Tag Archives: death

Dying Out Loud

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This weekend I picked up a book called “Dying Out Loud: No Guilt in Life, No Fear in Death” about the death of missionary Stan Steward in the Muslim country of Turkey.  Normally I would have flown through an easy read like this, but I ran out of kleenexes and had to slow down.  This book is tearing my heart out!

I’ve written about this family before, and though they insist there is nothing remarkable about them- I am in awe of their strength of commitment to sharing the gospel with the lost.  They determined to live among the remote villages along the ancient Silk Road in the area between the border of Turkey and Iran.  They integrated their lives as completely as possible with the people and they were accepted as one of them.

Photo credit: jessleecuizon / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: jessleecuizon / Foter / CC BY

This alone is admirable.  As a missionary I know what that kind of a decision costs.  I make those small decisions a million times a day- will I chose my own personal comfort or will I empty myself for others?  I’m ashamed to say that too many times I chose my own preferences because I am still working in my own strength and not God’s.  I say, I’m tired.  I don’t want to speak Spanish anymore today.  I just need to get into my house where things are familiar and comfortable and within my control so I can decompress with my family tonight.  I make those choices for myself all the time.  I am convicted.

Not only did they integrate into the culture, but prayed a risky prayer.  They asked God to use them to reach the Turkish people… whatever the cost.  Always a risky prayer.  We talk a lot in our denomination about why the Muslims haven’t responded to the gospel like other groups have.  Many believe that because we revolt from the idea of watering the hard soil with our martyr’s blood, the Muslims have not been won.  We have not counted the cost.  We have not cried for their souls because our fears and hatred mingle too freely with our determination and passion to make any kind of a combustable concoction.  We have watered down the message of the cross to make it more acceptable to the world and this weak message is powerless to save now.  I am challenged.

Photo credit: NYCandre / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: NYCandre / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

So their risky prayer lead them to heart break.  Stan was diagnosed with colon cancer that filled his body in a short amount of time.  Stan and his wife Ann felt the Lord asking them to “Live this dying out loud” in order to show their Muslim brothers and sisters how Christians die with peace and assurance of their salvation.  A Muslim has no such assurance in death.  He can only hope that he’s done enough good to counterbalance the bad in his life.  He only has a sad, dark form of hope to cling to.  God was asking Stan to show them how to live and die in the vibrant, confident hope in Jesus Christ.  It was an intensely difficult price to pay.  I am humbled by their Yes when so often I’ve said No.

It is this story of commitment and sacrifice that is tearing me apart.  I am being challenged and called all over again.  If I had other lives to live and give I would go and replace Stan in Turkey.  I am challenged to pray more.  I see how pathetic my own strength is in comparison with all that God can do when I am completely at his disposal. I am hungry for that kind of love for the lost that says “At Any Cost”.  Have I ever loved like that?  This book is challenging me to the roots of my commitment.  And I am Called all over again.

A prayer from a coward’s heart

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“Father, I want to know thee, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys.  I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from thee the terror of the parting.  I come trembling, but I do come.  Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival.”  ~The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

Sometimes we say to our children, “You don’t need to know why I am forbidding something- you just need to obey.”  Sometimes God says the same thing to me, his child.  I just need to obey God.

I don’t always see things like he sees them.  I don’t always agree with his commands.  I don’t always LIKE what he’s told me to do.  I don’t enjoy putting to death my flesh.  It’s not a pleasure to carry my cross.

However-

I obey.  Perhaps begrudgingly, perhaps with a bad attitude sometimes, but I obey.

Some of those spiritual muscles are not used to being flexed and exercised.  Some of them have become weak and unaccustomed to being controlled.  I need to practice a movement, repeatedly, concentrating on correct form and execution, repeating it until it becomes reflexive and automatic.  I build up my muscles by repetitive actions until they become a part of who I am.  I do not enjoy the exercise, but I do it.

Hopefully this will get easier with time and practice.  Hopefully I will find joy in obedience.  But right now, I grimly set my hand to the plow and faintly trust that Jesus knows better than I do.

The flame of my faith is just a flickering candle, not a mighty blazing inferno… not yet, not here.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast and compliant spirit within me.

Mission Accomplished

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The scriptures say that when David had completed all that God planned for him, he died and joined his ancestors.  Sometimes we are surprised when death comes to someone young, or someone who appears to be doing everything right.  But the Bible makes it clear that there is a time for each of us to die.  It is not a random thing, nor is it preventable.  The Bible says we die when we complete the mission that God has made us to do, whatever that may be.

