Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mysticism: A Counterfeit Holy Spirit

Posted by Christine Pack

An excellent article at More Books and Things discusses the startling trend of Calvinists beginning to embrace mystical practices such as contemplative prayer, taize, lectio divina, centering prayer, etc. Mystical Calvinists? An oxymoron, if ever there was one. Calvinists are supposed to be the solid ones, the ones holding the line on attacks against the Sola's.....right? Hello? Hello? Is this thing on? Okay, for anyone unclear on this:
Mysticism = the Opposite of Sola Scriptura
But in today's crazy, mixed-up world of postmodernism, syncretism and ecumenism, the Calvinists are letting down their guard. They're letting themselves be convinced that there is a type of mysticism that is not pagan, but is Christian, biblical and necessary for being close to God.

For those who don't know, Sola Scriptura was one of the rallying cries of the Reformation. It is the doctrine that the Bible is the only infallible and inerrant authority for Christian faith, and that Scripture alone contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness.

Christian proponents of mysticism, however, are making the assertion that Scripture is not enough of a revelation from God. No, according to them, we've got to power down, get still and silent, and "hear" from God.

However, speaking as a former mystic/gnostic/hindu/buddhist/pagan, I can attest that the "powering down" thing that mystics do is not biblical. In Matthew, Jesus makes this cryptic statement: "And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. ..." "Meaningless repetition" - does that not sound like mantra meditation?

As a New Age mystic in the 90's, I moved freely from religious system to religious system without difficulty. Why was I able to do this? Because syncretism is not just for Christians, silly rabbit! It was considered very tolerant and forward-thinking in the late 80's and 90's in New Age circles to take a little of this, a little of that, and craft for yourself a belief system that you could be comfortable with. But, no matter what religious system I found myself in, mysticism was always at the core.

Okay, let's think about why mysticism would be at the core of so many false religions. It must serve some purpose, after all. Well, my take on this, having participated in many different "flavors" of mysticism is that mysticism functions as a counterfeit Holy Spirit experience.

So - what is the true Holy Spirit and how does it function? All true Christians are indwelt with the Holy Spirit at the moment of conversion. When this happens, the Holy Spirit comes to live and dwell inside each newly born-again Christian until their time on this earth is over. The Holy Spirit has many functions, among them bringing conviction over sin and illuminating Scripture.

False religions do not have this indwelling of the Holy Spirit taking place within their adherents. So what's a Devil to do? Well, he'll just do what he's always done, and rather successfully at that: create some kind of counterfeit experience to mimic a real blessing given by God to true Christians.

So let's look at how mysticism functions. Practically speaking, how does Satan get people into a mystical state? Well, there are many different avenues he has given us for getting into this state. One of the most widely used practices is mantra meditation. This is done by using a repetitive device (repeating a word, focusing on breathing, singing or speaking a phrase over and over) until the mind is emptied and "parked." It's not driving, it's not in reverse, it's idling. It's parked. There are other ways, of course, such as staring at a candle or an image, drumming, whirling, dancing and taking mind-altering drugs. But for our purposes here, we're going to be looking mainly at mantra meditation, as this is what is flowing unchecked into once-solid churches.

In this meditative state, a person is still awake and somewhat aware but one's God-given boundaries are down. So what happens to a person in this state? Mantra meditation is so very seductive because it generates a very powerful, seemingly supernatural experience that can make one feel as if they are actually encountering "God." The first meditation I ever did at age 20 left me utterly convinced that I had experienced the presence of God. In hindsight, I believe that this encounter truly was supernatural. The Bible tells us that Satan himself can masquerade as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14). So I ask you: would Satan be so bold as to actually pretend to be God? Of course he would. He's no gentleman. It's not like he would say to himself, "Well, that would be deceitful, I can't do that!" More like this: "That's deceitful - awesome!! I wonder how many times I could trick people into thinking they're encountering God before somebody starts to catch on?" And Satan was more than happy to give me an "experience" if it would turn me away from the one true God.

