Death Becomes Him

How can death be precious?

My eyes opened after a night of sleep; I focused on my wife across the room, who was marked with sadness. She spoke, “There is something I have to tell you. Mike Ledbetter passed away last night.” My heart sank, my mind quickly retrieved special memories, and my eyes teared up. Mike was my friend. He had joined our congregation about seven years ago, and as a retired missionary, both he and his wife proved to be a tremendous evangelical asset to all of us. But today, his story changed.

With over a quarter of a century of experience, I can say with certainty, over the next few days, I will hear, “We lost a good man,” and, “I am so sorry for your loss.” Those statements irk me as they are not accurate, and they chisel away from the message of love and what the Gospel can do. Mike is not lost; in fact, he is more found than he has ever been. The bible is very clear that for the Christian, the next life is far better than this one, which is why David cries out in Psalm 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (NIV)

Streets of gold, walls of jasper, the foundation of precious stone, gates pearl, angelic beings worshipping around the throne of God, a peaceful river, the Tree of Life uprooted and replanted from the Garden of Eden, Jesus Christ Himself standing and ready to personally receive each of us (Rev. 21), and the list goes on and on. The next life is better. But, is Mike Ledbetter lost now? The Apostle Paul answers this very question by encouraging all followers of Jesus that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:8).

You see, when I opened my eyes this morning, I became inundated with all of the reminders of the effects that sin has over this world, from the news on the television to the argument in the street outside our camper. I woke up to another day filled with violence, politics, child pornography, protests, and sex trafficking, just to mention a few. Mike closed his eyes down here and opened them up to be with his Savior forever. Mike, lost? No, he is more found than he ever has been. Mike is home, happy, healed, and healthy, and there is no amount of convincing that will ever bring him back; he just waits for us all to join him. That is what the power of love and the Gospel can do!

Perhaps you’re struggling with the recent passing of a loved one. Or, you may be anxious about your death, what will become of you? Friend, may this devotion today provide you with peace and joy in either situation; to know the truth is to set you free.

Scripture: “Having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18 ESV)

Question: Am I allowing my feelings to drive me, or are my eyes wide open to the truth of God’s promises concerning the next life?

Prayer: Father, when those times of sadness and missing overtake our lives, please remind me of your truth and of the hope we have through your Son. May I focus more on what my loved one has gained and to celebrate the difference that they made while on this earth and that I have the opportunity to be with them again very soon. Thank you for loving us so much that even death is not something to fear but a gift of love. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen. 

Narrow Minded

The road most travelled is not always the best

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

My wife Laurie and I both love to hike. We discovered our mutual interest when stationed in Guam, both serving in the United States Coast Guard. While on that WWII historic island, we were made aware of several trails leading to places where reminders of an era gone by lay in wait for another picture-taking tourist. Things like abandoned tanks, downed airplanes, and even caves that once housed forgotten Japanese soldiers were but some of the treasures we found. Over the years, we have hiked many a trail, both in America and abroad. And, while the sights may change, there is one constant; most paths are either wide or narrow, and both are that way for a reason. 

I was studying through the book of Matthew the other day, and something hit me that I had never noticed before; it was one of those waking and shaking scripture moments. In chapter 7, verse 13, we find these words, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

When city planners set out to create our infrastructure; our roads or paths, they intentionally designed each path; in other words, each path is purposefully either wide or narrow to accommodate the anticipated crowds. Going into a big city, for example, you will find several lanes of paved roads. In contrast, the road to the bait shop is narrow and perhaps either dirt or gravel when in the country. Why? Paths are intentionally designed to accommodate the traffic. Don’t miss that. Paths are built to be either broad or narrow, depending on how much interest there is in the destination. 

Why don’t many take the paths less traveled? Because it’s more difficult and requires work. Taking the road less traveled means, you will encounter obstacles and inconveniences that not everyone wants to deal with. Am I saying that the Christian road is more difficult than the worldly road? A resounding YES! The Apostle Paul compelled Christians to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1a ESV); being a living sacrifice is neither pleasant nor comfortable. But I will give you some good news today, while the path less traveled is difficult, it always allows access to a treasure that is not available to anyone else. One can’t see the beautiful Roanoke Valley’s views from the Hawk Observatory unless that arduous 3-mile hike up the narrow path is navigated. Likewise, those who chose to take the broad path in this life will never experience heaven’s views nor enjoy all of the bountiful treasures that lie in wait.

