Monday, August 31, 2009

Tribute to a friend

Joanne E. Sampl
November 28, 1961 - August 20, 2009

"Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem."
Zephaniah 3:14 (NIV)

Until I received the phone call informing me that my friend had died, I stubbornly prayed for her complete healing. I was on my knees many days pleading to our Lord God with words barely audible through my sobs.

With my eyes shut tightly and the telephone pressed firmly to my ear, I listened to Michael's words, "Joanne is with the Lord now." All I could reply was, "So. I guess it's finished then."

Joanne Sampl was my dearest girlfriend. According to my pea-sized brain -- borrowing a phrase from author and speaker Sharon Jaynes -- I believe Joanne died way too young. She was only 47 years of age.

Once asked by his teacher what the definition of a friend is, a young boy replied, "It's someone who knows what you're like and they still like you." That description fit Joanne beautifully. She knew me, and she still liked me.

Joanne moved into the house across the street from my home seventeen years ago. Our becoming friends was rather unique as with the exception of the first year of our friendship, we never lived in the same state, much less in the same town. The framework that linked our lives was formed through handwritten letters (yes, using cursive writing), telephone calls, and e-mails. The added times we spent together during summer vacations, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and an occasional retreat stamped our relationship with a 'face.'

Her two boys and my son and daughter often watched us in amazement. They wondered at our skill to talk for hours at length and carry on, at minimum, three different conversations at one time. Thankfully, our husbands understood. Girlfriends. Enough said.

It's been a little more than two years since I learned of Joanne's diagnosis of cancer -- a day I remember as if it were yesterday. We cried together in that phone call and I remember informing her quite adamantly that dying was not an option. After all, what would I do should she die. She was my best friend. In her quick-witted humor and not one to let such a self-righteous, self-serving comment pass, Joanne responded, "Oh, yes. That's right. It is all about you, isn't it."

During one of our last conversations, we talked about her greatest disappointment in dying. Joanne's comment, "I won't get to experience future grandchildren with Michael," led us to consider more deeply what happens when a person dies. Will she be able to see her grandchildren from heaven? Encouraging me to dig for an answer, Joanne assigned me the task to research our question.

With God's Word in hand and Christian teachers at my side, this is what I learned: I don't know if Joanne will be able to see her grandchildren from heaven. But, this is what I do know.

By the grace of God Joanne realized she was a sinner in need of a Savior. (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23)

Jesus Christ, the One and Only True Son of God, loves sinners. He died for our sins and rose again from the dead. (Romans 5:8; Acts 10:40-42)

Joanne knew Jesus is her Savior; He alone is the Way for eternal life in heaven. (Romans 10:9-13; John 14:6; Ephesians 2:8-9)

Heaven is a real place. (John 14:1-3; Acts 7:56; Hebrews 11:9-10; Revelation 21:1-2)

Joanne understood heaven is her eternal home; and the instant she died, her soul was in the presence of our Lord God. (Matthew 6:20; John 14:1-3; Romans 8:38-39)

There is no sadness in heaven; and while Joanne's mortal body rests in the ground, her eternal soul is in a condition of unimaginable peace and joy, a splendor the likes of which we cannot imagine, much less describe. (Revelation 21:3-5; 1 Corinthians 2:9)

Time on earth is not like time in heaven. One day Jesus will return in glory to earth and Joanne will receive a new body that's perfect, healthy, and without disease. (1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 2 Peter 3:8; Philippians 3:20-21)

I am grieving the death of my dear friend. But my sorrow is not without hope because there is one thing of which I am absolutely certain. By God's grace I, too, am believing Jesus died for my sins. When He returns one day, our Lord will bring with Him all who have died believing Him. I look forward to that grand reunion with loved ones who have died in faith. (1 Thessalonians 4:14)

Author and speaker Mary Southerland writes, "For the believer in Jesus Christ, heaven is the heart and soul of our faith. It is reality! For the unbeliever, heaven is a dream, a wish."

