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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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A Journey And A Moment

Life is a spiritual journey.  I have known this for a long time, but sometimes the farthest distance is from the head to the heart.  I am in my mid thirties, yet I have always had an interest in God and the bible.  From my youngest days I can remember enjoying the children’s bible.  Then in middle school I attended a Christian boarding school and professed to follow Jesus.  I thought that I had invited him into my heart.  Not until nearly thirty did I realize that there was a disconnect between my head and my heart.  I still don’t understand the nature of that disconnect, nor how Christ wasn’t in my heart when I thought that he was.  I can only chalk it up to brokenness – a word that our human ego seems to deny and defy.  It isn’t a pleasant word.  Ironically, it goes against our broken nature to view ourselves as broken human beings.

After twenty years of following Christ and emerging myself in Christian learning and culture, I arrived at seminary for what I thought was the next elevated step in my Christian walk and growth.  I didn’t know that it was only the beginning.  That first and only year of seminary had no other end in sight but to be a part of my journey towards having Christ in my heart.  A local church with a huge ministry for people who don’t know Christ, and a large sub-ministry for people who have earnestly sought him but somehow missed the mark was a key piece to this puzzle as well.  Uncomfortable conversations about my faith plus a review of months of personal journals while in seminary resulted in me asking God the bravest question of all: are you in my heart? An enormous vacuum of silence confirmed what had been shaking all my carefully constructed pieces of intellectual and biblical understanding. It was as good as a “no”, but due to the quietness, it was no harsh utterance but something gentle to my fragile broken ego.

When I did revisit that prayer of invitation, I was in full awareness of what I wanted and what I was doing.  That was my moment, my transaction. I traded my life and my sin for Christ’s life and presence within me.  This time was real.  This time I felt washed over and clean and free in ways that words cannot describe.  It was the experience I had been yearning for with ever increased urgency.  It was the union with God I had been wanting with progressive intensity.  My journey up until that point had been defined by straining towards God.  After that clarifying and fully engaged moment, I was impressed upon by the words “rest” and “real”, which almost felt literally deposited in my soul.  I also had an acute awareness that I could love. I thought that I had loved throughout my life, despite the discrepant self acknowledgment that I wasn’t even sure what love was.  The closest I’d ever come to defining love were words like adoration and affection, tender feelings and care for another. Suddenly God-love was placed in me, and the potential to actually give and receive it was born in me as surely as I was spiritually reborn.

Now I am on a new journey with God, an intimate journey with Jesus.  It is intimate because he is within me.  It is fun and adventurous at times.  It is quiet and peaceful at other times.  I still have intellectual growth and enlightenment.  However, my heart has joined hand in hand with my head in this journey.  I don’t walk with a restless spirit anymore, striving to keep up with Jesus or to catch him.  I see pictures sometimes in my head, and the single most image that recurrently graces my inner eye is one of Jesus’ smiling face.  His eyes are dark and twinkling and his smile reaches his eyes.  It takes nothing for this image to be in my mind.  And it probably isn’t a real picture of Jesus, but something he has given me to show me his character.  He is easy-going, calm, patient, glad, and full of love.  That’s how he looks at me every day.

Since that moment of invitation a startling near 7 years ago, I have grown and  I have strayed.  Grace is a new experience.  Grace has kept me for the past several years, years I could have spent growing in leaps and bounds.  But I don’t have to search for it anymore.  I just close my eyes and take a breath and I am there, before Jesus, who is kindness incarnate.  He never left me.  And I’ll take his hand again. My journey led to a moment, and my moment lead to my journey.  This blog hopefully will not remain blank. I hope to chronicle about my new journey, and I hope it inspires and encourages others.

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