Ten months ago my family got word that my grandmother had been diagnosed with leukemia. She had options, but the truth was that the prognosis was grim and that she would not overcome the leukemia. If I remember right, she was given somewhere around three months to live. God has been more than gracious. Three months turned to four, Mother’s Day came and we celebrated, then August rolled around and we were able to celebrate her 85th birthday. My whole family made a trip to Wynnewood to gather in her apartment and relish another opportunity to hug her neck, take pictures, kiss her cheeks again and again, and praise God for another memory.
Her health had been declining, but she was doing remarkably well as long as she took her “booster” shots of a couple of units of blood and platelets each week. Then I got the call on Monday that she had fallen. She didn’t break anything, but she was acting strange. Late Monday afternoon she was taken to the hospital in Pauls Valley and a CAT Scan determined that she had suffered a stroke. My sister called about midnight and said that the doctors didn’t give her much of a chance to make it through the night. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I drove to Pauls Valley and arrived at 2 or 2:30 am. I sat with my dad and sister through the night and her breathing was strained to say the least. Finally, about 5:15 am, her breathing slowed almost to a standstill. I told my dad and sister that we needed to pray so we gathered around her bed and I asked the Lord to take her breath and take her into His gracious arms. He did.
The hospital staff told us we could stay as long as we needed. We prayed again and praised God for giving us the opportunity to know my grandmother, to have the opportunity to be loved by someone as wonderful as my grandmother, and we prayed for strength for those who will miss her so much.
As I got in my truck and began to drive back to Oklahoma City my mind was flooded with memories of my grandmother. I have so many incredible memories of time spent with my grandmother at her farm in Wynnewood when I was a kid growing up. I have lots of great memories of spending time with her as an adult with my own kids and my grandkids. She loved those twins! My grandmother was 85 years old. That’s a long life isn’t it? Psalm 90 says,
10 The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; (Psalm 90:10 NIV)
My grandmother was a strong woman. No doubt about it. She lived a long life and I am grateful for every day. As I drove home and flipped through the countless memories I have been blessed with I would have given anything for just one more. Just one more… Isn’t that the way it should be when you lose someone you love? “Please Lord, just one more memory.” It doesn’t matter how old they are when they die, when someone you love dies, you yearn for just a little bit more.
About three years ago my cousin, Stacie Hays, tragically died at the age of 40. A life cut short. After I spoke at her funeral I shared a lesson the Lord had taught me called, “An Untimely Death.” I don’t know how many copies of that sermon we have given out over the last three years, but I feel safe to say that it is has been in the hundreds. The lesson was about how to deal with the untimely death of someone you love.
On Tuesday morning, when I got back to my house, I was talking to Connie about that sermon and I told her about all of the memories that had flooded my mind on my way home from the hospital in Pauls Valley. I said, “You know, Granny’s death was an untimely death to me.” You might think that is a crazy, a selfish thing to say. After all, my grandmother was 85 years old. Well, The American Heritage Dictionary defines, “untimely,” as 1. occurring or done at an inappropriate time; inopportune. 2. occurring too soon; premature: an untimely death.
When you consider the definition of “untimely” then I feel free to say that my grandmother’s death was certainly “untimely.” It happened at an inappropriate time in my opinion; it occurred too soon, her death was premature. I can say all of that because, have you ever tasted my grandmother’s chocolate pie? To think that I will never taste another chocolate pie like that on this side of heaven is almost too much to bear. Have you ever sat down to one of her breakfasts with fried eggs, homemade biscuits and gravy, and tenderloin? Her biscuits and gravy and tenderloin were amazing! Have you ever heard any of my grandmother’s “one liners?” I remember when Connie was pregnant with Dan. Connie was talking to my grandmother one day when she asked her, “What is it like to have a baby?” My grandmother said, “Well honey, it ain’t no picnic so don’t pack a lunch.” She was a classic! Her mind was strong, so strong, and even though her strength may have diminished some through the past few years, her love never lost an ounce of its strength.
Now, with all of that said, I know that God is Sovereign, I know that He alone knows the number of our days before they even begin, and I know that my grandmother is more alive at this very moment than she has ever been in her life. I rejoice at knowing these things that I have learned from God’s Word. It is just that I would like to have another day, make another memory, and share another laugh with her.
I’m certain that many of you know exactly what I am talking about because you too have lost someone really special to you when they were well up in years, and yet it just seemed that they died too soon. That is why I want to take this time this morning to share some Scripture with you and talk about what we can learn from these experiences in life.
First, let me say that we have to rely upon God’s Word if we want to learn valuable lessons from the experiences we have in life about death. Society sure doesn’t have anything to teach us, popular culture does everything in the world to try and avoid dealing with our mortality, but God’s Word has incredible lessons for us if we will just be still and be teachable.
