Staring Down Death

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“In the long run, we are all dead.”  John Maynard Keynes

“Are you afraid to die? Remember that for a child of God, death is only a passing through to a wonderful new world…”  Corrie Ten Boom

 “We can expect seventy years, or maybe eighty, if we are healthy, but even our best years bring trouble and sorrow. Suddenly our time is up, and we disappear. Teach us to use wisely all the time we have.”The idea of death is unpopular, unsettling and perhaps a little rude.  It is a great way of putting a good conversation into flight-stopping stall.  No one likes it (except maybe ‘Goths‘ and the perennial AC/DC fan).  It is perhaps ‘too true’ and the reality keeps us from dwelling on it.  But it is going to happen, you will die.

 “We live for seventy years or so (with luck we might make it to eighty), And what do we have to show for it? Trouble. Toil and trouble and a marker in the graveyard. Oh!  Teach us to live well!  Teach us to live wisely and well!”

Ps. 90:10, 12, MSG

Our modern society has made considerable effort to avoid the subject of death.  Thinking through this strikes me as unhealthy and confusing.  Through the past centuries, our present day attitude would be regarded as strange by them.

The Bible teaches us how to prepare to die well. 

We have been given several decades of life on this planet, but not much more than that.  The psalmist recognizes this.  He prepares for his/her personal appointment for death.  He prays that he will use wisely all the time he has left.  Psalm 90 has been part of that preparation for millions of Christians, for many centuries.

One way to help you purify a faith that is strong enough to look death straight in the eyes, is to have a few older Christian friends.  For me there is Pastor Ray.  He is in his 80s now.  I see myself marching behind him, and watching his back as he moves to heaven.  It helps me follow in some small way.  It gives me peace.  Maybe that is how it is supposed to work.

The Bible is a book that is to prepare us for death, and then eternity.  It is our compass as we look for ‘true north’.  It has instructions and guidance, if we listen to the voice, it will bring us through the ‘door of death’. Fear not, little flock.  It is God’s pleasure to give you the kingdom”.

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 “Lord, please get me ready to see you.  Teach me how to live wisely, and not as a foolish person.  Teach me to be a model of faith and strength to everyone who is watching me move toward death.  Give me courage and faith.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.” 

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My ‘Agape’ Jalopy

Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead, seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. ”  — Michael Yaconelli

My “Agape” Jalopy

Accepting ourselves is a lifelong process.

We talk of “accepting Christ”, but for many that really is not the problem.  When we talk about Jesus, there is such an attractiveness about him, that makes ‘hard-boiled’ agnostics stand back and grudgingly admire.  But, to accept “me”, well that takes more then just a bit of imagination.  When your depressed or anxious it just escalates the problem.

We just don’t like ourselves.  Sometimes I think that if I met me, I would think, “What a jerk! ”  Having psychiatric issues only intensifies and focalizes my sin into a horrifying mess.  I’m not just a loser, I’m a loser on steroids.  A supreme loser!  I’m certainly not the red Ferrari, I am obviously the rusty Edsel with the balloon tires and a lousy heater.

The remarkable thing though is not my spiritual unattractiveness, but God’s irrational love for me.  The New Testament writers used the word we translate “love” as “agape“.  That Greek word meant a love without any conditions, a selfless love, a love that was passionately committed to the well being of the other.  Actually, it is a love that goes out of the way to care for its enemy.  That’s the audacity of agape.

We do the mental gymnastics to try to grasp the definition.  We strain and contort but it defies comprehension.  We grab, hold it, and then it gets loose and we clutch air.

“This is how much God loved [agape] the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life .”                                

 -John 3:16, MSG

When I tell you, “Jesus loves you”, you will probably smile politely, nod and say “I know,” and turn away.  But, once in awhile, “lightning will strike,” you will look up in stunned amazement, with tears in your eyes, and whisper, “I know”.

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Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.” — Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality

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I Want Home

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‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.”                                                                                  

Jeremiah 32:17, ESV

“One should go to sleep as homesick passengers do, saying, “Perhaps in the morning we shall see the shore.” 

Henry Ward Beecher

I have never been there, except in a stuttering way on my knees in the Lord’s presence.  From there it is like climbing a mountain, and breaking through at the summit.  It is an astonishing awareness of home.  It is where I belong.  He wants me there.

But most of the time, I’m slogging through the peanut-butter of everyday reality.  It’s ‘scootch-slide-scootch’ most of the time.  But I recall my last trip up, so I hold on to that fragrant memory, and it is a tremendous relief to think about his presence.

