Luke 12:20 But God said to him, “You fool! This very night they [the messengers of God] will demand your soul of you; and all the things that you have prepared, whose will they be?” The Amplified New Testament
NOTE: When I began this study, the title was, “Are You Prepared For Death.” An incident in my life brought me to the very edge of eternity. I realized that “I” had to be ready each and every day for death. This is my story.
On September 11, 2001 I awoke early in the morning. I had not slept well that night because I suffer from chronic pain caused by Fibromyalgia Syndrome (aka FMS, a painful muscle disease) and numerous other medical conditions. One of the symptoms of FMS is chronic sleep deprivation, and this particular evening I had only slept about two hours.
I was feeling groggy from the sleep medication I use for my sleep disorder. Unable to concentrate and read, I flipped on the television set to catch the early morning news. I watched in shock as live pictures were being broadcast from New York City of one of the World Trade Center Towers on fire.
As the thick black smoke from the fire filled the skies over New York City, reports of an airline jet crashing into the building were broadcast. Early information was that terrorists had hijacked a United Airlines plane and overpowered the cockpit crew. News reports were saying the hijackers had apparently flown the jet into the Trade Center Building intentionally.
Just then, on live TV, a picture of an airline jet crashing into the second World Trade Center Building was shown. Not knowing this was a second terrorist attack; the news broadcaster mistakenly announced that we were viewing computerized imaging of what he believed to be the flight path of the first crash.
It was a surreal moment for me, as I simultaneously realized, along with the news broadcaster, that this was not a computer module at all, but a second airliner being purposely directed into the other tower! The clear blue skies and the slow speed of the second aircraft gave the appearance of something you might see in one of those ungodly Hollywood thriller movies.
From that point onward my eyes were riveted to the events that unfolded on the television screen. In less than one hour two skyscrapers, each towering 110 stories above the New York skyline, came crashing to the ground as though they had been purposely imploded.
Along with the rest of America, watching in horror, all I could do was pray. Then came the tragic news that two other airliners had been hijacked and crashed. One of them had hit the Pentagon, the very nerve center of the U.S. military headquarters. The other had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone onboard.
For the next few days our TV was on day and night as my wife and I waited for reports of victims and survivors. Americans reeled in shock and unbelief at what had happened. Early reports said that the casualties could be as high as 20,000 dead, nearly eight times the amount of those killed when the Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Later we would learn that the toll of dead or missing persons was closer to 5000.
After the initial shock passed, Americans united to send relief and help to New Yorkers and those working to rescue victims at the Pentagon. Though the relief efforts were the most massive in United States history, the most amazing thing to observe was the call to prayer. Never before had I seen or heard major networks announce a collective call to prayer.
Thankfully we had a President leading our nation through this horrific event with emphasis on faith in God. President George W. Bush called the nation to prayer and vowed justice would be executed upon those who had perpetrated this monstrous act of hatred and murder.
The media coverage of these events was non-stop for weeks. These typically godless networks that had been accustomed to slandering anything to do with prayer, faith, God, or Jesus Christ were forced to broadcast what was happening across this nation.
In every state prayer vigils were being held, not only in churches, but also in streets, businesses, homes, and even in major league baseball games. “God bless America” had taken on a new meaning for many Americans who normally spent their days immersed in the day‑to‑day mundane routine. A spiritually perverse nation was roused from its lethargy and apathy.
Ezekiel 7:3-6 ‘Now the end is upon you, and I shall send My anger against you; I shall judge you according to your ways, and I shall bring all your abominations upon you. For My eye will have no pity on you, nor shall I spare you, but I shall bring your ways upon you, and your abominations will be among you; then you will know that I am the LORD!' "Thus says the Lord GOD, 'A disaster, unique disaster, behold it is coming! 'An end is coming; the end has come! It has awakened against you; behold, it has come! (NAS)
Am I using this scripture passage from Ezekiel in an application of God’s judgment through the terrorist attacks? Perhaps, as there is precedent for Him to use pagan nations as an instrument of wrath and indignation towards His people when they have gone astray. God, for example, judged Israel as He used the Assyrians to war against them with ferocity. One must not forget, however, that God will not spare the terrorists and the nations they represent from His wrath also.
