Funeral Sermon — Hubert Gene Douglas (1923 – 2015)

The day after my Grandad died, my parents asked me to lead the graveside and funeral services. I said yes, but they asked, “Are you sure?” They knew it would be difficult as I was very close to my Grandad. I told them I would, and I had three reasons in my mind for wanting to do it even though I knew it would be one of the hardest things I have ever done.

1) What’s the point of having a pastor in the family if he “can’t do it” when he is most needed?

2) What better tribute could I give my Grandad than doing something difficult in his honor? After all, it was from him that we all had learned how to do hard things.

3) What would better ensure that these would be gospel-filled services than for the gospel minister to lead them?

This is the sermon I preached at the memorial service. I wanted it to be simple, accessible, honest, and honoring to Grandad but Christ-centered.


Today is one of those days we hoped would never come. I know I’ve been dreading it for years and years. But we knew it was coming; death is even more inevitable than taxes. Yet somehow it always felt like it might never come, didn’t it? How can something be such a surprise and not a surprise, all at once? And yet that’s how I feel today.

Grandad was huge, larger than life; there will never be another like him. He was not even close to a perfect man — no one in this room or anywhere is going to nominate him for sainthood. But he loved us, and we never doubted that.

I think this is one of those times in life to pause and think about our own life and death. Someone once told me: “never waste a wedding” — use each wedding as an opportunity to think about your own love and vows. I think there should be a similar saying about funerals (if there isn’t one already): use each funeral as an opportunity to think about our own lives and deaths.

Grandad’s passing has made me think about that, and I’ve kept coming back to one very strange thing Jesus said in John 11.25: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”

Those are really bold words! How would you react if someone stopped you tomorrow and said that to you? In John 11, Jesus’s close friend Lazarus had died & was buried. Those words were what Jesus said after hearing about Lazarus’s death. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live…”

This of course raises one very obvious question: Can he actually do it? I mean, that’s a pretty bold claim. Anyone can say it, but could he actually back it up? Then Jesus raised Lazarus to prove he can do it. And then Jesus was himself raised to prove once for all that he is more powerful even than death.

Maybe you think: Yeah, that’s the kind of story that happens in the Bible, but it doesn’t happen in real life. I’ve never seen it.

But that’s just it: I believe God gives us all glimpses of his resurrection power in our own lives too. Have you ever experienced a time when you were torn down, it felt like completely to the ground? But then when you look back on it, you realize it was good for you. You realize, you weren’t being torn down, you were being built up! Maybe you even reach the point where you say something like this: “I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

In the Bible, those kinds of circumstances are always times when God is demonstrating his resurrection power. For example, Joseph: after all he went through, he said, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen 50.20).” The greatest example of this was the cross: how could this terrible event of a human being leveled to the ground also be the moment in which God saves the world?

But that’s always how God works. He takes the worst things, what this broken world means for evil, and uses them for our good. Jesus is a redeemer of people, places, and circumstances. And his promise is that if we follow him in faith today, then he will be with us through death to resurrection also.

That was Grandad’s hope; that’s what he said the night he died. And it’s ours too. Let me finish by reading from Psalm 30. Listen to how it describes the shape of life:

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up
and have not let my foes rejoice over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment,
and his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may last for the night,
but joy comes in the morning…
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to your forever!

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One of These is Not Like the Others

When you read Psalm 5.4-6:

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
Evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
You hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
The LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

Maybe the first thing that comes to mind is other people:

Yes, Lord! Destroy the wicked!

Maybe the second thing that comes to mind is yourself:

Yikes, I hope I’m not an evildoer. Lord, save me from boasting and lies! Help me to not do those kinds of things anymore!

But one of the best things we can do when we read the Bible is to first ask, what does this teach me about God?

So maybe the third thing that comes to mind as we read Psalm 5 is some of the more obvious points about God:
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Greed vs. Blessed are the Merciful

A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 13 April 2014.

Here’s a pop quiz for you: Where in the Bible do you find the verse, “God helps those who help themselves?” You ought to know this because it’s one of the more popular quotes in American culture. About 15 years ago, a scientific poll found that 74% of the population cited that quote as a biblical teaching. It was the top-scoring result of a second poll about the best-known Bible verses, and in a third poll, 75% of teenagers surveyed said it was the central teaching of the Bible.

