Grounded Podcast

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Hope for Death and Dying, with John & Donna Avant and Steve Teng

What do you believe about death? If you’re fearful, anxious, or overwhelmed by the reality of death, a change in perspective can bring you hope. John and Donna Avant explain how we can move to a godly, righteous theology of death. In this difficult, yet important, conversation, we’ll see what the Bible says about hope-filled grief. Steve Teng also joins our hosts to share how God is bringing hope and perspective to a crisis situation.

Connect with John and Donna:

Twitter: @johnavant and @donnaavant

Website: https://lifeaction.org/

Episode Notes:

“Gladness in the Midst of Grief, with Susan Hunt” episode

“Grieving with Hope” episode

If you would like to support Grounded and the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, you can donate here.

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Erin Davis: Would you rather go to a funeral or a festival? Most of us would choose the festival, right? 

Alejandra Slemin: I totally would. But you know the book of Ecclesiastes tells us that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of feasting. And we want to talk about why that is, this morning on Grounded. I'm Alejandra Slemin. 

Erin: And I'm Erin Davis. This is Grounded a videocast and podcast. We record it live every Monday morning. 

Alejandra: That's right and this morning is for my whole week. Just as much as I need water, I need a fresh infusion of hope and perspective, mostly with today's topic, Erin, because today's topic can feel a little bit hopeless. We're going to be talking about death. 

Erin: We are. That can feel like an oxymoron—death and hope and perspective. I mean, part of living through a global pandemic, for me . . . I think for most of us, we are having to face the reality of death in new ways. And a lot more often than is comfortable, for most of us. Daily death numbers have just become normalized, as have stories of funerals related to COVID or not and families who can't attend those funerals because of restrictions. 

And so, if you are watching Grounded this morning, or you're listening, maybe you are among the many untold numbers of people who have experienced the death of a loved one in the past 12 months, or maybe you are worried about your own death, and what used to be kind of on the back burner of your mind is now boiling over at the forefront. We are indeed living under the long, dark shadow of death in knew ways. 

Alejandra: I can certainly feel it, too. You know, to be honest, I was talking to a friend the other day. She lost her dad when she was only two years old. She felt that death was this thing that separated her from her father, and separated her from that relationship. And I remember when my dad passed away two years ago, I remember holding his hand and having this overwhelmed feeling of sadness and pain like I could never describe. And also joy at the fact that he was going to meet with his Savior. 

I remember three months ago when my husband had his heart attack. I was next to him on the bed as we were calling the ambulance. I've been a Christian, nearly, my whole life. I remember feeling shaken at the fact that he was enduring so much pain. Currently, he's doing much better. But definitely death, or facing it or remembering someone that has passed, is something that still shakes us. 

Erin: Yes, death, certainly does shake us, and we're going to talk on this episode why that shaking can be a gift. Researchers confirm what God tells us in His Word—how we choose to spend our lives depends very much on how much time we think we have left. 

And so, what's interesting is, that has happened in this year, where we are feeling maybe the clock tick in ways that we aren't accustomed to. Here re some things for you to wrestle with. Have you reached out to someone in the past 12 months that you'd lost touch with before? I have. In fact, I've been texting recently with a friend that I haven't talked to in 25 years.

Have you set up more meaningful routines for yourself or your family? Are you having family Zoom chats? Here at the Davis family, we started cereal and game night because we just recognize the preciousness of life and that we wanted to spend more of it together. Millions of families have learned to make sourdough bread together as just part of part of creating routines to spend more time together. 

We have this awareness right now that the clock is ticking. That change in perspective can give us hope, and that can motivate us to share our source of hope with other people. 

Alejandra: That's why I love Grounded, because it's not just us here we have friends that come and support us and teach us God's Word. So this morning we're going to have John and Donna Avant with us. They're going to help us to understand what the Bible teaches about death and dying. 

So, grab your Bible, and they're going to guide us through how the reality of death can change the way we live. 

Erin: Yeah, it sounds strange to say, but I’ve really been looking forward to this conversation—even though it's a hard conversation. It's just such an important conversation to have. Hey, our friend Robyn McKelvy is also with us this morning. She's gonna give us three practical ways to minister to people who are dying, who or who are grieving the death of someone they love. 

So help us spread the word that Grounded is on and that we are tackling this really important topic in this episode. It's so easy. You can just hit that share button if you're watching us live, or you can subscribe. I hope you're already subscribed to the Grounded podcast where you can subscribe. tell others to subscribe. They'll always know that Grounded is going on. 

Hey, I need some good news. So, I'm going to call on our resident ray of sunshine. Miss Portia. Give us some good news this morning. 

Portia Collins: Good morning. Good morning. Well, for today's good news. We are heading back to Texas, a state that has certainly had to face the fact that life is fragile. More than 40 deaths have been linked to the intense cold and damaging storms that hit Texas last month. Officials are saying that it could take many more weeks before the human death toll of those storms actually comes to light.

