Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Funeral Message for James Vernon Bennett, Jr.

My grandfather died on Saturday, April 14, 2007. He was a great man and will be greatly missed. I had one of the greatest honors of my life being able to deliver the funeral message. Here's some of what I said, in honor of him....

As we were driving down to Arkansas, I was thinking of the passing of Grandpa and Genesis 25:8 came to mind. In Genesis 25 we read of the death of Abraham. Verse 8 reads: “Abraham breathed his last and died a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life, and was gathered to his people.”

It’s a beautiful verse to describe what is a rather terrible thing. Death is a constant reminder of the reality of sin and its affect on our world. It creates a separation that is painful to even contemplate. But on the other hand, as this verse and other verses tell us, death can be beautiful. For example, consider Psalm 116:15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Why is that? Why is the death of one of God’s saints a precious thing?” There are two parts of Genesis 25:8 I’d like us to think about.

"A Ripe Old Age, an Old man and satisfied with life."

“Ripe old age”—what does this expression mean? It is used throughout the OT. It does not seem to be just some type of congratulatory term. It doesn’t merely refer to anyperson who is really old. Just because you reach eighty plus years doesn’t mean you can be said to have reached a ripe, old age.

I believe it refers not just to the quantity of years lived but to the quality of those years. It is an expression that conveys we are sad as we contemplate the brevity of life and the passing of a loved one but that that sadness is greatly tempered as we reflects on the length and quality of the life of the one who has departed.

I’d like to suggest to you this afternoon that Grandpa lived to a ripe old age. No one can argue that ninety is a large number of years, relatively speaking. But these were also rich, full years. Let me share with you some of the reasons I believe that we can say with confidence Grandpa “lived to a ripe, old age, an old man, and satisfied with life.”

Grandpa lived to a ripe, old age, an old man, and satisfied with life because he was a hard worker.

The story Dad told this afternoon about Grandpa’s work on the home front during WWII is my absolute, all-time favorite story of Grandpa. The man would work 36-hour shifts to cover for the ineptitude of others. Though I obviously didn’t know him during this time, that story has often motivated me in my work.

By the time I was born, Grandpa was just about to retire and so I never knew him when he was gainfully employed. But I believe that I have a very skewed view of retirement because of Grandpa. To me, retirement means working in a shed, driving a tractor around, farming, gardening, fixing, fishing, working at the church, doing. As Matthew put it, he was constantly puttering. Never idle.

Grandpa combined this hard work ethic with a creative mind. He could combine mundane items around his house and shop to solve problems creatively. He was particularly good at welding. As Dad said, “He was an artist whose medium was steel.”

Let me jut walk you around the play ground in his backyard to give you a glimpse into his mind and abilities: There is a swing but this is no ordinary swing. Grandpa had found the highest branch possible from which to hang a swing and managed to do it. You didn’t just swing….you swang. And, for a little added zest, he put a bell. There is a swing set. But he didn’t buy a set of plans. Instead he welded it from pipe pieces and then painted it red, white and blue. There is a zip line. This was his last major addition to the playground. There is a teeter-toter. His doesn’t just go up and down but around in circles as well.

One Christmas, I desperately wanted to learn to ride a unicycle. Grandpa was told he couldn’t make one and so he promptly went and did it anyway.

Grandpa lived to a ripe, old age, an old man, and satisfied with life because he loved his family.

From my perspective, Grandpa existed for his grandkids. He would work for days, sometimes for weeks, for his grandkids to get a few hours of pleasure.

There are many communal memories of Grandpa: We can all remember a game of pool with Grandpa. We can all remember him saying, “I can’t be nobody who shoots pool like that.” We can all remember tossing horseshoes with him and listening to the funny commentary he would have on the status of the game if he was losing. We can all remember him saying, “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.” “How’s Miss Suzie-Q?” We can all remember eating cornbread with him. My absolute favorite memories with him are on hot summer afternoons when he would finish his work in the and we’d grab a cup with some ice in it, a Pepsi from underneath the sink in the garage, and go and sit on the porch in the cool of the shade.

He lived for family reunions. I can remember the green “Benny” chair being set up at various locations and there would be Grandpa, sitting in the chair and holding court with various family sitting around him.

He was a humble man and it always seemed to surprise him when someone gave him a gift. There’d be that smile and look of shock on his face and the “For me? Well, I don’t know about that.”

He loved his family and in the past ten years or so I learned much about the depth of the love his family had for him. Watching how my Dad, my aunt, and my uncle have honored their father has been a great inspiration to me. They have truly obeyed Scripture’s injunction to “Honor thy Father and thy Mother.” In particular, Uncle Rocky and Aunt Ginny’s decision to move here to take care of Grandpa and Grandma was incredible to me. What man whose son does that for him can say his life is not full?