On one “Jaywalking” sketch on the Tonight Show, Jay Leno asked people on the street to name one of the ten commandments. The most popular answer was, “God helps those who help themselves.” Even Bill O’Reilly once cited it as a biblical teaching on his show. So tell me, where is it found in the Bible?

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Lust vs. Blessed are the Pure in Heart

A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 6 April 2014.

Heb 11, which lists the biblical heroes of faith, describes Moses in this way: “By faith Moses… [chose] to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin” (vv. 24-25). Here we have a biblical admission of something we all know is true: sin is pleasurable. It might be a temporary pleasure, but it is still often pleasurable to disobey God.

As I said, each of us already knows that from experience. With the exception of envy, all of the Seven Deadly Sins are fun. In our particular culture, perhaps no sin is seen as quite so pleasurable as Lust, which we will consider this morning.

Of all the the things that tempt us, there are few that can overwhelm us like Lust. When it comes to Lust, even little things can get us going: Prov 6.25: “Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes…”

And yet in our society, the little things are often blown away by a total blitz of Lust. Our culture cherishes Lust as a virtue. An old Nike ad said: “Lust isn’t a sin, it’s a necessity…” Many, many advertisers capitalize on Lust with increasing regularity and explicitness. It’s seemingly everywhere we turn,  and it’s often portrayed as either innocent fun or nothing more than a natural biological function of the human body. But as you will see, the reality of Lust is far from that.

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Mark 10.14-16: Let the Children Come

A sermon preached at All Saints in Boise, Idaho on 11 May 2014.
 
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Throughout the Gospel of Mark, its author — John Mark, who is mentioned 8 times in other parts of the New Testament — records Jesus giving numerous illustrations of what the coming Kingdom of God is like. In this section of the gospel he describes numerous healings; the religious leaders asking for a sign; Peter’s confession; Jesus predicting his death & resurrection three separate times; and the Transfiguration, all of which are to teach us what God’s Kingdom will be like.


“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. 14 But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 15 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ 16 And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.” — Mark 10.13-16

 

It is fitting that Jesus should use children as an illustration for the Kingdom because children show us what it really means to enter the Kingdom of God. Children are helpless. What can they do for themselves? It’s only as they lose their childishness and begin to take on adult characteristics that they can begin to take care of themselves.

 

And so it is with us. When we entered the Kingdom of God, we were helpless in our sins and struggles. We could do nothing to provide for ourselves spiritually. We were lost and broken and falling short by any measurement. But Jesus intervened. He did everything we were supposed to do, everything we had failed to do. He did it for us, in our place, including even God’s wrath at our rebellion against him.

 

Here is another way that children illustrate the Kingdom to us: Children are fresh and real and adventurous and honest and new! Just like the Kingdom of God. Children are so innocent that it’s both beautiful and dangerous and they trust so completely that it makes them vulnerable. In that way they display the kind of faith that is necessary to be a part of his Kingdom.

 

Now just because Jesus used children to illustrate the Kingdom does not mean he was naive about children. He would’ve been around children growing up in a village context, and don’t forget that he was big brother to probably quite a number of siblings! Jesus knew about diapers & crying, so he’s not trying to idealize children.

 

But he is giving us a wonderful picture of the Christian life. To be a Christian is to be a like a child. We start out by declaring our helplessness. We cannot do anything to provide for ourselves spiritually. We cannot live unless someone else acts on our behalf.

 

Like children, we need to be nourished and cared for and taught. We start out knowing nothing but our parents’ love, and by their love we learn and grow and mature. We need the gentle love and steady care of our Father in heaven and the Church, who the Reformers called our Mother.

 

So if you want to know what the Kingdom of God is like or what your place in it is, you can look to children and learn from them!

 

What can we learn from this passage? Here are two things; one is more big-picture and the other is more specific.

 

First, the big-picture perspective: We learn from this passage that Jesus has an entirely different way of seeing or valuing things than we do. In Roman culture, children were viewed as sub-human, as disposable commodities. They were a necessary evil and more of an obstacle to living the good life than an essential part of it.

 

The disciples’ reaction to the children would have been perfectly normal in the context of the Roman Empire. “The Teacher doesn’t have time for these kind of people! They’re so below him that they don’t warrant his attention.” The disciples were only saying what everyone in the crowd was thinking. “Why are these silly moms bringing their children here? Go away and come back when you’re old enough to be worth paying attention to!”