And that doesn't feel like good news. But guess what, guys? God is at work. And Steve Teng is with us this morning to help share good news. Steve serves the church and the City of Austin, Texas. He is the managing director for the city. And we are so excited to have him with us this morning. Steve, welcome. Are you there? 

Steve Teng: I am Portia. Thanks for having me. 

Portia: Good deal. I'm so glad that you were with us. Alright, so Steve, I want you to be our roving, good news reporter. We have seen and heard stories of how the storm has impacted Texas. I've watched the news and just feel that strong feeling of devastation with everyone who lives there. But we want to hear from a Texan. How have people's lives been changed or affected by this? 

Steve: Well, this one was as advertised. I've been in places. I remember being in a country in the Middle East, and in a city where global news is making it sound like the entire city was on fire. But it was a small subsection of the city and sort of blown out of proportion by the media. This one being on the ground was as advertised. 

So, when the media said, 40% of people in major cities were without running water, that was about right. City-wide warnings were going out warning folks not to sit in their cars and warm themselves because of carbon monoxide poisoning. People were getting that desperate. That was about right. 

We heard stories from our own church, in our own community, and context of things like that going on. So it was unusually difficult, Portia.

Portia: Oh, that just breaks my heart. You wish that it's not as bad as it seems. But obviously, this has been the case. Well, the news cycle has moved on. Everybody in the rest of the country is seemingly going about their lives. But what about the people in Texas? Are people still continuing to struggle? 

Steve: Yes, there certainly are folks, especially in rural communities, where these powerlines got hit by a frozen tree. It'll be another several weeks before they have power, which means in some of these communities, another several weeks before they can power the ground well, so they can have running water in there. 

In apartment complexes, hundreds of people are without clean water that were fortunately online enough where the Sam’s and the Costco’s have water again. People are able to help so the capacity is there to help. But there is this communal sense of heaviness and reflection and lament and things like that going on even though for the most part right now, we're out of crisis and into that kind of relief and rehabilitation stage. People are still getting back on their feet emotionally and spiritually speaking. 

Portia: Yeah. Well, let's get to the good news. How have you seen God's people bring hope in perspective into this terrible situation? 

Steve: Oh, so many ways. In the face of everything going on, the Spirit’s given unique Kingdom creativity like I've never seen. I'll just speak about my own contacts. The Spirit inspired our leadership team to essentially flip our church into a meal delivery operation. So, days before we recruited hundreds of drivers who could get out safely on ice. They have four-wheel drive or jacked up Texas trucks.

They were able to put that to use. We flipped our worship sites to a storehouse. We crowdsourced water and essential goods and got stuff out. We were dispatching folks—everything from rescuing folks stranded on bridges who had been there for hours, their cars were dying, to sending supplies to entire communities.

I think of a local community organization serving mentally and physically disabled people. They went without water and power for five days, and they were getting really desperate. We were able to send enough water and supplies to help that community of people. I have to just because it's so in our face and obvious, the Spirit of God is teaching His people how to draw near Him and unique ways in the midst of suffering in the midst of trial. 

This is just anecdotal, but I'm seeing it everywhere in our city. Folks praying through the Psalms on a daily basis. And you know, a third of the Psalms are psalms that were meant for sadness. So, I'm seeing that sort of revival of understanding what it is to take grief and anger and sadness to God in ways I've not seen in my ten years of ministering in Austin, Texas. 

Portia: Oh, that is wonderful. You know what it sounds like? It sounds like God is using all of that death, the physical death, the death of businesses, the death of security, to the death of beautiful homes. It sounds like He is using all of that to bring life. I love the thought of people singing Psalms and really just being the church. That is amazing. Well, Steve, we want to rally the troops and support you in prayer. How can the Grounded community pray for you and just Texas as a whole?

Steve: Continue to pray, Portia, for us to abide and for this to be a moment that's not wasted. There's a lot of coming together and setting aside of differences amongst the body of Christ. That's been beautiful. It's been perspective giving. There's unprecedented amounts of Kingdom collaboration. 

I pray for us that we not waste it, that we'd carry that forward into the next season of ministry God has for us. We are all noting how divided our times are. And so, for the body of Christ to be that Acts 2:44 picture, the believers are together and they held things in common as a gospel witness to our community. Please, we'd invite prayer and receive prayer for that. 

Portia: Absolutely. Absolutely. Steve, you have been such a blessing to me this morning. Thank you so much for being with us. Thank you for the work that you are doing to build God's kingdom. I pray many blessings upon you and your church, in the ministry, everything that you're doing. Thank you so much for joining us.

Steve: Thank you. It's a privilege to testify. So, thanks for having me. 

Portia: Good deal.

