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What Will Be Said at My Funeral?

Today I attended the funeral of Larry Markum who served as a Pastor, Missionary, and Church Planter. I was amazed by the number of friends and family who attended from several states to pay tribute to his life and testimony. When I moved to Northwest Arkansas, Bro. Markum called me up just to have prayer with me, and he called me periodically just to check in. The service was moving, a blessing to everybody who attended.

Earlier this week, my wife and I watched parts of the funeral of Jill Attebery, whose life also impacted so many. Angie and I had a conversation about these events in which we grappled with the question, “What would be said about me at my funeral if I died today?” It’s a huge question.

I remember listening to the funeral of W. A. Criswell online and Dr. Mac Brunson spoke of the word “influence” being made up of two words meaning “in flow.” That is, our influence speaks of those who are “in the flow” of our lives.

Let me ask you, who is downstream from you, and how are your choices each day affecting them? What kind of influence do you have and what kind of mark will you leave on the world you leave behind? All of us will leave some kind of legacy. What would you want to be said of you at your funeral?

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The Brevity of Life

Today, I attended the funeral of a 16 year old girl named Crystal. She was killed in an auto accident this past Monday. I had met her only once – she was the sister of a young lady for whom I had conducted the wedding last month. Some of the photos that scrolled by on the screen were taken at that reception. It was a very moving service, and a chilling reminder of the brevity of life.

Biblical authors often spoke of this fact. Job declared that we were like a vapor or a mist. James quoted him and embelished. Moses, in the only psalm credited to him, said that God had numbered our days. The author of Hebrews declared that it is appointed to man once to die. Life really is short. Unfortunately, it’s shorter for some than for others, but thank God we have this life. No matter the number of our days, each one can be precious when we’re redeemed by Jesus.

Every time we say goodbye to a loved one, especially one so young, we should be reminded to make the most of today’s opportunity to live for Christ and to enjoy our loved ones to the full.

The Lord Who Heals and the People Who Worship

I must confess, as a Baptist, it took me a rather long time to come to understand the healing nature of God. We Baptists, as Adrian Rogers put it, “believe in miracles, but trust in Jesus.” I still believe this is best. But I also freely admit that in our reaction to the extremism of “healing evangelists” like Binny Hinn and other obvious hucksters and false prophets, that we have a tendency to write off all supposed healings as a mere charade.

Scripture, however, clearly teaches that the Great Physician, through His miraculous touch, heals the bodies of many people. Such was the case for the entire camp of Israelites in the wilderness when they reached the bitter waters of Marah. I’m inclined to believe that these poisonous waters made many of the people quite ill. So God steps into the picture, sweetens the waters, and heals the people. So He reveals to them another title for Himself – Jehovah who heals you.

Fast-forward about fifteen hundred years to Matthew, chapter fifteen. A Gentile woman comes to Jesus and His disciples, begging for a demon to be cast out of her daughter. I am especially moved by her form of worship. First, the text declares that she “cried out to Him, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is demon-possessed.'” Amazingly, “He answered her not a word.” She chases God and He delights in the pursuit. She was apparently persistent for the disciples asked Jesus to dismiss her, saying, “for she cries out after us.”

Jesus continues to stonewall her by explaining that He was sent with Israel as His first priority, so why should He perform miracles for a Gentile woman? His remaining just beyond her reach is really an attempt to lead her on in her pursuit of the Almighty, and of course it works. “Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'”

Instead of responding to her cry, Jesus argues that He really shouldn’t be casting such great miracles before the dogs of the Gentiles. She wisely continues her pursuit, presenting a responding argument that as a dog, she’ll gladly take the crumbs that fall to her. What a great lesson she teaches us. Our worship must always have a heartfelt ring of “Whatever, whenever, however God, just bless me!” to it. So He gives in and heals her, thrilled at her great and faith-filled pursuit. Oh, for such demanding hunger that argues with God for His blessings!

In the next paragraph, Matthew records for us that multitudes came to Him and were healed, “so the multitude marveled when they say the mute speaking, the maimed made whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing; and they glorified the God of Israel.”

