Sunday, February 6, 2011

Born To Die

I recently finished reading two powerful books. The first book is entitled, "Choosing To See." It was written by Marybeth Chapman. Marybeth is the wife of contemporary Christian artist Steven Curtis Chapman. She was prompted to write the book after the untimely and tragic accidental death of the Chapman's five year old adopted daughter, Maria. Marybeth used the book as a way of working through the grief and anguish she experienced and how God taught her to choose to see His grace at work in the midst of such a tragedy. It is still a "one day at a time" experience for Marybeth but sharing her story is providing the "balm of Gilead" for her wounded soul. The other book is entitled "The Art of Dying" by Robert Moll. In his book Moll talks about how our culture does everything it can to avoid the reality of the dying experience and death itself. Unfortunately, he also laments that Christians have joined the cultural wave in not celebrating death as a gift of God. He talks about how for the early Christian church, death was a community experience. Christians cared physically and spiritually for their dying brothers and sisters versus the practice today of the dying spending their last moments in a hospital or nursing facility. Cemeteries were often located right next to the church instead of many miles away in a not so visible location. Funeral directors and funeral homes have become the hosts in orchestrating the funeral service. And once the loved one has been interred, there is a disconnect from the still living Christian community. The deceased are no longer remembered or celebrated on a regular basis as part of the communion of the saints. In our humanity it is not unusual to have some anxiety about our dying days as we like to be able to control situations and fear of the unknown often stands in the way. However, what I learned from these two authors is the perspective we as Christians have towards death is more culturally influenced than biblically informed. Death is not the end but the beginning of real living. I believe that the struggles we go through in this life allow us to appreciate even more what awaits us after death. Jesus Himself stated, "I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:24) Jesus was illustrating the principle of life through death using the plant world as an illustration. The kernel must perish as a kernel if there is to be a plant. We must die in this earthly body in order to experience the fullness of life with God. As Paul tells us, "The body that is sown perishable, is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." (1 Corinthians 15:42) In other words there is continuity between this life and the next, but there is also a change. The point is that the early church celebrated aging and death as a natural transition from this life into a new life with God. And we know that the foundation of that celebration is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Believers in Jesus Christ can rejoice in the assurance, the promise, and dare I say it, the gift of dying. Yes, we will miss those who we have had a relationship with on this earth when they die. Likewise, we will miss those we leave behind when our time to leave this world comes. And having just celebrated a birthday in January, I realize with every new ache and pain that I am moving toward death. But,"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?....But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:54, 57) We are born to die, so how will you choose to see death? As something so dreadful that you in concert with the medical community must do everything you can to hold on to this life? Or can you rest as Paul did in the knowledge that, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) If you know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, you can hardly wait to see the place He has prepared for you and be with Him forever. (John 14:1-3)
In His grace,
Pastor Sheree

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