If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ Jesus, who loved us.
38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39
I was privileged, yesterday, to lead a memorial service for a friend and fellow member of the Northwest Houston Photo Club (of which I have been a member for 12 years – ever since moving to Cypress). It was quite the ecumenical affair – at least on one level: the friend has a Presbyterian/Congregational background. Annie Laurie Fife, his wife who had died just over a month ago, had been Episcopalian. She had worked at the Methodist church at which the service was held. And I, a Lutheran pastor, put together the service and offered the comfort of the Gospel based on the Romans text above.
This was the third memorial service for photo club members which I have been asked to lead, and I am humbled and honored to have been asked each time. One year ago to the day I had shared the Good News with these folks and others at a service at St. John.
Funerals and memorial services are opportune times for the message of the cross and the empty tomb to be shared. I shared it explicitly, ending by commenting on the fact that I was apparently the club chaplain, and as such was called upon to do these sorts of things when the time came. I told the people gathered, however, that I was honored to be asked and said that I did this because I believe Jesus’ words:
[Jesus says,] “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” – Mark 11:26-27
[Jesus says,] “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” – John 11:25
[Christ says,] “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever!” – Revelation 1:17 & 18
[Christ promises,] “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” – Revelation 2:10
Following the service we gathered to visit and remember Annie Laurie. Many people expressed appreciation and kudos for a job well done. That’s always nice. But I sincerely take that as “A telling B about A”. That is the comments betray much more about the person making them than about me or how well or poorly I did. I try always to keep that in mind.
Sometimes comments hit home and leave an impression that lasts. That was the case yesterday when one of the club members and I were talking with a couple of others about my being the club chaplain. His compliment was also perhaps a commentary on the church and pastors with whom he had previously dealt.
“You know why you’re the club chaplain, don’t you?” he asked.
“Because I’m the only pastor in the club,” I asserted.
“No,” he corrected me. “You’re the only pastor we consider to be a friend”
I may not have the exact words, but that was the gist of it. I told him I would be his friend on any occasion. He joked, “But not now, not too soon!”, implying that would mean that I would be doing his service. It was a good moment.
PLI talks about pockets and places where we are able to enter people’s lives and plant the seed of the gospel. Those pockets and places are typically not inside the church building. They are more often in the home or coffee shop, the after photo club gathering at the local Mexican food restaurant. In this case, it was in the church fellowship hall, not the sanctuary.
To be sure, I shared the gospel explicitly during the memorial service. It was without a doubt a golden opportunity to speak to people in a place where Good News is so precious. But my friend offered me an inside look into his heart, and opened up a pocket to me in that moment which I pray will have welcomed the seed of the gospel, and a future opportunity to talk about Jesus.
I consider this to have been the best compliment I have ever received because it was genuine. It was not about the quality of the delivery, or the way in which I confirmed someone’s hobby horse in the message (for good or ill). It was indicative of a relationship that we have been able to build over the years. It affirmed my efforts to be with people outside the church who need to hear the Good News of Jesus. It also showed me that to at least some extent my efforts along those lines are not in vain.
My prayer is that God will use these pockets and places in which the kernel of the Good News of Jesus has been planted to grow a more thriving faith; that the rule and reign of Christ in the hearts of people like my photo club friends will ever more be seen.