Something else happened during my first meditation that I didn’t realize until years later. I came out of that FIRST meditation session with an altered worldview. Now think about that. In the space of 20 minutes (because that's all the time it takes to do a meditation), my worldview shifted dramatically. Prior to this meditation experience, as far as I was concerned all spiritual choices were still "on the table" for me: Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, paganism, gnosticism, etc. But after I had come out of that first meditation, the Christianity of the Bible was no longer on the table for me. Why? Because Christianity is the only religion with such unbending and exclusive truth claims. ("I am the Way, the Truth, and the comes to the Father but through Me.") And meditation counters this claim by generating an experience in which a person feels a profound sense of interconnectedness and oneness with all that "feels" counter to the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. It feels just like you have had an encounter with God, that you have been in the presence of the Divine...only, you haven't.

Now. Let's look at the logical conclusions that practicing mystics MUST come to if they are staying true to their belief system: If I can experience God through meditation, then the cross has no meaning. And Jesus was a liar when He said that He was the only way to God.

Unfortunately, many Christians today are very innocent and naive about the dangers of the occultic realm (which is precisely where mantra meditation leads) because they have not been warned about it by their pastors and they have had no direct personal experience with it (and in this postmodern age, direct personal experience seems to trump everything). Yet, instead of (1) following the clear mandate of scripture on this and (2) listening to those of us who have had direct personal experience with the occult and who attempt to warn about how dangerous it is, many Christians today blindly follow their leaders into any and every new teaching (contemplative prayer, lectio divina, breath prayers, Jesus prayer, etc.). And those who sound the alarm are labeled as narrow-minded, intolerant, Pharisaical, and judgmental....not by the world, but by their fellow Christians!

Also, among professing Christians there is almost an attitude of, "Hey, I can't be deceived, I'm a Christian!" As if somehow just being a Christian renders one "deceit proof." But if this were true, then Jesus would not have given warning after warning for us to vigilantly guard against false teachers and false doctrine, and to take care that no one deceive us.

Christian mysticism is being taught in many seminaries today, including but not limited to the institutions listed below:
Dallas Theological Seminary
Bethel University
Fuller Theological Seminary
Biola University
Moody Bible Institute
Wheaton College
John Brown University
Popular Christian authors whose writings fill the shelves in Christian bookstores promote mysticism. Some of the most well-known authors are listed below:
Rick Warren
Rob Bell
Brian McLaren
Doug Pagitt
Shane Claiborne
Tony Jones
Dallas Willard
Richard Foster
Dan Kimball
Donald Miller
Erwin McManus
Brennan Manning
Laurie Beth Jones
Phyllis Tickle
Ruth Haley Barton
Tony Campolo
Christian mystical practices come in many different guises, including, but not limited to:
Spiritual Formation
Spiritual Disciplines
Ancient Future
Centering Prayer
Lectio Divina
Jesus Prayer
Contemplative Prayer
Contemplative Spirituality
Walk To Emmaus
The Silence
Promoters of Christian mysticism today say "Embrace the silence!" The Bible says, Test the spirits and flee from deception (I John 4:1), hold fast to what is true (1 Thess. 5:21) and don't assume immunity from deception (Matthew 24).

 Additional Resources 

Fighting For The Faith Interview on Mysticism

John MacArthur on Spiritual Formation and Biblical Sanctification

What Is Mysticism?

Mysticism: Who Needs Crack?

The Dangers of Contemplative Prayer

What Is Mysticism? (5-Part Series by Dr. Gary Gilley) - Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5

Mystical Youth Ministry

Biblical Silence vs. Mystical Silence

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Lesson of the Plucked Chicken

During those final days of the collapsing Marxist experiment in the Soviet Union, Soviet novelist Chingiz Aitmatov retold the following story, which has been paraphrased here:

On one occasion, so it was narrated, Stalin called for a live chicken and proceeded to use it to make an unforgettable point before some of his henchmen. Forcefully clutching the chicken in one hand, with the other he began to systematically pluck out its feathers. As the chicken struggled in vain to escape, he continued with the painful denuding until the bird was completely stripped. “Now you watch,” Stalin said as he placed the chicken on the floor and walked away with some bread crumbs in his hand. Incredibly, the fear-crazed chicken hobbled toward him and clung to the legs of his trousers. Stalin threw a handful of grain to the bird, and it began to follow him around the room, he turned to his dumbfounded colleagues and said quietly, “This is the way to rule the people. Did you see how that chicken followed me for food, even though I had caused it such torture? People are like that chicken. If you inflict inordinate pain on them they will follow you for food the rest of their lives.”

Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, (Word Publ., Dallas: 1994), pp. 26-27

The question is...what will we do in America after our feathers have been plucked? Will we cling to the one who did the plucking? Have we been made soft by a generation of X-box playing and Big Mac eating? Is Big Government the answer?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Twilight - Part 2: Satan's Grim Parody of Blood Leading to Eternal Life

Posted by Christine Pack
“…because the life of every creature is its blood.” (Leviticus 17:14) 
“If anyone eats blood, that person must be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 7:27) 
“You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.” (Acts 15:29 )
Ever since the Fall, Satan has been doing his best to deceive, beguile, trick and confuse the creatures made in God’s image. After all, Satan is no gentleman. He is bluntly described in the Bible, as “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and his is a predatory, murderous hatred. But since he can’t get at God, his desire now is to use his still powerful intellect to confuse the humans who are so precious to God. God knows this, and that is why he graciously and mercifully gives us warning after warning in Scripture about Satan and his schemes:

“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”
(2 Cor 11:14) Meaning, Satan will rarely show up with red horns and a pitchfork, billowing sulfurous smelling smoke. No, often times he masquerades as someone wanting to help us, as our friend, just as when he presented himself to Adam and Eve in the garden: “Hey, I’ve got your back! That God, he’s holding out on you, but let me tell you, eating from that tree will be great for you!” He didn’t say it in these exact words, but that was his message.

The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness is another example. Does anyone recall that Satan actually quoted scripture to Jesus? And he didn’t misquote Scripture, either. By that I mean that he didn’t misquote a single word…he just quoted it out of context. That’s why false teachers can be so deceptive: they often quote scripture word for word…just out of context. Obviously, to the undiscerning, this can give the appearance of being religious, spiritual, even good. This was the same trick employed by Satan in the desert, but was his motivation to do good, to help Christ? No, it was to gain power for himself and to tempt Christ into abandoning God’s plan of salvation for humanity. As far as he was concerned, if quoting the Scripture would get him where he wanted to be, well, he certainly wouldn’t be above that.

“The devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.”
(I Peter 5:8) Satan may be able to masquerade as our friend (as he did with Adam and Eve), or as “an angel of light” for a period of time, but eventually his mask will slip and his true agenda will be exposed: he wants, above all else, our destruction. Remember the old folk legend that closes with the caution: “Beware of dancing with the devil, because in the end, it will be the devil that dances with you.” In other words, Satan may seem like our friend, and his enticements may tickle our flesh momentarily, but in the end, he will walk away laughing, leaving wreckage and death behind him if he can. He is a cruel playmate.

As Christians, we know (or should know) that Satan loves to take wonderful blessings from God and make his own grim version that he can present to people as a better version than God’s blessing. The first known example of Satan’s attempt to pervert what God has given and intended as a blessing is in the Garden of Eden. Another example is sexuality. According to God's boundaries, sexual relations must only be within the framework of marriage, between one man and one woman. And through this covenant, God blesses his people greatly. Adultery, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography and divorce are all grim examples of what happens when covenantal marriage vows are broken.

Another example is the occult. God gives explicit instructions throughout both the Old and New Testaments on how God’s people should respond to the occult. In a word, flee! In Deuteronomy, we are given a detailed account of what God tells us to avoid: “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. ‘For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you.’ ” (Deut. 18:10-12).

