By God’s good grace and because of his love for the local church and his gospel, God has chosen to give our church a 20 year celebration of a pastor/church relationship. This past Sunday Grace Community Church of Yorkville, IL gave me some books – the ones stacked on the bottom. Now, to be honest, when they were given to me gift-wrapped, upon opening them I felt bummed because I had read nearly all of them and still owned several copies to boot. But, when asked to open the book to its entry page: “Wow!!” Each book has been signed by its author with a word of congratulations to me for surviving 20 years at the same church – and these guys are just a few of my heroes of the faith (of course, the one on the bottom is not signed by its author:).
But as you can see the title to this post is a play off of the top left book: “Autopsy of a Deceased Church.” Last week, I had the privilege to spend nearly an hour on the phone with the author, Thom Rainer. I conveyed to him that he could have written his book by watching our church for the past 20 years. I expressed my appreciation for his timely book (2014) that helped our church avoid what he has observed too many times: churches are dying at an alarming rate in America and almost always due to the same diseases. One of the unfortunate consequences is a short tenure for the pastor – and that often harms, not helps the church (short pastoral tenures is a red flag for a church – it may be on its way to its own funeral). As Thom asked more questions about our history, I expressed to him that when I read his book that I thought he should write a book called, “Autopsy of a Nearly Deceased Pastor”; a couple of times I nearly gave up pastoring because of “cartel members” in the church. Yes, that’s Mark Devine’s and Darren Patrick’s description, not mine (top book on the right, “Replant: how a dying church can grow again”. But if the shoe fits, wear it!
I thank the Lord for a loving church . . .
that loves the gospel of God told-out in the person and work of Jesus Christ;
who sees a covenant made with his people in the scriptures, carried along by a single story-line that is all about Jesus Christ “saving his people from their sins”;
who expects expository preaching through books of the bible on Sunday morning;
who enjoys a blend of some of the best old and new songs with a variety of music genres, avoiding the segregation of its members by putting the old folk with the organ in one service, and the young folk with the Fender amps in another;
whose liturgy includes confession of sin with rejoicing in the forgiveness from Christ on Sunday morning;
that seeks to not idolize the past with its man-made traditions;
that seeks to engage and work with the community instead of enticing them to come to church or get saved before we mingle with them;
that seeks to put its money on the street, not in its pocket;
that does not allow personal preferences to become holy cows;
that seeks to fellowship with each other, pray with each other, encourage each other – all in a variety of venues not always held on church property;
seeks to share the gospel with the lost the way Jesus and the early church did – in the everyday encounters that we already have with dozens of people each day;
finally, though not exhaustively, that has chosen to love me and my family through thick and thin – much like a marriage, “to death do us part”. Thank you for your words, cards and gifts. I’m so blessed.
Our church continues to struggle in many ways. But the struggle is also part of what it means to follow a crucified, publicly disgraced, counter-culture risen Savior. And Jesus is worth every bit of it.
This Lord set his rainbow in the sky this past Sunday evening.
A promise: You will never come under his wrath again; you will never drown in the consequences of your sin; you will “find grace in the eyes of the Lord” forever. Your inability to fulfill your side of the covenant agreement is secured on the Lord’s side of the table. There is an ark of safety found in Jesus – believe this today and every day after until this salvation vessel reaches the other side.
Dad wanted his funeral service to feel like you were going to church on Sunday morning. He wanted music and singing, scripture reading, prayer, and a full sermon on the Cross of Christ and the hope of the Resurrection. The only thing that dad did not request was an offering:)
He wanted me to preach the sermon, but before that, he wanted me to begin the worship service with some of his favorite songs on the piano. This video clip catches the last two songs of a medley that I put together for him: Unseen Hand and It is Well with My Soul. Several began to sing the words as I played. This was worship of our Living God. This is God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Like the snap of a finger, dad’s tinkering in the garage is like a stopped clock: screwdrivers left on the bench; the vise grip about one inch spread; grease rags left out; a new oil filter for the four-wheeler still waiting to be put on. All of this replaced with funeral flowers on the floor! Just like that – it all comes to a halt. This is what my last conversation was about with my dad. We talked about Ecclesiastes 7:1-4:
“A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”
I can’t remember everything that we talked about, but we did enjoy what we have always enjoyed with each other – talking about God’s Word and how it all points to Jesus Christ. As I reflect upon this portion of scripture and my last conversation with dad about this text, my thoughts are as follows:
Dad fought hard to pass down a “good name”, a reputation that is more valuable than anything in his garage.
Men, your tinkering in the garage will come to an abrupt end – but your reputation won’t. What you value most in this life is what you hand down to your children and grandchildren. Be sure that it’s Jesus.
There is more to learn from attending a funeral than the birth of a baby.
The man who lives to party hard, filling his days with excessive laughter, avoiding the truth that his days are numbered, is drunk with a fool’s heart.
A glad heart is what God wants you to have. But gladness is the consequence of facing the horror of man’s rebellion that leads to death. Be honest with your desperate need for Christ, then gladness will come in the end.
Dad and I talked about “significant insignificance.” That is, tinkering in the garage, preaching the gospel, planting a garden, raising children, making house repairs – is significant, it’s important. But not so important that the world will stop and God’s plans will be thwarted when you die. No, you and I are not so significant that all of life will come to an end upon our death – the universe does not revolve around us. But, this does not mean that your life is worthless – it is significant. So much so, that everything you do in this life will be brought into judgment (12:13-14). This balanced perspective upon life must become your pursuit.
I end with this: the passage above is not hopeless or gloomy. Serious? Absolutely! But not depressive. It calls for a sober awareness that your life is meaningful and very brief. Here’s the proof that “Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” – my dad is exceedingly, eternally, and deliriously glad with his Savior at this very moment.