On Deadly Ground
As we take a moment to reflect back on 2017, it was a very difficult, deadly, and devastating year for many, on both the local as well as the national level. Massive hurricanes, flooding, and wildfires struck with sudden, decisive, excessive, and fatality-inducing force, causing untold millions of dollars worth of damage as well as leaving behind in their wake, both visible, invisible, and incalculable scars and losses, some of which may never be fully recouped or recovered from.
And of course, as always seems to be the case on such an annual basis, a number of popular, prominent, and in some cases much-awarded and/or accomplished professionals in the fields of sports, entertainment, and others also passed away from this earthy life, and forever entered into the eternal phase of their existence.
Nor did we escape the 2017 ‘death-idemic’ on the local level either. There was what certainly seemed to be a vastly inordinate number of funerals attended by our congregation members for their deceased friends, neighbors, and/or family members as well last year. The final two months – and especially the last few weeks of 2017 – were the absolute worst. Some went to several funerals in the same week, while some actually attended two funerals in the same day. During that span we had five different families listed at once in our bulletin who were mourning the deaths of at least one of their loved ones – nor did that include the vast number of others whom so many of them knew or were aware of on an individual basis who were suffering similar losses.
It was in the aftermath of one local memorial service at our building when some of us were going through and cleaning up the pews, that I found one of those nice, pretty, glossy little funeral flyers which most funeral homes usually print out and distribute before each service. These typically include a picture of the deceased person on the front, as well as a brief summation of their life story within, and highlighting the most important dates, elements, experiences, and personal preferences thereof. These often include such subjects as perhaps a record of their education, military service, marriage, vocation, places of work, personal hobbies, preferred activities, and all of those elements which best define and remind everyone present of the deceased’s most important life pursuits and priorities. It was then it struck me right between the eyes…
I have stated in several previous memorial services that there is just no possible way to adequately do justice to a loved one’s life during some brief, half-hour or so long memorial service. However, when I saw that flyer it all came home to roost in all too clear of a fashion. Someone who had attended the memorial service had taken this record of the deceased loved one’s entire life’s most notable accomplishments… and simply left it behind… behind in the pews… behind in the pews to be dumped in the trash can when the building was cleaned. The documentation of everything the family felt notable about that person and their life-long pursuits… was left behind, apparently of no value whatsoever to the one who had left it there… left it there to be once and for all discarded and unceremoniously dumped into the trash can. It would appear that to the attendee at that point, these once-so-important-to-the-deceased’s pursuits and priorities were now, ‘not worth the paper they were written on.’ But let’s face it folks; probably very few people, if any, ever save those flyers for very long – unless they’re either immediate family members, or else preachers or funeral home directors. But that’s precisely the point.
You see, the same is also true for the deceased as well! The millisecond after anyone takes their last breath and their spirit departs their earthly body (Eccl. 12:7), not one, single, solitary earthly award, degree, hobby, pleasure, pursuit, priority, vocation or accomplishment they ever achieved is going to be ‘worth the paper it’s written on’ to them either, unless they had first and foremost, sincerely sought out, entered into, and maintained a right relationship with the Lord God almighty through His Son Jesus Christ! But please do not take my word for it – take a look at Luke 16:19-31!
And please do not misunderstand – it is neither my aim nor intention to seek to judge or preach anyone into or out of heaven. Pronouncing such judgment on any eternal soul is infinitely above my ability, desire, or ‘pay-grade’ to be sure! However, I can still read; do believe what God said; and am commanded to judge earthly situations righteously (Jn. 7:24). And this is what I read in God’s divinely-inspired word (2 Tim. 3:14-4:4; 2 Ptr. 1:16-2:3) from Luke 12:15-21, and Mark 8:34-38:
And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. …When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
As noted earlier, ‘Not worth the paper (in this case, of the funeral flyer) they’re written on,’ one millisecond after death, will be every other earthly, personal pursuit and priority, other than whether or not one knew and was right with God almighty the moment they passed. It does not matter what the preacher did or did not say at their funeral; what the family might have or might not have wanted said at their funeral; or even what will be wanted, or said, or not said, by whoever writes yours or my obituary or officiates at our funerals either. God will always have the last word (Jn. 12:48; Ro. 3:4; Rev. 20:10-21:8).
And yet, incredibly, what do you suppose those who toss or leave their deceased loved one’s lifelong list of pursuits, priorities, and accomplishments behind because they’re apparently ‘not worth the paper they’re written on,’ usually do once they’ve left the funeral? More than likely return to their own earthly pursuits with no thought for the fact that their final day is coming as well, when everything they now devote so much time, effort, and energy to, won’t be worth ‘the paper it’s written on’ to them either, unless they have truly and sincerely taken the time to seek out and maintain a true, biblical, and spiritually intimate relationship with the Lord God almighty themselves! The only thing that will matter to any of us at that time and for all eternity, will be whether or not we spent our time here wisely, learning, trusting, and obeying God’s word (Eph. 4:17-5:21); proving to Him by our actions, that more than anything else on earth, we want to be with Him and His people here …so we can be with Him and them up there!
God help us all to “number our days” (See Psalm 90); make the most of each moment by seeking to better know, understand, and obey the will of the Lord (See Ephesians 5); and to share with everyone else we know and love just how absolutely vital, critical, and essential it is for them to do the same. …Before everything else any one of us may make so much more of a priority today, isn’t ‘worth the paper it’s written on’ to us or our loved ones tomorrow.