Help For Your Family: Facing the End

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We call old age “the golden years,” but sometimes they are anything but golden!  Many seniors, looking forward to traveling and a life of leisure in retirement, end up finding sickness, pain, and a lack of resources.

For the Christian old age is a good opportunity to glance back, over your shoulder, and see how God has moved in your life.  Hindsight is 20/20 they say.  Many times we miss God’s interventions in our lives at the monent they happen, but as we age, we gain perspective and looking back, we see how involved God really was.

General Douglas MacArthur once told the people of the Philippines, “I shall return.”  Well, he did return in his latter years, and this time he told them, “The deepening shadows of life cast doubt upon my ability to pledge to you again, ‘I shall return.’”  That’s perspective.  All of us will eventually come to an end.  Rich and poor, famous and infamous, healthy or not, death is waiting for every human being.

No matter how you came into this world, you may leave it with honor.  How a Christian faces his death is at least as important as how he lived his life.

1.  Growing old with God

a.  Remember your Creator, Ecclesiastes 12:1—5

Don’t let the excitement of being young cause you to forget about your Creator. Honor him in your youth before the evil years come—when you’ll no longer enjoy living.  (Ecclesiastes 12:1  TLB)

It has been said:  Youth is a mistake, manhood a struggle, and old age a regret.  There may be some truth in Lord Beaconsfield’s words, but life doesn’t have to be that way.  Old age, for example, doesn’t have to be filled with regret.  Solomon, after telling his readers that nothing under the sun can satisfy the human heart, advises:  Get back to God.  It’s far better for us if we make our decision to follow God while we are young.

The picture of old age painted by Solomon isn’t pretty, but it is accurate.  The older you get, the more funerals you attend.  Friends and family leave you.  You lose your health.  You may lose your mind.  You’ll probably lose your hair; the hair you have will likely turn white.  Life itself slips away from you, but God never will!  Don’t forget about God in you’re old age; He might be all you’ve got.

b.  The end of life, Ecclesiastes 12:6, 7

Yes, remember your Creator now while you are young—before the silver cord of life snaps and the gold bowl is broken; before the pitcher is broken at the fountain and the wheel is broken at the cistern; then the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 

Solomon is really talking about the breakdown of the human body in these verses, in a poetic way.  The “silver cord” is the spinal cord; the “gold bowl” is the head.  Our minds slow down as we get older.  The “pitcher” refers to our lungs and the “wheel” is the heart.  At some point, it stops pumping blood around the body.  Yes, our bodies deteriorate; life cannot go on when out organs slow down and stop working.

At some point, we will return to the dust from which we came; we essentially return to our beginning.  The soul, which does not sleep, goes to be with God at death.  Our bodies, as taught by Solomon, are absolutely temporary.  Your body is nothing more than an outer covering for your spirit and soul.  President Adams knew this to be true, and he said shortly before his death:

I’m doing just fine, but this ‘house’ I live in is growing very feeble, and I think I’ll be moving out of it before long.

c.  Be fruitful to the end, Psalm 92:12—15

But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon.  For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care.  Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green.   This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!

This marvelous psalm is full of gratitude to God, recognizing His firm, dependable, and steadfast love and unending faithfulness.  This group of verses, in particular, points out that those who trust in God prosper.  The righteous are like mighty trees growing and flourishing in the Lord’s presence—a perfectly tended garden.  Even in old age, the righteous are still growing in the Lord and bearing fruit.  Ralph Browning said:

Trees have their seasons at certain times of the year when they bring forth fruit; but a Christian is for all seasons.

A Christian never retires.

2.  Losing loved ones

a.  Abraham and Sara, Genesis 23:1—4

Sara stuck by Abraham from his days back in Ur, when he was still known as Abram.  One could say this couple lived a life of high adventure!  The very fact that we have a record of her death and burial shows us how significant a figure she was.  Not every experience she had was a good one, however.  Her journey with Abraham was not an easy one, yet she never abandoned him.  No wonder he “mourned” her when she died!   Vance Havner wrote,

You haven’t lost anything when you know where it is.  Death can hide but not divide.

