Funerals: Thoughts, Observations and Reflections

Funerals

Funerals

Thoughts, Observations and Reflections

Richard Hollerman

Yesterday was an interesting and instructive day for me. I went to a funeral and the event made an impression on me in multiple ways. It is true that I’ve been to dozens of these occasions over the years but this recent one is fresh on my mind. I can’t seem to forget the occurrence.

The funeral was for a beloved doctor I had for several years before moving to my present location. At that time, Dr. —– (I’ll not divulge his name) performed a couple minor surgeries which went well. But what really impressed me was something in one of his counseling and examination rooms. He had been voted by his fellow doctors to receive “Doctor of the Year” awards. He also taught at an Osteopathic Medical School for about 35 years.

Here is an interesting and significant aspect of this physician: On the wall there was a sign that read something like “If you should want to have prayer, I would be glad to pray with you.” Further, as one walked into his waiting room, Dr. ——- had placed a large sign that could not be overlooked. In effect, the sign stated that he his practice of medicine was for God’s glory and that his business was devoted to Jesus Christ. Have you ever read something of this nature in your own visits to your doctors?

As might be expected, the funeral was held in his church, with perhaps 400 people present. Many of his family members, friends, and church members were in attendance. Maybe eight or ten people spoke and the service was over in perhaps an hour and 20 or 25 minutes.

Many things struck me as I took in the day’s happenings. Apparently this “friend” was very generous and helped many people of all sorts. He had a large family. Significantly, he was quite hospitable, with people staying at his house for a day, a week, or a couple of months. He sought to help the poor, the ex-convicts, the troubled, as well as his fellow-medical men and women.

Yet I can’t give the impression that he was without flaws. Dr. —— apparently was deeply involved in sports, both participatory as well as spectator. Other matters would be immodesty, materialism, and other matters unnecessary to mention at this time.

Points to Ponder and Apply

But there are several points that come to mind as I consider this painful but significant event.

First, regardless of a person’s age, God may want one to leave this earth. This friend died at a relatively young age in his sixties. From pictures I’ve seen, even two years before his death, he was physically declining, perhaps by the illness that finally brought his end. Whether this resulted in cancer or some other disease, I don’t know. But regardless of his stature in the community and regardless of his large income, death called him. The “king of terrors” took him—and will take each of us as well (Job 18:14b). Are we prepared?

Funerals

Second, money and material possessions cannot prevent death. Money cannot buy one from the inevitability of death. In fact, Jesus declared, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). Can this be? Yes, our Lord elaborated, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 25). If money usually prevents one from entering God’s kingdom, why do we crave it so much?

Third, one’s personality, popularity and friends cannot keep us from experiencing the dread of death. This friend had many, many friends. He was written up in the famous community yearly ranking of physicians, as a “top” doctor of the year. Hundreds came to his funeral. But still he had to die and he could not prevent this from happening. As Scripture puts it: “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

Fourth, many pastimes, activities, and enjoyable experiences are not worth pursuing if they will lessen one’s zeal for God and His ways. Often when we are aware of the acclaim of others, we allow this to lead us away from our exclusive devotion to God. Paul warned of this when he wrote, “Am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10). We must ask whether what we do is meant to receive the favor and acclaim of others or to receive the praise of God. Remember, at the judgment, “each man’s praise will come to him from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5b).

Fifth, a chief virtue for us to cultivate is that of hospitality, something that this dear friend seemed to do quite well. It was said that he often had people in his house to stay temporarily or even semi-permanently. In the Bible, elders or overseers are to be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8), and Peter encourages us, “Be hospitable to one another without complaint” (1 Peter 4:9). We, as simple believers, are to practice hospitality (Romans 12:13), widows are commended for showing this virtue ( 1 Timothy 5:10), and we are not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2). We must admit that having a sizeable house and sufficient money to provide food and clothes would make this virtue much easier to implement. However, let us do what we can with what we have.

Sixth, let us be unafraid to proclaim in many ways that we belong to God and are not ashamed to defend Him. As Jesus said, “Whoever is ashamed of Me and My word in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). The converse is also true: “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). This friend who died seemed to be unafraid to widely confess his faith in Christ. Whether it be in his medical practice or by other means, Dr. —— appeared to be anxious to share his faith in Christ.

Seventh, let us be willing to speak for Jesus and bless others. As I mentioned, in his medical room, he openly displayed a wall sign that stated that he was willing to pray for the patient if requested. Many times people will say that their “faith” is meant for private interactions, but on the job he or she will refuse to say anything that would identify them with Jesus. Thankfully, with the new openness and “freedom” of expression in this country, it is much easier to identify with Christ publicly, wherever we may be. Let this continue. Let’s seek to help in every way possible to influence others who may look to us for guidance or interested care and love.

Eighth, as we walk through life, let us keep our mind and heart on the goal—that of “finishing well” at the end of our life so that there will be no regrets. Let us make decisions and work with the one goal in mind—to be received by Jesus at the end. Of course, we know that we can do nothing to “earn” favor with God, but we can so live that this reflects our love toward God and faith in His promises. Sadly, Dr. —— promoted greatly the accumulation of antique cars. Presumably he had a good purpose in this (to help criminals and others learn a trade), but we question whether this really was a worthy goal. The point is that we need to live daily with the realization that we will be held accountable for all we do—or don’t do. “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; cf. Romans 2:6-11, 16).

