Four Punctuation Marks and a Funeral

Note: This message is somewhat designed for the passing of a non-elderly believer but can be modified for other situations.

You might think it strange that we would be talking about punctuation marks at a time like this, but the four symbols you see on the screen actually represent the four points of my message today.

  1. The first symbol you see is a QUESTION MARK (?)
    I am leading with this because people have questions when they are confronted with death.

    The reality is that we live in a fallen world, and we ultimately must recognize that (a) life is full of challenges and that (b) we don’t understand everything.
     
    It can be challenging sometimes to navigate the paradox that (a) life throws all kinds of crazy, unexpected things our way, (b) but that God is still Good!
     
    I would never tell you not to ask questions at a time like this… people are curious about life, death, and eternity.

    I would encourage you to look to God’s Word, and the wonderful things it teaches us about God’s love and His amazing plan for our lives.
     
    Yet, among the great things the Bible teaches is this statement: “We know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9 NKJV).
     
    We don’t know everything.
     
    Deuteronomy 29:29 (NKJV)
    29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
     
    Proverbs 3:5 (NKJV)
    5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
    And lean not on your own understanding…
     
    Sometimes faith means acknowledging that we don’t know everything and then moving beyond the question marks.
     
    2. The Second Symbol is a Period (.) 
    A period marks the end of a sentence. That phrase is complete—it is over.
     
    Some people look at death that way. That death speaks of finality. Just like a sentence comes to an end (with a period), so death puts an end to a person’s life.
     
    In a very limited sense that is true, but only in the sense of a person’s life on this earth.
     
    In terms of ultimate reality—in terms of the big picture—death is not really a termination, but a transition.
     
    That’s why I like this third symbol better.
     
    3. The Third Symbol is a Comma (,) 
    A comma says this sentence is not over… there is a slight pause, a bit of a break, but the sentence is not over. There is more to come.
     
    Examples:
     
  1. We understand that ______________’s earthly life has ended, (comma) but ______________ will live on for eternity.

 
For the Christian, it is not a mere cliché when we say of the departed, “They are in a better place.”
 

  1. Those who loved ________________ will miss him/her deeply, (comma) but those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will see _______________ again

 
The comma means the sentence is not yet finished.
 
Right before Jesus proclaimed that He was the way, the truth, and the life, He said:
 
John 14:1-3 (NKJV)
1 “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.
2 In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
 
Beyond our lives here, and beyond the comma, there is another part of the sentence. Jesus really has prepared a place for us.
 
One final punctuation mark, and this is what we really believe for _________________.
 
4. The Fourth and Final Symbol is an Exclamation Point (!) 
An exclamation point is something you include when you really want to emphasize something.
 
If you wrote a friend telling them you had been given a million dollars, you would probably end that sentence with an exclamation point.
 
Though the Greek of the New Testament did not utilize exclamation points (or other punctuation marks), I think the following types of statements could merit bold emphasis in our language today:
 
2 Corinthians 5:8 (NKJV)
8 …to be absent from the body… [is] …to be present with the Lord.
 
Philippians 1:23 (NKJV)
23 …to depart and be with Christ… is far better.
 
Revelation 1:18 (NKJV)
18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.
 
John 14:19 (NKJV)
Because I live, you will live also.
 
These can all be read with the exclamation of faith!
 
Dwight L. Moody said, “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone higher, that is all — out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned into His glorious body. I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”
 
A few hours before entering the ‘Homeland,’ Dwight L. Moody caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him. Awakening from sleep, he said “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” His son was standing by his bedside and said, “No, no, father, you are dreaming.” “No,” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates. I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed…and he spoke again, “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”
 
Conclusion: 
I hope you’ll remember…
 
(Question Mark) It’s OK to have questions, and it’s OK not to know everything. We can trust God anyway.
 
(Period) Death may be the end of our earthly life, but that’s not the full picture. There is more to life than our earthly existence.
 
(Comma) Death is more of a transition than it is a termination. There is more to come…
 
(Exclamation Point) When our faith is in the Lord, there can be a joyous declaration that life is greater than death and the hope is greater than despair.

Suicide Remarks by Tony Cooke

Note from Tony: Conducting a funeral for someone who has taken his or her own life can be one of the most challenging tasks for a minister, and yet it provides an opportunity to speak words of comfort and encouragement to a family and friends who are in great pain and distress.  The following may or may not be appropriate in every situation.  The best funeral messages will come after speaking to the family, hearing their heart, and learning all that you can about the deceased and about their perspective of the situation.  Of course, we always look to the Word of God as our ultimate source of information and inspiration, but listening carefully and sensitively to the family and finding out what is comforting to them is of utmost importance.

Precede Message with Personal Remarks.

To say that these have been very difficult days for ___________________’s loved ones would not begin to touch the magnitude of what they have felt and experienced, but in the midst of the present turmoil and distress, I want us all to be reminded of God’s goodness and mercy, and the comfort and strength which I know is available to us here today.

Jesus said, “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It is not my intention today to be eloquent, to become philosophical or to speak forth lofty platitudes, but to simply focus on God’s love and compassion, and to share the simple truth of God’s care for each one of us.

As I considered some of the things I shared about ____________________ earlier – his love for Jesus, his desire to see other people know him – I remembered the words of Jesus who said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  ____________________ exhibited that hunger and that thirst and I am so thankful for Jesus’ promise that he would not leave the desire of our heart unsatisfied.

I was also reminded of a statement that Jesus made in John 6:37 where he said “Whoever comes to me I will never cast him out.”  It gives me great joy to be able to remind the family this day that ____________________ did, in fact, during his life come to the Lord Jesus seeking his mercy and forgiveness for his life, and I am so thankful for Jesus’ very plain and simple promise that whoever came to him, he would not turn him away or cast him out.

The issue of an individual taking his own life is very difficult from many perspectives.  Words cannot describe the shock, the dismay, the pain, and the struggles which face a family when one of their loved ones has died at his own hand.  Not only is this type of thing something which is emotionally devastating to the family left behind, but it often raises very perplexing spiritual questions as well.

I feel it is of utmost importance that we recognize there are situations where a person succumbs to internal pressures and problems that we know little of.  Depression, despair, despondency can at times cause a person, as we might say, to not be himself – to do things he would not otherwise do if he were thinking clearly and rationally.

Rev. Kenneth Hagin said that a person can be sick physically and act in ways he would not normally act and to do things he would not normally do.  Likewise, a person can have a sickness which affects his thinking and emotions, and he may act in ways and do things he would not otherwise do.

