No, Death is Not Beautiful

It was 4:00 in the morning. The phone call and recorded message jerked me awake. I shook Cliff.

“Your mom says your dad fell out of his chair and needs help getting back up.”

Cliff stumbled out of bed and sleepily put some clothes on. A few moments later he headed across the yard to his parents’ house with flashlight in hand.

Too awake now to fall asleep again immediately, I got up and sat on the couch waiting for him to come home.

Then I heard the sirens.

Hurrying to the window, I saw the lights flashing in my in-laws’ driveway. The first vehicle was joined by two more.

It seemed an eternity before I finally saw Cliff coming toward the house again. I met him at the back door…and knew the news was not good.

He was stooped as though having a difficult time breathing, heaving in deeply with tears pouring down his cheeks as raw, visceral emotion was released.

“I think he’s gone.”

We held one another and cried.

* * * * *

Our kids were blessed to live so near Papa they got to see him almost every day. They have some wonderful memories to treasure. Papa would bring Brianna home from work (Daddy sometimes takes her with him in the mornings) and he would always stop at Braums first to get her an ice cream cone. He taught her to play checkers. He sat with the kids this last 4th of July as they squeeled at the sight and sound of the fireworks. If they were involved in a play or presentation with the homeschool group, he was there.  Many times I would look out the window to be greeted by the sight of my son or daughter working alongside their papa in the yard or garden—hauling brush or sticks, cleaning up this or that, carrying firewood to the house.

Despite his failing health, Dad stayed active and industrious. I’ve never seen such a work ethic.  Rain or shine, good health or poor, Dad never let any excuse keep him from working hard and beiproductive. He instilled this strong work ethic and a sense of integrity in all four of his children. As his health failed he never complained about anything. But he had never been a complainer, simply
taking life as it came.

He was a man of few words, believing actions spoke louder. Accordingly, he was well-reputed for his generous support of Christian ministries and missions around the world. He usually had his Bible laid open on his desk where he had been reading it. He loved sitting in his chair, listening to great hymns of the faith, or preaching and teaching.

He had been listening to the preaching of J. Vernon McGee when he passed away.

* * * * *

At 6:30 that morning, our kids (aged 7 and 6) awoke. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would take the news. We sat down with them on the couch and broke it to them as gently as possible. I was surprised that they both took it without any show of emotion. I think they were in some shock and did not grasp the reality of it at the time. But later in the day Bri walked off by herself and cried. The next morning my sister-in-law saw Marcus sitting in a chair, staring at a picture of him and his grandpa together. When she asked him if he was okay he burst into tears, buried his face in the picture, and sobbed his heart out.

The funeral was delayed for a week because one of Cliff’s sisters and her husband were already scheduled to adopt a girl from an orphanage in Bulgaria. Just two days after they all arrived back in the States, we laid Dad’s body to rest. What made it poignantly painful and beautiful at once was to
observe the cycle of life: just as a family member left this world, another was added to the family, and yet another will soon enter (child #3 is due in just a few weeks!).

Death is not a beautiful thing. It’s wrong. Horribly wrong. In trying to come to terms with it the modern consciousness has tried to accept and embrace it as a “normal” and “beautiful” part of life.

But there is nothing inherently normal or good or beautiful about growing old and dying. In view of all life declared “good” in the Garden, it should not be. It is part of the curse that sinful man brought on himself. Death entered through the first Adam.

But the believer finds hope and reason to rejoice—even in death—because Life has come through the Second Adam.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…(…For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Romans 6:12, 17-19

As believers, we sorrow when our loved ones pass on. But we don’t sorrow in the same way as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Christ has triumphed over death—it is described
as an enemy He will destroy at the last (1 Corinthians 15:26). Those who believe in Christ and trust Him for their righteousness have everlasting life. And when believers die they are simply shedding the shell of death which is under the curse and exchanging it for life.

In our morning devotions together the kids and I had just started into The Attributes of God for Kids about a week and a half before Dad passed away. The first one we read in the book is that God is unchanging, therefore we are secure. I had sent the kids out to bring back a piece of an evergreen tree and a leaf from a deciduous tree. We compared them and talked about how God is like the evergreen tree which never fades. We, however, are like the leaves that change and fade with the seasons.

Remembering our little lesson in the week before the funeral, I realized just how timely and appropriate it was. The two pieces of greenery were still sitting in the kitchen so I retrieved them and
sat down with the kids. We compared the two again: the needles from the evergreen looked about the same, but the leaf was curling up and dying. We talked about Papa. And about Jesus. How we change, fade, grow old, and die, but He is unchanging and eternal, and we can put our hope in Him for eternal
life.

