The Care and Feeding of the Born-Again Heart: In Remembrance of Our Spiritual Forebears… To Recall, Recognize, Repent, Renew, Rejoin
Each short, pithy, and sweetmeat for the race-runner’s heart will be followed by a very brief offering under the banners of “The 5-R’s”:
Recall—remember what God, by way of the author, is saying to us His people.
Recognize—know the Truth in order to vanquish any falsehoods lurking within our heart.
Repent—examine how we may have hung tight to lesser gods, idols, or the sins pride or control.
Renew—apply to the walk of our faith those things recalled and recognized that it might glorify God, bless our heart, and serve to act for the increase of our saltiness and light of a decaying and dark world.
Rejoin—reunite with the chaos of a broken world, and with those people has providentially placed in our midst to be as Jesus Christ to them.
Check it out, marathoner’s for Christ: Tell me what the #1, top dog, premier, primary, numero uno, front-runner issue that has an inordinately massive influence on most of humanity’s quantity and quality of LIFE?
Education? Health? Attitude? Karma? Religion? Politics? Relationships? Zip code? Genetics? Germs? Gallivanting?
The answer is DEATH.
By and large, our life-controlling anxieties and fears of the inevitability of death has so many, many people frightened life-less, in denial, and dreadfully unprepared for his or her own demise. This reality has, among other things, led to a very sad lowering of the bar on the quantity and quality of our lives.
The potential joys of everyday living are now so over-shadowed by the Grim and Ready Reaper that our compulsion to last has squeezed out our ability to love or be loved with abandon! Humanity’s “compulsion to last” is understandable: We were created to live for eternity. But, with the fact of The Fall, there entered into the picture whether or not we would last for eternity in heaven or in hell.
And there’s the rub: Fear of hell is absolutely understandable** and resolvable; “fear of heaven” is best described as the fulfillment of what God and humankind most desire: “I can’t wait until I live Coram Deo—face-to-face with God in Christ!”
**”For the unbeliever, no matter how they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, whether by atheism, agnosticism, or false religion, they can’t escape their God-given awareness that they’ve broken His law and deserve hell.” (Robert Rothwell, Tabletalk)
Consciously and/or unconsciously, individually and culturally, designing a life around avoiding death has led to what Ernst Becker, the cultural anthropologist and contributor to “terror management theory”, brilliantly [yet anti-theistically] wrote about in The Denial of Death:
“The irony of man’s condition is that the deepest need is to be free of the anxiety of death and annihilation; but it is life itself which awakens it, and so we must shrink from being fully alive. What does it mean for a human being to be a self-conscious animal? The idea is ludicrous, if it is not monstrous: It means to know that one is food for worms.”
Ernest Becker came to his conclusions about mankind’s denial of death complete with his own denial of God, but his insights are scathingly articulate, accurate, and convicting.
E.E. Cummings referred to the denial of death as a motivation for living as, “Unbeing dead isn’t being alive”. Wow…
Akin to a character in a Philip Roth novel who said, “In every calm and reasonable person there is a hidden second person scared witless about death.” I would add the “hidden second person” is actually, rarely hidden at all: All sorts of negative emotions and behaviors flow from our tamped-down, known and unknown fears and denial of death.
“Industries of Terror Management?”
The denial of death—now grown into monoliths of our culture in so many realms—follows after the incremental yet sure denial of the God of the bible who alone [in all religions] left eternal life [within the Trinity], personally faced death and defeated death to achieve temporal meaning and mission for life, AND eternal life in his re-created world devoid of the many vestiges of death of any kind thereafter. In Christ, the material, emotional, psychological, and spiritual battle of life and death is over, done, nada, fini!
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?” (Psalm 15:55)
As any person or culture becomes more and more secular—tied to the belief that this world, the here and now, is all that exists or matters—human beings by nature must invent constructs of denial and industries of youth and longevity in order to maintain their sanity… which will eventually drive any human being to despair or insanity.
As we all know so well, industries-upon-industries are now stacked-up to assist us—to aid and abet in our abject fears and denial of reality—in the life-long goal… of avoiding death.
The denial of death affects everything from our worldview, prejudices, family systems, massive industries such as fashion, cosmetics, insurance, travel, healthcare, exercise, “tucks, snips, and tightenings” of all kinds, law [trusts, wills, finance, etc], shop-’till-ya-drop, entertainment, our religious affiliations or lack thereof… anything in life that appears to be larger than real life and more long-lasting than our complicated and manifold anxieties about death.