Isaiah 37:35-36 “For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David's sake.” Then the angel of the LORD went out, and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. (NAS)
This is not a study about our nation -- or any other nation -- being judged by God. As you read on, you will see that it is a message directed toward each one of us as individuals.
An outpouring of human compassion and care followed these terrible events. Even Hollywood’s elite spoke of the insignificance of their role as actors and actresses in light of the devastation that came upon our nation. Sadly, it takes a tragedy of this magnitude to awaken the sleepy spirit of a nation obsessed with the pursuit of fleshly desires.
I spent many days praying for the families and victims whose lives will be forever changed by the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Living thousands of miles from New York City, I felt helpless to assist in bringing aid to those whose lives had been devastated. I put up a sign up in front of our home asking others to join us in praying for the victims, their families, our country, and our President. Scripture admonishes us to pray for all men.
1 Timothy 2:1-4 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (NIV)
It is hard to imagine what it must have been like for those people who sat in the planes that had been hijacked. There were businessmen and women on routine flights, excited vacationers, moms and dads off to visit their children and grandchildren, and so on.
Their day began with hurried plans to get to the airport, check in their luggage, and remember any last minute detail related to their trip. “Now let’s see, did I forget anything? I have my plane tickets, my traveler’s checks, my purse, and my camera. OK, I’m ready to go,” and headed out to the airport.
Little did any of them realize that this would be their last day alive on earth. That’s the way death is. Most often it comes at a time when we least expect it.
I shudder to think of the fear they experienced that day. Certainly there must have been those who silently prayed for God’s intervention and deliverance. Some who prayed realized that there would be no deliverance this time. They would meet their Maker…face to face.
One report was broadcast of a man who called a 911 dispatcher and prayed the Lord’s Prayer with her. He spoke of his plan to work with other men to overpower the hijackers. His last words were, “Jesus, help me.” Then the phone call was abruptly cut off.
God answered his prayer for help, and the plane missed its intended target, crashing into a field in Pennsylvania instead and killing all onboard. God didn’t save his life, or those of the other passengers, but He spared perhaps hundreds of people who would have been killed if the plane had hit its intended target.
Death is hard to fathom, even for people who are dying of cancer or other diseases that are terminal. Certainly no one working in the World Trade Center Buildings expected to be killed by an airline jet crashing into their workspace that day.
None of those who worked in the Pentagon knew that they would face their Creator on September 11, 2001. The day had just begun, the smell of coffee filled the air as computer keyboards and phone conversations echoed throughout offices with the everyday hustle and bustle of military activity.
Wives and children had no idea that daddy would never come home from work again on that fateful and tragic day. They would never see his smiling face, or feel his warm embrace again. No more would they hear, “See you at six o’clock gang.” Dad was dead.
Volumes could be written on the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Americans that day. There will be untold stories of burn victims who suffered unimaginable pain from the heat of the burning buildings. Others will have to learn to live with missing limbs, blinded eyes, damaged lungs, torn flesh, damaged nerves and hundreds of life altering injuries.
My heart breaks for each and every one of those who were directly affected that day. Their entire world has been turned upside down. They will face life with challenges that could never have been foreseen. Hundreds will be permanently disabled, facing months or years of rehabilitation in order to adapt.
Others will suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome, endlessly re-living the nightmare of that epic day. Tragically, there will be others, unable to cope with their losses, who choose alcoholism, drugs, or even suicide to cope with the pain. Still others will turn to a loving God for comfort and direction in the midst of their pain.
At first, shock insulates the human psyche from the traumas such as the terrorist attacks of September 11th. Afterwards, anger, denial, grief, depression, and other emotions will need to be processed. Some will blame God, some will blame the devil, and others will blame the terrorists.
