Pastor’s Devotions, #104

“You Will Never Die!”

Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:26

 

For the last nine months, on a daily basis, we have watched the media tally up the growing number of people dying due to Covid19. There are questions about the counting and whether the number should be larger or smaller – but in the end, the conversation centers upon death.

As human beings, we all share a similar fate. At some future date, we will breath our last and our life on this earth will be finished. As your pastor, I deal with death on a regular basis. And I would say that it’s pretty safe to say, I THINK about death AND life, every single day. Recently, Bill Williams and Doris Hatlen passed away.  Bill and Doris were wonderful, faithful, loving people that I had the privilege of knowing. Annabelle Birkestol passed away a few weeks ago and I will miss seeing her frail yet strong, faithful presence in the front row of the sanctuary every Sunday as we worshipped together.

Don’t get stuck thinking about death, keep reading!

Growing up in the church, with my dad, as a pastor, incidents of the sick and dying were a regular part of our life. Then, when my mom passed away in 1987, at the age 56, due to breast/liver cancer – death became much more personal. When my dad died in 2016, realizing that he was no longer there to lean on, there came a moment when the pall of death hung like a shroud over my shoulders. I can remember a moment when the magnitude of living this one momentary life hit me squarely between my eyes. The reality is that life on earth is but a breath. There is no going back, no do over’s, no second tries or repeats. When our life is over, it is over, really over – FOREVER. That seeming reality hit me like a sledge hammer and came on like a wave that swept me under, pulling me to a place of emptiness.

Don’t get stuck thinking about death, keep reading!

I wandered and wondered and wrestled in my mind over this experience for quite a while. Upon reflection, perhaps it was a type of Jacob wrestling or Jesus’ workout in the wilderness.

But by the grace of God, I did not get stuck thinking about death. I was given a gift! Keep reading!

I was given the opportunity, in my soul, to experience, what I would describe as “humanity without hope”. Looking at life through purely human eyes, there is a definite start and finish, and a clearly placed period at the end of our days. No more words – no more sentences – no more adjectives or adverbs – only blank white space.

Keep reading!

But Jesus came and sent the Holy Spirit to us, that we would see life and death and our future not through human eyes but with spiritual eyes! Life on this earth has a certain timetable, but life with God is eternal. This eternal life can only be seen and experienced spiritually. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) Paul expresses it this way, “The body that is sown perishable, it 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 15:42-44)

Can you see it? Do you believe it? This is the question Jesus posed to Martha upon his arrival at the mourning of her brother, Lazarus who had died.

Jesus said to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Did you hear Jesus’ claim? He made quit an audacious and humanly speaking, unbelievable statement! He said that whoever lives and believes in him, WILL NEVER DIE! Recently, there has been so much talk about death, I think it is easy to lose the reality of life! Looking with human eyes, yes, the reality is that we all die. Yet, looking with spiritual eyes, the reality is, WE WILL NEVER DIE! When we close our eyes and breathe our last on this earth, in the next moment, our next reality will be opening our eyes to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven that he has prepared for us, standing before us.

According to Jesus, Bill, Doris and Annabelle, as followers who lived and believed in him, never died – they continued to LIVE! Certainly, I watched each of my parents take their final breath here on earth, but it was the beginning of a new life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus guaranteed this inheritance through the presence of his Holy Spirit. Each one left their physical bodies behind and put on their spiritual bodies. In the blink of an eye, they went home, their true home, and all of earth’s experiences faded with importance. They stood before the throne of grace. All their pressing questions needed not to be asked because they were in the presence of eternal Truth. It’s not that their questions would not have value nor their identity on earth any significance, but their true identity has now been defined, clothed and created in Jesus Christ in a new way. Many things, we come to find out, even in this life, do not carry the weight or concern that they once did. (And we hear this confident, convincing confession of this truth from every single individual who has experienced a glimpse of Heaven and returned to tell their regal account.)

Since that time of personally experiencing, what I would call, the fear of human hopelessness, the Spirit of God has filled that void. God has poured more of his Spirit within me. New life and its certainty has emerged more fully. One marker of this outpouring has been the ability to write a continual stream of devotions for weeks on end during this pandemic. Yes, there will be plenty of dry days ahead, and I am sure more times that the Spirit will lead me down another path into the wilderness, but Life has revealed itself. Death has lost its sting!

Are you still reading? One final thought.

We are promised that we will NEVER die. So also, life in the Spirit and eternity exists TODAY! It emerges more and more as we meditate upon the life we have to live in Him here, than the death our flesh will face out there. Life here and life there – this is Jesus’ promise to us.