 

And it was not just the Roman Empire that had that attitude. All civilizations throughout history, have looked down on children. Yes, I said every civilization, even our own day. We think of ourselves as so advanced, so different, so much better than anything before us. And yet so often we see children as a disruption, a burden, an interruption to our lives.

 

But think about how different Jesus’s reaction to these children was! As one writer described Jesus, “He isn’t bothered by the fact that some of the children brought to him can’t talk properly, that some may be dirty and smelly, and that some will be up to mischief the moment they think nobody’s looking. He simply relishes young life, bubbling up like water from a fountain and refusing to be quenched.”

 

Jesus’s reaction to the children in this passage shows us that, praise be to God, he doesn’t see things the way we do! He has different values than we do, and it turns out we have it backwards. How many times did Jesus teach that the first will be last and the last will be first? That those who think they understand really don’t get it?

 

The Kingdom of God does not work like we think it does! Who would’ve ever guessed that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor and persecuted? That the meek will inherit the earth? That those who mourn will actually be comforted? That it is those who seek righteousness, of all things, who will be satisfied? That the pure in heart will get to actually see the God who made everything?

 

The Kingdom of God never works like we expect it to, and that’s because Jesus sees everything differently than we do. And think about it: Of course he does! Why would we ever expect the Son of God to see or measure or value things the same way we do?

 

We have such a very limited knowledge, and the lens through which we view everything is so self-focused. We struggle to understand the thoughts and emotions swirling around in our own heads, and we don’t know how to solve our own problems, let alone other people’s.

 

Contrast that with Jesus: The one who created everything, and therefore has a knowledge of not just each individual thing, but even how every little detail connects together! He not only understands our thoughts and struggles, but he is also willing to enter into them and serve us, even to death!

 

Jesus is so incredibly altogether different than us — and it should be no surprise to us at all that he sees and measures and values things differently than we do. Of course he does! He’s God! Why would we ever expect God to think like us? Why would he want what we want, or do what we do?

 

It only makes sense that Jesus would be altogether, 100% different than we are. And yet so often we are surprised, and we complain, and we struggle against him. How silly that is really. We should content ourselves to be the limited creatures, and we should want the all-knowing, all-powerful God who made us to do what he does best: be God.

 

And we should be immensely, immeasurably encouraged that Jesus does not see and measure and value things like we do. We elevate ourselves, we discount and discard people, and we try to evaluate the world in terms of how it can serve me and my interests. Thank God that he doesn’t see things like we do, or there would be no hope for us at all.

 

So that is the first thing we should learn from this passage, the big-picture lesson Jesus is teaching here. But there is a second thing that we must learn, and it is much more specific and practical: Christians should invest in children!

 

We often have a very ambiguous perspective on our children when it comes to faith. Here is what I mean: Parents, would you describe your daughter or son as a Christian? For most of us, that’s a tough question to answer. We can describe our own faith; we can say, yes or no, I am a Christian or I am not. But when asked about our children, we don’t know what to say.

 

We feel ambiguous on this point because without thinking about it, we have defined a Christian as someone who professes faith in Jesus. Because our children are not yet old enough to do that — perhaps like the two little girls that we will baptize in a few minutes, they are not yet even old enough to talk! — because they have not yet professed their faith, we are reluctant to call them Christians. And so they remain in an intermittent state of limbo as far as their faith is concerned.

 

But that is not how the Bible sees children. There is no ambiguity in Scripture about what we should call the children of God’s people — they are a part of the earthly community of the people of God. In the OT, that was Israel; today, that is the Church Throughout the Bible, we see that:
– It is God’s declared purpose that his saving grace should run in the lines of generations
– The biblical paradigm is for covenant children to grow up in faith from infancy
– Parents are charged to nurture their children in Christian faith & love
– The God-ordained means of awakening covenant children to spiritual life is being raised in the gospel by their parents and their church

 

I do not mean to say that anyone is saved in any way except for faith in Jesus. But I do mean to say that faith is a gift of God, one that we know from Scripture can be given to a child even still in its mother’s womb. And the promises of God throughout the Bible indicate that the children in our community deserve the benefit of the doubt.

 

We should call them Christians until they are proven to be otherwise. We should include them in the family of the Church, as authentic members of the community of the people of God. We need to invest in them, nurture them, encourage them, care for them, and love them as our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters in Christ!