There are those whose hearts will be filled with hatred towards the perpetrators of these heinous acts. Some will learn to forgive, but they will never forget what was done. Still others will never understand why this happened, and their minds will be shrouded with questions, doubt and confusion.
Regardless of how people respond, or how they will go on with their lives, one thing is an inevitable fact. Death is certain, and it often comes at a time when we least expect it.
Still reeling from the events of September 11, something happened to me that brought new understanding regarding the reality of death. It began on Saturday, September 22, 2001, the day I tore an adhesion in my jaw. The adhesion was caused by previous reconstructive surgery to the right TMJ area of my jaw.
The pain I experienced for the next four days was excruciating and kept me from getting any sleep. After four nights without sleep, I was finally able to be treated by my TMJ doctor to relieve some of the pain.
At about 11:30 pm. on the September 25, 2001 I finally drifted off to sleep. In the wee hours of the 26th, at 1:30 a.m., I was wakened by what felt like two tons of weight sitting on my chest. For the first two or three minutes I didn’t know what was happening to me, but as severe pain in my chest area continued to increase, I realized I was having a heart attack.
The crushing, squeezing pain in my chest made breathing difficult. I reached for a bottle of aspirin, and took two or three tablets. Approximately five minutes into this cardiac episode I felt certain I would die. Nothing I did relieved the pressure and pain, and my thoughts turned toward God.
Sensing my life on the edge of eternity, I cried out to the Lord, “Father, please forgive my sins through the blood of your son Jesus.” Hot tears rolled down my cheeks as I confessed my transgressions to God with the most absolute sincerity ever. I knew I would soon meet my Maker, and wanted to be sure I did so clothed in robes of righteousness.
The next thing I knew it was 7:00 A.M., and my wife found me sitting in a chair with my glasses on, slightly ajar, and a medical book at my feet. I don’t remember anything after my prayer to God.
Hosea 13:14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight. (NAS)
Mere words are insufficient to relate what I felt at the moment of death. I was struck with a fear unlike any I have ever experienced. The only thing that mattered to me the moment I knew I would stand before my Father in heaven was, “Are my sins forgiven and under the blood of Jesus?”
This feeling of fear may seem strange to you if you’ve never been in a similar situation. It seemed odd to me after the fact, because I truly believed the Lord would be there to bring peace and serenity when a believer dies.
I have seen many friends in the body of Christ die since 1975 when I first gave my heart, mind, and soul to God through the redemption found in Jesus Christ. Some died of cancer, believing God would heal them. On a hot summer day just a few years ago, we had invited a group of unbelievers I met, who came to our home in the beautiful Northwest countryside, to go fishing in our trout pond, enjoy the day, and it was our prayer to God, we might share the gospel with them. Little did my wife, daughter, and these newfound unsaved friends and neighbors realize that the most potent witness conceivable would be preached, in a way none could imagine.
As we began to get our fishing lines wet, anticipating one of us would land the 18 pounder I knew was swimming just beneath the shimmering water, I turned toward the house, about 500 feet from the pond, hearing the voice of my wife almost screaming my name aloud, in a way that made me tremble to the bone. “Craig, Craig, Craig!!!” she shouted as she ran toward me, face drained of her normal, vibrant color, had turned a pale, ashen white. “Debra, Debra is DEAD.”
That balmy, happy-go-lucky mid-summer dream day suddenly vanquished in a cloud of shock and grief. Our dear sister in Jesus, our beloved Debra, whom we treasured dearly, fellowshipped with weekly, chatted with, laughed with, cried with, had fun, enjoying her children and her together, at age 30, was killed instantly in an automobile accident, leaving these two precious children without their mommy. She was returning from a week she spent devoting her time for free as a youth counselor at a Christian summer camp, and on the way home, she let a 17-year old boy drive her car, so she could catch some sleep and be refreshed to greet her two children when she got back. She never made it home. The boy driving fell asleep at the wheel, veering off the road, and Debra was killed instantly. The boy was unharmed… physically.
