I Saw My Friend Rise from the Dead
The Phone Call
I am reaching that age when friends you grew up with die. In your twenties and thirties, maybe even forties, death came into my rear view window only when elderly relatives passed away. Don't get me wrong. Every death was a sad experience, but knowing that the individual lived a full life took away a little bit of the sting.
Today, however, friends I lifted weights with, surfed with, traveled with, got drunk with, and experienced life with, are starting to pass away. Two weeks ago I received an emergency email update from our church that a good friend of mine was just diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer. He was going in for gall stones and they found cancer. Yes, you may have experienced or heard someone else experience this horrifying diagnosis.
When I read the email, I continually shook my head. My friend was the poster child for 'how to eat and exercise right'. He went to the doctors religiously for his annual check up. I haven't gone for five years. Go figure that one out. Yes, he smoked for many years, but had quit for the last five. They do say that esophageal cancer can pop up even after one quits smoking, but it still caught me by surprise.
The man ran three to five times a week, ate very lean meats, consumed a fair amount of vegetables, and lived a pretty stress free life since retiring from his federal job. The guy was only 57 years old and was in the peak of health.
When I got word, I immediately sent a text letting him know how sorry I was and that I would be praying for him. Why did I just send him a text? I guess I was speechless and felt a little uncomfortable talking with someone with a terminal illness. What do you say at a time like this? I felt like whatever I would say would come across as disingenuous or lacking the level of depth needed for such a call.
Please understand, I am a pastor. I have made tons of calls to people with terminal illnesses. This one was a little different for some reason. He was a friend. I guess the ability to separate myself emotionally so I could think clearly went out the window when the person dying was someone I shared life with on more than one occasion. Maybe I couldn't face the fact that my friend was dying. This is something I may need to explore down the road.
After hemming and hawing for what I thought was an eternity, I finally made the call. My friend picked up after about three rings and I could hear the throbbing pain coming through his voice. My heart dropped and I shared some inane drivel like "I cannot imagine what you are going through, but I will be praying for your healing." I prayed a heart felt prayer and realized it was too painful for him to talk so I mercifully cut the conversation short. He thanked me for calling and we hung up. In hindsight, I think God's mercy was on me because I felt uncomfortable through the whole talk. It was a relief to get off the phone because I didn't want to screw it up. Yes, moments when eternity is knocking on someone's door can cause these feelings of insecurity. I don't know why. It just happens.
From the time that I got off the phone to when he was admitted to the ICU, he started to deteriorate within a period of three days. It was super fast. The cancer had spread from his esophagus to his liver, gall bladder, and kidneys. Things were shutting down quickly and he was put on a ventilator.
His two daughters and wife prayed for a miracle. They even put his battle with death on the zoom app for all the church to partner with them in prayer. It was surreal and a bit uncomfortable to watch someone gasping for air. The doctors realized after three days on the ventilator, he wasn't responding to any type of treatment. They decided to pull him off the ventilator and let nature takes its course. As Christians, we saw this as an opportunity for God to perform a miracle.
Actually, I saw this happen, the miracle of someone rising from the dead. I was leading our church service and someone collapsed during our time of worship. Their heart stopped. Doctors and nurses in our congregation started to do CPR and to no avail she continued to stay flat line. Even after the paramedics showed up and administered a defibrillator, her heart refused to restart. As they carried her onto a gurney and wheeled her to the ambulance, she abruptly sat up and started to yell in fear. I was more terrified than joyful. The joy came later, but at the moment I was in shock. Miracles have a way of doing this.
During that whole life and death ordeal, we continued to worship and pray. What else could we do? When she finally rose up, she had been dead for about fifteen minutes. After twelve, the brain goes dead and one loses their eye sight. She had none of those physical break downs. She was perfectly fine. The paramedics were blown away. The doctor, who made it clear that he was not a religious person, told her husband that this was a bonafide miracle.
So, experiencing this in the past, I had a level of faith that my friend could rise from the dead. God did it before and he could do it again.
Honestly, as I watched my friend gasping for air on the zoom app, my faith started to wane. I continued to pray despite the dismal outward signs. The rest of the church prayed. They prayed hard.
Then all of a sudden at about 12:12 AM I sensed Greg moved from death to life. It wasn't wishful thinking, but a real sensing that something happened. A handful of other people felt the same thing. Before that moment, all I could sense was the grave, death, and a morbid level of hopelessness.
I saw in a vision Greg rising from the dead and moving into a definite place of life. It was so certain that even if Greg wanted to die, he couldn't. His life was sealed. He was on the resurrection train to life!
How did I interpret this astounding revelation? Like everyone else, I thought Greg would rise from that ICU bed and start eating and talking. The sense of life was so strong!
However, about fifteen minutes later, he drew in his last breath and expired. "What happened? I saw him rise from the dead! I sensed him moving from death to life!"
Paul states in Philippians 3:10, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death." These were Paul the Apostle's goals in life and he wanted us to adopt them as our own. However, I had a problem with the power of his resurrection part. How could I achieve this? Does this mean I had to raise people from the dead on a regular basis in order to achieve or experience this goal? It was too lofty a dream for me to even contemplate before this experience with Greg.
During the intense prayer time in the ICU via zoom, I literally experienced the power of God's resurrection. Yes, I saw someone physically rise from the dead at our church, but this was even more profound. Eternal life was way more powerful! Experiencing someone move from temporal life into eternity was way more mind blowing. I saw it. I experienced it. I knew that I knew Greg was saved and dancing with the angels in heaven.
Again, it wasn't wishful thinking on my part, but God touching my heart in a very special way to assure me of his resurrection power. Instead of sadness, I felt peace. I even felt a level of joy I still carry today. The joy was and is that strong. I know that I know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Death, where is your sting? Death, where is your power? It's been swallowed up by the life which comes through faith in Jesus!!! (Romans 10:9-10).
Eternal life always appeared far off on the horizon in my psyche. You would think that me being a Christian pastor would cause me to keep the resurrection of Jesus and the miracle of salvation at the forefront of my thinking. Sadly, it wasn't. However, watching the life and death struggle of my friend via Zoom technology helped me to reprioritize my life. Death and eternity are just a step away and we need to prepare for that momentous day. More importantly, Jesus is the answer to a world fearful of death. He is all the preparation we need.
It's crazy and it may seem sacrilegious or even down right insensitive to say this, but I am thankful for my experience with Greg's death. In some strange way, I learned about life, resurrection life, through Greg's battle with cancer. Modern society shields us from the reality of death. It sterilizes our experiences so as to limit our uncomfortability with things like death. In truth, we need to experience it all, life and death, to appreciate all that we have on earth and the resurrection life that awaits us.
For God so loved the world that he gave us his only begotten son. That whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16