Steve: Good bye.

Portia: All right. Back to you, Erin.

Erin: All right. Hey, John and Donna Avant are with us this morning. John is the president ofLife Action Ministry. If you're familiar with Revive Our Hearts that name will ring a bell. Life Action is a ministry dedicated to revival. I love that Steve just used that word “revival.” Their mission is to help you say your next “yes” to God. Life Action is the parent ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

Donna is a Bible teacher. She's an author. Avants, welcome to Grounded We're so glad to have you.

John Avant: Thanks for so glad to be here with you guys. 

Erin: Hey, Donna, death can be such a painful thing to talk about, to think about. Even as we were getting ready to start, I was just praying through about that woman who is facing her own death diagnosis or that woman who has buried someone she loves or that woman who is terrified of her children getting sick and dying. 

So, before we jump into this topic, Donna, would you just take a moment right now and pray for the women who are watching and listening?

Donna Avant: Sure. Father, I come to You and Your precious name and I thank you for every woman that is watching currently. God, I pray or even just hearing my voice, God, I pray right now in Jesus’ name that You would speak the words of peace. Father, You are God of peace. You are not a God of anxiousness. Father, I pray that she would go to the Word, maybe even look at some Scriptures about death, and that she would rest on Your Word and her foundation would be Your Word and not her feelings. God, I pray that You would surround her with people who love her and care about her and support her and speak truth into her life. In your precious name I pray, amen. 

Erin: Amen. Well, John, you've been a pastor for many, many years. I know from serving on staff at my own church that that job comes with a front row seat to a lot of death. And despite the fact that death is inevitable for all of us, unless the Lord comes back, we're all going to face it. 

We tend to operate from fear or denial about death, as you've witnessed that in the lives of other Christians. Why do you think that is kind of our standard operating procedure? 

John: It's human to fear death. Death’s an enemy and enemies are scary. It's not sinful to fear death, but we're not meant to be overwhelmed by the fear of death. As a pastor and, and these days at Life Action I view, the fear of death really is a discipleship issue.

Even when we're in the dark, if we know exactly who's with us, we're not afraid. And so that love relationship growth is so critical. My dear friend, Gary Wetherall, his wife was murdered by Al Qaeda. We go overseas sometimes to dangerous places. One day I asked him, “Are you afraid right now?” And he He grabbed my arm and said, “John, we're immortal until the Lord is ready for us. Let's go have an adventure.” Oh, wow, that is a deep maturity that relational love for Jesus can help us help us reach. 

Erin: Yeah, that's powerful. You know, we have just lived through a year really marked by death. I think about what will the history books say about this year? How will this year leave its mark on my young sons? I think death is certainly part of the mix of that. I remember a moment that will be just part of my COVID consciousness forever. But I remember a moment sitting at my dining room table, livestreaming a broadcast from my governor here in Missouri. He was talking about the fact that they were turning our stadiums into hospitals and morgues. 

I felt a visceral fear inside my body that I am not sure I had ever felt before. I don't want to feel it again. What do you think this pandemic has exposed? About what Christians not not what non-Christians there, their relationship with death is totally different than ours. But what Christians really believe about death? Have we seen some things exposed in this past year? 

Donna: I truly think that this has exposed the anxiety among Christians, before the pandemic, when I would go speak at places I would come home and I would tell John, “I've never seen Christian women so anxious for children, especially just the anxiety level before COVID was just extreme.” 

So, when COVID came along, then what I saw was anxiety to a whole other level. And especially mothers are so afraid. I think what it exposed was, we have a lack of theology of death. Really, the only time as a believer you usually hear death talk about is in a funeral. 

Erin: Right.

Donna: How many times do you go a funeral? There's been a lack of discipleship, as John shared, about what God's Word really says about death? As I began to look at death for myself, I think the number one thing I saw, John shares this in his Revive and Restart teaching on 1 Thessalonians. But according to1 Thessalonians, 5 death is like sleep.

When we go to sleep, we're not afraid. I'm not afraid. Even my husband travels so much. I go to bed; I set my alarm, and, and I know that the Lord is watching out after me. I think we have to look at verses like in Psalm 116, where it says that death is precious for the saint. Precious, God looks at death as precious. I think also the verses in 2 Corinthians and Philippians, where it says death has to be absent from the body and present with the Lord. We can say these verses all the time, but do we believe them? That theology of death is what we really do truly believe. 

I believe as the pandemic has gone on, I've had to rest in fact that I do believe what God says about death. I do believe there's a better place for me, as in Hebrews. Hebrews 11 talks about a better country. John 14 says, This isn’t our home. I have hope because I know that death is not the enemy anymore, according to God's Word. 

So, I think it's a lack of teaching, a lack of discipline of discipleship. 

Erin: Yep, I agree. 

