A World(view) of Difference

I have been to a few funerals over the last couple of weeks; they have been interesting to say the least.  I officiated a funeral for a friend and then attended a funeral this weekend as well.  At the same time I am in the first steps of planning a funeral for a man who had become a friend over the last six months.  I noticed a significant difference between the funerals for those without Christ and those with Him that really pointed toward a different view of life and the world.

The two funerals this past week were (mostly, though not all) attended by people without a firm commitment to Christ.  Certainly I didn’t know everyone there, but many of the people that I saw there had the look of folks who were despondent, and as the officiant at one of the services I got to talk to a good number of people who lamented never getting to see their loved one again.  Both were very somber, very sad affairs.

Contrast that with the funeral I am planning for my friend Dan.  Dan came to our church about a year ago with a friend.  He was in his early 60s and his health was failing.  He wasn’t sure what to make of me; he certainly wasn’t expecting what he got out of the pastor of this weird church in Glendale.  We got to know each other and started meeting every couple of weeks to talk about life and God.  Dan’s health was not good, and he used a walker more and more to get around.  Yet our talks got more and more intense as he considered Christ and His work on Dan’s behalf. 

In the middle of February I asked Dan what was standing in the way of his accepting Christ as his Savior.  He said that he didn’t know, and so I asked him to go home and think about that, and maybe ask God for some clarity.  Dan came to my office the following week and said that he had gone home, drawn the blinds, and prayed about his heart.  Then, he said with tears in his eyes, he trusted Christ as his Savior. 

What joy!  Dan was baptized on April 11th in a special baptistery that could accommodate his special needs, and we continued to meet after that regularly for friendship and discipleship.  He had a hard time getting out of the house but prayed regularly, read his Bible or his “Our Daily Bread” devotional.  Well on Saturday, November 12th, Dan passed away in his sleep at his home.  Thanks be to God that he closed his eyes and opened them in the arms of the Savior he was just getting to know.

I have done funerals in this manner before.  When a dear, sweet servant of Jesus named Linda passed away I preached at her memorial service.  Likewise I will preach at Dan’s, and the message will be one of hope.  We have not said goodbye; we have sent them ahead by saying, “see you soon.” 

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. ” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, NAS)

 
Comfort one another with these words.  Death is not the end; instead, it is just the beginning of eternal life. 
 
The worldview difference between Christian funerals and secular funerals really struck me this week.  Secular funerals look to the past.  They recount the life of the deceased and offer comfort in grief because the loved one is gone.  Christian funerals, though, look to the future and the consummation of life that entering eternity is for all who trust Christ.  In Christ this life is not the end.  In Christ life is just the “proving grounds” or the “waiting room” for those who will worship the King of Kings forever.  Yes we grieve when Christian friends and family pass because we will miss them, but the grief we have is always tempered by hope.
 
There is the big difference as I observed it.  For Christians, there is hope.  This is what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13.  We grieve differently because we have hope.  We know that today is not the end, that the struggles we face and the heartache and pain will not last forever.  God is waiting to redeem us completely and bring us and all of creation to His good purposes.
 
In light of that my encouragement to you is to grasp onto the hope that God has for those who trust Christ.  Whether you are grieving a death, stressing over money, worried about your kids or your job, or fretting over the moral decline of America see the issue through the lens of hope that only Christ can bring. 
 
For Dan’s funeral in the near future, I will preach this passage with joy, and recount the words of Jesus in John 11:23-27.  Dan trusted Christ for eternal life and today is at home with the Lord, joyous and pain-free.  He has the glorification we await!  I grieve the loss of my friend, but only in the knowledge and joy that comes from knowing what happened the second after his last breath.
 
Rest in the joy of your Savior, Dan!  I will see you when He comes for me or I go to Him.  Praise God that He brought you to Himself before He brought you home.

Farewell to My Initial Inspiration to Blog

Last night Michael Spencer passed away.  You can read the memorial on his blog here.  Michael was part of the reason that I started blogging.  He was, from what I knew of him, a man with Baptist theology but the soul of an Anglican.  He loved Christ with his whole heart, and much like the Psalmist he wrote when times were good and when times were bad in his life.  He wore his emotions, his thoughts, and his theology on his sleeve; in the process he inspired me to start blogging and to be a better and more thoughtful pastor and theologian.

I suppose it is a tribute to the information age that I only interacted with Michael once other than commenting on his blog.  (http://www.internetmonk.com is the place…)  He had an old blog before iMonk that I linked to on Facebook because I thought the header picture was cool, but when one of my friends on FB got offended at one of the pictures on it, I messaged Michael and asked him to pray for me and for this man.  The offensive picture was a “Jesus action figure” who was dressed in battle fatigues and carrying a gun; the picture was clearly satirical and meant to be a critique of the way Americans viewed Jesus, but my friend didn’t get that.  Michael responded not only by praying for me and for my friend, but by going so far as to change the picture.  That was the kind of man I knew him to be: tender-hearted and desiring to help others find a place to worship God.

I am reminded today of what Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18,

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.
14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.
15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

When friends die we grieve, but as Christians we do not grieve as those who are outside of life in Christ.  We grieve for our loss but rejoice in the hope of eternal life, knowing that we will praise God forever together.

So farewell to Michael.  Enjoy the embrace of your Lord.  Thanks for being an inspiration and a friend from afar.  Thanks for making me think, for enlarging my heart for my brothers and sisters in Christ in other traditions than mine, and for being authentic and transparent.

Please say a prayer for Denise Spencer and for their children today as they mourn Michael’s loss.