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Teaching in the Shadow of Death

Every time we preach the Gospel, there are people listening who are dealing with or expecting death in one form or another. Whether it’s the wages of their own sin, the sin of others, the death of a dream, the death of a relationship or a loved one, general apathy or some combination of the above—death, at best, is what a world without Christ offers.

We all need people to remind us that there is Life in the valley of the shadow of death, and Life beyond it.

The first time I walked into a hospital room to pray with a man who was expecting to die, I was 17 years old. He was our high school football coach. I was the kid who led our FCA, and he asked if I would come see him. I had my Bible in hand and this advice from my father: "Try not to cry if you can help it, and don’t make this about how you are feeling. It will be hard because you will be sad, but that man needs a minister now. He needs you to be a man, not a boy. He doesn’t need another person or thing to worry about—he’s got enough as it is." My father was right.

I remember that situation sometimes when I am praying and preparing for a message, and not feeling up to the task (which is often). I think the analogy holds. Every time we preach the Gospel, there are people listening who are dealing with or expecting death in one form or another. Whether it’s the wages of their own sin, the sin of others, the death of a dream, the death of a relationship or a loved one, general apathy or some combination of the above—death, at best, is what a world without Christ offers.

We all need people to remind us that there is Life in the valley of the shadow of death, and Life beyond it. Once a week, I "officially" get to be that person, whether I "officially" feel like it or not. If you are reading this, chances are you get to be that person, too. People don’t need false heroes—they need real ministers. I know I do.

There is a kind of spiritual maturity in shelving the ephemeral for the reality and sake of eternal things. C.S. Lewis probably explained this best in Mere Christianity when he recognized a kind of pretending that was not hypocrisy, but the putting on of Christ.

“…you know, there are two kinds of pretending. There is a bad kind, where the pretence is there instead of the real thing; as when a man pretends he is going to help you instead of really helping you. But there is also a good kind, where the pretence leads up to the real thing.

When you are not feeling particularly friendly but know you ought to be, the best thing you can do, very often, is to put on a friendly manner and behave as if you were a nicer person than you actually are. And in a few minutes, as we have all noticed, you will be really feeling friendlier than you were.

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Very often the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already… You see what is happening. The Christ Himself, the Son of God who is man (just like you) and God (just like His Father) is actually at your side and is already at that moment beginning to turn your pretence into a reality.”

I will attempt to address my next blog in a lighter fashion (these have been a bit heavy). Here’s the question: How do we imitate Christ well and remain integrated and genuine as teachers?

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