Tag Archives: death

Longing For Another World

A slight melancholy fills the Knowlton home lately. Last Wednesday we drove to Three Lakes and dropped off Elisabeth at Honey Rock camp for “Passage”, Wheaton College’s adventure-based orientation program for first year students. After camp on Thursday, a bus will take her to campus where we will meet again and unload the paraphernalia for her new dorm home. She will start classes next Wednesday.

And now two of our happy band of five are missing.

We should have known this would happen; we saw it happen to others. We even saw it happen with our own when Josh left two years ago, but going from 5 to 4 still leaves a slightly noisy house. From 4 to 3 is…different. As I write, nobody’s home now. Diane is working. Annie is at Bible study. It’s just me, and I keep playing a song over and over again.

And then we said goodbye to Jeff Thompson and family on Sunday. For you who don’t attend Edgewood, Jeff has been our Worship Arts Leader for the last 8 or 9 years. He is so very gifted, and we will miss him.

If I sound depressed, I’m not really. Not really. I’m just feeling…sehnsucht, the German word which Wikipedia translates as “longing”, “yearning”, “craving”, or “intensely missing”. Maybe you could put it like this – sometimes I find myself more cognizant that I was not made for this world. And I think I know why this is…you see, there is an “impermanence” here…that doesn’t quite feel right.  I’m aware of that this evening.

We feel impermanence when our children leave the home, but of course, there is another…greater impermanence: my friend Jon Van Houten’s mom Gretchen died Friday, and her funeral was today. She was elderly…and godly, but we all know something is out of place.

We know that things should be more lasting than they are. Something within us knows that is the case. But when I step back and consider it, I’m really thinking about the other world…the one I was truly made for. C.S. Lewis first taught me about sehnsucht, and he elaborated on the phenomenon in his book, Mere Christianity

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

Yes, that’s it…and as I feel those desires more acutely in recent days, my eyes are being lifted to another world, and thus to that time when this world will begin

For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17 (ESV)

Paul closes these beautiful thoughts with a command…

Therefore encourage one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:18 (ESV)

Maybe this song that’s been on my heart this evening, Even so Come, by Kristian Stanfill will be such an encouragement to you…


For tomorrow, Thursday, August 20th: 1 Thessalonians 5


Posted by on August 19, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Why I Love a Good Cemetery

cemetery tombstoneI’ve been a fan of cemeteries for a long time; they keep you grounded.

But seriously, Ladies and Gentlemen, they do. After all, unless our Master returns (Come, Lord Jesus), we are all headed to a cemetery for long term storage. So they do have a way of keeping you…if not grounded, then humble. You see, when pride sneaks in, cemeteries remind me that in 100+ years, no one will remember me. I can imagine my genealogy-oriented descendent: “Oh, yeah, I had a great, great grandpa, Roger Knowlton, who was in the helping professions, I think. Maybe he was a social worker?”

(By the way, tell me the name of your great, great grandpa…yeah, I thought so.)

And one more thing about cemeteries – I love to walk amidst them and read the tombstones. I like to try to discern if the dearly departed was a believer and therefore, I trust, a future friend. Of course, with the limited data of a grave marker, such discernment is admittedly a tricky proposition, but some folks have made it easier than others. Take one of my favorites: many years ago, I was walking through the cemetery in Champaign, Illinois (where I received my Business degree at the University of Illinois) and I discovered my life verse:

“Christus ist mein leben, sterben ist mein gewinn.” Philippians 1:21 (Martin Luther’s translation), translated, of course, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (ESV)

I like the starkness of the German translated literally into English: CHRIST IS MY LIFE. DEATH IS MY PROFIT.

The logic behind this verse is impeccable. First, Christ is my life, and hearing this beautiful prose, every part of me wants to scream out – “Yes, yes, by God’s grace, yes He is!” And then, in the second half of verse 21, Paul uses financial terms: Gain and forfeit, Profit and loss.

You see, the majority of people around us consider death to be a loss, and they are absolutely right. For those who do not live for Christ, dying will mean the loss of everything, the loss of family, the loss of friends, the loss of peace and pleasure and all joy. Like a car crashing headlong full-speed into a semi, life itself will be a TOTAL LOSS.

