Tag Archives: death

Death, the Path to Life

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” John 12:24

Picture this: You and a couple of your closest friends are on a journey together. I mean these are close friends. In fact you’ve pretty much spent all of the last three years with them in one long adventure. One of these friends, the leader and mentor to all, opens up and tells you he’s about to be captured, that he will endure tremendous suffering and eventually be killed.

What would your reaction be? I’d imagine you would object and assure your leader that as long as you have something to say about it, this wouldn’t happen. Maybe you resolve to fight for your friend. After all, having the man you look up to suffer and be taken away from you is not acceptable. It’s not the way life’s supposed to work. Right?

Bringing this story home, see yourself as Peter in the following scene:

First Jesus asks you, “But who do you say that I am?”  And you say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

At your response, Jesus blesses you and tells you that God has revealed this to you. He tells you that upon the truth of your saying his church will be built and that the gates of Hades will not overpower it. On top of that, he gives you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the ability to handcuff or bind the activities of Satan and release or loose those held captive.

About now you’re feeling pretty good. But then Jesus begins to talk to you all about  his  pending suffering and death.

This rocks your world and you argue, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall not happen to you.”[1]

Jesus’ response is stark and jolting,  “Get behind Me Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”[2]

Jesus was talking to Peter, but he spoke to Satan, exposing his desire to keep us thinking about our own welfare.

So evidently Satan’s strategy is deeper than just getting us to do evil deeds. All he really has to do is keep us thinking about what’s best for us. What he doesn’t want is for us to think about God.

If we focus only on our desires for comfort, smooth circumstances, and a life free of pain, we’re not free to seek God’s desire for our lives.

Days later, it would happen to Peter again. Mindful of his own safety, he would deny even knowing his Lord on the day of his crucifixion.

But Peter would eventually get it.  See what he wrote decades later concerning our life in Christ,  In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;  and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” I Peter 1:6-9

What changed Peter?

Only a few verses after Jesus let Peter know he was speaking the words of Satan, he said  “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses His life for my sake will find it.”[3]

After Peter’s encounter with the Risen Lord, the above words would guide his life. History tells us he was crucified upside down for his faith, not considering himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.

“Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”[4]

 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.[5]

The path of following Jesus is the path of dying to what we want and embracing what Jesus wants for us.

Challenge: In what ways are you embracing the ‘things of man’? It could be an obvious besetting sin, or more subtle sins of living only for comfort and ease of circumstances.

Bring these things to the cross of Christ where Jesus died for you and all that needs to die in you. Out of each death to self, you will experience his life.

Lord, may we respond as Peter with great rejoicing and joy inexpressible and full of glory to your work in our lives, knowing your purposes are for our ultimate good. Teach us to die to what we want and live our lives fully mindful of what you want. Amen

[1] Matthew 16:15-22 (NASB unless otherwise noted)

[2] Matthew 16:23 NKJV

[3] Matthew 16:24-25

[4] Romans 6:11

[5] Galatians 2:20

Dying of Thirst

 Desert Dryness

“How long did they say we should wait here?” Andy asked, glancing again at the crumpled wreck that had once been their plane, as the two brothers laid exhausted in the desert heat.

“Andy…  How many times can we talk about the same thing?” Peter returned in tired frustration. “They said to wait here with Jimmy until they could bring help. They didn’t specify how long…”

“How long has it been? I’m getting so thirsty…” Andy moaned.

“I’m thirsty too. We haven’t had a drop of water since Jimmy died and that’s been a couple  of days.” Peter replied. He was trying to shield himself from the desert sun by the twisted wing of their downed plane.

By this time the two brother’s lips were cracked and parched; their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouths.

Later, after the sun went down, Andy propped himself up on his elbow and could see Peter’s gaunt face and white crusted lips.  “I’ve had enough of this.” Andy said. “I’m going to find water.”

Peter opened his eyes. “Where are you going?” He called after Andy, as he saw a shadowy vision of his brother ascending a sand dune into the bright moon light.

Peter struggled to his feet and followed Andy from a distance. Soon the vision of his brother blurred and he wiped his eyes to clear them. Then he felt a pressure on his shoulders and realized he was on the ground. He lay there exhausted, giving up hope of going on.

He was awakened by warmth on his eye lids. Opening his eyes to the east, the new sun was already baking him. It burned his exposed skin as he lay motionless in the sand.

After some time, Peter became aware in his semi-conscious state, that the sand itself was burning his skin. With all the strength he could muster, Peter crawled to a nearby cactus and curled up in its feeble shadow. This offered some relief, at least until the small shadow shifted again. He faded into unconsciousness.

