Tag Archives: funerals

Surprised by Joy: The Joyous Defeat

by Michael Gallup

There are few things harder than to preach the funeral of a convicted murder who committed suicide. Not just that he was a criminal but that he was a father of an eight-year-old boy I befriended. This young boy with his father in prison latched on to me at camp and I began to find myself filling some of the hole left by an absent dad. I saw the boy come to follow Jesus. He was so full of life despite his difficult circumstances.

But then I received a phone call I will never forget. It was his mom telling me the horrible news and asking me to preach the funeral of a man I never met. There have been few times in my life when I have cried harder than that evening. Not so much over the loss of the man’s life, although tragic, but for the intense suffering my young friend was now in the midst of. I began to become angry and angry at the only one who could handle such rage, God. Hadn’t the boy had enough? Why does he have to suffer so much? Why does one so young have to face such harsh realities? Why, God, why?

While I will never pretend to know the full answer of those questions, God has shown me a part of the why. For joy. It seems ludicrous to insist that joy could possibly come out of such pain, but I am coming to believe that it may be ludicrous to think that joy could come out of anything but pain. One of the most perplexing pieces of scripture is James1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” We are to somehow find joy in our suffering? Because it leads to perseverance? Yes, God says.

As I have asked God hard questions, He has kindly revealed to me some answers. Last week I described how He showed me what joy wasn’t: happiness. And I am beginning to see why. Happiness is the product of pleasure. When something happens to us that is pleasant we become happy. But now I am seeing that joy is the product of pain. And rightfully so, the process from pain to joy is much longer and arduous than the one from pleasure to happiness.

One of the biblical authors compares the life of a Christ-follower with that of an athlete, suffering the agony of preparing to run the race. This metaphor still rings true when we watch the Super Bowl winners crying tears of joy at the victory they achieved. And that joy is not birthed in the winning but in the months and years of hard work that led them to this moment, that made it even possible. In that passage in James, the reason to consider it joy to suffer is because our suffering is not the end of us and our stories but a catalyst for change. Our suffering refines us, pushing us forward in the race of redemption in the story of our ultimate victory.

This picture is most clearly seen in the death and thus victory of Jesus Christ. It was only through his defeat that the world could know victory. The biblical book Hebrews says that he was able to endure the sufferings of his murder because of the joy set before him. He knew his death, which at the moment it occurred seemed like the biggest train-wreck in history, was not the end of his story. He knew what only he could know, that his pain was giving birth to the joy of the world. That his defeat brought true victory.

Ultimately, it is a defeat we must each embrace because it is the only path to victory, the only path to joy. Our very lives are found in the death of ourselves.

But what about my young friend? That funeral was not the end of his story. Just as Jesus’ and our funerals are not the end of our stories. God began to redeem that situation that was never his will in the first place and in that redemption I saw that boy’s life changed. He learned to let go, if only a little, of his father and to find acceptance in a new father who was there, not in jail but with him, in a man who also knew defeat but also knew life in Jesus.

Our suffering is not the end of our stories but in some ways the beginning.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This is part three of a four part series.


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Created to Connect: How Intimacy Gives Life and Isolation Kills

By Eugene C. Scott


The Illinois sky was painful, gray, close, oppressive. The few of us standing on the hill in the cemetery were all tucked into our coats and scarves against the winter wind. He, the man we were gathered around, was tucked against that same wind–against life–into a nondescript coffin.

I was a young associate pastor in a large Presbyterian church and had been asked to preside at the man’s funeral. I hadn’t known the man. He was homeless and had been hit and killed by a train. The few others at the graveside, dark suited men from the mortuary, a newspaper reporter wishing he were elsewhere, the policemen who had found the man’s body, workers from the homeless shelter, and the grieving train engineer, didn’t know the man either. Nor did anyone know if the man had stepped in front of the train accidentally or on purpose. It mattered to the engineer.

Funerals are always heart  breaking. I remember each one I’ve officiated. But I’ve carried that particular  funeral and that man in my heart for twenty years.

At all of the other funerals there was always someone who could speak for and about the person who had passed. Even the very old, who have outlived their friends and family, often have a doctor or nurse who witnessed their last moments. Presiding over these memories is painful but beautiful too.

This day I read the man’s bare-bones obituary, recited the 23 Psalm, offered a prayer, stood in cold silence for a moment, grieved in a strange, disconnected way and then turned and left the man in the hands of God and the gravediggers.

No one should be that unknown.

Yet many of us in modern culture, especially in America, and not just the homeless, live isolated lives, unknown to ourselves and others. I recently heard someone say we Americans are people of the box. We live in boxes, travel in boxes, and work or learn in boxes within a bigger box. Shared knowledge and experiences are rare. Each of us has his or her own earbuds plugged into a personalized playlist. And it’s costing us.

In 2003 thirty-three researchers from various fields published a report called “Hardwired to Connect” in which they wrote, “We are witnessing high and rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious mental, emotional, and behavioral problems among U.S. children and adolescents.” Further the report states, “In large measure, what’s causing this crisis of American childhood is a lack of connectedness. We mean two kinds of connectedness — close connections to other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.” Hardwired to Connect is not merely opinion but a combination of various empirical studies that show how and why humans need to know and be known by others.

Science aside, most of us intuitively know we need each other. Starbucks has not taken over the coffee shop world because they serve the best coffee. Starbucks’ genius was offering Americans a place to connect, if only briefly and outwardly. Mark Zuckerberg too made a mint providing people with a way to connect. Yet we need deeper connections than these two famous entrepreneurs capitalized on.