Another sister in the Lord I knew from a Fibromyalgia support group died in her sleep unexpectedly. Like me, she had fibromyalgia and her body finally gave out from weakness caused by years of pain and sleeplessness. I was happy for her, knowing personally the horrible pain she had endured for years. Her husband however, was so grief struck, he has never returned my calls.
Another brother in Christ was killed in a freak accident at work; he was not even 21 years of age. Still another dear brother, old in years and having suffered all his adult life from chronic pain, died of heart failure and went on to join the great company of witnesses.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason why God takes some home to be with Him, and allows others to live. My dear wife Pam lost her husband before me to leukemia. His name was Jim Sloan and he was one of the finest men of God to live. He had integrity, compassion, was a loving father and husband, and faithfully shared the gospel with others. In less than one year, cancer took his life at the age of 36, and he is now in God’s presence.
Just five short years ago, my wife’s blood brother Bob, at the young age of 40-years died unexpectedly, suffering a massive heart attack. In November of 1996, following my fourth major orthopedic arm surgery, my mother died. Just two years ago, my oldest brother Rod died, unexpectedly, just shy of age 59. Two couples that made up part of our small house church fellowship lost a mate, each to cancer, each in what seemed the prime of life. Our dear little elderly couple friends, Joe and Sally, whom the Lord gave us to care for, help, rebuilt their trailer home for them, and as a result, were able to lead to God thru Jesus’ love, one day were no more Joe & Sally, just Joe. Sally went on to be with Jesus.
We have witnessed so much loss, each time seeming more unanticipated than the one before it. There are many others that I could list, but this is not another treatise on death. It is a personal testimony of my encounter with it. I cannot compare my experience with others, but I can try to express the reality of how death impacted me.
In the days and weeks following my heart attack, I felt like I was living on the edge of eternity. My heart continued hurting, and even though my EKG’s came back showing no damage to the heart, I was informed that surviving a second heart attack is highly unlikely. I found that there was a fear shrouding everything I did. Because the cardiac episode happened while I was sleeping, I was afraid to go to sleep. Even though I was given nitroglycerin tablets in the event of another attack, it felt scary going anywhere without them.
This fear began to control my life and how I lived. Finally, after conversing with a dear friend in Jesus, I realized that this fear had demonic origins. I have since rebuked the devil’s messengers, and am learning to commit all of my life, decisions, thoughts, and activity to God. If I die, I now trust and rely upon Him to take me into His glorious presence.
Having been a teacher of scripture for many years, I have taught others not to fear death. But when it hit close to home, I learned that my relationship with God had to change. It’s one thing to teach others about death and dying, but an entirely different matter when you are the one facing it.
I am glad that my loving heavenly Father let me experience this heart attack. I’m even glad He let the devil plant fear in my heart and mind. Why? Because it brought my focus back to what is really important. It’s not enough to tell others about God, but to live and move and have my very being in Him.
There are two vital lessons learned here. The first is that if my heart is right with God, and my sins are washed in the precious blood of Jesus, I have nothing to fear!
1 Corinthians 15:53-58 For this perishable part of us must put on the imperishable nature, and this mortal part of us, this nature that is capable of dying must put on immortality, freedom from death. And when this perishable puts on the imperishable and this that was capable of dying puts on freedom from death, then shall be fulfilled the Scripture that says, ‘Death is swallowed up, utterly vanquished forever in and unto victory.’ [Isaiah 25:8]. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? [Hosea 13:14].’ Now sin is the sting of death, and sin exercises its power upon the soul through the abuse of the Law. But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory, making us conquerors through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be firm, steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, always being superior, excelling, doing more than enough in the service of the Lord, knowing and being continually aware that your labor in the Lord is not futile; it is never wasted or to no purpose. The Amplified New Testament, (La Habra CA: The Lockman Foundation) 1999
Job 28:28 "And to man He said, 'Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.'" (NAS)
The second, and most vital lesson I learned at the edge of eternity was to fear God. I have always believed that I had a fear of God; I was wrong. I could define it from the Hebrew text, teach it, and preach it, but I did not really know the fear of the Lord.