Though we still feel the loss of the person we knew, there is a tremendous amount of comfort from the Scriptures because we are clearly taught from the Bible that God’s mercy, compassion, and understanding are very great.  We see God’s love demonstrated in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ when he said:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

This is a statement that is full of God’s grace and God’s mercy and we see in this statement the glorious fact that God takes our knowledge and awareness of reality into account when He looks at our lives.

In the light of this, I want to encourage the family today, that even though you might feel sorrow very deeply and shed several tears, I remind you and encourage you to look to the precious promises of God that I believe will bring you comfort.

What lies before us this day in this casket is not ___________________, but rather the body in which ______________________ lived.  The Bible teaches very clearly that when a person who trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ leaves this earth his spirit goes to heaven and is very much alive and conscious in the presence of God and in the presence of Jesus.

Revelation 21:4, 5 says:

4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

5 Then He who sat on the throne said,” Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”

Actually, the tears that are shed today are shed more for ourselves than they are for __________________.  Though his death grieves us, the place to which he has gone is far superior to this earthly life that we know.

Paul stated that “To depart and be with Christ is far better.”  (Philippians 1:23)  He also stated in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

This is our hope and this is our source of strength during this time.

Sample Funeral Message for a Person Saved Shortly Before Death by Tony Cooke

by Rev. Tony Cooke

Eulogy – Memories of the Person are Shared…

We are thankful for these memories, and I know this family is appreciative of the love and support they have received from so many — cards, flowers, meals, hugs… all of these bring comfort in the midst of pain.

Today is about memories.

Today is about the support of friends, and of people pulling together.

But today is about more than that.  Today is about life and about death.

In spite of the beautiful flowers and the comforting music, we still feel the impact and reality of death, and we are reminded once again that…

…life is precious

…life is fragile

…life is brief

Isaiah 40:6-8

6 …All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.

7 The grass withers and the flowers fall… Surely the people are grass.

8The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.

James 2:14

14 …What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Life in this world — our human existence on this earth — is very temporary.

One person said:  “There is nothing more certain than death, and nothing more unsure than life.”

The Bible is even very specific in referring to our bodies as tents, and for a little while, a tent can be a wonderful home.  When a hiker is in the mountains, enjoying the wonderful outdoors, a tent can be exactly what he needs when he becomes weary and needs a place to rest and be refreshed.

While tents are wonderful for their intended purpose, a person doesn’t expect to live in a tent forever.  Before long, a person longs “to go home” and live in a house, a structure that is much more permanent and sturdy than a tent.

You remember the Scripture read earlier.  Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  In my Father’s house are many dwelling places.  I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Tents are good for a purpose and helpful for a season, but they can wear out.  The fabric can become weak and torn and the poles collapsing.

The Apostle Paul, speaking of the confidence possessed by a believer said (2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-8)

“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven.  Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord.  We live by faith, not by sight.  We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

The reason that we can have joy today is because of the reality of a God who is full of mercy, and because of the reality of a place called heaven.

Heaven is a place of perfection, but perfection on our part is not one of the entrance requirements.

If it was, none of us would be going.

Heaven is a gift.

Forgiveness is a gift.

Salvation is provided by God’s love and purchased by Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:8

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Note from Tony: Share the story of the person’s salvation experience.  Sensitivity to family and friends is required here, as some may or may not be aware of this event in the person’s life.  It is good to have discussed this with the immediate family and make sure this is something they desire.)

“The language spoken in heaven by the angels and the redeemed is the language of forgiveness.  It will be the only language spoken there.  No other language will be understood.  It will be spoken by the seraphim and the cherubim and the whole angelic host as they praise God, the author of forgiveness and of eternal salvation.  It will be spoken by all the redeemed as they greet one another on the banks of the River of Life and gather around the throne of the Lamb and sing their song unto him who loved them and washed them from their sins.  But no one can learn that language after he gets to heaven.  It must be learned here upon earth — in this world, and in this life.”

There is a song that _______________________ loved…

SONG: Select song that was meaningful to the deceased (if applicable)

Closing Prayer

Dismissal

Sample Funeral Message for an Infant by Tony Cooke

by Rev. Tony Cooke

Dear Heavenly Father,

We have come here this day to commit to your loving care, the spirit of _________________________.

We have also come to show our love and support for these dear parents, ________________________ and ____________________________, and to surround them with our love, our prayers, and our faith.

We are not here today because we are wise enough to understand this situation, but we are here today because we are human enough to share in their sense of disappointment and hurt.  The love of God that has been shed abroad in our heart compels us to reach out to them and touch them in some meaningful way.

We thank you this day for the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and for the promise, Lord Jesus, that you will never leave us or forsake us.

We thank you that beyond the sorrows and disappointments of life, we have hope and confidence because of your goodness and faithfulness.

We ask this day that you would help each of us look beyond the limitations and the heart-aches of this temporal life and see the glories and the wonders of your eternal promises and your everlasting kingdom.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

 

Message

Mark 10:14-15

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”

Verse 16 goes on to say:  “And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.”

As we stand here this day, I have every confidence that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  The same Jesus who took little children in his arms and blessed them on this earth, has received _______________________ in his arms, and has blessed him, welcoming him personally into heaven.

There are many questions that come to peoples’ minds at a time like this, but we are not here today to speculate about uncertainties.

Deuteronomy 29:29 tells us:

The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever…

We are not here today to become philosophical about things we don’t understand, but to find comfort and strength in the eternal truth and certainty of your Word.

We are here today to focus on what we do know…

Jesus received, welcomed, embraced, and blessed little children when he was here on earth, and we are certain that he has done the same toward _____________________.

In the midst of natural disappointment and sorrow, we can take great comfort in knowing this.

(Address the parents) _____________________ and ________________________, I want you to know that Jesus understands the heartache that occurs with this kind of disappointment, and whenever you find yourself hurting, I want you to know that you can take shelter in Him.

The Bible says that Jesus is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are they which mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

The Bible says that our God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.”

We are told that He is the one “who comforts us in all our tribulation.”

There is a story in the Old Testament where David, the man who wrote many of the Psalms, experienced the loss of his child.

Though the circumstances are very different, we see the beauty of David’s faith as he responded to this loss.

David had been praying and fasting for seven days, but when he learned of his child’s death, this is what happened:

2 Samuel 12:20-23

20 So David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house; and when he requested, they set food before him, and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive, but when the child died, you arose and ate food.”

22 And he said, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

There are several very powerful lessons here that can serve as a pattern for us in recovering from those experiences in life that trigger grief:

1) David arose.

Remember that God wants to lift you up!

2) David washed himself.

Remember “the washing of the water of the Word.”  Let God’s promises refresh you!

3) David changed his clothes.

Allow God’s comforting presence to surround you like a garment!

4) David went to the house of God and worshipped.

We need to honor God for Who he is.  We understand that God is not the author of bad things.  But God is our “good thing” in the midst of bad things.

