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by John Penn
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The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and staff they comfort me. (Psalm 23:1-4)

Thanksgiving and the Christmas seasons are special times of celebrations that bring family and friends together. However, these special times of year are often very sad and painful for those who have experienced the death of a loved one or a dear friend. From a Christian perspective, these are special occasions to give thanks to God for our many blessings and to celebrate our shared life in Christ. Following the death of a loved one, we do not have the relationship of that significant person in our lives any more. Death often casts a dark shadow of sadness, sorrow, and uncertainty in our lives. What was once a bright and joyous occasion now seems sad and empty.

Our experience of death seems to leave us feeling alone and powerless. Death reminds us of our human frailty and finiteness. Because of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, we can have the assurance of a different destiny. Death does not write the last chapter of our lives. Physical death is the penalty for sin. Physical death is the symbol of spiritual death—ultimate separation from God—because all have sinned (Revelation 20:15; 21:8).

When Paul says that all have sinned, this simply means that the universal sin of Adam’s has fallen upon humankind in condemnation (Romans 1:18-3:20). We were born into sin, because of the sins of Adam. Jesus is the second Adam. If all have sinned because of what Adam did in his disobedience in the garden, then, because of what Jesus has done, grace—the forgiveness of sins in now possible.

The scriptures remind Christians that death is not our final destination. Jesus over came death and the grave according to the Scriptures. Through his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus destroyed the sting and victory of death. Believers no longer have to fear death, because of the atoning death of Jesus. For Christians, death no longer separates us from God.

For Christians, death is a transition to experience more life, eternal life that God intended from the beginning of creation. Death opens the way to experience the abundant life in all of the fullness in the resurrection. As Christians, we trust Jesus for our salvation. Christians need not fear death. We can face death with confidence and assurance that we too will experience a resurrection like Jesus Christ. The shed blood of Jesus justified us before God.

Death is not a healer as many people mistakenly believe. We are healed through the life giving power in the resurrection. Christians live and die in Christ. We are Easter People. We will experience a resurrection like that of Jesus. Praise God forevermore!

Knowing these things, Christians can approach this season of the Christian calendar as a healing moment— a time of celebration and giving thanks for God’s wonderful plan of salvation. We are people of hope!
Let us celebrate and give thanks we have shared with our deceased spouse, child, mother, father, sister, brother, or other family member or friends. Think of what your life would have been like without those special persons in your lives, even if that moment was brief. They were gifts from a gracious God. Think about how this person or persons have enriched your life and vice-versa. Think about what a gift you were to this person(s). His or her life was graced and enriched because of your presence, your love, and the life that you shared, including the good and the bad times. The memories that you shared together are something that you will always treasure and will be with you always. All of us are pilgrims, just passing through this life, into eternity.

Each one of us will, at one time or another, have to face our own death. And it is a good thing; I certainly do not wish to take this old, tired, painful, diseased body into eternity. God did not plan for this either. God did not plan for our physical bodies to last forever. God will give us a new spiritual body that will endure for eternity. In the resurrection, there will be no more sickness, disease, or death.

Many people can recite the 23rd Psalm from memory, but how many of us truly know the Good Shepherd. For if we truly know the Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, we would know that he is the all sufficient One. He fills and heals the void caused by the death of our loved ones. When we place our complete trust in God, we are comforted in both life and in death.

The tools of the shepherd are the rod and staff. The rod is used by the shepherd to fight off or to destroy enemies of the sheep while traveling. The staff is used to guide the sheep to safety. Nothing can snatch you out of the hands of the Good Shepherd. In God’s care, we rest in his love and presence. The Shepherd is always at the very center of the life of his sheep. He knows what his sheep needs and provides for them.

Has the death of a loved one caused you to fear, feel restless, spiritually empty, or lost? Know that the Good Shepherd is near to comfort you in your grief. He guides you in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. The Shepherd of your soul will lead you back into a meaningful relationship with God. He will provide the spiritual nourishment to feast on. He will give you rest, peace, health, and wholeness, to restore your soul, and that of your entire family.

We experience much pain and sorrow when a special person dies. We hurt much because we love much. However, we often deal with our grief and pain alone. Jesus Christ came not only to share your pain and suffering, but to enter into them with you. David reminds us that the True Shepherd is always near in our time of need. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and staff, they comfort me” (v. 4).

When we invite Christ into our pain, sorrow, and grief, God transforms them to joy. He uses them as means of grace to bring healing to others. The Bible reminds us that our sorrow is only momentary, but our joy will last forever.

God wants to make this season special for you and your whole family. Why? You are God's special gifts to those around you. The Bible also affirms that you and I are continuously being blessed, so that we may be a blessing to others. Use this season to bless someone you know is hurting more than you. You will be helping and empowering them, as well as yourself.

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