Death Destroyed

And if Christ has not been raised . . . we are of all people most to be pitied – 1 Corinthians 15:17a…19b

The last enemy to be destroyed is death – 1 Corinthians 15;26

                Most of you know of the death of my only living brother, Jimmy Ryan, on June 13th.  We had another brother, Kevin, who we never knew, that died when he was five months old on February 10th, 1964.  My brother Jimmy (Jim to most of his friends) was born that same year on Thanksgiving Day.  He was a gift of God to my parents as they were still dealing with their grief.  I was born 2 and a half years later.

                As a pastor’s son, I saw my Dad comfort and help countless families through their times of grief and tragedy.  Then as I followed my father into the ministry, God has put me in a place where bringing comfort to those during times of death has become my primary focus.  Losing someone unexpectedly gives me a different perspective and insight into those with whom I have sat during their loved ones passing.   Truthfully, I would rather have not had that perspective, but there is nothing that can be changed now.  I have believed for years in the promise of Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  If I cannot claim and rest on that promise now, then when can I?

                I am reminded of a story told to me by my former colleague, Chaplain Cecil Cook, who has himself gone on to be with the Lord.  Several years ago, when Cecil’s father was around 90 years old and had declining health, he shared with his father how he could be content because he had raised all his children well, was loved by them all, and had had a good life.  He told his Dad he could go on to death in peace knowing that he did everything God asked Him to do.  Cecil’s father turned to him and said “Son, all that sounds real good, but it’s different when it’s you.”

“It’s different when it’s you.”  Whether you are facing death yourself, or grieving over a loved one’s death, “it’s different when it affects you personally.”

In the past week, my brother’s death has led to conversations with friends, coworkers, and acquaintances that have shared with me stories of their own past loss that I never knew.  There is a common bond for those who have had to bear this kind of pain.  It is a void that will never be filled in this life.  It makes the hope of heaven even sweeter.

Many avoid the thought or discussion of death because of its’ unpleasantness.   At nursing orientation, I jokingly ask if anyone knows what the mortality rate is in the state of Florida.  Some don’t get the joke and have guessed numbers like 50 percent. 

The believer should live everyday with understanding that this is only our temporary home.  We have the promise of life after death, but only to those who have been granted the power of the resurrection of the dead through Christ.  In Christ’s resurrection, He conquered death for us.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead then what hope do we have?           

                Death is our greatest enemy.  But it will be destroyed in the end.  In heaven there will be no more death, crying, tears, or pain.  I can’t wait to get there!  I am ready.  Are you? 

In Christ,

Jeff

Be Steadfast

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord – 1 Corinthians 15:58

                Life is hard.  We don’t feel steadfast and immovable, and sometimes we just want to stop all our striving.   Yet feeling weak and worn out is not always a bad thing.  It is in that place that God’s glory is most revealed to the world.  The scripture says that, “God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”

Paul continues this theme in his second letter to the Corinthians when he says, “Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

This is counterintuitive to our minds.  We think that it is the strong who win and get what they want.  While this may be true in a temporal sense, it is never true in the eternal sense.  The sooner we learn that our strength is limited, but the Lord’s strength is limitless, the more victorious we will be in life.

So when we acknowledge where our steadfastness comes from, then we will be steadfast. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  We are also strengthened in knowing our labor is not in vain.  Finally, we are promised ultimate victory through resurrection from death.

Being Salty

 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. – Matthew 5:13

            I think the metaphor that Jesus uses in comparing believers to salt has several applications.  Two my favorites are that salt is both a preservative and a seasoning.  When we start to view ourselves as a people who possess those two qualities, it changes our behavior. 

Think about it.  You are a preservative!  You are seasoning!  It kind of sounds funny wording it that way, but think about how bad the world would be without these kinds of people.

            A preservative prevents things from rotting.  The word “entropy” is a term used in science and sociology to mean “a measure of disorder that exists in a system.”  In the sociological sense, it is the concept that everything is progressing toward decay.  You don’t have to look far to find proof that this exists.  The world often looks to me that it on the precipice of falling completing into chaos.  It is only through the presence of God’s Spirit and His work through His people that we still live (“in him all things hold together”-Colossians 1:17).

