Funeral Sermon from John 14

This is the meditation I delivered at the graveside service for my grandma on May 22, 2012.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:1-6

The words come at us like a punch in the gut. Or, more precisely, a slap in the face. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” We are not sure if these are the words of a Buddhist monk preaching detachment from all things; or a druggie whose brain was long ago turned to tepid pudding. What words are these? “Don’t worry about it”?  They do not comfort. These words cannot be for someone grieving death. Or they are from someone who has never grieved death.

But Jesus has grieved death. Not more than a few months before saying these words, Jesus Himself attended a funeral. And in John 11:35 we read 2 of the most comforting words in Scripture: Jesus wept. Jesus wept at the funeral of a man he was about to raise from the dead. Jesus wept for the grief and sorrow that death caused. Jesus wept in the knowledge that all men must die for all have sinned. So these words “Let not your hearts be troubled” do not come from some disassociated mountain-top guru. These words do not tell us not to mourn. But they do tell us how not to mourn.

We are told that time heals all wounds. But that is a bitter cure. It is a placebo. Time only heals the wound because we chose not to think about it any longer. We do not remember. We do not love. We do not cherish. And eventually, we do not care. Or hurt. Or feel. I want nothing of this healing for it will only leave me a worse person. The way to honor Grandma’s memory is not to gradually just stop thinking about her.

I need a medicine for the soul stronger than pain; fiercer than grief. This is the medicine that Jesus speaks of. It is the strong medicine of belief. It is the effectual medicine of hope. For you see, we do not defeat grief by waiting it out. We defeat grief by relentlessly pursuing, by tenaciously grasping onto something stronger: hope in a savior who has conquered death and promises life.

These words give such strong hope because the words are bold. They are strength and power. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

These are not the words of a good man. These are not the sayings of a wise teacher.  A good man does not say to other men, believe in me and you will have no reason to fear death. A wise teacher does not say to fellow man “I am the only way of eternal salvation.” I good man does not say, “I am God.” These words give no room to neutrality. No one ever left after hearing Jesus and said, “Well that was a nice talk.” People were amazed when Jesus spoke. People were angry when Jesus spoke. But people were not indifferent. And we must not think that anyone can be so today.

Jesus is the only way to eternal life. It is this belief, this hope that gives comfort and conquers grief. And it is belief. Jesus does not say do good work for me. He does not say live a life of self-sacrifice for me. He does not say withdraw from society and spend all your days in prayer and meditation. He says simply, believe in me.

Now the thoughtful cynic will say, “So what’s the difference. One man handles his grief by gradually putting death out of his mind. You cope with grief by thinking about Jesus. Either way, the answer seems to be just forgetting about it.” And if we are not careful he would be right. I am not saying we should just turn our eyes upon Jesus and forget about grandma, I am saying we should have faith that this word from Jesus is true about Grandma.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we know this passage as true. By faith we know that it is true about Grandma. Everything we see and sense says that Grandma is dead. The coffin, the grave, the stone. But these words tell us that Grandma is more alive now than she ever was before.

I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself. We do not forget grandma, rather, by faith we see her as she really is. By faith in these words of Jesus our hearts are flooded with joy and wonder. When we read those glimpses of heavenly worship in Hebrews 12:22-23- that speak of coming to the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to innumerable angels in festal gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect- we are reading about Grandma. And when we read in Revelation 5 & 7 about all of heaven joining in to worship God and Jesus Christ- the Lamb slain for the sins of man- we are reading about God’s fulfilled promise to Grandma. And when we read in John 14 about an infinite house with glorious rooms, we are reading about the Lord’s fulfilled promise to Grandma.

 

There is joy in these words. Faith that Jesus is true and joy that grandma has certainly found him to be true. Now is the time we cling to these promises in faith. Grandma has gone to the Father through Christ. The Lord has finished the good work of salvation he begun in her. In faith of this promise our grief is suffocated. In faith of this promise regret, bitterness, anger, and despondency find no place. In joy and gratitude our hearts cry out to the Lord: Thank you Jesus for being a faithful savior. Thank you Jesus for keeping your word. Thank you Jesus for presenting my grandma to your Holy Father as one of your own.

On May 19, Jesus finished getting Grandma’s room ready for her. So now, where he is, she is: enraptured in worship and adoration of the savior who died for her that she might live. Now we count these promises true in the life of Kate Metzler: a sinner saved, daughter of God, dweller in heaven. And as I dwell on her experience of God’s faithfulness to her, I find the power of these words: Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus. I find power to rejoice with great joy.

 

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A.W. Tozer on Regret (Or…the best Tozer quote you have never read)

Regret for a sinful past will remain until we truly believe that for us in Christ that sinful past no longer exists. The man in Christ has only Christ’s past and that is perfect and acceptable to God. In Christ he died, in Christ he rose, and in Christ he is seated within the circle of God’s favored ones. He is no longer angry with himself because he is no longer self-regarding, but Christ-regarding; hence there is no place for regret.

That Incredible Christian, “The Futility of Regret”

Wilhelmus á Brakel on the vehement love of God

Oh wondrous love! God, who is love, sets his infinite love in motion to cherish with love such persons who in themselves are hateful, despicable, and condemnable. This love is not generated by the desirability of the object, but it originates within Himself, being desirous to love and to love specific individuals. Observe the following concerning this love: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3); “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). This love is so great, vehement, and incomprehensible that the Lord Himself exclaimed in amazement, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

Love was the origin of eternal election;
love sent Jesus into the world to be their Surety;
love drew them out of the world to Him, translating them into the kingdom His love;
love radiates continually upon them;
love preserves them;
love brings them to glory;
and love engenders a perfect union with, and love for, Him.