5) David ate.

Psalm 23 says “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”  Remember that God has made provision for you!

6) David recognized that even though he could not change the circumstances, that God would still have the final word!

There are things that happen in life that we don’t like – things that we would change if we could.

When we encounter these types of situations, we recognize our humanity and our limitations.

When David said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me,” he was acknowledging that God would have the final word!

To the world, to the person who does not know Christ, death is the final word.  But we have a Savior who conquered death, a Savior who provides eternal life and the hope of the resurrection to all who believe on him.

In speaking of the physical resurrection, Paul said:

1 Corinthians 15:51-57

51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed —  52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  

55 “O  Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”  56 The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

These parents feel their loss today, but they know their God is bigger than their disappointment, and they know His comfort and strength will see them through.

For years, Christians have been comforted by the hymn, It Is Well With My Soul.  Many, though, are unaware of the circumstances around this great song.

Horatio Spafford lived in Chicago and was a close friend of Dwight L. Moody in the last half of the 1800’s.

Mr. Spafford had invested heavily in real estate just months prior to the Chicago Fire of 1871.  His holdings were wiped out by this disaster.

Just before this, he had experience the death of a son.

Some time after this, Spafford planned a trip to Europe for his family, and at the last minute, business developments required he stay in Chicago, but he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him with intentions to join them shortly.

The ship carrying his wife and daughters sank at sea, and only his wife survived.  Spafford left immediately for Wales, where his wife and the other survivors had been taken.

While crossing the ocean himself, Horatio Spafford penned this text with words so significantly describing his own personal grief:  “When sorrow like sea billows roll…”

It is noteworthy, however, that Spafford does not dwell on the theme of life’s sorrows and trials, but focuses attention on the redemptive work of Christ and His glorious Second Coming.

Humanly speaking, it is amazing that one could experience such personal tragedies and sorrows as did Horatio Spafford and still be able to say with such convincing clarity, “It is well with my soul.”

In our human strength, that is impossible, but at times like these, God blesses us with grace…

Song:  “Amazing Grace”

 

Committal Service

Scriptures

Revelation 1:17-18

“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

John 14:19

Because I live, you will live also.

________________________________ is not here.  He stands in the Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The body that lies before us is but the earthly tabernacle, the house in which his spirit dwelt.  It is very tenderly and reverently that we commit this house to the grave.

The body returns to the earth, from which our bodies came.  The spirit returns to God who gave it, waiting for the day when both spirit and body shall again be united at the coming of the Lord.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.

 

Committal Prayer

Heavenly Father,

We thank you this day for Jesus, for his precious gift of eternal life, and for the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

In the midst of our natural sorrow, we thank you for your supernatural grace.

In facing death, we thank you for the promise of life everlasting.

And in the face of separation, we thank you for the assurance of eternal reunion.

We acknowledge that _________________________ is with you now, rejoicing in your presence and enjoying the blessings of heaven.

So Father, we now committ the body of ______________________ to this earth, and we rejoice that his spirit is with you even now.

We look forward to that day, when we can all rejoice together, and we thank you that we are not without hope or comfort at this time.

We thank you for making your presence very real to (parents) ________________________ and ___________________________, and that you will especially strengthen and sustain them in the days, weeks, and months to come.

In Jesus Name, Amen.

Sample Funeral Message for an Older Person by Tony Cooke

Prayer

Scripture Reading

John 14:1-3, 6
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

Revelation 21:3-6
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.

Psalm 116:15
Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

The Message

“God never sees His children die; He simply sees them coming home.”

It is said that when one of his church members was dying, John Watson, the Scottish preacher of Edinburgh, would kneel down and whisper in the person’s ear:  “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”

Then, with a contented sigh, the person would “slip away”—entirely unafraid. There is something about this great portion of scripture which consoles us.

If we could see, only for a moment, just how glorious _______________’s homecoming was, no one here would call her back to the limits of her aged body.

Even though ______________ will be missed, there is something very appropriate about her departure, even as the author of Ecclesiastes indicated, “There is a time to be born, and a time to die (see Ecclesiastes 3:2).

It is appropriate because…

…she had lived out a full, complete, life.
…she had accepted and known the love of God and of family.
…her house was in order
…she was ready to die
…she was a Christian and she loved God

One person said:  “There is nothing more certain than death, and nothing more unsure than life.”

Life in these bodies, and life on this earth is temporal!

The Bible refers to our bodies as tents, and for a little while, a tent can be a wonderful home. When a hiker is in the mountains, enjoying the wonderful outdoors, a tent can be exactly what he needs when he becomes weary and needs a place to rest and be refreshed.

While tents are wonderful for their intended purpose, a person doesn’t expect to live in a tent forever. Before long, a person longs “to go home” and live in a house, a structure that is much more permanent and sturdy than a tent.

You remember the scripture we read earlier. Jesus said: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. In my Father’s house are many mansions (or dwelling places). I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am, there you may be also.”

Tents are good for a purpose and helpful for a season, but they can wear out. The fabric can become weak and torn and the poles can collapse.

The Apostle Paul, speaking of the confidence possessed by a believer, said…

2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-8
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven. Therefore, we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

Probably no one has given us a clearer picture of what death means to a mature Christian than grand old John Quincy Adams. When that remarkable American was turning four-score years, he was hobbling down the street one day in his favorite city of Boston, leaning heavily on a cane. Suddenly a friend slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Well, how’s John Quincy Adams this morning?”

The old man turned slowly, smiled, and said, “Fine, Sir, fine! But this old tenement that John Quincy lives in is not so good. The underpinning is about to fall away. The thatch is all gone off the roof, and the windows are so dim John Quincy can hardly see out anymore. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if before winter’s over he had to move out. But as for John Quincy Adams, he never was better… never was better!”

With this he started hobbling on down the street, believing without a shadow of a doubt that the real John Quincy Adams was not a body that you could enclose in a casket or bury in a grave.

He recognized that beyond the temporary physical man on the outside, there is a spiritual and eternal man on the inside. The flesh dies and is buried, but the spirit lives forever with God.

When someone we love passes on, there is naturally an element of sorrow. When you’ve been around someone for many years, or for however long you’ve been alive, that person can become an important part of your life, and you miss them when they’re gone.

But today, beyond our natural sorrow, there is a supernatural joy that comes from knowing:

…the reality of Jesus

…the reality of God’s love

…the reality of forgiveness

…the reality of the new birth

…the reality of Heaven

…the reality of eternity

…the reality of future reunion

Years ago one of the American churches produced a film about missionary work in Angola entitled, I’ll Sing, Not Cry. It was based on the book, African Manhunt, by Monroe Scott, which recounted Christ’s victories in the lives of Africans. There was the story of Pastor Ngango (Nah-gone-go), whose beloved wife had dies. Great numbers came to the funeral, and they wailed in the customary pagan dirge of despair, until Pastor Ngango (Nah-gone-go) stood up by the casket and said, “Stop all this yelling and howling.” The mourners stood in shocked silence. “This woman was a child of God. She has gone to her Father. I loved her, but today we are not crying, we are singing.”