John: You have to have a theology of resurrection, that goes with the theology of death. When we go to sleep, we know we're gonna wake up. And so, we're not afraid. So our theology of death and resurrection, hand in hand, help us with fear. 

Erin: Yeah, they totally do. I think sometimes, though, we think of that word “theology.” That is kind of a word to describe what happens in our minds. But when death is something we experience it in real time. Either we get a diagnosis and all of a sudden we're looking at our own expiration date, or someone we love is dying, and there's no way to stop it. 

Then that theology has to move from head to heart, two hands. You all have experienced this recently. Donna, I know in recent months, you've thought perhaps you had ovarian cancer, which is a terrifying diagnosis. You lost your own sweet mama. John, how has your theology of death moved from what you see in God's Word, what you know, in your heads, to your hearts and lives as you've as you faced it in real time? 

Donna: Well, honestly, when the doctor said, “I want to run all these tests, because I'm considering ovarian cancer.” I mean, of course, that's . . . But I think as I looked to God's Word, His Word filled me with peace.

I was more afraid of what that might mean for my family. That's where the death thing is. Sometimes we're afraid of death, because what are the consequences of death for our family? I think that's what I thought about. What would John have to do? What would he have to go through? What would this mean for my children, my grandchildren?

I was more anxious about that than death itself, because I truly believe my theology of death has worked itself out in my heart. It was such courage and confidence, knowing that the believer’s next place they're going to be is in front of the King of kings. 

Erin: Yeah.

John: I think my mom's death was powerful in my own life. She was so utterly unafraid. I preached about her death these days. She died in a nursing home. Because of COVID, we couldn't go see her. They let my sister see her for 15 minutes while she was in a coma, right before she died. 

My sister is a worship leader. She began to sing, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” her favorite hymn, and mom's eyes snapped open. She began to mouth the words. Jesus was my mom's last word. I've thought about that a lot. And for everybody watching, really, I think, again, it's not shameful to be afraid of death. But everything we need is in that song. Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Glory and grace, glory and grace, the more we live in His glory and grace, the less we have to be overwhelmed by the fear of death as we face it. 

Erin: Yeah. There's a verse in 1 Thessalonians, you mentioned at Donna, where Paul urges followers of Jesus. He doesn't say, “Don't grieve,” he says, “Don't grieve as those who do not have hope” (4:13). I've been to funerals of people who didn't know the Lord. That's deep and terrible grief, but we have a different kind of grief. You've just grieved the loss of your mom, John, what does hope-filled grief look like in the life of a believer? 

John: I think I saw it yesterday. Donna said, “You've got to share that story. I was in Shreveport doing a pre-summit for our Life Action Team and a woman in her 80s that came afterwards. She's so excited that the Life Action Team is coming to her church. She shared a story of her little church saying revival happened years ago when she was young. She talked about how, “I can't wait. This could happen again. I could see it again.” She talked about all the things that had happened because of revival. And she said, “This is my prayer. The prayer of my life now that I'll see it again, before I die.” She walked away. I looked at her pastor; he's got a teary-eyed expression, and he said, “At 3 p.m. today I'll bury her son.” 

So, here's this woman who's just lost her son. But her focus is so on Jesus, that the fear of death is overwhelmed by the possibility of life. I'll never forget that. 

Erin: Yeah, you know, I actually saw it. This week I was leading at an event for college women. and this beautiful young 20-something was leading worship, beautiful. I mean, you just looked at her, nothing was wrong with her. What I had just been told right before we went in that room was that she had a tumor in her frontal cortex that was cancerous. 

She's two weeks away from major brain surgery, and she led worship with such incredible power. She's saying about the promises of God, the faithfulness of God, the goodness of God, with her whole body, with her whole being. I had to sit down, because there's such tremendous power in a woman with an agent of death in her brain, praising the Lord in that way. It was more powerful than anything I certainly taught over the course of the weekend. 

So, I wonder, how do we seize this moment? You know your heart beats with mine, we don't want this to slip through our fingers, without revival without the opportunity to tell people a right theology of death. How do we seize this moment to point people to Jesus as they're facing death in maybe new or terrifying ways? 

Donna: That's such a great question, because I think with all of our anxiety when we're so anxious, when we're anxious about our own stuff going on, the enemy distracts us from our main purpose, which is to point others to Christ, give other people hope. I think the main thing that we can do is rest in His peace, and keep our eyes out for the other person, keep our eyes out for the person who is crying, who is hurting the person who has lost somebody, or who has the diagnosis of cancer. You never know what's going on in another woman's life until you ask until you stop and ask. 

But what the enemy's done with COVID is make us so anxious that we forgot that our very purpose on the face of this planet is to lead others to the kingdom of God. I think what we have to do is choose every day to walk in peace and say, “Lord, will you show me where You're at work? Will you show me that woman who needs to be touched? Will you show me that woman I can pray for? 