I’ve Found Water

 “Peter! Peter!” Andy’s excited voice brought Peter back into awareness. The sun was almost down and Peter could see Andy waving his hands in excitement. “I’ve found water. Let’s go.”

As Andy’s words flowed into Peter’s conscience, he sat up, looking curiously at Andy.

“It’s a bit of a hike Peter, but it’s the freshest water I’ve ever drank. There’s a valley with a slow running river flowing through it. Peter! It’s surrounded by lush plants, even shade trees. The water is so cool and I think I saw fruit trees down stream on the other side. Let’s go.”

Peter just stared at Andy, not moving a muscle.

“Come on Peter, do you need help?”

After a few moments of silence, Peter replied in a weak voice, “Andy, I just don’t think there could be a river of water like you described, especially out here. You’ve seen a mirage.”

“Peter!” Andy replied in unbelief at the words he was hearing. “I didn’t just see the water, I drank some. I drank my fill of cool refreshing water. It softened my dry cracked lips and washed away all the dryness. It was wonderful! Come on.”

After Peter still didn’t move, Andy said, “You don’t look so good. I think I can carry you.”

Andy stooped and grabbed Peter under his arms to pull him up.

“Andy! Leave me here,” Peter groaned. “I’m not wasting my time on this. It doesn’t make any sense to me that water could be anywhere around here. I know you believe there’s water and that’s great for you. But, honestly, I think you’re being fooled. You want to have water so much that you’ve convinced yourself that it’s there.”

“Peter!” Andy replied, not believing his ears. “Trust me! Sometimes you have to just trust someone and not let your reasoning get in the way. I agree with you. It’s an unlikely spot for a fountain of water, but I drank from it. I know it’s not a mirage. It refreshed me through and through!”

“Andy, I do trust you. I trust that you think it was a real river, I just don’t believe it myself.”

“What do you mean Peter!” Andy screamed. He was starting to get really frustrated. “How can you say you trust me and still not believe there is water? That doesn’t make sense!”

Andy was now beside himself with disbelief that his brother would refuse water that would save his life.

“Andy, like I said. I do trust you. Keep on believing that there is water. Don’t let me stop you. I just don’t share your belief that there’s water out here.”

“UGH!” Andy groaned. He then turned and began walking quickly in the direction he had come from.

Finding Water on Our Own

Peter watched his brother disappear out of sight and fell again into unconsciousness.

After some time, Peter awoke to a burning fire in his throat. I’m dying of thirst, he thought. I have to find water, I can’t die like this. He frantically began to scratch at the sand with his finger nails. I’ll dig my own well. After all, the cactus has to be getting water from somewhere. His pitiful cistern barely dented the sand by the time he used his remaining strength. There was no water and he could not go on.

His mind faded into unconsciousness and beyond.

When Peter opened his eyes it was completely black, pitch black darkness enveloped him.  No light, no moon, no stars, nothing but darkness. He had never experienced such thick murky blackness. He reached down to touch his legs, but he could not feel them. His legs were gone, as were his arms and even his face. In desperate agony, he screamed, but he heard no sound. He continued to shout and wave with what he thought were his arms, but nothing could disrupt the thick gloomy darkness. He was in an abyss of nothingness.

Then he heard a voice “Peter! I’ve brought you some water.”

It was Andy’s voice, not coming from any one direction, but from all around his darkness.

Andy! Andy! I’m here!  Peter screamed with all his might, but there was no sound.

Andy! Help! Please help me! Andy!  Peter yelled as loud as he could, but nothing.

Then he heard Andy’s voice again. “Peter! Peter! Why wouldn’t you believe me? I brought you water, its right here!” But, there was nothing he could do, it was too late.

Back to Reality

Very faintly at first and then increasing in volume, Peter began to hear the sound of rushing water.  Then, suddenly the abrupt caw of a crow overhead awakened him.

“You about ready to go Peter?” called a voice that sounded like Andy’s from some distance behind.

Utterly stunned, Peter began to size up his surroundings. He was far from being in a desert. In fact, he found himself in a place quite the opposite. Instead of desert heat, his hands and face felt chilled. Yet, moments before, in an eerie desperate darkness, he was experiencing death.

Somehow, he was sitting, facing downstream, beside a winding brook of rapidly flowing water. Both in front and behind him there was the liquid cleansing sound of water freely flowing over rocks into gushing pools.

A brisk breeze whisked his dry, parched face as his eyes followed the stream forward to the horizon. He was in the mountains. He noticed the rolling hills towering above him on either side of the stream. And though the sun was pleasantly warming his face, patches of glistening white snow covered the land as far as he could see. In places the snow resembled brilliant diamonds as the sparkles of sun light reflected in every direction off the melting snow.

