How Will You Die?

graveyard

Death is unavoidable.  We all know that in 100 or so years, everyone we know will be dead.  Death is the end of life, the eternal closure to our fleeting years on this planet.  The progress of medicine and cultural shift towards entertainment and self gratification have sheltered – or distracted – us from this reality, and we typically only contemplate death and eternity when a loved one dies but we all know death is our destiny.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

– Heb 9.27-28

Scripture is unashamed about that fact that all mankind will die, and that by appointment of God.  After death we will all be judged according to the life we lived while on the Earth.  It has been a popular evangelism tool to ask the question, “If you were to die today and God were to ask you why He should let you into Heaven, what would you say?”  This question reveals a person’s understanding of the Gospel:  that there is nothing we can do to earn or merit our entrance into Heaven because God’s standard is perfection and we have all sinned – but Jesus died in our place and paid our debt of punishment so that we can be forgiven.

This question, however, reveals much about our personal faith and worldview.  If we approach a stranger or loved one with this question the likelihood is that we are considering salvation our escape from Hell, and that alone.  Jesus is for our eternity, He is for after we finish our life here on Earth.  Yes, it addresses our greatest need – but only in a superficial way – essentially saying, “one day we are going to die, then what?”

Jesus did not come to the world to take care of what happens after death, only.  Jesus came to the world to take care of what happens before death.  We cannot get a passport to Heaven, lock it in the drawer and count on it to gain us entrance into Heaven when we die – all the while continuing in life just as we did before.  Jesus came to give us new life which begins at the New Birth, our Spiritual birth, and never ends.  Our physical birth ends in our physical death, but our Spiritual life never ends.  You can read more about that here.

The New Birth required for salvation is when we are born Spiritually:  given Spiritual life (John 3).  This is the life that will continue beyond our death and will enter into eternity with Christ.  This life is birthed by the gift of faith by grace and results in our deep and unfaltering love for God and Jesus Christ (Eph 2.8-9).  God is love.  Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  If we do not love God and one another, we do not know God (1 John 4.7-8).  Loving Jesus and God means “abiding” in Him – or remaining in Him (John 15.4-7).  This means that our love for Jesus draws us continually to prayer (talking with Him), reading Scripture (to learn from Him and understand what He expects from us) and drawing strength from Him (relying on the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us throughout the day).

In short, salvation necessarily results in our love for God.  Everything that we do, therefore, should be in response to that love for God.  Thus we have commandments like:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

– Col 3.17

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

– Col 3.23-24

Scripture is indeed full of commandments.  If defines and condemns sin, it outlines how we should love, respect and care for the Church and for the world, it even teaches us how to worship God.  And while we take great care and make every effort to obey those commandments, it is not out of duty but out of love for God because of the love He has for us and the salvation He has given us through our new life.

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

And conversely, he who is forgiven much loves much.  Therefore, those who love Jesus will talk about Jesus continually.  They will recount the story of how He saved them, how He changed them, how He has given them Spiritual life.  They will talk about how much the love Him and what He is doing in their lives.  Their evangelism will not be, “Are you prepared to meet Jesus when you die” but rather, “May I introduce you to Jesus now?”  If Jesus is not transforming our lives now, we should seriously step back and examine our so called salvation – and see if we truly have Spiritual life.

I personally am more concerned about meeting Jesus and giving an account for my obedience to His commands.  He clearly taught us to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation (Matt 28.18-20).  He clearly taught us to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  He clearly taught us to bear much fruit – growing in Spiritual maturity and teaching others to do the same (John 15.8).  We are promised that we have everything that we need for life and godliness in the Scriptures alone (2 Peter 1.3).  Can you imagine meeting Jesus face to face and admitting that you barely read or knew the Scriptures – His story and instructions for us?  Can you imagine meeting Him face to face and explaining why you did not go?  Why you did not make disciples?  Why you never met your neighbors, never gave to the Church or met other people’s needs?  Why you wasted all of your money on a house, car, entertainment and retirement?

