Guest blog post: Expressing Sympathy During the Holidays

Suzie_Kolber_Obits (Below is a guest blog by Suzie Kolber on the subject of how to express sympathy during the holidays, which can be a difficult time for those who have recently lost a loved one. Suzie is a writer at ObituariesHelp.org. The site is a complete guide for someone seeking help for writing words of condolences, sympathy messages, condolence letters and funeral planning resources.)

The holidays can be such a fun, exciting time for most people. However, for those who have recently lost a family member or close friend, it can be a difficult, painful time. Everywhere they look, something reminds them of prior holidays spent with that person.

Depression is a common problem during this season for people who have lost their loved ones. If the anniversary of the death or the person’s birthday falls during this time, it can make the brightest days seem dark.

Avoidance

Many bereaved people tend to avoid others during this time. They don’t socialize or go out because they see the festivities as another painful reminder of their loss. On the other hand, friends and family members may tend to avoid the bereaved person because they don’t know what to say. It feels awkward to be around them and try to hide their natural excitement for the season.

While it is natural to want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the isolation only contributes more to the feelings of depression and loneliness. Family members and friends need to be aware of this and continue interacting with their grieving loved one.

What To Say

It’s normal to want to avoid someone when you don’t know what to say to them. However, your support and sympathy is needed, especially when someone suffers such a loss around the holiday season. The following tips will help you offer the comfort that is needed.

  • Offer assistance for the person who still has to organize the holiday celebration even though they are grieving. For instance, someone may have lost a spouse but has children who want to celebrate. They may need help with cleaning, cooking or even shopping.
  • Invite someone to your home for the holidays, especially if you are having a low-key celebration. This allows them to get out without being overwhelmed by the activities.
  • Invite the loved one to volunteer with you. Doing something like creating gift baskets for soldiers can help a person feel useful and remind them that they are not alone. Others may be missing loved ones for different reasons.
  • Be willing to talk about the deceased. Your job may be as simple as listening as the person relives fond memories. While you may think it would bring sadness to talk about the person who is gone, it can actually be helpful. The person is thinking about them anyway; talking provides healing.

If the person lives far away and you can’t visit during the holiday season, it is appropriate to send a flower or gift basket. You don’t need to wish them “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Instead, include a card that says that you are thinking of them. Just this reminder and a few lovely flowers can brighten their day.

Anytime is a bad time to lose a loved one. Suffering the loss during the holidays makes the pain even more severe for many. Reach out to those people and they will appreciate the comfort that you provide.

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Houses of worship: Providence Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

MSChurchesProvidenceBaptist Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

Continuing my series of photo blogs on houses of worship, I share a photo that is one of my most recent, but one of my favorites. Providence Baptist Church is an historic congregation that dates back to 1818, yet this church in rural Forrest County, north of the city of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, has a worship center that blends the classic and contemporary. On the classic side, there is the red brick and columns in front, with a white steeple. But the high pitch of the roof in front that juts forward, and the columns rising to meet it, give just the right contemporary touch. Add to that the curb appeal of a country church standing proudly on a hill, and this church building is an amazing eye-catcher.

Houses of worship: Black Rock A.M.E., Washington, Georgia

GAChurchesBlackRockAMEWashington

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I continue my series of photo blogs of houses of worship that I like with the creative design of Black Rock African American Episcopal Church near Washington, Georgia. This worship center caught my eye because of the amazing way that it brings together the entrance, steeple and pitch of the roof. I don’t know if there is any symbolic meaning to the three-part steeple on the front (perhaps for the Trinity?), but it certainly has an unforgettable look that I love.

Houses of worship: Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield, Georgia

GAChurchesBethelLutheranSpringfieldCopyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

Continuing my series of photo blogs of houses of worship I like, we see a great example of a wonderful Lutheran tradition. Notice the red door at on the sanctuary of Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield, Georgia. Local Lutherans tell me that many Lutherans paint their church doors red because one must go through the blood of Jesus to enter the church. That’s great theology, and the classic all-American white wooden structure to this congregation is outstanding for its simple beauty.

Houses of worship: Church of the Holy Family, Columbus, Georgia

GAChurchesHolyFamilyColumbus

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I continue my series of photo blogs of houses of worship that I like with a Roman Catholic church. The Church of the Holy Family is a traditional Catholic sanctuary located in downtown Columbus, Georgia. It caught my eye as a majestic example of modern church architecture in the Gothic style, so popular in Europe and among Catholic churches.

