When I left home in the afternoon I told my son I was going to visit a couple of friends who were nearing the end of their lives. Off I went to Warm Beach Senior Community, to check in on Jim and Bud. Sunday -- just two days earlier -- a friend had told me I should go soon if I wanted to see them.
We'd known Jim and his wife for 15 years and watched them cope with her diagnosis of Alzheimer's. It curtailed their service in the church some, but it didn't dim their joyful spirits. Jim was involved in Operation Christmas Child and had plans to oversee a regional drop-off location for shoe boxes on their way to kids who'll be receiving them. Just weeks ago we had learned that Jim was ill, and I wanted to tell him good-bye.
But when I arrived at the healthcare center, I found that I was too late. He'd passed away on Sunday.
I went on to see Bud, not knowing in what condition I'd find him. We'd been neighbors 40 years ago and friends ever since. He looked good in a fresh blue shirt and few obvious signs of his situation, but he knows that he will soon be going Home. We chatted, Bud and his wife and I, and there was no mention of regrets or fear, no panic as these dear people walk through the valley of the shadow of death. "People feel bad for me," Bud said, "but I tell them not to. I'm going to Heaven!"
When I returned home I called my friend Lois. We'd scheduled the call several days ago, before I knew about my visit to Warm Beach. Lois lost her husband, Lavern, in October, just two months shy of their 65th wedding anniversary. They are the missionaries I worked with in Japan, and they have meant a lot to me over the years.
We talked for half an hour, catching up on each other's lives since our last visit. The loss is very real to Lois, but so is her faith. And she is looking forward to being reunited with Lavern when she, too, passes into the Lord's presence.
I was reminded that one of the greatest gifts believers offer the world is our example of how to die. We grieve, oh yes, we grieve, but it is not like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). We know that, through Christ, we have a sure future. Death is not the end. Indeed, when we die we enter into the very presence of God. We step into the life everlasting that we have been promised. All the trials we have endured in this life are over and we are complete -- everything God created us to be -- as we live forever in his presence!
What greater testimony of the truth of the gospel could there be than for the world to see how Christ followers face death! Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that this whole process is no big deal or that, because Heaven is our destination, we slide through the death experience without being deeply affected. But what I am saying is that there is a hope that exists only in Christ who has conquered the greatest enemy, Death.
As we keep our eyes focused on Jesus we find the grace and strength to endure. We look to him, who suffered for us, and we find our help. Along with scripture, one of the ways we can focus on him is to sing. It is a balm for our souls. It quiets us, and it turns others to Christ as well.
On several occasions my sister has stood at the bedside of a believer in Christ who is nearing death and has sung hymns alone or with the family members. And then there is the Thomas family who filled the room with singing as their son Mitch slipped into Heaven. The hospital staff said they'd never experienced anything like it. We have HOPE!
Here is a truth: Thank God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that in his great mercy we men have been born again into a life full of hope, through Christ's rising again from the dead! You can now hope for a perfect inheritance beyond the reach of change and decay, "reserved" in Heaven for you. And in the meantime you are guarded by the power of God operating through your faith, till you enter fully into the salvation which is all ready for the denouement* of the last day (1 Peter 1:3-5, JB Phillips New Testament).
Matt Maher sings about that hope in his song Christ is Risen. Rejoice today in the hope that is ours in Christ!
*"denouement" means the final resolution of the intricacies of a plot, as of a drama or novel (from dictionary.com)