This passage in Deuteronomy makes quite clear what the LORD considers to be occultic and wicked. Now, as Christians, we all know the standard we are to use in determining whether something is good or bad for us. We’ve practically been trained! If quizzed on this, we will automatically produce the right answer: Our standard is the Bible, of course. We know this, but do we really live this out in our day-to-day lives? I would submit that in today’s culture, a disconnect has developed between (1) what we know to be true and (2) how we practice this truth (or fail to practice this truth) in our daily lives.

And this brings me to the subject of Twilight. Now, let me stop and give a little background on what the Twilight phenomenon is, for those who haven't heard of it -- and there can't be many since Twilight has been a blockbuster best-seller and has already been made into two movies, one released last fall, and the other to be released November 2009. Twilight is the first in a series of four books written by Stephanie Meyer that chronicles a love story between a vampire (Edward) and a human girl (Bella). And according to USA Today, it's even bigger than Harry Potter:
"Stephenie Meyer's four-book Twilight series has sunk its fangs into USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list — with no signs of letting go. Meyer's domination of the list for the past 12 months has smashed records that until now had belonged to J.K. Rowling." (August 4, 2009-USA Today)
I personally became aware of this book only in sort of a peripheral way when it first came out. From time to time, I hear about books and movies with an occultic theme, but they don’t really register on my radar; they don’t, that is, until I start to hear about Christians who are enthusiastically embracing the new phenomenon to come along, whether it is Harry Potter or Twilight or whatever. How can this be? How can people profess faith in Christ but then fail to make choices that reflect having a Biblical worldview? An extremely occultic, sexually charged book comes out and what do the Christians do? Flee? No. Along with the pagan culture, they embrace it. And make Bible studies centered around it. And herald Edward (the vampire love interest) as a Christ figure.

Which brings me to my last, and most important, example of a Godly blessing which Satan attempts to pervert with his own demonic parallel: the blood. Obviously, blood is very important in scripture because it is how we approach God. In the Old Testament the blood of animal sacrifices atoned for, and temporarily covered, the sins of God’s covenant people. In the New Testament, it is the perfect blood of Christ that atones for and covers the sins of God’s people. Because blood is the way in which we approach God, God has gone to great lengths to shine a spotlight on blood throughout the entire Bible. He does this by carefully laying out the Old Testament sacrificial system in great detail (a shadow of what was to come), and then expanding our understanding of this in Hebrews (Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament shadow only dimly understood before his coming): “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb 9:12). This is “God’s version” of blood leading to eternal life: a perfect, spotless Lamb (Jesus) who sheds His own blood in an atoning sacrifice by which to secure the souls of, and everlasting life for, his people.

And then there's “Satan's version” of blood leading to eternal life in Twilight: a sexy, magnetically attractive teenage boy vampire who feeds on the blood of his victims, who are then “given” eternal life, albeit a very grim version of it. However, this horrific version of eternal life is made enticing in the Twilight series because the characters are portrayed so positively and sympathetically. The love interest of the vampire, Bella, literally begs this vampire boy to drink her blood so she can be with him forever!

Just like the Harry Potter series, this series of books about vampires has been phenomenally popular in the culture (which we would of course expect). But it has also been popular and widely read among professing Christians. Now, does anyone besides me see the irony of this? We already have God's own beautiful, epic story about sacrificial love and blood and eternal life -- the story that is the very heart and soul of the Bible. So why on earth would we settle for Satan's grim parody of this?

When I was involved in the occult more than a decade ago, I briefly practiced magic with a group that identified themselves as "white witches," meaning they only practiced magic or witchcraft deemed to be “beneficial” or “good.” I did not stay long with this group because even in covens of "white" witches, there is always an undercurrent of darkness - always. I remember sitting in a class with this group, and thinking, "Why am I scared?" It was a beautiful fall day, and we were sitting in a window-filled room awash with light. I looked outside the window and saw nothing but beauty: brilliant blue skies, bright sunlight, lush orange and red foliage. But inside the room, there was an undercurrent of darkness. It is the same with vampirism. We can "cutesy" up the legends of vampires all we want (Count Chocula cereal, the Count on Sesame Street) or we can sex them up (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, the HBO series True Blood), but the fact remains that at their core, these stories are wicked and, more than that, deemed to be off-limits to Christians.

