Today was one of the most painful days in my life. My heart breaks for a family who is no longer whole on this earth. I know that I feel emotionally and spiritually wrung out. I cannot imagine what my brothers and sisters are going through. But I want to share something while it is clearly on my mind and imprinted on my heart.
The past couple of days, yes even the past couple of weeks, have been an extraordinary journey for me and for the church where I am pastor. I have shared in my blog some of what has happened over the past few days as our friend and brother, Joseph Feeley went home to be with Jesus. He was an extraordinary young 23-year-old man who battled hard against cancer for just over 2 years. I had the honor and privilege of sharing in some moments with the Feeley family and with Joseph. Last night, I was given the opportunity to share the Gospel with many people because of Joseph's testimony. At the service to celebrate his life and testimony we sang to Jesus, prayed, wept, laughed, and heard the many stories that made Joseph so special and unique. I was asked by his family to bring the night to a close with a Gospel message. I can honestly say that the entire service was one of the most, if not the most, worshipful nights of my life. There were moments of spontaneous standing ovations, applause, laughter and shouts of "Amen!" Why? How could a funeral be so moving?
Many people in attendance have already shared with me and with others that the service was very special. Many thanked me and the other speakers and the family for such a beautiful service. But thanking me is sort of like thanking the mailman for some good news that you received in the mail. I do not mean to demean anyone who shared. What was said, was said beautifully and was gospel-centered. My response has simply been, "Joseph made our job simple." I do not mean to say that the service was easy. It was the most difficult night for so many. However, Joseph made it simple because he was faithful to Jesus--plain and simple. He was faithful before his cancer and until the very end. Joseph was faithful. He lived an incredibly full life for a 23 year old man. I am saddened that the world will not be able to see what another 70 years would have brought with Joseph still here. I am heart-broken for his family. But in 23 years, Joseph made it easy on those who were to speak about his life.
The family, friends, coaches and pastor did not have to stretch the truth at his funeral. They did not have to search long and hard for a few highlights. In fact, it was more difficult to pick which highlights and which accomplishments, and which conversations and memories to use because there were so many. I will always treasure sitting with his family and talking about the very funny things that Joseph said, the major accomplishments he made, the faith he had in Jesus, and the love he had for his family and his Lord. Joseph made things very simple for his family and friends to plan what they would say at his funeral. We did not have to struggle to inject the Gospel or Jesus into his life. He talked it and walked it. Plain and simple. Joseph--a 23 years young man--left a legacy.
How simple will your funeral planning be for those who are left to plan? Do your choices today make it hard on your family and friends to celebrate your life? Will they have to stretch the truth? Will your service be full of platitudes or Gospel truth? I have had to plan funerals where the only message I could bring was hope for the living and not the deceased. I had to steer clear of the eternal reality of the person whose body was lying in the casket. I could not offer honest hope for the one who did not know Jesus. I could only plead with those left on earth to place their faith in Jesus. This was not so with Joseph. What about you? How simple of a job will you leave your friends and family with when it comes time to plan a celebration of your life? Maybe, as a result of last night, you may need to reverse engineer your life. What will your service look like? What do you want it to look like? You see, this life, these choices, what you say, how you speak, what you do, who you love, what you love and who you worship will all matter in the end.
I hope that one day, when it is my turn to meet Jesus, that my funeral will be like the one I attended last night. I pray that my family and friends will walk away with hope even though they are broken. I hope that it will be simple for them to see Jesus in my life. I hope that they will not have to search long and hard for a few bright spots. I know that I am not saved by works or what I do in this life. But I do know that what I do in this life is a testimony to the truth of the Gospel.
Joseph, one day I will thank you for making it easy to tell people about Jesus under such excruciating circumstances. Where Satan wants death, there is only life and a legacy to speak of--a legacy of the Gospel. I also know for a fact that there are many others who plan to thank you. Through your testimony they have come to know Jesus as Savior. Number 7 is safe at home. See you again brother.