I want home.  I can’t wait.  I hope he’s not disappointed in me, or disturbed by the fact that I have made such little progress.  The depression and despondency will slough off its skin like a snake.  I will know true freedom.  This is a sure thing.

I want home.  The presence of Jesus is waiting.  All of the knots will be worked out.  The dark burdens that nip at my heels will disappear.  This change is going to be powerful, and most certainly dramatic, and I want home.

For those of us who believe, we will arrive at a place of profound blessing.  We will squint back at our life on earth, and wonder what it was all about.  A hundred thousand years from now it will seem like a difficult dream which we really can’t remember upon waking.

We will be moving toward him.  There will be a magnetism that will exert its pull on our wandering hearts.  He will draw us to himself.  Guilt and shame, which has deeply infected us will be eradicated.  Sometimes, when people train to run they will wear “training weights,” creating more of a burden that has to be overcome.  In that way heaven can be understood, for we have spent over 50 years training for that place.

We come into all of this like a man who has been lost in the desert. Without water, we stumble into what looks like a watery oasis, and we find a refreshing relief.  We have been “saved” from a certain death.  When we consider what has happened, and how the superheated desert almost destroyed us, we will marvel, and that quite often.  Each one there will have a story of failure and faith, and we will listen and than tell our story as well.

What has to be stated, and restated, is the astonishing presence of Jesus in that place.  Not only in our thinking, but in a real concrete way.  Heaven is not an ethereal thing.  It is solid and strong.  We don’t imagine heaven, instead we are pounded by it.  It is more real than real, with a solidity that we will find most refreshing.

Hold on guys, keep your crown.  Don’t let anyone snatch it from you.  Advance into his presence, and let him do his stuff on you.  He loves you, far more than you love him.  He is pursuing you more than you are pursuing him.  Somehow that is quite comforting.  I want home!

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When Brutality Smashes Into Grace

photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr
photo, by Jonny Jelnek- Flickr

“Or God disciplines people with pain on their sickbeds,
with ceaseless aching in their bones.” 

Job 33:19, NLT

“Don’t waste your pain; use it to help others.  Your greatest ministry will most likely come out of your greatest hurt.” 

Rick Warren

There really is not anything I can say about your pain that will make you feel better.  Words and counsel are almost always pathetically weak. Many will want to speak to you, they mean well, but seem to lack authenticity and wisdom.

Pain, in every way is always evil and dark.  I have friends who struggle with migraines, and others with Lou Gehrig disease.  A few friends have been incredibly injured, with bad disabilities.  Some have severe diabetes and one has a degenerative hip syndrome.  A dear elderly saint is in her later stages of Alzheimer’s. One of my friends has cerebral palsy. I had very close friend who just died with colon cancer.  Pain has been a constant companion to them. It is a definite issue.  And yet, there are also terrible mental disorders– and vicious schizophrenia, depression, and frightening paranoia that cripples them, they need medication.

We who hurt deeply, have an option of growing into gentle people.  Gentleness is not a given, in so many ways it is earned.  Not in the sense of attaining something, but “experiencing” something.  Our pain drips down on us while we sleep, and we discover we start caring about others, which is new.  Tears of love, mercy and grace begin to flow, often coming after years of stoic hardness.

“Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings.” 

Exodus 3:7

Having to live for the rest of your normal life with this pain can be horrifying, and incomprehensible.

God’s grace does meet us, we find.  But there are some moments of empty desperation.  So few understand, and even fewer can help.  Some have asked me if I had the faith to be healed.  But, doesn’t it take just as much faith to be ill? Think about it.

If you had never known afflictions in your own life, how do you think that you can touch those ‘nail-scarred’ hands which Jesus meets you with?  And the apostles, and all those martyrs from every generation in an unbroken line of suffering.  Grace grows considerably faster from a bed of pain.  It has our Father’s “Miracle Grow” in it.

Some should try to readjust themselves.  Faith doesn’t always lead us to sweet victory; but it does lead us to obedience.  And when it grows this way, sometimes victory will come.  But our Father places such a premium price on our obedience.  When we hurt, we grow.

“Ah, afflicted one, your disabilities were meant to unite with God’s enablings, your weakness to combine with His power. God’s grace is at hand –sufficient– and at its best when human weakness is most profound. Appropriate it and learn that those who wait on God are stronger in their weakness than the sons of men in their stoutest health and vigor.”

F.B. Meyer

“He who learns must suffer
And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until in our own despair, against our will,
Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Aeschylus

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