The Timely Death of Believers

 

the Lord directs our steps

 

While writing A Ragamuffin In God’s Hall of Fame,  overviewing  the life of Rich Mullins, I  often came across “his untimely death”.  Yes, he died at the young age of 41.  Even younger at death was Keith Green, 28, whose godly music and message continue to glorify God.

Almost everyone in this fallen world can testify of an “untimely death”, as do I, recalling my brother’s death at age 38.  (Noted in this post) 

But ultimately for the believer, however, there is no “untimely death”, it is an “appointed death” (Hebrews 9:12).  The last steps of our life are, as all other steps,  are “ordered by God”.

Why is this so important?

  1.   As followers of the Lord, we must wrap ourselves with the truths of His word before the battle begins.  A perpetual focus of life in this world robs us of  the spiritual truths and fortitude we will need when death comes upon us or our loved ones. 
  2.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” and as such, we must have a living word in our hearts ready to shine into the grief and confusion of those who face death.

There is no hint whatsoever that God “allows” one of His followers to die, as though He were a mere witness to death;  “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”  God is sovereign, not a bystander in our lives.  One can meditate upon the lives of godly servants in Scripture and find that, in spite of very real and ongoing death threats and attempts, they ‘were immortal until God’s work through them was complete’.  King David, the Apostle Paul and our Savior Jesus Himself are striking examples of men whose lives were sought by powerful foes yet they remained alive and victorious under God’s protection.  

After coming to saving faith in Christ, God’s purposes that we increasingly “conform to the image of God’s Son”.

“The believer’s life on earth is his only arena for change and fruitfulness…the nature of eternity is changeless.  Therefore, the time to become like Jesus, being conformed to His likeness, is during this earthly Christian experience of trial and faith.”

“You and I will never be any closer to Christ, throughout eternity, than we are when He comes.  That’s the point of judgement.”    (Dr. Lovett)

Often the life of a fruitful and godly believer is so needed and cherished here and now that his death seems only senseless and tragic.  But the Alpha and Omega may see that believer at the pinnacle of his faith and walk with God.  The Lord alone can see the future backsliding, pitfalls and snares…His view of us is always eternal.

Only a Biblical view of death and heaven can prepare us for grief and heartbreak.   And only detaching ourselves from this world can release the truths of death and eternity into our hearts.  Can we affirm with Paul, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” ?  Can we trust God that His timing and view of our eternity is always accurate, even perfect?

In II Kings 20, God directed an ailing King Hezekiah, “Get your house in order, you’re going to die…”  Yet, while claiming great faithfulness and devotion, Hezekiah actually revealed his attachment to his kingdom here, pleading with God for more time.  The additional 15 years that God granted brought forth the fruits of a spiritual downfall.  His pride burst forth, he lost his discernment, and during this time sired the most wicked heir, King Manasseh.

“When God tells us that it’s time for us to die, we must be willing to leave the earth immediately.  For God alone knows what is best for us.  So, when God tells us it is time to go, we should not want to stay on in this rotten world any longer.”  Zac Poonen

And yet, what of the deaths of unsaved loved ones?  Contemplating their end must serve to embolden us to proclaim the Gospel as though they stand on the precipice of eternity because that is where they are.  Like the thief on the cross alongside Jesus,  their last steps may land upon that ‘narrow road’ of salvation.  But as representatives of God in heaven, we must pray for boldness to speak the truth.

Like water through a funnel, we are swirling faster into the end days.  Many believers however, are lulled into complacency and comfort, having sought and gained satisfaction in this world.  I pray that we, together, will seek the full counsel of God on matters of life and matters of death and eternity.  Whether our last steps are ordered days or years from now, let us fill ourselves with enough truth to pour out to those who are dying without it.

“At every turn in your life, keep the end in view”  Thomas À Kempis

9/11: SHAKEN AND STIRRED TOWARD HEAVEN

God's Call: To Rebuild or Reset?

God’s Call: To Rebuild or Reset?

“…set your hearts on things above on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  (Colossians 3:1-2)

A crazy thought passed through my mind one evening years ago while on a beautiful Caribbean cruise with my whole family.  It was a moment in time with no hardship, no illness, no worries….marriages and families flowing together like the waves upon the sea.  I brushed away thoughts of heaven and thought, ‘how could it be better than this?’

