Fifteen years ago my mom had a health scare that landed her in ICU. We honestly didn’t know what the future held for her. She was diagnosed with COPD, a respiratory disease that is progressive and incurable. She had to make some radical lifestyle changes: she gave up smoking, had to change her diet, and was told that she needed to exercise regularly. Mom never smoked again. Her diet…well, I come from a long line of folks who like food. Great cooks make for some great meals. Mom exercised with my dad for awhile, but once her COPD progressed she found it more and more difficult to maintain the discipline that is necessary to exercise on a regular basis. Every now and then I would pull out some of the best motivational speeches that I had heard from my coaches through the years. You know, things like, “If it’s hurting it’s helping! When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” They weren’t so effective. The disease progressed and mom became more and more sedentary.
During the past year she has been in the hospital more than 100 days. I think we could all see the handwriting on the wall. When we would have family gatherings we took more pictures knowing that our photo opportunities would be winding down at some point in the not too distant future.
Then, just about two weeks ago, mom was in the hospital again. Her mind, as well as her body, was simply worn out. My family and I met with her doctor and the possibility of calling in Hospice was talked about. “Hospice” is one of those words that families don’t like to hear. The word, “Hospice,” means that the end is relatively imminent, that life is drawing to a close. None of us wants to think about that when it concerns someone we love. Yet, I told my family that I had dealt with Hospice many times with folks in our church and that I had never been around more compassionate and caring people.
Mom came home under the care of Hospice. The good news was that hopefully she would never have to go back to the hospital again. The bad news was that mom’s life was drawing to a close. Connie went to see mom, then the next day Dan and the twins made their way to Duncan to spend time with mom. Last Sunday, after I finished everything I needed to do at church, I took Annie down to spend time with mom. I’m so grateful that mom was still somewhat lucid. She knew each of them, told them that she loved them, and they got to spend time with her before she passed.
I took Annie home on Sunday night. I didn’t sleep too well so I left home early Monday morning and headed to Duncan to be with my dad and my sisters as we waited on Jesus to come for mom. Monday and Tuesday were difficult days, but they were also days that I will treasure for the rest of my life.
On Tuesday morning, mom’s breathing began to slow. Her struggle was intense. I pulled a chair up beside her bed and began to read Scripture to her for some time. A little later my dad put a DVD on that played the Bible. The room was filled with the sound of a man reading God’s Word as we spent the last few hours with mom. We were all gathered around her bed holding her hands, stroking her forehead, telling her that we loved her. When mom took her last breath I reached out to take the hands of my dad and sisters and we gave thanks for allowing us to share life with mom, we gave thanks that the Lord had gone to prepare a place for my mother and that He had come for her, and we gave thanks that her struggle had ended. We gave thanks with tears streaming down our faces.
Not five minutes after I finished praying and while we were still gathered around her the room was filled with the man’s voice. He said,
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:1-6 NIV)
When he began my dad said, “Listen…” There was total silence in the room as the man read to us the 23rd Psalm. What a sweet reminder to all of us that even though we were walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” with my mom we didn’t need to fear because the Lord was with her, and with us.
On Tuesday evening I got in my truck and began my drive back home. My mind was flooded with memories of mom. While I drove I laughed and cried as I remembered things mom had said and done. I have so many incredible memories of my mother and I will forever treasure all of them.
I want to thank all of you who made the trip to Duncan on Friday as we celebrated my mom’s birthday. She would have turned 70 on Friday. There is a verse in Psalm 90 that says,
10 The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; (Psalm 90:10 NIV)
My mom lived just short of 70 years. In my mind her life was cut short by about 50 years. I wish she would have lived longer, much longer. I’m grateful for every day that mom lived, but as I drove home and flipped through the countless memories I have been blessed with I would have given anything for just one more. Just one more… Isn’t that the way it should be when you lose someone you love? “Please Lord, just one more memory.” It doesn’t matter how old they are when they die, when someone you love dies, you yearn for just a little bit more.
About five years ago my cousin, Stacie Hays, tragically died at the age of 40. A life cut short. After I spoke at her funeral I shared a lesson the Lord had taught me called, “An Untimely Death.” I don’t know how many copies of that sermon we have given out over the last five years, but I feel safe to say that it is has been in the hundreds. The lesson was about how to deal with the untimely death of someone you love.
Two years ago my grandmother died and she was 85 years old. She lived a long life, longer than either my cousin or my mother, but when she died I still wanted more time with her. That’s the way it is and that is the way it will always be when we lose someone we love, someone who has made a difference in our lives.
Now, with all of that said, I know that God is Sovereign, I know that He alone knows the number of our days before they even begin, and I know that my mother is more alive at this very moment than she has ever been in her life. I rejoice at knowing these things that I have learned from God’s Word. It is just that I would like to have another day, make another memory, and share another laugh with her.
I’m certain that many of you know exactly what I am talking about because you too have lost someone really special to you when they were well up in years, and yet it just seemed that they died too soon. That is why I want to take this time this morning to share some Scripture with you and talk about what we can learn from these experiences in life.
