1 Thessalonians 4:13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
I naturally use this verse in most of the funerals I conduct, so this year it’s been getting a good bit of mileage. Just last night we attended the formal wake of the mayor of our city, who has been a personal friend for close to 30 years. This time I wasn’t directly involved, though I was in the funerals of his first wife and his second son. His pastor did a very good job, and I was encouraged to know that his faith had been in better shape than I had been concerned it might have been. However, I don’t know about the spiritual condition of his first and third sons, or their wives, though I know his second wife has been baptized. It is certain that the vast majority of those present at the service don’t have the hope that Paul speaks of here, and it was perhaps a shock to them for everything to be so very different from a Buddhist wake. As a Catholic priest commented to me many years ago, Christian funerals are a very powerful evangelistic tool in Japan precisely because of the contrast with Buddhist ceremonies, and the biggest difference is hope. To a degree I actually enjoy doing wakes and funerals for committed Christians, even when I feel the loss personally, because it is such an opportunity to tell people about eternal life. As Jesus said, the peace He gives us is something the world can never give. (John 14:27) Grief is real, and should not be ignored, but for the person who knows Jesus, it is nothing like the grief for someone who has no hope.
This is very close to home at the moment. The mayor was the 14th person close to us to die this year. My wife has major back surgery coming up very shortly, with brain surgery scheduled for February. That really sharpens my focus! I need to make the conscious choice to trust God, not just for eternity but for right now. My body is reacting to my stress level, which is a reminder that only in Christ can I “do everything.” (Philippians 4:13) However, it’s not bad to have training in faith, because as faith grows I am better able to appropriate all that God has prepared for me in Christ. As the hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” I am to walk in hope, trust, and obedience, making full use of every opportunity the Lord gives me to share His love, grace and truth, so that many may be drawn closer to Him, for their blessing and His glory.
Father, thank You indeed for the hope that we have in Christ. Thank You that Cathy will be going into the hospital today for three days of tests prior to her surgery. I pray that the tests would be fully accurate as to her current situation, and that every decision that is made would line up with Your perfect plan for her, not simply relieving her pain but restoring her to active health. May she and I both be faithful, effective witnesses of Christ to all we encounter, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!