This should be an amazingly liberating idea for a Christian.  You can basically do that whole Matrix thing around bullets if it’s not your time to die!  This should essentially set you free of all kinds of fears that might have held you back before.  But sometimes there is actually a purpose to the WAY and TIME that we die.

Lately, a friend of mine has been posting updates about another missionary who is dying of cancer in a “closed country”.  Stewart and Bev* have worked for 20 something years in this hard place, and not one person has been saved.  They spent years traveling into the interior of this country, ministering among the lost, yet no one has responded to the message of Salvation.  They just plodded along faithfully, loving people and hoping that the message was coming through loud and clear.  Then Stewart was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

As they prayed together, the family felt that the Lord was telling them to “live out this death in the eyes of your neighbors.”  So they began to make preparations for Stewart to die in that country.  When they heard that Stewart was dying, the people in the interior where they had ministered all those years asked the family if they would move in with the tribe and allow Stewart to be buried where they live.  The family was deeply touched by this, but it would be impossible without government permission for a foreigner to be buried in the land.

That same day, a lawyer for the tribe came to the house to consult with the husband and wife.  “Let me take care of everything.  And is there anything else you need?”  He asked.  They needed to transfer the title of their vehicle into Bev’s name so that the government would not seize their property once Stewart died.  The lawyer agreed to handle that paperwork as well.

Within a few days, the family received permission to move to the interior, buy a burial plot, and for Bev to keep the car. All their concerns had been handled with minimal stress on their part.  Now they could focus on dying well, as God had commanded them.  Even as he grew weaker and weaker, Stewart continued to receive visitors.  They would sit at his bedside, sometimes talking, sometimes crying.  They marveled at Bev’s peace and strength in the face of her husband’s failing health.  They began to ask Bev about the source of her peace.  The door creaked open.

Women who had been cautious about the foreigners brought food and sat with them in their grief.  One woman confided to Bev that her husband had passed away that year, and she was so angry and scared.  She asked Bev how she could be so calm and strong.  Bev shared her source of strength and offered peace to the woman.  The door swung wider still.

The family contacted the grown children and asked them to come home to say good-bye.  The children left college to return to the mission field.  The village people surrounded them with love, like members of their own family.  The children are comforted as well as being a comfort to others.  Stewart is living out his death in front of the community.

Precious is the death of the Saints in the eyes of the Lord.  This is a homecoming with a purpose.  No one knows the kind of impact that Stewart’s death will have in this closed, barren mission field.  But there is a purpose, and there will be a harvest of souls.  A peaceful and strong Christian is powerful in death.

*Names have been changed because the country is a Muslim country, closed to missionaries.

Digging Deep

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Once upon a time we were in Youth Ministry at a church.  A young couple that worked with us as youth leaders got pregnant and had a baby.  A few months after wards, it became apparent that something was not right with the little girl’s health.  After months of medical tests, they discovered that their baby was suffering with profound genetic defects and there was no hope for a cure.  She was given just a few months to live.  They signed a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) medical order and took their daughter home to enjoy the last few months of her life.

We prayed like crazy during those couple of months.  We prayed for a miracle.  It did not happen.  When their smiley little baby died, we were stunned and hurt.  We all said the awkward, unhelpful things that people say when friends experience such a tragedy.  None of us knew how to help them grieve.  We were all in our early 20’s, and none of us had the wisdom nor the life experience to know how to handle this kind of sadness.  They retreated into their grief and we stood ineffectively on the sidelines wanting to do something, but doing nothing more than providing a few meals and pitiful sympathies.

At the funeral for their baby girl, the grandfather gave the eulogy for this young life taken far too soon.  I wondered how he found the strength to do it.  But he said some of the most beautiful and life impacting words that I have ever heard.  I’ve never forgotten them.  He talked about foundations.

On his morning commute through downtown, he would drive past an entire city block fenced off with barricades indicating that construction would soon take place there.  As the weeks passed, the buildings that were on the site were demolished.  Heaps of rubble were hauled off the site.  Then the digging machines were brought in.  For MONTHS they dug the hole deeper and deeper, preparing to lay the foundation for the future building.  As the hole got bigger and bigger he wondered what kind of massive building would be built there.

As the months passed and the sky scraper began to take form, the grandfather pondered these things in the light of the impending and certain death of his first granddaughter.  At the funeral he said, “When God lays a foundation, he has to dig deep.  We wonder what kind of structure he will build here.  The deeper he digs, the bigger the building will be.  In order to build something massively ‘upward’, you need to take the time to prepare the ‘downward’ part first.  The deeper God excavates our lives, we can be sure that He plans to build something very big on the surface, but he has to dig first.”

