Browsing Tag

Sin

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Finding the Hook

Last week was packed with a good kind of craziness around our house. Our four-year-old grandson, Ezra was with us for a few days. Both Glenn and I were slated to travel and speak on the weekend, but we were still determined to take Ezra fishing, have lots of time pushing that swing outside, have at least three trips around the neighborhood on the tractor, visit the park, and squeeze in at least one pop-in with our postal lady and one with Ezra’s friends at the bank…not to mention the four services at the West Huntsville church while Ezra was in town. And all in between those activities, while at home, we were the good guys versus the bad guys in the living room. We have a hide-out under a tree that’s really on the couch under the afghan, a horse that’s actually wooden and  rocking, but he transports to far-away and dangerous places just the same, and a jail in the study that’s not as secure as one might think, for four-year-old prisoners who know how to “file out” with plastic knives sneaked in by allies or “bust loose” through the back porch and hop on a pirate ship, which is a north-bound hammock that tosses wildly in the stormy sea. 

A definite highlight this visit was a Captain Hook costume that I pieced together when Ezra’s imagination turned to Neverland. We re-purposed Glenn’s lawn mowing hat from the basement and, with a little red paint, a sword that my dad had made many years ago for my son, a feather from an Indian chief’s headdress in the costume crate, and a red robe from Amazon Prime, he was set. The little coat hanger hook glued inside a piece of wood in Glenn’s workshop was his favorite part of the ensemble. His little antique child’s bed in the window cubby in our bedroom was the perfect ship, with the baby sound machine on the ocean setting and a reflective nightlight putting the moon and stars on the ceiling. Captain Hook was up to no good and I was constantly spotting my costume jewelry around his neck, attached to his belt, or in that little treasure chest in his “ship”. (My jewelry stash may never be the same!)

But in one very serious moment (and those moments happen at unplanned times), this question emerged:  “Mammy, do bad guys know dat dey are bad?”

Now I had to pause a moment before delving into any response to that very relevant societal question. Just a few seconds of reflection was all it took to realize that this question is a deep spiritual and philosophical quandary. Its ramifications are profound. Yet it needs to be settled in the mind of this four-year-old…and in my own.

The answer is, of course, “No…Not always.”

James 1: 20-22 reads like this. Find the bad guy here:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. 

The implication is  that the bad guy does not know how to leave the superfluity of naughtiness (also translated “overflowing of wickedness”) if he does not have the word engrafted or implanted in him. He simply must be in the Book to know that wickedness is wicked and that filthiness is filthy. A bad guy has to be in the Word (or have some connection to the broad influence of the Word of God)  to know that he is bad. Sin is identified by the laws of God (Romans 5:13). 

Some guys, though, have looked in the mirror of God’s Word and walked away, They are aware of the transformation that the Word would have them undergo. But they choose to walk away from the  “mirror” without letting that Word change their hearts or their behaviors. In this case, the bad guys do “know that they are bad.” They have, like Pharaoh of old (Exodus 8:15,32), hardened their hearts. 

Here’s the description by James of the “bad guy” who knows he is bad from verses 23 and 24:

For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.

The Greek word for “forgetteth” there includes neglect.  This man knows, at least on some level, what God would have him to do, but he does not care. He refuses to allow God’s word to convict and change him. This “bad guy” knows he is bad. 

This conversation with Ezra ended with an elicited resolve to never, ever be the real-life bad guy; the one who knows he is wicked, but doesn’t care. But further, it ended with a resolve on both of our parts to always be looking in the mirror of the Word, so that we can know when we are bad and mend our ways. Wickedness, whether the wicked is aware of it or not, separates a man from God (Is. 59:2).

Hook. Where did the “pretend” end and the eternal realities begin? When did the pirate ship become a vessel of spiritual transport? When did his little mind stop fighting with the wooden sword and launch a pint-sized battle with the sword which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17)? You never know when the teachable moments will come, so be sure you are on-board in little adventures every chance you get. Those moments  may contain keys to eternity. 

