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Life After Life

Preparing to step into eternity

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God has, in His infinite wisdom and love, helped me to face my own mortality. Three months ago doctors found an advanced cancerous tumor, and I underwent surgery a few days later. Ten of 20 lymph nodes tested came back positive. This put my cancer at stage 3, and I am currently undergoing chemotherapy.

Through this trial God has spoken to me in numerous ways and has given me certain insights that have been helpful as I process the reality that my future on earth is uncertain.

God’s Glory

When I was diagnosed, I was in a state of shock. But along with the shock was the assurance that God is in control. My cancer most definitely didn’t catch Him by surprise! My thoughts immediately went to 2 Corinthians 12, where God told Paul that His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect in weakness. I meditate on Paul’s response—“therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses.”

My wife, Sybille, and I began to read the Psalms together as a daily devotional and realized how the psalmists cried out to God in distress, even frustration. Inevitably they acknowledged God’s sovereignty and His faithfulness to His children. These are the pillars I have grasped during the last few months. And God has met me in an awesome way.

I know that my Lord, the Great Physician, is more than capable of healing me. But the means and timing are in accordance with His will, and I am at peace. Our church elders and pastoral care group have anointed me with oil and prayed for me, and I look forward to God glorifying Himself in my mortal body!

Unknown Territory

I have come to believe that there are three stages of processing the possibility of death. Two of these stages have to do with fear—fear of the unknown and fear of a conflict in agendas. The third stage is grief.

When facing the possibility of death, the first question deals with what the transition means: from death into what? For Christians, there should be the assurance that death is simply stepping from life into even more life (Phil. 1:21). The first stage requires that we understand and embrace that it might be our God-appointed time to step through that threshold. If there is fear of what that means, we need to revisit who we are in Christ. Then, as recipients of eternal life by God’s grace through faith, we need to take hold of the truth that we are partakers of the Resurrection. If a Christian is gripped by fear when facing the possibility of death, come alongside and help him or her take hold of the promise of what God has prepared for His children on the other side.

The Choice Is His

The second fear we encounter is the conflict of agendas. “But God, people still need me in ministry!” “But God, what about my wife and children?” “My church needs me!” “I have so many things yet to do!” I had a million objections to the idea that God might take me home through this cancer. But I finally submitted, realizing that He knows what is best for me, my wife, my family and my church.

I believe that some people are afraid to accept the possibility of death because it requires them to let go of their personal agendas. Yet when I submitted to God’s sovereignty, I was set free from the power death had over me. Then I could say with the apostle Paul, “Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55) It ushered me into a new freedom to live the resurrection life as never before. Now, I look forward to living a long life and enjoying many more years of ministry, if God so wills. My doctor’s goal is for me to live as long as my father, who is 91 years old and doing well.

Another possible scenario is for us to try to superimpose our agenda on God and insist that He perform. God does promise that He never will leave nor forsake us and that nothing can separate us from His love. But the reality remains that no one will escape death. And few pass on without illness.

“Is it OK for God to take me home when He chooses?” is the crucial question. When a person trusts God to do what is best, then there can be peace and submission to His sovereignty.

Grieving the Loss

The third crossroad is grief. On the surface, grief can look like fear but is motivated by a totally different stimulus. I see grief as either mourning a loss already experienced or anticipation of a loss that might be imminent. I have grieved the loss of good health and the fact that my life will never be the same. I have grieved the possibility that I might not be part of my children and grandchildren’s lives in the future. I have grieved the possibility that Sybille and I might never do the overseas ministry we have looked forward to in our retirement.

Grief is different from fear because it is healthy. But we dare not allow it to digress into a pity party! Grief can be healing as we transition through loss. It is important that we come alongside people who are grieving and give them permission to grieve and even grieve with them. Give yourself and others permission to grieve! The danger is when we allow grief to overcome us and turn into bitterness or long-term depression.

For those of us in ministry, it is important to come alongside people who are processing the possibility of death. The simple question “Is it OK if God wants to take me home?” opens the door to whether there is fear of the unknown or fear generated by a conflict of agendas. And it is extremely important to differentiate between fear and grief. Looking at this three-stage method has helped me assess and effectively walk through this transition, which all of us will face someday.

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