Everything in the Earth is God’s (Ps 24.1).  We have been granted use of the Earth, the gifts and the finances that He deems fit.  We are stewards of His possessions.  Thus Paul says,

“For who regards you as superior?  What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

Jesus came to give us new life, which starts while we are alive physically.  He commanded us to be a part of Him bringing new life to others by going into all the world.  He is not primarily concerned about what happens after we die – even though we all will die.  He is primarily concerned about our love for Him that drives us to obedience of Him.  In this same vein John Piper said,

“The question, brothers, is not whether we will die, but whether we will die in a way that bears much fruit.”

How will you die?

Life is but a vapor

This week my small group was studying the end of James 4,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”  But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.  Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.

– James 4.13-17

And while the instruction is a reprimand towards the arrogant who seek to make their success and livelihood here on Earth without considering God and eternity, there is a very real application to all of us in our daily lifestyles and choices.  Less than twenty four hours later an accident was reported of a couple with whom I went to seminary.  They were on furlough and preparing to go back to Rome for their third term, and a semi truck hit them and killed the wife and mother of three.  She was thirty one years old.

Our life is but a vapor.  

Whenever someone passes away, it is natural for the community to consider the realities of life and death.  And when someone so young is taken, many are left asking the question that we all need to ask before we die:  “Why”?  What is the meaning of life?   What happens next?

Kyra knew the Lord.  She understood her sin, she confessed her sin and asked Jesus for forgiveness and found refuge in His righteousness that He provided by living a perfect life on Earth, dying in our place and raising again to conquer death.  She and her husband gave their lives in order to go and share this Gospel with the people of Italy.  And now she is resting in the presence of Jesus Christ, having begun the rest of eternity which we all aim to find.

While this feels like a tragedy, having been taken at such a young age and leaving her husband and three young children behind, we can take comfort and peace in the fact that she is now with the Lord and that she gave her life to things that will matter in eternity.  She invested in the treasures that moth and rust will not destroy.

James teaches us that God is in sovereign control over our lives.  He teaches us that every plan we make should be established with the mindset,

“If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”

If the Lord wills, we will live.  Jesus reprimanded the Hebrew people for the same attitude and used this statement to declare the brevity of life:

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’”

– Luke 12.20

He was using the illustration of a wealthy man who was building barns and storing up treasures for himself.  Yet God says, “This very night your soul is required of you”.  God allows us to live and takes us when it is His sovereign plan for us to enter into eternity.  Some will go when they are four, some when they are twenty four and some when they are ninety four.  God is in control of it all.

Therefore, we should be diligent to live unto God and prepare for eternity.  Jesus says,

And He said to His disciples, “For this reason I say to you, do not worry about your life, as to what you will eat; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”

– Luke 12.22-23

He also instructs us,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.19-21

The meaning of life, the “chief end of man” as catechisms phrase it, is to know God and to enjoy Him forever.  Kyra was a beautiful example of this.  She knew God, she enjoyed Him, and now she is enjoying Him face to face.  She invested in the treasures of eternity and is receiving her reward as we speak.  And Jesus taught His disciples,

“Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!  And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?  If then you cannot do even a very little thing, why do you worry about other matters?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you? You men of little faith!  And do not seek what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not keep worrying.  For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things.  But seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

– Luke 12.25-31

We will probably never know why Kyra’s life was so short here on Earth, but we can be confident that God will take care of Reid, her husband and her children.  He has promised to.  And He is grieving with them.  God is our comforter, and he takes every tear and keeps them.

“You have taken account of my wanderings;
Put my tears in Your bottle.
Are they not in Your book?”

– Ps 56.8

Perhaps you have recently lost a loved one, and are considering the meaning of life.  Perhaps you are exhausted of living for the world and are looking for an eternal purpose.  Perhaps you simply are considering what happens after death.  God has offered us a hope and a provision for our eternity.  Because all of us have sinned, we all deserve an eternity separated from God in Hell.  The punishment for any and all sin is eternal death.  But God loved us so much that He offered His son as the perfect sacrifice to take our place.  Jesus died so that we might be forgiven.  He took our punishment, and after three days in the grave He rose to conquer death.  If we confess our sins, and proclaim Jesus as Lord over our lives, we can be forgiven and spend eternity with Him.

