Saturday, March 09, 2013

I Didn't Know Her, But I Know Jesus

In a little while, I'll be speaking at a memorial service for someone I didn't know. It happens more often than you'd think. In such cases, I go into it hoping to be able to be God's agent of comfort and healing. In doing that though, I don't try to make the departed something they were not, and I also don't pull out my magic judgment glasses and pronounce them  "In" or "Out."

What I want to do, is be like Jesus, who was able to love people so deeply and so well that they heard who He was and felt to the core of their being that in Him was hope, and a life without Him was hopeless.

So here is the message I'll bring today. Maybe there's someone else who needs to come home.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,[1] I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. Psalms 23:1-6 (NLT)

That psalm is probably the most often read Scripture at times like this. It has brought comfort to untold numbers of people in its simplicity. It was written by David. King of Israel when he was an old man looking back over his life. And what a life it was. He was a man loved by God, but a murderer and an adulterer. He had all sorts of family issues. 

But at the end, he paused to reflect and remember that he was loved and that he had hope beyond the grave. I thought it was fitting that we begin with that.

We’re here today to pause, reflect, and remember the all too brief life of Cheryl Agerton. You’ve taken the time to be here, which leads me to believe, even if you are still hurting, angry, or discouraged, that you want to hear that there is hope and healing – that it is possible to get to a place of peace, even in a devastating loss for which there are few answers and many questions. For my part, I am a follower of Jesus Christ – a Christian, and a pastor. I cannot hurt for you, but I can hurt with you. I cannot answer all your questions, but I can point you to One who can.

So let’s take a moment and pause our “whys” to focus on Cheryl’s life.

From what I was given, Cheryl was born on June 9th, 1974 in Ft. Walton Beach Florida and given the name Cheryl Diane Agerton. Until the last few months of her life, she lived here in the area, growing up around the beautiful bayous, bays, and beaches of this blessed Emerald Coast. One constant reminder among those I was given was to mention just how much Cheryl loved the water. I was told that she loved going to Turkey Creek or even just to sit down the way on John Sims behind Badcock at water’s edge and just enjoy it.

Let me read what Nancy wrote about her best friend

It’s echoed again here in what another person wrote.

Two things in common in both of those – Cheryl was loved for who she was, and both of them hope to see her again. Push “pause” on that last one for a minute and we’ll come back to that. But weren't those both wonderful testimonies from people who cared for Cheryl? I’m sure others might be able to say the same.

Cheryl was blessed with four children, Austin, Anthony, Valerie, and Elizabeth, and a grandson, Bentley.

While we’re “pausing” here to remember and reflect, we ought to admit that Cheryl’s relationships with her children weren’t everything they could have been. We’re not here to pass judgment on that, or on her. But at times like this, it is a good time for those left behind to examine their own actions, feelings, and convictions to see if they pass the test. I truly believe that while many of us focus on stuff like jobs, or possessions, or even having everything our own way, that once the opportunity to change them is taken away by death and the ability to see them from another perspective is given us – most of us would make changes – some of them major changes – in the way we had lived. It’s too late for Cheryl to make it right. But it’s not too late for you.

Once Cheryl was told she had cancer, and that it was almost certainly terminal, she made some changes immediately. She left her beloved bayous and beaches and headed for Oklahoma, which by the way is not known for either bayous or beaches. What was the attraction there? One of the most powerful words any human being can use and one of the greatest feelings any of us can have.
1: to desire with expectation of obtainment
2: to expect with confidence : trust

Cheryl went to Oklahoma in the hope that her cancer might be cured. She did whatever they told her to do out there, and they did everything that medically could be done. We’re here today at her memorial service so its obvious that the medical option did not work.

There was, and is, another option however.

Now I am about to head into deep waters here, and I’ve already been admonished that too much “God talk” might not be appropriate given Cheryl’s life as you knew it here. But folks, look around. We’re not at the DAV, the American Legion, the Elks, or the bar. We’re here in a building set aside to gather in and worship God, not so we can feel better about ourselves, but so we can learn to love others as much as Jesus does. We do not come here to learn new ways to throw stones at others. We come here to learn how to give our lives away to others because of our love for God.

Quite frankly I didn’t know Cheryl, but even if I had known her from birth, and knew everything possible about her life, I would not presume to judge her.

We believe here in a God of second chances, who possesses the ability to know everything about us, our open rebellion, our inherent stubbornness, our secret and not so secret disobedience, and yet pursues us relentlessly with His offer of forgiveness and peace with Him if we will only admit our sin, turn away from it, and accept forgiveness through belief in His Son Jesus as the One who saves us. 

We here have all sinned – and do sin. But we here have been forgiven. And we don’t base that on a feeling, or how many times we come here, how much we give, or whether our Aunt, Grandmother, or Grandfather was religious. We base that on God’s Word.

Here at New Hope, we root for people to be changed. We cheer on each other as we imperfectly try to live out what we believe. And here at New Hope we hope and pray that every person receives the gift of forgiveness and the comfort and peace of eternity with Jesus in heaven when they die. We’re in good company with that since that’s why Jesus came.

16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:16-17 (NLT)

So Jesus didn’t come to point fingers, but to offer a hand to pull whoever would take hold of it, to lift them to rescue.

And there was nothing any of us did to deserve that.

11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.” Acts 15:11 (NLT)

So we hold to the faith that changed this world forever. Love God with all your heart, mind, body and soul, and love other people.

And that message is the very message about faith that we preach:9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced. ”12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him.13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:8-13 (NLT)

Now before I go on, if anyone that still remains here that does not want to hear such “God talk”, I guess I’d want to ask “why?” Why wouldn’t you want to hold onto the hope that you would see your loved one again? Why would you close your mind and heart to even the possibility that I and billions of other people who follow Jesus and trust him might have stumbled into the greatest gift ever? 

If what I believe is not true, nothing has changed about what will happen when I die. But if it is true, as I believe with my whole heart, then the door was open for Cheryl, and it is open for you.

I reminded you of what you already knew a minute ago. Cheryl’s hope in a medical cure proved not to be effective. And I was concerned going into my conversation with the family the other day that when the medical option failed, Cheryl was out of options for eternity.

But Thelma told me that once Cheryl arrived in Oklahoma, not only did she grab hold of the possibility of hope that medicine might cure her, she also began attending church with some folks out there.  And again, I have no way of verifying this, but Thelma tells me that Cheryl became a child of God. That's a reason to celebrate and to give thanks to the God who pursued her all the days of her life.

He never gives up on anyone, no matter what. I’m hoping to meet Cheryl one day in heaven and hear about how all that worked out. As I said earlier, there’s no way for Cheryl to go back and live her life over again. What she did, she did. If you were blessed by her life, then hold onto those blessings. If you were hurt though, you need to find hope yourself so you can let those hurts go.

There’s still time. Come home. Turn away from this world and the way you have lived, and turn to Jesus and a new way of living. Trust Him as the One who will save you from yourself.  Be born again.

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