With that he started to sing, “Praise God,” and the Christians joined him. It was not a song of despair or fear or sadness. It was a praise to God, a song of Christ’s victory, a hymn of confidence. Across the centuries comes the theme “I’ll sing, not cry.”

Weeping may endure for the night. Our human emotions sometimes need a release. But joy comes in the morning!

An earthly light has gone out, but where ______________________ is, no earthly light is needed. The glory of God, shining brighter than the sun, is her radiance, and her face is now glistening in that glorious light!

So we come to the end of a journey; it is a good day. An earthly journey has ended. A heavenly residence has been established.

What is our hope?

What is our confidence?

What is our expectation?

1 Corinthians 15:50-56
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal [must] put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where [is] thy sting? O grave, where [is] thy victory? The sting of death [is] sin; and the strength of sin [is] the law. But thanks [be] to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Reality of Heaven by Tony Cooke

Facing the death of a friend or loved one is always challenging.  There are usually very mixed emotions.

There is sadness that a person is no longer with us.  But there is also joy that a person is in heaven.

There is sorrow that a chapter in our lives has closed, and that someone very significant to us will now be but a memory to us.

There can also be a sense of relief and release… that someone we care about will not have to suffer or experience any of the pain and discomfort that this life can bring.

All of these, and countless other emotions can be very strong at a time like this, and we can understand why Jesus said: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  He understands that loss hurts, and we should not be afraid or ashamed to express our grief.  Jesus does not condemn us, but said there was comfort for us.

I am convinced that Jesus not only offers comfort through the Person and the Presence of the Holy Spirit, but also through the truth of His Word.

The Bible makes it very clear that physical death is more of a transition than it is a termination.  There is an element of termination involved in that the physical body ceases functioning, but the Bible describes more than just a body, an outward man.  The Bible describes an inward man.

Man is a spiritual being with a soul, and he lives inside of a body.  When the body terminates its functioning, the spirit of man simply transitions to a new location.

For a believer, that new location is a wonderful place called heaven.  When we say that a believer who dies has “gone to a better place,” that is not a mere cliché.

Heaven is not a dream.  It is not

  • a figment of someone’s imagination
  • a metaphysical abstraction
  • someone’s theological conception

Heaven is a real place.

Paul said, “To depart and be with Christ is far better.”

He said that if this “earthly tent” were destroyed, that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

He said that “to be absent from this body is to be present with the Lord.”

With this in mind, I’d like to share just a couple of thoughts about heaven.

1. HEAVEN IS A PLACE THAT IS FREE FROM ALL THE THINGS WHICH CAUSE PAIN IN THIS LIFE.

Revelation 21:3-6

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!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.

2. HEAVEN IS A PLACE OF PERFECTION.

Not only in the physical sense (no pain, etc.).

Not only in the spiritual sense (God’s presence, etc.).

But also in the mental sense… in terms of what we’ll know.

1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12

9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.

12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I John 3:2

2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

3. HEAVEN IS A GIFT.

John 3:16

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Though heaven itself is a place of perfection, perfection on our part is not one of the entrance requirements.  If it was, none of us could make it.  That is why there is forgiveness.

Romans 5:8

8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Eternal life is a gift.  It was prompted by God’s love  –  It was purchased by Jesus Christ.

It is a gift that was received by                                              , and it is the basis for our hope this day.

4.  HEAVEN IS NOT AS FAR AWAY AS WE MIGHT THINK.

Leighton Ford is an evangelist, who, for many years worked as an associate to Billy Graham.  His son, Sandy, died an untimely death, and in spite of his strong faith, Leighton struggled with that loss.

Even though he fully understood that he could not literally communicate with his departed son, Leighton kept a journal in which he wrote imaginary “conversations” with his son; it was his way of expressing things that were on the inside of him and bringing proper closure to the relationship.

In one of these imaginary conversations, Leighton wrote:

“Sandy, I sure do miss you.  I think about you more now than I did when you were here on earth.”

“I know you do dad, and I hear those thoughts”

“I guess I’m just afraid that as our time goes on here, that I’ll lose the sense of nearness we once had.”

“But why?”  Sandy responded, “It’s just like one big long day here, dad, and besides that, you’re not moving away from me, you’re moving toward me.  And the wall between us is so thin, you would laugh if you could see it.”

“Thanks son, it’s getting late, I’d better get to bed.  Enjoy the stars.”

“It’s day here dad, enjoy the light.”

As we conclude this service today, let me encourage those of you who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ: You will see your friend and loved one again.  And as the old hymn says: What a day of rejoicing that will be!

If there is anyone here who has never placed your trust in the Lord Jesus – the one who lived a sinless life – who died for our sins on the cross – and rose from the dead – I invite you, in the quietness of your own heart, to ask Jesus to be your Savior the same way _______________________ did.

Closing Prayer

The Purpose of Funerals by Tony Cooke

Understanding the purpose of funerals can be very helpful as a Pastor plans to minister to a grieving family. More than an opportunity to present a message about heaven, a funeral presents a myriad of opportunities and needs that enable the love of God and the kindness of believers to be expressed. Understanding these opportunities and needs enables a Pastor to be more sensitive in providing meaningful and thorough ministry to people in need.

1. Funerals provide a structure through which comfort and spiritual, psychological, and social support can be provided to the survivors during the initial stage of mourning. Well designed funeral services carry out and reflect the core beliefs and values of those receiving ministry, thus validating and accentuating the relevance and significance of their faith.

2. Though funerals serve as a time to remember and honor the dead, funerals are really conducted for the living. They bring survivors close together for needed community support, affirming that life goes on. Meaningful funerals are doorways of healing for the bereaved.

3. Funerals provide a time of order and structure during what may seem like a time of disorder and chaos in the lives of the survivors.

4. Funerals can help satisfy the need of people to do something for the deceased.

5. Funerals help people accept the painful reality of death. In accepting the reality of death, there is, of necessity, a transition that occurs in the life of the survivors. Funerals assist mourners in beginning to accommodate to the changed relationship between themselves and the deceased loved one. In other words, the relationship with the deceased shifts from that of physical presence to that of memory.

