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Category Archives: Funerals

Take Charge of your Death

What do you want written on your epitaph? How do you want to be remembered?

Hebrews 10:37-39 tells us that we need to live by faith. In chapter 11, the author of the book gives numerous examples of ordinary men and women who took God at his word and acted accordingly. In Hebrews 11:17-22, we discover that not only do we need to live by faith, we also need to die by faith. We need to understand that the legacy we leave is more important than the heritage we received. Through the example of the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph—we discover how to finish well and leave a legacy of faith.

Model faith to your children (17-19). Abraham obeyed God’s command to give his son, Isaac, back to God. God had promised to bless the world through Abraham and give him as many descendants as there were stars in the sky. While Abraham might not have fully comprehended God’s instruction to sacrifice Isaac, he trusted God to keep his promise even if it meant raising Isaac from the dead. Abraham trusted the promises and the power of God. Imagine the impact that had on Isaac on the return journey.

Look to the future with confidence (20). Isaac rode a roller coaster of faith throughout his lifetime—one minute trusting God and the next minute trying to do things his own way. God answered his prayers for children (Genesis 25:21). God promised that “the older will serve the younger (25:23). In the midst of a famine, God confirmed his promise about his descendants (26:3-4). Isaac then lied about his wife (26:7) and followed it up by building an altar (26:25). Isaac then ignored God’s instructions and set about to bless the son he favored, Esau (27:1-4). He was first deceived into blessing Jacob (27:5-9) but then later chose to bless Jacob (28:1-4). Isaac pictured a hopeful future for his son, Jacob, in his blessing.

Bless your descendants with intentionality (21). It took Jacob a lifetime of divine discipline to learn obedience. Jacob went from praising God (Genesis 28:16-17) to bargaining with God (28:20-21) to acknowledging God’s blessing (31:5) to wrestling with God (32:24-26). At the end of his life, he resisted the temptation to be “fair” and passed on a unique blessing to Joseph’s sons.

Anchor your life on the promises of God (22). As Joseph’s death drew near, he used the event as a teachable moment. He reminded his family of the promises given to Abraham that Israel would be strangers and slaves in Egypt for 400 years but afterward, God would bring them back to the Promised Land. Joseph made them promise not to leave his bones behind in Egypt when they left and returned to the land of their ancestors. Joseph was confident that nothing could annul God’s promises.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave your children? How can you model your faith to them? Do they know what you believe and why you believe it? Do you have a confident hope about the future? How can you be intentional in the way you treat and bless your children and grandchildren? Is your life and faith anchored on God’s promises?

What changes do you need to make today to make sure you leave a godly legacy? Remember that the legacy you leave is more important than the heritage you received.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 29, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

Answering the Why? Question

These are the thoughts I shared on Saturday at Jackie Tisdale’s memorial service.

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If I asked you two weeks ago what you would be doing today, none of us would say, “I’ll be at a funeral.” This event was not on my calendar. The death of Jackie Tisdale was sudden and unexpected . . . at least from our perspective. I was stunned when I read the news on Facebook. My first thought was, “No, that can’t be right.”

Perhaps you, like me, have had many thoughts and prayers the past two weeks that started off with “Why?” “Why this?” “Why now?” “God, what are you doing?”

I started wrestling with the question of “Why?” some 35 years ago when my dad died of cancer. I struggled with it 20 years ago when my brother was killed in an industrial accident. I circled back to it again two weeks ago when I learned that Jackie had passed away.

As I thought about that question the past two weeks, I was reminded of a man who had similar questions. He was a wealthy patriarch by the name of Job. He was a man who had it all. He had seven sons and three daughters, and 11,000 head of livestock including sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys. He was rich by anyone’s standards.

And yet in the space of a few days, he lost everything, including his health. The only thing left was his wife and she had become a bitter woman. Job 2:9 says, “Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’” In essence she said, “Job, you’re a fool to keep trusting God. All your devotion amounted to this? Curse God and give up.”

Maybe you are feeling like that this morning. You trusted God. You relied on Jackie. And God took her away. If that’s how God treats his children, why bother trusting him?