Even the American poet Robert Frost proclaimed;

I shall be telling this with a sigh 
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, 
And I-I took the one less traveled by, 
And that has made all the difference

Scripture: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” -ESV

Prayer: Father, may we appreciate more and more the treasures that lie down the path less traveled, and may that help us to have patience when we encounter obstacles. Life is hard, but Father, I know that one day it will get much better. As I continue in my journey today, may your presence strengthen and encourage me, and may the destination inspire me to persevere. In the Name of Jesus Christ, I pray, amen. 

Where We’re Going Matters

The unknown is the field on which the battle of our faith is waged

I was scared, nervous, full of anxiety, and if honest-a little angry at myself for being in this situation. Boot camp was over and there I stood on the parade ground in Cape May New Jersey, in full uniform; bleachers filled with supporting family and friends, cheering me and my 119 shipmates on in our recent graduation. One would think that happiness, excitement, and pride would have marked my emotions, and while those were present, the overwhelming fear of what would happen in less than a week consumed me. You see, on the last day of boot camp we were all assigned our very first tour of duty; we found out where we would be going and what we would be doing. Me? I was to be assigned to the United States Coast Guard Cutter Sweetbrier in Cordova, Alaska. My job? Scrubbing barnacles off of buoys in the Bearing Sea. Well, we also did law enforcement, drug interdiction, international boardings, and search and rescue, but scrubbing barnacles off of buoys in the Bearing Sea, I mean where was the Bearing Sea anyway and who really cared about barnacles. And, where was Cordova, Alaska?! Turned out one of my drill instructors knew very well the location and the job description and basically-after getting an entire squad bay full of recruits to laugh at me-simply said, “good luck with that”.

So, while I was very proud that I accomplished something that some thought impossible, graduating one of the toughest boot camps out there, I was scared to death. And, when that day came and I found myself alone at the airport in line to board my fight, that same parade ground fear increased and overtook me. In flight, the stewardess felt so bad for me, seeing my anxiety stricken condition, she even offered me an “adult beverage”, knowing full well I was only 18 years old. That entire trip from Philadelphia to Seattle to Anchorage to Cordova was nothing but a white knuckled fearful experience. Funny, I do remember one leg of the flight looking over at a couple gazing intently out the window to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Alaskan scenery; very much enjoying the ride, when all I could do was keep the vomit from not ruining their view!

Over the years I have had the fortune of boarding many a plane with destinations like; Paris, London, Mexico, Guam, and many of our wonderful country’s states, yet none of them were marked with such fear as that first airplane ride back in 1987. Why? For two reasons; first I was not a Christian and second I had a fear of the unknown. Now that I am a believer, I have the confidence that while things may be unknown to me, that is not so with my Father, and I trust Him. Much like Abraham I suppose. It is recorded in Hebrews chapter 11 verse 8 that, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.” That is what faith can do, overcome the fear of the unknown with a trust in God that believes that is where His blessings lie. I firmly believe that the unknown is the field on which the battle of our faith is waged.

If you are struggling with the unknown; with questions that are birthed out of tomorrow, perhaps your faith needs a boost. Do you find yourself restless at night wondering what will happen? Overwhelmed by the fear of “what if”, or “what could be”? If so, I am certain you are like that young Tom on that first plane ride; white knuckling through life, as opposed to that older couple, across the aisle, who enjoyed their journey. Friend, God wants you to walk across the aisle of the plane of life, sitting back, looking out the window and enjoying the journey. How? By not worrying about the destination. As Christians, we know our final destination is heaven; a place where the streets are made of gold, the walls of jasper, the foundation of precious stone, with gates of pearl; a place where there will be no more suffering or sorrow, our home where we can be with Jesus forever. Will there be turbulence along the way? Yes. Will there be times when the oxygen masks drop and we think we are going to crash? Yes. But know this; God is in the cockpit, He knows the course, and He has never lost one single soul along the way. Trust Him and enjoy the ride, that is His desire for you.

Scripture: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11 ESV

Prayer: Father, life can be scary, especially when there is so much I don’t know. The unknown of tomorrow can overwhelm me with questions and doubt, but I don’t want to live in fear and uncertainty, please help me. Father, please remind me that you have planned out my journey and even given me details about my destination. Please help me trust you more so that I can enjoy each day as a gift, no matter what is going on around me. I don’t want to be pacing the ship in the middle of each storm, but peacefully sleeping through it, knowing you’re in control. Thank you for having patience with me, for loving me, and for taking care of me. I love you. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, amen.