Our Great, High Priest

When I was a little boy, the one thing I wanted most in the world was to be a big, strong man.  While there are many reasons one has for such a desire, the premiere one was that I could then do what I wanted to do.

The thing I hated most about school was the constant reminder that I was not a man.  Nothing did this more poignantly than the need to request permission to go to the bathroom.  Oh, the granduer of just being able to rise from one’s seat and go relieve himself without first abasing himself before an adult in two significant ways: 1.  I have to pee.  My body requires of me this obedience, and should I not respond correctly, I will eventually be covered in my own waste.  2.  You can tell me “no”.

Are you serious?!

Weakness is the antithesis of greatness.  There are no grand statues of our leaders throughout history holding themselves while dancing due to their need to pee.  It, in fact, seems disrespectful to even mention it.  Greatness is strength.  Greatness is not asking permission.  Greatness is doing, not submitting.

…and yet, Jesus is our Great, High Priest precisely because of his choosing our weaknesses, limitations and position.  In fact, he didn’t just choose to be a human but to serve to the ultimate extent of the expression of our limitations – he died…naked…in front of everyone…until his own weakness meant he couldn’t breathe anymore, and so he strangled to death due to his own body’s frailty.  Remember the pleading of Jesus for a drink?  Remember those in power telling him “no” in so many ways?  No, you aren’t worthy of the title Son of Man.  No, you are not our long-awaited Messiah.  No, you aren’t in control, and we’ll prove it by killing you after torturing and humiliating you.

And this is what makes Him great.  No, I am not lessening his perpetual divinity, nor his miraculous healing of others, nor any of the other “great” things he said/did.

What makes Him great is that Jesus understands our pain, our suffering, our weakness, our temptations.  He gets it.

He also defeated them.  Not in physical prowess, but in spiritual submission to the Father.  Nothing could make Him deny the Father’s will for His life, nothing!  The Apostle Paul knew this same truth when he said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

We often pray for God to make our lives easier.  Oh, that the Church would begin again to pray “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”, and in this, show Christ’s victory to the world.  The indomitable will of the submitted servant.  “You can kill me, but you can’t make me deny my LORD!!!!”  May my brothers and sisters in the Middle East, Asia and Africa be strong in the midst of their weakness, and may we be inspired by their example of following Jesus.

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How to Perform a Funeral pt.4

Matane cemetery

Matane cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

1. Meet with the Family.

2. Distill to one Best Trait/Quality.

3. Include Psychological Cues.

4. Lead People to Christ/hope.

The goal of the service is not to preach the deceased into eternal life (you can’t), nor is it to convince the living of the sinfulness of the errors of the deceased (they already know).  The goal is, as always, to lead people to a closer relationship with their Creator through Jesus Christ his only begotten son.

Given that the people you will be preaching to chose to come to this person’s funeral service, odds are that they at least don’t want to hear someone speak badly of them.  If you do, Christianity will be seen as judgemental and pharisaical – not holy and desirable.  If you speak falsely in order to praise the individual – you will be known to be a liar and therefore a peddlar of lies – Christianity will be discounted as either so easy they must be one too, or a pack of lies not to be trusted.

Fortunately, there is another option: speak the truth in love.

The truth you should speak isn’t where the deceased may or may not be (unless of course you knew them to be a devout Christian who had their name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life), but of God’s desire to spend eternity with them.  One of my favorite ways of stating this truth is, “If______________ could come and share one truth with you, it would be to choose Jesus.”  Think of the rich man in the parable who wanted to tell his family to not make the same choices he had made.

Ultimately you want to focus their desires on their own eternities and their loved ones’ eternities that can still be saved.  If the focus is too much on the deceased, then their emotional impetus will be to reflect both the good and the bad of that person’s life.  Our mission is to focus them on the good of the deceased, tie it to the ultimate source of all good things – God, and lead them to honor both with their lives from this point forward.

How to Perform a Funeral pt.3

Matane cemetery

Matane cemetery (Photo credit: Bête à Bon-Dieu)

1. Meet with the Family.

2. Distill to one best trait/quality.

3. Include Psychological cues.

I know that I just told you to avoid cookie-cutter funerals where you can interchange names with very little substantive difference, and I stand by that; however, there are certain aspects of a funeral/memorial service that make it feel like a funeral service.  When you attend a wedding, 1 Corinthians 13, the unity candle, “Dearly Beloved”, and a white dress are some of those iconic aspects that ring true for a wedding.  These help the people involved in the wedding to be able to believe that they are now married, that a substantive change has occurred in their lives.  The same thing is true for a funeral.

Including aspects that are part of the “branding” of a funeral service will psychologically help the family to move through the stages of grief.  This is a balancing act between a cookie-cutter funeral and a service that is emotionally confusing.  The weaving together of the uniqueness of the person with the traditional aspects of a funeral will create the right balance of psychological truths that communicates that their loved one has truly died.

Here is my list that I always try to include in the service:

1. Obituary reading.

I generally begin the service with this as the family has personally chosen these words to describe their loved one.  2 notes – A) make sure you know how to pronounce all the names prior to reading them, and B) leave off the end of the obituary where they are informing the public where the service will be.

2. Psalm 23.

My Mother once sagely informed me that cliches only become cliches because they are true.  This passage of Scripture is used so heavily for funerals because it works so well.  Include it, but don’t use it as the primary text for your message (usually, make an exception only when it best fits the uniqueness of the person as well).

3. Amazing Grace.

One of those songs that people who have only a passing knowledge of the Church recognize and relate with.  Like the 23rd Psalm, it works great.  The tone of the song, the meaning of the song and especially the triumphant final verse all put the right sense into the service.  If performing a graveside, I will generally save this song until then.  There is a beautiful, haunting quality to it being sung a capella in a cemetery.

4. The LORD’s Prayer.

This is one of the only times that I use the KJV.  It is a poetic rendering of the Greek, and due to its regular use in most churches, it has a powerful grounding influence for the Christians in attendance.  It also adds a dynamic of sharing together as both the pastor and the congregation pray together.

Are there any “old faithfuls” that you use?