Life is Short
The first lesson is this: life is short. I’ve learned, from losing loved ones and speaking at the funerals of lots and lots of people, that my life is going to be brief. I haven’t had some premonition that I’m going to die in the next ten minutes or ten years, but it doesn’t matter if I live to be one hundred years old, life is brief. The older we get the quicker the pages on the calendar seem to turn don’t they? Job said,
1 “How frail is humanity! How short is life, how full of trouble! 2 We blossom like a flower and then wither. Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear. (Job 14:1-2 NLT)
Job was a wise man. He understood the brevity of life. I would say that one of the great lessons that God wants us to learn is that life is short. I would also say that this is one of the missing truths in most of our lives today. We can get so distracted by chasing after the next “fun” thing to do and just taking care of business that we forget that our days are numbered. We are not the first to get distracted. In James 4:13-16 we read,
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16 NIV)
We have no idea what will happen today much less tomorrow. We have to realize that there are consequences attached to being mindful of the brevity of life as well as acting like we are going to live forever. In Psalm 90:12 we read,
12 Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom. (Psa 90:12 NLT)
Do you see the possibility that is there for us if we will realize the brevity of life? The Psalmist says, “…so that we may grow in wisdom.” If we know that life is short we can live a more focused life. If we know that life is short we can live a more intentional life. If we know that our lives are short we can focus on the things that are really important in life and not be so easily distracted by lesser things. If we know that life is short we can make the most of the relationships we have been blessed with now. I want to show you one more Scripture under the heading—Life is brief. Turn with me Psalm 39:4-5.
4 “LORD, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered– how fleeting my life is. 5 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand. My entire lifetime is just a moment to you; at best, each of us is but a breath.” (Psalm 39:4-5 NLT)
Heaven is Drawing Near
The second lesson is this: Heaven grows sweeter and more real by the day. For those who trust in God, truly believe His Word, the more funerals we attend the more we are reminded that Heaven is drawing near.
The morning that I got back from the hospital I was talking to Connie and she asked me, “How are you doing?” I said, “I’m doing fine. I miss my grandmother, but you know, I really believe this stuff.” I really do. I believe God’s Word is more than fables or the words of men. I believe the promises of God are just that…the promises of God. As I’ve read the Word of God and reviewed the many promises that God has made throughout history I have not been able to find a single promise that He has ever broken. If He promised to go and prepare a place for us, then come back for us so that we might be where He is, then, with His perfect record of keeping promises, why should I doubt the truthfulness of His promise?
I’ve watched the bodies and minds of people I have known slowly wither and waste away through the years. It is a difficult thing to watch is it not? I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to experience, although I see that I’m moving in that direction. Yet, in Scripture I read that the diminishment of our abilities that we witness on a daily basis will be done away with for those who trust in Jesus. In Revelation 21 we read,
2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:2-5 NIV)
What a day that will be! This is the promise of God my friends. It’s not a Disney production, it’s not a script written by Stephen Spielberg, or one of Aesop’s fables, but it is the promise of God. You can trust God. You can believe God. In an ever-changing world, you can hold on to the promises of God.
Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and he shared with them his deep belief that God was true to His promises. Listen to this.
13 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. (2 Corinthians 4:13-14 NIV)
Scripture teaches us, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection validates what Scripture teaches, and we are holding onto the promise of God that although this life ends in death, death does not get the final word. Death has been defeated! The victory is won! So, when we attend the funerals of our friends and family members who are in Christ, we not only gather there to celebrate their life and grieve our loss, but we gather to be reminded that heaven is drawing near for us as well.
Dwight Moody was considered by many to be the greatest evangelist of the 19th century. Massive crowds of 10-20,000 people and more turned out to hear him preach. Spurgeon had him preach in his church in England. Andrew Bonar helped him while Moody was preaching in Scotland. D.L. Moody wasn’t feeling well when he preached his last sermon on November 16, 1899 in Kansas City, Kansas. He returned home to Northfield, Massachusetts by train. His illness was never diagnosed, but doctors felt that he was suffering from congestive heart failure. Moody realized that he was dying. His family and dearest friends had gathered at his home.
On December 22, 1899, Moody spent his last day on this earth. He was so weak and his words were slow in coming when he said, “Earth recedes, heaven opens before me!” His son, Will, drew close to his dad and said, “Father, you are dreaming.” Moody said, “No. This is no dream, Will. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. God is calling me, and I must go. Don’t call me back.” Moody believed God and God’s promises realized were more glorious than Moody ever imagined.
The funeral for Dwight L. Moody was a glorious celebration of the grace and mercy of God. Many remembered the words the evangelist had spoken earlier that year in New York City: “Someday you will read in the papers that Moody is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now…. I was born of the flesh in 1837; I was born of the Spirit in 1855. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit shall live forever.”
