Lessons From Funerals

As a pastor and a Hospice chaplain I attend loads of funerals. As such I’ve learned some lessons from funerals that I’m going to share today. These lessons particularly relate to how we should interact with people who don’t know Jesus.

Life Is Short– One thing I’ve learned is that no matter how long we live it seems it is just a short time. The son of one man whose funeral I attended told me that his dad had been sick and dying for quite a while. He said that his dad was tired of fighting and tired of hurting. Then he told me something that seemed sorta profound to me. He said, “In that way daddy was ready to go. But he wished he had more time, you know? But I guess no matter how long you live you’re gonna want more time. You will always think your life was a little too short.”

Scripture warns us about this.

Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.  The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here.” Psalm 103:15-16 (NLT)

Seventy, eighty, or ninety years may sound like a long time, but in the big scheme of eternity they are just a moment in time.

Death Is Certain And Sudden– Most of us don’t like to think about the fact that we are going to die. But standing next to a casket at a gravesite it’s kinda hard not to think about it. People do all sorts of things to keep from having to face the reality of death. Some people avoid funerals or hospitals to keep from having to face facts. In an effort to postpone the inevitable we eat health food, exercise, take our vitamins so that we can be as healthy as possible and our lives will be extended. Not long ago I read that some people are trying to have themselves frozen in a cryogenic state to be brought out later when a cure for whatever is wrong with them can be found. It is all an effort to avoid death. But the truth is life is always fatal.

None of us can hold back our spirit from departing. None of us has the power to prevent the day of our death. There is no escaping that obligation, that dark battle…” Ecclesiastes 8:8 (NLT)

We are all going to die at some point. Life teaches us that sometimes this death is sudden. People are here one minute and then a sudden heart attack, car wreck, or random act of violence changes everything.

Death Is Final– It sounds strange to talk about the finality of death on a Christian blog  since Scripture is so clear that each and every person has an eternal soul. Not only that but Scripture just as clearly teaches that each of us will live forever, one way or another. We will either live forever with God, or we will live forever separated from God. But either way, we will live forever.

Saved or lost death isn’t the end of our existence. So in that way death isn’t final. But as I prepared for and preached funerals I’ve realize that there are some ways in which death is final. As I thought about this, I thought about it from three different perspectives. Let me tell you about it from the different perspectives.

My Perspective-When I go to these funerals I realize that my chances to talk to this person about Jesus are gone. If they didn’t know Jesus then I will never again have the opportunity to impress on them their need for Jesus. Many times I’ve cried and wished for just one more opportunity to share Jesus with them.

The Family Perspective-More than once I’ve heard the hopeless cries of the family that break my heart. In those hopeless moments there is no hope I can give them. There’s no “You will see him again”, because they won’t. There was no, “He’s in a better place”, because he wasn’t.  There was no hope to give from the resurrection passages from 1 Corinthians or 1 Thessalonians.

The Perspective Of The Dead-This is the worst of all for those who die without receiving Jesus as Savior and Lord. Their decision in life is finalized in death. There will be no second chances after death. Their eternity is sealed.

Once death occurs eternal destines cannot be changed. There is only one life on this earth, and that is the time of decision. People cannot wait until eternity to make their relationship right with Jesus, because it will be too late. Judgment will be made on the basis of their choices, and it will be irreversible.

Take Every Opportunity Now-Right now in this life we have the opportunity to share Jesus with people. Right now in this life Jesus is willing and able to save anyone and everyone who comes to Him by faith.

Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25 (NKJV)

Right now in this life we who know Jesus had better do everything we can to impress upon our friends, relatives, associates, neighbors who don’t know Jesus their desperate need for Jesus. We had better take advantage of every opportunity we are given.

“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.  Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Colossians 4:5-6 (NKJV)

 

Jesus give me opportunities every day to tell someone about you. Then give me the courage to take advantage of every opportunity you give. Work through me and save my friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors.

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Reject Spiritual Apathy

When I was in the 101st Airborne Division we would often go to the woods for 30-45 days at a time. We did this summer, winter, fall and spring. The season didn’t matter. When you spend 30-45 days in the woods of Tennessee and Kentucky in 100* weather with 100% humidity walking up and down the hills wearing all kinds of heavy gear, something happens to you. You stink. There is no getting around it you stink badly. Sometimes if we were lucky we would get one or two field showers during our time in the field. But they generally didn’t help too much.

When we came in from the woods and were released for the day we had a set routine that we went through. Take off your stank clothes. Shower 2-3 times, however many it took to get clean. Put on clothes that weren’t camouflage, go to a local steak place and eat. We would eat a big steak, a big baked potato and a big order of shrimp cocktail. When we finished eating all of that we were stuffed.

Then we would then leave and go back to the common area in our barracks. The way our barracks were set up was there were four rooms to a floor. In between the rooms there was a common area that had some chairs and stuff in it. We would set in the common area full, clean and satisfied. Generally we didn’t do much else. We called this being fat and happy. At this point in our lives we couldn’t be motivated to do much. Our minds were focused on how good it felt to be clean, full and comfortable.

