I was only a few weeks into the pastorate of my first church. Riley walked into my office – a man in his 80’s who wanted to “get to know” his new 23 year old pastor. It was quickly apparent that Riley was a little lonely and just wanted to talk. It wasn’t long until he began to tell me about family and friends who had passed away – many of whom had been faithful members of the church. Honestly, I don’t remember the specifics, but I do remember clearly a statement he made: “Pastor, there reaches a point where you have more over there than you have left down here.” That statement stuck with me. For some reason, I came back to it in recent days.
For many years of my life and ministry, dying was not something I dealt with frequently. Like most pastors, I serve a church with a large number of senior adults and deaths among our church family happen fairly frequently. Having reached middle age now means that deaths of family members, friends, and close family members of friends are now commonplace. Even if I were not a pastor, Becky and I would be attending far more funerals than at any point in our lives. These trends were there before the terrible COVID-19 pandemic happened. This most recent wave of the “Delta variant” has taken more lives of people I personally know than all of the other stages of the pandemic combined. Just this week, on the day that Becky and I attended the funeral of a 50 year old COVID victim and longtime friend in Tennessee, I received word that the husband of a high school classmate passed away from COVID. In recent months, dying has been constantly before me.
I am weary of the dying.
I thought of my friend, Riley, who reached the point where he had more “over there” than he had left here. Now I understand better what he meant. In the last year, I have buried some of the best friends, encouragers, and mentors of my life and ministry. The other day, I pulled up the contacts of my cell phone and there next to the number I was seeking sat the number of one of those great friends and mentors. He went to be with the Lord several months back, but his number is still in my phone. With tears in my eyes, I wished I could call him one more time.
I am weary of the dying. Maybe you are too.
Perhaps the most beloved verse in all of the Bible is John 3:16…
““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV)
For my entire life and ministry I have focused my attention on the first two themes of that verse. I focused on the love of God for every single person. We are sinners, but God loves us with His great love. I have focused on the hope of salvation for any person who will believe – “whoever believes in him.” Lately, I have focused more on the last theme: “…should not perish but have eternal life.” ETERNAL LIFE. Ten times in the Gospel of John alone we find that phrase.
ETERNAL LIFE. Literally it is “life in the age to come.” For the unbeliever who has never met Christ, eternity will be an eternal death in the fires of hell. However, for those who have “believed in him” eternal life with be theirs. Eternal life is spending eternity with our Savior – the One who is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Eternal life is spending eternity in a perfect place with a perfect, glorified body where the taint of sin is gone and the tears of this life are wiped away. In the words of the great Casting Crowns song, the only scars in Heaven will be on the hands of the One holding us. ETERNAL LIFE. For the believer, that is our future. That is our hope. Furthermore, this life eternal is absolutely guaranteed by the blood of the Lamb and the authority of his Word. All who believe have eternal life. NO exceptions. Praise God!
Many know the name John Newton because he wrote the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” Some know the name John Newton because of his righteous work to end slavery. Recently, I read what several sources say were John Newton’s last words on earth as he lay dying…
“I am still in the land of the dying; I shall be in the land of the living soon.”
Soon after speaking those words and taking his last breath, John Newton entered the land of the living. His last words are a needed word for all of us in this season who are weary of the dying. The heartaches, tears, and loses of this life demonstrate that we truly are in the land of the dying. We are headed for the land of the living! Those in Christ that we love and miss so deeply are in the land of the living. We will join in them one day and lay aside the tears of this life.
Dear friend, when you are weary of the dying, focus on the land of the living.