Meet Jesus today.  Live for the things that will matter in eternity.  Store up treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy.  Because life is a vapor, and we might not be here tomorrow.

kyra

Passengers to the grave

scrooge

The holidays are now behind us and we are all trying to make it through our first full week back to work, feeling exhausted.  My husband and I celebrated our second Christmas together and have begun the tradition of watching Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol together.  This play is profound on so many levels, and it inspired me to write a Christmas post last year and has inspired me again, though I am now two weeks late in addressing it.  It is profound in that Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by his business partner from the grave who confronts him for being selfish and stingy.  He makes money, he hoards his money, and he begrudges family, people, and Christmas.  Then three ghosts come to visit him to show to him Christmases past – which led him to his current state, Christmases present – in which his family mocks him and he is dreadfully alone, and Christmases future – where people rejoice over his passing, all culminating in his eternal destiny of roaming the Earth with chains of misfortune weighing him down and giving him no rest. Scrooge reforms himself, celebrating Christmas better than anyone and giving back, all with the hopes of earning a better eternity, and in this we see that it has been the nature of mankind to aspire to earn one’s standing before God for generations!

What caught my attention this year was the opening dialogue between Ebenezer and his nephew, Fred.  Fred defends his celebration of the season thus:

There are many things from which I have derived good, by which I have not profited, I daresay.  Christmas among the rest.  But I am sure that I always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – as a good time:  the only time I know of, when men and women seem to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, Uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and that it will do me good:  and I say, God bless it!

– Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Fred claims that the nature of the season of Christmas, to him, is that people consider one another as “fellow-passengers to the grave”.  They were dealing with issues of class and hierarchical systems in England at the time, and Fred observes that on Christmas people are simply people.  But the defining characteristic of personhood, to Fred, is that we are all passengers to the grave.  This sounds quite fatalistic in our rendering:  the term passengers implies that we have no control on the ride of life, and the grave being our ultimate end.  And because we have no control and because there is no future, we should take the day to eat, drink, be merry and do good to others.  Sound a little familiar?

“So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun.”

– Ecc 8.15

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

– Is 22.13b

Solomon, the wisest of men to have ever walked the face of the Earth, explored at great depths the meaning of life.  Intellectual people, and the great reformers and fathers of the faith, are often melancholy in disposition.  They over think and analyze life, looking for eternal purpose and wrestle with life’s frivolity.  Solomon wrote a book on the topic, it is called “Ecclesiastes” and he opens and closes the book with the phrase,

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.”

– Ecc 1.2, 12.8

Everything is meaningless, he concludes.  He experiments with every pleasure known to man:  sex, alcohol, money, power, fame, good deeds, everything.  And in the end he realizes that none of it can satisfy.  So he says, in jest, if this is all there is then live it up!  But he knows that there is more:  there is eternity, there is relationship with God.  There is salvation.  There is eternity.

What is so dynamic about Fred’s speech, however, is that he considers is a good thing to think of humanity as on it’s way to the grave!  Here in the west we avoid death at all costs, and encountering it sends people into a tailspin of depression and confusion.  This has not been the case throughout history.  Many tribal peoples, historically, waited months before naming their infants because infant mortality rate was so high – they wanted to wait to see if the child would live before naming it.  Wars and feuds often left families broken.  People often had numerous spouses because husbands would die in war and at work, and wives would die in childbirth!  But nowadays there are people in their thirties and forties who still have never attended a funeral!  We do not encounter death, and we rarely consider what happens beyond it.  And this, I believe, is part of the difficulty Christians have in explaining salvation.

But we are all bound for the grave.  We are all passengers on a train over which we have no control, and sooner or later we will meet our maker.  What, then, should we do?

Therefore in that day the Lord God of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing,
To shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth.
Instead, there is gaiety and gladness,
Killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep,
Eating of meat and drinking of wine:
“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.”