And when I do that, personally, I'm telling you what, it fills me with joy. It fills me with more hope, because I'm like, I don't have to be worried about my diagnosis or what's going on. I can trust Him and look to see who I can point toward the kingdom of heaven.

Erin: You said it . . . walking with peace. I mean, I felt convicted several months ago that I was having conversations about COVID with my Christian friends that sounded just like lost people's conversations about COVID. I didn't have any peace about it. Just walking with peace is such a witness. John, were you going to add something? 

John: Well, Zephaniah 3:17 is one of my favorite verses these days. It was given to God's people in preparation for a time of judgment, death, and destruction. And it says that God sings over us, among many other incredible things that verse says. But the word for “sing” there is a word of jubilation. It's a party word. I think it did practically answer your question as well. We need to recover joy and laughter during these days.

The times of fastest growth in the history of Christianity have been after the two global pandemics of the second and third century. And Dionysius, the lead pastor in the Roman Empire in North Africa, declared a festival for God's people. He said, “This is our time when the whole world can see a joy in us that supernatural, so this is a time for a festival for Christians.” And so, they literally laughed and sang and then went to heal the sick, and sometimes to die. In our family, we've sought to have time for joy and laughter. And to remember that though death is scary, and it is an enemy, the enemy is defeated. We can choose to cultivate joy in these days in our lives, our families, and in our churches.

Erin: I love that. I love that sometimes people call their funerals a celebration of life. And only for the believer can that be true, right? I think there's probably a woman watching or listening and her theology of death is being exposed. I love that you keep reminding us, it's not a sin to fear death. But she's got next level anxiety, she is terrified of death. She might even know some of what the Bible says, but she has a hard time believing that's true. To the woman who has a theology of death that isn't rooted in God's Word, how can she move toward a right, godly, righteous theology of death?

John: Well, I don't even want to finish with this. But I think using Scripture, since it's the Word of God, not the word of man is absolutely critical. I would encourage people to actually memorize that Zephaniah 3:17 verse. In it, it says, “The Lord will save us.” And it's very interesting. The word “saved” in the Hebrew is the verb form of the name Yeshua, the name Jesus. It literally says, He'll “Jesus” us. I think a woman should memorize that verse and should speak it out loud, speak into the heavenly realms, speak to her own spirit. Say, “Lord, You're rescuing me right now. You'll rescue me on the day that I die.” 

I find most Christians when they're actually dying are not afraid. It's when they're in the spiritual battle of life that they're afraid. That's why the Word of God is such a powerful tool in winning that battle. 

Erin: I love that. I love that handle to hold on to John, Donna, thank you for being with us on Grounded this morning—such an important topic. Thanks for taking us straight to God's Word. 

John: Thanks.

Donna: Thank you. 

Erin: Well, missionary Jim Elliot famously said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose.” And Jim lived what he said. He gave his life to reach a group of people who did not know Jesus with the gospel. And this morning, we're going to share just a short video clip of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth interviewing Ellen Vaughn. Ellen is the author of the biography of Elisabeth Elliot, Becoming Elizabeth. Listen, as Ellen describes the last time that Elisabeth saw her husband before he was murdered. It's an inspiring story. It's not very long. But it's also a beautiful reminder of the beautiful gospel. Let's listen. 

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: So, describe for us the last time that Elisabeth and the other wives saw their husbands before the event that really so marked the history of the church. 

Ellen Vaughn: Well, I'll speak just for Elisabeth. Certainly for her, she had a sense that she might not see Jim again. Again, the reputation of the Waodani was well known. They killed all outsiders. They had seemed more friendly, but who knows what would happen. And in this, we talked a few days ago about Elisabeth’s early years, I think Elisabeth was prepared in some ways for what might well happen to her husband by the environment she grew up in. 

She grew up in a home where they constantly hosted visiting missionaries from around the world. One of those visitors, when Elisabeth was a little girl was a young woman named Betty Scott. And Betty Scott sat at the family dinner table. She was getting ready to go to the mission field where she would marry her beloved John Stam. They were going to work together within China. 

And so, Betty Scott Stam went off to China. When Elisabeth was a little bit older, the news came back that Betty and John Stam had both been arrested by the Communists who were in a period of great political volatility in China at the time. They had been marched with their hands tied behind their back through the village, stripped of their clothing.

At one point as they were being marched along, a shopkeeper who had come to know Jesus, because of the Stam’s, rushed out and begged with the communist authorities to spare the missionaries’ lives. He was cast aside and as John intervened to try to reason with the soldiers who had him captive, the captain took a sword and decapitated him on the spot, and immediately struck off Betty's head as well. 

Nancy: Yeah, it’s gruesome.

