April 4, 2009

Dying with confidence

In a vivid dream last night, three of us were hiking up a mountain when my mother slipped and plummeted off the path. As she fell into space, I was aware that it was mathematically impossible that she would survive, yet she seemed to will herself away from the rocks, like she was trying to land in the lake far below. (That could have been me trying to manipulate my dream.)

She vanished from view and two of us came down the mountain. A search team was formed and first looked in the lake for a long time but could not find her. The dream seemed endless, but it did end. Someone found her, still alive but badly injured. She was calm. I picked her up and carried her down the mountain to the edge of the lake. Then I woke up. I was calm too.

Mom died several years ago, and while analyzing dreams is interesting, all I can say about this one is that it was odd, and I miss her. However, I know that she believed in Jesus Christ and I also know that in the realm of reality she is with Him.

The confidence of faith is a powerful thing. That was a dream, but a couple of years ago in a wide-awake incident, I watched my husband at the edge of death’s abyss. He’d had a heart attack and the people in the ER gave him a blood thinner. However, someone read the bottle wrong and he was given about three times the normal dose. His pulse plummeted to 13 and his blood pressure took a similar dive.

Eight people and a crash cart flew into the room, but they didn’t need to use it. The numbers started up again. A few moments later they dropped, then they recovered. This happened several times with the drop becoming less and the recovery lasting longer. Finally he was stable, yet they watched him closely for internal hemorrhaging.

During these frantic minutes, I watched his face. He looked intense but calm. Later he told me and our son that when the first crash happened, he said to himself, “Jesus, here I come.”

I’m glad he is still here, yet I am also rejoicing that the Lord gave him that confidence in the face of death. After all, isn’t that the big question? We all know that we will die someday. Christians know they will be with Jesus. What we wonder about and often fear is that huge step from here to there.

Today I read again the story of the first Christian to die for his faith. Stephen was a young man who loved the Lord. He had been demonstrating his faith and preaching to others, making them angry. So “there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, ‘We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.’ And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses . . . ”

Stephen spoke to this angry crowd. He rehearsed their national history and ended with this:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.”

When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:51-56).
At that, they were enraged. He told them the truth about themselves, but they did not want to accept it. Stephen had to die.
And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:59-60)
Like Jesus, Stephen forgave those who were taking his life. He was calm and forgiving. He also saw the Lord and knew exactly where he was going. He took his journey from life here to life there in complete confidence.

When I read these things, I cannot help but wonder if my turn is coming soon, or is this just God’s way of increasing my confidence in His grace and power? Either way, I am so amazed at Him. The unbelieving world is mostly terrified of death. Few people, even some believers, think about dying as a calm experience. Most consider the prospect fearful and avoid thinking about it.

Yet faith in Jesus Christ puts His people in a place of grace. He is able to take us from where we are to where He is without any distress because He is Lord of both life and death, and Lord of that huge leap from one to the other.

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