A big ugly bug without a sting
August 7, 2013
A while ago on this blog (May 31, 2013; "Two things at the same time"), I explained that "the trickiness I am working on" is, on the one hand, "to run hard toward my enemy, wholeheartedly fighting for my life and trusting God and praying with all my heart for strength and health and healing and a long life," WHILE ON THE OTHER HAND, "quietly and peacefully accepting the reality that this cancer might in fact be the beginning of the end of my life (as we know it), just as God has always intended."
So here and now, ten weeks later (and now in the second week of a six-week "Rest Period" prior to the surgery that is to come next), I turn my attention again to that second thing, and think again about dying. About me dying. Deb and I are taking seriously the challenge of realistically facing my (possibly imminent) death and we are trusting the Lord for the strong faith required to do so bravely. On our wedding anniversary this year (May 28th), we planned my funeral (which somehow never occurred to us to do on any of our previous thirty-five anniversaries.) Later that week, we picked out and purchased two grave-sites in the cemetery of my choice. (If it looks like you're going first, you get to pick these things.) You'll have to excuse me if this sort of talk seems a little beyond the limits of good taste and polite conversation, but Deb and I are being stared at by a great big thing and we're trying not to blink.
But what kind of great big thing IS the prospect of my physical death? Surely, it is not a giant to be frightened of. Lately, I have come to see that it is the same sort of awkward and quite possibly painful reality as my physical birth. Neither physical birth or physical death is a lovely reality. (Evidently, I myself was born a pretty beat-up and pathetic looking baby. So I have been told.) But this comparison doesn't in itself make my physical death a giant to be frightened of.
The thing is, for the people of God, "chosen in Christ before the foundations of the earth and predestined to be adopted," death is a necessary experience. But don't take my word for it. Here's the apostle Paul on the subject of why we have to die.
1 Corinthians 15:50-55 ESV
I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood CANNOT inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body MUST put on the imperishable, and this mortal body MUST put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?”
Now there's a great question. Where is the sting of death?
What I am seeing these days is that, for me, and the likes of me, death is a NOT a Fee-fie-fo-fum giant. At the same time, it is not a beautiful or a lovely thing. To say it is would be saying too much, and just making things up in an effort to make ourselves feel better.
So how IS a man to think about his own death? These days, I'm thinking of it as a big ugly bug. And these days, it sits there, right in front of me, staring me in the face, poised and ready to pick me up and fly me away from everything and everyone I know and love by sight. But I should face this big ugly bug without fear, for as it is written in God's Word, it has lost its sting. The sting of dying with all my sins unforgiven: gone. The sting of separation from the God who invented and personifies Love and Joy and Peace: gone. Even the sting of separation from my loved ones is gone. (Well, sort of. But that's a topic for another day.)
So that's it. My physical death remains a big ugly bug of a thing, but it has lost its sting. And so this is my confidence, as Christ is my Saviour: that when --not if, but when-- this big, ugly, non-terrifying but nevertheless-intimidating bug is given permission to take hold of me and fly me away, I'll see things as they really are, as if with new eyes.
With immortal eyes, I'll see that I'm being carried to meet my glorious Lord Jesus Christ face to face, "the hairs of his head white, like white wool, like snow; his eyes like a flame of fire; his feet like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace; and his voice like the roar of many waters."
And with my new eyes, even the big ugly bug will look different to me, and I'll see that I'm actually being carried into the presence of God on the wings of an angel.
And even now, to all who have ears to hear, the Lord Jesus says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." (Revelation 1:14-18, ESV)
8 COMMENTS | POST A COMMENT
What continues to come across my mind as I pray for you, is that God would continue to give you strength during this season to write with clarity. I would pray that God gives you ability to write with inspiration, but to those of us that read regularly and know you fairly well, well that simply happens every time you write. Thanks for your obedience in sharing with us even when it might not be easy. Praying for you and your family.
Thanks yet again, for your continued influence in my leadership and life.
I love what your dad said. I too am standing.
Reminds me of this audio-
VIctor or victim?
Once again Mike, a very moving and inspiring blog. I'm reminded of 1 Cor. 2:9, "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."
May the Holy Spirit continue to give you both his peace.
Well, this has certainly made me sit up and pay attention to that 'death' topic. I have often thought that, as I had no choice in the time of my birth, I don't have a choice in the time of my dying either. I think it is the lack of a certain amount of intelligence that we go through the birth process and the great gain of wisdom that makes us struggle with the idea that we have no control over the exiting passage. But as God is sovereign in both realms, life and death, I have to just learn to leave it alone. Lean on His tender hands to deliver me to Himself. It was a good read, Pastor Mike. Thanks.
Again, thank you for your honesty and transparency, Mike. You have said many things over the past few months to challenge us, awaken us, strengthen us and cause us to think, reflect, look inward and squirm, which I know I need !!! Serious illness and the possibility of imminent death from that is something any one of us might face at any time (Death is a certain thing at some point for all of us), but knowing the challenges of losing a loved one fairly recently and watching as others go through health challenges is an amazing time of learning and growing and being humbled, too. You are such a pillar of strength and what we learn from you is indescribable and leaves us speechless. We are so thankful to God for that and for your life that is such a great example to us. God is so good and may He continue to richly bless you as you walk with Him during these times.
Mike,Thank you for demonstrating the glory of God...His grace is real and it is enough!!
Mike, All I can think of is a standing ovation. Thank you, son.
~ You're very welcome, Dad!