June 2, 2014

No fear of death’s suffering

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me . . . (Psalm 23:4)

Death has three ‘fears’ — the fear of physical suffering, the fear of finality, and the fear of judgment. The aches and pains that seem to come with aging no doubt add to that first fear, but doctors say that what some call the agony of death is felt much more by those who are watching than by the one who is dying.

I didn’t know that, but I do remember hearing about a Christian martyr who was burned at the stake for his faith. He told his friends that he would signal them if he felt no pain. At the end as the flames enveloped him, he lifted his arms to let them know that God made death a mere shadow and for him there was no agony.

This is a gift from the God who created and formed us. He says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1–3)

Death is that final enemy, but I must never forget that Christ defeated it. Paul’s logic in 1 Corinthians 15 is comforting for it fits with the realities in my life. Even though sin still tries to pull me away, Jesus Christ has given me victory over many things that once enslaved me . . .

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:16–22)

This is to say that for a Christian, the ability to overcome sin is proof of new life from Christ. So also is the ability to be contented, for we know that God is with us, helping us and giving us protection. He is our Shepherd who leads us in life and will not abandon us when life draws to a close because He keeps us during all other threats.

Because He is my Shepherd, my response should be loving obedience. Yet as my pastor’s wife said yesterday, each of us has “buttons” that the enemy so easily pushes, drawing us into some sin or another instead of loving God which makes more sense.

As I read the following two verses, I thought about the things that draw me from loving God as I should. The word in the first blank is “money”, but it could be anything. The word in the second blank is “man” but it also could be filled in with anything else that I might fear . . .

“Keep your life free from love of ___________, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can ___________ do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6)

Some possible combinations: praise/rejection, attention/loneliness, achievement/failure, and even life/death. 

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”

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