Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

O death, where is your sting?

A number of our friends and acquaintances have died this year.  So, it’s not surprising that I have been thinking about death recently.

I’m 71, so I don’t have a ton of years ahead of me.  But I’m content.

I have a lovely family and I have lived a good life.  I feel blessed because my wife, children, and my children’s spouses are all committed believers in Jesus Christ.  Some of my young grandchildren have placed their faith in Jesus, too.

But, I must confess I would not have felt at peace about death when I was a younger man.  In fact, I was upset more than 20 years ago when I was told that I had probably suffered a heart attack.  That proved wrong after further tests.

Yet I was tormented by thoughts of leaving my family at that stage.  My wife had a career but one of my children was still at home and two others were not yet established in life.  My family would face financial difficulties and some of their dreams – and my dreams for them – might never become reality.

I also felt that there was more I could do with my life.  I wasn’t ready for death.

I think many of us feel we should have the right to decide when we die.  “Not yet, God,” we say.

I remember hearing someone at a healing prayer conference say that he had finally given up his fear of dying before he was ready.  He had turned this all over to God.  It struck me then that we all need to deal with this fact.  It is part of recognizing that this is in God’s hands and that he knows best what is right for us.

The apostle Paul faced death constantly – beatings, stonings, the threat of drowning.  But he was at peace.  In his letter to the Philipians, he says in chapter 1: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

He talked about this again in 1 Corinthians 15, where he declares: “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  The point he is making is that believers have nothing to fear when they die.  They will be with God and all pain and suffering will melt away and there will be everlasting joy.

It is something to take to heart.

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Terror and joy

I put my feet in the shoes of the shepherds yesterday as I was reading about the angels announcing Jesus’ birth to them in Luke 2:8-20.

How did they feel?  I believe they felt terror and joy.  And I believe that is how we should approach God, too.

They were sitting on a hillside with their flock of sheep just as they had done many times before.  They were probably bored.

But then suddenly an angel appeared out of the darkness and a great light surrounded him – the glory of God. They were terrified – I would be, too.

The angel says they should be joyful – not afraid – because a Saviour was born that very day.  Incredibly, he was in a manger – not a royal bed.

Immediately, a whole choir of angels appeared, praising God.  The shepherds rushed off to Bethlehem to see Jesus.  And then they spread the news excitedly.

The passage ends with these words: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

They had good reason to glorify God.  Angels had appeared and told them the good news about Jesus and where he was to be found.  He was there in a manger, just as the angels said.

Like Mary, I pondered these things.

The shepherds were right to be terrified when the angel first appeared to them.  It was out of the ordinary and dramatic.  Nothing prepared them for this sudden appearance.

It is good to be awestruck by God, to fear him for his great power and glory.  Too often, I take God for granted.  Unconsciously, I domesticate God, making him little more than another man in my mind.

But somewhere in the Narnia chronicles, C.S. Lewis says that the lion Aslan (a picture of God) is not a tame lion.  He is to be feared and treated with the utmost respect and reverence.

And yet this passage speaks about joy and peace.  The angel choir says in verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

We are to treat God with great respect because he is a powerful God who has our very lives in his hands.  But he comes to bring us joy and peace when we place our faith in him.

Like the shepherds, I want to praise him for what he has done.