And now, beloved child of God, our brief voyage together has come to an end. But we both know that, really, this is not the end of anything; but, like each new day, only a new beginning. Our mutual quest for authentic Christianity must continue, unabated, throughout our lives.
I want you to know that, as I consider both our parting and our continued pursuit of this glorious quest, my prayer for you, and for myself, is much the same as the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the ekklesia in Ephesus when he said to them:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
(Ephesians 3:14-19, NASB)
Do you “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge”? Do you know how much God loves you? Do you know that He desires you; that He delights in you; that He celebrates His relationship with you?
I’m not sure that very many people, down deep in their hearts, really know how much God truly loves them. I think that’s why there is so much fear, strife, and inter-personal struggle in this world. Why do we get so angry and upset at people, even the people we love, when things don’t go our way, or when we feel like they have belittled us in some way? Could it be that, deep in our hearts—probably at a subconscious level—we’re feeling unloved and undervalued? So then, we feel like we have to fight for our rights, fight for our self-esteem, fight for our place and position in the world?
Why do we snub some people; or as my granddaughters would say, “ice” them? Have you ever felt like you were being “iced”? Not pleasant! But, tell me, why do we withdraw, sever the heartstrings, and try to cut people out of our lives? Is it due to fear? I know that, for me, the main reason I am tempted to turn away from some people, and want keep them at a distance, is because I feel threatened by them in some way. Perhaps I need to stop and ask myself: “Am I really that vulnerable?” “Am I so insecure with regard to God’s love for me that I simply cannot find the strength of character to love certain other people?” “Do I doubt God’s protection—His providential watch and care over me—to the extent that I simply cannot find a way to have healthy, wholesome, and sensible relationships that promote the wellbeing of others as well as my own”?
I am not saying that we will, or that we should, treasure all our relationships equally; or that we should take those people who exhibit unhealthy and destructive tendencies to our breasts and hold them close as our bosom buddies. It is important that we maintain healthy boundaries for the sake of both ourselves and others. And, to be frank, some people in our lives are probably best loved from a distance. But I don’t think that means that we should write them off altogether; or sever all contact with them forever.
As we’ve discussed earlier in this book, love isn’t always easy; in fact, it may be the toughest commandment in all of scripture. But the deeper we imbibe of the wellspring of God’s love, allowing His love to wash over us and fill our every void, the more we will be able to share that love with others; even those seemingly difficult, problem people in our lives.
I’m convinced that our perspectives on God—how we view Him and His love for us—is at the very core of our spiritual identity and maturity. Furthermore, I’m equally convinced that our spiritual maturity is reflected in our relationships with people here in this world—both those with whom we share some level of intimacy, and those who are only casual acquaintances. I know this is true, because the Bible tells us:
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
(I John 4:11-12 & 20-21, NASB)
I believe that our personal understanding of God’s nature, and our acceptance of His love for us, has much to do with our own sense of peace and how we face not only the struggles of this life, but our end of life experience, as well. I bring this up because I believe the two are intimately connected. In other words, our perspective on death and what it holds for us has much to do with our values, our priorities, and even our relationships and the way we choose to live life.
I have been engaged in ministry for many years now; and I have walked alongside many people, young and old, as they have faced death. Some of these people have been dear loved ones who are very precious to me. I have discovered that, while death is always a heart rending experience for everyone involved, the way we deal with it has everything to do with the faith in our hearts and our understanding of God’s love for us.
I think, when it comes to death, loss, and grief, we need to be incredibly compassionate toward one another. The Bible tells us that, as He stood before the tomb of Lazarus, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35, NASB). Jesus knew exactly what He was about to do—raise Lazarus from the dead. Yet, as He stood face-to-face with death and its ramifications, Jesus felt an intense sorrow and compassion, not only for the family of Lazarus, but, I think, for all of humanity. It’s okay to weep, or mourn, when we’ve lost a loved one from this world.
We must realize that not everyone is at the same level of spiritual maturity and, when facing something as incredibly profound and personal as one’s own death, people are likely to respond in some surprising ways. Some, quite young, have floored me with their deep understanding of God’s love and their total faith in Him. I’ve watched them work through the death process with almost unimaginable grace, peace, and dignity. Others, some of whom have walked this earth for many years, have caused me to shake my head in wonder at their fear and lack of trust in God and His love for them. These are the ones who seem to dig, and claw, and scratch, and fight to hold on to every thread and fiber of this mortal life; as though this world was all there is.
Tonight, in fact, as I write to you, my heart labors over yet another dear loved one who is having to come to terms with the fact of his own mortality. Death is, likely, not so very far away for him; yet he simply cannot imagine the world going on without him in it. All his thoughts seem to be centered in this world and the things of this world; and holding on to everything he can for as long as he can.
