Dying to Live

01/14/2009

“Almost dying changes nothing. Dying changes everything.”

There’s a very strange medical show on these days called, “House,” and it features a doctor by that name. Dr. Gregory House is a cantankerous man, full of venomous words towards almost everyone he is with, including his patients. He is extremely rude and obnoxious. But the one thing Dr. House has going for him is that he is a brilliant doctor, able to diagnose what is wrong with patients who are dying from very strange diseases. Every week “House” begins with a scene showing people in all different activities of life, one of whom will be his next patient…someone will cough, another might stumble, another might twitch…and we as the viewers wait to see just who will take a fall to the ground, almost dying, becoming Dr. House’s patient. Of course Dr. House is usually not interested in the case that has been brought to him, he could care less, it seems, until something intrigues him about it—and then he takes it on, with his assistants, as the hour-long show progresses. The dying patient is put through every test, every trial, every question, every investigation until the case is resolved. Dr. House and his team lose very few of their patients.

On a recent show Dr. House said, “Almost dying changes nothing. Dying changes everything.” He was referring to a patient that was cured and then went back to her old ways after all she had been through, while one of Dr. House’s assistants who is actually dying of a disease that has no cure, continued to change her perspective on life. Perhaps this happens because it’s really true, “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”

You probably already know that all of this is going to bring us around to our relationship with our Savior. You might already know that I’m going to ask, “How close are we to Jesus? How many of our own independent ways have really died so we can fully live our lives as God designed them? How willing are we to truly walk through “death’s door,” away from the enemy, and into the bright light shining on the path of Heaven’s Truth? It can feel like we’re dying in the midst of the struggle to live fully, can’t it? But the real question must be asked, “Did we almost die in our circumstances, changing nothing, or did we really die, changing everything?”

Oswald Chambers puts it this way:

“Have I the slightest interest in the death of Jesus? Do I want to be identified with His death, to be killed right out to all interest in sin, in worldliness, in self—to be so identified with Jesus that I am spoilt for everything else but Him?...Get alone with Jesus and either tell Him that you do not want sin to die out in you; or else tell Him that at all costs you want to be identified with His death.”

Easier said than done, isn’t it? Many will waste time before getting this serious about Jesus…because time seems to be on our side…but is it? At any age? We just received news that our 27-year-old son lost a good friend of the same age. His friend seemed in the prime of life, they played softball together, he had just attended a 49er game…probably eating hot dogs and having a cold beer. But as I went about my errands today I thought of Chris, who happens to have the same name as our son, and I thought, “God, Chris hasn’t just left this earth, he has arrived somewhere…I pray it’s Heaven. I pray he is gloriously happy with where he is,” but I don’t know for sure. Chris and I never had that conversation…it seemed Chris had plenty of time to decide on Heaven or Hell, but it turns out he didn’t. And now Chris isn’t just close to a decision, Chris is living in his decided place—even if he hadn’t made a decision, it’s still a decision…because dying changes everything.

Years ago, soon after the death of our son, I was literally on the floor in the greatest anguish of my life. My heart was realizing a grief so great that I didn’t know how I was going to go on. I was going through the tough stuff of life; I was in the process of “dying.” And really, without knowing what I was doing, I cried out, “I don’t care, I love you God! I don’t care, I praise you God!” What I was saying was that no matter how much pain I was in, I loved God. No matter how much I had lost, I would praise God. Even if I didn’t understand, I would choose to believe. Looking back now, unbeknownst to me at the time, that was probably one of the most life-changing prayers to God I have ever prayed. Why? Because it defied the enemy, it put the enemy in his place, and kept God forefront in my life. That prayer let the enemy know, more than I could even know at that time, that the enemy’s power over me was out-matched by God’s power in me, and that little by little, day by day, prayer by prayer, God was going to win the battle that was raging in my heart. I was choosing not to live hopeless and broken, but to allow God’s Healing Hope to work in me as He had designed it to. It takes time, a lot of time, and a lot of tears and prayers, as it will for all of us, but it does work! It’s a choice all of God’s children have to make each day. It’s not a one-time prayer; it’s a life-long process of dying to self. The enemy is relentless, and he will always call to us, wanting us to join him once again in his deep dark pit of despair.

Ruth Myers writes:

“Notice that David and the other psalmists were honest about their feelings, facing them and telling God about them. They knew how to pour out their heart before Him (Psalm 62:8). Often they praised God first and then expressed their disturbed emotions, their perplexities, even their complaints. After this they went on to praise God again, despite their struggles. They did not deny their feelings or simply ignore them. Nor did they wallow in them until they’d all but drowned. And it doesn’t seem that they postponed their praise until they had worked through their emotions and felt better. Instead, they mingled an honest pouring-out of their feelings with sincere, God-honoring praise…What happens when we follow the example of the psalmists—when we express our impressions and feelings yet choose to keep praising in spite of how things seem to us? I find that sooner or later (often sooner) the Lord releases me from being a slave to my distressing emotions. He unties the tight knots within me and settles my feelings, though He may not answer my questions about how He’s handling my affairs.”