Unfortunately something very similar often happens in our spiritual lives. We get saved and the Lord starts to work and He really makes some changes in our lives. But if we are not careful we will reach a point where we set back and are comfortable where we are in our spiritual lives. We’ve been cleaned, changed and we are plenty comfortable with our lives just as they are. Spiritually speaking, we are fat and happy.

We cannot get comfortable in our spiritual lives. Comfort leads to complacency, complacency leads to apathy and apathy is a great big rut that is hard to get out of. When we are in the rut of comfort, complacency and apathy our lives never change. We never respond to God’s Word or His Spirit. We don’t do much. We just stay the same week after week, year after year. The longer we stay in this rut the harder it is to get out. When this happens we become experts at explaining away our complacency and apathy. When we are comfortable, complacent and apathetic we dismiss anything that challenges our comfort out of hand. We cannot let this attitude sink into our minds. We must reject spiritual complacency and refuse to be comfortable in our spiritual lives.

The reason we cannot get comfortable in our spiritual life is that being comfortable implies being at rest. But the Bible says that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is not that we’d be at rest but that we’d be like Jesus.  Since this is the goal of everything God does in us, through us and for us, then the only time we can get comfortable and complacent is when we are just like Jesus. Until we perfectly reflect Jesus Christ in our thoughts, attitudes, priorities, values, desires, actions and reactions there is no place to stop in our spiritual growth, transformation and changing. There is no room in the Christian life for spiritual complacency. It must be rejected.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2 (NKJV)

We are commanded to be transformed. The idea is that this is a continuing process. We are to constantly be in the process of transformation. As long as we are alive, then there is no place to stop.

I truly believe that when we get comfortable in our spiritual lives we cease to move forward at all. We stop dead on and will stay stopped as long as we are comfortable and complacent. Unless you can say you are just like Jesus, you shouldn’t be comfortable in your spiritual life. You should be seeking for God to change you more and more so that you can better reflect His glory, character and nature. We must reject spiritual complacency

Prayers God Always Answers

To my way of thinking prayer is the most important spiritual discipline. That may be a bit of an overstatement but not by much. I don’t see how a person can have a thriving relationship with Jesus without a consistent prayer life. I don’t see how a person can have power to serve Jesus without a consistent prayer life. I just don’t think you can overstate the importance of prayer.

While all prayer is important, I think there are some prayers that are more important than others. These are personal prayers where we are seeking God first so that He can mold us into the people He wants us to be. I’m convinced these prayers are always answered. Here are some prayers that believers should pray consistently.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139:23-24 (NLT)

This is a very familiar prayer from the Psalms. We can use this prayer as a model to pray very specifically for God to mold us into the person He wants us to be. There are four prayers we can pray from these verses.

Search Me. When we pray for God to search us we are not praying for Him to search just any part of us. We are praying for Him to search our hearts. Our hearts are an extremely important part of who we are. In the Bible the heart is the very core of your being. What is in your heart is what will come out in your life. A “search me” prayer invites God to aim the searchlight of His holiness at the inner parts of our hearts and expose whatever is there. We are asking God to search our hearts and to honestly show us the good and the bad that is there.

Test Me. If you are like me the word test from the Bible brings to mind the fiery trials talked about in the New Testament. This however is not what the psalmist is speaking of. The word test here doesn’t refer to a trial, but to a critical evaluation of certain aspect of our lives. In our text it specifically mentions our thoughts. As I mulled this over wondering exactly what it meant for God to test our thoughts. I did some searching in the Bible and I found something that very specifically deals with thoughts that the Bible talks about God testing. Our motives.

Motives are the reasons we do what we do. Of course, really, I am the only one who knows what my motives are. In my mind I know why I do the things I do. When we are praying for God to test us, we are asking Him to test our motives and find out if they are pure. In one psalm the author prays for God to put him on trial, cross examine him to test his motives and affections. This is the idea of praying for God to test you.

Break Me. What is your attitude toward attitudes or actions in your life that do not please God? The next part of this prayer is more than to ask God to show you things that He is not pleased with. It is to ask Him to let you feel about these things as He does.

If there is something in our lives that is not pleasing to God we need to go beyond asking God to show us what that is and asking Him to break our hearts because of it. If you’ve ever read Psalm 51, then you know what it looks like to be broken over your sin. A break me prayer is asking God to break our hearts over our sin and bring us to a place of genuine repentance.

Lead Me. Praying for God to lead you has many implications. It means praying for Him to lead you to get the things out of your life that are displeasing to Him. It means praying for Him to lead you to do exactly what He would have you to do in any give situation. Of course, part of the idea of praying a lead me prayer is that we are ready to surrender to do his will. It’s no good to pray for the Lord to lead you, if you aren’t genuinely willing to be led.

Prayer is the path to intimacy with Jesus. These kinds of prayers flow from the heart that just wants Jesus. These are also prayers that I believe God always answers. If you want to draw closer to Jesus, then begin praying these prayers regularly.

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