against the fear of death

A Miktam of David.

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”

As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble,
in whom is all my delight.

Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names upon my lips.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
I have a goodly heritage.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
my body also rests secure.
For you do not give me up to Sheol,
or let your faithful one see the Pit.

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Psalm 16

The fear of death hits us in all kinds of ways, and it really doesn’t matter how old we are. Though as we get older, it’s more pressing, since we realize more and more that our time is limited. But even when we’re younger, and older years seem remote, we can be plagued with this fear. “What if we get some disease?” Or this or that. Sadly, so many have died from accidents and other things which can happen in this life.

This psalm points us to the hope we have in God. It’s distressing even to think about death, and what surrounds it. But it’s a fact of life we can’t escape. We do well to look to the One who will help us live beyond this fear while it’s present, and will see us through when it comes.

Meanwhile we don’t accept the attitudes of the world to run after something other than God, making that a god to us. Instead we throw in our lot entirely with others who are intent in waiting on and seeking God. And we experience God’s faithful love in the day, and through our sleep at night. Like a compass directing us, the Lord keeps moving our hearts toward his love, even in the midst of the troubles and even tragedies we face in this life. The Lord counsels us, and continues to give us the help we need.

The sense of God’s presence in and of itself brings fullness of joy. Ours even in the present, and unbroken and forever in the life to come. In and through Jesus.

an important part of the story: we’re mortal

A PSALM OF THE SONS OF KORAH

Listen, everyone, listen—
earth-dwellers, don’t miss this.
All you haves
and have-nots,
All together now: listen.

I set plainspoken wisdom before you,
my heart-seasoned understandings of life.
I fine-tuned my ear to the sayings of the wise,
I solve life’s riddle with the help of a harp.

So why should I fear in bad times,
hemmed in by enemy malice,
Shoved around by bullies,
demeaned by the arrogant rich?

Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue,
pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.
The cost of rescue is beyond our means,
and even then it doesn’t guarantee
Life forever, or insurance
against the Black Hole.

Anyone can see that the brightest and best die,
wiped out right along with fools and idiots.
They leave all their prowess behind,
move into their new home, The Coffin,
The cemetery their permanent address.
And to think they named counties after themselves!

We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

This is what happens to those who live for the moment,
who only look out for themselves:
Death herds them like sheep straight to darkness;
they disappear down the gullet of the grave;
They waste away to nothing—
nothing left but a marker in a cemetery.
But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death,
he reaches down and grabs me.

So don’t be impressed with those who get rich
and pile up fame and fortune.
They can’t take it with them;
fame and fortune all get left behind.
Just when they think they’ve arrived
and folks praise them because they’ve made good,
They enter the family burial plot
where they’ll never see sunshine again.

We aren’t immortal. We don’t last long.
Like our dogs, we age and weaken. And die.

Psalm 49; MSG

We need to let this sink in, and sink in further. We’re mortal. We’re going to die. Period. This isn’t the entire story from the Bible, but it’s an important part of it.

There are small hints in the Old/First Testament that there may be something beyond death. Some would say large hints, but I think if you read the Hebrew and consider carefully interpretation from that, you would lean more on the barely present side. Not until the intertestamental period (between the Old/First and New/Final Testament) are books written which bring out the hope of the resurrection. And of course that’s the faith of the New Testament in the good news of Jesus.

But we need to let the realization that we’re mortal soak in. I think we can say that God created us to live forever, but best to say, with that potential. We are made from the earth, clay, and back to the earth we will go. We have hope beyond that in Jesus, for sure. But we need to let this soak in well first. And no better way than to read and ponder Psalm 49, The Message a nice, interesting rendering of it.

holding on to faith in the midst of a pandemic

Christians are not afraid of death, even though it remains an “enemy,” the last enemy that will be done away with. We realize it’s both inevitable, and that through Jesus’s resurrection, it is not the end. Through faith and baptism (Romans 6) we participate in that resurrection so that in and through Christ death is not the end for us.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic, for some reason the book of Job comes to my mind. Everyone has an opinion, and often the opinions are at variance with each other, indeed in opposition. Everyone has their say along with Job, who questions God and finds no easy answers. Job’s faith is tattered, maybe one might say shaken, yet is not in ruins. It remains, as he continues to answer those who have all the right answers from their ivory tower position. We know that God steps in and points Job to his creation, things well beyond Job, and somehow in that, Job is able to find peace in realizing that he simply doesn’t know, and in accepting that.

For me, I am questioning the faith of others who seem to deny science, and want to carry on as if everything is normal, and much of that with the view I suppose of trusting in God. Of course nowadays there are all kinds of political stuff thrown in, so that your views and how you think are often mostly partisan, determined by your political party and its platform or general view, or what it holds to. Not really dependent on faith, and I would say a well thought out faith.