Job had some well-meaning friends who stopped by to comfort him. Isn’t it strange that when we don’t know what to say, we either say nothing or say the wrong thing? Job’s friends were like that. In fact, they belonged to the “Cliché-of-the-month-Club.”

  • Job, you must have done something wrong. I bet God is punishing you.
  • Job, if you had only been a better person, you wouldn’t be in this mess.
  • Job, just trust God and everything will turn out ok.
  • Job, if you only had had more faith, or trusted God more, or been more generous, or . . . or . . . none of this would have happened.

We’ve all heard the clichés. In fact, we’ve probably said a few of them ourselves. Maybe you have heard or thought these statements over the past two weeks.

In his pain and depression, Job cried out and said, “Why?” And you know what God’s reply was?             SILENCE.

Despite what people say, despite all the pious sounding clichés, the comforting words, or finding someone to blame . . . despite all the well-meaning efforts, there is no answer to the “Why?” question.

In chapter 38 of the book of Job, God finally answered, sort of. But instead of answering Job’s questions, God asked Job some of his own.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? … “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, …12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place, … 16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea, or walked in the recesses of the deep? … 19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light, and where is the place of darkness, … 22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, … 24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed, or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth? … 28 “Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? … 31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion? 32 … can you guide the Bear with its children? 33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth?        35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’?

After God finished his questions, Job finally understood. He had been asking the wrong question. The question is not “Why?” The real question is “Who?”

At the end of the story, Job finally realized that God was sovereignly in control. He recognized that just because God did not explain everything to him, it didn’t mean that God didn’t have a plan and a purpose. In Job 42:1–2, we read, “Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”

The concept of God’s sovereignty means that God is sitting on his throne, that he has a plan and a purpose that he is moving to accomplish, and nothing will stop him from completing it. God’s sovereignty says that nothing happens by accident and that God is not surprised by any seeming tragedy. Somehow, and we may never understand why, it is all part of his plan and purpose.

Recognizing God’s sovereignty doesn’t answer all the “Why?” questions. But it does answer the “Who?” question. It says that God is in control and that he can be trusted. While we still grieve, we can take comfort in the fact that Jackie’s death was not a random act or an accident. It was all part of God’s plan and purpose.

Jackie had a strong confidence in Who. Like Job, Jackie was confident that God was her redeemer. In Job 19:25–26 we read, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God.” Jackie is now in the presence of her redeemer, the one whom she put her faith and trust in.

Some years ago, my wife discovered a saying that said, “God is the Master Weaver—only he knows when the tapestry is complete.” Somehow in God’s plan, Jackie’s tapestry was complete. The final thread was added and he called her home. If I were weaving the tapestry, I would have included a few more threads. But I’m not the Master Weaver.

For some reason God’s tapestry for _________ and for us at First Central includes what looks to us to be some knots and twisted threads. Only time will tell what scene the Master Weaver is trying to weave into our lives. But we can be confident that he is still at work.

God’s sovereignty raises the issue of, “If God is who he says he is, can these events fit into his plan? Can he use these things to accomplish his purpose? If God is who he says he is, does he have the right to do with my life whatever he wants?”

Basically, it comes down to an issue of confidence and trust. Like Job, Jackie knew that God could be trusted. She agreed with the statement in Job 13:15, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” Jackie loved Jesus and trusted him completely. We need to trust that God knows what he is doing.

 

What will people remember about me?

I have officiated and/or attended a countless number of funerals during my lifetime. I have conducted memorial services for family, friends, members of the congregation, and strangers I’ve never met. I have led services within our church and for local funeral homes who had a client that desired a clergy member for the event.

During these services, I have heard funny stories, whispers of regret, thought provoking comments, empty phrases, and polite comments. I have witnessed people who praised the dearly departed’s cooking ability and flower arrangements. I have heard tales about their gracious manner, witty repartees, and insightful comments. Still others told stories about their loved ones’ generosity, helpful gestures, and winsome personality. I have laughed, cried, felt somber, been joyful, and experienced every emotion in between.

On many occasions, I have left the service feeling that their loved one must have been a wonderful, delightful person. But I wondered, did they love Jesus? If so, why didn’t anyone speak about their faith?

