What Does Dying Look Like?
No. I’m not. At least no more than anyone else, a little closer to the grave each day. But, as far as I am concerned, that is my prognosis.
1 Corinthians 15:22 – For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
But the past couple of days have given me pause to reflect on death and dying. Not just in human terms, but also in the church.
My first story starts as I was waiting for a simple medical procedure to be done. I was in the waiting room, a well-lit place with gray and cream walls and these stupid molding squares every foot or so. I was in the waiting room thinking to myself as I was about to get a biopsy done on my esophagus, what if someone comes back with a terminal illness diagnosis? The place that would be seared into my mind would be an ugly waiting room with gray and cream walls and squares on the walls.
They called me back and took me into the next waiting room, a small procedural area with hospital beds surrounded by curtains and people in those curtains recovering from their procedures. I could hear almost every word that was said between the doctor and the patients.
The majority of the people going in there were getting colonoscopies. One person was in there for her very first one. She was nervous, especially about the farting afterward. But the other 3 beds were taken up by people who have had multiple ones this year. One bed had a girl who couldn’t be much older than a junior in high school. She was on her second colonoscopy this year. Another bed had an 80+ year-old woman in it and she has had 2 this year. The man who came in and sat next to me in the chairs until a bed was open was on his third for the year!
The man next to me and I struck up a conversation. It started with small talk and platitudes. He asked me what I was in for, I did the same. He asked me my age, I did the same.
But then it took a little deeper turn.
He said to me that he never believed he would have to be getting multiple colonoscopies in a year. He said on his first one they found multiple polyps. After testing them, they were cancerous. They realized that they missed one that couldn’t be removed with the equipment there and he had to have it done at the hospital so they sent him in again. During that one it had spread a little more and they removed several others. This third time he was in to see if any more had grown.
Ecclesiastes 12:7 – And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
He stared me in the face and told me that he never expected to be staring a potential life-threatening disease in the face.
Now he was upbeat about it. He said he has no regrets for how he lived his life and he was proud of the people his children and grand-children had become. But you could tell there was a tone in his voice that said he just didn’t want this life to end.
One could easily say that this man is being overdramatic. The doctors didn’t know if he had any further issues, so why would he be getting all bent out of shape?
It is because death is final.
At least here it is.
As a Christian I know that this life is simply a small vapor in the wind and then I move on to the next life. But all of the people we have come to know and love in this lifetime, we worry about how they will react to our absence.
Ever since birth, this life is a series of hellos and goodbyes. Some come for a few moments, but others come for a lifetime. It is those lifetime people that we worry about.
I went through with my procedure and he went through with his. After that moment in chairs together we never spoke. I wish I would have gotten his phone number or email or something. I would really like to be able to check in with him from time to time. But I didn’t. #Fredfail
I will always remember this man. He was stoic but scared. Peaceful but a little anxious.
John 11:25 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live
There are many stories like the man I spoke to while at the surgical center. Too many to count.
A lot of them are happening in our churches as well.
That leads me to story number 2.
Over the past year I have interviewed at a couple different churches with hopes of becoming a pastor. In every single instance I made it to the final round only to get beat out by someone else.
But each time that I interviewed at a church I would sign up for their email list. I like to keep in the know about other churches, I believe it makes me a better minister as I am not the smartest person on church leadership (I could have put the period after “person”, but I decided to qualify it a little more)
Many of the churches that I interviewed at were smaller with older congregations. That isn’t a problem as long as you constantly are replacing those who are dying out of your congregation.
In the past 3 weeks I have received 6 funeral notices for one of the churches I signed up for! That doesn’t even count the other couple of churches I get emails from.
The church is not an easy organization to manage. You have several demographics to hit upon and you are expected to hit them all equally as well. You are expected to be the 7-11 of biblical knowledge. Most churches don’t do that well. They are skewed to one demographic over another. They are either an old church or a young church. A white church or a black church. An English church or a Korean church.
The churches are focusing on being niche-based rather than all-encompassing.
And this leads to some churches dying while others find the right niche for the moment.
Unfortunately, the right niche is usually fad-based. Right now, the right niche is to have a great sounding worship band followed by a charismatic message and do it all in about an hour. But that is changing. We are starting to see the death of the charismatic, evangelical church now as this fad fades.
You also have a lot of other types of venues popping up like the tattoo parlor church, the movie theatre church, the cowboy church, and child-focused church.
The one thing I have noticed time and time again is that those churches need to constantly reinvent themselves to stay relevant.
Now I am probably going to get a lot of unhappy comments when I say this, but does the church need to be relevant with the fads of the day, or do we need to learn to be relevant in how to be approachable to the unbelieving public?
