24 April 2007

Not now. Not then, neither

by Dan Phillips

My family loves C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. Some of our favorite characters are really only mentioned in passing: the Bulgy Bears.

It's just a great name, and they're so comical every time they touch the narrative. My wife and I particularly love this, from chapter seven of Prince Caspian:
"I don't like the idea of running away," said Caspian.

"Hear him! Hear him!" said the Bulgy Bears. "Whatever we do, don't let's have any running. Especially not before supper; and not too soon after it, neither."
That's our motto, too. The Bulgy Bears are sort of a theme in and out of things as well. My family calls my weekly special-recipe burgers alternately "Daddy Burgers" and "Bulgy Burgers®." (Nobody's running anywhere after one of them!)

No running before supper. And not too soon after, neither.

Very tangentially, I thought of this in reading three posts by Pastor Chris Anderson. In a way that is characteristically moving and thought-provoking on a number of levels, Chris gives the before (and before) and after of a funeral he just conducted. The very difficult occasion was that of the suicide of the husband of a woman who attends his church with her children.

The aspect I single out today is this:
I’ve preached one other funeral following a suicide. It was extremely tough. It was clear that well over half the people in attendance were offended at my taking the opportunity to present the gospel–a feeling every pastor will know sometime, and probably often.
A funeral audience, offended that one of Christ's undershepherds would preach the only One to conquer death — at a funeral! Remarkable.

Remarkable, nonsensical, irrational, but evidently pretty common. The two funerals at which I preached were difficult also. I preached the Gospel at both, but I was spared any complaints.

But Chris' story, in turn, made me think of a friend who (like me) lost his father to cancer.

My friend is the only one in his family to evidence any saving faith, to his concern and sorrow. During his father's final illness, a relative wrote a letter to my friend's father, bearing witness to Christ.

My friend's mother was very offended that someone would write about eternal things at such a time.

"At such a time"? When better?, I wondered.

The truth of the matter is, we are all, always, in exactly "such a time." We are one moment, one incident, one tick of the clock, away from eternity. Less.
For he says, "In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
(2 Corinthians 6:2)
It is sad that worldlings so diagnose their case that they confidently conclude that what they need most, when they most need it, is the last thing they need.

The real crime, the insanity, is when Christians -- who know better, and who know how blitheringly awful we sons of Adam are at self-diagnosis -- should ever let ourselves be intimidated into silence.

Of course they will be offended. The Cross is an offense (1 Corinthians 1:18-25), and not just at funerals. Of course they will say we are insensitive and foolish; the fragrance of Heaven is the stench of death to the lost, until God sovereignly transforms their spiritual senses (2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

We preach Jesus to such, not because of what they think He is, but because of what God thinks He is; not because they want Him, but because they need Him.

Thank God for men like Chris, for women like Candy -- for all who love people enough graciously and wisely to tell them what they need to hear, whether they want to hear it at the moment or not.

Dan Phillips's signature

18 comments:

Even So... said...

Our good friend Brad Williams, the

Sojourner recently posted on such an ordeal as well...

DJP said...

That's good; thanks for the link, Even So.

joey said...

The Bulgy Bears are hilarious. I can't wait for movie, Prince Caspian, to come out...

That must be difficult, administering a funeral of someone who committed suicide. But preaching the gospel is especially timely when people are confronted with the wispyness of life on this earth.

Sobering post.

janelle said...

I've always wondered whether you can be saved, and commit suicide. I've heard of people who wanted to reach Heaven so much that they committed suicide. Do you think this is a lie that they believed, perpetuated by the Devil? Or can you actually be saved, and want Heaven so bad you are willing to kill yourself?

Thanks for the post. Love the bulgy bears, as well!

DJP said...

[The eldest Bulgy Bear requests the traditional right to be a marshal of the lists for the combat.]

"Don't let him," whispered Trumpkin to Peter. "He's a good creature, but he'll shame us all. He'll go to sleep and he will suck his paws. In front of the enemy too."