When it comes time for my funeral, what will people remember about me? Will they talk about who I was or what I did? Will they focus on my character or my behavior? Will they tell funny stories? Will they speak of what I taught or events I planned? Will anyone comment on my faith? Will they say that I loved Jesus?

Perhaps I should be more intentional about how I live now rather than leave my legacy to chance. Maybe I need to model the qualities that I want people to remember about me.

What will people remember about you? What legacy do you want to leave?

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2018 in Funerals, Personal growth

 

Indebted

Like many, I was surprised and saddened to learn of Billy Graham’s death yesterday. Since he was 99 years old, it was expected, but it was still a surprise.

As I reflect on a life well lived, I acknowledge my debt of gratitude to Billy Graham. He impacted my life in a number of ways.

  • My mother-in-law came to faith in Christ during one of Billy Graham’s first crusades in Los Angeles.
  • As a junior higher, my parents and my brother and I sang in the choir during a crusade in Anaheim Stadium. I recall going forward and rededicating my life to Christ during that crusade. I benefited from the follow up material afterwards as it helped strengthen my faith.
  • I attended the counselor training when a crusade was held in the Seattle-Tacoma area.
  • Our church participated in phone counseling after several of the Graham crusades.
  • Billy Graham’s practice of financial integrity and avoiding temptation with the opposite sex provided models to follow.
  • Our church participated in the My Hope campaign four years ago. It provided one more tool of how to share your faith.
  • A couple of articles I wrote were published in Decision Magazine.
  • My wife and I visited The Cove and The Billy Graham Library two years ago and were greatly impressed and encouraged.

Salvation, discipleship, equipping, resources, examples, tools, models, encouragement, ministry opprotunites … I am indebted to Dr. Graham in many, many ways.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2018 in Funerals, Heaven, News stories

 

What do we mean when we say, “Rest in Peace”?

This was originally published in July 2013. Since I have seen “R.I.P.” posted twice in the past week I thought it might be time to repost.

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I’ve noticed recently that several Christian friends on Facebook post “Rest in Peace” when a well-known actor, author, or celebrity dies. It caused me to ask the question, what exactly do we mean when we say, “Rest in Peace”?

In one sense, death is a time of rest, at least for our physical bodies. Scripture uses the metaphor of “going to sleep” to describe death. This picture is mentioned three times in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. Dr. Luke uses the same concept in Acts 7 and the apostle Paul uses it again in 1 Corinthians 15 on two occasions. In Mark, chapter 5, the daughter of a religious leader had died and Jairus, her father, begged Jesus for help. Jesus said, “She’s not dead; she is asleep.” In this sense, death is a time of rest.

In another sense, death is a time when we rest from our labors and enjoy our inheritance. Hebrews 4 talks about the “Sabbath rest” for the people of God. It links the idea to God’s work of creating the world in six days and resting on the seventh day as well as Israel’s wandering in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land. Tying them together, to rest means to cease from our labor of trying to earn God’s favor and enjoying the inheritance and blessings he has prepared for us.

This doesn’t mean, however, that eternity will be spent floating on clouds strumming a harp. Scripture pictures heaven as a place where we engage in meaningful activity. We will be engaged in worship (Revelation 22:1-3), praising Christ for providing our salvation. We will also be serving as we reign with Christ in eternity (Revelation 20:6).

However, these pictures of rest are only true of those who trusted Christ for salvation during their lifetime. Those who rejected Christ as savior will find themselves in hell enduring an eternity of suffering (Matthew 13:42, 50).

With this is mind, we need to be careful about whom we say “Rest in Peace” to. We don’t want to come across as closet universalists who believe all people go to heaven regardless of their beliefs or lifestyle. Nor do we want to communicate that we secretly believe God grades on a curve and the more well-known you are, the more likely you will be in heaven. We also don’t want to act as if this life is all there is, and there is no afterlife. In addition, we don’t want to say “Rest in Peace” simply because we don’t know what else to say.

Eternal rest is only available to those who stopped working to earn their salvation. For the Christ follower, they can go to sleep and later wake up in the arms of Jesus. They can rest and fully enjoy the blessings of salvation and heaven.

