In Memory of Carl Stephenson

08 January 2011
In Memory of Carl Stephenson
My father, Carl Stephenson, passed away this past Sunday at the age of 61.
It has been a difficult time for the family but I have found a small measure of comfort in being able to honor my father in delivering the message during his memorial service.  I would like to share it with you as well.  (Many thanks go to Jim Kilson for his assistance in preparing this message.)
My father was a "good ole boy" from a small town in south Texas and most of his friends (and several of my family members) are just "down home" kinds of folks. They have little to no idea about "Yeshua" or the Messianic movement so I tailored my message for that group.  Here it is...
I had the opportunity to speak with many of you about my father at the visitation last night.  One common theme among all of the stories was that you spent some time with my father either repairing, rebuilding, or souping up cars, trucks, or boats.  There wasn't a person that failed to mention how my dad helped you in some way with your vehicles.  That was a blessing to me although not surprising.  That is very much the kind of person he was.

I was, however, surprised to learn that my dad was good friends with gospel music singer Willie Gant.   Willie mentioned that he often spoke with my dad about G-d, Scripture, and matters of spirituality.  That, too, was a blessing to know that my dad had G-dly men in his life.

I know a bit about cars having tinkered with them when I was younger but I am more familar with Scripture and it is from G-d's Word that I would like to share a bit with you today.

The Bible is an incredible book.  Some have called it the instruction book for life.  Every possible facet of life is described in it.  In many ways the book of Psalms is like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of the Bible.  The Psalms that we read in the Bible were originally songs.  These were the equivalent of country music in ancient times.

There are sad songs about loss.

There are songs about the love of G-d and country.

And there are songs that make you want to get up and dance.

The book of Psalms is kind of like the “Billboard Top 100” only G-d gave us some bonus tracks: there are 150 songs.  The 150th psalm is the last psalm and is a closing song of praise. After 149 songs that speak of the whole range of human emotions… love and remorse, fear and anger, surprise and anticipation, joy and sadness… the psalmist caps the whole of the human experience with a simple song of praise.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord” the psalmist says and that is one of the things I would like to share with you today.

Just as the psalmists of long ago knew strong emotion and poured it out into their songs, today we also mourn and celebrate the life of one who was loved by many and who loved many, and gave freely of his time and energy to those in need.

In the midst of our circumstances are feelings of loss, shock, and grief but it is during these times we can lean on G-d.  He will be our stronghold during times of trial just as He was for the men who wrote the psalms.  It is this bit of wisdom that gives us strength.

I asked my dad one time “what is the difference between being smart and being wise?”  He gave me this answer:

A smart man knows not to pee on an electric fence.
A wise man does not even begin unzipping his zipper to find out why.

That was my dad. :)

King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote that "the mind of the wise is in the house of mourning…"  It is here in this place as we mourn for our loss of  my father, Carl, that we most clearly see the truth of our short and limited lives.  It is here that we can discover the wisdom that comes from that truth.

We should not simply be "smart" and offer each other trite sayings like "he is in a better place" or "time heals all wounds" and simply mouth the words "G-d is our strength".  Instead we should be wise and truly lean on Him and trust in His strength.

It is during seasons of life such as this that we realize that life as we know it is uncertain.  None of us is guaranteed tomorrow or even the rest of today.  The Bible often reminds us about this uncertainty of life.  We read in James 4:14 “you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

These times of mourning and the uncertainty of life cause us to consider its approaching end.  In fact today we have to deal with the arrival of the end of Carl’s life.  But G-d has given us hope in knowing that death is not final.

Today, in this day, and in every day that G-d gives us life we can find strength and comfort that in the fact that Jesus has power over the grave… power over death! The gospel of Luke tells us how Christ raised both the widow’s son and Jairus’ daughter from the dead.

The gospel of John records how Jesus came upon the tomb of His friend Lazarus and how he wept at the death of his friend.

He wept.

This passage tells us that it is OK to mourn, to weep, and to grieve.  Jesus could have told everyone "Don't cry.  Calm down.  Stop weeping.  I am going to raise him from the dead.  It will be OK."  Instead He chose to weep and mourn for his dead friend.  That same passage tells us that Christ brought Lazarus back to life.

Jesus later overcame death in His own resurrection.

In this time of Carl’s passing, we celebrate and remember his life but we should also look forward to the day when all of the dead in Christ will rise and death will be destroyed forever.  Indeed, the mind of the wise is in the house of mourning.

We can find comfort and hope in the arms of our loving G-d.  He is here in this time to provide comfort and the peace which passes all understanding… the true comfort and peace that only He can give. We read the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your G-d. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)  Isaiah goes on to tell us that the one who was to come, the Messiah, would be there to mend our broken hearts.  (Isaiah 61)

The book of Revelation speaks of that coming time: “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.  And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.”  (Revelation 21:4-7)

So today as we celebrate and remember, G-d’s son, Carl, with all the emotions and feelings that threaten to overwhelm us like a flood, let us not forget that one of those feelings is hope.

We have our memories… those special remembrances of how Carl touched our lives; they give us strength for the days that lie ahead until we are reunited with him and with all of those who have gone before us.  As wonderful as those memories are and as wonderful as the friends are that come along beside us and lift us up, our ultimate comfort comes from the Lord.

He is the one Who gives us our friends and families.
He is the one Who gives us the memories to remember.
And He is the one Who gives us the minds with which we can remember.

He is the one who makes the promises of His Word come true.

And so today, we come to say goodbye to Carl, with all of the emotions and feelings that are present, we should close this time as the psalmist did.  We should praise the eternal and everlasting G-d for giving us this man who touched our lives in so many ways.  Let us do so now.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly father we come before and declare "Blessed are you O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe."  You are the giver of life and the author and finisher of our faith.  You are sovereign over all things from the greatest to the smallest.  You are our hope in times of trial and our peace in times of distress. We come to You and thank You for Carl and for the gift and the blessing that he is.  We pray for Your peace in this season and ask that You grant to us the comfort that comes from You alone.

Draw those who remain in this life to You and help us to know You better. We lift up all of the family and friends of Carl Stephenson to You today and ask that Your peace, mercy, and strength might rest upon them during this time and in the days to come.

Father, we pray all these things in the mighty and precious name of your Son.  Amen.

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