But Christians also sometimes think of death as a loss, and that’s a mistake. Of course, in a very real sense, we don’t want to die. No one wants to say goodbye to dear loved ones. No one wants to go through the pain of disease or the wasting away of the body during aging. But the lesson of Philippians 1:21 is that beyond these very hard things, death for the believer…will be gain. Not debit, but credit. Not loss, but profit, and gain…great, great gain.

It’s enough to make you want to wander around cemeteries.


For tomorrow, Wednesday, August 5th: Philippians 2


Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Would You Know My Name…?

After Eric Clapton’s son Conor died tragically in 1991, the singer wrote a beautiful song asking a haunting question, a question that I believe many have pondered through the years:

Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?

Tears in Heaven, Eric Clapton

Will I know you in heaven? I think my mom used to wonder about this – somewhere she came up with the idea that we won’t know anyone there. Ergo, a hundred years from now, if you bumped into someone beyond the Pearly Gates, it might be your Uncle Melvin or it might be the Apostle Paul, but you wouldn’t know – you would both just have your celestial smiles on full power and say “Excuse me.”

What a sad and hopeless thought.

But fear not. It’s surely wrong. When Jesus went up on the Mount of Transfiguration, He knew Moses and Elijah, as did also apparently Peter, James and John. And even more importantly than that, the disciples knew that it was Jesus after He was resurrected. Well, mostly they knew, I suppose. He apparently wasn’t as easy to recognize as before, and there was a bit of fumbling, but overall they got it right.

You see, He was different…and yet the same. And that’s how it will be in heaven.

Paul writes about it helpfully in 1 Corinthians 15, as he says that our bodies on earth now are like the seeds and our bodies in heaven will be like the corresponding full grown plants:

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 (ESV)

I find this extremely helpful. It also answers the question regarding what happens to a body that is destroyed in death, as in a fire or just after centuries of decomposition (Sorry, I don’t mean to go all CSI on you). Anyway, if you’ve wondered about these things (and it’s not just my weird mind) lay your curiosity to rest – I can’t tell you exactly what it will be like, but I can tell you that it’s going to be wonderful. Your body on earth will be a kind of seed for a glorious resurrection body.

So the Apostle writes…

It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15:43-44 (ESV)

Now, I have a calling on my life that leads me into the inner world of dying people. And I can testify that when Paul says “dishonor”, he has chosen an apt word.  For there is no honor in the body when it is wasting away. And when he says “weakness”, well, I think he must have seen many before death as well. Weakness is all that is left.

But the wonderful truth of the resurrection is that the dishonor and weakness of our dying bodies ends in glory and power, yea, even in victory:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:54 ESV)

And so, make no mistake. When we bump into a dear loved one on the other side, we will do more than flash a cheesy smile and say, “Excuse me.”

We will look with love and wonder upon the victory that God has wrought…and we will greet one another by name.

For Tuesday, May 26th: 1 Corinthians 16

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Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


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How Death Helps Us

As I approached 50 (and then hit it) this past summer, I more and more began to think about how many years I have left.  I’m not trying to be morbid, but I think this is pretty natural.  However, it is different than the way I used to think.

As a young child, I vaguely remember watching the evening news on the Vietnam War.  Back then, when I contemplated dying like all the young soldiers on the news reports, I thought maybe I would be able to escape death somehow.  First of all, I thought that maybe I wouldn’t have to go to war like them, and second, I thought some scientist might find a cure for dying by the time I got to old age.

But the years and their accumulated wisdom have shown me that death is coming, unless of course the Lord Jesus returns, which of course would be much, much better.

Now, of course, from a Christian perspective, death is the enemy. And thankfully, because of Christ, death is in its death throes; and I, like all other believers, will be very glad for the day when death finally dies.

And yet…there is something about death that I find, for lack of a better word, helpful.  Now, maybe I’m crazy, because I’m actually not sure that I’m supposed to think this way, so feel free to write me letters. And obviously, it’s not helpful to me in that I have lost loved ones, or could lose others.  For this, I hate death.

But…it is helpful to me personally in remembering who I am.  As Casting Crowns sings so wonderfully, “I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapor in the wind.”