Science is in the crosshairs and crossfire of all of this, being the bogeyman for too many. There is no way we can understand what to do about a virus by opening up our Bibles and praying. Yes, we need to do that always, every day. But to understand natural phenomena, we have to study it on its own terms. I won’t understand a whole lot about a flower except by learning from those who have studied it, how it takes hold from being a seed in the soil, how it grows, how it thrives and passes on not only its beauty, but provision to nature. So it is with the virus: We have to listen and take seriously science, or pay the consequences.

To think about science would require another post and much more. Modern science is simply the discipline of observation, hypothesis, testing, verification, and on and on. It is not closed, so that it doesn’t purport to have final answers. And indeed it can’t speak in matters in which faith speaks, like why the flower exists beyond the scientific reasons given.

All of that to say this: In the way of Jesus, we hold on to faith in God, but an intelligent or thoughtful faith. Refusing to give in to fear, but not acting foolhardy, either. Not jumping off the cliff like Satan suggested the Lord should do, who promptly quoted him Scripture in context, that we’re not to put the Lord our God to the test.

This can test us, how we see others expressing their faith, not unlike Job’s struggle, I suppose. In the end we have to do our best, but wait on God. Only with God’s help and through his word will we eventually come to more and more of the perspective we need. In and through Jesus.

in the way of Christ is healing

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:21-25

Someone recently told me that only as our wounds are exposed, brought out into the open, can they be healed. I’m referring to inner wounds. I think there’s truth in that. After all, we can’t deal with what hurts us by ignoring it, or just holding it in. Sooner or later that will come out in ways that often are not helpful for others, even for ourselves.

Yes, we need to get everything out in the open before God. See the Psalms for example after example of that. And found in other places throughout Scripture, as well.

Peter’s words by the Holy Spirit actually point us in another direction for our healing. We’re told that we’re to follow Christ’s example in accepting suffering. This was actually written directly to Christian slaves (hit above link). Slavery then was different than what we think of now, in our American context. Yet still certainly an institution brought on by sin, destined not to last, certainly at least not in God’s economy, and God has the last word.

We’re told to do this and then told that we’re healed by Christ’s wounds. Not sure precisely what this means, except that it has to do with our sin problem and the impact that makes on our lives, and on the lives of others.

It is amazing, the impact of sin on us. We’re better off to persevere past whatever sin or fallout from past sin is plaguing us. And we surely do that in part by following what we’re being told here. We have to trust that God is healing us because of Jesus’s suffering, as we walk in the way of that suffering. In and through Jesus.

 

the end of the last enemy

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God my Savior!
He is the God who avenges me,
who subdues nations under me,
who saves me from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me.
Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.

He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing love to his anointed,
to David and to his descendants forever.

Psalm 18:46-50

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Corinthians 15:25-26

God is going to take care of all the enemies of humankind: the basics of that being sin and death. We see proof of that in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ, along with his ascension and the promise of his return.

None of us look forward to death, unless one is quite sick. We don’t. But it’s a fact of life, and the sooner we can reconcile with that, the better. At the same time we don’t have to fear, because Christ has taken the sting out of death, and made it the gateway into life, eternal life, by his death on the cross.

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

We win, included in that victory, the last enemy to be destroyed: death itself, in and through Jesus.

 

 

the end is coming; the inevitability of death

…death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2b

It is tragic to read of the death of younger people from accidents or illnesses, even fatalities. We say “before their time,” which is well said, because people want to “live out their days.”

When one gets older, it’s inevitable to start thinking more seriously about the inevitable. Or at least that seems the healthy thing to do on balance. The “Teacher” in Ecclesiastes tells us so.

Once upon a time, death was taken more seriously since it seemed to make its rounds more often and with greater intensity. Death was a part of life, and there was no denial of it.

Nowadays it’s different. People seem to look much younger in their fifties, and it’s generally expected, or at least hoped that one has good health well into their seventies, and even beyond. Medical advances and healthier lifestyles contribute to this. But along with that easily comes the deception that we no longer have to look death in the face. Or that it’s some foreign intruder that we would just as soon ignore, so that we easily forget about it.

On Ash Wednesday, a big part of the ceremony of marking a cross with burnt ashes on the faithful’s forehead is to acknowledge one’s mortality. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” We are mortal. We will die. We need to take that to heart, so that it can inform and indeed form our lives. And there’s more to it.

…people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment…

Fortunately for us, that passage doesn’t end there.

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Hebrews 9:27-28

Christ has taken care of our sins, so that all we have to do is repent and believe. Stop thinking we’re okay, or have things in hand, or can do better, or can take care of our problem ourselves. And instead entrust ourselves to Christ, receiving God’s gift of salvation in him through his death and resurrection.

I think of legacy, what one leaves behind, and I have to admit, I’m not that impressed. That surely does have some truth in it. But it seems more than less that God simply blesses one’s family or those one’s life touches through the blessing God gives them. None of us is without fault, God does redeem, and each has to come to the faith themselves, though the faith of others certainly can help.

At any rate, death is something we ordinarily never look forward to. It is an intruder no doubt, away from God’s original intent and design (Genesis 1, 2). It is called the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15). So “in Christ” we have an extraordinary hope, indeed anticipation, which sees something beyond the grave. No less than resurrection in Christ.