“But, it's just a book,” Christian women hasten to tell me. “It's just fiction! I’m not drinking anybody’s blood!” True enough, technically, but I would submit that anyone who reads Twilight, or goes to the movie, is vicariously enjoying this demonic world and consorting with evil their heart. And yet what do we hear over and over in scripture? It’s the heart that God wants, not outward compliance, not….legalism. Legalism?! I can just hear the gasps of outrage at this charge, and the furious reply: “I’m not the legalist, you are! You’re the one being the book police!” But let’s just look at the Biblical teaching on legalism and see if this is a fair assessment.

We get our teaching on this from Jesus, who often used the Pharisees as an example of what legalism was. The Pharisees, remember, were the ones who were concerned with the outward appearance of things. They would have never engaged in any wicked, occultic practices, but the Bible records that their hearts were inwardly full of rebellion. Jesus, who brought a new, higher standard, exposed this discrepancy between their outward compliance and their inner wickedness in many ways. He told the Pharisees that though the outside of the cup might be beautiful, it didn’t matter when the inside was filled with filth (Matthew 23:25). He compared them to beautiful whitewashed tombs…lovely on the outside, but inwardly filled with maggots and decay and the stench of death (Matthew 23:27-28). So let's just ask ourselves: in the area of the occult, do we want to be Pharisees (legalists) in the eyes of the LORD; that is, technically correct outwardly, but having a heart that relishes wickedness?

We may not be consorting with vampires, but, when we get our thrills from reading books describing these practices and activities, is it not the same thing, in the LORD’s eyes, as if we had done the thing itself? The imagination is a very powerful thing, and when we watch or read something that requires our imagination, our emotions can often be as stirred as if we had had the experience ourselves. Regardless of how spiritually strong we think we are, we are not immune to the deceptions and enticements of Satan. As God’s redeemed, we are not told that we will never be tempted; on the contrary, we are told that we will struggle “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 6:12) Anyone who thinks that they can indulge in occultically themed books or movies and not be affected by them is either deceiving themselves or is being demonically deceived.

The cover of Twilight shows a stark black background, with the focus on two hands cupping a ripe, red apple, seeming to offer it up to the reader. This, of course, is an obvious reference to the forbidden fruit of Genesis 3, but in a sensual, enticing way. As Christians, we must remember that it did not turn out well for Eve when she began to long for the fruit God had forbidden. And we must also remember that Satan will rarely present himself in all his awful glory: he delights in taking evil and presenting it as something good and a luscious piece of fruit that is "a delight to the eyes and good to taste." Or a sexy vampire with washboard abs.
"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Phil. 4:8)
These are very dark times, and we are charged with the serious task of bringing the gospel to a lost and dying world. We know, of course, that Jesus never intended us to live as Christians only in church. He charged us to go out and love others with a supernatural love, and to present the face of Christ to the world. Now, I will agree that there is a very fine line between being in the world and being of the world. But do we really believe that we can impact the culture when we ourselves are participating in the wickedness of the world? That in any way God could be glorified by our reading of occultic literature?

As Christians, we must look to the Bible and apply the truths that are found there to our everyday lives. Scripture must always be our plumbline, our guide, our moral compass….not the world. It doesn't matter what everyone else in the world is doing: as Christians, we are held to a higher standard; we are to view everything through the lens of Scripture. If we truly believe, as the Bible says, that our struggle is “not against flesh and blood,” but rather, is spiritual in nature, then we must take this warning to heart, and in all that we do, ask this question: “Is what I am doing glorifying to the Lord?” For this must be our standard with every book we read, every movie we watch, every activity we do, and every conversation we have.