– Is 22.12-13

Let’s not be like the Hebrew people who ignored reality.  Let’s not even be like Fred and ultimately Scrooge who thought being good to people and doing good things was the highest end.  Let’s live life in it’s fullness, to the glory of God.  Let’s know and love God and store up treasures in Heaven – treasures that will not fade away.  Nothing we do here on Earth will last aside from glorifying God and bringing others to glorify Him.

How is your perspective?  Is it temporal?  Is it momentary?  Is it on the flesh?  Or is it eternal?

Jesus takes away the sins of the world.

world

Sin.  It is our human condition and it is our universal problem.  We are separated from God because He is perfect and He wrote the moral Law and the Biblical Law that defines right and wrong, and He established that the penalty for sin is physical and spiritual eternal death (Rom 6.23).  But God loves us and offers us a path to redemption.

“The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

– John 1.29

Jesus takes away the sin of the world.  He takes away our sin by his perfect life on the Earth, which did not merit death because He never sinned, but He died physically and suffered Hell Spiritually and conquered death by raising back to life and returning to Heaven.  He took the punishment that we deserve and offers us the legal verdict, “time served”.  He does not take away our sin in such a way as to pretend it never happened.  He takes away the guilt and punishment it deserves by paying it for us.

So.  When Jesus died on the cross, did He “take away” the sin of the entire world?  This is one of the most confusing concepts in Scripture, in my opinion.

“and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.2

John, the apostle, the disciple whom Jesus loved, used this phrase twice in two different letters that He wrote.  Jesus “takes away the sins of the world”, and He is the propitiation for the sins “of the whole world”.  Does John believe in universalism?  Will everyone ultimately be saved?  Does the phrase, “The whole world” mean every single person who has ever been born?  Obviously the world does not mean the dirt and trees, but people…

If we keep reading after that most famous of verses, we see a bit more of John’s understanding:

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.17-18

And even more clearly a few verses later:

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

– John 3.36

John states clearly that the one who does not believe in Jesus is already judged.  Past tense.  And the one who does not believe or obey lives with the wrath of God abiding on him.  The only reason the wrath of God is poured out on someone is because of sin:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”

– Rom 1.18-19

If God takes away the sin of everyone, then there is no place or reason for His wrath.  Because we know that the wrath of God was satisfied in the death of Jesus for the sins of those who would be forgiven.  But John tells us that some people still remain under the wrath of God, and it is those who do not believe.

All sins will be punished:  either they were punished definitively in Jesus 2000 years ago, or they will be sentenced upon the offender in eternity.

So what does it mean that Jesus “takes away the sins of the world”?  If He paid for everyone’s sin, then there should be no one going to Hell – there should be no one on whom the wrath of God still abides.  Either He paid for your sins or He didn’t.  But John says some people are still under the wrath.  Jesus did not pay for them for you to have to turn around and pay for them too!

Think of it like an antibiotic.  When a researcher finds the cure for a disease or infection, he could say, “This will cure the whole world”.  What he means is that anyone who has the disease and takes the medicine will be made healthy.  The simple fact of the existence of the cure does not mean that everyone who has the illness will be healed, the medicine must be ingested into the system to work.  But it has the capability to heal everyone who takes it.  Now, this analogy breaks down (as all analogies do) because sin is not a disease.  It is not an outside force acting on an otherwise healthy creature.  Sin is who we are.  It is our nature.  So Jesus’ forgiveness is not an antibiotic that kills a bacteria infesting our cells, but He is a transforming power that changes the very nature of our cells.  More accurately, He is life to dead cells.

Where it gets a little tricky is God’s role in administering this cure.  John says that Jesus died and whoever believes in Him will be saved.  But then he says in the next breath that those who do not believe have already been judged.  Jesus is not only the one who paid our debt, but He chose whose debt to pay and effectively instills faith in those whose debt He paid.  Those who do not believe were judged before He even came into the world, according to John.

Jesus is infinite and He is God.  His death is not lacking in ability to atone for the sins of everyone, but God used it purposefully and intentionally.  He is not in the business of double punishing sins.  Either Jesus paid for your sins, or you will.

