Monday, December 08, 2008

Funeral Message for George Crain

To be asked to help a family through their time of grief is one of the parts of my role as pastor that I appreciate the most. In those times, I can watch as the love of Christ makes a real difference in the way they view not just their loved one's passing, but their own mortality. Most of the funerals I am asked to do are for people I know well. But occasionally, through the relationships within our congregation, I am asked to speak a word about the lives of those I did not really know well.

I had met George a couple of times at weddings, and visited him in the hospital once after a stroke. But it was through his daughter and to a lesser extent the rest of the family that I was able to piece together what I wrote below. My goal is to help the family through this stage of grief in a way that spotlights the love of God and that offers that love to all who are assembled.

I hope that's what this does. -

George Crain

Born in 1942, in the middle of a war, to parents who had seen another War and the depression that followed it. Born into an area that back then was wildly different than what we know now. A hard place to make a living. Pine trees, mullet, yellow flies. A long way in between paved roads –or neighbors for that matter.

His brother Doyle could probably fill me in more on what it was like. But something held them here, and they’re still here. And George’s body will be laid to rest in the same native soil he lived his life on.

If you have watched the pictures slide by on the screen you’ve seen a young man alone, a young Marine, a young husband, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather.

Pictures don’t tell the whole story though. But I suppose that’d be hard to get on a screen. When Pam was listing all the jobs her dad had over the years (including one working out a little time at Eglin) I was amazed. Truck driver, salesman, offshore, fisherman, handyman, carpenter - I wanted to ask “so exactly what didn’t he wind up doing?” Would be a very interesting resume to read, I’d expect. “Whatever he put his mind to do, he could do.” That’s quite a statement and carries a lot of respect behind it.

Being a carpenter comes highly recommended in some circles I’m very familiar with. Working with wood teaches you a few things that turn out to be very handy.
For example wood doesn’t cut itself. It takes someone picking up a tool and applying it. And not just hacking at it anywhere. Real carpenters and tradesmen look at shade tree folks like me when we pick up a hammer and can tell at a glance that they’ve forgotten more about building than I’ve ever known. There’s simple, and there’s simple.

Hunting and fishing, two of the other things George loved are the same way. You can go out to Bass ProShop and buy everything you need to be on the pro Tour, or get your name on the wall at Remington – but get on the water, or in the woods, and all that equipment is a poor substitute for real knowledge. A real outdoorsman like George, who treated nature not just as a place of escape, but almost as a sanctuary, would have you labeled as a wannabe pretty quick. There’s a big difference between fishing for fun and fishing because that’s your livelihood too. But fishermen learn some skills. Determination. Patience. Not a wonder then that when Jesus started His ministry, He didn’t go to that century’s Harvard to staff it. He went to the water. To the docks. To men who knew that simple work requires more than most people realize.

Pretty interesting life. Good times, bad times, in between times as a man worked through his trials. Win some, you lose some, but they all shape you, don’t they? They all make up a life. We can sit here today and project what we would have done. But we weren’t him. There was only one George Crain.

So trying to sum up the life of the man whose body lies here before us isn’t easy. What sort of impact did he make? How did he use the gift of life that God gave?

As far as impact, some of that is obvious, and some isn’t. Maybe you get that strong chin from him or the color of your eyes. Or maybe you get a love for the outdoors or an appreciation of the little things. And it’s possible that some of you were affected by what he did to do something else. To use what he did as a spur to your own life – to do things differently. To make different choices.

But you were affected.

So as you look back over this man’s 66 years of life, try to remember that.

One of the messages that I try to lead people to every year about this time is that God is not impressed with what we wear, or what we drive, or where we live. What God’s really dialed into is reality. To honesty. To humility.

It shows up here in His Word, where God – in trying to deal with a stubborn nation of Israel that has tried to redefine every guideline he’s ever given them into their way of living instead of His – He finally says this:

8 The LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NLT)
Some of us try from time to time to portray God’s way as impossibly complex. We tell ourselves no one could know what to do to please Him, so we do our own thing. But that sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?
The same sort of plain talk shows up in the words of a man who knew his way around a carpenter’s shop.
37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matt 22:37-40 (NLT)
Those are the blueprints of what God expects from the people who call Him theirs. Sure there is a lot more here in the Bible, but at the foundation, living a life that God honors is that simple. Love God. Do what’s right. Care about people. Don’t get stuck on yourself.

To even be trusted to do that though, we have to learn to deal with reality.

Here’s reality. We’re all messed up – every one of us. George was – I am – you are. We’re stained by sin – by our refusal to do what God has set out as what’s right. Rich, poor, black – white, young - old, male – female, we are all flawed by our innate, inbred desire to have our own way.

That’s just the way it is. The Bible says “All have sinned and fallen short of the love of God.”

But we can take comfort today that even though God knows us as we are, we can also know God and find forgiveness through His son Jesus Christ.

We can take comfort for today and the days to come in that. Jesus said:

1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. John 14:1 (NLT)

Friends, today is just one day on the journey. For most of you, the grief you feel now won’t end here. There will still be “those days” when it’s hard. And it’s not that it gets easier, but you get better at letting God’s love in. Whether that’s in the stillness of the night when you’re awakened and remember your loss, or at family gatherings when it’s apparent just by looking around that George is no longer with you. You’ll need God. You’ll need each other. I can promise you that God will never leave you. He said that.

But it’s up to you to work on the family part of that plan.

And as we look ahead, considering that the certainty that one day we will be as George is, it is a comfort to know that Jesus will be ready to receive us.

2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. John 14:2-3 (NLT)

We may look at the end of a life and be unprepared for that end. In fact some mentioned to me yesterday that even with all of George’s health problems that his death came as a shock. It might have been a shock here on earth, but not to God. The Bible tells us that our days are numbered like the hairs on our heads.

Jesus has done all that is needed to prepare for our relocation. The question is, have we?

Jesus goes on to say this: 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:4-6 (NLT)

To accept Jesus’ offer of freedom from guilt and sin means we reach out to Him by admitting what everyone including ourselves already knows. We need help. So we agree with God that it will take an act of God to make all of us, who are so wrong – right.

An act of God is exactly what Jesus life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead was.

It was the act of a God who believes that you are worth dying for. Jesus shoved open the door to real life for everyone who believes in Him. I have to ask you – do you believe in Him?

Are you a follower of Jesus? A Christian?

I was thinking about that last week when we visited a nursing home. So many people up there who have lived full lives but because their minds are now clouded, can’t express to anyone who they really are. Whether they are a believer or not. It’s too late for them.

So what about this. If we all took out a sheet of paper. 26 lines on most I think. If we wrote at the top “I believe” and then wrote our name, then finished with “is a Christian”

How many of us could get 26 signatures?

It’d be wonderful, wouldn’t it, if we lived the kind of life where our family, our friends, our neighbors and coworkers would line up to sign. Yes, he lived like I could see Jesus living. He loved God and people.

It would be great.

But what we see isn’t what God sees. And at the end of the day, the only writing any of us needs is our names written on that great ledger in heaven – the Book of Life. So if you are here today and do not know the peace that comes from knowing God, I urge you to open your heart to His love, and surrender your life to His will.

We are trusting today in the love of God. Who knew George far better than any of us.

In a God Who keeps His promises to us. In a time like this, we can find hope in that.

Jesus said this:

38 For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day.40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”
John 6:38-40 (NLT)

Friends, George’s time here has passed, and his life returned to the One who gave it. His place in eternity is fixed for all time. Is yours?

Let’s pray.

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