Ninth, let us not be afraid to be thought of as a “misfit” or eccentric in anything pertaining to Christ. Unbelievers will probably say that we are a fanatic or a radical! (Matthew 5:11-12). The one thing we should remember is that our refusal to participate in anything generally accepted by society and even by “church people” should be “loud and clear.” Let others know that we don’t do something or say something because of our commitment to Christ and His radical ways. Let our life be different!

Tenth, if the time comes when we know that we are dying and have only a short time before death—and before God calls us home—let us focus this event on things above! As Paul put it, “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20b-21, cf. v. 23). In another place, the apostle said, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Although we would definitely have some concerns about this friend of mine, we do remember that about one hundred people—friends, family, etc.—gathered at his bedside a day and a half before he died. There they prayed and sang to the Lord and encouraged him. Interestingly, that Monday Dr. —- said that he would die that Friday (because of Christ’s death on Friday afternoon at 3 PM). As it turned out, he died the next day (Saturday). But don’t lose sight of the good here—that his acquaintances wanted to make this a blessed experience that focused on Christ and His resurrection. Whether we are incapacitated in bed or in some other way near death, let us always lift up God and glorify Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Savior!

Learn from Funerals

Generally, when I go to a funeral (and I’ve been to many of them), I drive away with some depression and anguish. In many occasions, the person who has died was an atheist or agnostic. They know that they have died with no hope at all. This is utterly sad—and a fate that the strong believer will never need to endure. “Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18). We learn that this is not the way to die!

But often I drive away from a viewing or funeral with a sadness since the person was really irreligious or a nominal church member. They lived their life with little thought of God and His will for their lives. The only time they remembered God was when death stared them in their face. Even some of these were glued to the TV in the hospital and really didn’t seek God with all of their hearts. Their hearts were not changed. They were unprepared to meet the Lord. So they allowed the priest or pastor to have their service and that was the end. How sad. How very sad.

But in addition to these lamentable situations, there have been some in which the person was a devoted church member and good person (relatively speaking) but they continued with many false doctrines, with various false church connections and memberships, along with their feet in the world. They may have prayed and attended church services, but they were unwilling to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and follow His will without compromise. They knew nothing about New Testament Christianity.

In a special way, these situations are very heart-wrenching. In view of Matthew 7:21-23, what hope is there for them? The Lord Jesus plainly declared, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (v. 21). There will be some—many—who will address Jesus and call Him Lord. But Jesus will reject them for they refuse to do the will of God in heaven. The Kingdom of God will not welcome them.

Let us not fall into these kinds of funerals. If Jesus delays even longer, all of us must face death (Hebrews 9:27). Let us learn from the Scriptures. And let us learn from the death of our family members and friends. Let us also learn from the death of others we come to know. Now is the time to “seek” the Lord while He may be found and “call upon Him” while He is near (Isaiah 55:6-7). Now is the time to learn from the funeral described in this article and any others we have gone to.

I’ve been to funerals in which the preacher (or priest, minister, or pastor) virtually “preaches” a sinner into heaven! Perhaps they have a low view of God, and low view of His Word, a low view of Jesus Christ, and a low view of holy living. They do a terrible injustice to God’s will for people at the point of death. Perhaps even they believe in “once saved, always saved,” and somehow think that if the person who died just uttered a little prayer (with no repentance), the person will be ushered into heaven! Their life may be secular and worldly, but these false pastors falsely convince that “John Doe” has gone to be with God. Whatever the reason, such a preacher has not loved the one who died or their loved ones. Very recently, I went to another funeral and the pastor (who quoted Bible verses) “preached” the deceased into heaven because of a previous “decision” but his life was very, very far from a godly, Christ-filled one!

I’ve heard from preachers and others that one sinner who died will be playing golf on the other side (in heaven)! Another person said that the woman who died will be dancing on top of a table in heaven, the way she did in life. Even in the funeral I described earlier in this article, the deceased person will be playing sports on the other side! Others will be fishing in heaven! As I recall it, still others would be engaged in card games on the other side! A pastor or priest does no good to those who remain by lifting up worldly hopes and minimizing the burning wrath of God by talking about such activities. Let us proclaim loudly that we will die and face God in judgment (Luke 16:19-31; Matthew 25:31-46).

Our only hope is Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death on the cross and God’s gracious and powerful resurrection of the Lord. Our only hope of the resurrection will be our repentant faith in Christ, our death and resurrection in baptism, and our living a holy and pure life before Him (Hebrews 12:14). Are you willing to be made a “new creation” in Christ by the supernatural work of God our Creator and Redeemer (2 Corinthians 5:17)?

Now is the time to come to Him. Be prepared for your coming death—and your own funeral. No sweet-sounding obituary will do. Only a genuine relationship with God through Christ will enable us to face God in the coming Judgment. Are you prepared?

 

 

 

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