In recent years there has been the spawning of a new academic specialty – thanatology, a study about death. Some invaluable work has been done in this field that has been of great help to those whose loved ones have died.
No one knows the circumstances under which he will die. One may die peacefully having reached old age. He may die tragically or in much pain. Regardless, unless Jesus returns before we die, all of us are going to die (Hebrews 9:27).
What is death? Some, like the Sadducees, teach that it is annihilation or cessation of existence (Acts 28:8; Matthew 22:23). Jesus told them they were ignorant of the scriptures and of the power of God (Matthew 22:29).
Death is a consequence of sin. It was introduced to the world as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin and is experienced by man to this day (Romans 5:12).
Death is a power that is stronger than woman’s charm and beauty. It is more powerful than position and prestige. It is stronger than earthly might or money. It invades all cultures, all social strata, every race and language, the good as well as the evil.
Death is a mystery from the viewpoint of our nature. None want to die. We take preventive measures to delay it, though it will occur some day.
Death is an enemy (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Yet, there is a sense in which it is a blessing for the child of God. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Psalms 116:15). Heaven even announces, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord…” (Revelation 14:13).
Death is a tragedy for the unprepared for they will be consigned to hell “…where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48).
Enoch and Elijah are the only two people who have escaped the throes of death. Unless Jesus comes first, we shall all die. When or under what circumstances we shall die is unknown. How long one lives is unimportant, but it does matter for whom one lives. This world is not a playground but a schoolroom. A person cannot live wrong and die right. Time is the stuff of which life is made…use your time wisely!
Jesus made the rather astonishing announcement, “It is hard for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 19:23). The surprised disciples replied, “Who then can be saved?” (Matt. 19:25). Salvation is not something determined by man, but belongs to the realm of God (Matt. 19:26). What, then, are the requirements of salvation which God has established? Some positive conclusions can be reached by taking a negative approach. Note that one cannot be saved…
...Outside of Christ. The only way to gain access to the Father is through Christ (John. 14:6). The orthodox Jew believes in God, but does not accept Christ as the divine Son of God. The Muslim believes in God (Allah), but also denies the deity of Christ. In that condition they cannot be saved. While it is commendable, practicing high moral living is insufficient to save man from sin. Such does not put a person “into” Christ where salvation is found. In order to be saved a person can and must believe “on” Christ (John 8:24), repent “toward” Christ and confess faith “in” Christ; however, it is only when one’s faith, penitence and confession culminates in his being baptized that his relationship to Christ changes. Prior to baptism he is outside Christ. At baptism he gets “into” Christ (Galatians 3:27; Romans 6:4).
…Outside the church. To many a relationship with Christ is essential to salvation, but belonging to the church is immaterial. Scripture does not support such a view. The church is the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23). The Bible affirms that man is reconciled to man as well as to God in the church (Ephesians 2:16; 2 Corinthians 5:20). Paul left no doubt as to the essentiality of the church when he said that Christ is the savior of it (Ephesians 5:23). How does a person get “into” the church? Does he “join” it as one does a civic or fraternal organization? Is he “voted in” by those who are already members? Does he gain entry by being physically born of parents who are members of the church? The Bible affirms that the same process by which one gets into Christ (Galatians 3:27) gets one into the church as well (1 Corinthians 12:13). At baptism God adds him to the church (Acts 2:38, 47). Thus, a person does not become a Christian by one process and a member of the church by another.
…Against his will. Man is a free moral agent and can choose to obey or disobey God (Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:15). God appeals, woos, and commands man to turn from sin in order to be saved (Romans 2:4), but He will not save anyone against their will. Man’s response must come from the heart (Romans 6:17).
…As a lukewarm believer. Lukewarmness is a condition in which the cross of Jesus is not denied, but it is not perceived as being vital to salvation. In lukewarmness the fact of sin is admitted, but there is no hatred of sin. A lukewarm individual would speak of sinners as persons to be pitied, but he will not lift a finger to save them. A lukewarm person will not deny the inspiration of the Bible, but neither will he study or use it. He won’t reject the church, but he will not get involved in the work of the church. Lukewarmness is a condition that nauseates the Lord (Revelation 3:14-22) and deceives man into thinking that he is saved.
Salvation is God’s work. It is presumptuous of man to infringe upon His exclusive work by suggesting other avenues to salvation. Man is to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
In the Peanuts comic strip, Charlie Brown comes up to Lucy who is seated behind her lemonade stand. She is offering psychiatric help for five cents. Charlie asks her if she can cure depression. Lucy says, “Sure.” Charlie asks, “Can you cure deep down, bottom of the barrel depression?” Lucy says, “Sure, all for the same five cents.”