It can feel like we’re dying in the midst of the struggle though, can’t it? It can feel horrible, and miserable, and painful, and frustrating, and hopeless…there are not enough words to describe how terrible it feels. But the question when all is said and done is, “Did we almost die, changing nothing, or did we really die, changing everything?” If our answer is almost, as in close to dying…we may have gone around death instead of through the dying process, and we may have missed out on the greatest lessons of our life—which means we have yet to really be changed. And since God won’t leave us there in our confusion, we’ll probably have to go through another dying process until we learn to leave our independence behind and really start to depend on our Savior.

Ruth Myers also writes:

“From cover to cover the Bible shows us that faith—or trust—is the basic response God is looking for. Faith moves God to reveal Himself to us and to do His mighty work in us as well as for us.”

What else does the life of a believer hold that’s more important than this? For, “God to reveal Himself to us,” and “to do His mighty work in us as well as for us”? It doesn’t get more basic than that, except to add that He will then do His miraculous work through us by the power of His Holy Spirit in us! If we’re not seeing the power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives, we most likely have a lot more dying to do. Youch!

I was having an interesting conversation the other day with a person who was wanting to discover more about God. We discussed a church service she had been to that she was not so pleased with. She told me that upon leaving the service and talking it over with a friend who had been with her, they both agreed that they didn’t like what the pastor had to say. I asked her what he had talked about. She said they were not happy that the message had been about Jesus being the only way to get to Heaven—so they didn’t want to go back to that church again, but instead, wanted to attend my church… I had to lovingly explain to her that she would hear the same message in my church, as well as any Christian church that teaches from the Bible. I told her that she’s not alone in her thinking, and that many don’t like that truth and want to agree with her that good people go to Heaven, but in the Bible Jesus says:

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 (NIV)

I asked her why she didn’t want to believe the Bible, and she told me that the problem was a trust issue really—she didn’t want to trust and then be made a fool of for believing that way—but she admitted that she was also scared because there was a part of her that wondered, “What if Jesus really is true, and I don’t believe…then what?” I couldn’t help but share with her the famous quote by Jim Elliot:

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot
keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

How many of us do that? Become the very fools we want not to be by clinging to what we cannot keep and missing out on gaining so much? I know too many, as I’m sure you also do—friends and family members who choose not to believe because they are afraid, afraid to take that step of faith, to look like a fool, to take that leap into the seemingly dark where they would find truth and life actually live? What are we to do? We can’t force the issue, not even God does that. He asks us to choose Him of our own free will, or not…but for those that do not choose Jesus, they too will live eternally, just not in the presence of God.

These thoughts were heavy on my heart as I was trying to get to sleep after learning of Chris’ death. I’ve read, “90 Minutes in Heaven.” I’ve read, “23 Minutes in Hell.” Believe these books or not, believe these truths or not, they still can make quite an impact on thinking about any future life we may have when we leave here. As our son Phil said, “I’d rather believe in God and be wrong, than not believe in God and be wrong.” How wise those words were. He too had doubts, but he was making a wise choice even in the midst of those doubts. Is that being a fool, or is that simply securing a future that will last for all time? Eternity is not a day, or a thousand years, or a million years, it is forever—longer than our minds can conceive… And as I thought about Chris and where he is now, fear filled me…I was not sure if it was fear for his eternal soul, or for mine, but I do know it was a horrible feeling, and I do know I was filled with an even greater passion to let it be known that time is short and we do not want Hell to be our final resting place. Perhaps God was reminding me, “This is what it feels like to think of death, without knowing a Savior.” Okay Lord, okay…thanks for the reminder. That’s real fear.

To step into God’s pure presence when this life is finished, we need to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus for every sin we’ve ever committed. To live eternally in Heaven, we have to die to ourselves on earth first, and accept Jesus’ gift of salvation—and some of us just don’t want to make that choice. We want our cake and eat it too, so to speak. We want to be who we want to be, do what we want to do, and still have Heaven as our final resting place. We want to enter into God’s presence on our own merit, thinking we can just be good enough, and that should work fine.

A definition of FINE from the movie, “The Italian Job.”