Houses of worship: St. Mary Magdalene Christian Orthodox Church, Rincon, Georgia

GAChurchesStMaryMagdaleneRincon

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I continue my series of photo blogs of houses of worship that I like, with a very unique worship center. The sanctuary of St. Mary Magdalene Christian Orthodox Church looks like it might be in Russia, but it’s actually located in a rural area just outside of the small city of Rincon, Georgia. This building shows that a congregation does not have to be large to build an absolutely gorgeous building. Notice the dome and cross, a popular design among Eastern Orthodox churches, and the icon above the front door, as well as the musical pipes on the front lawn.

Houses of worship: Tabernacle Methodist Church, Virginia Beach, Virginia

VAChurchesTabernacleUMCVirginiaBeach Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

This is the second installment in my photo blogs of houses of worship whose architecture I like. Tabernacle United Methodist Church is located in the Sandbridge area of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

This sanctuary is a white wood design that was popular among many Protestants in the 19th century, particularly Methodists. (This building was built in 1830). I particularly like how the building has an entrance that juts forward and then continues upward into a steeple. This congregation has also kept their building spotlessly clean and carefully landscaped. This is one of most eye-catching country churches that I have ever photographed.

Houses of worship: Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi

MSChurchesRichburgBCHburg

Copyright 2014 by Bob Rogers

I love taking photos of houses of worship. Over the next few days, I will post some of my favorites, and share what I like about them.

I’ll begin with Richburg Baptist Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This is a classic red brick worship center, especially popular among Baptists. Like many in this style, it has red bricks, with a white column porch in front. Yet this congregation added some other nice touches to that basic design. Notice the stained glass, the cross cut-out in the steeple, and the arched bell tower in front of the worship center, with a cross on top. Simple, yet beautiful.

Why it is reasonable to believe that God exists, Part Two

GodWorship A few days ago I posted here an essay explaining why it is reasonable to believe in God. With today’s post, we will look at three more specific reasons to believe in God’s existence.

I. First reason: The First Cause. (Psalm 90:2)

Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born, before You gave birth to the earth and the world, from eternity to eternity, You are God.” So God has always existed, but the universe has not always existed. The universe had a beginning, when God created it out of nothing.
But why should we believe this? We have clear evidence that the universe has not always existed. Instead, it began to exist. If it began to exist, what started it? What was the first cause? The answer is God!
Someone might ask, “How do we know the universe has not always existed? How do we know that it started sometime in the past?” We know this from logic, and science also confirms it.
Think about it. It is logically impossible for the past to go into infinity. It is impossible to count down from infinity to one. There is always an infinite distance to travel, so we never arrive. In the same way, if the past went on into infinity, we could never arrive at the present. But here we are! So there must have been a beginning. (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 219-223)
Science has also given us reason to believe in a first cause. In 1929, astronomer Edward Hubble discovered that a dozen galaxies near earth were moving away from us at high speeds. Scientists today agree that the universe is expanding, because it had a beginning, which they often call the “Big Bang.” Scientists don’t know what caused the big bang, they just know it happened. But as Christians, we know that caused the Big Bang. God spoke, and bang! It happened.
The Big Bang Theory is not the only scientific reason to believe in a first cause. There is also the second law of thermodynamics. This scientific law states that the energy in the universe is slowly but surely being used up. Like a fire that eventually burns out, all the energy in the universe is eventually going to disappear. Now here’s where it gets interesting. If the universe existed for eternity in the past, then it would have already used up all the energy by now. But here we are, with energy still available to use. So the universe is not eternal; it had a beginning in the past. What other way is there to explain this beginning, except that an all-powerful, supernatural person was the first cause? (Groothuis, p. 224-226)
The only answer atheists can have to this, is to argue that the universe was caused by nothing but a pure accidental explosion. Not only does it take more faith to believe the beautiful complexity of the universe had no cause, but such belief would also mean that everything in life is meaningless, and has no cause or reason. So would you prefer to believe that an all-powerful Creator spoke the word and brought the universe into being with a purpose, or would you prefer to believe that everything began from no cause, and life has no meaning? The choice is yours, but thank God we have a better choice than to live a meaningless life that began by nothing and has no purpose. Instead, it makes far more sense to believe that there was a First Cause, a supernatural Being, who brought the universe into existence, and that our lives do have purpose and meaning.