 

 

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in Facebook, Funerals, Heaven, News stories, Theology

 

A Disciple’s Devotion

Being 61 years old, and having spent half my life in ministry, I have attended, participated, and led my share of funerals. Some were joyous celebrations while others were somber affairs. Some were well-planned while others appeared disorganized and disjointed.

In January 2008, I was in the thriving metropolis of Flagler, CO, (population 567 people) for my aunt Charity’s memorial service. Flagler lies ninety miles east of Denver near the Kansas border. Charity had passed away in AL and her ashes would be placed in the family plot at Flagler.

I flew into Denver, met my cousin, Janet, and together we headed east to Flagler. As I walked through the cemetery, I noted the grave markers listing the names of some of my relatives and ancestors. It appeared to me that the hole for my aunt’s urn was near the wrong headstone. But then again, I’m a city boy, so what do I know? As the workers encouraged us to head for the church, we learned that they had indeed dug the hole in the wrong location.

Joseph of Arimathea wanted to make sure no such mistakes were made when Jesus Christ died (Mark 15:42-47). He took control of the situation to ensure that Jesus was properly buried. In so doing, he provided us with a model of how a follower of Jesus acts. Based on his example, a disciple of Jesus Christ looks for where God is at work, takes a courageous stand for their faith, and demonstrates their devotion to Jesus.

The death of Jesus occurred at 3:00PM on Friday (Mark 15:34-37). Normally, a crucified criminal was allowed to remain on the cross for several days. Jewish law, however, required that the body be buried before sundown (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). Since the Sabbath began at 6:00PM, and no work could be done on the Sabbath, there was a sense of urgency to bury Jesus.

The apostle Paul states that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus were matters of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Some, however, dismiss the idea of the resurrection by saying that Jesus did not die. He simply passed out on the cross and was later revived in the coolness of the tomb.

If you examine the facts, the death of Jesus was attested by:

  • Joseph of Arimathea (43) – Joseph asked for permission to bury the body of Jesus. He recognized that he was dead.
  • A Roman Centurion (44-45) – Pilate quizzed the Roman Centurion who was in charge of the execution. He attested that Jesus was dead.
  • Pilate (44-45) – Pilate released the body to Joseph, again attesting to the fact that Jesus was dead. The word used for “body” (45) is the word for “corpse.”
  • Jesus’ burial (46) – Joseph wrapped Jesus’ body and buried him in the tomb. You do not bury people who are living. You bury dead people.
  • Mary Magdalene & Mary, the mother of Joses (47) – The two Mary’s witnessed the burial and knew the location of the tomb.

The historicity of the death of Jesus is firm. The early church would not have invented a story about Jesus being buried by a Jewish leader, who at most was a secret disciple, rather than his family or close disciples. Nor would invention have made women the chief witnesses of the event.

Seeing as there is little doubt about the death and burial of Jesus, the main question in this passage revolves around who Joseph of Arimathea was. Before the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea was:

  • A respected member of the Sanhedrin (43). However, he did not approve of the crucifixion (Luke 23:51), which may indicate he was not present at the trial.
  • A godly man who was looking for God’s kingdom (43). He was a devout Pharisee who knew the Old Testament scriptures and expected the kingdom to come through Jesus.
  • A secret follower of Jesus who was afraid of what people would think if they found out (John 19:38).

Joseph’s life was apparently transformed by Jesus’ death. Afterwards, Joseph risked everything to demonstrate his devotion to Jesus.

  • He risked political suicide by asking Pilate for permission to bury the body of Jesus (43). After an execution, the body was only released to family members. Joseph, a non-family member, identifies with a man executed for treason.
  • He risked economic suicide by paying for the burial out of his own pocket (46). He purchased the supplies and used his own tomb for the burial.
  • He risked religious suicide. By handling a dead body, he would be unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11) which meant he could not celebrate the Passover.

My prayer is that the death of Jesus transforms us like it did Joseph of Arimathea.

  • We should become disciples who look for where God is at work. Pray for eyes to see what God is doing. Live with a sense of expectation. Understand God’s plan. Join him in his work.
  • We should become disciples who take a courageous stand for our faith. Counter the culture. Tell people about Jesus. Resist temptation.
  • We should become disciples who demonstrate our devotion to Jesus. Study the Scriptures. Make time to pray. Serve. Live obediently.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 15, 2016. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

 

Conducting Funerals

(Note: One of our interns at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, asked for input on conducting funerals since it was not a topic typically covered in seminary classes. I put this outline together as part of his internship.)