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Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: The Natural Look

Our little window for tree-cutting was quickly closing on us. The schedule had been relentless and there were a couple of hours in which to cut the big tree that finds its place in the same corner of our living room every yuletide season. We had two of our kids and Ezra and Colleyanna with us. More importantly, the two tree-cutters were also preachers and both of them had two sermons in front of them the following day. (One of them also had a four hour drive home.) Saddened to learn that the nearby tree farm we’d patronized for the last few years had no big trees this year, we traveled a little farther to a beautiful spot in God’s north Alabama world; a secluded tree farm we’d discovered online. It was a beautiful day and the kids and I rode through the farm in the back of the trailer, thinking of fun superlatives for describing the biggest dog we’d ever seen and watching the baby goats (and noticing that NONE of the trees looked like Christmas trees. They all looked like giant bushes that had just grown up in the wild…kind of like the shrubs in front of your house when you never prune; only bigger.)

But just as we were completing our round of travel around the farm, guess who we spotted at the little office building on the property’s entrance. It was the man in the red suit himself. The tree no longer mattered to Ezra and Colleyanna. They saw Santa Claus! (…at which time my son-in-law mouthed the words to his wife “Remember…my sermon. Remember it’s four hours home.”)

There were no other children around. (There might be a reason this tree farm was kind of desolate on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.) Santa was Victorian. He was authentic. He was conversational. He took time with each child. Colleyanna was afraid, at first, but Santa gave her time and space. He spoke to her in gentle tones and let her examine his white gloves. Ezra talked ninety-to-nothing. He told him about the binoculars he wants for Christmas and about how he wanted to look at the night sky with them. He examined the beautiful golden compass that Santa pulled out of his pocket and learned that Santa depends on that thing to always find his way home. Meanwhile Hannah shot about a bazillion perfect pictures. 

The preachers among us missed the whole thing, of course. They were out there among the trees, trying with all they had in them to find a tree that would “redeem the time” it took for us to get all the way over that river and through those woods. They called us over to look at a specimen that was about 14 feet tall. We let the kids play on the sleigh and trudged over to look at 14 feet of a great big bush. It’s branches began at the ground and traveled all the way up…like a bush. Some of the branches at the bottom, furthermore, were going to have to be cut away in order to get the giant bush in the huge bucket we use for a stand. 

Standing there surveying the tree, I could hear my husband talking to the proprietor. I could hear the man explaining how he doesn’t do a lot of pruning and shaping. (We knew that.) “A lot of my customers tell me they prefer the natural look.” This was that.

But seven dollars per foot for the “natural look”?  We stood there and hemmed and hawed. My son-in-law said “I think this is your tree.” (The sermon was motivating him.) My husband said “This could be your tree, but just remember…Lowe’s has some pretty good 12-footers.” 

I knew the tree had problems. I could see that it was going to take some serious tying off to our mantel to even stabilize the massive bush. I knew it would be extremely difficult to decorate. (I mean there were no branches directed “out” for ornaments and tinsel. All branches were several feet long and they all traveled “up”.) I could see that the tree would be even more directionally challenged when we did the necessary trimming of the trunk. in short, this tree was a true, albeit massive, hybrid between “Charlie Brown” and a specimen from Who-ville.”

But the kids had spent a long time with Santa at this farm. They were playing on the sleigh. Santa had taken a lot of time with the golden compass. The huge dog and the little goats and the trailer ride over the bumpy terrain had been the start to a perfect tree-cutting experience. I knew that my choice now was to take home the giant bush (….all of the big trees on this lot were giant bushes) or to tell the kids we were going to the store and buy a tree. I also knew that their daddy was likely not going to even let them go with us to purchase a tree. (There was the sermon.) We’d exhausted every area tree farm possibility. My husband, the patient, good sport that he is, said “Whatever you want to do. Just know this tree is going to be a pretty expensive “Charlie Brown” tree. But it’ll be fine if that’s what you think.”