"I can't help that," said Peter. "Because he's quite right. The Bears had that privilege. I can't imagine how it has been remembered all these years, when so many other things have been forgotten."

"Please, your Majesty," said the Bear.

"It is your right," said Peter. "And you shall be one of the marshals. But you must remember not to suck your paws."

"Of course not," said the Bear in a very shocked voice.

"Why, you're doing it this minute!" bellowed Trumpkin.

The Bear whipped his paw out of his mouth and pretended he hadn't heard.

risen_soul said...

Amen, if a blind and deaf man stands in front of a speeding train, you push him! Even if the push seems not very nice to him because he does not understand.

DJP said...

What?

donsands said...

A pastor is at his most anointed at funerals i would think

To be able to speak the truth in love at this setting calls upon much grace from our Lord.

Your post brought many memories into my mind.
Tough memeories, but well worth pondering along with your good thoughts.

DJP said...

Risen_Soul, I guess I'm dense. Hours after reading and puzzling over your post, I finally figured it out: you mean push him out of the way of the train.

Whew! Sometimes I'm slow.

Cameron said...

Hey Dan,
Great post. A timely reminder that it's always time to preach the Gospel.

pkab said...

Dan,
Just wanted to leave you a quick note and say thanks for your post today. I'm a pastor in WA and just got a nastygram for some things that I've been preaching on (sin, repentance, the gospel) and your post encouraged my heart.

Stephen Dunning said...

Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction.

WayneDawg said...

My wife and I have both said that at either one of our funerals, the Gospel will be preached with ferver, no holds barred.

Ricky Rickard, Jr. said...

Wonderful post, wonderful reminder. Thanks for this.

In Christ,

Ricky Rickard, Jr.

Pastor Mike said...

Dan,
IMHO, This is the best quote of the post:
"The real crime, the insanity, is when Christians -- who know better, and who know how blitheringly awful we sons of Adam are at self-diagnosis -- should ever let ourselves be intimidated into silence."

The self-diagnosis thing is not always easy. That unwillingness (not always inability) to self-exam is only exasperated by the emotions that surround the death of a loved one. It totally clouds good self-evaluation. I suppose that is where the compassion of others supports us even when we can't/don't hear the good news.

I think the harder thing is to be the proclaimer of truth without the benefit of relationship. As you (a pastor) come in as the hired hand (no relationship with the deceased or the survivors), your sharing of the gospel is viewed as cold, calloused, insensitive to the grief of the family -- even when everything in your sanctified members is screaming, "you do not need to grieve like this anymore! Hear the truth of One who won the victory for us!"

Thanks for posting these very intentional, self-diagnosing thoughts springing from bulgy bears, and burgers bearing a similar name!

Mike

Garet Pahl said...

I was asked to pray and say a few words at a memorial service for the still born son of close friends- neither who are Christian. I followed a Wiccan priestess who read some bizarre pagan prayer about the departed's spirit being united with the life force of trees.

I preached the Gospel to my best ability directly after. The utter contradiction of what I was saying compared to what had preceded me hung in the air like a dense cloud. The tension was palpable as I could literally feel the discomfort of those before me at every word I uttered. I've never felt so emotionally drained.

I've always found it easy to preach with boldness when accosting random people, or when standing in the pulpit. But in that situation it was only God's grace that kept me from shrinking back.

"For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life." The aroma in the room that day was one of death, and I was despised for it.

SolaMeanie said...

This post struck home today, having just preached the funeral of my aunt in St. Louis last week. She passed away from complications due to cancer, not suicide. However, the usual question marks as to who in my audience was a believer or not hung in the air. That, and the wonderful Southern heritage of huge feuds being started over a few words spoken at a funeral, had me going in with much fear and trembling. But as always, the Lord took over and I am trusting Him for the result.

Thanks for posting this.

ib.carlos said...

H-A-L-E-L-U-J-A-H!