The funerals I conduct generally come from one of two sources—a family in the church or a local funeral home.

If I am aware of a death within the church family, I try to contact them first to offer condolences and help. Sometimes it means leaving a message or voice mail, but I try to make the first contact. If it is a funeral home, they contact me to see if I am available on the day of the wake/funeral.

After the initial contact, I meet with the family. If it is a church family, this is done in person at their convenience. If the service is for a funeral home, I do this over the phone (getting the contact info from the funeral home). Regardless of whether I know the family or not, I try to gather the same information—favorite Scripture, favorite hymns/songs, stories & memories, life events, spiritual beliefs, etc. I want to get to know the deceased from their perspective. I also offer my condolences and prayers for them.

The family may need help in knowing what to do next. The funeral home is generally helpful in this regard.

The books on the bibliography are helpful in knowing how to plan the service itself.

  • Funeral Services for Today – James L. Christensen. Fleming H. Revell Company: Old Tappan, NJ, 1977
  • Minister’s Funeral Manual – compiled by Samuel Ward Hutton. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1968.
  • Leading Today’s Funerals: A pastoral guide for improving bereavement ministry – Dan S. Lloyd. Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, MI, 1997.
  • A contemporary handbook for weddings & funerals and other occasions – Aubrey Malphurs & Keith Willhite (eds.). Kregel: Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.
  • Weddings, funerals and special events: The personal ministry of public occasions. The Leadership Library, Volume 10 – Eugene Peterson, Calvin Miller, and others. Word Books: Waco, TX, 1987.

When I first starting doing funerals, I devoured them. Now that I’ve done many funerals, I use them occasionally.

During the funeral service itself, I have four primary goals:

  • Comfort the family
  • Talk about the hope of heaven
  • Preach the gospel
  • Glorify God

Long ago, I committed to preach the gospel at every wedding and funeral I did. You never know who may be present, and this may be the only time in their life they will hear the message.

A typical outline of a service might look like this:

  • Prelude
  • Welcome & Prayer
  • Congregational singing (or special music)
  • Scripture reading (passages often read include the following – Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Psalm 90; John 14:1-6; Job 19:25-27; Psalm 116:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Psalm 23)
  • Reading of Personal History
  • Sharing Memories (optional)
  • Message
  • Congregational singing (or special music)
  • Benediction
  • Postlude

In crafting the message for the memorial service,

  • I ask the family if their loved one had a favorite passage of Scripture. If so, I try to put together a message using that passage. I’ve done messages on Psalm 91, Isaiah 26:3-4, Psalm 55:22, and Proverbs 3:5-6.
  • If they let me choose, I generally preach on John 14:1-6 or the biblical metaphors of death (going to sleep, going on a journey, going home).
  • I’ve also done a message on the book of Job and God’s sovereignty which I’ve used for tragic, unexpected deaths like my brother’s.
  • I’ve used Psalm 139 for the funeral of an infant who died at birth

When I am asked to do a funeral for a funeral home or the VA cemetery, and I don’t know about the person’s spiritual life, I generally start with the story of the rich man and Lazarus where the rich man asked Abraham to send someone to tell his family to get ready to meet God. I say that their loved one would want us to know 4 FACTS (using the word FACT as an acrostic)—Heaven is a FREE gift; ALL have sinned; CHRIST died for our sins; and we need to TRUST Christ for salvation.

Honorariums: I don’t charge to do a wedding or a funeral. I don’t approach these with a mercenary attitude and I don’t have any expectation of being paid. However, I know that families want to say, “Thank you.” A mentor once told me that to turn down a gift was not the gracious thing to do. We need to allow people to express their thanks. The only times I refused an honorarium was for my mother’s wedding and my brother’s funeral.

  • If someone from church wants to give me a gift, I receive it graciously, and I don’t open it until I get home.
  • A funeral home typically charges the family for the pastor. Again, I don’t set the fee, but I receive whatever is given. “The laborer is worthy of his hire.”