Ellen: Gruesome, horrible deaths. This was in 1934. Elisabeth Elliot was a young girl, as that news came back to the missionary and Christian communities in the States. They mourned that awful loss. As Elisabeth Elliott grew a little older, she really internalized that, that the missionary life was in fact, what Amy Carmichael had called, quote, “a chance to die.”

Nancy: Right. 

Ellen: Now, that sounds pretty gruesome. Sounds pretty awful. But sometimes there is that sense that yes, going forth to deliver the good news in a hostile culture can cost one his or her life.

Nancy: Well, isn't that part of the gospel?

Ellen: I believe it is.

Nancy: It’s the way of Christ:

Ellen: I believe it’s part of the early church.

Nancy: To lay down His life.

Ellen: Yes.

Nancy: So that we could become children of God. 

Ellen: Yes. 

Nancy: And the servant is not greater than his master; He suffered for us. And oftentimes it is through the willingness of God's people to lay down their lives for the sake of Christ, that the church has been planted and has grown around the world. It's that principle that Elisabeth Elliot understood that death brings life. What did Jesus say? You hold on to your life, you're going to lose it. But you lay down your life, and God is going to be glorified, and you're going to get your life back. So it's a way of thinking that isn't real common in our modern-day Christianity in this part of the world.

Ellen: That's true; we’re so comfortable.

Nancy: Other parts of the world that fully understand that.

Ellen: True.

Nancy: That a call to follow Christ as a call to come and die.

Erin: Death brings life. That is certainly an uncommon way of thinking, what is the way that the Bible calls us to think as followers of Christ. We've been talking about God's Word all morning, but it's time to get Grounded in God's Word. I hope you have your Bible handy. And if you do, I'd love for you to turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 15. 

You know, this whole chapter is about resurrection. I love that John said you have to have a theology of resurrection to have a right theology of death. I want to read between the lines and see that the followers of Jesus here that we're living in Corinth, that Paul wrote this letter to originally, they had some big questions about death. 

I have some big questions about death. When someone I love is facing death . . . I sat across the breakfast table just Saturday with one of my dearest friends whose head is bald, because of the treatment she's been receiving for cancer. And that causes questions to rise up in me. The question that rises up often is why, why her?

When I consider my own death, the question that bubbles up most often is when? When? When will the Lord bring me home to be with Him? As I was sitting with that friend, she has small children. I have small children. Some of you are commenting this morning that you have small children. You don't necessarily fear death for what it means for you, you'll be with the Lord. But you fear what it means for those children. 

So, when? Will I get to raise my boys whom I love so much? And the truth is, we don't know. None of us, even those of us who have some sort of prognosis that's put some kind of timestamp on when we will die, none of us know how much time we have left. But here's what we do know. We know this, and this is everything when it comes to a right theology of death. 

We know that through Jesus's death on the cross. More importantly, by the power of His resurrection, Jesus has made the way for death to lose its sting. Let's look at that verse in 1 Corinthians. It's 1 Corinthians 15:54–55.

“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Paul had looked death in the eyes. At this point. If you know much about the apostle Paul, you know that he needed a right theology of death because he had to confront it really often. He's describing death here, almost nonchalantly, like a change of clothes. 

As a follower of Jesus, he says, we're going to take off these perishable bodies, and we're going to put on imperishable bodies. We're going to take off mortality, and we're going to put on immortality. That perspective as he's reflecting on that fact, reminded Paul of the prophet Isaiah’s words, he's quoting Scripture there. He's actually quoting Isaiah 25: 8. And that verse prophesied about Jesus, saying that Jesus is going to swallow up death forever. So when he says death is swallowed up in victory, he's quoting that verse, and that Jesus fulfilled it. 

And then he says, “Oh, death, where is your victory? Oh, death, where is your sting?” In other words, you've lost your grip on me. And here's what I want to have proclaimed at every Christian funeral. This is what I want proclaimed at my funeral. I don't want us to say to each other, “Oh, he lost his fight with cancer.” 

I don't want us to say to each other, she lost her fight with Alzheimer's, or with ALS ,or with COVID. No, when we shed the perishable and we put on the imperishable, it's because death lost its fight with us, and we won.

Paul was sitting in a Roman prison, when he was giving another exposé on death and dying. In Philippians, 1:21, he said this, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

That's true for me too, because I'm a follower of Jesus. And it was true for you too, because you're a follower of Jesus. For us, to live is Christ, to die is gain. It means that death has lost, and we because of Jesus have won.

You know, we're heading into a season of celebrating Jesus's resurrection. And part of that story, part of the resurrection story is that because Jesus rose from the grave, because he shared the perishable and put on the imperishable, death has lost its staying for the rest of us. Because Jesus rose from the grave in victory, death has lost its victory in our lives. For us, because of what Jesus did on resurrection morning, to live is Christ to die is gain. We don't lose our battle with death. Death loses its battle with us. That is a right theology of death and dying. 