So how do you know if Jesus paid for your sins?  What is the application here?  It is simple.  Do you want His punishment to count for you?  Then believe!  If you are capable of believing, desire to be saved and repent then He has paid for you!  There is no extra revelation.  There is no added spirituality.  There is no requirement other than belief and repentance.  If you want it, it is yours, because God has put it in your heart to want it.  Otherwise, it sounds like foolishness:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

– 1 Cor 1.18

If the word of the cross to you is hope, then He paid your debt.  If it is foolishness, then it matters not to you anyway.

Is God still good if I get cancer?

cancer

I have been contemplating my own mortality a fair amount lately. You know, the “Is God still good if I get cancer?” kind of question. We romantics think these situations will lead us to our greatest moment of faith and glorification of God until the first unfavorable medical report sends us into a tailspin of fear, doubt and disgrace revealing our faith to be a show that we put on for others and not a deep and true dependence on God for our sustenance and satisfaction.

Is God still good if I get cancer? Is God still good if my spouse dies? Or worse yet, leaves me? Is God still good if my child gets cancer? Or rebels and abandons the faith? Is God still good if I lose my job? Or my house? Or anything else I am holding on to?

The academic says, “Yes! God’s goodness is not dependent or determined by my pleasure, comfort or health.” The false prophet says, “If you suffer any of those things, it is because you have sinned and/or do not have enough faith”.  And the appeaser (and one who does not deal with trials on a deep, heart level) says, “Everything happens for a reason, just trust God.”

Yes. We know that “God causes all things to work together for good for them that love the Lord” (Rom 8.28).

But last night I sat at the airport for a couple of hours waiting on a delayed flight and sat another hour in the plane, on the runway, waiting for the weather to clear enough for our takeoff – chewing on this very topic. The storm clouds parted long enough for us to zip through to our detoured route which in theory would allow us to avoid the storms hammering much of the West, and we finally took off. The plane began bouncing wildly before we even left the ground and as we started to climb in elevation my contemplation of a drawn out death via sickness quickly turned to a quick demise via falling. From the sky. How strong does the wind have to be to make that massive steel wing bounce like a giant sling shot released from a child’s grip? Having been miraculously freed from the fear of flying a few years ago (you can read that story here), I never felt the terror of the act of dying if our plane crashed, but my stomach responded as it was designed to in the act of free falling.

Is God still good if my plane crashes?

What is the core of your faith? Do you exist to love God and enjoy Him forever? Or do you exist for God to make your life comfortable while you are here on the Earth? If you exist to know God, to love Him and enjoy Him forever, then what is death other than the gateway leading us from a life of suffering to an eternity of being with the one we love and desire?

But that complete abandon is a difficult place to live continually. We have responsibilities after all! A spouse, children, a job, a ministry, goals. And Scripture tells us that there is a time to mourn. If you are the most spiritually mature Christian, you will understand that children are a blessing from the Lord. They are not yours, but they are God’s and He has appointed you as steward over them for a season. You will love them perfectly as God loves and nourishes the Church. You will discipline them wisely, and teach them how to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of God. But if one is killed in a car accident, you will mourn. There will be a season of grief. Yes, you might find wonderful peace and comfort in the knowledge of his salvation and eternal resting with the God of the universe, but you will still miss his face, his laughter, his presence and you will grieve the loss.

Is the answer, “Everything happens for a reason” the best answer in such a circumstance?

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

– Rom 12.15

Yes. Academically we understand that we must take our doubts and fears captive and fight them with Scripture: with Truth. God is good. His plan is perfect. We will all die, and He will give us the grace we need in the moment. God’s goodness is not contingent upon our happiness, and often times we learn the most in moments of trial, struggle, pain or confusion.

No, our trials are not judgment or condemnation for sin or a lack of faith. When we are forgiven, when we are covered by the blood of Christ, when we are made new and found in Him,

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

But we are real people and pain hurts. We must remember that pain hurts. Paul encourages the church at Rome to not approach someone who just found out that he has terminal cancer with a blasé “everything happens for a reason” and try to fix the situation or force the sufferer to get over it. Paul taught that very truth four chapters earlier and assumes that the church members already have a solid understanding of it.  The one grieving knows that God works all things out for good. Instead he says, “Go cry with them”. Be silent. Feel their grief, pain or heartache. Trust God to instill His truth that they already know as their sustaining hope.

