As I write these words I sit in a Lazy boy recliner recovering from hip replacement surgery and my wife is on her way to Florida for her Grand Mother’s funeral. I feel inadequate and a brokenhearted that I cannot travel with her and help her as she grieve’s for this important, loving, and gentle woman in her life. I will be doing Bee’s funeral via DVD…but DVD’s are not arms that can hug or compassion extended face to face.
This morning very early as I prayed with Kari and then sat by myself watching the sun come up I thought of one of my favorite stories concerning death, funerals and loss. It involved an old, fiery Baptist Preacher named Vance Havner. I remember my mentor Wayne Smith sharing this story often. Vance Havner married his wife, shared ministry with her for many many years and then she preceded him in death. He was brokenhearted, as any of us who have ever gone through something which creates a deep hole in our heart would be. Vance had preached hundreds of funerals, but on this day he stood by his wife’s casket…he was on the other side of this emotional event. Friends and family continued to pass by the casket…each sharing, “Vance, we’re sorry about your loss…Vance, we’re sorry you’ve lost your wife.” Hour after hour this continued…well meaning people expressed these sentiments. And finally, this fiery, crusty, hurting, preacher could take it no longer. When his best friend hugged him and said, “Vance, I’m so sorry you’ve lost your wife.” He responded: “There are two things that I am absolutely convinced of on this day, 1. God is on His throne in heaven and in control, and 2. Nothing, and I mean nothing is lost if you know where it is!!!”
I’ve done hundreds of funerals in my 35 years of ministry, including my father’s, my best friend Darrel’s, my grandmother’s, two Aunts, a first cousin, children, suicides, tragic deaths and funerals that were longed for. I cannot remember ever doing a funeral where someone didn’t say, “O, we can be thankful that they are in a better place.” But truth be known you can always sense the difference between those funerals with individuals who genuinely and intimately loved Jesus and showed His Spirit in their daily living…compared to those who…kinda believed, and whose family is looking for something to hang there hope on….anything….a baptism as a child….a statement of believing in a higher power….hoping that’s enough to sway their loved ones eternal destination. And yet, deep down…even when they ask…”Do you think they’re in heaven?” There is a powerful foreboding doubt. Children’s funerals aren’t the hardest ones I do…although they are heartrendingly hard….it’s these funerals where hope is a very slim commodity that I find the hardest. I know God is on His throne…and He is the righteous judge…that is usually my answer to the tough questions…because no preacher has the power to preach anyone into heaven…no matter how much we want to do it.
When Paul writes to the Thessalonians in his first letter to them…chapter four says…”Brothers and Sisters, we don’t want you to be ignorant about those who have fallen asleep (died), or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope….we believe that Jesus died and rose again.” None of us can know for sure if our loved one is in heaven. “Faith is the assurance of what we hope for and the conviction of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1) And, “Without faith it is impossible to please God…” (Heb. 11:6) Faith isn’t scientifically provable….hope isn’t something you can taste, touch or smell, but we should remember that faith and hope walk down the hallway of eternity holding hands….Faith isn’t just believing…it’s active living…hope isn’t a dream…it’s the real expectation that something you believe will happen…will really happen.”
My greatest desire is to introduce people to a very real faith and hope in Jesus. It’s a very real life that has an expectation of an eternal inheritance. But a close second to that desire is another one…I pray my wife will stand by my casket and say, “He loved me like Jesus would have”…I want my children and grandchildren to say, “His relationship with Jesus made him a better Dad…a better PaPaw…he loved us like Jesus would have.” And no they cannot know for sure where I am but I want them to have very little doubt, “He believed that Jesus died and rose again,” and so we will not grieve like those who have no hope. And when they hear…”We’re so sorry that you’ve lost your Dad…we’re so sorry you’ve lost your husband…something will well up in their soul and they’ll respond. “NOTHING IS LOST IF YOU KNOW WHERE IT IS.”
Living in hope,