18 May 2010

Terminal thinking: to leave a lasting testimony etched in stone

by Dan Phillips

Naturally, you are likely to take the headline metaphorically. My intent, however, is literal. Our topic is a sad one but, I think, a good one.

We all know that, barring the Lord's return for us, we shall die. It is wise to live in this awareness. "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart," Solomon writes (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Christians are concerned not only about our coming date with the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10), but also about the testimony we will leave. If we can leave a lasting testimony to the Gospel, so much the better.

Reader Mike Dickey, who comments under the screen name vcdechagn, emailed me last week. He shared the sad news that his mother has terminal cancer. (Perhaps you know my thoughts about cancer.) The doctors think she will be with Jesus within the next month or so. I'm sure you'll want to join me in praying for Mike's mother, his father, and Mike himself.

But Mike's reason for writing was to pass along a request of hers. I was touched to learn that she is a reader. She wanted Mike to ask me whether I had any suggestions for the inscription on the headstone.

Mike's mom and dad will be using the same headstone. The tombstone can have four lines, and approximately 25 words per line. That is a 100-word total. [Update: that could be in error; perhaps 25 characters per line, 100 characters total.]

So I will open it to you. But first, here are our controls:
  • We are assuming a headstone, and that's all that is relevant.
  • Therefore this thread will not be the place for debating the relative merits/demerits of burial vs. cremation, or costs of burial and/or headstones.
  • This thread also will not be the place for debating the morality of cremation.
  • And of course, this thread WILL NOT be the place for humorous anecdotes — unless and only unless you've seen a tombstone that utilizes appropriate humor to communicate the Gospel effectively.
I mean to be very strict on those controls. It always seems like someone doesn't believe me when I say that. "Someone" always encounters an unyielding surprise.

So here are the questions to you. Please, respond to any or all:
  1. Have you thought this out for yourself?
  2. Have you seen tombstones with effective testimonies to Christ, to the Gospel, to the sure and certain hope of resurrection?
  3. What would you want on your tombstone?
  4. What would you recommend for Mike's parents as an inscription?
Thanks. I know you'll have some great input, and it will mean a lot to Mike and his folks, as will our prayers.

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

"Here Name Name awaits the return of the Lord Jesus
"and the resurrection of the dead.
"'Oh death, where is thy sting?
"'Oh grave, where is thy victory?'"

That is a very abbreviated form of a long gravestone which may be seen in the churchyard at Colonial Williamsburg.

DJP said...

Toldja. Someone always doesn't take me seriously. Already deleted a no-profile comment I found unreflecting, uncaring, frivolous.

I know 99.999% of you don't need to hear this, but: if it wasn't worth you putting thought into it, it won't be worth trying to publish.

Jon from Bucksport said...

Excellent idea to host this. I live across the street from an old cemetery and often walk there in the mornings and read the inscriptions.

Here is my poor contribution.
"Here in dust a sinner lies,
While justified,
The soul with God is in Paradise."

David Regier said...

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly lean on Jesus' name

VcdeChagn said...

I just wanted to thank everyone in advance for the ideas. I've come up with one that I don't like so well and I'm working on one that tries to paraphrase 1 Cor 15 2-6 with a bit of Eph 2:8-10 into something pithy.

And of course, thanks for the prayers as well.

David said...

Adoption has played a big part of my family. My wife and I and our two kids are all adopted. So, she and I intend to have the following on our headstone: "Adopted children, heirs of the grace of life", with the two verses named alongside as well.

Gov98 said...

"Why do you look for First Last among the dead?" Do you not know that he will be risen at the appearing of his Lord Jesus Christ.

But Go, tell the world that the resurrection of the dead is made possible through Jesus Christ for those who repent and believe!

Kim K. said...

We faced this issue a few years ago when our teen-age son died. I don't remember having a strict "4 line, 25 character" limit; I do know that a certain number of characters were included in the stone price and then there was a steep fee for every subsequent chisel. We decided on "Beloved Son" since we also bought plots for ourselves at the time and will be resting beside him ultimately. We have his name and dates of birth and death and then the words of Philippians 1:21. Those words are a great comfort to us even though we weep at his grave (we've learned the truth that one can feel completely comforted and still cry buckets) and, in fact, I'm having a hanky moment just typing this.

SandMan said...

First Last

"For her to live was Christ,
to die was gain." -Phil. 1:21


"She finished the race; kept the faith." -2 Tim. 4:7

(My apologies as I am over the limit on characters for both).

Mike, my heart and my prayers are with you and your family at this time. May God grant you sweet times with good memories yet to be made, and peace at your mom's passing into eternity.

