Tag Archives: Dying

The Sober Truth

The Sober Truth (CaD Heb 9) Wayfarer

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many…
Hebrews 9:27-28a (NIV)

This past week I began listening to an audiobook recommended by a friend, entitled Imagine Heaven by John Burke. The author was a self-avowed skeptic who spent some 30 years gathering and studying stories from all over the world of those who have had a Near Death Experience (NDE); Individuals who were clinically dead, briefly experienced what comes next, and then were sent back.

Here’s the truth: I’m dying. I’m not sure I could begin my week with a more sobering observation, but it is true. According to the scientists who study these things, I reached the pinnacle of my physical development between 25 (muscle strength) and 30 (bone mass). From that point forward, despite the fact that I am probably more fit for my age than I was back then, my body is in slow but steady decline. Fortunately, the mind, psyche, and spirit can still grow and develop through the life journey despite my brain processing power peaking at age 18. Nevertheless, I cannot escape the fact that my body is making a persistent and irreversible descent towards death.

In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews continues to compare the covenant and sacrificial system that God prescribed for Moses and the Hebrew people to the new covenant established by Jesus through His sacrificial death. At the beginning of the Great Story, Adam and Eve’s sin ushered in the reality of death:

“By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:19 (NIV)

From the beginning, humanity has, by and large, fought death, feared death, and sought to escape death. Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most people living a life of relative wealth, freedom, and affluence tend to distract themselves from thinking about it at all. Some are so enamored with the distractions that their indulgence leads to the very thing they were trying to distract themselves from thinking about. Then I’ve observed a few are so dissatisfied, wearied, or wounded that they prefer death to empty distractions.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about death as a follower of Jesus. Today’s chapter lays out quite plainly that Jesus suffered His horrific death in fulfillment of a once-and-for-all sacrifice that not only made Moses’ old sacrificial system obsolete, it completely transforms my perception of death. Jesus taught that death is the gateway to Life. Death is no longer something I need to fight but something to welcome. It is no longer something to fear, but to celebrate. It is no longer something to escape, but to embrace. The many testimonies of those who experience NDEs concur. One of the common themes of those who were given a taste of heaven is the fact that they didn’t want to come back.

If I truly believe what I say I believe, and death is not something I need to fear or ignore via distraction, how does that inform what I do with my life today? For me, I find that it frees me to live more intentionally with the eternal in mind. My physical descent towards earthly death is ultimately leading toward an ascent to eternal life. My purpose each day on this earthly path of descent is to love God with everything I’ve got while loving others as I love myself as Jesus laid out as the way of trust, lament, humility, justice, compassion, right motive, peacemaking, surrender, and radical love.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The March of Time

The March of Time (CaD Gen 23) Wayfarer

So Ephron’s field in Machpelah near Mamre—both the field and the cave in it, and all the trees within the borders of the field—was deeded to Abraham as his property in the presence of all the Hittites who had come to the gate of the city. 
Genesis 23:17-18 (NIV)

I spent some time with my parents yesterday as they continue to prepare matters related to the end of their respective journeys on this earth. Don’t get me wrong, they are currently in relatively good health and reside in independent living at their retirement community. They are just getting ahead of things for the sake of me and my siblings.

It felt like a bit of synchronicity that today’s chapter is the story of Abraham buying a tomb to bury his wife, Sarah. What is fascinating about the story is that God promised to give Abraham’s offspring the land. Abraham has been living as a nomad the entire time and it feels a bit ironic that the cave which will serve as he and his family’s tomb is the first time he actually owns a piece of the land God promised.

The cave of Machpelah in Hebron exists to this day, and Jewish tradition holds that Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sara, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah are all buried there. It was customary in those days from families to use a cave that was used to bury entire families. Recently buried bodies would be placed on shelves carved out of the rock. When a body decomposed to the point that it was just bones, the bones would be placed deeper in the cave, often in some kind of vessel, to make room for newer remains.

King Herod built a giant structure over the cave which is still standing (see featured photo). The actual cave is sealed and no one is allowed in, though two clandestine entries were made in modern times and the testimony of students who made one of the visits testified that they found two chambers and in one they discovered pottery vessels and bones.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the march of time. I remember all four of my grandparents’ funerals. With the last of them, I remember pondering the reality that my parents had transitioned to being the eldest living generation of my family. The day draws nearer when I and my siblings will make that same transition. Wendy and I will be the ones making plans to save Taylor and Madison from worry or responsibility.

Our culture is obsessed with living well, but I don’t observe many people who consider what it means to die well. As a follower of Jesus, I learn that dying is requisite to living. So, perhaps it’s not a subject I should avoid, but rather one I should embrace.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

How I Run Today Determines How I Finish the Race

Four ThingsFor my life is full of troubles,
    and death draws near.
Psalm 88:3 (NLT)

Over this past year, Wendy and I had the privilege of participating in a local service project through Union Street Players and the Pella Shakespeare Festival to record an audiobook for our local hospice. The book we made into an audiobook (with permission of the author and publisher, of course) is The Four Things That Matter Most by Dr. Ira Byock. Our local hospice gives a copy to all patients and their families, but most Hospice patients are not able to read, so the audio book was needed. In the book, Dr. Byock shares the four things that everyone should say and hear before dying:

  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I forgive you.”
  • “Thank you.”
  • “I love you.”

I thought of “The Four Things” this morning as I read Heman’s lyrics in Psalm 88. The ancient song powerfully describes a person who is facing death and feeling the pain, anxiety and fear that accompanies it. Those who work in Hospice and palliative care like Dr. Byock can tell you about the spiritual and emotional pain experienced by those who are facing death and have unfinished business with loved ones. There is a writhing of spirit that can easily overshadow any physical pain the person may be feeling.

This morning I am reminded that how I end this life journey depends largely on how I handle my most important relationships today. I don’t want to hobble to the finish line in relational pain, emotional anxiety and fear. I want to finish strong surrounded by and taking comfort in loved ones with whom I’ve shared the sojourn. That will only happen if I take care of unfinished relational business today and not leave it for tomorrow.