Rose outside Manna House, Bromley, England

Scared to death of death

I was born with a pre-cancerous birthmark on my lower back. My doctors all told me growing up that I didn’t need to worry about it until I got older because removing it as a child would leave a really bad scar that would grow as I did, so it was better to wait until I stopped growing to remove it. So I didn’t have it removed until I was 18.

The birthmark was about the size of a lime, and while the surgery to remove it was outpatient surgery with local anesthetic, I still ended up with 18 stitches and two weeks of recovery lying flat on my face. It’s amazing how much you use your lower back muscles without realizing it.

But I will never forget that morning, going into the dermatologist’s office. It was the biggest, scariest procedure I had ever undergone (still is, in fact). I was nervous and a little stressed, mainly just because it was something I’d never done before. Mom and I were the only people in the waiting room, and then the doors opened and in walked two people I knew, my church’s care pastor W.M. Hoover and his wonderful wife Edith.

My first thought was that they were there for someone else. I knew that Pastor Hoover (affectionately called Pastor Grandpa, as he’s my Pastor’s dad) made the rounds at hospitals praying for the sick, so I just assumed there was someone having major surgery that morning. But to my surprise, Pastor and Mrs. Edith were there for me.

That blew me away. They prayed for me. They told me they loved me. And I went in for my little surgery feeling much calmer and very touched that they would come all the way over just to pray for me for a silly little surgery. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that, and I’m not sure I can communicate what that meant to me.

Pastor Grandpa got to go home to meet his best friend Jesus face to face yesterday morning. He’d been ill for a long time, so on one hand it’s a blessing to know that he’s back to his old self again, that’s he’s better now than he ever was here. But on the other hand, it’s very sad because he’s already being missed enormously.

Death is one of those topics that people talk about a lot in the church, but I’m not sure we ever really clear anything up about it. There’s just so little that we understand. Yes, people have had near death experiences. I’m not going to contest the validity of their claims because I’m sure they experienced something and whatever it was changed them. But I can say with certainty that anyone who has died for real has not come back to explain what it’s like–other than Jesus, of course. So there’s a lot about death that is troublesome because we just don’t know.

But in those times when we don’t know something, it’s best to cling to what we do know for sure.

Rose outside Manna House, Bromley, England

Rose outside Manna House, Bromley, England

Today’s verses are Hebrews 2:14-15.

Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

Have you ever met anyone who is a slave to fear of dying? The Message version of this verse calls it being scared to death of death. I’ve met people like that. They do everything they can to escape death. They do everything possible to live one more day because the fear of death is too much for them to face.

Part of me understands that because death is unknown. It’s uncertain. It’s something I’ve never experienced before, and new experiences tend to make me twitchy. But the Bible is full of examples and statements about what death really is. And for someone who knows Christ, for someone who follows Him and lives life with Him, death isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s something to look forward to.

Death in its basest definition is separation. The Bible defines it as separation from God, and as a Christ-follower, that will never happen to you. As a Christ-follower, death isn’t something to fear but to welcome. We can welcome death because of what Christ did for us. That’s what this passage is saying.

Christ-followers don’t have to be afraid of death because Christ defeated death. Fear of death is bondage. Fear of death is a vicious master that strips away the usefulness of our lives. We don’t have to be afraid of death. We’ve been set free from it, both death and the fear of death.

It’s okay to be sad when someone you love dies. Don’t tell yourself anything different and don’t let any sanctimonious “Christian” tell you otherwise either. There is a time to mourn. There is a time to be sad. But Christ-followers don’t die. They just wake up in the presence of God. And if that isn’t something to celebrate, I don’t know what is.

Life is precious, yes. And we shouldn’t waste it or take it for granted. But at the same time, don’t fear death. If you know Christ, death is just the next step in our eternity, where everything we had to struggle and fight to believe becomes as easy as breathing.

Nothing’s certain but death and taxes

When I was a child, I never really understood what people meant when they told me that death and taxes were the only certainties in life. Now, as an adult, I get it, although it seems to me lately that the only certainties are death and raising taxes . . . but that’s a topic for another blog post . . . .