It’s painful to lose a loved one.  Even Christians, who intellectually know all about the glory of life after death, still have to deal with memories and the feelings of loss and grief.

b.  Comfort in mourning, Matthew 5:4

Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted.

People mourn for all kinds of reasons:  pain, suffering, loss of any kind, etc.  This verse, though, is specifically addressing those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and are seeking help from God; these people will find comfort.  But, there is a wonderful sense that the comfort extended to such repentant persons is not limited just to the strict context in which the statement is made.  One of the reasons why Jesus came in the first place was to offer comfort to those who needed it, first to His people, of course, but then to all who have come to Him in repentance:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the suffering and afflicted. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted, to announce liberty to captives, and to open the eyes of the blind.  He has sent me to tell those who mourn that the time of God’s favor to them has come, and the day of his wrath to their enemies.  To all who mourn in Israel he will give: beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of heaviness. For God has planted them like strong and graceful oaks for his own glory.  (Isaiah 61:1—3  TLB)

Comfort is ours right now through a living, vital relationship with Jesus Christ.  That comfort, though, is eternal:

He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever.  (Revelation 21:4  TLB)

c.  Hope in Christ, 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14

And now, dear brothers, I want you to know what happens to a Christian when he dies so that when it happens, you will not be full of sorrow, as those are who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and then came back to life again, we can also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him all the Christians who have died.

The members of the Thessalonian church, many only recent converts from paganism, were concerned about what happens to those who died in the faith before Christ returns.  Will they miss out on the glories of His kingdom?

To help his friends understand what happens at death, Paul began by giving the proper attitude a Christian should manifest toward death in verse 13.  When a believer dies, those left behind should not be “full of sorrow,” meaning a prolonged period of grieving.  The idea Paul is giving is that we should in no way be filled with a sense of hopelessness when a loved one dies in the faith.  In fact, Christians should be filled with hope even in the death of a loved one.  How is this possible?  Jesus is our example!  His resurrection is the basis of our hope.   Paul, in addressing their concern, made it clear that as far as the Thessalonians were concerned, if a believer died in Christ, then they were already with Christ in glory!  Their fear—that their deceased loved ones would miss out on His glorious reign—was unfounded because those deceased loved ones were experiencing the fullness of Christ’s glory now.  And our deceased loved ones are experiencing the same thing, if they died in Christ.

There are many homes up there where my Father lives, and I am going to prepare them for your coming. When everything is ready, then I will come and get you, so that you can always be with me where I am. If this weren’t so, I would tell you plainly.  (John 14:2, 3  TLB)

3.  Leaving a legacy

a.  Service in old age, Psalm 71:5, 17, 18

Earlier we noted that a Christian should never retire from service to the Lord.  They’ll be plenty of time for rest and relaxation in Heaven.  Besides, for all those seniors thinking they can miss church, stop fighting the good fight, and stop finding avenues of service for God, there is this to contend with:

Haven’t you yet learned that your body is the home of the Holy Spirit God gave you, and that he lives within you? Your own body does not belong to you.  For God has bought you with a great price. So use every part of your body to give glory back to God because he owns it.  (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20  TLB)

Seniors have a moral obligation to continue working for the Lord until the very end because up and coming generations need to know the Truth from mature believers and they need to see it modeled from those who have lived it.

Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, your power to everyone who is to come.  (Psalm 7118  NKJV)

b.  Victory in death, 2 Timothy 4:6—8

I say this because I won’t be around to help you very much longer. My time has almost run out. Very soon now I will be on my way to heaven. I have fought long and hard for my Lord, and through it all I have kept true to him. And now the time has come for me to stop fighting and rest.  In heaven a crown is waiting for me, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And not just to me but to all those whose lives show that they are eagerly looking forward to his coming back again.  (TLB)

Talk about perspective!  Paul certainly had it.  He was well aware of his circumstances and he knew that the days ahead were far less than those behind.  With infinite pathos Paul wrote about his coming death and separation from those he loved.   Verse 6 has in it the imagery of a ship weighing anchor and leaving port.

Paul found comfort in the thought of his death.  He offered that comfort to Timothy.  That same comfort is for all believers who, just like Paul, have that same assurance that at death.  All of Christ’s followers will enjoy eternity in His glorious presence.

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