“But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground…the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.” (Acts 27)

The surprise of tragedy, betrayal and loss serve to shake and crush such crazy thoughts. Grief and anguish can depress and embitter or divinely redirect our hearts and thinking heavenward, and with great gain.  Yet, enemy attacks, storms and shipwrecks are tools in the hand of Sovereign God, changing the course of men – as they reset their hearts, their minds and their final destination.

Why is it important – utterly crucial – to long for heaven?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)

Love for, even friendship with, this world does not dilute our relationship with the Lord – it plants seeds of contempt toward Him.  “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.” (James 4:4)  Loosening our grip on the things of this world…even our health, beauty, and possessions, often prepares us for a greater measure of the Lord Himself.

While a comfortable and benign temperature in the physical realm, lukewarm is a deadly state for those chosen by the Lord (Rev 3:16).  To spare us this ‘sickening’ condition, the Lord often stokes the embers in our life, creating a fire in which He will appear.  When He burns away the dross of worldliness and our grip upon the temporal, our eyes can better focus on heavenly realms.  Beloved Apostle John was a vessel of honor for God’s glory,

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit….” (Rev 1:9)

Separated from the world in a barren place of loneliness and suffering, John was given astounding revelations of Jesus Christ, the last days and the coming Kingdom of God.  We  marvel at theses scriptures yet lose sight of the man used by God to deliver them – frail and elderly, at least 90 years old, stripped away from every worldly comfort.  Crushed in a place of great deprivation and suffering, heaven was magnified before him.  John’s longing for his Savior’s return became a singular focus personified in the ending verses of Holy Scripture, “Come, Lord Jesus”.

Is this yearning within you and meToday, the Lord’s return seems very inconvenient, even disruptive to our plans; we would rather He return after a pending project, after an upcoming wedding, or following the big vacation.  However pious and upright, most Christians do not want the Lord to really interfere with their lives. For the sake of our eternal life and His honor, ‘fiery trials’ often set our agendas and lukewarm lives aflame.  Death, anguish, betrayal and loss rout out futile confidence in the things and people of this world.

A dreadful emptiness often overshadows unbelievers when foundations are suddenly shaken.  For the believer in Christ however, there is a living hope.  We may be knocked down, but not knocked out.  The Holy Spirit revives us to fight once again, each round testifying of God’s faithfulness.  It is the mauled sheep who cling to the Good Shepherd and with Him find healing, restoration, – green pastures, quiet waters, and paths of righteousness promised in Psalm 23.   From the “valley of the shadow of death” comes the renewed focus on eternity as we anticipate “the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

Jesus said,

“In My Father’s house are many rooms….I am going there to prepare a place for you”.    (John 14:2)

Whether translated as ‘rooms’, ‘dwelling places’, or ‘mansions’ the Lord promises His followers a prepared place in His Kingdom.   We cling to this belief in death, but does this anticipation order our priorities and reshape our thinking on earth?  Are we ‘storing our treasures in heaven’, towards the things of eternal value?

The Lord may use a fiery furnace to burn off stumbling blocks of sin and compromise, raising our temperature well above lukewarm.  Thrashing waves upon our sailing ship often change our focus and our course.  Yet, whether through daily seeking and renewal through God’s Word or through the pressing and shaking of trials, it is incumbent upon God’s people to divest from this ‘condemned’ world and align ourselves with the purposes of God. God is not calling us to put our hopes in this fallen world any more than we would invest in a foreclosed bank.

In the ‘last days’ let us join Abraham and other heroes of the faith as they set their hearts and minds,

“…looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…. for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”  (Hebrews 11)

And prepared a city for us.

“Come, Lord Jesus”

No Happy Birthday….

Paul with his family

Today is Paul’s birthday but he is not here.  Too soon after this photo was taken he died, having endured a cruel and fatal disease.  His life seemed perfect in every way.  Wife, parents, children too young to understand, siblings and friends were all crushed by God upon the death of my only brother and best friend.

I am so grateful for his life though.  He didn’t leave this world like a snuffed wick but with a legacy of faith and courage.  His testimony and encouraging words live on in the many hearts he touched through his letters….

“…although I may have cancer, there are MANY reasons to praise God.  I can start by thanking Him for the most wonderful parents…”

“I have complete faith in God to help me weather storms when they come.”

“There is no better source of comfort than you will find in Christ’s Word.”

“I have read several times that all of Heaven rejoices when a man’s soul is saved, and hell trembles…Submit to God, repent, and God will not forsake you.”