II. Second reason: Self-Consciousness. (Genesis 2:9; Romans 7:22)

Those who believe in Darwinian evolution, think that the human being is a mere biological collection of atoms that assembled by chance over a long period of time.
The Bible, on the other hand, says that God formed mankind from the earth, and we became a “living being.” (Genesis 2:9). Romans 7:22 talks about understanding something “in my inner self.” Whether or not you believe the Bible, we all know that we have an inner self, a self-consciousness. As the philosopher Rene Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.” I have an awareness of my own self; I have something within myself that makes me to be me.
But where in the human body is my consciousness located? Where is my self-awareness? No scientist has located it. Nobody can tell you that in this part of the brain, or any other place on the human body, is the location of self-consciousness. Nobody can tell you where it is, yet we know we have it.
And if I am only a biological collection of chemicals, then how do we explain the human appreciation for beauty, music, poetry and art, and how do you explain love?
If you are an atheist, there is no explanation for it. But if you believe in God, the answer is simple: God put it there.

III. Third reason: Religious Experience (John 9:25)

The man born blind who was healed by Jesus could testify to a changed life, and nobody could dispute his experience. In John 9:25 we read, “He [the blind man] replied, ‘Whether he [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!’”
In Isaiah 6:1-5, Isaiah had a face-to-face encounter with the Lord in the temple; in Acts 9:1-9, Saul met the Lord on the road to Damascus and had a life-changing conversion experience.
This series of blog posts was originally presented as a series of sermons at the church I was serving in near Savannah, Georgia. When I presented the message, a student at Armstrong Atlantic State University, came forward at the end of the early worship service to publicly profess her faith, and at the second morning service, she gave her testimony to the congregation. She told how she did not believe in the existence of God, but she began to seek God. She heard all of the same arguments for the existence of God that we have talked about last week and this week, but she was still undecided about whether she believed. Then she decided to go with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at Armstrong Atlantic State University on a mission trip to Haiti. That week, she prayed, and said, “God, if you are there, will you reveal Yourself to me.” Later in the week, she was walking through a voodoo area of Haiti, where all of the statues had been destroyed by the earthquake, and she looked up and saw a statue of Jesus on the cross. Her friend had been encouraging her to have faith in God, and right then she looked up and saw the statue. She decided that if she turned away then, she would never believe. That experience finally brought her to belief in God and faith in Jesus Christ.
The religious experience of millions of people is a powerful evidence for God. People can deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the fact that millions of people of every time, language and culture have believed in God and claimed to have an experience with God. When the white men first came to the New World, they found Native Americans who had never had contact with Western society, yet they believed in a Great Spirit.
Atheists sometimes claim that people who believe in God are ignorant, or even neurotic. But they have a more difficult time making this claim when confronted with the fact that so many great leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln believed in God, great musicians like Ludwig von Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach believed in God, great artists like Leonardo da Vinci believed in God and great scientists like Werner Van Braun believed in God. My late uncle, Dr. R.A. Clinton, Jr., was a rocket scientist who worked alongside Van Braun in building a satellite at the space center in Huntsville, Alabama. My uncle later became the leading American expert on Russian missile technology. Yet brilliant as he was, Uncle R.A. was also a believer, who taught Sunday School at First Baptist Church of Huntsville for over 25 years.
Atheists often claim that much harm and cruelty has been done in the name of God. However, atheists must also face the fact that millions of people were massacred by atheist dictators like Joseph Stalin and Mao-tse Tung. Atheists are correct that people with distorted views of God have done great harm, whether they were misguided people who claimed to follow Christ, as in the Crusades, or the brutal terrorists of ISIS. This points to the fact that it is not enough to believe in the existence of God; one needs to know the personal God who has revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ, and truly obey Him. True followers of Christ have fed millions of hungry and in the name of God millions of sick have been nursed to health. After Hurricane Katrina, there were no atheist relief organizations to help, but thousands of churches and Christian organizations came to help. The life-changing experience of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, is the greatest reason I know to believe in God. How about you? Do you believe?