Jesus is the Great Physician, the mighty Healer of the children of men. I find it sad how we overlook the miraculous nature of God. We like to bring Him down to our level. “Well, you know I just think that in modern times, He heals through modern medicine…” Yes, He invented all of it and yes, He uses it, but let us never forget to look for the miraculous and to ask, to beg, to plead for His blessing.

I had a conversation a couple of years ago with a good friend who used to sit under my preaching every week, but who had moved to another town, gotten married, and attended a church of a different denomination. He related to me the story of a funeral that he attended. As he watched the mourners pass the casket to pay their last respects, his heart cried out within him, “Why did nobody ask God even once to heal her?”

Our answer, as good traditional Baptists, might be, “Well, it was just her time, it just wasn’t God’s will to heal her.” Though my friend and I may not agree on all things, I support his question. Why do we no think to ask, to beg, to plead with a worshipful heart to the Almighty Healer to perform miracles. I don’t believe He will always heal, for people do get sick and die, but shouldn’t we at least ask Him?

The theological argument that has arisen from this issue relates to the atonement, and whether or not physical healing for all of God’s people was purchased at the cross or not. I think it’s a moot point either way. The cross proves He heals in the ultimate way, spiritually and eternally. Healing didn’t necessarily have to be purchased, in the sense of a financial transaction, by His atoning death. He was already able to heal, but His atoning death was the ultimate picture of the great work of an Almighty Physician to heal the diseases of the spirit, the soul, and the body.

I think we have naturalized God and have forgotten that He’s a God of tremendous power, who is overwhelmed with compassion, and who desires to give unspeakable peace and joy to His children. He is just as alive and well today as He was in the days of Moses and Jesus. As the old song puts it, “He is able to deliver thee!” So ask, pray, beg, be an intercessor, anoint with oil, believe that He will work miracles, but ultimately trust His decisions no matter what.

One Very Loud “Amen!”

Today, Jesus got an ovation, and it was awesome! There is something about applause during a sermon that makes me extremely uncomfortable in my own skin, yet today it was highly appropriate. The verse was Revelation 1:7, a strange text for Christmas Eve, though very appropriate when the context is compared to the night before the first Christmas.

John relates the truth of the second coming of Christ to a lost world. Billions of Christ-rejectors will “wail because of him” on the day when “every eye shall see him.” Then John closes the verse with the words “Even so, Amen!” Jesus is coming. Everyone will see Him. Most will wail. Let it be so!

I can’t help but believe that we are on the eve of the second coming of Jesus Christ. In fact, I believe a heightened expectancy of His return should mark the committed Christian life. I would further describe this expectancy as anticipation, the kind you felt on Christmas eve just before going to sleep for a long winter’s night.

On the other hand, I realize the terror that will wash over the world when He comes. Imagine the turmoil of a world which lost millions of Christians unexplainably, especially considering that millions wearing the Christian label were also left behind and a few not found in church on Sunday vanished away.

Imagine a world that has experienced seven years of the harsh wrath of God toward sin. Economic upheaval, worldwide famine and disease, political tyranny will have dominated the news. Then… the sovereign God sends His Warrior-King to fully and finally disseminate His justice. The whole earth will issue forth a funeral lament. Why in the world would John say “Amen!” to this kind of an event?

Believers in Christ get to say “so be it” to the return of Christ because all of the injustices committed against us from the persecution of the Caesars to the Sudan will be avenged at last. Righteousness will rule. Our redemption, which currently “draweth nigh” will be full. And more than all of these, our Lord will be glorified when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of the Father.”

We are on the eve of His coming, as was the world in 4 b.c. Do you want to applaud? Repent? Believe? Say Amen? It all depends on where you stand with the God of the universe. He’s coming tomorrow, why not invite Him into your life today? Receive Him and say, “Amen, even so, come Lord Jesus!”

Life… In All Its Complexity

The blog has been put on hold for a couple of weeks now, primarily because of all that my wife and I have been experiencing in our personal lives. Here’s a recounting of it…

On Monday evening, October 30, Angie left her ladies’ Connection Cafe meeting feeling well, but by the time we drove from the church to our house (just a couple of minutes) she was in terrible pain. We decided to go to the emergency room. Our beloved friends, Cory and Lachelle McCaig, came to sit from about 10:00 pm until 4:30 Tuesday morning while Angie was subjected to numerous tests, which found essentially nothing wrong.