I have no idea if the family even remembers this eulogy spoken through the haze of their pain, but it has stuck with me for all these years.  I think about it when I feel like God is tearing down and digging out too much stuff in my life.  I thought about it when we let go of our life and possessions and family to move to the mission field.  I cried for the pain of the deep digging, but I wanted the results of God’s construction in my life even more than I wanted the rubble I gave up.  The bigger the blue print for the building, the deeper the hole for the foundation.

If God is digging really deep in your life, hauling out a ton of dirt and making a really big hole, then he plans to build a really big structure with your life.  We are the temple of God.  Does our foundation go deep?

The Living Dead

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What does the enemy do with people who aren’t afraid to die?  How do you fight something like that?  If the enemy says, “I’m going to kill you,” and you respond with a shrug, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”  How does he stop you?  The ultimate threat of Satan is death, but Jesus holds the keys to death.  Death has lost its sting in the Resurrection of the Son of God.

Christians who live like they are going to benefit in death are NOT like the suicide bombers of Radical Islam.  Christians do not actively court death.  We embrace life, but we do not FEAR death.  We don’t seek to destroy others through our deaths.  We don’t die for the sake of hatred.  We seek to SAVE as many as possible.  We die for the sake of LOVE, when we must be killed.  It is completely different when a Christian lives like he’s already dead.  It simply means he’s willing to take risks without fear for the sake of saving as many as possible.

All die, but not all really live.  Jesus Christ told his disciples not to fear the one who can kill the body but can do nothing to the soul, but to fear the one that can both kill the body and then throw the soul into hell to experience eternal death.  So who are you going to fear?  Satan can kill the body, but if you belong to Christ, he can never touch your soul.  What is to fear about that?

The Death of a Dream

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Americans idolize their dreams.  We are a nation of big dreamers.  We applaud those who do great things.  We reward those who succeed.  We equate the death of a dream with failure.

But what if the death of a dream is part of the process that God wants to take you through.  What if it is ultimately for your good.  What if God must empty your hands before He can fill them with what He wants to give you.  That sounds painful.  That sounds suspiciously like an excuse for failure.  So is there a precedent for this in the Bible?  Is this something that God actually DOES?

Let’s ask Abraham.  No doubt, Abraham and his wife Sarah longed deeply for children.  They dreamed of the pitter patter of little feet on the tent floor.  Maybe Sarah spent the long evenings knitting little hats and booties for her dream child.  When it looked like it was too late for babies, the biological clock has ticked its last, God appeared and breathed life into the dead dream with a promise.  “You WILL have a son and I will bless the whole world through your ancestors.”

They had waited a long time for a baby, and now they waited again.  After many years of sighing and fretting, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands.  Abraham took Sarah’s servant Haagar as a second wife in order to have a child.  They DID have a child, but this was not God’s promised son.  They must continue to wait for another 13 years.  The dream died again.  Then at the age of 99, the dream was once again revived when Sarah became pregnant finally!  The miracle child was finally coming!  The promise was finally realized.

But the dream was to die again.  Did Abraham begin to idolize his son?  This promised child, this long awaited joy meant so very much to his parents.  God came to Abraham again, and asked him to lay the dream down once more, to sacrifice his son as an act of devotion to God.  “But God, you GAVE me this dream!  How can you ask me to let it die?”  He might have asked.  But no, Abraham figured that if God wanted to, he could revive the dream again.  All this dying of dreams had taught him that God can be trusted when it looks like it’s all over.  God could bring his son back to life after he had been sacrificed to the Lord.  After all, child sacrifice was part of the religion of the pagans who lived all around Abraham.  “So who is to say that this God who makes wild promises and then lets the dream die won’t ask a crazy thing of me as well,” he might have reasoned.

But at the final moment, before the physical death of his son and the final death of the dream, God intervened once again.  The test was passed.  The idolization was dead and true devotion to God was all that remained.  The purification of the dream had occurred.  Abraham’s faith was proven and God was satisfied.

What dream are you holding tightly to?  Has it become an idol to you?  God just might ask you to lay that dream down or out right kill that dream in order to empty your hands.  You can not receive from the Lord if your hands are already full.  What dream of yours needs to die?

