My eyes came across two articles this week about two pastors facing death – both likely dying soon from two very different circumstances in two very different corners of the world.
One is the story of a rather well-known pastor of an American mega-church, the other a largely unknown Christian leader of a house church network in Iran.
The former is dying from a long-term battle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), the latter appears to have lost the battle with the Khameni cleric-driven regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Pastor Ed Dobson of Calvary Church of Grand Rapids was diagnosed with ALS and given 3-5 years to live; that was 11 years ago. As the disease has worsened, the former executive with the Evangelical political action group Moral Majority has had to step away from his leadership and preaching at the 5,000-member congregation. What ministry work he is able to still provide is most often performed in 1-on-1 settings of helping others facing similar crises. Along the way, Dobson has also taught extensively through a series of videos that have been produced – as this spiritual leader who taught people so well about how to live, teaches now about how to die as a part of the walk of a pilgrim in the faith.
Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was first convicted of apostasy in November 2010. He appealed this charge to the level of the Iranian Supreme Court – all without release. Nadarkhani has refused to recant his beliefs and to recognize Muhammad as his savior. The word leaking from Iran this past week is that a final execution order had been issued. The general pattern is that when this sort of thing happens, the accused basically disappears and no word is heard about them again.
For those of us who have our settled faith in Jesus Christ, the Scriptures teach that “…we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”
Christ himself said of our prospective life of following him… “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Even as we live, we are dying creatures – our lives a daily testament of a larger and eternal perspective. This is the end game toward which we live and move and invest … yes “invest.”
It was interesting to hear Dobson say that it was always his thought that if he were to face something terminal, THEN he would really read Scripture a lot and pray a lot. But his immediate experience (though not lasting) was just the opposite – he was overwhelmed with the circumstances of his immediate experience.
The time to prepare and “invest” for terminal experiences is now. To do otherwise would be like saying, “If I ever face a devastating financial setback, THEN I’ll start really working and really saving money!” That may help, but better to invest well in advance.
We never know when the doctor’s report may give us the devastating news we have seen myriads of others receive, and then live and die through – folks no better than us in any way. Though we do not have the immediate personalized threats against our faith as is the sad experience today in Iran, as one would read the anti-Christian vitriol of comments under both these stories, such is not as outlandish as it maybe once appeared. But whatever, the Scriptures remain true in the teaching …“I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”