First, let me say that we have to rely upon God’s Word if we want to learn valuable lessons from the experiences we have in life about death. Society sure doesn’t have anything to teach us, popular culture does everything in the world to try and avoid dealing with our mortality, but God’s Word has incredible lessons for us if we will just be still and be teachable. Let’s begin.
Life is Short
The first lesson is this: life is short. I’ve learned, from losing loved ones and speaking at the funerals of lots and lots of people, that my life is going to be brief. I haven’t had some premonition that I’m going to die in the next ten minutes or ten years, but it doesn’t matter if I live to be one hundred years old, life is brief. The older we get the quicker the pages on the calendar seem to turn don’t they? Job said,
1 “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! 2 We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. (Job 14:1-2 NLT)
Job was a wise man. He understood the brevity of life. I would say that one of the great lessons that God wants us to learn is that life is short. I would also say that this is one of the missing truths in most of our lives today. We can get so distracted by chasing after the next “fun” thing to do and just taking care of business that we forget that our days are numbered. We are not the first to get distracted. In James 4:13-16 we read,
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16 NIV)
We have no idea what will happen today much less tomorrow. We have to realize that there are consequences attached to being mindful of the brevity of life as well as acting like we are going to live forever. In Psalm 90:12 we read,
12 Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. (Psalm 90:12 NLT)
Do you see the possibility that is there for us if we will realize the brevity of life? The Psalmist says, “…so that we may grow in wisdom.” If we know that life is short we can live a more focused life. If we know that life is short we can live a more intentional life. If we know that our lives are short we can focus on the things that are really important in life and not be so easily distracted by lesser things. If we know that life is short we can make the most of the relationships we have been blessed with now. I want to show you one more Scripture under the heading—Life is brief. Turn with me Psalm 39:4-5.
4 “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered– how fleeting my life is. 5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:4-5 NLT)
Heaven is Drawing Near
The second lesson is this: Heaven grows sweeter and more real by the day. For those who trust in God, truly believe His Word, the more funerals we attend the more we are reminded that Heaven is drawing near.
Not too long before my mom passed away Annie asked me, “How are you doing?” I told her, “I’m doing fine. I’m going to miss my mom, but I really believe what I believe.” I really do. I believe God’s Word is more than fables or the words of men. I believe the promises of God are just that…the promises of God. As I’ve read the Word of God and reviewed the many promises that God has made throughout history I have not been able to find a single promise that He has ever broken. If He promised to go and prepare a place for us, then come back for us so that we might be where He is, then, with His perfect record of keeping promises, why should I doubt the truthfulness of His promise?
I’ve watched the bodies and minds of people I have known slowly wither and waste away through the years. It is a difficult thing to watch isn’t it? I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to experience, although I see that I’m moving in that direction. Yet, in Scripture I read that as our abilities diminish with the passage of time there is coming a day when all of that will be done away with for those who trust in Jesus. In Revelation 21 we read,
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:2-5 NIV)
What a day that will be! This is the promise of God my friends. It’s not a Disney production, it’s not a script written by Stephen Spielberg, or one of Aesop’s fables, but it is the promise of God. You can trust God. You can believe God. In an ever-changing world, you can hold on to the promises of God.
Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and he shared with them his deep belief that God was true to His promises. Listen to this.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. (2 Corinthians 4:13-14 NIV)
Scripture teaches us, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection validates what Scripture teaches, and we are holding onto the promise of God that although this life ends in death, death does not get the final word. Death has been defeated! The victory is won! So, when we attend the funerals of our friends and family members who are in Christ, we not only gather there to celebrate their life and grieve our loss, but we gather to be reminded that heaven is drawing near for us as well.
Dwight Moody was considered by many to be the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. Massive crowds of 10-20,000 people and more turned out to hear him preach. Spurgeon had him preach in his church in England. Andrew Bonar helped him while Moody was preaching in Scotland. D.L. Moody wasn’t feeling well when he preached his last sermon on November 16, 1899 in Kansas City, Kansas. He returned home to Northfield, Massachusetts by train. His illness was never diagnosed, but doctors felt that he was suffering from congestive heart failure. Moody realized that he was dying. His family and dearest friends had gathered at his home.
On December 22, 1899, Moody spent his last day on this earth. He was so weak and his words were slow in coming when he said, “Earth recedes, heaven opens before me!” His son, Will, drew close to his dad and said, “Father, you are dreaming.” Moody said, “No. This is no dream, Will. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. God is calling me, and I must go. Don’t call me back.” Moody believed God and God’s promises realized were more glorious than Moody ever imagined.
The funeral for Dwight L. Moody was a glorious celebration of the grace and mercy of God. Many remembered the words the evangelist had spoken earlier that year in New York City: “Someday you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now…. I was born of the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1855. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit shall live forever.”
