funeral

The Importance of Attending a Funeral

I have been to three funerals in the last four weeks:  one in Pueblo for my secretary’s father, another for a member of our church whose daughter lost the battle to cancer, and another who was a believer of 90 years old!  In all instances, family members and friends from all walks of life travelling from both near and far to attend.  Every one of them felt not just obligated but compelled to come and be a part.  Each understands the importance of attending, even if we are not able to fully articulate why.

In the past, I have blogged on giving practical tips to preaching a funeral.  Here, I wish to show why we should attend the funeral of friends, family, and even acquaintances.  

First, your presence speaks volumes.  At the end of Job 2, after Job had lost his offspring, his property, his livestock, and his health—leaving him in the valley—his friends came and sat with him for seven days.  Notice they only ‘sat with him.’  In times of grief like this, simply sitting and listening to the grief-stricken individual speaks volumes!

Secondly, a funeral provides more details into the life of the one who recently died.  By details, I do not mean mere information.  I mean, you see the relationships developed during the course of the deceased’s life.  These pieces of the puzzle come together to bring the whole picture into brighter clarity.  And it also helps see the relationships in which the deceased invested, and those who invested in him. 

Thirdly, God will use you as a follower of Christ to be the presence of Christ in that dark time.  Jesus grieved when confronted by death.  The shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35), took place in the context of arriving at the tomb of his beloved friend, Lazarus!  He wept over the effects of sin that had tortured His created imagebearers!  Whether we realize it or not, this is a part of why we grieve—as evident in questions often asked:  “Why was he/she taken?” “Why do people have to die?” Questions abound, with the only answers that may be provided are ones that connect with the greater purposes of Heaven. 

Scripture makes it clear that “it is destined for man to die once, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:22).  We will die, believer or non-believer—and death entered into the world as a result of our desire to be our own god rather than surrender to the true and living God (Genesis 3:1-8).  Our desire to know good and evil brought into the world the utmost result of evil—death, the wages of our sin (Romans 6:23). 

Funerals are opportunities to answer these questions as one’s own mortality is staring them in the face. 

Lastly, funerals put those left behind on your radar to provide further comfort after the funeral is over and after family and friends have disbursed.  The weeks after the funeral can be torture.  You begin realizing that the family member or loved one is really gone.  You have to deal with estate issues and other paperwork.  You begin going through their affects, bringing up memories that bring with them the corresponding emotions.  So going to the funeral is important—following up in the weeks and months after is absolutely critical!

We know that for the follower of Christ, death will one day be no more (Revelation 21:1-4).  In the meantime, dying is a part of living here on this earth.  Be there for them in the name of Christ, especially during this time of bereavement. 

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Practical Tips on Preaching a Funeral

(A post from a blog I had previously.  I pray this is of help to many of you.)

Today (Monday) was an exceedingly sad day — I had to preach a funeral of a member who was of great encouragement to me. While I feel the immense privilege of preaching a funeral and being able to minister at such a critical time, I find that there are some lessons that I have learned in regards to preaching a funeral sermon.

First, spend time with the family of the deceased. There is no substitute for this. It’s not enough to simply preach a sermon during this occasion. There is pastoral work to be done. Be there at least by the day after the family members’ death — after the funeral arrangements have been made and other personal issues are in order. Go to where they are and just sit and listen. Some would say, “I don’t want to intrude on family time.” To that I say, if had the choice of erring on the side of a personal presence or no, I would err by risking intrusion. You will be able to tell in about 15 seconds if it is a bad time — but they will appreciate the gesture and may well give you a better time to come by. And when you do, be prepared to listen, to inquire, to go through pictures, read letters, hear wonderful stories. But most of all, be prepared to be the Lord’s presence to them at that time. Since you are a minister, you are an ambassador for Christ — and even the most pagan individual will see you as such (and may not understand why).

Second, when you preach keep it short — 12-15 minutes top — unless the family asks you otherwise. Yes, the family asked you as the minister to do the funeral — but this time is not about you or your sermonic skills or for you to take pride that the family asked you to preach at such a life-altering occasion. You are there to represent Christ and to give his Word — but take care. The family is emotionally, spiritually and in all likelihood physically drained. And listening takes energy. An economy of words would suit everyone well here.