6. Funerals provide a time and a place for the acknowledging and releasing of emotions.

7. Funerals allow the Church to proclaim its most significant doctrine: the resurrection. An ideal funeral sermon should:a. Comfort with the truth of Scripture

b. Instruct listeners about the way of salvation

c. Remind men of the certainty of death

d. Invite people to take Christ as their Savior

8. Funerals begin the process of reintegrating the bereaved back into the community.

9. Funerals remind people of their own mortality, and cause them to search for answers concerning their own eternal destiny.

10. Funerals bind the social group together through present experience and collective memory. They help the group adjust to the loss of one of its members, and affirms to the group the continuity of life; though one of their members has died, the community lives on.

Adapted in part from Death and Grief: A Guide for Clergy, by Alan D. Wolfelt, Accelerated Development, Inc.

11 Great Stories About Going Home by Tony Cooke

Story #1: Certainties
When the great Christian and scientist, Sir Michael Faraday, was dying, some journalists questioned him as to his speculations about life after death.  “Speculations!” he said, “I know nothing about speculations.  I’m resting on certainties.  ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and because He lives, I shall live also.'”

Story #2: Arrived
There are Christians from a certain tribe in Africa who never say of their dead “who die in the Lord” that “they have departed.”  Instead, speaking as it were from the vantage point of the gloryworld, they triumphantly and joyously say, “they have arrived.”

Story #3: The Revised Edition
When Benjamin Franklin was about to die, he asked that a picture of Christ on the cross should be so placed in his bedroom that he could look, as he said, “upon the form of the Silent Sufferer.”  He wrote in advance the epitaph to be on his gravestone:  “The body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer, like the cover of an old book, it’s contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here…Yet the Work itself shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.”

Story #4: In My Father’s House
It is said that when one of his church members was dying, John Watson, the Scottish preacher of Edinburgh, would kneel down and whisper in the person’s ear: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Then, with a contented sigh, the person would “slip away” – entirely unafraid.

Story #5: Dwight Moody’s Homegoing
Dwight L. Moody said, “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone higher, that is all — out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned into His glorious body. I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”

A few hours before entering the ‘Homeland,’ Dwight L. Moody caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him. Awakening from sleep, he said “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” His son was standing by his bedside and said, “No, no, father, you are dreaming.” “No,” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates. I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed…and he spoke again, “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”

Story #6: Reville
Winston Churchill had planned his funeral, which took place in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. He included many of the great hymns of the church, and used the eloquent Anglican liturgy. At his direction, a bugler positioned high in the dome of Saint Paul’s, intoned, after the benediction, the sound of “Taps,” the universal signal that says the day is over. But then came the most dramatic turn: As Churchill instructed, as soon as “Taps” was finished, another bugler, placed on the other side of the great dome, played the notes of “Reville” – “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning.” That was Churchill’s testimony that at the end of history, the last note will not be “Taps,” it will be “Reville.” The worst things are never the last thing.

Story #7: Both Sides of the River
The story is told of old Bishop Warren Chandler, after whom the school of theology at Emory University was named. As he lay on his death bed, a friend inquired as to whether or not he was afraid. “Please tell me frankly,” he said, “do you fear crossing over the river of death?” “Why,” replied Chandler, ” I belong to a father who owns the land on both sides of the river.”

Story #8: Waiting
There is a woman who is buried under a 150-year-old live oak trees in the
cemetery of an Episcopal church in rural Louisiana. In accordance with this woman’s instructions, only one word is carved on the tombstone: “Waiting.”
Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew

Story #9: The Fork
There was a woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. As she was getting her things in order, she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discus certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him the songs she wanted sung at her funeral, the scriptures she wanted read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in. The woman also requested to be buried with her favorite Bible. Everything seemed in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the woman suddenly remembered something very important to her.

“There’s one thing more,” she said excitedly. “What’s that?” came the pastor’s reply. “This is very important,” the woman continued. “I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand.” The pastor stood looking at the woman, not knowing quite what to say. That surprises you, doesn’t it?” the woman asked. “Well, to be honest, I’m puzzled by the request,” said the pastor.

The woman explained. “In all my years of attending church socials and pot-luck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, “Keep your fork.” It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming, like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance! So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder, “What’s with the fork?” Then I want you to tell them: “Keep your fork. The best is yet to come.”

The pastor’s eyes welled up with tears as he hugged the woman goodbye. He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She knew that something better was coming.

At the funeral, people were walking by the woman’s casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing, her favorite Bible, and the fork in her right hand. Over and over the pastor heard the question, “What’s with the fork?” And over and over he smiled. During the message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the woman shortly before she died, and explained the meaning of the fork. The pastor told the people he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to either. He was right. So the next time you find yourself reaching for the fork, remind yourself that the best is yet to come.

Story #10: It’s Day Here
Leighton Ford is an evangelist, who, for many years worked as an associate to Billy Graham. His son, Sandy, died an untimely death, and in spite of his strong faith, Leighton struggled with that loss.

Even though he fully understood that he could not literally communicate with his departed son, Leighton kept a journal in which he wrote imaginary “conversations” with his son; it was his way of expressing things that were on the inside of him and bringing proper closure to the relationship.

In one of these imaginary conversations, Leighton wrote:

“Sandy, I sure do miss you. I think about you more now than I did when you were here on earth.”

“I know you do dad, and I hear those thoughts”

“I guess I’m just afraid that as our time goes on here, that I’ll lose the sense of nearness we once had.”

“But why?” Sandy responded, “It’s just like one big long day here, dad, and besides that, you’re not moving away from me, you’re moving toward me. And the wall between us is so thin, you would laugh if you could see it.”

“Thanks son, it’s getting late, I’d better get to bed. Enjoy the stars.”

“It’s day here dad, enjoy the light.”

Story #11: The Waterbug Story (Great to help children…)
Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of waterbugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in a while one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about with its friends. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily, it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.

“Look!” said one of the water bugs to another, “one of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she’s going?” Up, up, up it slowly went… Even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn’t return…

“That’s funny!” said one water bug to another…
“Wasn’t she happy here?” asked a second…
“Where do you suppose she went?” wondered a third…
No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled.

Finally one of the water bugs gathered its friends together. “I have an idea. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why.” “We promise” they said solemnly.

One spring day not long after the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broken through the surface of the water and fallen into the broad and free lily pad above.

When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

A startling change had come over his old body. His movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail.

Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings… The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from his new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly found himself above the water.

He had become a dragonfly. Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere.

By and by the new dragonfly landed happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurrying around, just as he had been doing some time before.

Then the dragonfly remembered the promise.
Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down.
Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water…

“I can’t return!” he said in dismay.
“At least I tried. But I can’t keep my promise.
Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body.
I guess I’ll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too.
Then they’ll understand what has happened to me, and where I went.”