F – Freaked out
I – Insecure
N – Neurotic
E – Emotional

“See those columns behind you?
That’s where they used to string up thieves who felt fine.”
                                                          From: The Italian Job

We want to be free to live life as we choose, and do what we think makes us happy. We wonder, don’t we have that right? If we hear a message we don’t agree with, don’t we have the right to disagree and go elsewhere? Who’s making the rules anyway? And if we do want to believe something, how do we figure out which religion is really the right one, the true one, when there are so many out there? Can’t we just pick the church/religion we like best and go with it? Or maybe just believe in ourselves, and make our own way through? These thoughts are not new…haven’t we all been there at some point in our lives? I have a client at school that has chosen to walk away from Jesus and pick a way to get to Heaven that seems fine to her…I don’t as yet know her reasons for this, but I pray God will give us time, as I set her hair in rollers, to discuss it. There is probably great hurt involved, probably great struggles, and probably a “not wanting to die” that is buried in the midst of them…

I was thinking about all these questions, struggles, debates, etc…when I read the words of William “Billy” Sunday, where he says, “We cannot escape the certain consequence that we shall one day stand, sorrowful but too late, before the one door through which we desire to enter but cannot—because it is shut.” That’s what it all comes down to—all of our questions boil down to our final resting place...because we all realize the death rate is 100 percent. That means it includes me, and you, and everyone we know. And it saddens my heart that the door will be shut to those who live in the questions and the debates and the struggles but never settle on Jesus as the answer…how much better to die to ourselves and risk being called a fool for Christ on earth for a few years, than to live in the torture of Hell for all of eternity? As Christians, we surely will be thought foolish by some while we are here. We absolutely will be persecuted for our faith. “Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires.” (2 Peter 3:3) The Bible says we can expect to be misunderstood by the world, so we might as well just get used to it—because as Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”

Jesus tells us the way it is here in Luke:

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'”
Luke 13:22-25 (NLT)

We’ll all want in when we leave this earth, but to enter into Heaven, we have to die to ourselves on earth first! We have to say NO to our pride, and say YES to Jesus.
Almost doesn’t cut it.
Close doesn’t make it into Heaven.
I’m thinking about it may turn out to be too late.

God knows our hearts, and He’s not surprised that we might think it is foolish to believe. Listen to what Paul has to say about foolishness in Romans 1:28:

“Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God,
he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them
do things that should never be done.”

Of course the argument quite often comes up when talking to those who are searching for God, “What about those that never hear the Truth about Jesus?” Why are so many not willing to believe for themselves, but then are so concerned about those who will never hear about the Savior? We question if others will go to Heaven if no one is there to tell them about how to get there, but then delay our answer about our own eternal life when someone is there to talk about it with us. Still, God also knows about these questions we struggle with. He answers them with this in Romans:

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky.
Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—
his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” Romans 1:18-20 (NLT)

God says that no one has an excuse—even people who may have never held a Bible in their hands can still know God exists through His earth and sky. They are as much God’s creation as we are in the largest city with the greatest resources. I sometimes think we are more blinded to God’s greatness, living in the masses, than others are in the simple lives they might lead. God’s still small voice may be much louder in a quiet village than in the chaos of a large city. As I sat with a friend recently, home from the mission field, she seemed to echo those same thoughts.

Romans goes on to say in verses 21-23:

“Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”(NLT)

We do this as human beings, making our way through this life without God, claiming to be wise…but in the words of Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Who are the fools in the end? Who will get the last laugh? Those are the questions we must ask ourselves. Our eternal souls depend on it. We need to search for Truth until Truth is found, no matter what anyone else might think of us. No one else will be with us when we face our Father on that last day! We will all have a one-on-one appointment with our Creator!

The Bible says:

Stop deceiving yourselves. If you think you are wise by this
world’s standards, you need to become a fool to be truly wise.
1 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)

Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know
him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to
save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21 (NLT)

This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans,
and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength.
1 Corinthians 1:25 (NLT)

But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit.
It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who
are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 1 Corinthians 2:14 (NLT)

The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction!
But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18 (NLT)

Why does God’s Word talk so much about foolishness? Perhaps because foolishness and pridefulness are an interesting combination…and the result of pride can be destruction. If we won’t heed God’s warning, what are we thinking? Is our pride so important to us that we’re willing to let it lead us into Hell? To cause us more trouble than it is worth? We can be so blinded to how the devil uses our pride against us.

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness to God. As the Scriptures say,
“He traps the wise in the snare of their own cleverness.”
1 Corinthians 3:19 (NLT)

The more I think about our arguments against God, the more I think, “Who do we think we are?” I liked the way our earth was described in the sermon recently at church. It was said to be a “clump of dirt.” If this whole big beautiful planet we live on is simply a clump of dirt in the vast universe, what does that make us as one human being upon it? Not much…and yet we are everything to God. Some say, “How could God do that do His Son? Send Him here to die for us? I just can’t understand a Father who would do that.” Well, neither can I, except to say, “Thank you LORD, for loving us that much!” I wouldn’t have done it, you wouldn’t have done it, but our Father did do it, and because He was willing to lay down the life of His only Son for us, we are washed clean of our sins forever. We can enter into Heaven, fool or no fool, it doesn’t matter, we are HIS when we are willing to be called His child and die to ourselves and our prideful ways. Yes, it’s a process, but we have to be willing to take that first step, to start somewhere, and we can start today by saying “Yes” to Jesus! Watch a baby learn to walk, one step at a time, until they can run free…that’s how the life of faith works, and still they’ll always be more to learn. In Heaven, when we get there as believers, we will see things more clearly, but we won’t know all immediately. We will continue to learn and to grow, because here we “serve in a system of worship that is only a copy, a shadow of the real one in heaven.” Hebrews 8:5 (NLT)