Yet, I miss Joanne. Part and parcel of grieving, this pain will gradually pass. Our relationship was such a beautiful gift from God; and as the days and months go by, I will continually discover the influence of her friendship on my life. In fact, when all is said and done, I realize Joanne's final "assignment" was more for my benefit than for her's. Even in her dying, she knew how to encourage me. "Take it to Jesus, Bon." she'd say. "Take it to Jesus." For now, I don't have all the answers; but some day I will know. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

My friend, what about you? Eternity is but one breath away and it's either heaven with Jesus or hell without. Those who trust in the redemption won by Christ our Lord pass from death to life. Not choosing Jesus is choosing hell; there are no other options. (Revelation 20:11-14)

By the grace of God, will you today recognize that you, too, are a sinner in need of a Savior; confess your sins before Jesus; and trust that in His love He saves you? (Romans 10:13)

Should we never meet this side of heaven, let's plan to meet on the other side.

Blessings, dear friend.
Faithfully Following

PS If this is the first time you've confessed your sins before Jesus and received His gift of forgiveness, I am celebrating with you! Please don't walk this new journey of faith alone. For your relationship with Jesus to mature it is important to remain in His Word daily, become involved with a Bible-teaching church, and receive encouragement from fellow believing Christians.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Take a friend with you

“Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.”

John 15:15b (NIV)

God was very purposeful in His amazing creation of the heavens and earth—and of everything in it. Distinctive in that is God’s creation of mankind.

When creating light; night and day; dry ground and seas; vegetation; sun, moon, and stars; and all living creatures of the air, sea, and land, God said, “Let there be…” (Genesis 1). Creating mankind, the “LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

Where God (Elohim) stresses the power of God as creator, the double title LORD (Yahweh) God (Elohim) stresses that the God of creation is also the God who comes into relationship with man, revealing Himself to man and caring for him. Built in the aspect of relationship is the role of friend.

The Bible includes many examples of friendship, including David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4); Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Daniel 2:16-18); Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila (Romans 16:3-4); and Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus (Philipians 2:19-25).

Jesus Himself had friends while living here on earth. Surrounding Himself with twelve men whom He taught and carefully discipled, Jesus also had an inner circle of three close friends—Peter, James, and John.

Without doubt, the ultimate friendship is with God. The Scripture writer in Exodus describes Moses speaking with God as “one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:1); and Abraham, whose faith was credited as righteousness, was “called God’s friend” (James 2:23).

More than a century ago Joseph Scriven penned the words of a poem to comfort his mother who was living in Ireland while he was in Canada. What a Friend We Have in Jesus became one of our greatest hymns when musician Charles C. Converse set that poem to music in 1868.

What a Friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Ev’rything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear

All because we do not carry

Ev’rything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?

Is there trouble anywhere?

We should never be discouraged,

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a Friend so faithful

Who will all our sorrows share?

Jesus knows our ev’ry weakness

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden,

Cumbered with a load of care?

Precious Savior, still our Refuge

Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer;

In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,

Thou wilt find a solace there.

(Source: The Lutheran Hymnal, Concordia Publishing House)

Dear friend, the LORD God is the friend for all time. He is mighty to save, takes great delight in us, quiets us with His love, and rejoices over us with singing. He has a plan when we’re confused, is faithful when we fail, and certain when we’re scared. We can trust Him for His promise to never leave us, to never forsake us.

Next time we meet, let’s take a look at characteristics of being a friend.

Blessings, my friend.

Faithfully Following

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

Psalm 16:5-6 (NIV)

Having placed the letter inside the mailbox and firmly pushing the box door shut, I turned and headed down the country road for my daily walk. I was deep in thought about my friend’s difficult situation; and as I walked, I mentally prayed that the note just mailed would bring her encouragement.

Making my way around a bend in the road, my attention shifted as my eyes were immediately drawn to a neighbor’s front yard.

In preparation for hosting an annual August Oktoberfest, our neighbor anticipated the additional care needed for the safety of his guests. Yellow ribbon was roped from tree to tree outlining the perimeter of his property. The line of tape clearly set apart the area in which partygoers could safely enjoy the evening’s festivities.


