Die Like This
I’d like to die a good death.
I’ve thought some about death over the years, how I would go.
At some point, the self-centered immortality of youth gives way to the shocking realization of the imminence of death.
As we live, friends die, parents die, brothers and sisters, classmates, maybe even, God forbid, our own children, each reminding us of the inevitability of our own death. Each life, each death, drives home certain truths regarding life and death.
Visualize your funeral, not as some kind of morbid exercise, but as a testimony to life intended. A man’s funeral is a good indicator of a man’s life, how he lived.
The manner in which a man dies is just as instructive.
I had a chance to watch a man die a good death.
A Man and a Promise
Harold Witmer knew the promise.
The Psalmist tells us, “This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.” (Psalm 119:50).
God’s promise, the promise of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, written before the hands of time, etched onto the foundations of reality, the promise is a simple promise, eternally profound in its implications.
The Bible tells the promise in the well known verse, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
And, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9) As God grants me repentance and belief, I am saved. Period.
This is the promise.
The promise is eternal. It cannot be changed, shaken, or moved. It will never perish, diminish, or die. God will keep His promise, of this we have such a blessed assurance.
Harold Witmer knew this promise. He lived it.
For decades, after the Army brought him to Clarksville, Harold Witmer labored on behalf of the promise. He helped found The Community Church which he pastored for decades. He started The Christian Servicemen’s Center and The Youth Challenge for Boys and Girls.
He poured himself into Clarksville, his family, and the service of the Kingdom.
He did this because of the promise and nowhere did his knowledge of the promise become more apparent…than on his walk to the grave.
Absent the Promise
Consider death, that condition which men fear most.
Consider the lengths to which men go to prolong vitality and put off death. There exists a series of cottage industries centered around this very thing.
The health and wellness industry. If I eat right (Paleolithic, Ketogenic, Macros, Whole Thirty), if I exercise well (crossfit, running, lifting, yoga, etc.), I may just preserve my youth. The beauty industry sells oils and lotions and creams that I can slather on my face to maintain the illusion of youth.
The plastic surgery industry. With a nip and a tuck, a stretch and a pull, I can further prolong my appearance of youth. No one ever said, “You know doc, I’d like to look a little older and wiser. Can you help me with that? Maybe some crow’s feet?”
Our nation worships youth and collectively detests aging.
It’s a losing battle.
“Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:4)
Each day, we draw one step closer to the grave. It doesn’t matter how hard we try, how well we take care of our bodies—and we ought to take care of our bodies—they will one day fail, maybe sooner than you think.
And perhaps most troubling, the second we are under the dirt, the world will begin the process of forgetting all about us. Don’t believe me? Who was the most popular man in town thirty years ago? You don’t know. That man is dead and buried, long since forgotten…as you also shall be.
But death, physical death, is a lesser concern. Paul writes that, “the sting of death is sin.” (1 Corinthians 15:56) Upon my death, I’ll stand before the Lord and He’ll see one of two things. If I know the promise, having been forgiven of my sin, He’ll gaze upon me and see the righteousness of Christ, as He welcomes me to eternity.
If I don’t know the promise, I will stand under judgement and be found woefully lacking. The second death, eternity in hell apart from God, will be my deserving fate.
And as men, absent the promise, draw close to the grave, draw ever closer to standing before a God they do not know, they tremble in fear, quiver in anger, even rage in self-righteousness. We see a physical manifestation of Hebrews 10:31,
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Proclaiming the Promise
As much as Harold Witmer spent his life proclaiming the promise, his death perhaps, proclaimed it louder.
I had the privilege of spending a few minutes with Harold’s beloved wife Faye and his sons the evening of his death. They relayed to me that as Harold approached death, he never faltered in his call, he never wavered in his mission. Nurses, doctors, and other caregivers heard the promise.
Finally, the Lord spoke to him saying, “You’ve done enough. It’s time.” After discussion with Faye, he entered hospice and returned home to die.
Here he died a good death.
Faye made his favorite meal for him. Family and friends flocked. They laughed and talked, cried. He summoned his family members, laid hands on them, blessed them. He slept more. Death drew near until on he gently closed his eyes, drew his final breath…and then opened them in eternity, to the reality of the promise.
Well done good and faithful servant.
It didn’t stop.
From the grave, Harold Witmer proclaimed the promise, his funeral an extended Gospel presentation. Hundreds of mourners joined together to celebrate his life, his death, and the promise. We sang Great is Thy Faithfulness. The Gospel was preached. We sang and cried, sang some more, laughed, rejoiced, and revelled in the knowledge of life lived well, a good death.
If you could say a funeral was awesome, it was an awesome funeral.
They closed with an invitation.
Comfort from the Promise
Many die poorly.
My wife works in the death industry. She’s a nurse in a nursing home where her patients die regularly, often lonely, sad, and painful deaths, tragic. Many of them die not knowing the promise.
One little old man—“her man”, they were all her men—declined steadily. He was a hateful, bitter, and angry man, abusive toward everyone…except my wife. She lavished love upon him in the face of his hatred and won him over. He hated God. Whenever the local pastor showed up for a service, he’d rail against all that “garbage”.
As he declined, he became more bitter, more hateful. He was physically aggressive, biting and spitting, scratching and clawing. The imminence of standing before a God that he knew existed, but that he didn’t know, was becoming a reality, and he raged against it.
Eventually, he became unresponsive, except to Ami. On his last night, she checked on him repeatedly and repeatedly assured him of her presence and her love for him.
“Sonny, you know I’m here and that I love you?”
“Yes,” he could barely whisper.
Finally, as she sat with him, she kissed him on the forehead, put her mouth to his ear and told him of the promise. “You know I love you, Sonny,”
“Do you know that Jesus loves you, and that He died on the cross for your sins?”
“Yes,” barely audible, his final word.
The last words he heard, before Ami kissed him on the forehead and told him it was okay to go, were the beautiful and sweetest words in the world, the words of the promise. His final word was an affirmation of this. This side of eternity we’ll never know, but can you imagine my wife’s joy one day, when she opens her eyes in heaven to see…“her” little man waiting on her.
Glory in the Promise
On that night that Harold Witmer died, I sat in his kitchen and listened to Faye talk on the phone. She was describing his physical decline to someone when she made a statement that is forever seared onto my soul.
“We’re just praying that God is glorified in all of this.”
“We’re” praying. She and Harold, the man soon to die, were praying together that his death would glorify God. You see, she knew the promise.
She knew that death had no victory. Death had no sting, for Harold or for her, for that matter. Though she mourned the imminent separation, she celebrated the risen Savior.
I’d like to die like this.
I’d like to live like this.
Author - Founder
Soldier, Pastor, Author – Bradford stays busy, with his wife Ami, raising their 9 children, serving the nation, pastoring, preaching, and writing books (#3 is due out October ’17).
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