Conquering Death: Faith not Fences

fence

Most of us are too busy living to spend time contemplating death and dying, but avoidance is not a long-term strategy for dealing with death.

Death has a way of intruding without warning, commanding immediate attention. We drop everything, travel, make phone calls, send flowers and cards to acknowledge that someone loved has gone. Though life goes on, death has left its calling card.

Death is constant; we notice only when it touches us. As I write, the World Death Clock ticks steadily at the rate of 1.8 deaths every second, an estimated 32 million deaths this year so far.

Three weeks ago, I got an early morning call that a family member had died suddenly. Not yet 40, he left behind a wife and two young children. Days later I sat in a church two states away reviewing the life of a dear man I knew only by proxy.

The grief was palpable. Death was front and center, open casket on the big screen. Fast forward: cemetery, repast, flights home, resume life. No disrespect. It’s what we do. Keep it moving lest death get in our heads, touch our hearts.

Fencing out Death

A church on my daily commute recently decided that death should take a holiday, at least visually.

This one-church-in-several locations congregation, the kind that sends out colorful postcards with hip slogans, merged with a declining mainline church. The merger of people, buildings and grounds included a neat, century old traditional cemetery with flower-topped, granite grave markers in various sizes and shapes.

Apparently, a cemetery with looming gravestones didn’t fit a “life is good” image. Church leaders summarily hid the grim reminders of mortality behind a substantial wooden privacy fence – with gated access for those wishing to pay their respects, of course.

Trying to hide a cemetery only draws attention to it.

The subsequent unflattering publicity revealed that people whose family members are buried in that cemetery didn’t want their graves behind a fence. Driving home this week, I noticed the privacy railings have been removed. The reality of death has come back into public view between open horizontal slats.

It’s a good thing. Death is as much a part of life as sunrises and sunsets. The writer of Hebrews said, “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)

Fear Not

A cemetery is a reminder that, despite all distractions and protestations to the contrary, “A man’s days are numbered.” (Job 14:5) Nobody lives longer than the time God has set.

Understandably, death gives people the creeps. Nobody wants to die. The church’s mission is to help people face this uncomfortable reality with biblical faith.

Like Jesus Christ standing at Lazarus’ tomb, the church must confront death by teaching people that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His son. (1 John 5:11)  Jesus conquered death, dying in our place and rising from the dead. Likewise, the dead in Christ will be raised. This is the hope of the gospel.

Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15 NIV)

Resist fear in all its guises and embrace faith instead. Trusting Jesus Christ is the only hedge against death and opens the door to a whole new life!

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.’ Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

 

 

 

Love: Show More Than Tell

There’s nothing like death to give you a fresh perspective on life. And I’m recently returned from a funeral.

Everyone there seemed to know the departed in slightly different ways and even by slightly different names. Some called him by his last name, Bellamy. Others used a nickname, Billy. To me, he was Uncle Monroe, his given name and the one my mother always used.

To some, he was a co-worker. To others, a friend, a fellow church member or a relative. Some knew him on the nightshift in work clothes. Others recognized him in dapper duds at formal dinners. He’d lived for decades in an urban metropolis but his roots were rural and he never forgot.

He was a fixture in my life. My mother’s last sibling and slightly younger brother born on Christmas Eve, he was tall and well-dressed whether in plain clothes or Sunday go-to-meeting suits. Mustachioed and smelling of Aramis cologne, he’d suddenly appear in our driveway for a visit, fresh off the road from his home in Atlanta slightly more than 100 miles away.

He always drove a truck, stick shift until the knee began to bother him, with a camper top and cooler in the back full of drinks. The truck changed by the years, but the greeting was always the same, “Hey, baby!”

My uncle never talked much about himself to me. I knew his son graciously shared him with the nieces. I vaguely knew that he’d served in the Armed Forces, worked at the post office. He was a Baptist when everyone else in the family went to African Methodist Episcopal Church. He didn’t push church. When I worked in Atlanta, he invited me just once that I remember: to hear a singer with a voice fit for the Met who had grown up in the congregation.

At the funeral, I got the full resume. He’d served in the Navy. He was married to the same woman for 68 years. He worked for the post office, 36 years. He was an honorable “Deacon Emeritus” who had mentored several deacons who would mature to become chairmen of the board. He himself had devoted many years to bereavement ministry.

The details of my uncle’s life were long a mystery but his consistent, unmistakable love for me was very clear. I sat at his funeral remembering how he drove his truck from Atlanta to Raleigh nearly 30 years ago to give me away at my wedding. It would have been much easier to buy a plane ticket. The drive was a gesture of love, again. Mom needed a ride, and they enjoyed each other’s company.

I know that I’m partial, but my Uncle really was something special. Most of us Christians are the Titus 1:16 variety: we claim to know God but our actions deny him. We talk too much and live too little. We don’t cultivate real relationships. We’re plastic, chameleons who are so busy doing “church” that we’ve forgotten we are Christ’s ambassadors.

My friend, God is love. God so loved the world that He gave us His Son at great sacrifice for our good.

I know my uncle loved God, because he loved me all my life.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35

Need Debt Forgiveness?

  What you don’t know can hurt you. You don’t know what you don’t know. By the time you learn, the fix-it boat may have sailed.  Want a real life example?

While training for my first half-marathon, I reached mile 12 and my right shin decided it simply was not going to keep up that pace. Off I went to physical therapy.

I didn’t know precisely what it would cost, but this was familiar territory. I’d taken my daughter to PT during her senior season of cross country. I chose a different therapist whose location was more convenient, plunked down my co-pays at each of 8 visits and never gave it a second thought.

Imagine my shock when the final bill arrived one month after the last session: $1200-plus. No itemized list of specific charges. Just a bill with a payment address and a note that failing to pay within 30 days would result in additional charges.

Who knew that a few half-hour therapy sessions could cost so much? You might say it was unwise not to consider the end from the beginning. And you’d be right.

I got my therapy, ran my race and claimed my trophy without once considering the ultimate cost of reaching the finish line. It never occurred to me that the price would exceed what I was prepared to pay.

I’m not alone in my lack of foresight.

Plenty of people go blithely through life completely unconcerned about the day of reckoning. Oh, we know we are mortal, that 100 percent of the living will die. Yet, we don’t prepare for our dying day.

We have our reasons.  We say, “When you’re dead, you’re done; so why worry?” Or we’re confident that when life’s bill comes due, our good deeds will cancel our bad debts. In the end, we assume everything will work out. Of course, the end is not an ideal time to find out.

Christianity favors complete disclosure: Dead is not done. “It is appointed unto men once to die and then the judgment.” Judgment sounds to me like settling accounts. We’re advised to “count the cost” on the front end of things so we know whether we have what it takes to pay the bill.

Lest we abandon all hope, Christianity offers debt forgiveness. You’ll probably see it advertised in the stands at next Sunday’s Super Bowl: a placard painted with John 3:16. This plan goes by several names: Substitutionary atonement. The Great Exchange. The Gospel.

Christ is our Advocate. He speaks in our defense, having satisfied our debt in full at the Cross. We walk away.

Whether you’re dealing with spiritual indebtness or an unbelievable bill for services rendered, learn from my mistake.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to understand your situation. The Bible says in all your getting, get understanding. If you seek counsel with your money, why not get some for your soul?

I recommend an Advocate. Works for me – body and soul. A health advocate resolved my physical therapy bill.  Final accounting: I actually owed about $400. That, my friend, is deliverance!