Grief is a Gift From God
The third lesson is this: Grief is a gift from God. I’ve seen so many broken hearts at funerals. I’ve watched people go through boxes of Kleenex at funerals. I’ve seen folks so full of sorrow that, at the time, you wonder if they will ever be able to move forward. Our immediate reaction to such grief and sorrow is that it would be better if we could avoid such sorrow and sadness. I’ve been to funerals where there were no tears at all, no expressions of loss, and no need for Kleenex. What I have come to realize is that most often the tears and broken hearts are signs—signs of a deep, deep love that was experienced during the life of the person who has died.
I can remember on more than one occasion asking someone who was so deeply grief stricken by the loss of their loved one—“If you could escape the tears and the feeling like there is a hole in your heart by never having known your loved one would you do it? Would you trade the relationship you’ve shared throughout their life for a life now that is free of sorrow and sadness?” Do you know that not once, not one time, has anyone ever answered, “Yes!” God’s word speaks about grief in relation to those who have died when Paul writes to the people in Thessalonica. Read along with me from 1 Thessalonians 4:13.
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 NLT)
Paul makes it clear that all people grieve, but as followers of Jesus we grieve differently than those who have “no hope.” He doesn’t mean that we are not sad, or cry real tears, or experience our loss in a deep way. What Paul is saying is that we grieve with the hope that I just spoke about earlier in our lesson.
It is very important that we recognize why we are grieving when our loved ones die. We are grieving our loss, not theirs. Like in the case with my grandmother, I am grieving the loss of the relationship that I have enjoyed for 49 years and all that it entailed. I’m grieving the loss of farm life, riding horses, being chased by guineas, watching her dance with my grandfather, seeing her in the stands at my ballgames, having her hold my children and grandchildren, and so much more.
Those who have no hope grieve the end. They have no promise of heaven, or tears being wiped away, or a day when there will be no cancer, or mourning, or death. They have no hope so their grief is far, far different than our grief. It is so important for us to remember that my friends.
God is Our Comfort
The final lesson is this: God is our comfort in our great loss. Oftentimes at funerals I will urge the family to take their sorrow to the Lord. I say, “As important as friends and family are at a time like this there is a depth of sorrow and grief that human comfort just can’t heal.” I truly believe it.
The most requested Scripture that people want me to read at funerals is the 23rd Psalm. Within the 23rd Psalm is one of my favorite lines in the whole Bible. It is found in the third verse where David says, 3 he restores my soul… (Psalm 23:3 NIV) He alone can do that my friend.
Each of us knows people who, once they have lost a very important person in their life, have basically folded up their tent and given up on life. I think we all know that God does not intend for us to do that, but we see it happen and I certainly understand. To avoid that trap we must allow the Father to “restore our souls.”
Comfort is healing isn’t it? I’m not simply talking about the comfort we receive from others when someone we love dies, I’m talking about the comfort we receive any time we go through a tough time in life. God tells us to 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15 NIV) The comfort of people is important to each of us, but as good as the comfort of people feels, it pales in comparison to the comfort of God. Paul wrote,
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. 5 For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)
He is the God of “all comfort,” the One “who comforts us in all our troubles.” It is the comfort of God that brings healing to our broken hearts, it is the comfort of God that helps us to maintain an attitude of gratitude rather than become mired in sorrow to the point of not being able to function, and it is the comfort of God that leads us beyond ourselves so that we might comfort others with the same comfort we have received. Let me share with you another verse that points to God’s care for us. In Psalm 55:22 we read,
22 Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22 NIV)
He will comfort us, He will sustain us, and He will never let us fall under the weight of the losses we experience in this life my friends. Probably most of us here in this sanctuary this morning have already experienced loss. For some of you, your loss might have led you to make decisions that were not beneficial at all. I’ve known many people who drowned their sorrows when life got too tough. I’ve known others who simply decided to back off from relationships and not get too close to anyone for fear that they would feel those intense emotions of loss once again.
You may not have experienced the loss of someone very important to you so far in life, but you will. What will you do when that day comes? Please don’t say, “I just don’t want to think about it.” That is the worst thing you can do. To know that we will lose those we love and to prepare for that day by coming to know the lessons we’ve covered this morning can bring us a peace that this world can never know.
I would give almost anything to just make one more memory with my grandmother, but that is not a possibility. For me to spend my time thinking about “what if?” would not get me anywhere in life. I can treasure the “what was” of my relationship with my grandmother and be reminded that the best is yet to come. I can also consider the death of my grandmother and allow it teach me to “number my days aright.” I am moving towards heaven and that excites me. I have peace about the loss of those I have loved in the past, not because I am strong, but because Jesus has given me His peace. He said,
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)
I can tell you from experience that Jesus’ promise of peace can be realized right now if you will simply turn to Him and ask Him into your life. Won’t you ask Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
October 24, 2010
1 Thessalonians 4:13