Continually repeated in large, bold, black lettering, this one word appeared to jump off the yellow ribbon. Passing motorists were alerted to the fact something out of the ordinary was happening and a higher level of attention was required as they drove this stretch of road.

What a vivid illustration of the Psalm 16 scripture verse running through my mind.

Appointed by God at a young age to become king over Israel, David led an amazing life. His rise to power, however, was filled with danger, setbacks, risks, and near escapes.

The youngest of Jesse’s sons, David tended sheep, killed both a lion and bear with his bare hands, and was so musically gifted he performed for the king. He fought and defeated the giant soldier Goliath and he lived as a fugitive for many years as he was hunted by King Saul who had dedicated his life to killing David.

Yet the Lord’s faithfulness to David, and David’s to the Lord, brought him safely through all these problems. David called on the Lord God when he was in trouble, expressed thanksgiving when he was delivered, voiced his trust for the future, and praised God for who He is. Satisfied with God, David was aware that having God he has all that he needs for a contented, well-directed, and secure life.

“The LORD has assigned me…the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places...” Perfectly capable and completely trustworthy, the Lord is good. Bolstered by the reminder and with renewed confidence, I picked up the pace and marched down the road with a determined stride.

You can be confident, too, my friend. The Lord knows the way that we take (Job 23:10). The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him (Psalm 34:7) and nothing will ever separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

Blessings, my friend.

Faithfully Following

PS When asking permission to take the photo for this blog post, my neighbor extended an invitation to join the evening celebration. My husband and I experienced a wonderful time with new friends, delicious food, and lively German music compliments of Shippensburg Blaskapelle German Band.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

It's all in the position

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

1 Peter 5:6-7

“Overwhelmed, stressed out, and on my knees looking up,” tumbled out of my mouth before I even gave much thought to my co-worker’s question as to how things were going.

Our sixth move was particularly hard for me. Physically separated from my husband for nine months as he began a new job, I wrestled with disappointment at leaving our son behind to finish his senior year in college. Between making plans for our daughter’s high school graduation and visiting various college campuses, I juggled the sale of a house in one state while attempting to negotiate at a distance the purchase of another in our new location. I loved my full-time job. Although it was very demanding, I knew I would soon be leaving it; and I worked hard at not adopting a short-timer’s mentality. Thoughts of giving up a wonderful church family were also weighing on my heart.

If this wasn’t enough, my daddy was struggling with Alzheimer’s disease at the time, and self-imposed guilt about not living closer to my family to help care for him did not help. Why in the world I chose to begin a weight-loss program at this point in my life is beyond me!

Are you familiar with Lladro from Spain figurines? If so, I’m sure you recognize the beauty of these pieces crafted from the finest quality examples of art in porcelain. Artists start a new idea or theme of a figurine and draftsmen and sculptors use their talents making each design come to life.

Through a careful expression of style and use of soft, bluish tones, individually-designed pieces portray messages appreciated by people from all walks of life. Where a Santa Claus figurine stands ready for delivery with list in one hand and bag of goodies in the other, the relaxing pose of a little girl dressed in a mouse costume gives Restful Mouse an appearance of peace and tranquility. Nina Communion is one of my favorite figurines. Kneeling, deep in prayer, with a serene facial expression, the image comes alive modeling a tender, reverent heart.

In the short New Testament book of 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter has a lot to say about Christian life and duties. Peter speaks of suffering, pilgrimage, courage, and hope; and he says he has written “encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12). The Apostle urges us in 1 Peter 5:7 to cast all our anxieties on God because He cares for us. In the verse prior, he also tells us the position we should assume and why. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,” Peter writes. Why? That in due time, He may lift us up.

Are stresses in your life swallowing up your energy? Are you feeling pressured by everything that's happening around you?

God’s grace is abundant (John 1:16; 2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Humility and humbleness of heart before Him are sure routes to His blessings (Proverbs 3:34). May we have calloused knees and the tips of our shoes worn as we come before Him overwhelmed, stressed out, and on our knees looking up.

Blessings, my friend.

Faithfully Following