Saturday, May 26, 2012

Celebrate Life

Ecclesiastes 3:2a,4 - [There is] a time to be born, and a time to die; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance...

I went to a funeral service at church Thursday morning for a man I didn't know. I had volunteered to help set up food for the luncheon afterward but for reasons only God knew I ended up at the service! 

I don't know his wife either other than seeing her smiling face as a greeter on some Sunday mornings. Our pastor, Rory Grooters, Victory International Fellowship, did the service. His message, or retelling of this man's life and circumstances leading to his death were so tender and yet so real. As it should be. Real. It touched me (and others who didn't know him well) very deeply.

Pastor minced no words as he told how he became friends with this man two years ago when he started his pastorship with our church. He had been in the hospital, ICU, rehab, and back in the hospital for seven weeks with a rare form of pneumonia. The illness got the better of him and in the end he was on a respirator, his heart and lungs failing. He would not survive.

As Pastor explained his last visit at the hospital with this man and his family, he explained how he was holding his hand and praying and reciting or paraphrasing scriptures to him and the family. He knew this man's heart was not going to recover. These were his last minutes.

One of the scriptures that came to mind was the one in Ecclesiastes above. He quoted it to the man. It's not the most comforting one but it is real. It's true for all of us.

There is a time to live and a time to die, Pastor said to us. It's how you live those years in between that matter most. And most importantly, as I see it, how the last years of our lives are lived out. 

He described a bit this man's life, how his father died when he was quite young, how he had been placed in a boy's home growing up, how he admitted once to his wife how he had never really felt he'd been loved. 

In time he became an abusive alcoholic. Those were tough years. But his wife stuck by his side. But somehow in 1995 this man came to know a love unlike any other. He came to know the love of Jesus Christ. He had given his life to Jesus and a transformation began to take place. The pain of his past, his alcoholism and abusiveness changed him into a kind hearted teddy bear of a man who people did not recognize anymore or would never have guessed was the type of man he had been. The love of Christ came out instead. He will forever be remembered not as he once had been but for who he had become in later years through his life in Christ.

You see, Christ has the power to change hearts and souls. He takes the stony heart filled with anger, bitterness, shame and guilt over others' mistakes toward us or our own sinful life choices and replaces it with a heart of flesh able to be set free from that anger, bitterness, shame or guilt...or anything else we carry as baggage.

Then pastor described the man's tensing up when he was told he would not recover, that his heart and lungs were failing. But comforting words about what lay ahead for him because of Jesus was a comfort to him and he relaxed and allowed himself to go, to be at last in the presence of God. 

In our church funerals are not always somber events if we know the spiritual condition of the departed. They are celebrations of the new life in Christ, with the new hope ahead in standing face to face with Jesus. Sitting by His side without pain, sorrow or tears. It almost brings a hint of jealousy to those who still remain. 

Yes, there is grief in losing someone. Yes, there will still be days feeling the loss. There will be a time of transition living without that person's company. Routines will be different. But during this time of healing there is one thing that remains: knowing that there was a time in that person's life when Jesus became the focal point and that eternal security is secure...and one day they will meet again, where Jesus' face, as Pastor Rory often states, replaces our faith. Oh, heavenly day! May we all know that joy in our own hearts.

It is said that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it only remains a seed, but if it dies it produces many seeds (John 12:24). I wonder how many seeds were produced at this man's dying? How many hearts will turn to Christ and lives be changed because of one whose seeds are produced by those who die in our lives...and words of life are spoken instead of words of sorrow at the gathering of family and friends for the dearly departed? 

God has given us His Son that we may have the hope of eternal life but it is up to us to receive Jesus by faith, confess our sins directly to Him, ask Him to forgive us...and then seriously follow after Him so we can have the assurance of the same life in Christ on earth and also with Christ in heaven. I know which choice I have made. Do you?

2 Samuel 14:14 - Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.

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