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Dane Skelton is the Pastor of Faith Community Church and the author of Jungle Flight: Spiritual Adventures at the Ends of the Earth, a book of true stories from the ministry of JAARS (formerly Jungle Aviation and Radio Service). His second book, Papua Pilot: Flying the Bible to the Last Lost Peoples, co-authored with the late Paul Westlund, is now available on Amazon.com and Christianbook.com.
“If you lose consciousness do you want me to stop at the nearest ER or do you want me to keep going to Duke?” We had already made a rapid stop on the side of 501 South near Roxboro to switch oxygen bottles when the first one ran out. My friend Paul was near unconsciousness as I fumbled the valve swap from one to the other.
“Keep going. Take me to Duke,” he said as he sucked as much O2 from the fresh bottle as his ravaged lungs could absorb. The cancer he had been fighting for seven years was winning.
I hit the gas and tore down the highway, trusting that any police officer who might pull me over would agree with my sense of urgency.
That was about one year ago today. Paul never came home from Duke University Hospital. We buried him on May 11.
Because it feels so permanent, the loss of friends and loved ones can have a devastating effect, creating a lifelong chain of grief and depression, unless we have a source of joy that is beyond the reach of death.
That source is what we celebrate this week. It is the great hope of the resurrection.
"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep." (1 Corinthians 15:19-20 NIV).
The resurrection changes how we experience all of life, not just the end of it. Let me give you three ways that it has changed life for me.
First, I have no fear of death. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t look forward to saying goodbye to family and friends. I don’t look forward to pain and suffering. But as the Apostle Paul said, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” (Phil 1:21-24 NIV)
Did you see that? “To die is gain...to be with Christ, is better by far.” The fact of the resurrection tells us that what Christ promised can be counted on. “In my father’s house are many rooms. I go there to prepare a place for you,” he said. I don’t fear that place. I look forward to it.
Second, I live in hopeful expectation, of seeing loved ones yes, and friends who have believed, but the hope is far greater than that. I look forward to seeing Jesus face to face, the living Jesus I have known in his word, the presence I have known in prayer, through the veil, and in worship as “through a glass darkly.” “Now we know in part, then we shall know as we have been known.” No more shadows, no more veil but standing (or kneeling) in the presence of my great King, rejoicing with him in the beauty, righteousness and glory of his kingdom, celebrating with him at the great feast of the Lamb and drinking anew with him the Cup of the Covenant.
Finally, every day is Easter to me. Every day is resurrection day. I live in the joy and freedom of the sons of God, for I too have “died to this life and been raised with him to walk in newness of life.” When I take up my own death in Christ (Romans 6) I am free to enjoy all of God’s good gifts on planet earth, good food, good fun, good friends and good love, without the fear that losing any of them to death is a permanent loss of real life. The true source of joy is beyond the reach of death.
Now what about you? Where is your hope? If it is in this world alone, then count on it, you will lose it. But if you have the greatest hope, if it is in the resurrection of Christ, then you will have strength to face the loss of anyone or anything, and no one can steal your joy.