SandMan said...

I take that limits comment back. I was thinking 25 characters total. Perhaps you could use the verses without abbreviation.

Stefan Ewing said...

These may or may not be the best verses, but just ones that come off the top of my head, to stimulate some ideas:

Hebrews 10:19-22

Hebrews 11:10, 16; 13:14

Isaiah 40:7-8

Matthew 11:28-30

jmarinara said...


Any of these stanzas would do nicely.


Jon M. said...

This is the line to some song-cannot remember the title.

"Oh praise the one who paid my debt,
and raised this life up from the dead."

Chris H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris H said...

If we've only 100 words, I would go with:
For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory."
"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Nash Equilibrium said...

As you are, I once was.
As I am, you soon will be.
Call upon the name of Jesus
while He may be found, and be saved from the punishment for your sins.

Herding Grasshoppers said...

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I am not my own, but belong -
body and soul, in life and in death -
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

Praying that your mom's remaining time is full of joy and peace. And hallelujah that you know her eternal destination. Praying also for comfort for you all.


rwt said...

He died so that I might live. Isaiah 53:5-6

Danielle said...

Repent and trust in Christ, for someday soon your bones may lie with ours.

Christopher said...


"As you are, I once was.
As I am, you soon will be.
Call upon the name of Jesus."

That is amazing to think about. I have never had the thought put so succinctly. In fact, though only 29, I may make plans to place that on my own tombstone...though the thought is an eerie one.

DJP, I know I did not necessarily contribute, so feel free to erase if you see fit.

dede said...

i think a stoned Gospel tract w/ the suggested inscription on the epitaph...

REPENT of your sins and TRUST in the only One that can save you from hell.
He offers you the gift of eternal life--JESUS CHRIST!

to mike and family,
praying for your mom's comfort and your strength to shine during this difficult time.

Sven Pook said...

Dan, did you mean 25 words or 25 letters per line.

If we could have 25 words per line, this is what my wife and I would want:
Served Jesus in life, Trusted Jesus at death, With Jesus for eternity,
Don't you wish you knew what they know now? You can
Serve Jesus for life, Trust Him at death and live with Him for eternity.

If 25 letters per line:
Served Jesus in life
Trusted Jesus at death
With Jesus for eternity
Alive forever more

PS, Please pray for my wife as she is dealing with excruciating headaches and I am praying that I don't have to have this headstone made soon, but if His will is that she go home, I am prepared for that as well.

Barbara said...

I have said that all I want said about me at my funeral is this:

She came into this world dead,
and left it alive.

DJP said...

Barbara, that's a good thought.

Christopher, comments that aren't suggestions are fine. I'm just hold us on topic, and away from the flippant. So far, only one problem-comment.

Anonymous said...

Faith & hope have given way to having & holding, love remains.

Matt said...

My family and I recently walked this road with my mother for two years. I am not sure I could adequately commit to words an appropriate and meaningful idea that would honor both Mike's mom and our Majestic Lord. What I learned while walking through a similiar fire is that our lives and our death is all about HIM. If He saves us or not it is all about Him! I don't know how this would look on a headstone, but this is what I thought of below name and date: "Christ Jesus Glorified". Mike, I would encourage you to cling to your Lord in this time and cling to your mother and lavish her with all the love that is due a mother. Romans 8:26-30

His Grace

Anonymous said...

Jon M, That line if from the song "Jesus Paid It All", one of my favorites.

Having nothing particularly insightful to add, I will simply add my prayers.

Jacob said...

It's 25 characters per line, folks. 25 words? lol, think about that for a second. ;)


"First & First Lastname
Dates of birth/death
Verse portion
Address of verse"

John Christian Medearis said...

In an attempt to capture the weight of both the scriptures that Mike had mentioned as well as keep within the 25 characters per line I'll Submit

Jesus died for sin was buried
raised again. By Faith & Grace
alone we live eternal before
His throne - (First and Last Name)

On a personal note I like
"I may never be remembered but the work of Jesus Christ will never be forgotten"

Mike and family, my prayers and thoughts are with you.

spencer said...

Barbara – I really like your suggestion. That says it all.

Psalm 116 has several lines that I really like for my tombstone:

Thou hast rescued my soul from death, my years from tears, my feet from stumbling.

I shall walk before the Lord in the land of the living.

What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation.

Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.

O Lord, surely I am Thy servant, Thou hast loosed my bonds.

JackW said...

I like brevity, so I’m considering borrowing from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ three word gospel.

“Adopted through propitiation”

donsands said...

I like to visit the cemetary with my grandsosn, where they have a large creek, and geese and ducks. I have fond memeries of my Grand-mother taking me there as a child.