Grief is a Gift From God
The third lesson is this: Grief is a gift from God. I’ve seen so many broken hearts at funerals. I’ve watched people go through boxes of Kleenex at funerals. I’ve seen folks so full of sorrow, that at the time, you wonder if they will ever be able to move forward. Our immediate reaction to such grief and sorrow is that it would be better if we could avoid such sorrow and sadness. I’ve been to funerals where there were no tears at all, no expressions of loss, and no need for Kleenex. What I have come to realize is that most often the tears and broken hearts are signs—signs of a deep, deep love that was experienced during the life of the person who has died.
I can remember on more than one occasion asking someone who was so deeply grief stricken by the loss of their loved one—“If you could escape the tears and the feeling like there is a hole in your heart by never having known your loved one would you do it? Would you trade the relationship you’ve shared throughout their life for a life now that is free of sorrow and sadness?” Do you know that not once, not one time, has anyone ever answered, “Yes!” God’s word speaks about grief in relation to those who have died when Paul writes to the people in Thessalonica. Read along with me from 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NLT)
Paul makes it clear that all people grieve, but as followers of Jesus we grieve differently than those who have “no hope.” He doesn’t mean that we are not sad, or cry real tears, or experience our loss in a deep way. What Paul is saying is that we grieve with the hope that I just spoke about earlier in our lesson.
It is very important that we recognize why we are grieving when our loved ones die. We are grieving our loss, not theirs. Like in the case with my mother, I am grieving the loss of the relationship that I have enjoyed for 51 years and all that it entailed. I’m grieving the loss of the conversations I’ve had with my mom, of her putting her big arms around me, the sound of her laughter, her incredible smile, calling on my birthday and singing, “Happy Birthday to you…” each and every birthday since I left home. I’m grieving the fact that my kids and grandkids won’t get to spend more time with her. My loss is so great and yet I’m grieving with Heaven in sight. My mom is home, free of suffering and pain, and therefore my grief is full of hope.
Those who have no hope grieve the end. They have no promise of heaven, or tears being wiped away, or a day when there will be no COPD, or mourning, or death. They have no hope so their grief is far, far different than our grief. It is so important for us to remember that my friends.
God is Our Comfort
The final lesson is this: God is our comfort in our great loss. Oftentimes at funerals I will urge the family to take their sorrow to the Lord. I say, “As important as friends and family are at a time like this there is a depth of sorrow and grief that human comfort just can’t heal.” I truly believe it.
The most requested Scripture that people want me to read at funerals is the 23rd Psalm. Within the 23rd Psalm is one of my favorite lines in the whole Bible. It is found in the third verse where David says, 3 he restores my soul… (Psalm 23:3 NIV) He alone can do that my friend.
Each of us knows people who, once they have lost a very important person in their life, have basically folded up their tent and given up on life. I think we all know that God does not intend for us to do that, but we see it happen and I certainly understand. To avoid that trap we must allow the Father to “restore our souls.”
Comfort is healing isn’t it? I’m not simply talking about the comfort we receive from others when someone we love dies, I’m talking about the comfort we receive any time we go through a tough time in life. God tells us to 15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.: (Romans 12:15 NIV) The comfort of people is important to each of us, but as good as the comfort of people feels, it pales in comparison to the comfort of God. Paul wrote,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)
He is the God of “all comfort,” the One “who comforts us in all our troubles.” It is the comfort of God that brings healing to our broken hearts, it is the comfort of God that helps us to maintain an attitude of gratitude rather than become mired in sorrow to the point of not being able to function, and it is the comfort of God that leads us beyond ourselves so that we might comfort others with the same comfort we have received. Let me share with you another verse that points to God’s care for us. In Psalm 55:22 we read,
22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22 NIV)
He will comfort us, He will sustain us, and He will never let us fall under the weight of the losses we experience in this life my friends. Probably most of us here in this sanctuary this morning have already experienced loss. For some of you, your loss might have led you to make decisions that were not beneficial at all. I’ve known many people who drowned their sorrows when life got too tough. I’ve known others who simply decided to back off from relationships and not get too close to anyone for fear that they would feel those intense emotions of loss once again.
You may not have experienced the loss of someone very important to you so far in life, but you will. What will you do when that day comes? Please don’t say, “I just don’t want to think about it.” That is the worst thing you can do. To know that we will lose those we love and to prepare for that day by coming to know the lessons we’ve covered this morning can bring us a peace that this world can never know.
I would give almost anything to just make one more memory with my mother, but that is not a possibility. For me to spend my time thinking about “what if?” would not get me anywhere in life. I can treasure the “what was” of my relationship with my mother and be reminded that the best is yet to come. I can also consider the death of my mother and allow it teach me to “number my days aright.” I am moving towards heaven and that excites me. I have peace about the loss of those I have loved in the past, not because I am strong, but because Jesus has given me His peace. He said,
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)
I can tell you from experience that Jesus’ promise of peace can be realized right now if you will simply turn to Him and ask Him into your life. Won’t you ask Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 25, 2012
1 Thessalonians 4:13