Now I don’t know her secret, but if she really had a five cent cure for depression, the world would line up at that lemonade stand. Depression is something we all occasionally experience to one degree or another. It is a devastating illness that affects the whole man physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
I don’t have a five cent cure, but I believe there is a way to cope with depression. There’s no easy way out, but we can begin to deal with it, even learn from it.
Just for today – just for now – here’s a start. Instead of an inward look, take an outward look. Instead of focusing on the negatives of life, turn your attention to the positives and be grateful. Paul said, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6, ESV).
A physician once stated that the secret to a long life was to drink eight glasses of water each day. There is no doubt that following this advice would greatly aid the longevity as well as the quality of one's life. One could wish that the secret to a strong spiritual life would be so easy, but it isn't. However, in Phillipians chapter three Paul does provide some food for thought. In this chapter, Paul reveals his spiritual biography. He points to his past in verses 1-11. There we see "Paul, the accountant." He refers to his present in verses 12-16 where we see "Paul, the athlete." Finally, he describes the future in verses 17-21 and pictures himself as an "alien" in the world.
We focus our attention on verses twelve through fourteen where Paul unfolds some ingredients essential for spiritual development.
Dissatisfaction (3:12-13a). Though he was a religious giant, Paul was dissatisfied with his spiritual progress. He realized his personal shortcomings and wanted to advance for the sake of the kingdom. When a person becomes satisfied with his spiritual stature he signals the end of spiritual growth. The church at Sardis was satisfied with their spiritual reputation, but Jesus described them as being dead (Rev. 3:1). Laodicea felt satisfied with their status, but, in reality, they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked (Rev. 3:17). Paul's spiritual maturity was shown in the recognition of his own immaturity. So is ours.
Devotion (3:13b). "One thing" is an important phrase. The self-righteous rich young ruler lacked "one thing" in obtaining the true riches (Mk. 10:21). The man blind from his birth did not know many things, but he said, "One thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see" (Jn. 9:25). The Psalmist requested "one thing" of the Lord: that he dwell in the house of the Lord all his life (Psa. 27:4). An ingredient essential for spiritual growth is having singleness of purpose. Just as an athlete succeeds by oncentrating on his goal so the Christian develops by focusing upon his eternal quest. A river that is allowed to overflow its banks becomes a swamp, whereas, one that is properly channeled becomes a power. The spiritually developing life is a focused life.
Direction (3:13c). Paul did not allow his checkered past of opposition to the church hinder his current service to the Lord. In order to grow Christians must break the power of the past by living for the future. Like Paul, we need to accept God's offer of forgiveness and forget the past (Acts 22:16).
Determination (3:14). This verse captures the idea of intense endeavor. The picture is that of a hunter eagerly pursuing his prey. A person does not become a winning athlete by listening to lectures in his field of competition, or by watching movies, reading books, or cheering at games. He must get on the field and perform. It may be that one of the reasons why some do not grow spiritually is because the price of success is too great for them. However, the incorruptible crown awaiting the faithful is worthy of relentless pursuit.
Little children are masters at it. Unable to get their way, they run off and hold a pout session. They wear a sour and unhappy expression on their face. For the most part childishness is overlooked. After all, they are just children. To most adults their expressions are often more comical or amusing than tragic. The wonderful thing about children, though, is that when you leave them alone for a few minutes, they will get over their sulking and things will soon be back to normal. They start playing as though nothing ever happened.
But it isn’t funny when adults play the game. We don’t “bounce back” as most children do. Once the sulking begins it could last for days or months or even years.
All of us have been wronged at times. You probably cannot go through life without some adversity of one kind or another. If we are not careful we’ll try to justify ourselves for “being in a mood” and we’ll sulk and pout. We’ll make everyone around us miserable and we’ll be miserable too.
There must be a better way for adults to live. There is, and God provides the answer in the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others…Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:3-4, 14-15, NASV).
The poet writes, “Hopelessness is wringing the lifeblood out of multitudes of people.” It’s true. We are haunted by hopelessness. It kills our spirit and chokes any sense of optimism or anticipation. It leads to suffering, loneliness, despair, and suicide.
When we lose hope we lose will-power. We are left empty and afraid. In the final analysis no hope can come from the government in Washington. It cannot come from educational achievement or business success, either.