“I know full well that my life is in the Hands of the Lord.  He has the keys to the car, and I am going along for His ride…”

We don’t need a birth date to remember Paul.

I often think of the Lord’s birth, the greatest ever upon this earth, and yet He purposefully kept it obscure and unknown throughout the ages.  We marvel at Christ’s life, are humbled by His atoning death for our sins, and in reconciling with God, rejoice at the promise of eternal life in His Kingdom.

Some birthdays are celebrated, some stand as landmarks of lives already passed.  Today I remember my beautiful brother and celebrate his life in Christ, knowing that we will reunite in God’s Kingdom.  In John 11:25, Jesus said:

“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

No Happy Birthday….Happy Forevermore.      

ENCOUNTERING CHRIST WHEN DEATH AND DARKNESS REIGN

One of the greatest sermons ever preached may be the shortest – the last dying words of a born again but tortured man.  Destined for glory, his last words on earth were ordained and anointed by God and still resound throughout the ages with eternal value.   Judged by a ruthless government, his day of execution neared with crushing dread, fear, remorse and anguish.  However, within that nightmare, amidst the powers of darkness, he was redeemed.  He honored God in his remaining moments and preached a message that should stir our hearts today.

“Don’t you fear God?” he preached, rebuking the unbeliever and even us today.  We are often among those who insult and challenge God in times of turmoil and confusion, in the midst of  pain and anguish.  So apt to put God on trial, how many times have we indicted Him in our hearts?  In a culture of self importance and self esteem, ‘fear of God’ becomes an obsolete virtue, yet it is the only position from which the life of God flows toward us.   The preacher continued, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve…”   We are that lawbreaker, deserving of the same death – the very wages that our deeds have earned.  (Romans 6:23) 

What an appointment – condemned to die with the Giver of Life!  The most hopeless moment of his life empowered with shekhinah glory and divine revelation of Jesus, the King with an eternal Kingdom.   In utter humility of failure and worldly condemnation, this brother has the bold faith to cry out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”

Dig deep into this message recorded in Luke 23:40-43.   With a humble heart and short message (under forty words), this famous nameless man of God demonstrated great eternal truths.  Firstly, there is nothing random about the works and plans of God.  Creator of all, He is sovereign over all.  Only omnipotent God can promise that “all things work together for good” for His people because He will ordain it so. Even the most dreaded and heartbreaking events can, in His hand, become turning points with divine purpose and destiny.  The excruciating death of this man was an ordained appointment with eternal life.

Secondly, this brother teaches us to suffer well, with endurance and humble faith, that we might see God, fellowship with Him in suffering, and share in His glory.  Can we believe that the Lord can carry us through our darkest hour, through the torment of our worst failure?  When crushed by our own sin, can we trust in Christ’s mercy and faithfulness?  “Everyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.”  (Romans 10:11)   The living Word of God has the power to rob Satan of victory every time. In spite of disappointment, tragedy or pain, we can say as Job in 42:2,

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted.”

Thirdly, we are challenged to finally die to this world and relinquish our love for the things therein.  The appealing self-empowering, and self-gratifying culture of our society is an alluring façade, built to supplant the supremacy of God and deny Him due honor and worship.  The pleasures of this world distract while the achievements in this world puff up.   Every strength and ‘self help’ offered by man dilutes our dependence on the faithfulness of God and His supernatural power. Worldly success and prosperity here do not propel us toward heaven and moreover, they are the weakest oars in the storm.  Only when our eyes are fixed on Christ can our love of this temporal world fade away and bring eternity and God’s Kingdom into focused view.

What man intended for condemnation and death was God’s appointment for infamous pardon and eternal life.  Our Savior was indeed “numbered with the transgressors” and surely we are they.   Apart from His protection, powers of hell will tempt, scheme and ensnare, accusing God during our darkest hour.   However, it is the fear of God that rightly aligns us with Him.   Suffering pries us from our confidence in the flesh and love for this world.   Surrendered to the Lord, we have every assurance that His presence is with us and will speak life into every dark hour and lost hope.   Like our famed brother on the cross, we also, as redeemed transgressors, will be honored with words of life for others, words backed by heaven with divine purpose and eternal value.

 

"For great is Your love, reaching to the heavens; Your faithfulness reaches to the skies."

“Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”  Luke 23:43