It is if we get to the point of questioning God’s goodness that we need to worry. Why? Because by asking the very question we are blaming God. Yes, God is in sovereign control of every breath you take, and every breath your child takes – or does not take. Yes, God is in control of sickness, disease, terrorists, and falling planes. But if we allow our hurt, pain and confusion to turn into blame and anger towards God, then at the core we do not believe that eternity is the goal. We believe that happiness on Earth is the goal, and we do not love God – merely his benefits.

What is your goal? Think about it. We need to have right thinking before the trials come because the emotion of the moment will cloud our minds, and those truths need to be established deeply in our hearts and minds to stand the test of grief, sorrow and loss. And when that moment comes, when you hear the sentence: “three months left”, and fear, panic, grief or anger hits you, you can grieve well. We will all grieve. We will all suffer. We will all hurt. We will all die.  Let’s do it well.

“Concerning [the thorn in the flesh] I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

– 2 Cor 12.8-10

Should we fear Ebola?

ebola-patient

Unless you have been living under a rock the last few weeks, you have indubitably heard about the latest outbreak of the Ebola virus.  My freshman year of high school, I took Biology and was assigned the virus, or hemorrhagic fever, as my topic for a presentation.  The stories of people’s organs essentially liquefying has stuck with me all these years later.  As of yesterday, between the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, 1,700 cases have been reported of this illness that has up to a 90% mortality rate.  That is an astounding number, making this the most substantial outbreak of the disease to date.

Many activists, however, are arguing that we are looking at the wrong disease.  While it is a tragedy that 1,700 people are currently sick or have died from Ebola, the world annually looses 250,000-500,000 to the flu.  Since the February outbreak of Ebola began, 300,000 people have died of malaria and an estimated 600,000 have died from tuberculosis.  But since malaria and TB are well known, the numbers and casualties no longer make headline news.

I want to suggest that not only are we looking at the wrong illness, we are looking for the wrong healing.  If you stretch the continuum long enough, humanity’s mortality rate is 100%.  Every human being who has ever lived and who is living now will die (unless Jesus returns and takes those few fortunate souls home first, and Elisha and Enoch of course).  Many of us will die of heart disease, perhaps more from cancer.  Some will die from a tragic and unexpected accident while others will just pass peacefully in their sleep.  But make no mistake,  150 years from now, every single one of us will be in eternity.  Is the method of our passing, then, really that pivotal?

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…

– Heb 9.27

It is appointed unto man to die.  Death is not an ugly reality with which God has to deal.  He is in control, and because of sin, He has designated, appointed physical death to each of us as the consequence of a lifetime of sinfulness.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Rom 6.23

Even those who have been saved and redeemed by Jesus Christ’s blood will suffer the consequence of death for our sins.  It is no longer a judgment, as Jesus took the condemnation and punishment that we deserve, but it is the final consequence which will usher us to the judgment seat of Christ.

So what then?  What is our proper response?  Jesus tells us clearly,

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

– Matt 10.28

Jesus commands us to not fear those who would kill us.  He is speaking specifically to men who would kill a faithful witness, but the point is equally as strong, do not fear the viruses.  Do not fear death.  Death has lost its sting, when our eternity is secure (1 Cor 15.55).

Does that mean that we ignore Ebola?  Malaria, TB, the flu?  Absolutely not!  In much the same way that we do not let murders roam freely, killing whomever they desire, we purposefully value the sanctity of human life and seek the well being of those who are created in the image of God; humanity.  That being said, however, the most pressing need of a patient of the Ebola virus is not physical healing, but spiritual.  The Ebola virus will pass – either in regained health or in death.  But eternal damnation will not pass.  If a person dies without atonement for his sins, He will never be made right with God.

