Bowling for Jesus: Dead Wait

The first person I knew who died was my kindergarten teacher. My mother tried to break the news as gently as she could, reading select portions of the story which appeared in The Denver Post. Particularly unsettling was the fact she had died in a high rise hotel fire. I wasn’t sure what it meant to die. But my mom said I would never see Mrs. Dale again. And that realization made me cry.

Later that summer, as we were driving along I-25, I sat in the backseat of our Pinto and marveled at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. With my nose pressed against the window, I stared at the trees, flowers and birds. And, despite my youth, or maybe because of it, I instantly understood a simple but profound truth—someone had to have created the world…and me along with it!

When I asked my parents if they believed in God, they said, “Of course.” But religion wasn’t something we routinely discussed. My father was raised Catholic, serving as an altar boy before his family sent him off to reform school when he was 12. My mother’s family occasionally attended a Presbyterian church in Michigan while she was growing up. But neither of my parents went to church at the time. So I wondered how it was possible they could know there is a God and yet fail to acknowledge Him or include them in their everyday lives.

When my dad died nine years later, I was thankful that he had since professed faith in Jesus and had been baptized along with my mom and me at a non-denominational Evangelical church in Englewood, Colorado. I loved my father. But I didn’t cry when I found out about his death. As shell-shocked as I was by his passing, I knew that his body was in the casket…not his soul.

If you think about it, it’s a bit odd how human beings accept death as a normal part of life. Not that we have a choice. Like taxes, it’s unavoidable. No doubt you know someone who has died…maybe even recently. The past few weeks alone have brought the deaths of American astronaut Neil Armstrong, comedienne Phyllis Diller and the voice of Sesame Street’s Count Jerry Nelson.  In fact, on average, 150,000 people die every day!

So we all know the deal. Even if we enjoy an extraordinarily long life, we will eventually die. So why do we invest so much of ourselves on earth when we know…whatever our beliefs about life after death…that our days here are numbered? And if our days here are numbered, how then shall we live? Here are a few hints from Scripture:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;” whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”~ James 4:14

You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before you; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.~Psalm 39:5

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.~Ephesians 5:15-16

I find particularly poignant the spiritual writings of people who have died—heroes of the faith including every single apostle, Dietrich Bonheoffer, John Bunyan, Amy Carmichael, Oswald Chambers, Keith Green, Brother Lawrence, C.S. Lewis, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer and David Wilkerson…to name a few. Equally heartrending  is the work done by people, now deceased, who lived their lives on earth apart from Christ. The reason this affects me is because…ready or not, they are all standing in eternity, where we too will be.

So what should we do with the time we have while we’re here? For my part, I want to take my cue from the Apostle Paul:

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

~ II Cor. 4:18

By grace alone,

~Bowling for Jesus

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Bowling for Jesus: Don’t Miss Heaven for the World

As I struggled to sleep following my hospital-induced acid trip through the K-Hole (Please see last week’s post if you want details), I was tormented by the visions that I had seen while I believed I was dead. Although the anesthesiologist who administered it said Ketamine only stays in the human body for 30-40 minutes, the dose I was given remained in my system for at least 10 days. I know this not only because I was unable to sleep but because my dog wouldn’t come near me. He literally turned his nose up at me each time our paths crossed and slept facing away from me to avoid my scent.

In order to pass one sleepless night, I logged into Facebook and was stunned when I realized that one of my good friends had died. She was just 45. I stared at the computer screen wondering aloud how I could have missed the announcement about her death even though someone had been regularly posting about it since it happened on July 22. Cathy and her husband, Lee, had been in the Sunday school class that Brent taught while we were still newlyweds in the early 1990s.

As the years passed, Cathy and I grew close as we struggled in very human shells to try to honor the Lord by home schooling our very human children. She was an awesome writer with a wonderful sense of humor. And, on many occasions, we laughed until we cried about our home school travails. And although Cathy and her family moved from Glendora to Riverside and we relocated from Glendora to Lake Arrowhead, we stayed in touch. Although I was well aware that she had been suffering from the devastating effects of cancer for seven years, when last I heard, she was in remission. So I was shocked by her death.

Two days later, I was wide awake at 3 a.m. when our telephone rang. One of Brent’s cousins, who was also a close personal friend and one of my favorite clients, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away in his home after suffering cardiac arrest. Only 56 years of age and training for a bike marathon, Bob was in great shape. He watched what he ate, exercised and never missed his comprehensive annual physical exam. So his death came as an overwhelming blow.

After we prayed together for Bob’s family and talked for hours about the surreal nature of it all, Brent tried to catch a couple of hours of sleep while I sat in the early morning light and cried out to God. After all; none of the events of the week had surprised Him. He had to have allowed each and every one. All I could muster was a mono-syllabic question to my Creator: “Why?”

Anne Graham Lotz asked a similar question as she watched the events of 9/11 unfold on her television screen. She recorded her reactions in what has recently become one of my favorite books—Expecting to See Jesus.

“Tears streamed down my cheeks, my heart broke, and I heard my own voice crying out. ‘Oh no, God, no! So many people dying! Right now! God, help them!’ As I sat transfixed, with my eyes glued to the television screen, I knew people at that moment were stepping into eternity, and I wondered how many people went to work that morning, parked their cars, rode up the elevators, unlocked their office doors, booted up their computers, poured a cup of coffee, and reached for the telephone…then, in the blink of an eye, found themselves in eternity, standing before God?! My next thought was, ‘How many of those people stepping into eternity right now are not ready to meet God?’”

I’m extremely grateful that Cathy and Bob knew Jesus. They were devoted followers whose faith has undoubtedly become sight. And that makes the grief process incredibly more bearable than it is when we grieve for those who die outside of a relationship with Christ. But Cathy left a loving husband and five children. And Bob’s first wife died of an aneurysm when his children were just one and three years of age. From a human standpoint, neither event makes sense.

Although I didn’t see a white light during my own near-death experience, I was made painfully aware of the distinct difference between what happens in the natural world and the spiritual realm. I believe that the Lord acquaints us with death while we’re here to keep our eyes pointed heavenward. After all; it’s easy to get distracted and forget that this earth is not our home.

This is how Anne Graham Lotz puts it: “We are teetering on the edge of a giant abyss where time stops and eternity begins, yet we seem to be living our lives as though this life is all there is or ever will be.”

While Jesus was on earth, He repeatedly instructed His disciples not to be deceived and to keep watch. His coming is eminent. And if we are not the generation that will witness His second coming (and I truly believe that we are), we have this in common…we will die. It’s undeniable. Like the people who died on 9/11, like Cathy and like Bob. Like the victims of the Columbine High School masacre in 1999. Like theater-goers in Aurora, Colorado last month. One day, our time here on earth will be finished and we will meet our Maker.

Are you ready?

Romans 10:13

“Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”