He was sitting in a lounge chair of sorts, made of stone, complete with arm and foot rests. In one way, it felt like he had been asleep for a very long time. Yet, what he had just experienced felt very real.

As he recalled his previous devastation, he became aware of great thirst. Like a bullet, he propelled himself forward to the cool liquid below his feet. With a splash, he literally buried his head in the rushing pool, violently lapping the ice cold water. He could feel the wetness moisten his leathery tongue and begin to dissolve some of the thick mucus in his mouth.

“Boy, you sure must be thirsty!” Andy’s voice startled Peter from behind, but it did not interrupt his water feast.

“I’ve never seen anyone guzzle water with quite as mush gusto!” chuckled Andy.

Peter didn’t even acknowledge Andy at first, continuing to gulp the cool mountain water. After awhile he lifted his face from the pool and turned toward him.

“What happened?” Peter demanded almost rudely. “What do you mean what happened?” Andy answered, astounded at the question. “You’ve been asleep for over an hour. I’ve been up stream a ways reading. Don’t you remember?”

“Sort of.” Peter nodded his head.

“You drug me up here to see the Mission Church at Valle Crusis because it’s on the historic register. Not that I mind.” Andy smiled. “These mountains are stunningly beautiful.”

“Yeah,” mumbled Peter.

“Hey!” Andy interrupted before Peter could answer. “What’s wrong with your lips? They’re shriveled and white.”

Was it a Dream?

Completely puzzled, Peter returned to the stone chair and stared at Andy. “Something weird is going on.” Peter exclaimed, as he shifted his intent stare to the pool he had just drank from. “I guess it was a dream, but it was so real. And what happened to my lips?” Peter rubbed his upper lip with the tip of his finger.

“In my dream, I died of thirst and you were trying to help me. You kept telling me about a fountain of water, but I refused to believe you. Then I died. But it was a very strange death. I knew I was dead, but I could still hear you trying to give me water, but it was too late! There was water after all, but I didn’t believe you.”

“Really?” Andy replied with great interest. “Tell me about it while we walk the rest of the way to the mission.”

As the brothers walked along the stream toward the mission, Peter relayed in great detail what had gone on in the desert. Andy listened intently.

“As you tell me about your dream, it reminds me of how sad I feel that you don’t believe me when I tell you that Jesus is more than just a man.” Andy replied, as they passed a horse farm along the road.

“I can relate very much to your dream and what I was trying to do. I saw the water and it saved my life. However, when I offered it to you, you didn’t believe me. And you don’t believe me about Jesus either.”

“I couldn’t see how there could have been a river like you described out there in that dry dusty desert,” Responded Peter.  “I figured you were just seeing a mirage and that you had convinced yourself that the mirage existed. I thought you were being deceived. I even tried to dig my own well near the cactus plant. I couldn’t just die of thirst.”

“But you did die of thirst Peter!” Andy answered sternly. “You’re my own brother and now you really are dying. We’e all dying. Nobody gets out of here alive. And I’ve found a fountain of life, life that could satisfy you now and always. Life that is even more incredible to the thirsty soul than that drink you just had. But you won’t believe me!” Tears watered in Andy’s eyes as he looked at his brother. “How will I be able to endure you dying of thirst when I know where the living water is to save you?”

All Peter could do was stare at his brother. He couldn’t  just make himself believe in something he doesn’t believe in. Where was the evidence?

Water for the Soul

“I do believe you Andy. I believe that you do see the water, but the water must be for you and not me, because I don’t see it.”

“I didn’t see either Peter!” Andy exclaimed. “When Lee told me about Jesus, back when I was in college, I figured it was just one of his crazy phases. I tolerated what he said because he was my oldest friend. I didn’t check out what he was telling me until I found myself burdened by all I had done wrong and feeling empty with no real purpose. Jesus is more than a man. I can tell you because he has become a friend of mine. Just like Lee introduced Jesus to me, I want to introduce Him to you.”

“I appreciate it and I’m interested in learning more about him because of what he means to you. That’s why I saw The Gospel of John and The Passion of the Christ movies with you.” Peter replied as they approached the entrance to the Valle Crusis Conference center.

They entered the facility and followed the sign up a rocky road covered with snow toward the old Mission church.

“I must admit.” Peter interrupted, the silence as they trudged up the road. “Something pretty extraordinary must have happened the day Jesus was crucified. With all the attention given to that point in history and what supposedly happened after that, I wish I could go back in time and figure out what really happened.”

“So, in your mental box, in your paradigm, what happened back then would have to fit inside of a man’s mind and be explained by man’s reasoning?” Andy questioned.

