Monday, November 28, 2011

What Is Death?

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.

The Bible has much to say about death. It records a variety of ways in which people have passed from this world. For instance, James, the son of Zebedee, was killed with the sword. Absalom, the son of David, was pierced with darts. Achan was stoned by his peers. The aged Eli fell backward off a stool and broke his neck. The earth swallowed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. The handle of Abner’s spear killed Asahel, the fleet-footed brother of Joab. Samson perished under the rubble of Dagon’s temple.

Secular records relate that the apostle Paul was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down, Thomas was pierced with darts in India, and James, the Lord’s brother, was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple in Jerusalem.

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 teach that it is annihilation or cessation of existence. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection because they were not convinced that man has a spirit (Acts 28:8; Matthew 22:23). Jesus told them they were ignorant of the scriptures and of the power of God (Matthew 22:29). He said that God is the God of the living, not of the dead (Matthew 22:31-32).

Death is a consequence of sin. It was introduced to the world as a result of Adam and Eve’s sin and is presently experienced by mankind (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!

Monday, November 21, 2011


During his illustrious career a lawyer was credited with saving 78 people from being executed in the electric chair. Yet, not a single one of them ever thanked him for his effective work. A philanthropist who had given away millions of dollars was heard to say, "Don’t look for gratitude except in the dictionary." Ingratitude is a problem that stalks across our land today.

Jesus experienced the same lack of gratitude when he healed 10 men afflicted with the incurable disease of leprosy (Luke 17:11-19). Only one of them returned from presenting themselves to the priest to express thanks to the Lord for his cure. The apostle Paul said that ingratitude would be characteristic of people "in the last days" (2 Tim. 3:1-2).

A wealthy woman once expressed to her doctor that she was constantly frustrated by a restless desire for more. The doctor wisely replied, "These are usual symptoms of too much ease in the home and too little gratitude in the heart." Material prosperity is not the only cause for ingratitude among some. Forgetfulness is as well. God lamented the fact that the nation of Israel had forgotten him (Jeremiah 2:32) which led to her downfall. Francis Schaeffer once observed, "The beginning of men's rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart." Tennyson Guyer has written a poem entitled, The World Is Mine, that will perhaps help us reflect on how blessed we are during this Thanksgiving season.

Today upon a bus I saw a girl with golden hair;
She seemed so gay, I envied her,
And wish that I were half so fair;
I watched her as she rose to leave,
And saw her hobble down the aisle.
She had one leg and wore a crutch,
But as she passed--a smile.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two legs--the world is mine.

Later on I bought some sweets.
The boy who sold them had such charm,
I thought I'd stop and talk awhile.
If I were late, t'would do no harm.
And as we talked he said,
"Thank you, sir, you've really been so kind.
It's nice to talk to folks like you
Because, you see, I'm blind"
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two eyes--the world is mine

Later, walking down the street,
I met a boy with eyes so blue.
But he stood and watched the others play;
It seemed he knew not what to do.
I paused, and then I said,
"Why don't you join the others, dear?"
But he looked straight ahead without a word,
And then I knew, he couldn't hear.
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine;
I have two ears--the world is mine.

With feet to take me where I'd go;
With eyes to see the sunset's glow;
With ears to hear what I would know,
I am blessed indeed. The world is mine;
Oh, God, forgive me when I whine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

After Death - What Then?

Does man cease to exist? Is his body buried never to be seen again? Does he come back in another form – either human or animal – and continue to live on earth? Is man of a dual nature – physical and spiritual? Does his spirit continue to live in another state to wait for the time when it will rejoin his body at the great resurrection day? If that is the case, where does his spirit go following his physical death? Are the dead in a state of consciousness? Are they aware of activity on earth? These and many other questions flood the mind when reflecting upon this subject. Especially do these questions fill our minds when we attend a funeral.