Sin is not a disease.  It is our very nature.  And because of our wicked nature we will all die.  Are you ready?

What happens when we die?

I was young.  Four or five, and we had a big yellow/orange tabby cat that lived outside.  I loved that cat.  I loved all animals, but our golden retriever was so big and had so much energy that being only as tall as him, he would run circles around me.  In contrast our fat tabby cat liked to lay on the driveway and warm herself in the sun, be scratched and cuddle.  One day she got hit by a car and my dad and I went out to bury her.  We had a good sized back yard, and there was one section of the yard that fed into some woods behind us, and we went and buried her there.  While he was digging the hole, I asked him what happened to her next.  He said he was not sure, but probably nothing.

That was not actually true, as there was a pest of some sort that kept digging up her skull, so my dad got to rebury her multiple times, and when we realized her skull would not stay in the ground, my older sister took it to show-and-tell at school!

Death.  It is ugly.  It hurts.  It breaks families apart and causes mourning too deep for words.  It is terrifying.  How much time have you spent thinking about the reality of what happens after you die?  We are all going to die.

With medicine, security measures like seat belts and food availability what it is in the western world today, I know quite a few people well into their thirties who have never experienced the loss of death or even attended a funeral.  This is mind boggling to me, as I lost six peers in as many years when I was a teenager, on top of losing grand parents and others from churches along the way.  But I vividly remember beginning to wonder about eternity at the point that we buried our cat.  

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

 – Heb 9.27

Scripture does not give us step-by-step details about what happens after we die.  Some people in the Bible are accounted for having died and then raised back to life, but never do they testify about what they experienced in the meantime.  Lazarus was dead and buried for four days and restored to life.  So dead that he “stinketh” according to the King James version (John 11.39). 

But the authors of Scripture deemed that detail insignificant because of the clarity with which Jesus spoke of the eternal kingdom of God.  The resurrection by which everyone who has ever lived will be gathered before the throne of God, and we will all be judged – each one according to our works (2 Cor 5.10).  

Jesus, when he was speaking to Lazarus’ sisters, reminded them that he would live again.  They knew of the resurrection of the dead, whereby everyone would be restored to life.  And Jesus taught them that He Himself is the resurrection.  He is the one who will call everyone to the judgment, and then He will judge us.  

Paul makes an amazing claim about Jesus when writing to the Church at Colosse:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him.  He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.  He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”

 – Col 1.15-18 

The first time Paul says that Christ is the firstborn, he is referring to status and not chronology.  Jesus is the preeminent son of God; the only, and the heir.  But when it says the firstborn from the dead, he means that Jesus is the first to be raised from the dead in the eternal sense whereby we will all be restored to life for an eternity of reward for our deeds on earth.  Yes, Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus, and the widow’s son was raised by Elijah hundreds of years before Jesus came to the earth.  But these people died again.  Their resurrection was not the one unto judgment and eternity.  

There are two judgments mentioned in Scripture.  When we are first raised, the sheep and the goats will be separated (Matt 25.31-46).  It is at this point that those who have not repented of their sins and come to Jesus Christ for salvation by faith alone will be damned to Hell.  Forever.  Then the believers will give an account for their deeds in the flesh, and their bad deeds will be burned up like chaff while their good deeds remain as reward to be used in worship to God (Rev 20.11-15).  

What happens in the meantime?  This is an unanswered question in Scripture.  Some believe we are in a paradise-like state.  Some believe we are unconscious until the judgment, while others believe at the point of death we leave the confines of time, much in the way God exists, and arrive at the judgment as it is occurring, with everyone else.  This is an unanswerable.  But we do know that we will be judged according to what we did on the Earth and therefore there will be no time for repentance once we die.  

God will require from us an account of how we used those gifts, talents and possessions with which He has blessed us.  He will take account of every careless word that was spoken (Matt 12.36).  How do you want to answer the creator of the universe?  

You are going to die.  And then you will be judged.  Are you ready?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

 – Matt 6.19-21

graveyard

And if you were curious, even Solomon – the wisest man to ever live – said that no one knows what happens to animals when they die (Ecc 3.21).