Wednesday, January 2, 2013

"Oh Death, Where is your Sting?"

It's been over 8 years now since I surrendered my life to Christ and was born again. My eternal life began; living and walking in the Spirit was now part of my life on earth. John 3 speaks of being born again in some detail.

To get to the point, since beginning life in the Spirit, I have experienced the death of four significant people in my life. I think often my poise during a funeral or a burial can be mistaken for insensitivity or lack of heart. This might be true of many Christians even. To be clear, I'm definitely not saying that Christians are not allowed to be emotional or experience mourning during the death of a loved on. The reason I'm actually writing this is to share what I experience during the time of processing physical death.

During today and yesterday I have been attending the wake, visitation, funeral, and burial of my paternal Grandmother, Aretus. This time, as much as any other, I look around and see the sting of death: hurt, pain, remorse, guilt, shame, regret. But, the fruit of the Spirit is Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faith, Gentleness, Self-Control. What a struggle to experience the fruit of the Spirit in the midst of death. T \o any man or woman, the sting of death is evident in our world, we can allow it to control us for days, weeks, or even months. Imagine if Christ had not overcome death -- the disciples would have been dumbstruck for months or even years after having following Christ in all his ministry. Paul even offers this thought to ponder in 1 Cor 15:12-19
"Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, “There is no resurrection of the dead”? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith. In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ—whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone."
 But thankfully, Paul points us to the resurrection of Christ as you read on in v20-24
"But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also comes through a man. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; afterward, at His coming, those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when He abolishes all rule and all authority and power."
Because Paul pointed to Christs resurrection, we too should look to our Faith in Christ to hope and know of our resurrection. This resurrection is not of the flesh, but of the Spirit as noted in verse 44, our Spirit is sown in the natural body, and raised in the spiritual body. The Spirit directs us to experience it's fruit as we walk with and around those whom are experiencing the sting of death in the midst of it. I personally think that especially Joy and Peace should be demonstrated during these times because they offer much comfort to those who mourn, including ourselves. Now understanding the theology, I come back to the four people that I've experienced the death of. 

The first was several years ago, my maternal Grandma. I am thankful that 2 years before she passed, I was given the opportunity to meet with here for Breakfast and share the Gospel with her. From that day, her heart towards me was different. She understood that I loved her in a way that wasn't of this world, but because I cared about her eternity. She told me that he hope was in Christ. The second person was a freshman college student from Winona. Although I didn't know her well, I was a spiritual leader to her because of my role as a staff member on her campus where I shared messages from the Word and coached upperclassman students who led her Bible Study. She was one who set the example of full surrender to Christ. I had nothing but Joy and Peace in her death, even though she was young, the way that God was glorified by the way she lived will echo for generations and eternity in heaven. The third person was a young man from La Crosse who was an upperclassman leader in our Cru ministry. Similar to the girl from Winona, this young man's life echoed strongly for God and he left a legacy that was shared just two days ago with 1700 people at a conference. The ripple of his legacy and devotion to Christ will undoubted lead people to glorify God for all of eternity. 

And finally the most recent, my paternal Grandma. Over the last 10 years, cognitively she has been degenerating. It's been a hard, difficult process for my family to watch. When I was young I remember snippets of her life and the joy that she had, but very little. So as I attended this funeral, I was hungry to hear about my grandma from others who knew her well and how she lived for God. And hearing is just that, exactly what happened. I was unaccustomed to Catholic funerals, having little knowledge of their traditions how they conduct funerals. Their services left little to know room of personal remembrance; however, I am thankful to have been able to talk to people during the comings and goings of the different services and at a luncheon that was provided. I heard from many people about the vitality and fervor of my grandma for people and for God and it brought hope and joy to my heart. 

People gathered at the luncheon sharing stories of my Grandmother's life
Earlier I mentioned one of the stings of death to be regret, and admittedly this is one that hit me as I never took the chance to reiterate and affirm the Gospel with my grandma until after she had been experiencing the symptoms of alzheimers. However, because of the Spirit, and my faith in God's sovereignty, I trust that He knows what He's doing.

Although death is often a harrowing time in the life of many, my prayer is that Christ is displayed as the Victor over it in our lives and in the lives of others as we love them. 

 "When this corruptible is clothed
with incorruptibility,
and this mortal is clothed
with immortality,
then the saying that is written will take place:
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?
Now the sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ! 
Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."
      - 1 Cor 15:54-58
Finally, please pray for my grandfather as he grieves. The next weeks and months will undoubtedly be hard for him. Thankfully I know that he has a relationship with God and that through dependance upon Him, my grandfather will gain and understand new purpose and meaning as he surrenders this to God.

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