Three, share the Gospel without fail. Yes, address the reason why you all are gathered in that place. Yes, eulogize and recall some fond memories. Yes, address the family and send your condolences on behalf of yourself and the church you serve. But shame on any minister of the Gospel who does not share the Gospel to people who are most open to hearing about this. Some would object and say, “This is manipulation! You shouldn’t take advantage of people in that state.” But death is what the majority of people are most afraid of, and the finality and mortality of this age is clearly front and center. And, as was the case with this individual’s funeral I did on Monday, this person dealt with some severe medical issues and remained resolute, the family and friends looking on need to know why. So tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give them the encouragement that the Apostle Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. [14] For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [15] For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. [16] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. [17] Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. [18] Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Fourthly, be the last one to leave. If you end with a graveside service, stay until everyone else is gone. Don’t say, “Amen!” then run to the car. Stay with the family until they leave. Walk out with the last family member if possible. Be the Lord’s ambassador right until the end. If there is a meal afterwards for the family and they invite you to stay and partake, stay and partake. Some very pastoral and teachable moments happen on such occasions that would not happen at any other time. So take advantage of the opportunities God brings your way.

Lastly, touch base with the family one week after the funeral. By now you may be saying, “Matt, I thought this was about preaching a funeral.” Yes, and by you showing that you care outside the pulpit, you will give more credence to what was said in the pulpit. There is something to be said for living a sermon, not just preaching one.

Those are my tips. What about you? Any tips come across your mind?

Categories: funeral, preaching | 4 Comments

Preaching a Funeral Tomorrow

One of the great privileges I have is coming alongside family members in helping apply the gospel in comfort as they deal with the loss of a loved one.  At my preaching blog, I blogged on the preaching of funeral sermons.  I pray they may be of help to you.  They are things I wish someone had passed along to me as a young minister.

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Practical Tips for Preaching a Funeral

Today (Tuesday) was an exceedingly sad day — I had to preach a funeral of a member who was of great encouragement to me. While I feel the immense privilege of preaching a funeral and being able to minister at such a critical time, I find that there are some lessons that I have learned in regards to preaching a funeral sermon.

First, spend time with the family of the deceased. There is no substitute for this. It’s not enough to simply preach a sermon during this occasion. There is pastoral work to be done. Be there at least by the day after the family members’ death — after the funeral arrangements have been made and other personal issues are in order. Go to where they are and just sit and listen. Some would say, “I don’t want to intrude on family time.” To that I say, if had the choice of erring on the side of a personal presence or no, I would err by risking intrusion. You will be able to tell in about 15 seconds if it is a bad time — but they will appreciate the gesture and may well give you a better time to come by. And when you do, be prepared to listen, to inquire, to go through pictures, read letters, hear wonderful stories. But most of all, be prepared to be the Lord’s presence to them at that time. Since you are a minister, you are an ambassador for Christ — and even the most pagan individual will see you as such (and may not understand why).

Second, when you preach keep it short — 12-15 minutes top — unless the family asks you otherwise. Yes, the family asked you as the minister to do the funeral — but this time is not about you or your sermonic skills or for you to take pride that the family asked you to preach at such a life-altering occasion. You are there to represent Christ and to give his Word — but take care. The family is emotionally, spiritually and in all likelihood physically drained. And listening takes energy. An economy of words would suit everyone well here.

Three, share the Gospel without fail. Yes, address the reason why you all are gathered in that place. Yes, eulogize and recall some fond memories. Yes, address the family and send your condolences on behalf of yourself and the church you serve. But shame on any minister of the Gospel who does not share the Gospel to people who are most open to hearing about this. Some would object and say, “This is manipulation! You shouldn’t take advantage of people in that state.” But death is what the majority of people are most afraid of, and the finality and mortality of this age is clearly front and center. And, as was the case with this individual’s funeral I did on Monday, this person dealt with some severe medical issues and remained resolute, the family and friends looking on need to know why. So tell them the Gospel of Jesus Christ and give them the encouragement that the Apostle Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. [14] For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. [15] For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. [16] For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. [17] Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. [18] Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Fourthly, be the last one to leave. If you end with a graveside service, stay until everyone else is gone. Don’t say, “Amen!” then run to the car. Stay with the family until they leave. Walk out with the last family member if possible. Be the Lord’s ambassador right until the end. If there is a meal afterwards for the family and they invite you to stay and partake, stay and partake. Some very pastoral and teachable moments happen on such occasions that would not happen at any other time. So take advantage of the opportunities God brings your way.