Later Cliff talked with them about putting off this old “tabernacle” to be clothed with new life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4, 2 Peter 1:13-14). What we would see in the casket would not be Papa. Papa was with Jesus. He had left the body of death behind. It was a “tent” he didn’t live in or need anymore.

Brianna understood. She excitedly exclaimed, “Just like a bug sheds its ‘skin’!”

From the adjoining room where I overheard her I had to smile to myself at her analogy.

Yet, crude though it may be, it’s not a bad one.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:53-55, 57

No, death is not beautiful.

But the Life Who conquered it is! And Papa is rejoicing in Christ our Life now…

Dreams

We all have our own plans, dreams and desires.  Especially when we are young.  But we learn very quickly that life never goes exactly according to plan, and we are forced to grapple with realities that do not match our imagined idealisms.  This poem pictures the struggle of accepting disappointment, and learning to gain an eternal perspective as we learn to seek first Christ’s kingdom, rather than our own.

Weaving dreams and making plans,

The ethereal unfolds

In the mind where these stand—

Jewels of desire to behold.

Rich I deem myself to be,

I write my story page by page,

Charmed by lucid fantasy,

And passion of youthful age.

There are no words, and yet,

I know it all, I am so sure;

Dreams of light I’ll not forget,

As though encased in jasper.

On and on the music plays,

The siren song of passion;

Into my future I, smiling, gaze

In such a careless fashion.

Everything is bright and fair,

There is no dreary way,

A frown, a fret, a care—

These things will not play,

Not in my song of songs,

Nor in my visions sweet.

No dissonance or raucous gongs

Will bring desire to defeat.

But then one day—it happens;

From my pleasant dreams I wake.

I sit, awestruck, as passions

A restless roar within me make.

For there they are, my perfect dreams—

Stardust scattered o’er the ground.

The shattered bits flicker and gleam

But to an empty nothingness are bound.

Stepping round the ice cold shards

I survey the dismal scene.

It all came down, this house of cards—

A useless, empty fling.

Then looking up from this cruel turn

To the steel-gray heavens above,

I feel my heart within me burn

And wish for the wings of a dove;

That I might fly above all this—

Beyond the darkness into light

And find a true and steadfast solace,

A rescue from my night.

Pegasus and Scorpius

In their proud courses run;

The glory of great Sirius

Only pales by moon and sun.

Wind and water, waves and sea,

Salty breezes, frozen steppes,

Mighty mountains, ancient trees

And tiny robins in their nests—

All the glorious grandeur here

Of nature flashes through my vision,

As before my eyes appear

Scenes of serenity Elypsian.

Had I the wisdom of the ancients,

The knowledge of Archimedes,

The eloquence of Antony,

Precision of Thucydides…

I could not, with greatest effort

Express the magnitude and beauty

Of the great creation concert

In perfect harmony of key.

Then I ponder, “Who am I?

In all this vast expanse?

Just cells and atoms, nuclei?

Result of random chance?

A speck of nothing on a ball

Flung out in time and space?

Forgotten when I take a fall?

Obscure member of our race?”

No. No I know better.

I have met Him whose name is Truth;

His gift to me is no dead letter—

His Word a comfort from my youth.

This King who made the earth and heaven,

Who rules o’er land and sea,

He stoops so low to reckon

With man His creation…with me.

Not a sparrow falls before Him

But He sees and knows it all.

From His kindness does life stem;

Nothing for His interest is too small.

I am loved and known by Him,

And His promise is to me,

A cup with mercy filled to brim

For all eternity.

Center of the universe I’m not—

That place belongs to Christ.

For mankind’s freedom He has fought,

His sacrifice sufficed.

His kingdom interests are supreme,

They take priority o’er all

Man’s infinitesimal dreams

And plans so trivially small.

He’s working out His purposes

Planned from eternity;

He works all for our good, He says.

In Him we find identity.

Sometimes when all our hopes are dashed

And disappointment all we know,

When plans are swiftly crashed,

And for dreams we get a “No”…

A broken heart may be God’s gift

To raise our eyes to better sights;

The imaginations of our hearts to lift

To much fairer heights.

To break us free from minuscule visions,

To see His bigger scheme;

A greater good to envision,

As we embrace redemptive theme.

As I find comfort in this certainty,

The gray of sky is lifted.

The rays of sun break through to me

And warm my heart uplifted.

Then gather I the stardust bits

Of dreams and plans all broken;

To give an offering that fits,

A sacrifice of love—a token…

To the Lord who lived and died for me,

The God of my eternity.