“I guess so.” Peter replied thoughtfully as they reached the summit of the road.

Valley of the Cross

They walked along a snowy path in silence for a few moments. There was a ravine to their left and Valle Crusis, the Valley of the Cross, unfolded before their eyes as they hiked.”

The sun was low in the sky and sunset colors of deep orange and yellow supplied the backdrop for the mission church they had come so far to see.

“Isn’t it picturesque, Andy?” Peter marveled “I read that a botanist from New York came through here and was struck by the remote beauty of this place. He then talked to the Bishop in Raleigh, who oversaw the Diocese of North Carolina. And he decided to create a mission here.”

The two brothers stood stunned at the beauty of the old church and its cross against the painted sky. They made their way down another rocky, snowy path to the church. Peter tried to open the over-sized, thick wooden doors and to their amazement they were unlocked. They went inside and sat down in a wooden pew near the front.

The church was simple, yet elegant in the details of the woodcarvings and trappings. The ceiling was high and supported by tremendous wooden beams. A rugged cross built in a circular stained class window behind the pulpit was awesomely beautiful, especially as the setting sun gleamed rainbow colors from the stained glass all around the cross, filling the church with colorful light. It seemed to Andy to be a foreshadowing of glory.

After awhile, Peter spoke, as he starred blankly at the cross. “I guess it would be comforting to know that you were created for a purpose and that you were not some random roll of the dice in the universe.”

Andy, staring intently at the cross, replied. “Peter, it makes all the difference in the world!”

Passion Foretold

After a couple of moments Andy spoke up again. “Peter, you said you think something amazing happened back when Christ was crucified and rose again. I agree with you and I’m going to show you something that is going to blow your mind, if you’ll let it.”

Peter looked over at Andy, but did not respond in words. Andy reached in front of him and pulled out a pew Bible and turned to Psalm 22.

“Peter, the passage I’m getting ready to read to you, from Psalm 22, was written by King David. David lived about a thousand years before Jesus was born. As I read it, think back to what we saw in the movie, The Passion of the Christ.

As Andy began to read, Peter returned his gaze to the cross.

“It starts with, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ Then listen to this description later in the Psalm! ‘I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd: and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and You lay me in the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones. They look, they stare at me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. But You O Lord be not far off; O You my help, hasten to my assistance.’”

Andy stopped reading and closed the Bible. “It goes on from there.” Andy said as he placed the Bible back in the pew rack in front of him.

Captives Set Free

“Are you sure that was written before Jesus was born?”  Peter questioned. “Is it in the Old Testament?”

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Answered Andy. “The amazing thing, Peter, is the love that was demonstrated by the suffering of Jesus. Jesus is Lord; he could have kept the whole thing from happening. But, because of you and me, Jesus chose to endure all that suffering. In fact he did it for all people, for the Jewish High Priests that turned him over, for Pontius Pilate, even for those Roman soldiers who were so vicious in their attacks. Even though none of us deserved what he did for us, he chose to die in our place. He came and died to set the captives free.”

“What do you mean captives? Do you mean prisoners?” Peter asked.

“Not just literal prisoners, but any and every human being. We are all bound in our wrong doings. The most righteous person on the planet has done at least one wrong thing. God loves us and wants fellowship with us, but the nature of who He is, His purity, His holiness, demands that anyone who fellowships with him must be cleansed first.”

“Is that why the Israelites were always sacrificing lambs and doves?” asked Peter.

“Exactly!” Responded Andy, growing a bit animated. “And the lamb had to be a spotless lamb, free from blemish. God provided a way for the people of Israel to have fellowship with him. Their sins, their wrong doings were symbolically transferred to the perfect lamb and then the slaughter of that lamb satisfied God’s demand of purity or holiness.”

“I remember reading somewhere that the crucifixion happened during the Passover,” replied Peter. “Does that tie in?”

“You’ve got it!” Answered Andy. “The Passover celebration was when the families of Israel remembered the time when they were held captive as slaves in Egypt. Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. However, he refused over and over again; even as God sent  different plagues, devastating  Egypt. The final plague involved the killing of all first born males throughout the whole country from humans to animals. However, he made a way for the Israelites to be saved. By spreading the blood of spotless lambs on the doorposts of their houses, an Israeli family would be spared. If a doorpost had this blood on it, the evil was forced to ‘pass over’ the house. So, it is tremendously significant that Jesus died during Passover. He ended the need for yearly sacrifices for wrong doings. He died as a perfect blood sacrifice, like a spotless lamb, so that anyone who receives what he did and follows him, will be set free, both now and forever.”