I was talking with my Dad over the Christmas holidays. He is reading through Randy Alcorn’s book called “Heaven,” which I have also read and quoted a few times. I found it very interesting to be talking to my dad about this book because he is in his 70’s now and has been a devoted man of God most of his life—he’s been walking with Jesus a long time. My dad’s parents were both believers, he was raised in the church, he has served in the church, he knows the Bible well, and he has great faith in the promises of God. And yet, he has not stopped growing and learning, and was excited about all that the Bible really tells us about our Heavenly Home. I asked him, “Dad, haven’t you heard these things before?” He told me that when he first started reading “Heaven,” he was skeptical, probably wondering what more could be taught about a subject he had “known” about his whole life. But he said that he realized that he’d read those very parts of Scripture for years and years but had never seen them in the light that Randy Alcorn was shedding on them. My dad was open to continued new revelations in his life from the Scriptures! He was willing to keep on “dying” so he could fully live!

God’s wisdom is beyond our thinking, His ways our higher than ours, His love is deeper than ours, His plans are more complete than ours…and this big, beautiful, clump of dirt that we live on will not always be as it is. God has future plans for it, and those plans include not letting the devil get away with his evil schemes forever. Satan’s reign as prince of this world will come to an end one day, and all the devil’s foolish ways will be finished when the full wisdom of God is revealed. What God asks of us until then is to believe Him, to follow Him, to love Him, to trust Him, and to continue learning from Him. That means dying to all the pride that lives in us…even though it can be a painful process. It means opening our heart up to Him when it’s the hardest thing in the world for us to do because of how others have taught us to mistrust. It means not caring what anyone else thinks about our belief in a Savior, but instead listening to the sometimes oh so small voice inside that says, “But what if it is true…?” It means asking the questions, and searching until the emptiness inside is filled with a peace like we have never known before. Not a false peace, not a peace as the world knows it, but the peace that Jesus left us with when He went back to Heaven until He returns at His second coming. Jesus said:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27 (NIV)

How do we know that the Bible is the way? That Jesus is the true Savior? That we can trust in what we believe no matter how foolish it may seem to others? Take a look at what other religions offer…they are man’s attempts to be good, to be righteous, and to make a way to Heaven that depends on what we do instead of what God has already done. What we will find in other religions are rules and ways that cause us to stumble and fall short of perfection. What we will find are gods that promise but don’t deliver, secrets that can’t be told, idols that shouldn’t be worshipped, condemnation without total forgiveness, and heaven’s that don’t exist. Our Lord showed us in the Old Testament just what it looks like when man attempts to be “good enough” on our own to get to Heaven, how we offer sacrifices that are only temporary, and how we stray away from God when we’re not filled with His Holy Spirit.

Our Lord gave us the Ten Commandments to show us that all men sin and fall short of the glory of God. Chapter after chapter of the Old Testament in the Bible show us from murder in the first family between Cain and Abel, to the last words in Malachi where God says, “Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my laws and failed to obey them.” (3:7 NLT) Our Father shows us we can’t get it right without Jesus because only Jesus can make us right with our Father. That’s why Jesus is the way to Heaven, and there is no other. That’s why God sent His only Son. That’s why we have the New Testament that’s filled with the Good News of Jesus Christ! Because we need a Savior to save us! We’re too puny, too confused, too weak…to stand on our own. We can put on a brave front, but deep inside who doesn’t really want and need God’s unconditional love?

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.” Luke 11:9 (NLT)

Plow through the pride that will kill us and find life! We can’t look at the door marked “Jesus” from a distance, we can’t just get to the step leading up to it and wait there, we have to knock on the door and when it is opened up to us by the very hand of our Lord, we have to ask Him to receive us as His friend. He will welcome us into a life with Him, asking us to bring our whole heart, mind, soul and strength each day. He will fill our heart with love, our mind with peace, our soul with eternity, and our strength with His everlasting power! It’s a Fool’s Paradise on earth we don’t want to miss, and an Eternal Paradise that makes this place look shabby!!

For every piece of pride we won’t die to, there remains a peace of Jesus we can’t live in!

He who trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.
Proverbs 28:26 (NIV)

Until we meet again, keep safe!

Diane