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What should we say to unsaved, terminally ill?

“I don’t know what to say” is often the thought when one is notified of a friend or relative dying who does not know God.
Everyone wants to say and do that just right thing that would be effective in giving their friend the true hope in Jesus. But what should we say?
At one point in my early ministry, I was basically frozen as to effective outreach. Frankly, I could not do it. My desire to impact others was deep, but my skills were far too shallow for the circumstances.
Now I know a few things to be considered:
• People want to know God. Spirituality is both private as well as intimidating to some. They don’t know the lingo or the correct process, so avoidance is often their easiest route. Yet they do want to know.
I was asked to visit three brothers who operated a body shop up the street. They didn’t go to church, but a fourth brother went to mine and urged me check in on them. I did. They were polite enough, but ready for me to exit at first chance. Just a few weeks later the church member asked me if I remembered the quiet brother on my visit. I did. He went on to tell me that his brother learned he had cancer and had specifically asked to see me.
When I went to see this middle-aged man, now very ill, I sat in the kitchen as his dad went to tell him I had arrived. The quiet man entered the room, his robe draping from his weak, skeletal frame. “Terry, I’m in a world of hurt,” he said. “Can you help me?” I did. I told him about the Christ, who took his place on the cross. That June I buried this man in Christ. A month later, I buried him again when he passed away.  
People want to know about God. It may not be on our time-table. We simply sow seed to sprout in their moment of readiness.

• People want to know what to do. A person must learn where to best hide so that death can’t get to them.
I love the true story I read maybe 30 years ago about the two hunters in the Georgia timbers. A roar came from behind and the men discovered a wind-driven fire was about to consume them. At first they ran but soon realized the fire was faster. Brilliantly, the men started a new, smaller fire in front of them.
As the original blaze approached, the two ran out into the burnt area they had just created. The consuming fire raced to the edge of the newly burnt area and proceeded around the hunters. The fire could not claim them as they safely stood in the center of a patch already burnt.
So it is with all of us. We hear death roaring with intent to steal and to kill. What each must do is hide in the one place that death can’t reach — that place where somebody already died. Jesus’ resurrection beat death at its own game and we stand in the center of that death.
When we stand in his death, the first death can’t put its hands on us. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might live a new life (Romans 6:3-4).
• People want to know if the idea of life beyond the grave is legitimate. It certainly is! One of the most encouraging visuals for the terminal patient to be assured the life-after-death truism is something God does in front of us day in and day out.
Direct the friend’s attention to trees and flowers. The beauty we enjoy from a bouquet of flowers could never come about without first an ugly old brown bulb dying by being buried in the earth. No tree sprouts to glory without a seed first disappearing into ground’s death.
God has promised legitimate hope in this natural and spiritual law. It is his promise that what is planted as seed becomes something more glorious than the seed itself could ever imagine. The body that is sown is perishable. It is raised imperishable. It is sown in dishonor. It is raised in glory. It is sown a natural body. It is raised a spiritual body.
And here’s the exceptional, legitimate truth, If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (I Corinthians 15:42-44).
The gorgeous flower arrangement validates God’s promise — what is sown is nothing compared to what is next in life.
The process of dying is ultra-traumatic to say the least. Those outside of Christ are wondering if this stuff we have confessed is true. It is.
I urge you to have the courage and the confidence to share the greatest hope with those who are threatened by death’s brutality. Ask them if they are afraid. Let them tell you how they feel. Let them say it without your judgment or criticism. And then, share with them the hope written above.
This is not the only approach in the kingdom, of course. It is one I find effective day by day. Hope for others is what we are about in Jesus. Blessings as you care for those you dearly love.

TERRY RUSH is senior minister for the Memorial Drive church in Tulsa, Okla. He maintains a blog at terryrush.blogspot.com.

Filed under: Staff Reports Views

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