Without hope we grope in darkness. It is like the blind leading the blind. Lost hope is the undertaker’s best friend. It was Sir Thomas Lipton of England, a multimillionaire and winner of many boat races, who shortly before dying, said: “I’d give up every trophy in my collection for the one I haven’t got” – that is a hope of heaven and eternal life. It is hope that cheers the child of God for “…the righteous hath hope in his death” (Prov. 14:32). It is hope that serves as a sure and steadfast anchor of the Christian’s soul (Heb. 6:19). Hope is the stimulus to action and the incentive to achievement. How strong is your hope?
(This story first appeared in an old issue of Sports Illustrated, then published in Glad Tidings, and later appeared in the bulletin of the Huntingdon church of Christ.)
The game was played in Wellington, Florida. In it, a seven-year-old first baseman, Tanner Munsey, fielded a ground ball and tried to tag a runner going from first to second base. The umpire, Laura Benson, called the runner out, but young Tanner immediately ran to her side and said, “Ma’am, I didn’t tag the runner.” Umpire Benson reversed herself, sent the runner to second base, and Tanner’s coach gave him the game ball for his honesty.
Two weeks later, Laura Benson was again the umpire and Tanner was playing shortstop when a similar play occurred. This time Benson ruled that Tanner had missed the tag on a runner going to third base, and she call the runner safe. Tanner looked at Benson and without saying a word, tossed the ball to the catcher and returned to his position.
Benson sensed something was wrong. “Did you tag the runner?” she asked Tanner. His reply, “Yes.” Benson then called the runner out. The opposing coaches protested until she explained what had happened two weeks earlier. “If a kid is that honest,” she said, “I have to give it to him.”
It may be that no Christian characteristic has suffered more in our society than honesty. It’s lacking in the workplace, it’s lacking in many of our marriages, it’s lacking in our government, and sometimes it’s even lacking in our churches. Like Diogenes of ancient Greece, we sometimes feel the urge to take our lantern and begin our search for an honest man.
There is something about Christians that should stand out like a neon sign on a dark night. Jesus wants His people to be known as a people of truth. We should establish a reputation, like Tanner, for speaking the truth even when it would benefit us to do otherwise. Then, and only then, will those around us trust what we say without hesitation, without wondering whether or not we really mean what we say.
It’s an old children’s game and we’ve all played it. It’s called, “Follow the Leader.” It’s a fun game that leads in a lot of different directions. Where you end up depends on where the leader takes you. And you are at the mercy of where he wants to go.
When we grow a little older, there’s no formal game as such, but we still play. We follow the leader, and what’s being sold is what we want to buy. The philosophy of those around us becomes our philosophy. The goals and values we see in others become our own. We’re still “following the leader.” And we are going where we are led.
The problem is that we are often led off into dead end directions and we end up lost and confused. We follow the leader and he doesn’t have much of a feel for where he’s going. If we’re playing “follow the leader,” it might be smart to check out who’s in the front of the line. Jesus invites us to follow Him (Matthew 11:28-29). One thing is certain; He will never lead us in the wrong direction. He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Have you ever seen a bridge over troubled waters? It would be a welcome sight if you were trying to cross the waters. Life is filled with troubled waters. We face financial struggles, strained relationships, natural calamities, job and business reversals, marriage and home issues, serious health problems, death, and many other difficulties. The presence of a friend at those times is often comforting and helpful. A kind word is healing; no condemnation, no judgment, just a simple, “I understand.” A friend will stand with you and by you. A friend is a bridge over troubled waters. “A friend loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17).
Where is the best source for this kind of friendship and support? We all need it, but our fellow man can often disappoint us; even the best of our friends. However, do you remember God’s promise? He said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). We can truly count on Him, can’t we? He will always be there as a bridge over troubled waters.
A young boy was walking along enjoying a very beautiful day. The sky was blue, the sun was bright and warm, the grass was green – it was a beautiful sight. As he walked along whistling, he stumped his toe. It hurt a little so he stopped to look. He found that he had hit an old silver dollar that was stuck in the ground. He pulled the silver dollar out and shined it up, put it in his pocket, and kept walking.
But now, there was a big change. Now, he didn’t whistle. Now, he didn’t see the sky or feel the warmth of the sun. Now, he didn’t notice the grass. Now he was unaware of the beauty around him. Now, he didn’t look up. He kept his eyes low on the ground. Now, he was looking for another silver dollar. And looking down cost him an awareness of what was really there.
“O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens… When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?...O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!” (Psalms 8:1,3-4, 9).