And the dragonfly winged off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air…

The Hurt, The Help, and The Hope by Tony Cooke

We are here today as the people of God to find comfort in the Presence of God and the truth of Scripture, and especially to surround this family with our love, our faith, and our prayers.

If we could summarize the purpose of an occasion like this, I believe we could do it in these few, brief words:

The Hurt

The Help

The Hope

When the wife of the great evangelist Charles Finney died, he grieved deeply.  Here are his words describing the experience:

“My wife was gone!  I should never hear her speak again, nor see her face!  Her children were motherless!  What should I do?  My brain seemed to reel, as if my mind would swing from its pivot.  I rose instantly from by bed exclaiming, “I

shall be deranged if I cannot rest in God!”  The Lord soon calmed my mind, for that night; but still, at times, seasons of sorrow would come over me, that were almost overwhelming.

One day I was upon my knees, communing with God upon the subject, and all at once He seemed to say to me, “You loved your wife?”  “Yes,” I said.  “Well, did you love her for her own sake or for your sake?  Did you love her or yourself?  If you loved her for her own sake, why do you sorrow that she is with me?  Should not her happiness with me, make you rejoice instead of mourn, if you loved her for her own sake?”

“Did you love her,” He seemed to say to me, “for my sake?  If you loved her for my sake, surely you would not grieve that she is with me.  Why do you think of your loss, and lay so much stress upon that, instead of thinking of her gain?  Can you be sorrowful, when she is so joyful and happy?  If you loved her for her own sake, would you not rejoice in her joy, and be happy in her happiness?”

I can never describe the feelings that came over me, when I seemed to be thus addressed.  It produced an instantaneous change in the whole state of my mind.  From that moment, sorrow, on account of my loss, was gone forever.  I no longer thought of my wife as dead, but as alive, and in the midst of the glories of heaven.” (Memoirs of Charles G. Finney, p. 382)

The reason I like this story is that it vividly portrays all three of these elements:  the hurt, the help, and the hope.

1. The Hurt

No matter how eloquent the words that are spoken today…

No matter how beautiful the music is…

No matter how kind friends are in their expressions of care and concern…

There is still a very genuine and valid sense of sorrow and loss that is experienced when a loved one is no longer with us.

Even when a person has faith, and this family does, there is still a sadness that exists because someone we love is no longer with us – we are no longer able to enjoy their company, their friendship, and their fellowship.

We see within the pages of the Bible a compassionate God who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.

We see Jesus’ teaching at the Sermon on the Mount where he said:

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Jesus himself faced great heartache when his own cousin, John the Baptist, was taken from this earth in the prime of his life.  When Jesus heard of John’s death, the Bible says:

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”  (Matthew 14:13 – NIV)

I believe that Jesus was deeply saddened by this news, and he desired some solitude in which I’m sure he was drawing comfort from his Heavenly Father.

Many times people will hear a story, like the one I read about Charles Finney, and they get the impression that God’s direction to anyone who is grieving is just to “snap out of it” and quit grieving.

But if you listened carefully to the wording, it is evident that there was a season of time involved before the Lord spoke to Finney in the way that he did and it was then that Finney’s emotions were changed.

Just like there is a healing and recovery process that involves time when our body is wounded or injured, so there is a period of time when we suffer loss.

This is why the writer of Ecclesiastes said:

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

The reason we have the ability to grieve, is because we have the ability to give and receive love.

2. The Help

Psalm 46 tells us:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.  Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.  Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.  There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most high.  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved:  God shall help her, and that right early.

God is committed to helping us through the difficult, the turbulent times of life.

A.  God helps us by giving us promises that reflect true reality, ultimate reality, and eternal reality.  We need to understand that death is a temporal reality.

We have to deal with the temporal issues that are involved, and sometimes those are unpleasant.  But they are, nevertheless, temporal.

B.  God helps us by His abiding presence and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

C.  God helps us through friends who are supportive, who are there for us, who are non-judgmental.

He helps us through friends who don’t put unrealistic standards in front of us, who allow us time to be “human.”  Friends who don’t feel obligated to throw out trite clichés to help us “snap out of it.”

The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians described a time in his life when he was “pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that [he] despaired even of life.”  He said that his flesh had no rest, but that he was troubled on every side.  On the outside were fightings and within were fears.

I want you to notice that Paul’s spirituality and faith did not rule out just how very human he was.

But God did help Paul.

He went on to say:

“But God, who comforts those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus.”

Another time, in 2 Timothy, Paul was relating a time in prison when he experienced a sense of abandonment and loneliness.  He then referred to a friend named Onesiphorus who had sought Paul out, found him, and refreshed him.

Illustration: A little girl was sent to the store on an errand by her mother with specific instructions to go straight to the store and return straight home.  The girl did not arrive home at the expected time, and the mother became anxious and concerned.  When the girl finally returned, her mother was quite agitated, and the frustration of the mother came out when she questioned where the girl had been and why it had taken so long.

The girl responded that on the way to the store, she stopped to help a friend whose doll had just been broken.

The mother was somewhat sarcastic when she asked what she knew about fixing dolls.

The little girl said, “I don’t know anything about fixing dolls.  I just sat down with her for a while and helped her cry.”

 

3. The Hope

God does understand our hurt — he is touched with the feeling of our infirmities.

God does help us — in the midst of our humanness and our natural emotions, God helps us with his promises, with his presence, and through friends.

But God goes beyond these first two elements and gives us hope.

When the world says it’s all over.

It’s finished.

No more.

The end.

God says:  “I will have the last word.”

To that, we respond:  We walk by faith, not by sight.

As Christians, we have something very positive and tangible to look forward to in the future.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-18

13 But I would not have you to ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.

14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them which are asleep.

16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Not only does God offer us hope with the promise of the resurrection, but the resurrection offers us the promise of reunion.

Leighton Ford is an evangelist, who, for many years worked as an associate to Billy Graham.  His son, Sandy, died an untimely death, and in spite of his strong faith, Leighton struggled with that loss.

Even though he fully understood that he could not literally communicate with his departed son, Leighton kept a journal in which he wrote imaginary “conversations” with his son; it was his way of expressing things that were on the inside of him and bringing proper closure to the relationship.

In one of these imaginary conversations, Leighton wrote:

“Sandy, I sure do miss you.  I think about you more now than I did when you were here on earth.”

“I know you do dad, and I hear those thougts.”

“I guess I’m just afraid that as our time goes on here, that I’ll lose the sense of nearness we once had.”

“But why?”  Sandy responded, “It’s just like one big long day here, dad, and besides that, you’re not moving away from me, you’re moving toward me.  And the wall between us is so thin, you would laugh if you could see it.”

“Thanks son, it’s getting late, I’d better get to bed.  Enjoy the stars.”

“It’s day here dad, enjoy the light.”