Let me close with this final word. If what I have written makes you angry, then please think on this: a secret love for the world and an unwillingness to give up what we know to be evil is not the mark of a true believer (I John 2:15-17). When we are “corrected” by scripture, we might initially resist or struggle against our newfound understanding, but those who truly belong to the LORD will always come back to Him in repentance – always. As Christians, let us love the “correction” we receive from scripture, and love even more the LORD who graciously gives us guidance in every area of our lives. And finally, let us hold fast to the exhortation of Paul in the book of Romans, and cling to what we know is good and flee from what we know is evil. And in this way, we truly will be light to a dark and dying world.

 Additional Resources 

Twilight - Part 1: Emotional Porn

Monday, November 30, 2009

Twilight - Part 1: Emotional Porn

To my sisters in Christ, please consider the following questions:

(1) Is it an affair if a husband has a relationship with another woman that involves hugging and kissing, but no sex?

(2) How about a relationship with another woman where hugging is involved, but no kissing?

(3) What about a relationship that is emotional only, with no touching whatsoever?

Obviously, the answer to all 3 questions would be "yes," and any woman - secular or Christian - knows the common-sense answer to these questions.

We hold our husbands to these standards, and we're right to do so. We are also very quick to get all up in arms - and rightfully so - over the scourge of pornography that is ravaging our men - both secular and Christian. But what about us? Do we guard our hearts with all diligence so that they belong to our husbands alone?

The heart is where our sin begins. Now, worldly wisdom says just the opposite, that we should "follow our hearts!" to find happiness. But as Christians, we know that the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things (Jer. 17:9). We don't follow our hearts; we follow the Lord as He reveals himself to us in his Word. What else does Scripture say about our hearts? Well, Jesus himself tells us that when we look with lust, it is as if we have already committed the act of adultery itself. Does this not communicate to us how very important it is to guard our hearts with all diligence (Prov 4:23)?

Which leads me to the topic that recently has been so troubling to me: why are so many of my sisters in Christ becoming enamored of the Twilight series? For now, let's forget that these books are occultic and demonic at their core (although I'll come back to that in a later post). The sensuality alone in these books and movies should make them totally off-limits for Christian women, and most certainly for teenage girls. If anything, Christian women need to be seeing these books rightly and warning their daughters to stay away from them, and why. Instead, I am hearing of instances of Christian women actually taking their daughters to these movies, and reading these books alongside them. Unbelievable!

My pastor recently taught on the topic of guarding the heart. He did not directly reference the Twilight books/movies, but he mentioned the genre of romance fiction, and how it impacts women. He first mentioned how many men get hooked on porn because they love the fantasy of a little kingdom where a woman is sexually/physically obsessed with them. But on the flip-side, women can get equally hooked on romances stories where the hero is emotionally obsessed with them. As men and women, our pleasure sectors are triggered by different things...but it's the same sin. We all just want to be little gods in our own universes and be worshiped.

This is not a small thing. This is idolatry and very sinful, because when we do this, we are "stealing" worship from God. All through Scripture, when angels show up, they're so magnificent that people often fall down in front of them and want to worship them, but the angels always stop them and say NO - worship is for God alone!

Sisters in Christ, I implore you, please view these books rightly, biblically, and put them away. We need to see these books for what they are and where they want to lead us, and repent and tear down these idols of the heart.

 Additional Resources 

Twilight, Part 2: Satan's Grim Parody of Blood Leading To Eternal Life

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

12 Days: In Praise of Biblical Pastors

Recently, a friend of ours from church passed away very unexpectedly. Bill was a gentleman in his 60's, and the unexpected part was that he was incredibly fit and healthy. He and his wife were healthy eaters, and often hiked, biked, swam and walked, and were often encouraging others in our congregation to join them in their outdoor activities. Our pastor shared a story of his own about Bill encouraging him - a much younger man - to begin biking again, and even went to a local sporting goods store with him to help him select a bike. But, this very vital and healthy man, while on an out-of-town trip with his wife, had a massive heart attack at the end of a 34 mile bike ride.

Day 1: On the day that the heart attack happened, calls went out in our tiny little church to tell everyone what had happened so that we could immediately begin praying for Bill.

