More Than Their Ability


Too much. You have given beyond your ability. Too much.

I know this family. I have served them for these years. I love them. Visiting them is a joy. I take out Communion and I ask, “Are you a sinner?”

Yes,” she answers, looking at me like an idiot. Pastor, of course I’m a sinner. What’s wrong with you? You know that as well as I do!

Yes,” he answers, his eyes downcast. His guilt weighs heavy on him. All the time. Every time.

I ask the next question: “Did Jesus die for your sins?”

Yes,” he answers, clinging to that hope. It’s the only way. Please, please, he died for my sins.

Yes,” she answers, confident after years of having being taught otherwise, that indeed, yes! Her Savior lives.

Having heard your confession of sins and your confession of faith, as a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” I answer with joy.

She smiles. She loves seeing her pastor give the absolution. He smiles. He loves that lifting of weight, the guilt gone.

But no more.

She died. (more…)

It’s not about the dash.

It’s not about the dash.

I just got back from a “Christian” funeral and burial. The daughter of one of my prospects died very suddenly. I attended both the wake and the funeral to support the prospect’s family. I did not preside, and am rather glad I wasn’t asked – the daughter had chosen not to come to worship nor have me visit, despite several offers. How could I lie about her and say that I knew she was in heaven? I heard neither profession of faith nor saw faith in action.

The family got a “mercenary” pastor, as I call them – someone willing to preach for pay for whatever situation.

The funeral itself was… inoffensive, which by itself offended me. The pastor chose the account of Jesus raising a young man to life in the city of Nain: (more…)

The Last Enemy to be Defeated

Death brings out the best in people.

Or not.

As I feared last week, the family chose Saturday to hold the funeral. They would not be persuaded, and no other option was good enough. Why? Because they said so. It wasn’t a time that overlapped our evangelism event, but it was so close — most, if not all, of our evangelism people would also be at the funeral. Can you imagine coming to a church event and being welcomed with tears? Yeah. And again, refusal to move.

Then, I hear through the grapevine: If I mention that this woman who died was a sinner, her brother will punch me in the face. Heaven forbid I say what every single person knows. The woman who died knew her Savior, and her Savior knew her. I have no hesitation to say that she is in heaven. However, I must acknowledge that she was a sinner. She struggled in major ways. To not acknowledge this is to not only “simply” allow the popular funeral heresy of saying she was a good woman, but also to speak a lie that would offer no comfort.

Incidentally, this is no idle threat. This same man is known for his violence. (more…)

Two Funerals, an Anniversary, and a Wedding

A funeral on Tuesday. She was baptized in this congregation when it was six years old; on Sunday we mark our centennial. I remember holding her hand, her smile, and her sorrow at leaving her home when her health made it necessary for her to move into an assisted living facility.

On Tuesday, I tell the family the good news: Yes, she was a sinner. Yes, the wages of her sin was death. And yet, Jesus loved her enough to die for her. Despite what you see in the casket, she is rejoicing in heaven. In other words, I preach Gospel in the face of death itself, clinging to Jesus’s promises. I’ll see this old woman again. I’ll hold her hand again. And even more, we’ll do it while rejoicing around the Throne in heaven.

Tuesday evening. I’m about to teach teen Bible study when I get a phone call from my mother-in-law’s number. I figure it’s either something fairly quick and frivolous – “Hey, I’m shopping. Do you have this movie yet?” – or it’s something serious. I decide to answer.

It’s my brother-in-law on the other side. “Hey. Um, dad’s dead.”

I think he’s joking.

He’s not. (more…)

To Stand in Joy Beside

“Good morning. Welcome to St. Luke’s.

“Usually I say ‘Welcome home’ here, because we’re a family. We care for one another quite a bit. We’re tight-knit. Last night, one of our family members went Home to be with the Lord forever. Melissa Schwartz was taken to heaven at about seven last night.

“It’s ok for us to cry and to mourn. The Bible tells us not to mourn like other men who have no hope, but it never tells us not to mourn. Don’t cry for Melissa, though. She’s happy. She’s celebrating. She’s partying. Cry for yourself. Admit that you miss her. That’s ok.

“To start our worship today, we’re going to sing a song in her honor. Please turn to hymn 152, and we’ll sing verses one through four.”

And then I walked over to the piano at the front of church… and I played an introduction to “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” that I created. It’s a fanfare, a bombastic piece. On my last note, the organ joined in, and we played together while the congregation sang. I’m told that more than one congregation member was watching the piano – apparently it was literally rocking under the force of my playing.

For Melissa. (more…)

The Lord is Judy’s Shepherd

Funeral sermon given Oct. 20, 2011.

Psalm 23

1      The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

2        He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

3        he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake.

4     Even though I walk

through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5     You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies.

You anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

6     Surely goodness and love will follow me

all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord


The LORD is Judy’s shepherd.

  1. He guided in paths of righteousness
  2. So Judy is dwelling in the house of the LORD forever. (more…)

The Joy of Death


Tomorrow I will officiate at my first funeral. Practically speaking, it’s a perfect situation for a first funeral. The woman is an old member of the church that transferred down to Florida a number of years ago because of her health. She often gave witness to her faith in both words and actions, both here before she moved and down in Florida. She wanted to be buried “back home,” though, so when she was called home to heaven, the family moved to obey her wishes.

That means that my first funeral:
1) is for a believer. There’s no doubt where she is: in heaven!
2) is for a church member in good standing. There’s no question that I can in good conscience and good order preside at the funeral.
3) is someone I’ve never met, meaning I won’t be distracted with strong direct emotions.

That’s not to say I don’t care; this woman is the mother of a congregation member I’m close with. There will be tears, I expect, and I expect that they will be contagious. However, because I didn’t know this person directly, I can concentrate on speaking words of comfort to others without having to comfort myself. I can concentrate on bringing the Gospel to those who desperately need it.

And it means I can concentrate on where she is. I, personally, don’t have the sense of loss that those who persoanlly knew her currently have. I’m not passing through the grieving process here. My heart is with those who grieve, but as one who is not caught in the bonds of missing her, I can point as much as possible at the comfort that only Christians have: She is home. She has been taken home, out of this world and to a mansion prepared by Jesus.

As I serve as a pastor, I know I can expect to officiate at the funerals of those who are close to my heart. I know that while I grieve I will be speaking words of comfort. These times are coming (and possibly soon). I pray I’ll be able to effectively speak the comfort of the Gospel then, too.

But for right now, I’m glad that in my inexpeerience I get a “practice round” of speaking that comfort. It is a real funeral and the people here need to be reminded of what the pastor down in Florida has also told them: their loved one is safe in Jesus’ arms. And I get to concentrate on giving that comfort.

What a blessing!