In my mind, I weighed the options. This was going to be the centerpiece of two or three large gatherings. All my friends have those “perfect” trees. They all think I’m over-the-top, anyway, about old sentimental or vintage or even art deco-rations. What will they think about this old bush…the tree that really belongs on the Island of Misfits? Then I looked over at the children who were anxiously waiting for the part when we yell “Timber”, fell the big tree, load it on the trailer and sing our way home. I looked over at Santa, who had been so kind and personable to our children while we took all of those FREE pictures with the best Santa we’d seen this year. And then there were the sermons.

The perfect tree or the perfect end to the whole experience?? Which?…Easy decorating after the children leave or hearing the kids yell with excitement when the tree (massive bush) comes down?? Salvaging the sentiment of the day at the farm by the river or…well…Lowes? I looked over at the children on the sleigh and said “ We already got our money’s worth with that Santa and all those pictures and, well, it’s just a tree. I think we need to take one home. Let’s cut it.” Sentimentality, in my heart, always wins over efficiency. Every time. Besides, there were the sermons. 

The rest is history. The moment was perfect. Ezra thought the tree was even perfect. (He still will think that when he comes back in a few days and sees it decorated. In his eyes it will be “bru-tiful.”) They took that massive Leyland cedar bush and put it in a shaker machine. Seeing a tree that big having a shaking fit was pure joy for the kids. Ezra imitating the giant jitters was almost worth the price.  

And that was the last thing that was worth the price. Getting the tree in the door, getting it in the bucket, getting it tied off to the walls and windows and mantel, getting any decorations to gravitationally comply, hiding huge gaping spaces in the greenery with every life-sized Coke Santa or large gift, figuring out a way to top a bush that has one long wisp of a sprig sticking out at the top and attempting to bind together some semblance of a Christmas tree shape was the part of the sentiment that became less and less “tender”, shall we say, as the hours up and down the ladder wore on.  

But then again, it was just a first-world problem of a Christmas tree. I’m praying for so many that would love the chance to be decorating a Christmas tree rather than be in that hospital or rehab room. I’m thinking of friends who will not see their children and grandchildren this holiday season at all. Homes where the joy has been stolen this year because of selfishness are reminders that what’s over in the corner of my living room has little real significance at all.  I think about mothers who are agonizing over children who’ve walked away from God this year. 

As I took out those ornaments that had to be hard-wired instead of hung this year, I remembered so many sisters who had made contributions to the funny tree….There were Betty Anderson’s West Huntsville ornaments, Deanne Foy’s porcupine, Wanda Weber’s stars made from road maps and Pam Emerson’s yearly cross-stitches in tiny plastic frames…and the children’s little handmade reindeer and snowflakes! Darcie and Harrison, Colton and Nell…all have their handmade contributions on the big bush. The macaroni and Lifesaver and popsicle stick ones made by Caleb and Hannah in years gone by are there. It’s always the very most meager ornaments shaped by tiny hands that shout our wealth as we put up that tree! 

So it’s over there. It’s propped and tied and hidden and I’m still watering it just like it was pretty.  A hundred people squeezed in around it last Sunday night. We laughed and prayed and ate and drank Coke from old-fashioned glass bottles. (I’m especially glad for the famous  Coca-Cola Santa this year!) And we drank chai tea, and coffee and cocoa and cider and lemonade. And moving around, shoulder-to-shoulder, with my family in Him, I drank in the truth that the Colleys are very rich. It was the best kind of drinking party. 