Revelation 3:1 – To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following: “This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead
Let me explain.
Relevance can be seen as adding a high-powered worship band and skinny jeans and fauxhawks on the ministry team. Those will bring in people who are searching to be entertained and don’t have to worry about making personal changes to their lives so long as they get their weekly dose of entertainment.
Relevance can look like the body of believers going to church and enjoying each other’s company before a pastor gets up in front and teaches from the Bible on how to interact with the world outside of the 4 walls of the church.
That was kind of painful for me to say. I enjoy my latte-infused, Bethel Music Group energized, skinny-jean with a fauxhawk preaching churches. Unfortunately, many times they are simply places to hide ourselves away as Christians even though we say we are being a light set on a hill, all too often, because we don’t teach people how to interact with unbelievers, when the unbelievers come to our churches they simply get burned by those who proclaim to be the light.
And that is why the church is dying. Well, that’s my take at least.
If we spent a lot more time teaching people how to interact with the unbeliever rather than being safe houses for the marginal Christians, we would find that we may have smaller congregations, but they would be a lot more fruit-bearing.
So whether you are alone in a gray and cream room with ugly squares on the walls or in the most beautiful high-tech church in America, there is something in common.
Psalm 115:17 – The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.
And many times that death is slow and painful. And even if you do survive, whether it is a life-threatening disease or a church focused on doing church in the church, you will never be the same afterward. The light goes away. It is the equivalence of losing the lamp stand in Revelation.
I’ll end with this example that I got from Louie Giglio. The last 2 letters of the word “SIN” are “IN.” Churches who are “in sin” are “in church.” The first 2 letters of the word “GOSPEL” is “GO.” Churches that are being relevant at the individual level and going to places outside of the church are gospel churches.
And that is the church that Jesus says the gates of hell will not prevail against.
Zechariah 4 Commentary
Zechariah 4:1 – And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep.
I can only imagine how shocking all these visions of the Lord are to a person. The impact on a person’s body must be intense. Just like Daniel in Daniel 10:9, he fell into a deep sleep with his face to the ground. This is the introduction to the fifth vision that Zechariah is about to have.
Zechariah 4:2 – And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it.
There is a lot of symbolism going on here. This is a pretty descriptive verse! This is a lampstand that would be used in tabernacle. The extra bowl on top of it is to add extra oil to the lamp. This is a very large lamp! The typical menorah has 7 lamps on it. The one in the vision has a lot built onto the traditional menorah. The seven lips on each of the lamps means that there are a total of 49 lips for this menorah. This shows the abundance of the oil supply to provide to the lamps.
The lampstand is all gold. The lampstand itself is the container for the light. The church of Jesus Christ shines the Light of the world, which is Jesus Christ.
Looking at a parallel verse in Revelation 1:20, we see that there are 7 golden lampstands, these are the lampstands in each of the churches listed in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
The number 7 is the number of perfection. Not perfection that we think of, but more specifically it means “completion.”
As you can see from the verse, we are seeing in the vision everything about God in His church.
Zechariah 4:3 – And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.”
The lampstands have olive trees flanking it. The oil that would be used in the lamp would be a pure olive oil. This makes me think of a limitless supply of oil that is only provided by God, without any affect of mankind.
The coolest thing about this is the impact of the two trees! One represents physical Israel and the other is the grafted branch, the church of Jesus Christ.
Romans 11:24 says “for if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.”
And this is also the same picture we see in the Revelation of Jesus Christ in verse 11:4 in that there are two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth.
Zechariah 4:4 – And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?”
Zechariah asks a little bit of a surprising question here, as we will see in the next verse. Basically, he wants to know the meaning behind the two olive trees.
Zechariah 4:5 – Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.”
Zechariah’s question surprises the angel. The angel reacts as if Zechariah should have known the significance of the olive trees.
Zechariah 4:6 – Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
Zerubbabel was the one who led the first group of Jews home from Babylonian captivity. The preceding verses show that God will supply an endless amount of resources to Zerubbabel to rebuild the temple. This will be to bring glory to God alone.
God is showing that it isn’t by human might or ingenuity that this will happen. It will only happen by a moving of the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel 36:24 shows that God is the one who brings the Jews back into their own land.
Zerubbabel won’t be able to accomplish what his ordained task is through his own power. The angel is explaining this to Zechariah. Zerubbabel will have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit alone to accomplish the task.
This is so much like ministry in the church. We can only put so much of our own power into it. We can only go so far on our own power in our ministries. But when we step outside of ourselves and allow the Spirit of the living God to take control of our actions and lives, we find that our ministries will show much fruit from it.