Our friend Robyn McKelvy is with us this morning. And listen, Robyn has walked through the valley of the shadow of death very, very recently. Robyn, I would love for you to give us some practical thoughts for how we can love those around us who are dying, or those who are grieving the death of someone they love.

Robyn McKelvy: Wow, Erin, it's such a privilege again to be here. I tell you; it's been a difficult couple of years for our family. Ray and I at Thanksgiving were thanking God that this year, we didn't lose one person. Because year after year, there was always somebody that we lost. 

So I'd like to share with you how you can serve. And boy, is this so cohesive with what John and Donna said and with what Erin's been saying. I think the Lord has a message because everything is falling in line. For somebody out there that's dealing with someone who's dying or who has experienced loss . . .

A couple of years ago, I would say goodbye to my family here in Nashville, and I would drive eight hours to spend time with my daddy. At 87 years old, He was going through metastatic bone cancer, and we knew his life would come to an end soon. My siblings and I would take turns caring for him, leaving home traveling, caring for my daddy, then traveling back, plugging back into the home, while trying to come to grips with losing my dad that seemed overwhelming. I'm gonna say that caring for someone with cancer really, really hurts.

Another story, my husband's birthday was January 9. And in this house, we do birthdays, and we do birthdays big. As I was preparing for the family party for my husband, I received a call from my sister.

If my sister-in-law had called me, I knew immediately, and I said this to my sister, “Craig's gone.” And she said “yes.” Craig's my youngest brother. There was 10 in my family growing up—six girls and four boys. We lost his twin five years ago. And the other two brothers, we lost within 25 days of one another. That was about 17 years ago. And now Craig, he was my final brother. He came to my daughter's wedding in October, so I had a chance to visit with him to spend time with him. But I told my husband later on, I knew that that would be the last time I saw him.

His body seemed so fragile, but I never ever expected that call. I shared immediately with Ray that Craig had passed away. And I told Ray, let's wait until the birthday party celebration is over. I didn't want to bring a damper down on the family.

But Ray gathered all the kids and told them I just lost my brother. They wrapped their arms around me and prayed, making me want to even cry now. But they prayed for me as I cried my eyes out. Unexpected lose of somebody you love hurts badly. 

Now guys, there are many different ways to show love to your friends and family that are dying or experiencing loss. But here are a few of the same ways that we can do this. 

Number one, we need to be physically available to share their load. 

Number two, be spiritually available, seek to comfort. 

And number three, be emotionally available. Pray. The Bible tells us to weep with those who weep. 

So, to be physically available to the dying, you may spend time with them. One of the things my husband reminded me of, he said, “Tell them to please hold their hands; hug and kiss them,” because he watched his sister do that. But he was so in the moment trying to care for the needs that he forgot to be present with his mom as she passed away. 

Then you can do things like fluff pillows, give sips of water, do the laundry, but mostly be present with them. 

And then to be spiritually available to those that are dying. You read to them. You may read cards to them. You may read their mail, but read God's Word. Read that God's Word to them because God's Word is the thing that brings peace. Read God's Word to them and then to be emotionally available to them that are dying. Pray for them. Pray for them and ask others to pray with you as you pray for them. 

Now, what about those that are experiencing loss in the same way? You need to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually available. How are you physically available?

You can prepare meals for them; you can take them flowers. But sometimes you just need to be silent and listen to them as they process out loud. You may clean their home or just sit with them and wash the dishes. How can you be spiritually available to those that are experiencing loss? You comfort them also with God's Word. Yes, you may read to them. But this is also a time when you write God's Word out to them, so they can pick it up and read it over and over. 

And one of the things I think is really important as we are really available for immediate needs, but what happens down the road when you've gone on about your business? They need you mark on your calendars, get your calendar out, if you put it on your Google Calendar. They will remind you a day before, but mark on your calendars three weeks out, to write another card to them, take them flowers, or take them something just to be with them. Let them know you are available and God sees them. 

He has those around them that He uses to tell them you are not forgotten. Let what you do for them place a smile on their face, if only for a moment. Letting them know they are not walking this hard road by themselves. 

And then be emotionally available to those that are experiencing loss. Pray for them each time the Lord brings them to mind. Ask others to pray with you also, as you pray for them. Write out prayers for them, emails, snail mail them, just make sure you come alongside to comfort them. 

And here's a simple little prayer you can pray, “Lord, right now, we pray for my grieving sister. You are the God of all comfort. And we need Your wisdom on how to love her well. Teach us, Father, how to look beyond what's going on in our own lives, to be available to comfort. In Jesus name. Amen.”

Grounded family, keep a stash of cards. You guys know I have to bring them out again. But keep yourself a stash of cards. Don't just keep on for show. Use them. Become a card dealer dealing out cards for those in need. Become a card encourager, encouraging others with words that build up. I'm going to tell you some of these cards. You don't even have to say anything, they say at all. 

