The Upward Look, by Jon Forrest
Gene Woodcock and I were born on the same day. Well, not exactly the same day, but on the same date. He was ahead of me by 29 years. But we Leo’s were both born on August 9th. It was my privilege to be Gene’s friend and his pastor for a number of years. Even when he moved away, it was always a contest to see which one would be the first to call the other on our big day.
While I hold all of my church family members to be special, Gene and I had a special relationship. But understand this, everyone who was a friend of Gene’s felt the same way. He was an upbeat, positive, life loving guy. He loved Jesus and had a passion for praising him every day. I’m not saying he was perfect, but he was a whole lot of fun.
I’m not saying he was perfect, but he was a whole lot of fun.
When Gene went to be with the Lord a few years ago, his family had a unique idea for his funeral. Rather than a church service, they had a party. It was an all-day come and go affair with snacks, music and a slide presentation of Gene and his family through the years that looped in the background. Once in a while, anyone who wanted to would step in front of the party and tell something interesting or humorous about their experiences with this happy man.
I suppose that some people would find this to be nontraditional or inappropriate. And perhaps it would be for some people, but no one said that about this event because it was so Gene. I’ll never forget Gene or the way he went out with a party.
I remember another funeral service that I held many years ago. As we were preparing for the service to begin, the guest organist came rushing in all flustered. I asked her what was wrong. Her response stunned me. “The family told me they don’t want any religious music. What am I supposed to play?” It was too late for adjustments. The organist played beautifully the secular music she had pulled together in a reverent fashion. Later, I asked the grandmother of the young man who had died why they didn’t want any religious music. I was stunned again, “We didn’t want it to be like a dirge.” They thought religious music would be a dirge. How sad that they could not imaging powerful Christian hymns and songs being upbeat and inspiring. But that was their perspective.
A few years ago, our sister in Christ, Brenda McGregor, left this life WAY TOO EARLY for the rest of us. But her husband, Doug, wanted the service to not be mistaken for anything less than a celebration! Every song was lifted up with joy and in nearly double time. “I’ll Fly Away” was sung in such a way you couldn’t help finding happiness and excitement for her victorious meeting with Jesus. The same was true of the renditions of “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace.” “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the son, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun!” praised God for the eternal reward. The message God led me to deliver had the same tone of joy.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 exudes the same joy and passion of the celebrations that were held for Gene and Brenda. Paul tells us that those who sleep (or have died) in the Lord have not died without hope. Because of the resurrection of Jesus, we look forward to his return and our eternal future with him. When a follower of Christ dies, it is a time for joy. It is a time for connection with our exciting and dynamic future. Jesus is coming back. He’s coming in his glory! He’s coming in his power! He is coming for you and me! Praise the Lord!
This Sunday we will continue our exciting series, Shake the World, with a message titled A World-Shaking Miracle! Based on I Thessalonians 4:13-18. I believe you will find the excitement that comes in a miracle that each of us who is in Christ will one day enjoy. We can get a better perspective when we conclude with the final verse of the chapter, “Therefore encourage one another with these words.”
Excited about that day,