And 10 other lessons from this year’s tree: 

  1. There is a big difference between a full-grown tree that’s been pruned and one that has not. It’s that way with kids, too. Diligence in cutting away the ugly stuff each year is so important.
  2. Sermons really are way more important than trees and Santa, of course. Priorities.
  3. Just because something is planted on a Christmas tree farm doesn’t mean it’s a Christmas tree. (There’s similar truth about people planted in a church somewhere.)
  4. Just because a big deficiency is temporarily hidden does not mean it has been removed. (Sin is like that, too. You move the big Coke Santa and it’s still there. Everyone else might not see it, but the One who owns the tree knows it’s there.)
  5. Children are the most gracious critics. Maybe that’s why God says we should be more like them. 
  6. Sometimes, the wrong quick decision at the tree farm has consequences that you’re not really comprehending in the moment. (Sin is like that.)
  7. What’s up at the top needs to be substantial, too. (What’s at the top of your world? Is it substantial or flimsy? It’s what people are noticing about you!)
  8. Sometimes just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it’s good. (Think of lots of entertainment venues, sports tickets, and worldly pleasures here.)
  9. “Natural” is not always better. (Take the “natural man, for instance, from I Corinthians 2:14. Sometimes we need some cleaning up that’s way beyond our nature.)
  10. The best ornaments are not the ones that take the eye of the world. (Remember the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit in 1 Peter 3?…way better than the gold and pearls and costly array.)
Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Spiritual Pornography?

     I can easily get discouraged when speaking with women who are dealing with the problems that pornography brings into a relationship. They are legion. Lack of trust, jealousy, feelings of worthlessness,  guilt, lust, and uncertainty about the future are all a part of the grim picture that accompanies porn. What is most surprising to me is that there are people, some even “experts” who would have us to believe that the use of pornography is not a bad thing…maybe it’s even a good thing, and healthy for marriages. This is preposterous and anyone who is God-centered at all in his thinking reckons the loss that  accompanies the use of pornography as being profound in its ramifications. Often, when adultery is traced back to its insidious roots, pornography was involved long before the actual adulterous encounter. Jesus, of course, called this looking and lusting adultery of the heart (Matthew 5:28).
     When studying James 4 recently, I pondered the obvious truth that, as members of the bride of Christ, we can commit spiritual adultery by our entanglement with the world. Notice the first six verses of this very serious discussion:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 

     These verses made me think about how a member of the body of Christ might make God jealous in the same way that I might provoke my husband to jealousy—the kind of jealousy that is normal in a husband. What if I were to talk negatively about Him to people outside the family? What if I were to break my appointments with Him? What if I were to make fun of Him and laugh when others made fun of Him? What if I did not want to share generously with Him of my time and money? What if I enjoyed being with others more than I enjoyed His company? What if I did not take the time to read what he wrote to me or to respond when He gave me a gift?  You can understand readily, especially if you are married, how we can begin to court the world rather than being faithful in our marriages to Christ.
     But then I thought about the sin of pornography and how that, long before a spouse forsakes his wife, he may look at other women with passionate desire. He may lust for another woman. He may be busy facilitating his adultery before he knows the woman with whom he will one day commit the sin.
     Do we sometimes do that spiritually? I mean long before a person actually leaves the Lord for the world, does she sometimes look at the world with passion and desire? Does she place the lure of the world right in front of her eyes? Does she gaze longingly long before she becomes a full-fledged friend of the world? I believe we often do this through our entertainment choices. Are you looking with favor on that which is enmity with God? I think when we choose to be entertained by movies, television shows and music that are filled with profanities, obscenities, lasciviousness, fornication, homosexuality, adulteries and/or uncleanness, we are allowing ourselves to gaze on that which is off-limits to the bride of Christ. The more we gaze, the more comfortable we become with these desires for the world. The more we look, the more we want to look and the more anesthetized we become to the shock factor that sin should bring. Soon, just as a pornography addict is a short step from adultery, we are a very short step from committing the overt sins of the world–spiritual adultery. That which once entertained us becomes less something we watch and more something we do.
     Being entertained and aroused by looking at pornography often leads to the commission of the overt sin of adultery. This destroys marriages and families.
     Being entertained by the sinful things of the world often leads to all kinds of worldly alliances and actions. This destroys our relationship with God and our relationships within the family of Christ. Is this spiritual pornography? I think so.
Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: A Snake on the Porch