Lastly, touch base with the family one week after the funeral. By now you may be saying, “Matt, I thought this was about preaching a funeral.” Yes, and by you showing that you care outside the pulpit, you will give more credence to what was said in the pulpit. There is something to be said for living a sermon, not just preaching one.

Those are my tips. What about you? Any tips come across your mind?

Categories: funeral, pastoring, preaching | Leave a comment

Death’s Grip Pales in Comparison to the Gospel’s Grip

funeral_pic Today, I officiated a funeral for a long-time member of our church.  This was an incredible joy, especially she and her husband had poured so much of their life and energy into their biological family as well as their church family.  Our church is blessed to have 22 acres of property, and to recount how much of that property was cleared, fenced, and provided electricity by this family is amazing to me.  They were truly cut from some wonderful cloth, to be sure.

When I first came into the ministry, I remember feeling at such a disadvantage preaching the funeral of someone that I wasn’t able to know all that well in comparison to many others in the church.  Many were friends with her for over 50 years!  They had a slew of memories at their disposal I couldn’t begin to have.

Yet, in preparing sermons for funerals of Christian men and women, I began to realize, “Yes, I may not know this individual as well as others, but he/she and I share the same Savior and Lord.  And I know they would want me to tell them what they would want everyone in that building to know: Christ is great, He is real, and He went to great lengths to take us out of our sin and rebellion before God to make us righteous and accepted before Him through His death and resurrection.” 

We must know that death’s grip pales in comparison to the grip of the gospel.  Romans 5:18-21 gives a glorious understanding of this grip of the gospel of Christ:

18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The “one man” is Adam whose condemnation was passed along into the DNA of our being.  His disobedience made us sinners.  The “Law” is a glorious gift of God, but also makes us aware of our sinful behavior and, ultimately, our sinful nature.  "So that, as sin reigned in death, grace might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Adam’s sinful nature was passed on to us, made evident through God’s Law, and could only be freed by Christ’s righteousness through grace.  Christ’s work leads to “justification and life” (v. 18) and righteousness (v. 19, 21). 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

(Charles Wesley, And Can It Be, 1738)

 

 

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Death’s Grip Pales in Comparison to the Gospel’s Grip

funeral_pic Today, I officiated a funeral for a long-time member of our church.  This was an incredible joy, especially she and her husband had poured so much of their life and energy into their biological family as well as their church family.  Our church is blessed to have 22 acres of property, and to recount how much of that property was cleared, fenced, and provided electricity by this family is amazing to me.  They were truly cut from some wonderful cloth, to be sure.

When I first came into the ministry, I remember feeling at such a disadvantage preaching the funeral of someone that I wasn’t able to know all that well in comparison to many others in the church.  Many were friends with her for over 50 years!  They had a slew of memories at their disposal I couldn’t begin to have.

Yet, in preparing sermons for funerals of Christian men and women, I began to realize, “Yes, I may not know this individual as well as others, but he/she and I share the same Savior and Lord.  And I know they would want me to tell them what they would want everyone in that building to know: Christ is great, He is real, and He went to great lengths to take us out of our sin and rebellion before God to make us righteous and accepted before Him through His death and resurrection.” 

We must know that death’s grip pales in comparison to the grip of the gospel.  Romans 5:18-21 gives a glorious understanding of this grip of the gospel of Christ:

18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The “one man” is Adam whose condemnation was passed along into the DNA of our being.  His disobedience made us sinners.  The “Law” is a glorious gift of God, but also makes us aware of our sinful behavior and, ultimately, our sinful nature.  "So that, as sin reigned in death, grace might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Adam’s sinful nature was passed on to us, made evident through God’s Law, and could only be freed by Christ’s righteousness through grace.  Christ’s work leads to “justification and life” (v. 18) and righteousness (v. 19, 21). 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

(Charles Wesley, And Can It Be, 1738)

 

 

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