 

What happens when you smell like Death

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“For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.  To the one, we are an aroma that brings death; to the other an aroma that brings life.”  2 Corinthians 2:15-16

That crazy homeless guy was standing at the balcony of the floor above me spitting on me again.  I think he did that to everyone, so I didn’t take it personally.  From my customer service desk on the first floor I reached for the phone to call the mall security.  Once again they ushered him out of the mall.  The day proceeded as normal after that.

A while later, Sheri, an off duty cop who also worked security at the mall leaned on the side of my desk making small talk to pass the hours of our shift.  Sheri was a lesbian.  Having grown up in the Twin Cities, I have known many homosexual people and I find them generally delightful people.  The ones I’ve known are sensitive, intelligent, humorous, creative, and kind people.  I don’t agree with their lifestyle on a moral basis, but I’ve never had any problems being friends with someone that I don’t agree with.  As long as they are willing to accept me as a Christian and not censor my faith, I am very willing to be friends with homosexuals.

Sheri and I had spent a year and a half getting to know each other while leaning on my desk.  She told me about how her partner lost a bunch of weight and needed to buy some new clothes, she told me about the time she broke her hand right before her deployment to Iraq, she teared up when she told me about men teasing her and provoking her to fight.  She listened to my stories from missions trips to Mexico and Guatemala, she heard me tell about the night that I got engaged to Josh, she laughed with me as we sang the lyrics to old 80’s songs together.  I considered her my friend.

While Sheri and I leaned and talked, suddenly Crazy Homeless Guy was standing right beside me.  (Yikes!  Where did he come from!)  He leaned over my desk and got right in my face and hissed, “Christian!  Christian!  You hate homosexuals!”  In my spirit I was aware that this was a demon speaking.  Crazy Homeless Guy was demon possessed and was hissing at me like it was a sick and perverted thing to be a Christian.  His accusation that I hated homosexuals was clearly intended to hurt Sheri.  In unison, Sheri and I both shouted at him.  I shouted, “NO I DON’T!” and she shouted, “NO SHE DOESN’T!”  At the sound of our shouting, other mall cops rushed to our defense and ushered Crazy Homeless Guy out of the mall once again.

Sheri and I both stood there shaking with a mixture of rage and adrenaline.  My spirit knew that was a demon.  I had that bad after-taste that I get in my spirit after I brush up against something truly evil.

A few months later Crazy Homeless Guy actually tried to sue me!  The company lawyers were on the case before I even knew it existed.  I gave a deputation about his past behavior towards me.  Sheri testified for me.  Crazy Homeless Guy earned himself a restraining order and all the cops I worked with kept an eye out for me any time they saw me on the street.

How did Crazy Homeless Guy know that I was a Christian?  I had never spoken to him before that day.  Why did he spit on me?  Why did he hiss at me?  I think the demon in him smelled the aroma of Christ in me.  To those who are looking for a way out of sin and death, Christians are the sweet aroma of new life.  But to those who hate God, those in rebellion against Him, Christians smell like the blood of Jesus… we smell like their eventual defeat and punishment.  And demons don’t care who they wound.  His false accusation that I hated homosexuals was not really aimed at me.  I think he was trying to hurt Sheri, to drive a wedge between us and to throw her off the scent of Christ in me.  I’m glad it didn’t work.

Humans have an expiration date

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“It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the Judgement…” Hebrews 9:27

Humans are born with an expiration date.  Everyone has a day when their time is up.  In the movie, “Little Big Man” Dustin Hoffman demonstrates his bravery in battle by saying, “It is a good day to die.”  Our day will come.  We have no control over this if we embrace life naturally.  Even if someone tries to commit suicide, sometimes they don’t die.  It wasn’t their day to die, their time had not expired.

Once, when I was in college, I thought my time had expired.  I was working a lousy job in downtown Minneapolis where I worked back to back shifts- closing one night and opening the next morning- with 4 hours of sleep in between shifts.  I was living in St. Paul, just over the river from Minneapolis.  My commute consisted of throwing my bike in the trunk of my car and driving to the college parking lot on the edge of downtown Minneapolis.  From there I would bike a mile to work.  The commute in reverse would be repeated after my 8 hour shift.

One night, I was leaving work around 11:30 PM.  I was riding my bike on the sidewalk because at this time there were no bike lanes on the street.  The light in front of me turned green just as my front tire left the curb.  Rolling smoothly through the crosswalk, I was aware of a city bus on my left that was just entering the intersection.

Suddenly I realized that the city bus was turning right… and life switched to slow motion.  Surely he will look to see if anyone is in the crosswalk.  Surely he will stop when he sees I’m here.  The bus kept coming.  He’s going to hit me… I’m going to die.

