One of the most devastating moments of my life, or at least it seemed that way at the time, was January 21st, 1979. We were living in a small apartment in Las Vegas, New Mexico. I was nine. We were watching my beloved Dallas Cowboys play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIII. The Steelers had dominated the game and begun to celebrate on the sidelines what seemed to be a sure victory. The Cowboys and Roger Staubach, though, refused to quit. They scored twice in the closing minutes of the game but fell short. I walked out of our apartment and began to scream and cry and cry and scream. My world had just been crushed. There were others in the apartment building who were letting out victory shouts for the Steelers. I hated those people for several months 😊. I would not have my revenge until Super Bowl XXX when the Cowboys defeated the Steelers. They beat them down deep into the dirt of infamy, leaving nothing but their tears like dew on the grass. There was nothing left of them. They were beat. They were nothing. They were the losers and we were THE WINNERS! HAAAAAA!!!! ….Sorry, got a little carried away there.
One thing I have noticed in all of my years as a sports fanatic is that the fans of the winning team always celebrate. They always celebrate! I remember when I moved to San Antonio and I had the chance to go to David Robinson’s last game. The Spurs defeated the New York Nets and Jason Kidd for the NBA Championship. The city went nuts!! I had never seen anything like it. The other thing I have noticed is that the fans of the losing team are always distraught because of the loss of such a big game.
In Scripture the Apostle Paul used the analogy of sports to address life after death. It wasn’t football. I am pretty sure football as we know it did not exist in Biblical times, but had there been, the Cowboys would have DOMINATED!! But this was during the times of the great competitions soon to be known as the Olympics. Paul spoke of running a race and winning the race to teach us truth about the death of believers:
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (NIV 1984)
I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. (NIV 1984)
When a person dies with faith in God, they have won. They didn’t win something trivial like the Super Bowl which has no eternal significance. No, they have won the good fight of faith. We recently lost a very good friend. His name was Art. This man was such a good man. He lived to be like Christ. In his fight for cancer, every person who walked into his hospital room could not leave until Art took them by the hand and prayed for them. If I was there, as his pastor, he would ask me to pray. He was not afraid of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Lord had given him so much influence for Christ. One can’t help but ask, “Why?” Why did the Lord allow Art to be taken? He was still young. It certainly seems that many people needed him in their life. For many, he was probably the only example of Christ in their life.
Haven’t you asked this of others who have gone on to be with the Lord? Death of a loved one can easily challenge our faith because it seems unfair, too soon. But what can we learn of Paul’s teachings? These that we love have fought the good fight and they have won. They are champions. They are champions forever. They are champions of life and champions in death. They wrestled with all the temptations, hardships, and heartaches and valiantly fought off every attack and they won. In Heaven, they understand this. This is why the angels usher the dead into the glory of Heaven (Luke 16:22, NIV). The angels become the entourage of the victor receiving eternal rewards. But here on Earth, because we don’t see the other side, we are like the fans of the winning team, but instead of celebrating their victory, we mourn the end of the season. Imagine the city of San Antonio becoming down in the mouth at the end of Game 6 because the season was over instead of running around like wild banshees in the street in celebration.
I have never seen an interview after a championship game where a reporter asked the winning coach, “Do you wish you would have lost the game?” Of course not, winning is the goal. Heaven is the goal. We struggle because the length of the season for each life seems to be different. A young teenager taken in a car accident or a child loses their fight with cancer and we struggle. They should have had more time. From this side of Heaven, we can say that, but when I think about how hard life is and how it seems to become more difficult the older I get, maybe the Lord favored them by saving them from the exceeding pressures of life that come as we age?
As we stood around Art’s bed and prayed with one another after his passing, Pastor David mentioned in his prayer that Art was in Heaven, I thought to myself, “You won Art! You are a champion forever!”
If we look at the death of believers as Paul teaches, it does not take away the pain nor the ache in our heart. It hurts knowing they will no longer be with us. As a Hospice Chaplain, I have sat with many families, months and years after their loss and they still hurt and they still cry. Many have apologized for crying because it has been so long since their loved one passed. My response is always the same, “What would it say if you didn’t cry? What would it say if it didn’t hurt?” Our tears memorialize and bring honor to those we have lost. There is a time to mourn, and it is not a set time. We should never let others set the time for our mourning. We must mourn and we must heal. We have to trust the Lord with this process and not some kind of dictated time frame of what is acceptable to others. After someone we love dies, life is never the same nor should it be. The mourning process transitions, but we will always mourn their loss. I know they celebrate in Heaven and we should celebrate with them, but we must mourn also. Mourning is evidence of our love for them, and their place in our heart.
The key to holding on to our faith is not allowing our inability to see through to the other side of death to cause us to believe that God is unfair or unkind. Instead, we should see that the Lord has shown great favor to our loved ones by delivering them from the struggles of this life. His favor has taken them to a place without regret, without tears, without fear, and full of the love of God.
Sometimes, it feels as if the Lord has been unfair to us because we needed those people in our life. We might feel that those we lost were our strength, our stability, our soul-mate. It is not unusual to feel this way, but not seeing them physically every day doesn’t mean they are not with us? With all sensitivity, I would say that they will only be absent from our life if we allow it to be so. The life we have lived with them is a gift and those memories should be cherished as greater than gold. They had such a great influence on our life and meant so much to us, but they continue in this still. They are in our heart. They are in our memories. With great kindness, the Lord will remind us of them when we need that memory the most and we are strengthened. We are encouraged. We feel the sadness again, but their spirit lives in our memory.
My best friend from high school died just a few short years ago. I dedicated my first book “Prepare For Greater Things” to him. He lost his battle with cancer but fought through some powerful temptations from Hell and held tight to his faith. He is a champion in Heaven. I think of him often and the Lord brings memories to my mind. I can’t help but think, “I can’t wait to see him again.” Whoo! Hoo! What a day that shall be!! This is God’s purpose for those who are left behind. Our love for those who have passed will draw us near to Him, near to Heaven, and near to those champions we no longer see.
In our pain, let us cheer them on. In the heavy ache of our heart, let’s celebrate their victory. In sadness, we thank God for His mercy to take them when He did. We fight for our own faith because of theirs. We thank Christ for making a way for them into Heaven and helping them hold on to their faith. And soon, soon, we shall stand arm in arm with those we have lost, before the throne of God, celebrating our victory over this life by the grace and mercy of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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