Death: Friend or Foe? by Tony Cooke

Whenever death occurs, there is naturally an element of sorrow and grief which is present.

Even when a person has faith, and this family does, there is still a sadness that exists because someone we love is no longer with us – we are no longer able to enjoy their company, their friendship, and their fellowship.

We see within the pages of the Bible a compassionate God who is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.

We see Jesus’ teaching at the Sermon on the Mount where he said:

“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Jesus himself faced great heartache when his own cousin, John the Baptist, was taken from this earth in the prime of his life.  What was Jesus response to this tragic news?

“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”  (Matthew 14:13 – NIV)

I believe that Jesus was deeply saddened by this news, and he desired some solitude in which I’m sure he was drawing comfort from his Heavenly Father.

When Stephen, the first martyr of the church, was killed, the Bible says, “…and godly men buried Stephen, and mourned deeply for him.” (Acts 8:2 – NIV)

So we see that grieving and mourning is normal and natural in the face of loss.  But I do want to point out something very important.  The Bible says we are not to grieve as others which have no hope.

There is a difference in the way we grieve when we know Jesus.

There is sorrow, but it is infused with hope.

There is loss, but we have a promise.

There is a separation, but we anticipate a reunion.

We still feel the natural sense of loss and disappointment, but God is with us, and he gives us a comfort and a strength that no one else can.

Even with God’s help and presence, when someone we love dies, when someone who has had a significant impact in our life dies, it can have a very disorienting effect on our lives.

I feel certain that every person here today has asked many questions within themselves, and has probably done some serious self-evaluating in the midst of this situation.

For many people, death is a great mystery, shrouded in mystery, and evoking fear and a sense of avoidance. 

Many dislike funerals, not only because it means someone we love has died, but because it reminds us of our own frailty and mortality.  It reminds us of just how fragile life can be.

Very often, we really struggle with all of this.

We try to come to grips with death.

We endeavor to establish some kind of understanding

We seek to attach some kind of meaning to such an impacting event.

I am reminded of a soldier on the night shift.  He has been charged with the duty of keeping the camp safe.  And like a good soldier, he is alert and awake, when off in the darkness he hears a noise.

His adrenaline level shoots up, he tightens his grip on his weapon, and he looks out into the darkness trying to “see” what made the noise.

He wants to assume it’s nothing, perhaps just a squirrel or some other small animal, and even though he wants to assume the best, he knows he needs to be on guard just in case…

As his heart races, and as he continues to gaze out into the darkness, he calls out those familiar words:  “Halt, who goes there?”

Hearing no response, he calls out again, “Halt, who goes there, friend or foe?”

That’s how we are about things we don’t understand.  We want to know if it’s friendly or unfriendly.

Is this unknown thing going to hurt us or do us good.

I want to share with you for just a few minutes today on the subject of “Death: Friend or Foe?”

The answer seems obvious enough.  Death is not our friend.  Death is certainly an enemy.

I Corinthians 15:25-26

25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

The very reason Jesus came had to do with giving us victory over the power of death.

Hebrews 2:14-15

14 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;

15 And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Many years after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostle John and said:

Revelation 1:17-18

17 …Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.

As valuable and precious as these insights are, we really wouldn’t need the Bible to know that death is an enemy.

Anything that robs a person of their son, their brother, their friend (Note from TC: or whatever relations existed)… certainly is not considered welcome in our lives.

We know it’s an enemy because of the sorrow and the disappointment and the heartache it brings to the heart of people.

Death:  Friend or Foe?

It’s obviously an enemy.  We know this biblically and we know this experientially.

But what about the other perspective?

I’m not ready to call death a “friend,” but is there another side to the issue?

Is there another perspective?  Is there another vantage point?

I believe there is!

While I cannot and will not say in an unqualified way that death is a friend, I am saying that there is another perspective that goes beyond our five physical senses.

Psalm 116:15

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

God never sees His children die; He simply sees them coming home.

When you can look at death from the heavenly perspective, you can see it also from an entirely different perspective.

You see that death is not a termination, but a transition.

You begin to understand why Paul called our bodies a tent, a temporary dwelling.

2 Corinthians 5:6-8

6 Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord:

7 (For we walk by faith, not by sight:)

8 We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

You can understand that while believers still have emotions or sorrow, and are going to miss their loved one, we are not morbid and fatalistic about the death of our loved ones.

Consider some of the following stories of God’s people:

  • About the year 125 A.D., a Greek by the name of Aristeides was writing to one of his friends about the new religion, Christianity.  He was trying to explain the reasons for its extraordinary success.  Here is a sentence from one of his letters: “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”
  • There are Christians from a certain tribe in Africa who never say of their dead “who die in the Lord” that “they have departed.”  Instead, speaking as it were from the vantage point of the gloryworld, they triumphantly and joyously say, “they have arrived.”
  • When Benjamin Franklin was about to die, he asked that a picture of Christ on the Cross be placed in his bedroom so that he could look, as he said, “upon the form of the Silent Sufferer.”

He wrote in advance the epitaph to be on his gravestone:

“The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here… Yet the work itself shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.”

  • When the great Christian and scientist, Sir Michael Faraday, was dying, some journalists questioned him as to his speculations about life after death.

“Speculations!” he said, “I know nothing about speculations.  I’m resting on certainties.  ‘I know that my redeemer liveth, and because He lives, I shall live also.'”

Consider the following death-bed statements:

  • Martin Luther said:  “Our God is the God from whom cometh salvation:  God is the Lord by whom we escape death.”
  • John Knox said:  Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear death.
  • John Wesley said:  “The best of all is, God is with us.  Farewell!  Farewell!
  • Charles Wesley said:  “I shall be satisfied with thy likeness — satisfied, satisfied!”
  • Adoniram Judson said:  “I am not tired of my work, neither am I tired of the world; yet when Christ calls me home, I shall go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school.”
  • John Pawson said:  “I know I am dying, but my deathbed is a bed of roses.  I have no thorns planted upon my dying pillow.  Heaven is already begun!”
  • Realizing that he would soon be gone from this world, Dwight L. Moody said to a friend:

“Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead.  Don’t you believe a word of it.  At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now.  I shall have gone higher, that is all – out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned into His glorious body.  I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Sprit in 1856.  That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”

A few hours before entering the ‘homeland, ‘ Moody caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him.  Awakening from sleep, he said:  “Earth recedes.  Heaven opens before.  If this is death, it is sweet!  There is no valley here.  God is calling me, and I must go.”

His son, who was standing by his bed, said:  “No father, you are dreaming.”

Moody responded:  “No, I am not dreaming.  I have been within the gates.  I have seen the children’s faces.

A short time later, right before his passing, Moody spoke once more and said:  This is my triumph; this is my coronation day!  It is glorious!

