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Death: Think About It

Death: Think About It

When I stumbled across the saying “no man is an island” many years ago, it immediately resonated with me. I believe it means that in some way we are all connected, and that when one person dies, it affects us all. If we learn of death, whether it is someone we know or not, it has an impact that ranges from mild disturbance – a niggling at our sense of mortality – to shattering our world in cases of close connection or mass death so close to home.

Any brush with death or near death experience, or observation of accidents and injuries can have this same effect. For about a year now I have had an increased awareness of death and the brevity and fragility of life. Some of this was brought on by a few near wrecks while driving or by passing accidents on the road, as well as reflections on the way I have been living and not living.

This occasional and ongoing sense was heightened, perhaps divinely, by the sudden death yesterday of a church member where my mother attends. It is odd for this to have affected me so, for just a year and a half ago my stepfather passed away. Yet it is this recent death which topped off my awareness of my own mortality to the point of my cup running over.

I did not know until today, however, that three other people by association had also died yesterday. Earlier today I did the infamous open the bible and read what’s there, and it opened to Ecclesiastes chapters 7 – 9 and here is what I encountered:

Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
    After all, everyone dies—
    so the living should take this to heart.
 Sorrow is better than laughter,
    for sadness has a refining influence on us.
 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
    while a fool thinks only about having a good time. (Ecclesiastes 7 2-4)

None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle… (Ecclesiastes 8:8)

The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious… Whatever they did in their lifetime—loving, hating, envying—is all long gone. They no longer play a part in anything here on earth. (Ecclesiastes 9:3 & 6)

Utterly timely and, I believe, at the hand of God. Following yesterday’s church service about listening to God and hearing from God, I had been praying for Him to do just this. And so he did. And it was what was needed, for I have been in a long and progressive season of what traditional churches call “backsliding”, but what I define as a gradually increased distance from God and disconnect between us due to my actions and inaction. I have for too long neglected to meet with God to the point where it is painful to feel the gap.

So last night and today have been spiritually sobering for me and the end result is a turning within. This death, these deaths, and my own impending death have had a “refining influence” on me. I will not go into the spiritual work that occurred within me last night, but I have turned. I have turned towards God, recommitted myself to Him, and re-surrendered, or perhaps truly surrendered all for the first time.

I do not want to waste another day missing out on a relationship with God. I do not want to remain in a stagnant, purposeless life governed by inadequate self control and self leadership. Something new has happened in this ‘turning’. I look forward to the life brought on by the subject and nearness of death. Death, which is a servant of life, has pointed the way for me, its gruesome countenance admonishing me to turn around and face the countenance of my Savior and King.

We fear death, because it has the power to take life. But death also has the power to point us towards life, to create within us a paradigm shift if we will but think and respond. It is counterintuitive for most of us, but as the Ecclesiastical writer states, it is foolish to not think upon death and let it refine us unto life. And it is wise to let the message of death sink in, and to let the only One who conquered death and rose from it bring us into true and lasting, pure and eternal life.

That life leads to death is an ever present sorrow. Yet there is hope, for death leads to life.

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Grave Day: Easter Reflections

Grave Day: Easter Reflections

Today is a grave day.  Not because I’m sad, not because anything has happened or that it is dismal and gray outside. On the contrary it is absolutely beautiful outdoors.  The sun is shining, it’s warm out, and the spring leaves and flowers are becoming fuller.  It is a grave day because today is the 2nd day in this Easter season.  It is the day Jesus’ body was in the tomb, the large stone secured and sealed because the Jewish leaders feared it would be rolled away in the night by Jesus’ disciples.  The Jews feared a resurrection conspiracy and had spoken with authorities to ensure that it was not only sealed but guarded by soldiers.

So I have been contemplative today, wondering what that 2nd day in history was really like.  It was a bleak day for those whose lives were forever touched by Jesus, and an anxious day for his haters. Regardless, all of them were wondering if what Jesus said he could do (raise the broken temple, literally and figuratively) would really happen.  So I turned to an online bible and looked for passages that talked about the crucifixion and resurrection and found something entirely different to wonder about.

