What Do You Want People To Say At Your Funeral?

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Lately I’ve been asking myself a question.

I’ve recently done two funerals. At both funerals family members and friends shared memories of their loved ones who had died. They shared a few funny stories about each one. But what they talked about most was the acts of kindness or love they did. About their thoughtfulness and how they served others. About what a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother the woman was. About what a great husband, dad and grandpa the man was. About how each of them loved the Lord and loved people.

There was no extolling their great accomplishments or how much money they made. Nothing about awards or recognition. No list of buildings they’d built or inventions they’d patented or great discoveries they’d made.

It’s had me thinking about a question someone said we should ask ourselves: What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?

What will your children say? What will your wife say? Will people say things like, she was a great Mom. He was a wonderful husband – he really took good care of his wife in her last years. She was the most humble woman I know. He was the best brother in the world. He always put others first. My mom always had time to listen to us. Dad did so much with us when we were kids. She was my best friend. He was always serving someone. She never thought of herself.

Or will your loved ones say things like this: I never really knew my Dad because he was always at work. Mom didn’t seem to have much time for us as kids. Dad always seemed disappointed in me. Mom and I didn’t talk that much. Dad seemed like he was angry with us all the time.

If you look at all these statements, both good and bad, they all have to do with relationships and character. Relationships: she was a loving mother. Dad always had time for us. My mom was my best friend. And character: she was the most humble woman I know. Every week he’d read to a blind man. He was always joyful.

Relationships and character. That’s what’s going to matter in the end. I once heard this statement: Success in any other area of life cannot make up for failure at home. This is not to condemn anyone – I’ve failed many times as a husband and dad. But like the question I’m asking today this statement helps me focus. What if I’m the most “successful” man in the world? What if I make all kinds of money or create the next YouTube, yet neglect my wife and kids? Will I really be successful? What do I want people to say at my funeral?

An even more important question: what will God say when you die? Will he say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master”? To hear those words would mean more than almost any others.

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral?  This question helps us focus on what’s really important.  It reminds us of what really matters in the end.

We can gain the world and lose our soul. We can go after riches and miss out on relationships. We can pursue success at the expense of character. So I’m grateful for the question funerals make me ask.

Another Question I Don’t Ask Myself: Am I Successful?

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I recently wrote a post about a question I never ask myself: Am I Happy? Well here’s another question I never ask myself: Am I Successful?

Success is elusive, unpredictable and difficult to measure. We can have seasons of blessing followed by seasons of affliction. A business can boom one day then crumble the next. Some churches explode with phenomenal growth while others plod along, happy to see one visitor a month, if that. We can be “successful” and a “failure” at the same time, e.g. we may be making a huge salary at work, yet struggling in our marriage.

Sometimes we do all we know to do to “succeed” with little or no results. Parents can share the gospel with their children, love, train and discipline them, and try to cultivate a relationship with them, yet sometimes those children reject their parents and all they tried to implant in them. Sometimes we can pray about something for years and see little outward results. Does this mean we have been unsuccessful?

At a recent meeting with some of our small group leaders, one man and his wife who have led a group for over 20 years talked about the various seasons they’ve experienced. There were stretches when hardly anyone showed up. Yet in the last few years they’ve had one of our largest groups.

We’ve been through ups and downs over the years as a church too. There was a period early on when many people were leaving, mostly because of unemployment in the area. It got so bad, one leader suggested we “turn out the lights” and encourage our members to find other churches.

Success is relative. If a church of 20 compares itself to a church of 2000 it could seem like a failure. But success isn’t determined by numbers. The church of 2000 may be shallow doctrinally or relationally whereas the church of 20 may doctrinally strong with great relationships and abundant fruit.

Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” with incredible results during the Great Awakening in New England from 1730-1755. But eight years after the Great Awakening, Edwards’ congregation split over a controversy regarding communion and 90% of the members voted to remove the 47 year old pastor. For the next 8 years, the only work he could find was serving as a missionary to a small tribe of Indians in Western Massachusetts. When he was 55 he received a call from Princeton Theological Seminary to be its president. But just a few months after the move he contracted smallpox and died. He essentially served the last 8 years of his life in obscurity, but he faithfully cared for his small congregation and wrote many of his great theological treatises during this time.

Paul spent the last days of his life chained in a miserable Roman dungeon. In 2 Timothy 1:15 Paul told his friend, “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” Later in the letter he told Timothy he’d been deserted by Demas who was in love with this world. He said that Alexander the coppersmith had done him much harm and that at his first defense not a single person came to stand by him but “all deserted me.” Yet Paul didn’t ask himself whether he was successful or not. Instead he said to Timothy:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 TI 4:7-8)

Paul didn’t evaluate his life in terms of success, but faithfulness.

So I don’t ask myself if I’m successful or not. And even when I think about my faithfulness, I must do it in light of the gospel, for if I review all my failures as a father, husband and pastor, I can get depressed. I must regularly focus on the truth that God doesn’t accept and love me based on my success or even on my faithfulness, but on Jesus’ life of faithful obedience and the blood he shed for me.

When we are faithful then all glory goes to God, for he has done that in us.  So don’t worry about whether you are successful or not. Ask God for grace to to fight the good fight, run the race and keep the faith.  And thank Jesus for his faithfulness and steadfast love to you.