And we like to look at the gravestones. My grandmother would tell us to never walk upon the graves. I guess that was in respect for the dead.

The two headings that I like the most are:

"Search the Scriptures" & "No Cross- No Crown"

I shall pray for Mike and his parents.

gapid said...

Well done, good and faithful servant. Mt25:23

trogdor said...

Mike, our prayers are with you and your family.

Sinner Saved by Grace
Lived for Lord Jesus
Died Faithfully (victoriously? triumphantly? expectantly?)
Awaiting Resurrection

Several of my friends, as they were facing death, had their testimonies recorded to be played at their memorial services. One updated his every year, just in case. It's not the same as a tombstone, but it could be an effective way to preach the gospel to people who might tune out the presiding pastor.

Gregg Metcalf said...

I would like to answer # 3 what would I want on my tombstone? I have already written what I want. I hope becasue it contains some humor it isn't forbiden, for it means to honor God, family, and friends - so here goes, I am at your mercy.

A Husband a Father a friend for a time
Now I have come to the end of the line
My Gracious God was merely a lender,
So, please, this gift, return to sender

VcdeChagn said...

Unfortunately my mom is busy now or I'd talk to her about whether she meant letters or words (she's the one who provided the information).

I tried to figure out based on the headstone dimensions (3.5 feet wide) and looking at some stuff I have printed and I just got more confused. One four letter word at 3/4 inches (the font height mentioned by mom) on one of the boxes I looked at is about 2 inches long. That's 21 of those words in 3.5 feet but no room for spaces and assumes an average word length of four.

So I would say follow the original guidelines of words, and the length can be pared if 100 is too many.

There are certainly many in here that would be very suitable.

Thanks again for all the prayers and suggestions. I will be interested to see what my mom thinks.

The hymn idea was great. I never thought of looking to the hold hymns for suggestions.

lee n. field said...

What to put on a headstone?

The Nunc Dimitis (song of Simeon, at the presentation of the infant Jesus, in Luke's gospel) would be a start. "Now may thy servant, Lord, depart in exultation. My rest will be serene, for lo mine eyes have seen, thy wonderful salvation." (Not a bible quote, but a close paraphrase from an old CRC Psalter-Hymnal.)

Either that, or some resurrection text.

Have I thought about it for myself? Yes, some. My own mother died early in '08, so it weighs more on my mind.

lee n. field said...

"What is your only comfort in life and in death?

"That I am not my own, but belong -
body and soul, in life and in death -
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." --Herding Grasshoppers

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1 -- yes! Though the full answer to question 1 would probably exceed the limit. I'd prefer a scripture quote, but HC1 is a favorite. (I've used it for an email .signature file for years.)

""First & First Lastname
Dates of birth/death
Verse portion
Address of verse""

Skip the address, if necessary.

lee n. field said...

BTW, vcdechagn, one final thought. Maybe it's a measure of my geekiness, but I found Death, Leviathan and the Martyrs to be somewhat comforting. It's on the conquest of death in Isaiah 24-27. If it bounces right off you, just skip it.

Mike Riccardi said...

Psalm 16:11:

You have made known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

Richard said...

If your trust is in Jesus alone for your salvation then you can be assured that your sins are forgiven and He has granted you eternal life.

Boerseuntjie said...

Just doing two headstones for our mother (Recent death due to Two Brain Cancers - our LORD was gracious though we do not know her eternal state - sadly a week before she was unable to speak she still rejected the Free gift of grace;) and her mother(Maintanance).

I have two Scriptures with grammatical alterations in line with trustworthy translations:

Treasured Memories
Of a loving Mother & Nanny
Geraldine ?.0?.2009

Eternally in our hearts

1 Peter 1:13
“rest your hope FULLY upon the grace_to be brought to you_[in] Jesus Christ”


TAKEN ? ? 1944

2 Thessalonians 2:16
“our Lord Jesus Christ Himself_has loved us and [GIFTED] us_hope by grace”

Some other Short Scriptures and a qoute that I weighed where:

1 Peter 1:13
rest your hope fully upon the grace_to be brought to you_[in] Jesus Christ

New King James Version [that is] [at the revelation] With a Word from the Youngs Literal Translation

2 Thessalonians 2:16
“our Lord Jesus Christ Himself_has loved us and given us_hope by grace”

Romans 5:1-2
“_being justified by faith, [we have peace with God] through our Lord Jesus Christ _rejoice in hope of the glory of God. “
1 Thessalonians 1:3
“hope in our Lord Jesus Christ”
Philippians 2:19
I trust in the Lord Jesus

Philippians 4:7
“_the peace of God_keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 53:5
“He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”

“Rock of Ages, cleft for ME,
- Rev. Augustus M. Toplady

archshrk said...

