Published July 19, 2016

Paul's Epistle
"Facing The Inevitable"

Just a few days ago, scores of people were deliberately mowed down on the street — murdered — by a deranged terrorist driving a large truck in Nice, France. Such mass murders are, as you know, becoming all-too-common. Nevertheless, it's safe to say that not one of these victims got up that morning with any inkling that it would be their final day. As someone once said, death seldom announces itself in advance.

When your time comes, how will you face death? Will it be like Joseph Stalin, a one-time seminary student who turned his back on God and became a ruthless Soviet dictator and murderer? His daughter says Stalin, on his death bed, mustered his last ounces of strength to raise his fist toward heaven, shaking it in defiance against God — a strange act for someone who had claimed to be an atheist.

Or will you face death very differently? Although we might prefer not to think about it, it is inevitable, you know. As the writer of Hebrews 9:27 put it, " is appointed unto men once to die..." The difference is that, as a Christian, you know what's ahead. You can look forward to a glorious eternity in heaven with Christ. And what a difference that makes! It makes all the difference in how you face death.

Such is the case with Michael Helwig of the Blackwood Brothers. As you heard on our recent broadcast with them, Michael has been diagnosed as having ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It's better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. And it is, as one of the group's members said on the program, essentially a death sentence in perhaps two-to-five years. Medical science has no way of dealing with it.

Michael, though, is dealing with it quite well. Although mostly confined now to a wheelchair, he is still singing with the group – and plans to continue doing so as long as he can.

How's he taking it? "You know, Paul," he told me, "I've had people ask me if I was angry with God." Quite obviously, he is not. Michael is quietly at peace with the situation because he has entrusted his future – here and hereafter – to God.

In fact, Butch Owens of the group overheard Mike talking with a Texas pastor about all of this after one of their concerts. As Butch recalls it, Mike summed it all up for the pastor this way: "If I win, I win. And if I lose, I win." Ironically, Mike doesn't really remember saying that. But he readily confirms that is exactly how he feels.

So now that's become a motto for Mike. In fact, they've printed it on T-shirts which the group sells at concerts, with all of the proceeds going to the ALS Association for research toward a cure for the disease.

But on those shirts, they've also included a reference to Philippians 1:20-21, taking the words of the Apostle Paul and applying it to Mike's situation: "...with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain."

That's how Christians face death. Sometimes, as in Mike's case, God grants plenty of advance warning of the inevitable – graciously allowing time to wrap up details of a life well lived. But sometimes, as with those who die every day in terrible mishaps, there is no advance warning.

Either way, are you prepared?

- Paul

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