This one says, “God sees he cares. He hears. He answers.” And on the inside it says, “Praying and trusting with you.” That's something that you can just sign your name and send. You don't know how this piece of paper will encourage your heart. Let your love be action packed. And when it's your turn to grieve or your experiencing loss, let others care for you. Just the way you've cared for them.

It's so important that we live out Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of God.” Amen. 

Portia: Oh, Robyn, and now you know what I'm gonna say every time you come. You drop so much wisdom. I feel like you teach me how to be like a nurturer. So, thank you so, so much for sharing all of that. I definitely have taken it to heart. I hope everyone at home has done so as well. 

Well, you can turn on any screen or scroll or click anywhere and find lots of thoughts on death, mostly how to avoid it. But guess what? Only God's Word gives us hope to face death with peace with joy. And today, we want to recommend a couple of tools to help you think more biblically about death and dying. 

Alejandra: Well, definitely this Grounded program for sure. I mean, I'll definitely share this one and recommend it because it has been powerful. But there's also a past episode of Grounded which is called, “Gladness in the Midst of Grief by Susan Hunt.” And we're going to drop the link to that episode on the chat. 

But Susan is a woman with deep wisdom. She lost her husband of 56 years many months ago, and Susan told us that she expected to have peace in the midst of that suffering, but that God surprised her not only with peace, but also with deep joy.

Portia: Joy in the face of death. I love it. I love it. Talk about perspective. Well, we also want to recommend an episode from the Revive Our Hearts podcast. This episode features Nancy Guthrie and Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, and they are talking about grieving with hope. We will drop a link to this in the chat. 

And if you're listening to the podcast version of this, you can head on over to ReviveOurHearts.com/Grounded, and check our episode notes. That's where you'll find all of these helpful tools that we always mentioned.

Erin: Hard to call this a good episode because it's a hard episode, but it sure has been a powerful episode. I want to mention Eliza quickly. Eliza is watching you're with us here this morning on Grounded

And this is what Eliza said, 

“I'm living this right now. My husband is at death's door due to a bacterial infection. And I can tell you, God is here.” 

As she is at the bedside of her husband who is on the cusp of death, Eliza is telling us God is here. She says this, 

“This is what it's like to grieve with hope. Either God will restore him, or he'll go into the Lord's presence. He has been holding us up, and we've been in this position for over two weeks.” 

That's the power of a right theology of death. Eliza, we love you. We commit to pray for you. We're so grateful for your testimony of hope this morning.

So, let me ask the question that I started this episode with: Is it better to go to funerals or to festivals? God's Word says it's good for us to consider houses of mourning and the rest of that verse says this, “for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart” (Eccl. 7:2). So that's our mission because of the gospel. We have hope in the face of death. Let's wake up with hope together next Monday, on Grounded.

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About the Hosts

Erin Davis

Erin Davis

Erin Davis is an author, blogger, and speaker who loves to see women of all ages run to the deep well of God’s Word. She is the author of many books and Bible studies including: 7 Feasts, Connected, Beautiful Encounters, and the My Name Is Erin series. She serves on the ministry team of Revive Our Hearts. When she’s not writing, you can find Erin chasing chickens and children on her small farm in the Midwest.

Portia Collins

Portia Collins

Portia Collins is a Christian Bible teacher and writer/blogger who enjoys studying and teaching Scripture.  Portia is the founder of "She Shall Be Called" (SSBC), a women’s ministry centered on helping women understand and embrace true biblical womanhood through solid study of God's Word. To learn more about SSBC, visit www.sheshallbecalled.com.  Portia and her husband, Mikhail, have a daughter and currently live in the Mississippi Delta. 

Dannah Gresh

Dannah Gresh

When Dannah Gresh was eight years old, she began praying that God would use her as a Bible teacher for “the nations.” When she sees the flags of many countries waving at a Revive Our Hearts event, it feels like an answer to her prayer.

Dannah is the founder of True Girl which provides tools for moms and grandmothers to disciple their 7–12 year-old girls. On Monday nights, you’ll find Dannah hosting them in her online Bible study. She has authored over twenty-eight books, including Ruth: Becoming a Girl of Loyalty, Lies Girls Believe, and a Bible study for adult women based on the book of Habakkuk. She and her husband, Bob, live on a hobby farm in central Pennsylvania.

Alejandra Slemin

Alejandra Slemin

Alejandra is a sinner who believed in Jesus at the age of seven in her native country, Dominican Republic. She is a wife and homeschool mom. She's passionate about Christ, studying the Scriptures, discipling, teaching, and learning alongside women. Currently, she supports her husband as he serves as a church planter in Victoria, BC, Canada. Alejandra loves herbs, designing headbands with her daughter, being outdoors, and serving her community.