"You'd Better Be Ready!"
November 2, 2019
This past week (10/24/19) a dear friend of Julie and I left this earth without advanced notice. Karen Markstrom. Now we as, well as her family (especially her husband, Gary) are grieving her earthly death. And we don't view grieving as a weakness or lack of faith. I view grieving the loss of a loved one as an expression of love; and the greater the grieving, the greater the love. By the way, guys, it's OK for men to cry. Jesus did, and he was God on earth in a human body. The apostle John reminds us in John 1:18: "No one has ever seen God. But his only Son, who is himself God, is near to the Father's heart, he has told us about him" (NLT). Jesus expressed the Father's tears as he grieved with the family and friends at the grave of his personal friend, Lazarus, and then raised him from the dead (See John 11). Both heaven and earth were represented by Jesus that day. Jesus knows the importance of both at the time of death. Can you embrace that?
Julie and I were in Rochester at the Mayo Clinic on the day of Karen's death and received the news by phone that evening. It was, and still is, taking time for Julie and I to process the matter.
Saturday evening (10/26/19) Julie and I went over to be with Gary and other members of the family who were at his home. We talked about the details of Karen's death. That Thursday morning while at work at LifeCare Medical Center in Roseau she experienced a severe heart attack. She then fell backward and sustained a serious head injury. The staff at LifeCare expertly provided all the care they could and then she was air-lifted to Grand Forks where she passed away that afternoon with Gary by her side. It was all so sudden. As we talked about the "suddenness" of Karen's death Gary said: "You (or we) need to be ready!" And as the title indicates, that is the subject of this article: You need to be ready. Are you?
Now there are lots of things in this life to get ready for, but death is the biggest. Once we lift off this planet all that we have believed and given our life to here on earth is going to come into sharp focus. There ain't no "re-runs" folks (sorry, reincarnationalists!).
Karen was ready for eternity. How's that? If she were here she'd tell you. Years ago she had been "born again" to use Jesus' terminology with Nicodemus in John 3. The thing about Nicodemus "being ready" to meet God is that he was counting on his religion and his tight obedience to the religious laws of his Jewish Faith. But Jesus says, "I assure you, unless you are born again, you can never see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). As I write this, Karen Markstrom is "seeing" God's Kingdom in eternity with perfect clarity. What will you see when you wake up in eternity? Jesus continues in verses 6-8: "Humans can produce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives new life from heaven". So don't be surprised at my statement that you must be "born again". Just as you can see the wind but can't tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can't explain how people are born of the Spirit. John had already talked about this in John 1: 12:13 where he wrote: "but to all who believed in him (Jesus) and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. THEY ARE REBORN! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan- this rebirth comes from God." The apostle Paul picked up on this being "born of the Spirit" when he wrote to Christians in Romans 8:9: "But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them are not Christians at all)." That was basically Jesus' message to Nicodemus.
Karen was (and is) born again, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and had given her life to Jesus not only as her Savior, but as her Lord. She continued to seek his will and ways in her life. This is also true of her husband Gary and many, if not all, of their extended family. Karen was ready to leave this earth even though she probably didn't think it was going to be almost at a "moment's notice." That's what Gary meant when he said as we sat around their dining room table, "You need to be ready." Are you biblically ready to leave this earth on a moment's notice? How do you know?
Now Karen's readiness for eternity wasn't suspended from church membership, being confirmed, being baptized (I'm writing from the perspective of the Evangelical Church) or doing good works (even religious works). Karen and Gary have embraced what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-10 as the Word of God: "For it is by grace (God's Gift) you have been saved, through faith-- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork ("masterpiece," NLT), created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (NIV). That's Karen and Gary's testimony in Bible words. Why did Karen think she needed to be "saved?" and from what? She found the answers to these questions in Romans. First of all, Romans 3:23: "For all have sinned and fall short of God's glorious standard" (NLT). The Prophet, Jeremiah, was much harsher about the human condition in Jeremiah 17:0,10 (actually it is God speaking through the prophet): "The human heart (this draws a circle around all of us) is most deceitful and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is. But I know! I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve" (NLT). This reminds me of Proverbs 16:2: "People may be pure in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their motives" (NLT).
Secondly, Karen found her need to be saved in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death, but THE FREE GIFT OF GOD IS ETERNAL LIFE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD" (NLT). God has now received Karen into the full wonders of the second part of this verse.
Now before I close I want to raise up the last part of Ephesians 2:10 which is a part of getting ready for every believer. Paul wrote that we are "created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." "Good works," not for salvation, but because of salvation. When we give our lives to Christ we are called by God to live a "new life," a born again life. In Christ our life should never be the same again. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:23,24: "...There must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God's likeness-righteous, holy and true" (NLT). On this subject I want to raise up the first part of Colossians 3:5, and all of verse 10: "So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. In its place you have clothed yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you." In Colossians 3:17 we read: "And whatever you do or say, let it be as a representative of the Lord Jesus, all the while giving thanks through him to God the Father." (NLT). In Galatians 6:15 Paul writes: "What counts is whether we really have been changed into new and different people." Then there's Paul's testimony in Philippians 1:21: "For me to live in Christ, and to die is gain: (KJB).
The older I get and the closer I get to eternity the more I think about what kind of life I will present to the Father and to Jesus when I enter into their presence. I want to live a holy life that I'm ready to offer them without embarrassment. I want to be ready!
None of us are going to get life perfect down here even as Christians, and Karen is no exception. But God knows our hearts and I'm sure that he's welcomed Karen into his eternal Kingdom with words along the line of: "Welcome home, Karen, my good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord." And I'll bet she raised her hands in praise to the Lord like she did every Sunday during our worship singing. Let us remember to pray for her family, especially Gary!
So, how is it with you: are you ready to leave; maybe at a moment's notice (even if you're a Christian)?
Update Mayo: We had a good report. The radiation both shrunk and impacted the cancer. There is a bit of residual something, but they want to watch it...they want to take a CT scan in a couple of weeks to see if we will be able to have surgery...they still aren't convinced about the surgery whether it is necessary, or whether they can do it safely. They are going to wait and see what it looks like in a couple of weeks. The surgery is really complicated (rerouted blood vessels in the intestines etc) We are hoping and praying if there is any cancer left, it might just stay dormant and/or be gone, and that the 6 months of immune therapy (Ketura) will impact. So thankful!
Until next time,