The things that flash through your mind at the moment when you face your own mortality reveal the true contents of your soul.  Emptied on the pavement, moments swirl slowly like oil in water, and you have the leisure to admire the irridescent rainbow that will be all that’s left of your life on Earth’s road.  In one moment I thought an entire soliloquy.  I’m going to die.  This is really going to hurt.  But just for a moment and then I’ll see Jesus.  I haven’t done anything that I wanted to do yet.  I haven’t graduated from college.  I haven’t gotten married and had children.  I wanted to do so much, and now so many dreams will be left undone.  But I’m going to see Jesus.  I’m going to die.  I’ve always wondered how I will die.  I’m going to see Jesus.

I remember the thud of my shoulder hitting the side of the bus and the yank of my bike wheels catching under the rim of the bus wall.  The wheels crumpled under the bus and I flew sideways to the right.  Skidding across the pavement on my elbows and knees, leaving fabric and skin and blood on the road, I sensed that the bus driver didn’t even know that he hit me.  I’m not dead yet.  Get to the curb, get to the curb.  I scrambled with all my might to reach the sidewalk and I rolled up onto it just as the back wheel of the bus scrapped the yellow paint off the curb.  At eye level, I saw my mangled bike under the bus striking up sparks as it drug helplessly along.  That could have been me.  But it wasn’t.

It wasn’t my time.  My expiration date had not arrived yet.  After it was all over I went back to the oil slick of my thoughts on the road and examined again what had spilled out of my heart.  Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  Above all else, I value Jesus.  I live for the day when I will see him face to face.  Everyday I believe, “it is a good day to die,” but if I don’t die, then it is a good day to live as well.  To live is Christ and to die is gain.

“There’s no U-Haul behind the hearse.”

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Do you ever look at the lives of the rich and famous and think, “they have Rich Peoples’ problems.”  When you look at all the miseries that they experience, it makes your life look really nice.  The Apostle Paul wrote this to his young apprentice Pastor Timothy:

“Godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  People who want to get rich fall into temptations, traps and many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.  Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.  They deeply regret their decisions later.

“But you, man of God, flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness… Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasures for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life!”  (1 Timothy 6:6-11 and 6:17-19)

You probably heard the saying, “There’s no U-Haul behind the hearse.”  You brought nothing into this world, you can take nothing with you when you leave.

Money really is an uncertain foundation in this day and age.  Look at those who have piled it up in this life.  They die and leave it all behind too.  The guy buried in this golden mausoleum is no better off than the poor man who is buried in a simple wooden box.  And think of all the starving children that could have been feed with the money this guy spent on his funeral!  You can’t take anything with you when you die.  Might as well be generous in this life and find true happiness in giving.

I die daily

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I have this mental picture of Heaven.  For the first time that we all gather to worship the Lord we are divided into sections in a vast auditorium.  We are divided by language groups, and though when we speak to each other we use a common heavenly language, when we worship we sing in the language of our hearts.  In my mind, every missionary who has ever struggled to learn a language will be honored on that day with a seat in the section of their adopted language.  It makes me cry when I let this image rise up in my mind.  For the honor of worshipping side by side with the people I have given my life to, I die daily to my mother tongue.

It is a daily death, this struggle to learn another language.  I die to my personality which is best expressed in English.  I die to years of education and speak Spanish like a child.  I die to what I want to do and who I want to be.  I die to my image of myself.  I die to my independence.  I die to my pride… over and over again.

If it were not for love, I could not do this.  Yes, I love the Costa Ricans in all their contradictions and “Pura Vida”.  But more than my love for others, I mean I die for the love of God for me.  If it were not for God’s love towards me, I would not try this.  I would not give like this.  I would not hurt like this.  I would not humble myself like this.  If I was not 100% sure of my Father’s love for me, I would’ve stayed home in Minnesota.

But I am compelled.  In the light of His love for me, I am compelled to go, to lay it all down, to die daily to all that was, to share this compelling love with others, to pick up my cross.  I am compelled to love by dying.  I know no other way anymore.  The old life looks dull and flat.  It does not entice me any more.  My all and all hangs on the cross.  The way to my one and only love lies through a valley of death.  I give it all away in order to gain more than I could ever imagine.  “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and then loses his soul?”  When I die, I gain.

I can’t express it any more clearly how painful this death is to me.  It is not a metaphor.  It is real.  And every time I open my mouth to speak Spanish I lay my will down for Jesus.  Not my will, but yours be done.  What I wouldn’t do for this love?  It consumes me.

To live is Christ, to die is gain.