological concept which is easily misunderstood. In my next blog post I will discuss the Trinity for those who wish a deeper discussion of this important theological concept.
My bottom line take away from this movie is similar to the take away I got after reading the Book of Job for the first time. God's knowledge is infinite, while ours is limited. There are times that we must be brought through pain to achieve what God has planned for us and which allows us to better glorify God.
I was also encouraged that our faith can not be based on what happens in the lifetime we have on earth. The ultimate blessings that God has planned for us, His children, occur in our eternal life, not in our earthly life.
Overall, I was very pleased with this movie and feel it will provide Christians with a great way to open up discussions regarding pain and suffering. It will also force those of us in ministry to be more prepared to discuss the difficult questions regarding why God allows pain and suffering.