This would not be credible if God Himself had not said this. Since God does say this, however, we now wish to believe and acknowledge this, rejoice in this, and be engaged in adoration. We wish to give Him glory, and being ignited by His love, to love Him in return. “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Thoughts on Northland International University and the new Individualized Academic Model: Discover, Develop, Deploy

On May 4, 2012 Northland International University (née Northland Baptist Bible College) announced a new educational initiative. Rather, they announced they were moving to implement a new academic model. Since no one asked for my opinion on the matter and since it doesn’t really matter anyway, I thought I would go ahead and give it. (You can find out the details here.)

First of all, as a graduate of the school (1998) I wondered how concerned I should be about the video titled “What if we Got it all Wrong?” that was used to introduce the new direction. But I imagine the students due to graduate in another 8 days might have been even a bit more confused. Such a message does not quite seem designed to foster confidence. “Thanks for giving us the last four years of your life. We might have completely botched the whole thing!” Obviously the move to an “individual academic model” is a change in philosophy and needed to be announced. I am just not sure “What if we got it all wrong?” are the words I would want running through my mind as I walked across the stage on graduation.

But what about the substance of the model? First, it should be acknowledged that the entire evangelical “Bible school” model is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is not as though we have Scriptural instruction on how Bible colleges are supposed to be run; or centuries of precedent to look back on. Northland, however, relies heavily-i.e. exclusively- on reports and models from secular institutions to lend credence to their transition. So in some sense, there is precedent of sort since the university model does have some pedigree.

Northland summarizes the “Individualized Academic Model” with the words “discover,” “develop,” and “deploy.” Upon beginning classes incoming freshmen will be given a series of diagnostic exams and interviews which will be reviewed by “a certified career counselor to uncover his or her unique giftedness and his or her purpose in life.” I wonder how wise this really is. I wonder how many 18-19 year olds have any true indication of what they truly want to spend their life doing. I am deeply interested in patristic and liturgical studies. But I highly doubt any series of tests would have picked that up when I was a freshman entering college. I also wonder if the psychological euphoria or stress as the case may be for a student living away from home for the first time in his life might impact those test results. The first few weeks of the freshman college student are a flood of changes and emotion. Laying out the course for an entire life during such a time of turmoil seems somewhat risky.

I am concerned about what the “Individualized Academic Model” will leave out. Among the first things that came into my mind as I watched the announcement and read a little more was a fear that courses like Church history would fall by the wayside. Courses in the “Great Tradition” of Western education would be eliminated. And one of the first articles I read on the “Research on Individual Academic Model” page was one detailing how Michigan State University was dropping things like classics and philosophy. If a state college with tens of thousands of students cannot generate interest in such courses, I doubt a Bible college with hundreds of students will either.

I am concerned about the pervasive atmosphere of relevance and profession-alism. Nearly all of the articles provided by Northland focused on the drive of secular universities to be relevant, practical, and successful. Nearly all are focused on adapting to give the students what they wanted. I remember hearing Dr. O say repeatedly, “We do not have to be successful, we have to be obedient.” I wonder if such an attitude is still present at Northland.

In the “discover” phase, students meet with “a certified career counselor.” In their senior year students will “take a class that discusses practical strategies for interviewing, résumé-building, and internships.” Northland has “partnered with two organizations to provide technology solutions for professional résumé development and job board access.” All of this sounds very good…if I were majoring in Computer Science. I am certain that such skills are useful even for those seeking ministry positions. But I would want a ministry to be more concerned about the content of my character than the flashiness of my résumé.

I do not now the future of the Bible college movement in general or of Northland in particular. Dorothy Sayers sounded the alarm about the lost tools of learning way back in 1947. Few secular institutions have heeded the warning, so I guess one should not be surprised that fewer and fewer Bible colleges are heeding it. One thing I have learned is that life seldom turns out as one anticipates: especially when one makes those plans at 18 years of age. But maybe this new model would help that. Maybe this new model will actually lead to people landing in the occupation they hoped and dreamed for.

But speaking of hopes and dreams… What if a college told its students, “You are not the center of the universe”? What if a college was convinced that the greatest problem of the student was not finding a good job, or the right job? But was convinced that “All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.”

What would that kind of place look like? What if a college endeavored not to teach Bible facts, but sought to confront its students with what the glorious company of the Apostles; the goodly fellowship of the Prophets; the noble army of Martyrs; and the holy Church throughout all the world has believed and taught for 2,000 years? What if a college was more concerned about that great cloud of witnesses than potential employers? What would that place look like? Such a place would certainly not be very practical. Such a place would certainly not last very long…probably only eternally.

I am concerned because nothing in all of the material I have heard or read indicates any type of movement in such direction.

I want Northland to succeed.

But I would rather it obeyed.

You might be an alcoholic if…you put an engine on your bar stool

From the Elkhart Truth.

BRISTOL — A Middlebury man was injured after falling off a bar stool attached to a go-kart frame with a small Honda engine Wednesday evening.

James Kleckner, 53, was riding the motorized bar stool/go-kart apparatus south on Rachael Court north of York Hills Drive around 5 p.m. when he completed a curve and then accelerated on a straight, flat section of roadway, according to a press release from the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department.

Kleckner lost control of the “vehicle” and fell off.

He was taken to the hospital with a bruise on his head, scrapes on his arms and minor bleeding. He was not wearing a helmet.

He had consumed alcohol prior to the incident, according police, but was not found to be intoxicated. He was not cited.