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Walking through the valley of death with God

Twenty one of the 27 books in the New Testament are epistles or letters and Paul wrote thirteen of them. Romans is unique because most of Paul’s letters were written following his visit to a particular church; Romans was written before his visit to Rome. He wanted to introduce himself to the church there, and he wanted to lay out, or outline, his beliefs and his faith. So, Ray Stedman calls Romans “the master keys to Scripture.”

It’s a long book, but you can sum it up in one simple statement, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

Then, as usual, my curiosity sent me to the dictionary; death means “the act of dying, the end of life, the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism, the state of being dead, to lie still in death, extinction, destruction, the death of our hopes, the manner of dying, with an initial capital the agent of death personified (usually represented as a man or a skeleton carrying a scythe), spiritual death, and finally the loss or absence of spiritual life.”

I remember trying, unsuccessfully, to draw blood from a patient at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, and suddenly realized the patient was dead. I remember participating in autopsies. I remember saving a young boy’s life with a procedure I developed. I remember sitting with a family in southwest Georgia trying to decide whether to cut off the machines. I remember talking to the doctors about our parents’ death and when we should “give up.” I have, many times, walked through the valley of the shadow of death with a patient and their family.

And I remember standing beside my son as we waited for death to take his wife. She’d confronted the doctor and demanded the truth about her condition. If he could help, then help. If there was nothing he could do, then let her go, because she was ready.

It seems I’ve spent my whole life dealing with death as a medical chemist and later as a pastor, and I can tell you one thing I’ve learned from it, faith in God makes all the difference. It made all the difference when a doctor in Savannah told me three of my ten biopsies showed cancer in my prostate.

For four years I lived in the valley of the shadow of death, until the day the doctor told me the cancer was gone and to come back once a year. It’s been ten years now,  I’m still cancer-free, and I can tell you another thing I’ve learned; facing death puts everything else in your life in a different light. Before that encounter in Savannah, “things” were important; now “things” are no longer important. Faith and family and friends are!