 

Let me put it another way: Anyone who has been baptized has been outwardly designated as a member of the community of God’s people. That person is entitled to all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities that come with being a part of the Church. Throughout its history, the Church’s duties have been:
– To proclaim the Word of God
– To administer the Sacraments
– To exercise discipline, all for the edification of God’s people

 

When you were baptized into the family of God, as two little girls will be in a few minutes, the church’s work in each of those three — Word, Sacraments, & Discipline — began for you. Why would we exclude our littlest members from these benefits?

 

But let’s make this even more practical: Jesus’s rebuke to his disciples — “No, let the little children come to me!” — rings loud in today’s world, where far too often children are viewed as sub-human, as disposable commodities, as an obstacle to living the good life instead of a part of it. We don’t have to look far to see it: abuse, neglect, detached & uninvested parents, abortion, and just our general culture attitudes toward the family. These must change, and they must change with us.

 

That change begins when we shed tears. If you’re not grieving the horrors that children around the world experience, it’s because you’re not paying attention. We must be affected by this.

 

It’s easy to ignore the facts or harden ourselves against them. But that is not what Jesus calls us to do — in fact, it’s the opposite! Ignoring evil and hardening our hearts are satanic responses. Instead we should be grieved to tears about the evil that happens in this world, especially to children.

 

And our grief should move us to get involved and serve children with the love of Jesus. None of us is excluded from this call; we all need to extend the love of Christ to children:

 

At all Saints:
– Help parents! It’s hard; they need help! Requires us all
– There are numerous ways you can serve children in the church: Vacation Bible School, nursery (reading stories), Sunday school
– We need to work hard to make this their place, a place where children know they are welcomed and loved, a place that they want to come to again and again.
– Building a community that welcomes children takes work! It doesn’t happen naturally or accidentally. It’s an investment we need to make.

 

Beyond our church:
Numerous ministries designed to bless children: Compassion International, Africa Bright Future-Rwanda, Sacred Road, Royal Family Kids Camp, foster care system

 

Ultimately: Loving children is an opportunity for us to follow Jesus, to be like him: Just as he taught and served and loved those who were helpless — that’s us! — so we must do the same. “If you do it to the least of these, you do it to me.”

 

Let me finish with this: I’d like to speak to only the children for a minute [have them stand]:

 

Children, I have a question for you: Do you know that Jesus loves you? How do you know that?

 

One of my favorite teachers once told me that the best song in the world is “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so… [little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong].” Do you ever sing that? Do you want to sing it right now?

 

Learn that song, and sing it over and over again, so many times until you never forget it. Jesus loves you. So do I. And so do all of us — Jesus’s people, the Church.

Apostacy and covenant faithfulness in 1-2 Kings

God’s covenant faithfulness extends even to the apostate:

“[I]t is clear throughout 1-2 Kings that both Israel and Judah, despite their multiple apostasies, continue to be objects of Yahweh’s attention and care. Israel and Judah together, and Israel and Judah as separate nations, remain the people of God. This is more obvious with regard to Judah… but it is also evident in Yahweh’s patience and faithfulness to the north…. The very fact that Yahweh continues to send prophets to call Israel’s kings to repentance is a sign of his continuing mercy…. Yahweh is still reluctant to abandon his people…, so deep is his affection for them and for their fathers. Yahweh considers this rebellious people his own, bound to him by covenant, and he shows mercy “because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Even though they are divided politically and liturgically, Yahweh views both Israel and Judah through the one lens of the covenant.”

– Peter Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 18.

The implications of this idea — for both individual Christians who have received the sign of the covenant, and for the community of the people of God, which is of mixed election — seem significant.

Leithart on the prophets of Israel

“[T]he prophets to ancient Israel did not preach a legalistic message of moral reformation but an evangelical message of faith in the God who raises the dead. From the first days of the human race in Eden, the curse threatened against sin is ‘dying you will die,’ and the same curse hangs over Israel after Yahweh cut covenant with it in Sinai. The message of the prophets is not, ‘Israel has sinned; therefore, Israel needs to get its act together or it will die.’ The message is, ‘Israel has sinned; therefore, Israel must die, and its only hope is to entrust itself to a God who will give it new life on the far side of death.’ Or even, ‘Israel has sinned; Israel is already dead. Cling to the God who raises the dead.'”

– Peter Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2006), 18.