Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
I have preached nearly 100 funerals in my 31 years of full-time preaching. That includes funerals for still-borns all the way up to those 100 years old. It includes services for those who committed suicide or died in accidents, but also a great many who were able to prepare for the process of dying.
In the course of sitting down with families who have just lost a loved one, it is commonplace to talk about the deceased. Sometimes, I have known and been closely tied to the one whose service I was doing. Other times, I have not known them well and it is not uncommon to perform a service for someone I’ve never even met. Meeting with the family is a great way, especially in these situations, to find out who their loved one was.
The longer they talk and the more they say, the more clearly they paint a picture of what the dear departed prioritized. The stories center around that theme. All of them want the preacher to know some “faith fact(s)” about them–they were raised in the church, they believed in God, they read (or had) a Bible, etc. Some of them have an abundance of stories about a Christ-centered life. All roads seem to lead back to that: Family stories, work stories, and church stories.
Sadly, others paint a picture of other things predominating their time, passion, talent, and interest. At a time when people are going to say the nicest things about a person, they are also going to give away what mattered most to them–during the visitation, before, during, and after the service, at the graveside, and otherwise. It always happens.
Most days, our funeral is the farthest thing from our minds. We are busy living life. Yet, we are building, day by day and decision by decision, what our legacy will be. In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon talks about the many things that are “vanity.” He uses the word 38 times in 30 verses, at times using the phrase “vanity of vanities” to express utter futility and worthlessness. Work, knowledge, pleasure, competition, money, everything, apart from God, is like chasing the wind.
At the end of his sermon, this wise king says, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (12:13-14). What an encouragement to you and me to build a God-centered legacy. That requires embracing what Jesus taught, to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness (Mat. 6:33). Don’t we want others, most importantly God, to say, our faith defined us? Nothing matters more!