God’s Placement

Note: This is a guest post from my husband, Cliff.  It was originally posted on September 22, 2013

The exact placement of the sun and earth reveals that if the earth were too close or far away from the sun, life would be impossible. The temperatures would either be too frigid or too hot for any life to exist. The margin for error is too small for this to have been left to chance.

But what does this teach about God?

It reflects a God that leaves nothing to chance. He is far too smart for that. He, being all-wise, knew the exact parameters needed for life to exist on the earth, therefore our solar system is ordered in excruciating exactness.  This also reveals a thoughtful God who lovingly cares for and protects His creation.

 With this in view, spiritually God also thoughtfully places the believer and arranges his life so that he or she can grow to the fullest. Nothing has been left to chance. Despite the devil’s numerous attempts to pollute the Bible, He kept His word pure and holy, and it exclaims that God has given “…all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue,” II Peter 1:3.
Seeing this, life for a believer does not have to be intermittent and feeble, for the things necessary for spiritual vitality are not too far away for us. His word is not only in heaven, but is with us.
He has even placed us in Christ, I Corinthians 1:2. In Christ there can be no better protection from the effects of sin and its power. As sin never overpowered Christ, then so we that walk with Him will not be overcome by its power and thereby sin, Galatians 5:16. The sinning serpent bruised Christ’s heel, but Christ crushed his head, Genesis 3:15.
Our Lord is all-powerful. There is nothing that can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus, Romans 8:39. He bore the punishment, that we might not have to. Because you are in Him, He is your Protection. We overcome because He overcame.

As God knows all, is all-powerful, Loving, and Sovereign, He can and does work all things for good to them that love Him, Romans 8:28. Here again, the Father leaves nothing to chance for His children. He wisely and lovingly orders our lives. Perhaps relationships which we thought were good, He removes, for they would turn our hearts from Him.  We also experience His physical protection.  When you would take a step off the scaffold (and break bones!), He intervenes by having you look down and stop before you crumple in a heap.
On the other hand, the chastisement God bestows upon us turns us back to Him, Hebrews 12:11.
In short, the placement of the believer is perfect in God’s will. Without these things, the Christian life would be utterly impossible.
  

Christians Don’t Have to Run

Wherefore it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a Chief Corner Stone, elect, precious, and he that believeth on Him shall not be confounded.

1 Peter 2:6

Note: This was originally published on my previous blog July 16, 2013

Peter wrote these words to suffering, persecuted believers of the early Church, at a time when Christians were hunted down by both religious leaders and government officials, and tortured and killed. He reminded them in his letter that their inheritance was safely preserved in heaven for them (1 Peter 1:3-5), that they were a chosen people with special privileges, and that their confidence in the Lord was well-founded and sure (2:4-10). He loosely quoted this Scripture from the writings of the prophet Isaiah:

Isa 28:16 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.

After reading that verse (in Isaiah) in its context one morning while studying 1 Peter 2:6, I sat stumped for a few moments. It seemed worlds away from that of 1 Peter 2. Two different time periods, two different contexts, two different audiences. How did it fit and what did it mean? And to make it more confusing, Peter’s quotation was not taken from Isaiah word for word: “confounded,” and “make haste,” seemed to be very different.

But slowly the pieces of the puzzle came together.

Looking into the Isaiah passage, it becomes clear that the context concerns God promising to send judgment for sin. Ephraim (Isaiah 28:1) had turned from God, was walking in rebellion, and the people were reassuring their troubled consciences by telling themselves that death could not overtake them—they had made a pact with hell (28:14-15). They could sin and there would be no judgment. No recompense. No accountability. No consequences. Lies were their refuge, and they denied reality with falsehood.

Now God comes to them with a very stern and grim warning: “Because you trust in lies, I’m going to lay a stone in Zion, and only those who believe will not make haste. I’m bringing my judgment and righteousness, and your lies are going to be washed away, your covenant with death disannulled, and you’re going to get the judgment you so rightly deserve but thought you could escape.” In fact, God goes on to say that judgment has been determined “upon the whole earth,” not just Ephraim to whom He’s speaking in this passage (28:16-22).

So there was God’s promise to send wrath and just retribution. But in this warning, He has also left a prophetic ray of hope. In the face of man’s sin, lies, and unrepentance, God is going to lay a chosen stone in Zion, upon which if a man believes, he will not “make haste.”

Make haste? To what would people be hurrying to…or from?