We live in the country. THIS week…A fat lizard greeting me inside my kitchen gate each time I come home, a fox and her three babies in the backyard, two chimney bird-nest smoke-outs, two mice caught in traps and an armadillo on Gurley Pike that I tried to miss, but just could not. (Those awkward things just cannot get out of the way, but I still will always have a little soft spot for them because of Rafaella Gabriela and Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla and Albert Andreas Armadillo, who found an aardvark in Schoolhouse Rocks!) When I picked up my mop wringer on my screened-in porch to find a suh-suh-snake, I’d just about reached my critter-quota for this week! (I’m only terrified of two kinds of snakes—dead ones and live ones.) This is the porch that’s just off both my dining room and my bedroom. The snake was lying just outside the door that I’ve left open on many a spring and autumn night. If I live in this house till my dying day, I will never sleep with that door open again—EVER! 

My faithful husband, who already had a lunch appointment, cancelled it and drove the thirty minutes home to decapitate and then discard the still-moving beast. 

I cannot figure out why I am so afraid of even non-venomous serpents. I don’t know why I thought of him last as I fell asleep at about one a.m. last night or why he popped into my head when I first woke up and lay there staring through the glass at that porch floor that will probably not ever get mopped again; at least not this year. 

Glenn tried to figure that out yesterday over lunch. “Did you have a big traumatic snake experience when you were little?” 

“I guess not except that time I was fishing with my grandmother and that snake slithered by us on the bank.”

“What did you do?”

“I climbed up in the bed of my grandfather’s pick-up truck, along with my aged grandmother, and yelled, with all of the volume I (we) could summon, across Hollis’s lake (My grandad always fished on the other side, probably exactly for the volume reason…) for him to come around there and “save” us, which he did….But I don’t think that was really traumatic, do you?”

My husband, ever the valiant and forbearing one, overlooking my reptile trepidation (really, phobia), said “Well, I think God, maybe, placed in us an aversion to the snake. After all, it was the snake in which the devil first came to tempt.”

Now that was very kind of him to give the fright that will haunt my dreams for several weeks now, a spiritual connotation, when, actually, I’m thinking all material…”You know, a condo downtown with a paved front yard might be better than this rambling old house in this forest,” … “A big and sealed screen door might be good beside our bed, here, even though the porch is already screened in,” … “ And could we caulk those porch floorboards?” 

But, really…I hope I can be as afraid of the Genesis 3 snake as I was (am) of that one Glenn killed out on the porch. I know Jesus already crushed his head at Calvary (Genesis 3:15), taking away his power over my purchased soul. But still…Jesus wants me to fear him. The serpent is still moving around in our world today (I Peter 5:8) . May I have a healthy fear of the snake that can kill both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). May I call for reinforcements from the One who is stronger than I, when I find myself spiritually paralyzed by that serpent. And may I keep the door closed between me and that snake.  I don’t want to be asleep while that crafty (Gen 3:1) and venomous snake slithers into my house. 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Sister to Sister: Surviving the Treadmill

Ezra is three now. I think I’d be in some granny ward in a mental therapy unit if it were not for Face-time. Ezra calls almost every morning and carries me around his house telling me “Dis is what we doin’ fust. We havin’ brehfust.” 

“Good,” I say. “Can we have waffles today?” 

“No, not today. Today we havin’ oatmeal.”  

Then “I’ lie on the table for a while looking at the ceiling fan in his dining room while he says his breakfast prayer and then eats his oatmeal and tells me all about what he plans to do today (and the plans are earth-shattering, for sure). I comment about how good the oatmeal is and watch the fan some more. Every now and then he shows me Colleyanna or his mother.

And then he says “Ok, Mammy. Now it’s time for nap. Wet’s go to sweep.” 

I beg to do something else. “I don’t like to sleep.” 

But he puts on his very firm parenting stance and says “ No, we goin’ to sweep now.” 

“But can I have a story first?” 

“No because you did not obey.”

“Could I have my cup?

“No because you will wet de bed.”

“Could I have a snack?”

“No, you don’t need a ‘nack” because you a big boy now. Go to sweep.” 

