I recently attended the funeral of a very dear friend, Chester (Chuck) Smith. He was the age and generation of my late father with whom he was a good friend, and in fact Chuck reminded me of my dad in many of his characteristics and features. Although he had experienced much in his tenure on Earth, when we celebrated his 90th birthday just a few weeks ago, he did not speak of his many accomplishments but dwelt rather on his love for his wife, family, and friends…and he had many friends. There was a simple elegance about Chuck that created an easy, relaxed atmosphere, and he treated everyone with the same high level of respect and friendship. His influence extended far beyond his immediate family, because anyone who came in contact with Chester E. Smith had met a man who was not easy to forget.
His funeral bore record of a legacy which will be extended far into the future, not just through his extended family, but also through the memories each of us will hold for as long as we exist on this planet. I have a confession to make to you…I have difficulty with funeral services which are fancifully tagged with the nomenclature “celebration of life.” A funeral is, after all, an acknowledgement that someone has died, and assuming that the deceased person led a reasonably moral life, that person’s passing should result in a period of extreme grief and sorrow on the part of close family and friends. How can one “celebrate” the loss of a dear loved one? Throughout the years I have experienced what each person must endure in the course of life, namely the loss of close friends and loved ones including my father and mother, and I can assure you that during the days of sorrow and final goodbyes, I did not feel much like celebrating anything...I felt only a heavy grief and a gaping void in my heart.
However, what I have just expressed is probably best described as the human reaction to personal loss, and, though we may walk around with a visible halo over our heads due to our extreme holiness, there exists within each of us that humanity that causes us to feel discomfort and unease when we are forced to endure an unpleasant experience. This contrasts sharply with the emotions we feel when we approach a personal loss from a spiritual perspective. The funeral of Chuck Smith was a case in point. Here was a man who had lived for ninety years, served his God and his church for seventy of those years, been faithful to his wife, friends, and country, raised children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who maintained the same high spiritual standards he had set, and left for all who remained a blueprint for a successful life. It’s no wonder, then, that his funeral was a litany of touching personal testimonies and music (Oh, the music!) which celebrated his love for his God. We who attended came not to grieve, but to give honor to a person who had touched our lives and made us better people. The ceremony reminded me of those things which are most important in life and caused me to review my priorities as I seek to leave my own footprint on the earth.
I experienced the same impressions just a few days ago. Coincidentally, another 90-year-old, Catherine Adams, mother of Mel Adams, one of my good friends at Bethel Tabernacle, was laid to rest following a very touching service at the United Pentecostal Church of Shepherd, Texas. I liked the church instantly when I saw the “United Pentecostal Church” sign out front and appreciated a church that was still proud to be called Pentecostal. As we drove up to the church and I saw the original sanctuary behind the beautiful newer facility, I realized I had been here before…51 years ago. George Creel and I had traveled with our pastor, Rev. C.T. Caruthers, from Peace Tabernacle in Baytown to attend a fellowship meeting here. The funeral service was remarkably similar to Chuck’s in tone. Here was another soldier of the cross who had been faithful for her entire life. One of the officiating ministers had been a student in her Sunday School class many years earlier, and he told of her faithfulness to church and family and her love for her students. Her faithfulness was indicated in the fact that she prayed for her husband for 34 years before he finally came to have his own experience with God. She never gave up hope.
Neither of these two great champions of the cross was mentioned by CNN, FOX, the Houston Chronicle, or any major periodical upon their passing, and yet they represent what is really important in life. Their lives were not always smooth sailing; illnesses, death, tragedy, and assorted difficulties followed each one, just as they follow any person who lives on the earth. However, what set these two people apart from the common strain of humanity is they did not let life’s setbacks take their eyes off the final prize. A bump in the road did not change the destination toward which they were traveling.
My beloved pastor, David Fauss, preached a great sermon a few services ago which sort of reaffirmed my impressions of these two funerals. His subject was “The Big Picture,” and in many different examples from the Bible, he encouraged us to not allow the problems of a particular day, or week, or month, or even year to cause us to lose sight of the “big picture.” That is, the primary goal in our lives should be to do everything possible to insure that we are found worthy to enter Heaven’s gates on that great day of judgment. So many bad decisions are made based on the spur of the moment and in flashes of emotion, and the results are destroyed marriages, relationships, and spirits. Perhaps the Apostle Paul said it best in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I have always thought it interesting that if we consider all the elements mentioned in these two verses, each has a somewhat sinister, or strange, or mystical connotation…except “life.” And yet life is what we desire most…to be able to live, love, and succeed. We enjoy a society relatively free from harm and danger and governmental threat. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is a constitutional mantra to most Americans. Life, however, has become the greatest threat to our personal salvation. Simply put, the daily tasks of living, working, and surviving are consuming a greater portion of our time than ever before. When we are not grinding out a living, we are demanding that we be entertained via sports, television, movies, video games, and every other imaginable activity that man can conjure up to expend time, and as a result, we have less opportunity for the relationships to family, friends, and our God which should be top priority. Most of these distractions would not be classified by anyone as “sinful,” but taken in heavy enough dosages, they can be hazardous to our personal and spiritual health. We are distracted from the big picture by the minutia of the moment.
Perhaps as one grows older, the level of personal tolerance for those things outside one’s comfort zone diminishes, also. I suspect it may be a characteristic of growing older that we oldsters judge everything by the way we did it (which was undoubtedly better) forty years ago. To a young person, change is an exciting new adventure; to a…um…more mature person, change can be threatening. Even personal relationships can vary almost as often as the tide, it would seem, but a valued relationship cannot be affected by the events of a moment, but rather must be viewed from the perspective of the “big picture.” This principle is also applicable to work, church, or our health. We may have days of great struggle involving any or all of these areas, but we must teach ourselves to base actions and reactions on the desired final goal. I have expressed great alarm and concerns regarding various outside influences which I felt were having a detrimental effect upon the United Pentecostal Church in general and my church in particular. Though my concerns are still very real, I pray I will be prone to greater tolerance of those things which I do not understand and accept the fact that it is possible for people to share a common goal and yet travel different avenues to reach that objective. Whatever occurs in this life, be it positive or negative, I cannot allow the event of the moment to deter me from my eventual goal.