You see, without death, I think I might overestimate my own importance, like the nationally prominent pastor who was caught in sexual immorality sometime in the 80’s.  His denomination had a full, probably well-thought-through discipline and restoration process for him to go through, which through his national prominence he personally cut short after 3 months saying that his church needed him to come back, or lost people needed him to come back, or God needed him, or something.

And I thought at the time, “Nope, they actually they don’t need you.”  God didn’t need him any more than my church or the Lord needs me today. In fact, I, like everyone else, am quite expendable. And nothing teaches me this better than death.  It’s the old joke about the man who is working hard at his desk when Death with his hooded cloak and scythe shows up at the office door, and the man says, “I can’t die today; I’ve got too much on my to-do list.”  Right.  Don’t we all?

Death is the ultimate humbling experience. It speaks to the Hollywood star or the National politician or the self-important pastor: “I guess you weren’t so necessary after all.”

Paul knew this.  That’s right, even the Apostle Paul knew that he was replaceable…yes, expendable.  So when the prophet Agabus told him that he was about to be arrested and handed over to the authorities if he went to Jerusalem, and his friends subsequently urged him not to go, Paul replied…

“What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 21:13 (ESV)

How about that? For all he had accomplished, the Apostle Paul still didn’t think he was…necessary. He had a perspective on himself that came from God.  The work would go on without him quite well, thank you very much; and besides this, he had another understanding about the end of life that made his perspective on death quite palatable.  It is a truth he shared with the church at Philippi that made it possible to think about the end with both humility…and expectation:

“For to me,” Paul said with confidence, “to live is Christ…and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)


For Wednesday, March 11th: Acts 22


Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Saying Goodbye to Diane’s Brother Greg

Gregory%20K._Fenske_7450[1]“My sister’s getting married. Are you surprised?…are you startled?  I’m surprised…I’m startled.”

Diane’s only brother Greg, one of the appointed ushers at our wedding, repeated this mantra over and over as he passed out wedding programs on our big day. It was a glorious day, and yet the details of it grow foggier and foggier each passing year. But we can never forget Greg’s repeated greeting to wedding-goers. We love to tell the story of how surprised Greg was that his older sister had actually snared a man.

My brother-in-law, Greg Fenske, died this past Sunday. He was 39.

Diane had two siblings growing up, her brother Greg – nine years her junior, and older sister Laurie – a grade ahead. Greg was 6 weeks premature and was deprived of oxygen just after birth.  He grew up with special needs.

He also grew up with a special family.

Of course his sisters were terrific – delighting in their little brother – but I have never met more devoted parents than Barb and Ken Fenske. As a little girl, Diane grew up hearing from her parents that she needed to treat the “special” kids with love and concern. Perhaps it would be a Down’s Syndrome girl at the park, or another student in Special Ed at school.

And then, one day, a “special” one entered their family.

Life was hard for Greg, but also hard for his parents. Barb and Ken had all the same love and hopes and longings for their son that all parents have for their children: good friends, academic or athletic success, perhaps a significant other down the road. And until he entered first grade, they didn’t know their longings would be unfulfilled. But whatever had happened just after birth had taken its toll. Greg would operate at an elementary school level through life.

But it was roughly 10 years ago that a strange illness caused Greg to lose the ability to communicate. He would speak only very infrequently, and then often unintelligibly. Sadly, his ability to walk and move about at all became greatly impeded as well. And then, in the last year, Greg developed painful bed sores which became infected. Any and all antibiotics were ineffective. He moved to a nursing home months back, and then to the lovely Kathy hospice in West Bend just 7 weeks ago.

And through it all, his parents were at his side every day. The hospice workers remarked that they had rarely seen such devotion.

After Diane had come to Christ in the 1980’s, she brought the Good News home to her brother.  Greg heard and believed, trusting in the One Who had died and risen for him. When on Thursday of last week, she and I visited him, we talked again of the gospel. In an uncanny development, Greg had begun to speak again in the last few months of his life, and on that day, he was incredibly alert and responding to the verses we were quoting.

“Greg,” we looked into his eyes, “Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whoever lives and believes in me, shall never die.”

“Seriously?” he shot back, starting a new and more sober mantra. “Seriously?” Yes, dear brother, never more so.

And now we must say “goodbye”, or…better, “see you later”.  For as Paul said, “We do not grieve like those who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)  We’ll miss you Greg, but we will see you on the other side.




Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Uncategorized


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