The promise is genuine, but the words, at times, can seem a bit hollow. Recently, I read a devotion written by Ravi Zacharias that might be helpful. He wrote about a visit to the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, with his wife and son. He commented how his wife would take her time to study and reflect upon each painting. Ravi, took more of a flyby approaching, glancing at each painting and quickly moving on to the next. Some years later, he reported reading about theologian and author, Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was so captured by a simple poster of Rembrandt’s painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, that he traveled to the same museum in Saint Petersburg just so that he could be in front of the actual painting himself. He sat in front of Rembrandt’s painting for four hours – and it changed his life. After Nouwen’s encounter, he knew that he wanted to work with mentally handicapped children and joined a community in Toronto, dedicated to this ministry. Ravi commented on the difference between his glancing encounter with the work of art compared to Nouwen’s immersion of the piece. Then Zacharias followed with a quote from one of his favorite author’s A. W. Tozier. Tozier writes, “I have often wished that there were some way to bring modern Christians into a deeper spiritual life painlessly by short easy lessons; but such wishes are vain. No shortcuts exist…May not the inadequacy of much of our spiritual experience be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the kingdom like little children through the marketplace, chattering about everything but pausing to learn the true value of nothing?”

Ravi admitted to skipping through the museum, chattering much about nothing and missing the moment. It is easy to skip about and chatter, learning the true value of nothing. But let’s not miss the picture Jesus painted clearly before us.

He prayed and promised, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Consider the picture and the time you reflect upon life and death. Ask the Holy Spirit for spiritual sight. Let His Life be your light! I encourage you to imprint this scripture upon your heart and mind – John 11:26 – Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will NEVER die!”

Yes, it’s true. You will never die.

Now, no more readingIt’s Time to LIVE!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Easter Devotion

“Three Times”

Remember how he told you…” Luke 24:6

Early, that first Easter morning, Luke records women, who were followers of Jesus, rose in the dark and made their way to the tomb. The women stumbled upon a stone that had been rolled away and a body that had mysteriously disappeared. Suddenly, two angels, gleaming like lightning, appeared and declared the unbelievable news that Jesus was alive. Then God’s messengers said, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Then we are told, “The women remembered his words”.

As I wrote on Friday, Jesus had been prepared for his death. But it is comforting to know that Jesus also tried to prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection. Three times, at various locations and hours, Jesus forewarned his disciples that He would be arrested, suffer and die – but on the third day be raised to life. On this Easter day, let us remember that Jesus also wants us to be prepared, whether tragedy or triumph. Today, as we center ourselves in Christ, and in his resurrection, no matter what comes, there will be ultimate victory.

It’s interesting that Jesus would speak of his death and resurrection three times. It is also interesting that three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus warns his 3 sleeping disciples. He tells them to pray and watch out for temptation. Jesus’ friends were never able to stay awake but it reveals the heart of Jesus. He wanted to prepare his friends for the events of the very near future.  

Even more personally, Jesus forewarns Simon individually. During the Last Supper, after a third discourse about washing feet, Jesus warns Simon that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat. What does “sifting” even mean? Perhaps we can replace the word, “sift” with the verbs, “pulverize” or “crush”. Understanding that Satan has the desire to “crush” Simon is a scary thought. Yet to know that Jesus wanted to prepare Simon, brings great comfort.

It should be noted that while Jesus was wanting to protect Simon, Jesus was preparing for his own “crushing”. You might think of the Garden of Gethsemane primarily as a place where Jesus prayed 3 final prayers to his Father- and that his sweat was like drops of blood. But going even further into the garden, reveals something even greater.  

Jesus gathered in the garden and prayed beneath the olive trees. Olive trees produce olives that when pressed and crushed, produce olive oil. Olive oil was used in anointing. Olive oil was used in anointing kings, anointing for healing, and other special purposes. Olive oil also represented light. Jesus was going to be the anointed King – and it would require a crushing on a cross. He would eventually be anointed King of Kings but it was going to take a mighty crushing in the process. When olives are crushed to produce oil, what process is involved? To extract all the oil from the olives, it requires the olives to be crushed 3 times. There would be three “crushings” required of our Savior – body, mind and spirit – a complete sacrifice to pay the price for sin.

Today is Easter day! May this knowledge of Jesus’ complete crushing and resulting resurrection protect and prepare us for whatever future we might face. May we remember that through his crushing and through his rising, he shines LIGHT upon this world.

So, let us shout three times. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Our anointed King LIVES! And He has CRUSHED DEATH FOREVER!!

Thanks Be to God!

Pastor Mark