In Matthew 28:2-4 it says that after the Sabbath dayThere was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” Yet later on in Matthew 28:11-15 it saysWhile the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened.  When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money,  telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’  If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.”  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.” 

OK, what happened here with the Roman guards? They witnessed a powerful earthquake and an angel descend from they sky.  The angel was obviously very “angel like”, supernatural enough to freak the guards out and cause them to faint.  How would an experience like this affect a person truth wise? How can a person not believe something God-sized has just occurred? I’m sure that “some of them” did, because the verse says that “some of the guards” went to tell the religious leaders (chief priests) what had happened. To me, this implies that “some of the guards” stayed behind, and by further and perhaps liberal implication, I believe those particular guards may have at that point believed that Jesus was really the Son of God and had truly raised from the dead.

But I’m disturbed by the actions of the other guards who gave their report to the chief priests.  These are the ones I assume that, while scared to death, didn’t believe the spiritual truth and ramifications of what they had witnessed. And for whatever they believed about what had happened before their very own eyes, they sold the truth in order to save and enhance their own lives.  By accepting the Jewish leaders’ “large sum of money” to lie and tell people that a scam had taken place by the disciples taking the body from the grave, they sidestepped rebuke from their superiors for “slacking on the job” and letting this happen, plus that “large sum of money” was surely enough to live comfortably for a long time.

After witnessing a miracle, a God-sized event, not to mention a supernatural being, they sold the truth.  For self-protection and provision they sold the truth.  Wow.

But don’t people do that today? How many people witness God doing miraculous things, yet they don’t buy the truth of it? Like a surgeon who watches a patient clearly, scientifically, medically doomed suddenly have test results that come back stating a clean bill of health.  Or a person living a completely “hell-bent” life suddenly coming in to work radically changed, talking about how Jesus changed his or her life, talking crazy madman spiritual stuff that is as foreign to that person as another language.  Or a personal God experience, like hearing or seeing something that seems so clearly from God, or hearing a message and feeling so heavily the strong urge within to say “yes”, to respond, to believe and receive the thing so badly yet inexplicably desired?

There are countless examples of God-works throughout our lives.  And there are just as many “bribes” offered to us to sell the truth of what we’ve witnessed or experienced.  Sometimes it really is money and the protection and provision it brings. Some people would rather live comfortably than to risk anything that might compromise the layers of security carefully constructed by meaningless but oh so useful ‘green paper’. Some would rather sell the truth to keep relational peace, fearing the perception of others: “What would my family and friends think if I let Jesus into my heart and started behaving like a ‘religious nut’?” Others sell the truth for identity and independence no matter how powerful the God-sized evidence is in their life.  They don’t want to give up who they are and the control they have over their own life.  Humanly speaking, who would want to do that? I still struggle with that one, even though I know that no one knows who I truly am and can be better than God, and no one is more equipped to steer my life than One who is good and literally called Love.

Again, wow.  This Easter I challenge all of us to put ourselves in a place where we can witness something otherworldly and powerful.  To go to a church service, whether in person, on TV, or online and get ‘close to the tomb’. And for the life of us, and everything that temporally and eternally matters, not to sell the truth for a temporary substitute or bribe.  How grave a decision “some of the guards” made that day in history.  How I pray so many of us will not repeat history this Easter Sunday and match it with our own grave choices.

Blessings to you wherever you are this Easter. If you don’t have a service to attend, or you physically cannot get to one, or if your schedule is crazy and you want to watch an Easter service online at a later date, I invite you to join me at a place that miracles happen every day.  I can tell you this, tomorrow will be a day when earthquakes will happen in the lives of many people who will witness the truth of God’s love for them.  They will choose to receive the God-sized Truth that has pursued them patiently their whole lives!

Wow!

Join me online this Easter at your convenience to hear about how maybe God has a ‘fresh start’ personally gift wrapped just for you!

Quest Community Church

 

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