Why it is reasonable to believe that God exists, Part One

CreationHands Many atheists today not only don’t believe in God, but they act like they are mad at God. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion and Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great are two of the bestselling books on God, and they are written by atheists!
Peter Hitchens, the brother of atheist author Christopher Hitchens, describes this attitude as a “rage against God.” He describes how one atheist “thanked God that he no longer believed in Him.” (Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God, p.19)
It makes you wonder why they fight so hard against somebody they don’t believe in, doesn’t it?
However, there are other atheists and agnostics who seem to have genuine struggles with believing in God. Timothy Keller is a Presbyterian pastor in New York City. He had a brilliant young scientist who struggled with this. He had a feeling that God existed, but as a scientist, he wanted proof that God exists. He said, “I can’t believe unless I find at least one absolutely airtight proof for God.” Finally, the young man began to realize that proof wasn’t necessary. What he needed was clues. If we have enough clues, we can believe. (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, p. 127-128) After all, a jury is not required to have absolute proof to convict a criminal, they are only required to have evidence that is “beyond all reasonable doubt.”
So, can we know that God exists, beyond all reasonable doubt? Yes, I believe we can.

It is reasonable to believe that God exists.
Atheists often ridicule people who believe in God as ignorant and stupid. “I don’t believe in God, I believe in myself,” says the atheist. G. K. Chesterton points out that most people who are in lunatic asylums believe in themselves, too. (Gilbert K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy, p. 175.) A man can believe he is a chicken and believe in himself. A woman can perform for the judges of “American Idol” and believe in herself. That doesn’t make their beliefs true.
I submit to you that it is more reasonable to believe in God.
Every argument that atheists use can be turned on them, and in addition there are many, many reasons that can be given to believe in God.
For example, atheists claim that belief in God is wish-fulfillment. They say that people wish there is a God, so they dream him up. But we can reply that atheism is wish-fulfillment. Atheists wish away any moral responsibility by wishing God did not exist so that they don’t have to be accountable to Him.
Again, atheists claim that belief in God is “the opiate of the people.” That is, they are saying that people escape reality by believing in God. But we can reply that atheism is the opiate of the conscience. In other words, atheists try to escape moral guilt for their sin by saying there is no God (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 130). Bob Gass says, “An atheist can’t find God for the same reason a thief can’t find a policeman.”
So every argument that atheists use against faith can be turned on its head. What’s more, there are many, many arguments that can be used in favor of faith in God. Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli list 20 of them. (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, pp. 48-86.) For the sake of time, I will give you three good reasons in this essay, and three more next time. First, we will look at these reasons: a reason from logic, a reason from design, and a reason from morality and conscience.

A. Logic. (“The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist.’” Psalm 14:1, HCSB)
There are many logical and philosophical arguments for the existence of God.
During the Middle Ages, a philosopher named Anselm had an interesting argument for God. It’s called the ontological argument. It goes like this: He said that the fact that the idea of God exists in our minds indicates that He is real. After all, God is the greatest being there is, so if He exists in your mind, then He must also exist in reality, because reality is greater than your mind, and if He is in your mind and He is the greatest being, then He must also exist in the real world! (Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, p. 187-188)
Over the years, people have debated back and forth whether Anselm’s argument is true or not. But even if Anselm’s logic does not prove that God exists, it is impossible to prove that God does not exist!
Proving that God does not exist is like proving that there is no gold in Alaska. It is much easier to prove that there is gold in Alaska. All one has to do is to find one speck of gold dust. But to prove there is no gold in Alaska, one would have to dig up every cubic inch of the largest state in the nation.
In a similar way, what would you have to know to prove there is no God? You would have to know everything! Once the famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair was debating Jerry Root. Root asked her, “How much of that which there is to be know do you claim to know, 10%?” She laughed and said, “Okay, 10%.” Then he asked, “Is it possible that God might exist and be part of the 90% of reality that you admittedly don’t know?” She paused and was silent for about a minute. Then she said, “No,” and quickly moved on to another question. She did not want to admit the obvious—that unless you have all knowledge, you cannot prove that God does not exist. (Art Lindsley, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, p. 85-86)
In fact, it is absolutely impossible to prove that God does not exist, unless you can prove that the idea of God is nonsense or a contradiction, and nobody has been able to do.
No wonder Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