The concept of life after death is not based on scientific discovery or philosophical conclusions. The study belongs to a realm of experience of which science knows nothing. No one has ever crossed the dreaded gulf that separates time from eternity and returned to bring tidings of their experience on the opposite shores of mortality. A few have made this phenomenal trip from an earthly life, to death, and back to earthly life again, but no one in the Bible has their experience recorded. While the Old Testament furnishes sufficient information to conclude that man continues to live on the other side of the grave, it is the New Testament that sheds further light on the subject.

There are eleven occurrences of the word Hades in the New Testament. One of the most familiar references is made by Jesus in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). Both were in Hades, but one suffered while the other was comforted. Death, then, is not the cessation of life; it only marks the change from one state to another. When physical death occurs, the spirit separates from the body and continues to live in Hades even though the body is buried in the earth (Jas. 2:26).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What Is Heaven Like?

There beats within the heart of most everyone a desire to know what heaven is like as well as a yearning to go there. Even pagan religions have some convictions about a realm of existence beyond this world. A variety of concepts about heaven exists among the major cults. Every religious group associated with what is referred to as “Christendom” believes in heaven. The Bible is the only book that can give us reliable information about it.

In heaven there is an abundance of room. Jesus said there are many dwelling places there (Jn. 14:2). The city is laid out foursquare; its length and width and height are equal (Rev. 21:16). There will be plenty of comfortable space for all the redeemed. Stocks and bonds and other investments rise and fall in value with the economic climate of the time, but that which is invested in heaven never deteriorates; neither will it ever be destroyed. Thieves will not be able to rob us of its possession (Mt. 6:20). In the presence of God is fullness of joy (Psa. 16:11). The most beautiful singing known to man will be heard by the redeemed as they sing the new song of victory, triumph, and deliverance (Rev. 5:9; 14:3; 15:3). All the trials and tribulations of this earth will be over and, at long last, sweet deliverance from the presence of sin is experienced. The redeemed will have eternal rest from their constant struggle against temptation in this life (Heb. 4:9; Rev. 14:13). They will have an abiding possession (Heb. 10:34) “which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away” (1 Pt. 1:4). No disease will enter to ravage and destroy it. Time will no more deeply furrow the brow. Sickness and old age will no longer bend the back or diminish the mind. Heaven’s “walls and gates” will never crumble. Its infrastructure will never deteriorate. All things are new there (Rev. 21:5). The redeemed will be free from any sad experiences in heaven. There will be no tears, mourning, crying, pain, or even death (Rev. 21:4; Lk. 20:36). Death will be swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54). There will be no need for physicians and surgeons to practice their occupations there. Hospitals will not even exist. Funeral processions and cemeteries will not be seen along its streets. Heaven is the “beautiful home of the soul” prepared by the Lord (Jn. 14:1-3).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Woman And A Fork

There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things "in order," she contacted her preacher and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes.

She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.

Everything was in order and the preacher was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

"There's one more thing," she said excitedly.

"What's that?" came the preacher’s reply.

"This is very important," the young woman continued. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand."

The preacher stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say.

“That surprises you, doesn't it?" the young woman asked.

"Well, to be honest, I'm puzzled by the request," said the preacher.

The young woman explained. "My grandmother once told me this story, and from that time on I have always tried to pass along its message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement. In all my years of attending socials and dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork.' It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!'

So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder ‘What's with the fork?’ Then I want you to tell them: ‘Keep your fork, the best is yet to come.’"

The preacher's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She had a better grasp of what heaven would be like than many people twice her age, with twice as much experience and knowledge. She KNEW that something better was coming.

At the funeral people were walking by the young woman's casket and they saw the cloak she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the preacher heard the question, "What's with the fork?" And over and over he smiled.

During his message, the preacher told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her. He told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either.

He was right. So the next time you reach down for your fork let it remind you, ever so gently, that the best is yet to come. Friends are a very rare jewel, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share a word of praise, and they always want to open their hearts to us.

Show your friends how much you care. Remember to always be there for them, even when you need them more. For you never know when it may be their time to "Keep your fork."

Cherish the time you have, and the memories you share ... being friends with someone is not an opportunity but a sweet responsibility.