Day 2: The next day was Wednesday, a day when our church normally gathers in the evening for a fellowship meal and a Bible study lesson led by our pastor. Since our pastor had gone to Tennessee to be with Bill and his family, one of our elders led the congregation in prayer for Bill. The prognosis was not good, he told us. Bill's brain had been deprived of oxygen for almost 45 minutes between the time the heart attack had happened and the time help arrived. His wife told us later that when she reached him, his eyes were open and staring. Our church began to pray earnestly for the complete health and restoration of this man who was so precious to so many of us.

Day 5: The following Sunday was 5 days after the heart attack. Bill was still alive though critically ill and in intensive care, and our pastor had returned from his visit with the family. He stood before the congregation on that Sunday morning and began to teach and instruct us, his flock, about a proper view of this situation. Yes, he told us, we must pray and petition the Lord - it is right and Biblical to do that. And we do not want to be like those who have not because they ask not. And yet, at the end of the day, no matter what happens, he told us, whether Bill lives or dies, we must bow the knee in humility and say "Father, Thy will be done." He exhorted us to think on Romans 8:28: "For we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, those whom he has called according to his purposes."

Day 8: Eight days after the heart attack, our church met as a congregation again for our regular Wednesday night fellowship supper and Bible study. Again, our pastor exhorted us to view this situation rightly. He talked about the world and how, as a result of the Fall, it is broken and damaged. How we all will one day die as a result of the Fall, and how our only hope as sinful men and women is to repent and run to Christ, to be born again, to be given a new, spiritual nature that is imperishable, so that on the day of our death we can stand faultless before the Lord. He talked about the greatness of God, how nothing is impossible for him, even the complete healing and restoration of a heart attack victim, our friend, who had been deprived of oxygen for more than half an hour. A God who can create galaxies and oceans and zebras and mountains and whales and trees can do anything. But He is also sovereign and his will is perfect, and should He choose to take Bill in this situation, that would be right and good because He is right and good. We were told that Bill was being transported to a hospice unit that night. Some members of our congregation went to the hospice that night so that his wife would see familiar and loving faces when they arrived.

Day 9: More members of our church went to hospice to be with Bill and his wife. It was on this day, a Thursday and 9 days after the heart attack, that Bill died. Calls and emails went out exhorting us to continue praying for his wife and family and to give notice of funeral arrangements.

Day 12: Twelve days after the heart attack and 3 days after Bill had died, our congregation again gathered for our regular Sunday morning service. Our pastor opened the service by talking about Bill and how much he meant to our congregation. Again he exhorted us to humbly bow the knee before the Lord and his sovereign will. Then he told us a story about something that had happened the day after Bill had died. One of our church members was having computer problems on the day that Bill died, and so he had not received the email notifying us of his death. He drove over to the hospice unit that day to see Bill, not knowing of his passing. When he arrived, the hospice nurses on duty told him the news of Bill's death. And then they told him some of the details surrounding Bill's death. "It was an amazing thing!" one of the nurses told him. "The room was filled with people, and they were reading Scripture and singing songs of worship to God." What a glorious testimony to the Lord for this to be what the world saw as this dear saint left us to be with the Lord.

Now, this is not the typical experience for hospice workers. They know the ugliness of death, and they see how scary it can get at the end. Death comes unexpectedly, a thief in the night. That's why hospice units have grief counselors on standby, because people can really fall apart when they come to the realization that death really is coming. How many of us know the day and the hour of our death? We silly little humans bluster carelessly through our lives, never knowing when we will breathe our last. Are we prepared, each of us, as Bill was, to meet our Maker with peace and songs of joy around us?

I am so very thankful for the pastor of our small church who shepherded us - his congregation, his flock - through the death of our friend, an event both sad and joyous. His wife is still with us, and she has good days and bad days. She misses him terribly as we all do. And yet, we know that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. We know that those of us who are in Christ will one day see Bill again. We know that Jesus has gloriously conquered death (Heb 2:14-15). Thank you, Pastor, for reminding us to look up, for helping us to dwell upon eternal things, so that God might be glorified, even in this. Especially in this.