Again, the context would suggest the answer: when God’s judgment begins to fall, men will be “making haste” to flee it. God said He would bring “hail” to sweep away their lies, and “waters” to overflow their hiding place—and when the “overflowing scourge” passes through, they would be trodden down and taken by it (verses 18-19).

As a startling illustration of this, the people of Noah’s day come to mind. Noah preached to them for a hundred years, and yet they did not repent. Then one day Noah entered the ark, God sealed it up, and the opportunity for repentance was past. I imagine a scene in which terrified people are watching the rain descend, the fountains of the deep burst open, and the waters rush up on land towards them. Screaming, they rush in all directions, trying to clamor onto roofs, or climb trees, or run for the hills. They “make haste” but are overtaken and drowned in the flood waters of God’s wrath and judgment.

So if those who don’t believe on God’s chosen Corner Stone make haste, what do those who do believe do?

Here’s where it gets good.

In the Greek in 1 Peter, “believeth” means “to have faith, credit, to entrust.” In Hebrew the word can mean “to build up or support, to render or be firm or faithful, to trust or believe, to be permanent or quiet, to be true, to go to the right hand—hence assurance.” The word is used of Abraham in Genesis 15:6 when he believed the Lord and it was reckoned to him for righteousness. The idea is that a man puts his trust and faith in the Lord—he builds his life upon the Rock, Jesus Christ—and stands, immovable, in quiet rest. His position is permanent, despite anything that comes…because his Foundation is founded and permanently settled by God the Father Himself.

Faith is rest. It is resting from the works of the law, from fear of death and judgment, etc., and entrusting one’s soul to the Father through the finished work of His Son on the cross. It is literally standing on the Rock. Matthew 7 presents a good picture of this. Those who build their lives on Christ will not be swept away in the storm of judgment. Those trusting in anything other than Him will be destroyed when it comes. Sinners will not be able to stand in the judgment (Psalm 1), but the righteous will (Jude 1:24). Anyone found standing on the Chief Corner Stone that God has laid, rather than the sand of lies and self-deception, will not be washed away with other sinners in the judgment.

You could say that the opposite of making haste—hurrying to or from one place or another—would be to be still…to be at rest…to be quiet. Christ is our Sabbath Rest (Hebrews 4). The Greek word in 1 Peter translated “lay” is “tithemi,” meaning “to place (in the widest application literally and figuratively; properly in a passive or horizontal posture, and thus different from [histemi] which properly denotes an upright and active position, while [keimai] is properly reflexive and utterly prostrate).”

The Stone upon which we have chosen to build our lives is fixed, passive, securely resting and immovable. All who stand upon it are “safe and secure from all alarm” as the old hymn says. Never, never, will those who put their faith in Jesus be ashamed (Romans 10:11). In that verse in 1 Peter a double negative is used in that “shall not” be confounded.

In the day of judgment we will not be confounded—we will not find that our hope has disappointed us. We won’t find ourselves cast off and rejected and put to shame for believing in Christ. We will not make haste—we will not try to flee from the wrath of God when it descends, because it will not touch those found in Christ.

Only those who reject the Stone which God laid will in turn be rejected and consumed. When the floodgates of God’s wrath and judgment are one day unleashed upon the entire earth, not one of those who believed on Him will be washed away, trodden down, lost, or destroyed.

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust…He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked. Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling…Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name…” (Psalm 91)

Psalm 91 takes on a whole new meaning in this light. If God is our habitation, our dwelling, His Son the Chief Corner Stone of our foundation, then when the judgment comes, and “ten thousand fall” to our left and right, it shall not approach us, because we have made Him our refuge.

 * * * * * *

These must have been encouraging words for the persecuted believers in Peter’s day to hear. They were not suffering in vain. Their hope was not in vain (1 Corinthians 15). They would receive the crown of life for choosing Christ—even if it meant they were to be tortured and killed for their testimony. Their foundation stood sure—how else could they have the courage to live and die? They might, for a time, be chased all over the face of the earth by evil men…but they would not be running in the day of God’s judgment. They were promised that in this life nothing could separate them from the love of Christ (Romans 8). He would never leave them nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:6).

In Isaiah 28 the verse is addressed to those in sin, warning them to repent. In 1 Peter 2 it is addressed to believers, assuring them that they have a foundation, and, by implication, that those who are now persecuting them will be judged for rejecting the Stone of God. In both contexts, safety, peace, and eternal hope are promised to those who trust in the Chief Corner Stone.

What do we say to all this? Unto us “which believe He is precious” (1 Peter 2:7).

If the Stone is under your feet, you’re good to go. Bank on it. And rest.