Grandpa lived to a ripe, old age, an old man, and satisfied with life because he enjoyed life.

Life itself amused Grandpa. I can remember when he’d get tickled by something he’d seen or heard, that laugh, not a guffaw, but sort of a wry chuckle—the smirk. He had a terrible, subtle form of humor. The gun with the barrel bent upward, the man with the tie in the garage, and—my personal favorite because I believe it is the perfect example of his sense of humor—the “Please Wait to be Seated” sign on the outside of the bathroom door in the garage.

He enjoyed nature. Loved to be out in God’s creation. Sometimes when standing next to a mountain, he’d say, “It just makes me feel so unnecessary.” “It just wears me out to be nice to people.” “This is the first pretty day” at the beginning of spring and “This may be the last pretty day” at the beginning of fall. He enjoyed being out in the boat or riding the tractor. He enjoyed riding around with my dad in the later years.

The love of nature and life is part of Grandpa’s legacy to his family.

Grandpa lived to a ripe, old age, an old man, and satisfied with life because he was willing to change.

Every person has their shortcomings and I’m sure that Grandpa was no exception, though I must confess I rarely had even the smallest evidence of any faults. But whereas some people remain the same and give a resigned, “That’s just who I am,” Grandpa made strides to continue to grow in godliness.

Grandpa lived to a ripe, old age, an old man, and satisfied with life because he was a man of faith.

I loved listening to Grandpa pray. There was depth of emotion to his prayers that was very moving, especially when he was praying about his family. He was committed to his church and spent many an afternoon up there working on something.

And here we come to the crux of his life and if this was not true, the other characteristics of his life would be meaningless. You see, though Grandpa lived a rich, full life this day still came.

"Gathered to His People"

This brings me to the second phrase I’d like you to think about in that passage in Genesis 25:8.

It says that Abraham was “gathered to his people.” In some ways, this is just a nice way to say that he died, but I think there is something else here…it is revealing who his true family was. Abraham lived his life in light of another life and when he died he was being gathered to his true people.

Hebrews tells us that Abraham was looking for a better country: “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Just as I believe the first part of this verse applies to my Grandfather’s life I believe the second part does as well. What does Grandpa’s life teach us about the heavenly country?

He knew the reality and danger of sin

I’d like to tell you about what I believe was a milestone episode in my Grandfather’s life. On March 24, 1987, Grandma wrote a letter. It was a Tuesday. “They said he just got up after church and went up and said he had some confessions he wanted to make—that he’d been saved and baptized when a young man but hadn’t been living right but wanted to join the church and asked if he’d need to be baptized again. They said the whole church was crying and went up and hugged and kissed him.”

As I read about those events of March 22, 1987, I believe they are evidence that my Grandpa understood the reality of what the book of Romans teaches us: that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of perfection. He understood that all deserved the eternal condemnation of a holy God.

He understood there was a gap between God and Man that could not be breached by simply being a moral man. We try to bridge the gap in many ways but Grandpa understood what so many do not: the gap between God and Man is simpl too wide a divide for man to bridge.

Therefore, he knew that Jesus Christ was the only answer

And here is the key component. My grandmother wrote in that letter, “If he asks Christ’s forgiveness—that is all that counts.” Indeed it is. Nothing else counts. Why?

We’ve talked about the bad new in Scripture: We’re sinners. But as you know there is good news as well. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” In the OT it talks about how our iniquity and sin was laid upon Christ.

Now heaven is a free gift. Paul says it Ephesians that our salvation is a gift of God. It is not earned or deserved.

How can we receive that gift? Through faith in Jesus Christ. Not knowing facts about Jesus for even the demons believe and shutter. Not believing him for certain things. Not being noncommittal. It means trusting in Him alone to provide us with salvation.

What would you say if today were the day of your death and you were to stand before God? Only right answer is…because of my faith in your son Jesus Christ.

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of joy. It causes us to think about the important things…about the tragedy and beauty of death. We learn about the great paradox of every human life: those who life the fullest lives here are those who are most aware of the life to come.

Grandpa: “You’re a good man, Charlie Brown.”


Teresa said...

Hi Daniel -

I just found out that your grandfather had died. I am so sorry to hear this news. I didn't know him but after reading the funeral message you gave, I know that he is someone that I would have enjoyed knowing.

By Grace Alone -

Aunt Teresa

Grammy said...

Dear Grandson,
We were so very sorry to hear about your grandpa, but we know that he is with his Lord right now. I have just read your touching tribute to him. Thank you so very much for that. I am sure that when others read it, it will give them pause to think about their own lives and what accomplishments they have to leave behind. Your gramps and I have had the pleasure of getting to know Mr. Bennett. We look forward to the time when we will get to see him once more. We love you.
Grammy and Gramps