Meanwhile we grope in this life, knowing that short of Christ’s return, the end is inevitable. It will come. I hope to live my life everyday in light of that. Knowing this day could be my last day. But if not, that last day will come. And that we can rest in the fact that the same God who gave life through creation has given new life through the new creation. Death is the end here, but not the end. In and through Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

Christ’s descent into creation and death

Today, what in church tradition is called Holy Saturday, we in part remember our Lord’s finished work in dying on the cross for our salvation and the salvation of the world, the burial on the Sabbath, a Sabbath rest. Christ descended in becoming human and then further in dying the most despicable death: that of the cross.

In becoming human, Christ did what humans do: he died. And in so doing he shared their death. And further, Christ’s death forever changed death through both what his death accomplished, and the full vindication of that in his resurrection from death.

In what is often considered the resurrection passage of Scripture, 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that through the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, death is no longer the fearsome enemy it once was:

“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ became one of us, and then in his death nullifies the sentence placed on humankind because of sin. In so doing he relegated the enemy death to something that for the believer becomes like a passageway into life, and spells death’s ultimate doom. Because of Christ we need no longer fear death:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

Paul makes it clear that apart from Christ, all that matters is this life, that death is the end of it all. But because of Christ we know death is not the end. Christ himself in entering death put it on the end road, and even uses death to bring life now and ultimately in the resurrection to come to all who believe and therefore follow.

 

 

sadness over loss in this world

It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.
Frustration is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4

The writer of Ecclesiastes refers to what we might call a mark of one’s character over against holding it as a literal notion that people ought always to be somber, rather than enjoy life and laugh. To say we live in a tragic world would surely be an understatement. Sooner or later all things perish. But it’s especially troubling when either something good is out of place, like the maple tree we had plans for, but which I’m doing away with now, with grief and a heavy heart. Or perfectly in place, but lost.

I am glad we were able to take in a little kitty, which is just as cute as can be: lively, affectionate, and a companion to our other cat. But so many cats are lost, or live difficult lives in this world. Not that I’m a cat lover, although they’ve grown on me a bit, since my wife does love cats.

Yesterday I found myself praying that someday in the new creation this very same maple tree I’m cutting down now might be present in all its glory. Of course in a way trees are a dime a dozen. They’re cut down for all kinds of paper, for furniture, yes for wood burning. And although they are amazing in their biology, they actually are not made in God’s image like humans. Yet we can have an attachment to some of them. I love our Redpointe Maple in the middle of our front yard. The other maple in all its glory is unfortunately not in the best place. We didn’t realize it at the time. Interestingly enough we have what are considered to be weed trees growing more than twenty feet away from the maples near the border of our property. Although we did have them trimmed, we simply can’t afford to cut them down yet, though it would be nice to do so someday, since they potentially affect the growth of the tree we did plant and are the kind of trees that would be better in a forest. I would not grieve their loss at all, but rather, would be relieved if they were gone. But such is life.

We don’t live in an ideal world. All is not well in this world. And we shouldn’t suppose it ever could be, even while we should be doing our best to manage everything well as good stewards of God’s gifts, in love. We accept the good and the bad of this life, and continue on. Believing the new creation has entered creation in the person of Jesus. And looking forward to the new world to come in him (Romans 8:18-22) when all good gifts of God will be in their place never to be lost again.

 

someday all the brokenness gone

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Revelation 21:3-5a

It is hard to imagine an existence where there isn’t at least regular great struggle. And actually to cry in this life, and mourn with others is a blessing. We are given empathy through our humanity, or by the Spirit with our humanity, so that we can enter at least sympathetically, and hopefully with empathy somehow sharing their sufferings if by nothing else more than groaning and prayers, which itself is a great gift. And as Jesus tells us in his Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

And in his Sermon on the Plain:

Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

And:

Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.

Luke 6:21b, 25b

So living fully in this present existence with all its pain and suffering is actually a blessing. That is where the Lord promises to be with us. Not in some safe existence free from all suffering and harm, or apart from the suffering of others.

And yet someday, blessed some Day, it will all be over. All the hurt, pain, wounds, brokenness, disappointment, sorrow, heartfelt grief, loss will be gone. “…no more death or mourning or crying or pain…” That is written to us in Revelation to be a comfort to us. We catch a glimpse of that now through the peace the Holy Spirit gives, and the help we receive in this life. But it is peace and help most often in the midst of adversity, suffering, and pain, and the inevitable trouble that accompanies this life. In the end, death.

Someday that will all be gone in and through Jesus.

grieving the loss of a friend

With sorrow I say goodbye to really the best friend in my life, other than my wife (and I have two great sisters). He was best in that he was a true friend through and through, though we kind of lost touch over the years. I was so honored to be best man at his wedding, and then he at mine. His wife Velda is special too, and all the family, a large one. I wish we would have lived closer to each other. All our lives end up being busy, and we lose track of good friends.

Ed, I can still hear your voice. You left a great legacy. Gone too soon. Will see you soon.

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Edwin R. Good’s obituary.