And then “I” lie there in his bed and watch the ceiling fan again, for a while…this time in his bedroom, while he waits for me to snore, so he can wake me up and tell me “nap is ovah. We have to get up, now.”  And so he can go on and on for a very long time “parenting” me on through the activities, real and pretend, of his day.

Every now and then, I have to do something in the real life that happens in Huntsville, Alabama, too, though. You know, things like laundry, meals, and showers and appointments. So last Monday morning I said “Ezra, Mammy needs to go downstairs and run on the treadmill for a few minutes.”

“Can I go wif’ you?”

A minute later I turned on the treadmill and Ezra said “Okay, Mammy…Wet’s go!”

But the treadmill did not go. Nothing happened. 

I checked to be sure it was plugged in. I made sure the (very important) safety key was inserted. Still nothing. While Ezra rattled on in my right hand, I turned that lever up to “run” with with my left and gave that belt a big backward stamp with my right foot…

And then I face-planted into that rapidly moving treadmill belt. My feet went flying off the rear of the treadmill and my body just lay there on the belt that was still trying to move beneath my weight. But before I could assess the damage, and to add insult to injury, the headboard of a bed that was stored behind the treadmill came down on top of me, having been knocked over by my feet that went all the way to the back wall of our basement. Ezra was still talking.

“Oh Mammny! Where are you now?”

“Exra, I have to go now…right now.”

“But, Mammy, no. Don’t hang up. We still talkin’!”

“But Mammy has fallen and she can’t get up.” 

And so the day was off to a running start. (only not so much).

I thought a little about that incident as I was preparing for a ladies lecture later in the week. The lesson was about our dependence on God. It was more narrowly focused on how we react when things go awry in our lives. 

Sometimes calamity happens slowly. At first, something just doesn’t work quite right or I just can’t figure out how to proceed. At that point, I can choose to wait on the One who knows how to help me (Isa. 40:31), or I can take matters into my own hands and experiment with my own “ways” (Proverbs. 3:5-6) of resolution. I  can get impatient and do things that are counterproductive and harmful. Before I know it, the belt is on high speed and I’ve lost my footing. I fall to sin and, while I’m down, the burden of sin just keeps pinning me down more tightly. “Getting up” again, spiritually, is next to impossible.  

I survived the runaway treadmill. I have a few scars to prove it.  I agree with my husband (and everyone else who’s seen the belt’s print on my right elbow) that I should have waited for someone who knows something about treadmill motors. I should have stopped, before I revved that thing up, and thought a little more about what I was doing. I should have asked for help. I should have stopped talking to the someone who was merely a distraction at that moment and talked to someone who could really help me figure things out. Perhaps even getting out the owner’s manual would have been a keen idea. I should have secured that red safety cord to my person, so that the belt would have stopped before throwing me off the back of the treadmill.  I should have thought of the fact that I was far away from the person who could have helped me get up. (My husband was preaching out of town that week.) If I had only thought of a few things, I surely would not have had that bed on my back.

I know that you see where I’m going. Sometimes we fail to wait on the Lord. Something goes wrong in our worlds and we just fail to stop and ask for help. We fail to ask for the wisdom of those who may be experienced in our dilemmas and, sometimes, we fail to pray to THE One Who is the Manufacturer. Sometimes we just spiritually face-plant and, unless we are able to very quickly recover, we find ourselves buried under the burdens of sin while far away from the One Who can help.  Sometimes it’s a little late when we realize we should have sought help from the Father and from the faithful. 

Looking back, it’s funny. I almost wish I’d had a video camera going so I could watch that fall myself (almost, but not quite). Ezra had a very good time at supper that night, in fact, telling his dad about what happened to Mammy, starting with “No, mom, wet me tell him about dis!”…and ending with “…and it was so, so funny!”

 But the spiritual face-plant will never be funny; not in the moment, not in retrospect…not ever. 

Bless Your Heart by Cindy Colley

Where is Your Sting? –(The Conclusion)

The sting of death is sin.