More than 100 words but maybe it will inspire...

From The Treasury of David, Exposition of Psalm 116:15, by Charles Spurgeon:

“They shall not die prematurely; they shall be immortal till their work is done; and when their time shall come to die, then their deaths shall be precious. The Lord watches over their dying beds, smooths their pillows, sustains their hearts, and receives their souls. Those who are redeemed with precious blood are so dear to God that even their deaths are precious to him. The deathbeds of saints are very precious to the church, she often learns much from them; they are very precious to all believers, who delight to treasure up the last words of the departed; but they are most of all precious to the Lord Jehovah himself, who views the triumphant deaths of his gracious ones with sacred delight. If we have walked before him in the land of the living, we need not fear to die before him when the hour of our departure is at hand.”

wordsmith said...

Haven't really given the topic a whole lot of consideration for myself, but I do like "How Great Thou Art," and thought that hymn would be a good one for singing at a memorial service. So in light of that, perhaps some portion of the last verse would be suitable for a tombstone:

When Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, my God how great Thou art!

donsands said...

My wife wants to play this song at my funeral. Though i really don't feel I am worthy of it:


"Will they say I loved my family?
That I was a faithful friend?
That I lived to tell of God's own Son?
When all is said and done."

busdriver4jesus said...

I've recently changed my mind favorably on burial and will have on my tombstone Job 19:25-26 "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God"

F Whittenburg said...

"What would you want on your tombstone?"

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things (Romans 10:15 KJV)

"If you give your life to Jesus, He will give His life to you"

lee n. field said...

A couple more, short enough to fit:

From Psalm 73 " Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."

From Colossians: "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

bp said...

VcdeChagn (Mike),
My prayers are with you and your mom. My own mom passed away 4 years ago from lung cancer. It was a difficult road, but during her last days I rejoiced with her, for though she was unable to speak, she suddenly sang along with me to Amazing Grace. Here is a poem I found in a journal she kept. I only changed up a couple of words:

I've discovered a truth
Most grand
Long before I was born
It was planned
Christ would die to save me
From sins that enslave me
Now I'm safe in the palm
Of His hand

Charley said...

As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
So prepare for death,
And follow me.

This is a direct quote from a Puritan-era tombstone in the Pilgram graveyard at Plymouth.

I suspect the "me" was actually capitalized to point to Jesus. If not, I think I would replace the "me" with "Jesus."

Elisabeth said...

Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.

From the book of Job.

VcdeChagn said...

Again, thanks for all the great suggestions and prayers. I honestly don't even know how I'll grieve. I do know that my wife is reading over them and is really touched as well. I can never thank you enough.

I sent a bunch of them to my mom (and she read some herself earlier today).

Elisabeth, my mom has liked that verse since she first read it after she was saved.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

in time
in eternity
to the praise
of the glory
of His grace
Ephesians 1

Prayerful thoughts ~ hugs.

DJP said...

Thanks, good input all.

My thoughts:

Main thought: Pattern it on a favorite verse.

For me, right now I'm thinking 1 Timothy 1:15, resulting in something like this:

Christ Jesus came into the world
to save sinners
Here lie two He saved
Resting in hope

Or, John 11:25 —

Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life
We trusted Him as our life
His power will raise us in glory

Mike, do your parents have favorite verses? It might be crafted along those lines.

VcdeChagn said...

Mike, do your parents have favorite verses? It might be crafted along those lines.

My mom likes Gal 3:24 and (as mentioned) Job 3:15.

Not able to talk to them right now but I'll see if I can come back with more.

TAR said...

under the names a one line testimony

Sinners saved by grace


Aimee said...

I thought I would pass this on.

From an arrangement by BYU's "Vocal Point" a cappella group (don't like their theology, just some of their music):

In articulo mortis – At the moment of death
Caelitus mihi vires – My strength is from heaven
Deo adjuvante non timendum – God helping, nothing should be feared
In perpetuum – For ever
Dirige nos domine – Direct us, O Lord
Ad augusta per angusta – To high places by narrow roads
Sic itur ad astra – Such is the path to the stars
Excelsior – Ever upward

I realize that putting Latin on the stone might not be quite expedient to your purposes since, well, not everyone knows Latin. However, I thought that these phrases might at least provide some inspiration. I hope that this is of some help to you.

Praying for you in this difficult time.

In Christ,

sunnyjim said...

The headstone inscription which lifted me most was,

"Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die."

I know that's a little long, but perhaps a paraphrase could be used.