The truth is, death may not be so very far away from any one of us. And yet, the overwhelming majority among us have yet to come to terms with the fact of our mortality. Most people tend to live as though they had a lease on life. We all try to push the thought of death as far away as possible, burying it way down deep in the darkest recesses of our minds. From time-to-time, usually at the death of a close loved one, we are forced to bring it out and confront it; but, typically, not for very long. After a momentary glance, we quickly tuck it safely away again—out of sight, out of mind!
However, for God’s children, death holds no great fear; for we “know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge.” For us, death holds no terror, but only promise. For us, it is our portal out of this world and into the waiting arms of Jesus, our Lord. We trust in His promise, when He said:
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
(John 14:1-3, NASB)
After saying these words, Jesus went to the cross and, through His own death, burial, and resurrection, prepared a place for us in His Father’s house; a place wherein we can live with Him forever. God’s covenant children also live with the constant knowledge that this world is not our home. As the Apostle Paul said:
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.
(Philippians 3:20-21, NASB)
Jesus challenges us with these thoughts about life, death, and discipleship, when He says:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?
(Matthew 16:24-26, NASB)
Note carefully Jesus’ terminology in this passage. He uses the term “wishes”—other versions use the word “wants” or “desires.” Jesus is talking here about a condition of our heart. He is not saying that every disciple must be martyred. But He is saying that every one of His disciples must choose who and what they are living for. It’s a heart issue! Those who “wish” to save their lives—whose hearts are all wrapped up in their mortal existence in this world—are going to miss out on life altogether. However, those who are ready and willing to lose their lives for His sake—they would rather live with Jesus in the next world, than live without Him in this one—are going to experience abundant life both now and in eternity. Where are our hearts focused? Where lie our wants and desires? Are we all about this world; or all about Him?
I think of the Apostle Paul when he was confronted with the possibility of his own impending death. He said to the ekklesia in the city of Philippi:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
(Philippians 1:21-24, NASB)
Imagine facing life or death and being “hard-pressed from both directions.” He didn’t know which to choose. Paul had “the desire to depart and be with Christ,” saying, “that is very much better.” But, he also knew that he was still needed here upon the earth, that his mission was not yet complete; and, so, he would probably have to stay around a while longer.
God’s covenant children understand that this present world holds no great promise for us. We know that everything that happens in this mortal realm is only temporary and that it will all come to an end. As the Apostle Peter reminds us:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
(2 Peter 3:10-13, NASB)
God proves His love for us in manifold ways every single day—every beat of our heart, every breath that we take, is His gift to us. The ultimate expression of His love is, of course, the gift of His Son. Jesus’ death on the cross satisfied the requirements of God’s holiness and justice and has secured our eternal redemption so that we never have to die, but can live with Him eternally. As the Hebrew writer reminds us:
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.
(Hebrews 2:14-15, NASB)
Every authentic child of God has been set free from the fear of death. Because we understand His limitless love, we have found our security, our identity, and our destiny in His promises. As we grow in the Lord, we can learn to throw fear to the wind; and face both life and death with boldness and joy!
The Apostle John comforts God’s covenant children with these beautiful assurances:
We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.
(I John 4:16-19, NASB)
Do you know and believe the love that God has for you? Imagine living life with no fear of death. Imagine being so in love with God and enamored with His love for us, that we have absolutely no fear of judgment. That’s what it means to have a “perfect,” or mature, love for God. Imagine living life with the confidence and peace of knowing that we are “God’s own possession” (I Peter 2:9, NASB) and He loves us beyond measure. That’s what it means to be His new covenant child.
A Psalm of Destiny Pokii Ka Aka Okalani Jarrett-Stroud; my beautiful granddaughter and His covenant child.
1. Your love for me is beyond my knowledge; it is a constant flow of wisdom and guidance.
2. Your love is forgiving and patient; though, at times, I do unforgiving things because I am agitated.
3. You are my strength in weakness.
4. You are my protector in times of fear.
5. You were with me through everything; but I was not yet with You.
6. You told me to trust and obey; yet, I doubted and protested against You.
7. Love radiates through You onto me.
8. Blessings scatter the earth; and I praise You.
9. Where were You when my world fell apart?
10. Where were You when I was left alone to pick up the pieces?
11. I was broken, lost, and past the point of being mended.
12. Why did You allow such horrible events to ruin me inside?
13. Siblings are supposed to stick together; yet, You allowed me to be ripped from my sister’s side.
14. Where are You, God, and why have You left me?
15. My life was full of darkness; yet, You stood by to watch these horrific events unravel.
16. Darkness lingers in my soul, making me stray and resist You.
17. Can You hold my hand; I am too weak to stand?
18. You welcomed me with open arms, and I gladly ran to You.
19. When You release me I stay in Your presence; afraid of stepping back into the whirlpool of pain.
20. Your word is now constantly mending my broken heart.
21. You have set a fire in my heart; a fire that never goes out.
22. You have filled me with Your presence; consumed me with Your love.
23. You have taken me into rough waters. You have molded me into something new.
24. You have changed my heart and cleansed my soul; and, for that, I thank You.
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