B. Design (“For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20, HCSB)

In December 2004, Great Britain’s most famous atheist, Antony Flew, decided at age 81 that he could no longer deny the existence of God. What caused him to change his mind? It was the complexity of the scientific evidence discovered in nature, especially the amazing evidence of DNA, that made him decide that it had to designed by an intelligent Creator.
“I think that the most impressive arguments for God’s existence are those that are supported by recent scientific discoveries,” Flew said. “… I think the argument to Intelligent Design is enormously stronger than it was when I first met it.” (“Famous atheist now believes in God,” Associated Press, December 9, 2004; David Roach, “Famed atheist sees evidence for God, cites recent discoveries,” Baptist Press, December 13, 2004.)
The design of God’s creation, from the tiniest protein to the most complex galaxy is another reason to believe in the existence of God. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Atheists reply that the amazing complexity of nature happened by chance over millions, even billions of years. But as Antony Flew finally decided, it takes more faith to believe in chance than to believe God designed it! Why? Suppose a combination lock has numbers ranging from 00 to 99, and only one sequence of turns can open the lock (e.g., 34-98-25-09-71.) There are 10 billion possible combinations, but only one can open the lock. Saying that nature happened by pure chance is like saying that I randomly twirled the combination lock until it opened. It could happen by chance, but it might take a while. Let’s see, 10 billion seconds is a long time, isn’t it? Multiply that by every species that would have to randomly mutate into another species, and you get an idea of how unlikely it is that nature became so complex by pure chance. On the other hand, if someone turned the lock a few times and opened it on the first try, we would assume it was not by chance, right? In the same way, when we look at the complexity of creation, we can reason that it didn’t happen by chance, either, but God made it. (William Demski, The Design Revolution, p. 87)

C. Morality and conscience (“For I am Yahweh your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy.” – Leviticus 11:44, HCSB)

So we have seen that it is impossible to prove there is no God, and it is reasonable to believe in God because God has placed an awareness of Himself in each of us, but it is also reasonable to believe in God because of the scientific evidence of creation. Now let me give you a third reason to believe in God: the moral compass in your own conscience.
Leviticus 11:44 says, “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” Because God is holy, he calls us to be holy. We believe in morality because there is a God who is holy and good, who put that universal moral code in our souls and expects us to do right.
Atheists never get tired of telling us that everything happened by chance. We should ask them, then where did morality come from? Did we just happen to decide by chance that feeding the hungry is good and committing adultery is wrong? No, reasonable people recognize that morality is a quality within our souls. Peter Kreeft says that the “moral conscience is the voice of God within the soul” (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 73).
Many postmodernists would say that there is no God and no absolute right and wrong because everybody has to find his or her own truth. They would claim that what is moral for you may not be moral for me. Thus they would claim that morality does not mean there is a God, because different people have different morality.
We would disagree, saying there is a universal moral code, because everybody knows that murder is wrong, and stealing is wrong, and child abuse is wrong, and that feeding the hungry and healing the sick is good. But for the sake of the argument, suppose the postmodernists were right, that everybody has to find his or her own right and wrong. They would still have to admit that there is still one moral absolute: we all need to follow our own consciences. But where did you get a conscience, and why do you have to obey it? It must have been given to you by someone higher and greater than yourself, if you’re supposed to obey it. That Someone is God.
You see, if atheists are right, then there can be no moral absolutes and there is no reason to obey the conscience (Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 72-77).  Most atheists are peaceful people, but most atheists live in predominantly theistic cultures, where a moral standard influences believers and unbelievers alike. But it is a fearful thing to think of what the world would be like if the predominant view was atheism, and the culture felt no accountability to a Supreme Being. I believe we have already seen how violent this could be in history, through the French Revolution, Joseph Stalin in Russia and Mao Tse-tung in China.

We have seen that it is impossible to prove that God does not exist. We have also seen that it is reasonable to believe that God does exist. It is logical because the idea of God exists in every human, because God reveals Himself in the design of creation, and because of the existence of morality. In the next essay, we will look at three more reasons: that something had to cause the world to begin, that something causes us to be conscious of our existence, and the personal experiences people have had with God. We will cover those in more detail next time. But let me conclude with this simple question: Since it is reasonable to believe that God exists, why would you not seek to know God?
Jeremiah 29:12-13 says, “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
If you were going to seek God, where would you look? What is the best-known book in the world that more people have consulted to know God, more than any other book? It’s the Bible, isn’t it?
And when you read this book, what person rises to the top as the theme of this book? He is God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ, isn’t He? Listen to what Jesus Himself said about seeking God in Matthew 7:7-8: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
If you look for God, you will find Him revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus is like the magnifying glass of faith. When I put a magnifying glass over a book, the tiny letters come into focus as they become larger and clearer, and letters around the edges become distorted and unclear. When I seek God, I discover that Jesus is the magnifying glass that brings God into focus. In Jesus I see God in the flesh. In Jesus I see God’s love lived out by His sacrificial death on the cross. In Jesus I find how I can believe in God. (Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God, p. 139.)
I pray that you will seek God through His Son, Jesus, Christ.

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