I Could Be the Greatest, But…

I could be the greatest worship leader, and have a band that puts U2 to shame, and have the perfect set list, and be wearing the perfect combination of clothes so that I appear cool without looking like I’m trying. But…

I could be the world’s greatest small group leader, and have the greatest discussion questions prepared, and a snack that tastes like it was made in the third heaven. But…

I could be a fantastic children’s ministry teacher, with lesson plans involving live snakes, and songs that make all the kids dance with joy. But…

I could be an incredible preacher, with the most poignant illustrations and the greatest exposition. But…

I could be a fantastic father, who regularly shares the gospel with his children and is faithful to discipline them appropriately. But…

If I’m not accompanied by the power of God, all my efforts will be useless.

In regards to preaching (and this applies to all the other areas as well), John Owen says:

For a man solemnly to undertake the interpretation of any portion of scripture without invocation of God…is a high provocation of him…[The preacher] engages in a work so much above his ability.

Before we engage in any spiritual action, let’s call upon the Lord to fill our labors with his power.

The Measure Of Our Success

Our culture is obsessed with success. From businessmen to athletes, artists and teachers – we regularly evaluate our “success” by looking at sales, victories, scores and numbers.  Christians and churches aren’t immune from evaluating success in these categories.  How should believers measure success?

Our church is erecting a nice (nothing fancy) facility that sits majestically (well, that might be stretching it–it looks good to me) on a hill next to a cemetery (hey, I won’t have to go far when the time comes).  Since we live in a small town, many have noticed the building.

Even complete strangers have commented about it when I mentioned where I work.  Some have said things like, “You guys must be really doing something right.”  They are kind to say things like this, but if I believed them, I would be the true Fool on the Hill.  The fact that our church even exists after all these years with me as Sr. Pastor is proof there’s a living God.

In A Passion for Faithfulness, J.I. Packer says that today many define success:

…in terms of numbers of heads counted or added to those that were there before. Church-growth theorists, evangelists, pastors, missionaries, news reporters, and others all speak as if (1) numerical increase is what matters most; (2) numerical increase will surely come if our techniques and procedures are right; (3) numerical increase validates ministries as nothing else does; (4) numerical increase must be everyone’s main goal.

Contrast this with what he says of Paul:

“He had seen churches born and for a time grow under revival conditions; but by the end of his life zeal was flagging, heresy was flooding in, persecution was starting, and the spiritual sky was darkening in every direction. As in his somber last letter he anticipates his death he has nothing to say about having been a success, only that, unlike some, ‘I have fought the good flight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7). He does not know whether he has been a success or not; all he is sure of is that he has been faithful, holding fast to God’s truth and righteousness when others let both go.”

If Paul had viewed his life in terms of success, he would have concluded he’d been a failure.  But Paul pursued faithfulness, not success.  Packer says:

“In the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success as God sees it. Wisdom says: leave success ratings to God, and live your Christianity as a religion of faithfulness rather than an idolatry of achievement.”

So let’s forsake the pursuit of success and seek to be faithful – faithful lovers of God, faithful friends, servants, students, spouses, employees, and neighbors.  Let’s fight the good fight, finish the race and keep the faith that we might hear God say, “Well done, good and FAITHFUL servant.”

photo by ffse8info

Leave Success Ratings To God

Who wants to be a failure?

Who wants to tank at work or in school?  What parent wants to see her children reject Christ or plunge into sin?  What pastor enjoys seeing his church shrivel or creep along like a spiritual garden slug?

For many years I joked (to cover my sense of failure) that church growth experts were studying our church because they’d never seen a church lose so many people so quickly.

We live in a culture that worships success and attainment.  We celebrate the Steve Jobs’s and Michael Jordans of the world.  And Christians are often seduced by the Pied Piper of Success.  In his book, A Passion For Faithfulness, J. I. Packer says:

The passion for success constantly becomes a spiritual problem–really, a lapse into idolatry–in the lives of God’s servants today.  To want to succeed in things that matter is of course natural, and not wrong in itself, but to feel that one must at all costs be able to project oneself to others as a success is an almost demonized state of mind, from which deliverance is needed.

The world’s idea that everyone, from childhood up, should be able to succeed at all times in measurable ways, and that it is a great disgrace not to, hangs over the Christian community like a pall of acrid smoke…

I know many parents who faithfully shared the gospel with their children from the time they could understand it.  Yet a number of those children are not serving Christ. It’s easy for parents to feel like shameful failures when despite their best efforts and years of prayers, their child rejects the Lord.  On the flip side, when a child gets saved at a young age, a parent can think it’s because of their excellent parenting skills.

I know pastors whose churches failed and others who have labored for years and seen limited growth.  Are they are failures?  Packer also says:

The way of health and humility is for us to admit to ourselves that in the final analysis we do not and cannot know the measure of our success as God sees it.  Wisdom says: leave success ratings to God, and live your Christianity as a religion of faithfulness rather than an idolatry of achievement.

This is liberating!  Leave success ratings to God.  In the end, we can’t know how God measures our “success.”  Let us seek to be faithful, not successful.  Jesus won’t welcome us to heaven with, “Well done good and successful servant,” but “good and faithful servant.”