Zechariah 4:7 – Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’”
The angel is showing that even a mountain of opposition will be leveled and become like a plain. Nothing will be able to stop the rebuilding of the temple. Think of Matthew 21:21 here! Jesus tells his disciples that if they have faith they can move mountains!
We learn that this will happen in Zerubbabel’s life because we see that the “top stone,” or headstone in other versions, will be put in place.
And all Israel will shout! Grace! Grace to it! Ezra 3:11-13 tells us that the people sang to one another giving thanks to the Lord and that they people shouted with a “great shout.” Could this be that shout? Could the shout they were proclaiming be the shout that God has shown them grace?
Imagine if we led our ministries in such a way! Instead of spending all our time over-spiritualizing everything and instead spent more time doing through faith rather than seeking faith, we would realize that our search for God’s power wasn’t what we needed because His power was always there. What our search was for was God’s grace!
We accomplish because of God’s power. We accomplish for God’s grace!
Zechariah 4:8 – Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying,
This is a simple break in the action. Maybe this vision was becoming too big for Zechariah. That is simply my own thoughts that I am adding here. But now we are about to move into the confirmation of the angel’s interpretation.
Zechariah 4:9 – “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.
This angel is the Angel of the Lord. This temple was to be met with all kinds of opposition. And it would take a very long time to complete. But it would happen in the life of Zerubbabel.
Can you imagine how encouraging this is for Christians? And especially for those who lead for the cause of Christ? We know that God will show us through to see the completion of those things we start for Him.
The church we know today began with only Jesus and 12 disciples. Our talents and our gifts seem so small in the immensity of the task that God has given us. But God makes great things from small beginnings. From a baby in a manger to victory over sin and the grave!
Zechariah 4:10 – For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. “These seven are the eyes of the Lord, which range through the whole earth.”
The temple that was built was smaller than Solomon’s temple. Ezra 3:12 tells us that many who saw the first temple wept. In Haggai 2:3 the prophet says that those who saw the temple it its former glory are looking on it now as if it is nothing.
This is only a glimpse of what it will look like when the Messiah comes.
The returning remnant of Israel never believed they could finish the temple in their lifetime. And while they didn’t finish something that was as glorious as the former temple, it wasn’t the opulence that God was seeking from them. It was the faithfulness to build the temple in the first place. It was the drive to put God at the head of it and allow Him to lead them.
God turns our little efforts into a lot when we allow Him to lead the dance.
Zechariah 4:11 – Then I said to him, “What are these two olive trees on the right and the left of the lampstand?”
Again, Zechariah is asking about the olive trees.
Zechariah 4:12 – And a second time I answered and said to him, “What are these two branches of the olive trees, which are beside the two golden pipes from which the golden oil is poured out?”
At this point, Zechariah isn’t asking about the trees themselves, but two branches of the trees. During Zechariah’s day, the two anointed ones were Zerubbabel and Joshua. They could have been a branch on each tree or they could have both been branches on a single tree. It isn’t really known by how it is said.
But the trees themselves symbolize the kingly and priestly offices in Israel, whether physical or spiritual. There are many times in history that God anoints two people to work together for a purpose. Think of Moses and Aaron, Joshua and Caleb, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Barnabas, Peter and John. Even in more modern times we see God anointing two in people such as Whitefield and Wesley or Graham and Barrows.
In the Revelation of Jesus Christ in chapter 11, we see that God is raising up 2 witnesses. This is very similar to what Zechariah is seeing here.
In Zechariah’s day, Joshua and Zerubbabel were the anointed. That literally translates to “sons of oil.” We can see that this oil is coming directly out of the trees.
When we lead in ministry, it is all about giving of ourselves. It doesn’t matter how much that we have to give, but how much of what we have that we give.
Zechariah 4:13 – He said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.”
The angel asks if Zechariah knows what is going on. With Zechariah’s answer, we can see that even a person like Zechariah cannot stand on his own wisdom. The wisdom needed to understand the mind of God comes from God.
Zechariah 4:14 – Then he said, “These are the two anointed ones who stand by the Lord of the whole earth.”
And this is the culmination of the vision. Again we see the two anointed ones, the sons of oil, Joshua and Zerubbabel. Joshua is the High Priest and a descendant of Eleazar while Zerubbabel is the leader and a descendant of David. These are the two that God will choose to manifest the light of the lampstands.
This is a foreshadowing of the Messiah. Both offices of High Priest and leader are combined in the Messiah. Psalm 110 gives us even more detail into that.
The Messiah is the source of blessing that makes Israel the light to the nations. Isaiah 60:1-3 explains that to us.
And seeing that the final statement in this chapter is that they have offices in the court of the Lord of the whole earth, we see that this is a millennial term that leads us to the final kingdom of Christ (Micah 5:4).
I really appreciate you sharing this!