Forgiveness

The two brothers sat in silence for a long while, staring ahead at the empty cross. Slowly the rays of colored lights dimmed. Dust particles could be seen floating in the slices of light that remained from the late afternoon setting sun.

Andy had closed his eyes and pondered the victory of the Christ that followed the tremendous pain and suffering of His passion. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection seemed so much sweeter after learning so many of the details concerning how intensely Jesus had suffered to save him. He could not fight back tears. Tears of joy and tears of sadness that his brother refused to believe and follow Jesus. He didn’t have it all figured out in his mind when he made the choice to follow Jesus. It was a belief by faith, not a complete mental understanding; just a small faith at that. But it was not the amount of faith that had caused his relationship with Jesus to grow over the years. The reason his faith had grown was because of who his faith was in: Jesus Christ, the man who was God, who had died to set him free.

As Andy soaked in the sweetness of his family relationship with the Creator of the universe, he was aware that Peter was slipping past him and moving toward the exit at the back of the church.

Immediately, Andy began to pray intently for his brother. The tears increased as he longed for Peter to take the step of faith before he died.

Andy finished praying, wiped his eyes and turned in the pew to join Peter outside. However, when he looked down the rows of pews towards the back door, he discovered that Peter had not left after all. His face was buried in his hands on the wooden floor in front of the door. Both his knees and elbows were on the floor, his body in a posture of surrender.

Andy looked up, past Peter’s sobbing body and saw a golden metal plaque hammered to the large wooden door. On the plaque were the following words:

My people have committed two evils. They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns on their own, broken cisterns that hold no water.  Jeremiah 2:13

Seated

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choosing Joy

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep on choosing it every day.”  Henri Nouwen

Violet

A few months ago I was crowded into a chapel attending the funeral of a little girl named Violet. Violet died during her birth, the first child of Joseph and Judy.

Many wore violet articles of clothes to the service, honoring her life and the courage of her parents. Though Violet’s life was short, her life impacted us all.

After the service, we were all given violet helium balloons to release on cue. When we did, the sky was filled with floating circles of purple, growing smaller and smaller as they drifted to the heavens; a salute to violet’s life and a message of love to her from us all.

As moving as the balloons were, what hit me most was the parent’s response. We learned from the eulogy that in the midst of incalculable sadness and grief, Joseph and Judy were choosing joy.

 Can Joy be a Choice?

As I ponder Violet’s parents’ resolve, I wonder how it’s possible to choose joy, just days after her death.

How could this really be true? Isn’t joy supposed to be something good? Seeing the pain on Judy and Joseph’s face, I’m conflicted.

Paul’s command in I Thessalonians 5:16 comes to mind, one of the shortest verses in the Bible: “Rejoice always;”

The word ‘rejoice’ is from the old French word ‘rejoiur’, which means full of joy.

I’m to be full of joy even when my circumstances are difficult. I’m to rejoice always. But this is extreme. An only child died at birth. Violet is dead. Are we to be full of joy even then? My heart fights this notion.

What makes choosing joy possible?

In another place I read “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Be full of joy in the Lord.

God is joy. He is the source of joy, it exudes from Him. “In your presence is fullness of Joy.” (Psalm 16:11b)

Choosing joy is choosing God in the midst of anything and everything I’m going through.

As children of God we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing including being sealed in Christ with the promised Holy Spirit.

We are in Christ and He is in us. See also Galatians 2:20a:  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I how live, but Christ lives in me;”

So joy, true joy is found in our nearness to Christ and His nearness to us.

Joy is possible at all times and in all situations because of the nearness of God; period.

God is joy. Choosing joy is choosing God.

 Choose Joy

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” James 1:2

Joy is eternal, unaffected by the circumstances of our lives. Joy is  God himself.

Though all these things are true, experiencing joy is not automatic. There is a choice involved. We are commanded to be full of joy in the Lord. We are directed to always choose joy no matter what is going on.

God is our reward,  His nearness is our good. He is our life.

Judy and Joseph love Violet so much. Their whole world was flipped upside down on the day she was born. Months of anticipation and excitement were at once turned to horror and indescribable sadness. Yet through it all, when hearts were crumbling, they clung to each other and choose God’s nearness. They chose to find their comfort in God. They chose Joy.

“In your presence is fullness of joy.” (Psalm 16:11b)

Challenge:  What circumstance is zapping your joy right now? No matter how difficult your situation is, choose at this moment to rejoice in God’s nearness. In spite of all, choose God, choose Joy.

Lord, thank you that in all I go through, you never leave me. Indeed, you are closer than breath. You are my joy. Help me to continually choose you. Amen