Perhaps it seems a distasteful subject on which to spend eight successive posts and all the thought behind them; but death is an unrelenting common denominator to all people of all eras, nationalities and stations. Death is the unbending end. It is the unchanging destination to which all of us travel. We do not change our minds about the unspoken final entry into the universal journal.  So, why should we not spend time thinking about its ramifications? And why should such a natural passage be so very uncomfortable to approach in conversation or writing? 

It’s because what lies beyond it is universally unknown. No one that you know today can tell you about what is on the other side. You will never have lunch with someone who can tell you about a trip beyond death. You will not read a best-seller by someone who has returned from the land beyond death (though there have been many claims). So death is shrouded by mystery. It scares us and we prefer not to think much about it. We certainly don’t like to discuss it, and especially, we like to avoid discussing our own impending deaths. 

It’s only the Christian who has, by faith, a glimpse into the world that is already a reality for those who have left this life. And, for the Christian, that glimpse of faith should not be scary. Faith, after all, is not the substance of the the things we dread. It’s the “substance of the things we hope for,” (Hebrews 11:1). Truly, we are the only people who can, but we should be able to “look” over there with great anticipation and be ready for the transport of our lives when we leave this earth! 

The sting of sin is death (I Corinthians 15:56). In this marvelous chapter about the ultimate resurrection, we find these words that encompass all the other hurts of death. Death makes us regret only because of sin. Death makes us sad and lonely because of sin. Death makes empty chairs and hearts because of sin. Death makes its victims suffer pain because of sin. Death exists because of sin. Its introduction coincided with and resulted from the introduction of sin into our world (Genesis 3). It affects me, personally, because of my own sin (Romans 3:23; Romans 6:23). Death is the figure on the payroll for my work of sin. 

Further, there is no answer for sin, but the gospel. Only the gospel—the good news—can make something good out of physical death. That’s what I Corinthians 15 is driving home to the Christian. The law of works (or the law of the Old Testament) only confirmed and defined sin. It made sin, sin. Men learn how to sin by looking at a perfect standard—a law. Man could not transgress against the law of God until that law was given. Romans 7:1-14 is a deep discussion, by Paul of sin and death, in which he tells us that the law makes sin “exceedingly sinful.” It’s the law that gives death its vigor…its sting. 

Nothing—no sacrifice, no piety, no law of God—could give us any ability against the ultimate formidable enemy which is death. Only the gospel—the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus— could give us the victory over death. It’s ironic that one single death (and subsequent resurrection) could provide the victory over all other deaths prior to and following that one single death. Only a death followed by a permanent  resurrection could conquer the enemy that  had stung every human since the dawn of time. Only that good news could make Cindy Colley have a prayer against that venomous sting. 

And so the gloom of death—the pain, the horror the fear, the pallor—has all been eliminated for the Christian. The grave has no holding power; no victory. Death’s sting has been neutralized by the resurrected Savior. 

How foolish it is for any one of us—so weak, so affected by sin, so unrealistic in any bragging rights of strength or power against death—how foolish, I say, for any of us to reject the gospel, for it is the only strength we have against the sting of death. But the gospel is complete and total conquering victory over it. The grave is not the terminator for people of God. Why would smart people quibble over the simple requirements of such a gospel. Why, on earth, would people argue to their own eternal undoing about whether baptism really does put us into his death (Romans 6:3,4)—the only death that has ever held any power, any victory over the blackness of the “other” death that comes to all men. I want to be deeply buried in His death where there is no sting. When and if I lie in some hospital bed in my final moments, I want to claim the victory. I want to be able to welcome those angels. I want to hear my children singing “Be With Me Lord” because of their assurance that I am in Christ—in His death, in His victory. 

That’s why we should all spend some time contemplating death: because it is in our power at this moment to choose to subjugate death to a foe on which we trample because of the blood of Christ or to exonerate death to its ultimate victory over eternal salvation and happiness. If I choose the latter I give death the power: to sting, to enslave, to horrify, to torment forever. But why would anyone do that?