Our God is About “Terror Eradication”: Replace Bad Fear with Good Fear
“The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm*” (Proverbs 19:23). [*nothing shall hurt those who, by faith, fear, awe, reverence the Lord; all his afflictions, his worst things, his evil ones, ALL work together for his good; and they shall never separate the person of faith from the love of God, nor anything that befalls him in this life. (Romans 8:28, 38, 39; Psalm 91:10)
No doubt, in far too many instances, as congregants gather at “the everyday funeral” and recite as compliant and rote as could be, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4)…
We have to admit that God’s abiding comfort, covenant assurances, Shalom peace, True Trustworthiness, His Shepherding rod and staff of guarding and guiding… doesn’t simply elude us, it has often been compartmentalized, locked away, and deemed a false hope by the world, the flesh, and the devil—all conspiring to tempt and test whether or not “our fear of the Lord leads to fearlessly and fully living life…”—OR—“our fear of death leads to a whimpering and wasted life”.
The contrast and choice couldn’t be more clear and accessible at an unfathomably high cost to God, and the comparatively very low cost of our pride and obsession with control, in Christ Jesus.
There is no god like our God, Beloved of God in Christ. He loves us and knows us so well that He has put in place a plan to redeem the fact of death that—as we just finished chewing on at length—gained a foothold upon all of life at the time and place of The Fall (Genesis 3, Romans 1:18-32).
Please enjoy and employ “Directions for a Peaceful Death”, by Puritan, Pastor, Author Richard Baxter, Direct IV:
“Look by faith to your dying, buried, risen, ascended, glorified Lord. Nothing will more powerfully overcome both the poison and the fears of death, than the believing thoughts of him that has triumphed over it. Is it terrible as it separates the soul from the body? So it did by our Lord, who yet overcame it. Is it terrible as it lays the body in the grave? So it did by our Saviour; though he saw not corruption, but quickly rose by the power of his Godhead. He died to teach us believingly and boldly to submit to death. He was buried, to teach us not overmuch to fear a grave. He rose a again to conquer death for us, and to assure those who rise to newness of life, that they shall be raised at last by his power unto glory; and being made partakers of the first resurrection, the second death shall have no power over them. He lives as our head, that we might live by him; and that he might assure all those that are here risen with him, and seek first the things that are above, that though in themselves they are dead, “yet their life is hid with Christ in God; and when Christ who is our life shall appear, then shall we also appear with him in glory.” (Col. 3:1,2,4,5—emphasis added)
Recall—“The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom [of what] shall I be afraid” (Psalm 27:1—parenthesis added)?
“But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children…” (Psalm 103:17).
“The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me” (Psalm 118:6)?
Recognize—“Behold, God said, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die [and the soul who repents by faith shall live]” (Ezekiel 18:4—parenthesis added)
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:13).
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Repent—I repent to God and another disciple of any idea, related emotion, or any aspect of my walk-of-faith that denies is any way:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17)!
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’” (Romans 8:15).
Renew—“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (1 Timothy 1:7).
“Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).
Rejoin—“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of anything, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened” (1 Peter 3:13-14).
“And [help] deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:15).
Praise the God of LIFE that he has given us such a treasure-trove of his True Truth and Love!
Please consider doing an open and honest inventory of your own faith as it pertains to this seminal issue of LIFE and DEATH, Beloved of God. Please do not leave it in the vast repository of lukewarmness, “the vagaries of the faith”, or some iteration of pragmatism like, “I get to that one when time allows”.
If you haven’t already done so, begin your own and those in your midst funeral planning “TODAY…” (Psalm 95:7-8) by, a) repentance and faith in Christ if you’re not yet a believer; and b) if you are a born-again believer then Recall, Recognize, Repent, Renew, Rejoin… and give great thanks that your death will be a grand celebration akin to:
“Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” Amen. And Amen. (Psalm 150)
Like you, perhaps, I have been to more than enough funerals—many of which were people in my own family and/or very close to me. The gulf between a celebration of life and death in the context of God’s ASSURANCE OF ETERNAL LIFE in Christ… as opposed to the wrenching heartbreak of SUPPRESSING THE TRUTH that the departed is destined to places unknown… perhaps eternally separated from God… is palpable, markedly more despairing, and unnecessarily agonizing.
In Christ, God has made a plan that the pain of any loss be utterly overwhelmed by His victory over death!
Come on back to the Training Table next week… as we gobble-up “Signs of Living to Please God”—a practical spiritual inventory for the Christian—by Richard Baxter.
“Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, ‘You give us your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains us; you stoop down to make us great!” (Psalm 18:35)
Directions for a Peaceful Death, by Richard Baxter
Fear of Death and Disease, by Robert Rothwell
Defeat of Death, by Ligonier Ministries Resources