Do’s and Dont’s for Funerals by Tony Cooke

Do’s

DO work with the family and the funeral home director in planning the funeral service. If you know the family is challenged financially, let them know they don’t need to prove their love for the deceased by over-spending on the funeral.

DO inquire of the family regarding their desires for the service itself and seek to accommodate accordingly. It is important to be aware of the musical selections made by the family.

DO try to visit with a variety of family members before preparing the service. Each will have a different perspective of the deceased to share with you. It can also be helpful to invite family members to write a personal note about the person. Some of these comments can then be included in your remarks.

DO check on the correct pronunciation of all names to be read from the obituary (clergy record).

DO arrive early for the funeral. Make sure all participants in the service are present and aware of their responsibilities. Provide each participant, including the funeral home representative, with an “order of service.” Make sure all parties clearly understand the order of events and the logistics of the service, including the dismissal.

DO make the service personal. In addition to sharing God’s Word, reflect positively, genuinely, and realistically about the deceased.

DO endeavor to add a light moment somewhere in the service if appropriate. It is sometimes helpful to share a warm, funny memory about the deceased, something that will bring a smile and a warm remembrance to the family and friends. This can help break the tension, create a more rounded picture of the deceased, and let people know that it’s OK to smile and laugh again.

DO validate feelings of loss. Let people know it’s all right to cry and feel sad. A significant loss has taken place, and such feelings are normal and natural. In the midst of sorrow, we have the Comforter and access to supernatural grace and hope. Both elements (sorrow and comfort) are real. This is why we “sorrow not…as others which have no hope.”

DO speak personally to the family during the service, but make sure you don’t leave anyone out if you do so. For example, talking about the deceased’s relationship with one child while ignoring another child can cause hurt feelings. Be consistent.

DO let those attending the funeral know that their love and support is very appreciated by the family. Also, encourage them to remember to support the family in the months to come.

DO have the church provide a meal for the family at the church or at their home after the funeral. The healing process for the family is facilitated when they have such an opportunity to fellowship and reminisce.

DO follow up on the family periodically after the funeral.

Don’ts

DON’T preach long at a funeral. Share the Word, but keep your comments short and sweet. People have come to pay their respects to the deceased and to show their support for the family, not to hear a lengthy sermon. While there may be some variation depending on cultural expectations, 45 minutes is typically a good length of time for a funeral service (the church or chapel portion).

DON’T preach a person into heaven or hell if there are questions about their spiritual condition. Simply commit them to a merciful and just God and minister to those present.

DON’T convey expectations that inhibit the family from experiencing or expressing their sorrow. They shouldn’t feel pressure to project “victory.” On the other hand, don’t play on the emotions of people in an attempt to make the service a “tear-jerker.”

DON’T use worn-out clichés that offer little comfort and may even be unscriptural. For example, saying, “God took John to a better place” implies that God is responsible for the death of their loved one. It is better to say that God “received” John and “welcomed him home” when his life on earth ended.

DON’T say to the bereaved, “I know how you feel.” Even if you experienced a similar loss, it is important to remember that different people experience grief differently. Every person is unique, and that uniqueness should be respected.

DON’T be opportunistic in sharing the gospel at funerals. This is not to say that the gospel should not be shared or that people cannot be invited to receive Jesus, but we it must be remembered that people attending funerals are often from varied backgrounds and are at different levels of spiritual receptiveness. If guests at the funeral feel like the main purpose of the funeral was to convert or proselyte them, they may leave feeling betrayed and exploited. It is recommended that the gospel be presented positively and in good taste, but not in a “hard-sell” type of way. Remember that Proverbs 25:16 indicates that a little honey is good, but too much will have an adverse affect.

A Final Thought

Though you don’t want to over-use quotes, stories, or illustrations, they can be very effective when used properly. Here are a few to consider…

When Benjamin Franklin was about to die, he asked that a picture of Christ on the cross should be so placed in his bedroom that he could look, as he said, “upon the form of the silent sufferer.” He wrote in advance the epitaph to be on his gravestone: “The body of Benjamin Franklin, Printer, like the cover of an old book, it’s contents torn out and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here…yet the work itself shall not be lost; for it will, as he believed, appear once more in a new and more beautiful edition, corrected and amended by the Author.”

John Pawson said, “I know I am dying, but my deathbed is a bed of roses. I have no thorns planted upon my dying pillow. Heaven is already begun.”

Dwight L. Moody said, “Someday you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of Northfield is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now. I shall have gone higher, that is all—out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal, a body that sin cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned into His glorious body. I was born in the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”

A few hours before entering the Homeland, Dwight L. Moody caught a glimpse of the glory awaiting him. Awakening from sleep, he said “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” His son was standing by his bedside and said, “No, no, father, you are dreaming.” “No,” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming. I have been within the gates. I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed… and he spoke again, “This is my triumph; this is my coronation day! It is glorious!”

When the great Christian and scientist, Sir Michael Faraday, was dying, some journalists asked of his speculations for life after death. “Speculations!” he said, “I know nothing of speculations. I’m resting on certainties. I know that my redeemer liveth. and because He lives, I shall live also!”

Sample Committal Service by Tony Cooke

Scriptures

Revelation 1:17-18

17 Fear not; I am the first and the last:

18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore.

 

John 14:19

19 …because I live, ye shall live also.

 

I Corinthians 15:51-55

51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

______________________________ is not here.  (S)he stands in the Presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The body that lies before us is but the earthly tabernacle, the house in which (s)he lived among us for a time.  It is tenderly and reverently that we commit this house to the grave.

The body returns to the earth, from which our bodies came.  The spirit returns to God who gave it, waiting for the day when both spirit and body shall again be united at the coming of the Lord.

 

I Thessalonians 4:16-18

16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

18 Wherefore comfort one another with these words.

Committal Prayer

 

Heavenly Father,

We thank you this day for Jesus, for his precious gift of eternal life, and for the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

In the midst of our natural sorrow, we thank you for your supernatural grace.

In facing death, we thank you for the promise of life everlasting.

And in the face of separation, we thank you for the assurance of eternal reunion.

We thank you for ______________________’s life here on this earth, and we recognize that the body before is not _______________________ but is the house, the tabernacle, in which (s)he lived.

We acknowledge that _______________________ is with you now, rejoicing in your presence and enjoying the blessings of heaven.

So Father, we now commit the body of _____________________ ____________________ to this earth, and we rejoice that her spirit is with you even now.

We look forward to that day, when we can all rejoice together, and we thank you that we are not without hope or comfort at this time.

We thank you for making your presence very real to each family member, and that you will especially strengthen and sustain them in the days, weeks, and months to come.

In Jesus Name, Amen.