I was recently interviewed as a character witness for a long-time friend. A few minutes into the interview, I realized the FBI agent was professionally sprinkling into the conversation questions that would confirm whether I truly knew my friend.

“What do his children do?” he asked as if he didn’t already know.

“Has he ever travelled out of the country?”

Each question drew up a different memory from our thirty-four years of friendship. Pictures of being at each others’ weddings, of ski trips, fights, the births of our children, tragedies, successes, meals, illnesses, vacations, funerals, you name it, they flooded into my head.

Finally the FBI agent asked, “Is he patriotic? Does he love his country?”

More memories. To my chagrin tears rose to my eyes and my chin quivered. I was crying in front of a FBI agent.

Patriotic? My friend has served in the military all the time I’ve known him. Love his country? He volunteered to serve in Iraq for a year despite the fact his age would have kept him from having to do so. His son fought in Bagdad as a Marine. Patriotic? Are you kidding me?

But those memories aren’t the ones that brought on the embarrassing tears.

After my mother passed away in 2003, I inherited the United States flag that had draped my father’s coffin years before. That year, for Christmas, my wife Dee Dee gave me a wooden triangular case to display the flag in. One night we had a group of friends over, including my patriotic friend and his wife and son. They noticed my father’s flag was folded improperly and asked my permission to refold it. My friend and his son stood apart–the flag between them–and using sharp, precise military moves refolded the flag, handed it to me, and saluted. I wept that day too.

This was not playing army. This was father and son honoring a son and a lost father. This was an intimate gift coming from a long friendship. My friend knew me.

Sitting across from that FBI agent I cried because in a world of isolation I knew my friend well enough to pass the test and he knew me that well too. And neither of us would face life or death unknown like that unfortunate homeless man.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.


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Why Funerals Are Better Than Weddings

True confession: Over the past two years I’ve performed 41 weddings. Before every ceremony I remind myself that the word is “wedding” and not “funeral” because I’ve come thisclose to mixing them up more times than I can count.

I’m not sure why my mind confuses the two, perhaps because a wedding is a funeral of sorts—it’s the death of two individuals and the beginning of one shared life.

But if I can be honest, I prefer officiating at funerals over weddings. Hands down.

Please join us  in today’s daily Bible conversation as we explore why funerals are better than weddings.


Ecclesiastes 7:1-12:14
2 Corinthians 7:8-8:15
Psalm 48:1-49:20
Proverbs 22:17-21


Ecclesiastes 7:1-12:14. Read slowly, because today’s reading is full of gems…

People like me who have struggled with anger would do well to meditate on Ecclesiastes 7:9: “Anger resides in the lap of fools.” The word “lap” literally means “bosom” so the reference to anger implies not only fits of rage but also that low simmering anger no one sees. Anger causes us to do and say things that are out of character with a godly life. “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (James 1:20).

After exploring the meaningless of life, Solomon finally comes to this conclusion of his book: “Fear God and keep his commandments.”

2 Corinthians 7:8-8:15. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Godly sorrow over sin brings change. But if we say we’re sorry and we don’t change, it leads to death. How can this be? Habitual sin works like a cancer in our hearts. If you’re a believer, you’ll still go to heaven, but your salvation becomes little more than fire insurance.

Chapter 8 is an excellent explanation of why Christians should be the most generous people in the world. Although Jesus was rich, he became poor so we might become rich. In the same way, because we are rich in spiritual and financial blessings, we should become poor so others might become rich.

Then Paul makes an interesting statement: “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality” (8:13). I doubt Paul was advocating socialism, but he was advocating sacrificial generosity.

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At the beginning of Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon offers some advice that nearly knocked me off my chair. Why is it better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting and how can a sad face be good for the heart?

I can tell you why I prefer funerals to weddings: at weddings nobody hears a word I say. People in the audience cry about the cute little couple, paying little attention to the hard road ahead of them. In fact, when I meet with couples for their premarital counseling, they’re so blinded by love that they fail to see red flags when they present themselves. So when I tell them “Marriage is hard work,” too many of them have remarked, “We’ve never had a fight.” To which I respond, “Then you aren’t ready to get married.”

Funerals, on the other hand, are firmly planted in the soil of reality. A loved one has died and people are asking ultimate questions like “Why did he have to die?” or “What good can come from suffering?”

Years ago I walked with a dear friend whose brain was being slowly eaten away by brain cancer. A few weeks before he died, he told me what to say at his funeral. So on that sad and glorious day when I stood before a standing room only crowd to honor Lyle’s life, I gave my friend an opportunity to speak from the grave.

And people listened. Boy, did they listen!

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). No one can mourn without a death.

Death is a cold slap in the face that awakens our senses. It brings buried questions to the surface and reminds us of our mortality and of ultimate reality. So in an odd way, death is a purveyor of hope.

Solomon added to his thoughts about mourning: “Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4) Our hope is this: while we’re still alive we can learn, we can still grow, we can still change, we can still find redemption in our tragic stories. Death forces us to evaluate our lives.

Not so coincidentally, our reading in Psalm 49 reinforces the message that all of us die. But the good news is this: to those who live for God, we can say “God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself” (Psalm 49:15).

Although I prefer living to dying, through the deaths of others God gives us a multitude of opportunities to explore the meaning of this life.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Does death frighten you? Why?
  3. How has the death of someone else changed you?

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.


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