Weekly Devotion for August 14, 2023

Either Way, We Win

By Rev. Park Hunter

“For me, living serves Christ and dying is even better. If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life and be with Christ, which is far better.”  (Philippians 1:21-23)

D.S. Park Hunter celebrates with the joyous saints of Lowell United Methodist Church July 24.
The closing hymn for the day was #701, “When We All Get to Heaven.”

I recently preached the funeral for Juliette Guth, a former United Methodist lay speaker and friend, who passed away following a slow battle with Alzheimer’s. At my first appointment in Wisconsin, Mosinee UMC, Juliette used to charge across the lobby, brandishing her knotty pine cane, and shouting “Praise the Lord, young man!”
Juliette preached every other Wednesday evening from sermons she wrote out longhand in a yellow notebook. Her homespun storytelling was so beloved that a group of churchgoers gathered their favorite messages and helped her self-publish a book. Her husband tells me that little book, titled “Praise the Lord,” has now hit 1,500 copies distributed internationally!
Juliette freely spoke about the challenges of her life. She married too young to a man who struggled with alcoholism. They lived in poverty and teetered on the brink of divorce multiple times. They lost one child to miscarriage and another to the AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s.
Yet Juliette also delighted in God’s blessings, filling her house with beautiful rocks, dried leaves, bugs, feathers, and shells. And she delighted in people, thriving as a sportswriter and newspaperwoman for many years.
It was while helping edit her book that I realized Juliette’s battle cry came from Job: “The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21 NLT)
Now isn’t that interesting? How many of us, like Job or Juliette, could shout “praise the Lord!” in the messy muddled midst of life, filled with calamity and joy?
Instead, we often torture ourselves with unanswerable questions. Why is this happening to me? What did I do? When Job finally gets a chance to ask God these questions, the answer is a challenge: “Can you shape the cosmos or create the whale? Then don’t expect to understand everything that happens” (Job 38ff paraphrased).
Cold comfort… or perhaps awesome advice. Can we release ourselves from having to understand, to know, to control everything around us? After all, what Jesus promises us is not total control or complete knowledge, but a spirit of peace – peace beyond understanding.
It’s no fun living through tribulations. Poverty is hard. Cancer sucks. Disaster strikes. Death stings. But people of faith trust our loving God to stand by us, and we know that a far better existence awaits us some day. Praise the Lord!
We can endure the tough stuff because we know better things are coming. And when we are blessed with a foretaste of the joys of heaven in this life, we know even better awaits.
Echoing Job and writing from prison, the Apostle Paul opened his letter to the Philippians with a short reflection: “If I live, I get to do God’s work. If I die, I go to heaven and get to see Jesus! I’m not sure which is better…” Paul tells them to rejoice regardless.
As long as we live, we live for the Lord.
When we die, we get to be with the Lord.
Either way, we win! Praise the Lord!
Prayer:    Lord Jesus, grant me peace in the midst of life. In trouble, let me glimpse hope and so endure. In joy, let me see the divine and so thrive. In all things, let me serve you with peace and joy. I commit myself, those I love, and the world in which we live to your grace and care. May your kingdom come upon earth, until we come to your kingdom above.  – Amen