            But even better than being a preservative is our role as a seasoning.  Everyone seeks to have meaning in their life.  Without a purpose, life becomes dull and listless.  In Christ, we have true purpose and belonging.  We have the privilege of participating in His Kingdom work as the Lord through Christ “reconciles all things to Himself.”  The Christians gives flavor to this lost and dying world through sharing the gospel.  So don’t lose your opportunity to be salty.

Gods Yes’s and No’s

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! – Mathew 7:9-11

Have you ever you hoped and prayed for something and then received the answer through a letter or an email? I had such an experience yesterday. Before opening the email the thought came to my mind “If the answer is yes, I will be jumping for joy and praising God. If the answer is no, I will probably mope around the rest of the night and question God as to why the answer was no.” I hesitated as I pondered the strangeness of the thought that one message had such power over my emotions. Unfortunately I did not receive the answer I wished. As expected, my heart sank as I struggled to understand.

Throughout life we all will receive yes and no’s to our prayers. The emotions that come with these answers are neither good nor bad. The question is what we will do with them. Will we continue to believe that God is working for our good? Will we accept God’s no or will we try to take matters into our own hands?

The questions change when the answer is yes. Will we give God honor for His answers to prayer or take the credit ourselves? Will we use the blessings we receive to bless others or will we hoard God’s gifts? Sometimes the temptations to sin are greater with a yes answer than a no answer.

In the times that we don’t get what we want it is important to maintain a high view of God and His intentions toward us. It is his Heart to give good gifts to his children. We don’t always see the big picture. It has been said that God’s no’s are so He can give us a greater yes. In whatever answers we receive we can be confident that God is always working to form our character to be a more useful instrument for Him and the spread of the gospel.

Resisting Temptation

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:15-16

Despite what these verses say, many of us don’t think about the fact that Jesus was tempted. Not only that, but He was tempted in every way that we have been. Imagine that! Think of all the weight of temptation you have felt in your life. Jesus carried that same weight when He walked the earth and more.

You might say “but Jesus never sinned. He doesn’t really understand.” But when is the weight of temptation worse? When we resist or when we give in? Giving in initially gives us a sense of relief (short-lived as it may be). It is the resisting of the temptation that we feel its’ weight most fully.

Physical exercise is hard at first, but eventually we will get stronger if we persist. So it is when resisting temptation. It is difficult when we first try to resist-even painful. But the more we do it the easier it gets.

Temptation will never leave us this side of eternity. But God has promised that there will always be a way of escape. Sometimes our problem is that we either don’t ask God for a way of escape or deep down don’t really want it. We also can get trapped into thinking that we know what is good for us better than the Lord does. Strive to approach the Lord with more confidence, believing that any restriction He has put on your life is for your benefit. By resisting temptation we can experience the best of His plans for our lives.

The Ministry of Reconciliation

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 15:58

 

At the core of each person is a desire to have impact in the world.  Though we distract ourselves with many things, we all hope that our lives will make a difference.  But what does making a difference mean?  Is it being kind to others, helping those who are suffering, or educating students so they excel?  Could it be found in changing policies and laws through the political process?  Is it through meeting one’s own goals and achieving personal gains?

 

Though all these things might be involved in the impact God wants us to make, they are not ends in themselves.  I believe our greatest contribution of the believer is what Paul calls “the ministry of reconciliation.”  In 2 Corinthians, chapter 5 it says “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” and “we are ambassadors for Christ.”

 

The “ministry of reconciliation” is living, speaking, doing, and giving in ways that lets others see the life that we ourselves have received from the Lord.  This is not a forced or a contrived thing.  For those who seek to know the Lord, it will become as natural as breathing.  As the fruit of God’s Spirit is apparent in your life, others can’t help but also want to seek that same life-giving Spirit.

 

It is not that we can change other’s lives for the good, but the follower of Jesus can point others to the One who can.  When we commit ourselves to doing this we can have confidence that our labor is never in vain.