On Tuesday morning, October 31, we went for a follow-up visit at her physician’s office and he became concerned about some possible internal bleeding. He decided to admit her to St. Mary’s hospital where he would perform a laproscopic procedure simply to explore any potential problems. He, like the emergency room physician, sought to rule out the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. One he began the procedure, he discovered the worst scenario, an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy, which can be deadly.

The short, one-hour procedure turned into a two and one half hour operation with a large incision. I was so moved as I waited in the surgery waiting room as about two dozen members of our church surrounded me, waiting to hear that Angie had come through the surgery okay. We were delighted to hear that she would be just fine. The physician explained that she had sustained heavy internal bleeding and that her risk of possible death had been higher than he had anticipated.

Angie’s Dad brought her Mom down from St. Louis to help take care of her for a few days but her stay was interrupted by yet another family emergency. On Thursday, Angie’s grandmother suffered a heart attack and was in intensive care in Washington, Missouri. The family had hoped that she was improving, but in the middle of Thursday night, a call came alerting us that she had taken a turn for the worse. Angie’s Mom borrowed my car and drove through the night to be at her mother’s side. Ella Briggs (our daughter’s namesake) went home to heaven on Friday, November 3.

Later that afternoon, Angie and I loaded up our van and began the trip to St. Clair to attend the funeral, but wisdom along with some forceful but loving input from our family, prompted us to turn back and stay at home. Angie was recovering a little each day, but it may be a total of six weeks recovery time before she is completely healthy again. We’ve taken a much needed one night sabbatical to a nearby vacation spot and have attempted to settle back into a routine, with Angie returning to work on this past Monday, November 13.

The Sunday before all of this began, my text included Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are the called according to His purpose.” That Monday night, Angie testified at Connection Cafe that she had (at least we thought at the time) a miscarriage, but that God was faithfully teaching us to trust Him. It isn’t merely a cliche that “everything happens for a reason.” When you’re a believer, nothing is left to chance anymore. You realize that God has a sovereign plan that allows His children to endure some very difficult crises in life in order that we might enjoy “the fellowship of (Christ’s) sufferings.”

Since we learn how to be disciples through the tough stuff, what have I learned from all of this?

First, I’ve learned the importance of God’s timing. Had Angie not been persisent with her physician in his office, he would have sent her home where she may have bled to death. We’ve heard numerous testimonies from others who experienced the same trauma and were in grave danger. God rescued Angie just in time. On a similar note, I’ve learned the mysterious nature of God’s timing. Why would Angie’s grandmother pass away just after Angie’s surgery when her mother would have to make a midnight dash for Missouri and when Angie could not attend the funeral? All I can conlcude us that God is ultimately wise.

Second, I’ve learned the value of a loving church family, a fellowship of believers. I was surrounded in a waiting room by numerous friends and members of our spiritual family. Once home, people provided meals as well as company with their visits. We’ve experienced an outpouring of love and compassion for which we will be forever grateful. I’ve often heard others say, “I don’t see how people make it through things without a church family.” That statement was exemplified in our tragedy.

Third, I’ve learned what a beautiful and courageous woman I married! I sat in the surgery waiting room virtually helpless. I could do nothing to ensure her safety except to pray. I could do nothing to help her recover except play nurse and fetch water. Yet I watched as Angie handled the situation like a champ. Note that champions have weak moments, moments of curiosity about the activity of God and moments of emotional break-down. Tears rarely come from cowards. I’ve learned a new respect for her. While it was our baby that died so prematurely in a pregancy complication, it was her body that experienced such drastic trauma. I wish I could be half as strong as her!

More than anything, we’ve learned “in all things (to) give thanks unto God, for this is the will of God for (us) in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) At our former church, we used to have a responsive chant: “God is good… all the time… and all the time… God is good.” God really is good. We don’t always get what we expect or want, but God never ceases to be holy or loving. God has been glorified in our lives in so many ways in the last few weeks, all we can do is humbly give Him praise, cry our tears, and go on in faith that God will always be good!