I find it very interesting that most people in the college age group don’t think about death. Even high schoolers think about it. And practically no children think about it. It find it fascinating because death was something I thought about a lot, even as a child. I’m pretty sure it started with the death of my great grandmother — we called her Grandma Great because she was so cool.

I remember very clearly the day that she died. She was in Wichita. My family and I still lived in Houston at the time. We got the phone call, and my mom told us that Grandma Great had passed away. And for the first time I remember feeling the odd paradox of sorrow mixed with joy, that strange unexplainable feeling a believer gets when someone who knows Christ has died.

I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to comprehend the fact that Grandma Great was in heaven and that she wasn’t in pain anymore and that she was probably up there dancing the Charleston again, like she hadn’t been able to do in years.

From that moment on, I think I looked at death differently. For that reason, I think I was able to survive the deaths of friends in high school later on, knowing all of them had been believers, knowing I would see them again.

I’m not sure how many people in my age group now think about death. Probably more than people who are in college. Normal college and high school age kids tend to think that they’ll live forever. But I do know that a lot of people are scared of it.

I suppose, on one hand, it should be scary. I mean, it’s something unknown, and it’s not exactly something you can prepare yourself for. I suppose you can read books about it, but stories of near-death experiences vary a lot. Some people see lights. Other people hear voices. Some folks see angels. Others float through tunnels. I’m not discounting any of those stories, but to me that doesn’t sound like a lot of detail.

I guess I’ve just gotten to the point in life where I recognize that death will come sooner or later (if Christ doesn’t come back in the mean time), and that there’s no point in being afraid of it, even though I don’t understand it. Because, at the end of the day, what is death? I think I mentioned this yesterday. Death is one of those terms that people misunderstand and misuse a lot. On Earth, we get the idea that death is the end of something. Like the death of a dream. Or the death of a tree. Or the death of a salesman. No, wait. =)

But death isn’t the end of anything. Death is simply separation. When we die, the person we really are keeps on going, keeps on living, and simply relocates either to heaven or to hell. There’s no in between. There are no ghosts haunting the earth. There’s no purgatory. We die. We go to heaven or we go to hell. That’s it.

So as long as you know Christ, heaven is where you’re headed. And I guarantee that’s nothing to be afraid of. Do we really believe it, though? That’s the part that’s hard to get sometimes. But we, as Christians, have nothing to fear from death. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. Because death is powerless over us. It can’t control us and it can’t stop us.

The verse this morning is out of 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

55 O death, where is your victory?
      O death, where is your sting?[a]

 56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to this, death has power over people because of sin. And sin has power because people can’t obey the law.

And that’s true. God gave us the Law, the Ten Commandments, to show us that we can’t be good enough to get to heaven on our own merit. No one has kept the Ten Commandments. People have tried, but everyone has failed. No one on Earth is perfect enough to keep all ten of them every moment of every day for their entire lives. And if you wanted to get into heaven on your own, that’s what you would have to do.

So because we can’t keep the Ten Commandments, our sin keeps us separated from God, and if we die physically our broken souls with our dead (separated) spirits can’t be in the presence of God as He is holy and perfect and we aren’t. Death has power over people because we sin.

But what is the Bible about? What is the story of Jesus about?

People who believe in Jesus aren’t subject to the Ten Commandments. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “I am not under law but under grace.” Christ came to Earth and lived a perfect life. He never broke one of the Ten Commandments. His life was flawless. He was innocent. And because He was innocent, He had the capability to sacrifice Himself for us. Because He had never sinned, He could pay for those of us who had.

So those who believe in Jesus are freed from our subjection to the law, freed from the power that sin has over us. And since we are no longer controlled by sin, believers are no longer controlled by death.

It comes down to how much you love your Earthly life, I guess. If you love your family more than God, I suppose death is a frightening prospect. I struggle with that one. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m afraid to leave my family and friends behind . . . even though most of them know Christ. I feel like my presence in their lives keeps them safe. But that’s silly. What can I do to protect anyone? God is the one who is in control. And when He says it’s my time to go, I will go, and I have no say in it. And we just have to trust that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s got a plan, and that He really can take care of everything after we leave this Earth.

Death can’t control me. It can’t control you. And we shouldn’t be afraid of it because when the time comes for us to die, we will be with God if we believe in Jesus.