when death helps explain life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” – John 11:25-26

IMG_0761A couple of days ago I posted a few thoughts in response to the death of my friend (and small-group member) Don – “If God is for us: in life and in death.” Saturday we celebrated his life in a deeply meaningful memorial service at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

During the service, a thought crossed my mind that I believe could be helpful as we strive to live meaningful, purposeful, inspirational, Christ-centered lives.

I looked around the sanctuary, full with some 300 people, and I realized how effectively death serves to put life into clear focus.


Let me explain. Less than a month ago, just before Rebekah and I went on vacation, Don and I talked about getting together for lunch or coffee. We had a date and a time set on two occasions. One day he broke the appointment, the other time I had to. “Don’t worry about it,” Don said, “we’ll get together when you get back.”

Obviously, we couldn’t follow through with the plan, and I’m really disappointed we were unable to make it happen. You see, the thing about being alive is that we never count on it ever being over. It’s not the nature of being alive to make plans around our death; fact is, we tend to treat this life as if it’s open-ended, everything, eternal – but it’s not.

The thing about being alive is that we never count on it ever being over.

That’s where death comes in and puts life into focus. Life may be vibrant, active, busy, and full… but it’s also extraordinarily temporary. Now we don’t really notice that at the time, because being alive is all that we have ever known. For a 20-year-old, twenty years is eternity; for me, at 61, six decades really is forever. But then death comes along and everything comes into clear focus. Life may be everything, but eternity is even more. And that is something that makes me think.

So Saturday morning, in celebrating the life of a good and faithful man, our church family was reminded of the fact that this new life we have in Christ is something that will – thankfully – transcend the limits of our physical selves. With that in mind, the spiritual dimension of our identity as people becomes even more important.


Here’s one way I like to think about it. When I was a young man I was defined by physical growth and strengthening; I was fit, I was athletic, I was corporeal in all the best ways. Then, my intellect moved to the forefront, and I started to use that to understand who I was. Today, getting into my 60’s, more and more I see myself as a spiritual being.

And that’s a good thing (being defined more by my relationship with God, by my spiritual nature) because – frankly – the other stuff isn’t necessarily always working so well anymore! Eventually – inevitably – my body and my mind are going to break down and stop functioning altogether. So today, moving forward, I want to be a more complete follower of Jesus, and I want the part of me that’s never going to die to take more of a lead role in who I am and who I am becoming.

IMG_0776When Jesus said “Whoever lives by believing in me will never die,” that’s what he was talking about. Saturday afternoon, Don’s ashes were scattered at the old Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro, but he was already at home with God. Now that’s putting life into clear focus!

So read this as a challenge to take stock, and think about how exactly do you define yourself? Then come to church tomorrow, take the bread and the wine, and renew your commitment to nurture and grow your relationship with God. In the long run, that is what’s going to matter more than absolutely anything else.





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