Like many others, I would smugly define the “fear” of God as “reverential awe.” In the reality of every day living, the fear of the Lord is something much different. It is the wisdom to let God direct what I say, what I watch, what I think, and how I act. How I thank Him now, and appreciate my dear friends in Jesus who guarded my path when I had forsaken the fear of God in my pain and suffering.
Job 6:14 “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty.” (NIV)
You see, even though I loved the Lord, and have learned many things about Him and from Him in scripture, I never truly feared Him. By fear, I mean this: “Am I ready to meet Him right now?”
2 Chronicles 19:7 "Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe." (NAS)
A few questions I ask with each choice in life now are, “Is this something I want to take with me when I stand before my Father? Is it something pleasing to Him? Can I stand justified by my behavior, or will what I am doing be a source of grief to Him?”
Yes, to fear the Lord is to fear His judgment. I know this now, and I allow Him to direct my mind and heart in whatever I do.
Psalms 19:9-14 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins let them not rule over me; then I shall be blameless, and I shall be acquitted of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. (NAS)
The fear of the Lord has warned me when evil is near, or when my thoughts and activities are engaged in it. When there are hidden sins, the fear of the Lord causes me to repent quickly and thoroughly, relying completely on the blood of His son Jesus. The fear of the Lord is helping me say, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.”
Proverbs 14:26-27 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and his children will have refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death. (NAS)
For example, if I’m watching television, and there are sexual overtones, violence, or other things that I would have ignored before, I am quick to remedy the situation. I change the channel, fast-forward the videotape, or just shut the thing off! I have learned that what I do matters to God…every single thing.
Psalms 34:11-19 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Who is the man who desires life, and loves length of days that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. The righteous cry and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the LORD delivers him out of them all. (NAS)
I don’t trust in my own righteous behavior to deliver me from sin. The blood of Jesus is sufficient for that. And I’m not walking on tippy-toes because I have the fear of God in my heart. I know he’s a loving Father, and when He convicts me of sin, I repent and ask His forgiveness.
Proverbs 9:10-12 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be multiplied, and years of life will be added to you. If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, you alone will bear it. (NAS)
The main point I’m making is that everything I do counts. I don’t want to waste my life away with trivial pursuits, but to use the gifts He has given me to bless others. I don’t want to spend my time worrying about finances or other mundane affairs, but to ask for His wisdom and guidance.
Proverbs 16:6 By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil. (NAS)
Proverbs 22:4-5 The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, honor and life. Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse; He who guards himself will be far from them. (NAS)
Proverbs 23:17-18 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but live in the fear of the LORD always. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. (NAS)
Psalms 111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments His praise endures forever. (NAS)
Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (NAS)
Most of all I want to trust Him and believe His word from my heart instead of just my brain. The fear of the Lord IS the beginning of wisdom, because it gets God intimately acquainted with everything I do.
Proverbs 8:13 “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way, and the perverted mouth, I hate.” (NAS)
Proverbs 2:2-6 Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will discern the fear of the LORD, and discover the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. (NAS)
I now understand that all of the physical pain and affliction is worth it, if I have found the treasure of fearing the Lord.
Proverbs 15:15-16 All the days of the afflicted are bad, but a cheerful heart has a continual feast. Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure and turmoil with it. (NAS)
Proverbs 15:32-33 He who neglects discipline despises himself, but he who listens to reproof acquires understanding. The fear of the LORD is the instruction for wisdom, and before honor comes humility. (NAS)
I am still new to understanding the fear that God implants in a human heart, but will conclude with a few passages from the New Testament:
2 Corinthians 5:9-11 Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences. (NAS)
2 Corinthians 7:1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (NAS)