My brother-in-law, Fred Cruse, died ten days ago after an extended illness. His family and friends gathered last Monday in a rural church in south Mississippi to eulogize and bury him. The day was bitter-sweet. Bitter from the loss of one dearly loved. Sweet because he was prepared to depart.

My eulogy for Fred follows. I thought some of you might be encouraged by the good news it contained:

 While I was a student at Mississippi College — about a hundred years ago — I went to Marks to be the summer youth director at First Baptist Church. Shortly after I arrived, this guy came barging into the church office and said, “Hi. I’m Fred. We’re going to play golf.”

So we did, and that began a friendship that lasted 41 years.

One of the things I liked most about Fred was his self-depreciating humor.

His senior year in high school, Fred was the star full back on the football team. He was good enough that scouts from Ole Miss came over to watch him play in the homecoming game.

The coach wanted to highlight Fred, so he chose him to lead the team onto the field at the beginning of the game. The cheerleaders were lined up holding a big hoop covered with paper for the team to burst through. The fans were cheering. The scouts were watching.

Fred raced onto the field, burst through the paper, tripped over the hoop and fell flat on his face. As the entire team ran over Fred’s back, the scouts closed their notebooks and headed for the parking lot.

So ended Fred’s dream of playing college football.

But in true Fred fashion, he simply spent the rest of his life helping other young men find their place in sports and in life.

At the end of that summer I took Fred home with me and rashly introduced him to my sister Dianne – and we all know where that led — so I suppose I must take some small degree of responsibility for all of us being together today.

Death is a terrible thing. God designed us for LIFE.

But deceit, and selfishness, and stubbornness & general godlessness gave sin a chance, and death piggy-backing on sin entered our lives to eventually destroy each of us.

So universal is this ‘fallen condition’ that apart from the intervention of God to free us from our sin – to give us a new heart — to invest us with HIS Life (which is eternal) – apart from Jesus’ love and forgiveness and transforming power, we would live out our lives in futility, be crippled by despair and die in hopelessness.

But thanks be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has reached down from the heavens in His unique Son – Jesus of Nazareth — to call us out of darkness into His marvelous light – to bring us out of death into His eternal life.

Today, I am very sad to have lost a good friend and brother-in-law. I am sad for Dianne and Bill and Gordon and Patricia and Susan and the entire family – and for Fred’s larger community of family & friends.

I am here to tell you I am sorry for your loss.

But I am also here to say as Paul did to the early Christians:                                                                                                                                                    I Thessalonians 4:13

Brothers we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men who have no hope.

I once heard a man say, “Christians know how to die best.”  And we do.

 We do not face life or death with futility or despair or hopelessness. We who are in relationship with Jesus do not grieve as those who are apart from Christ.  No, not at all.

Because we know this story has a happy ending for those who die in Christ.

Because of Christ’s death on the cross, death can still touch us for a moment, but death can no longer hold us. We KNOW without a shadow of doubt that those who die in Christ shall also live in Christ – now and forever.

We are shaken when death steals someone we love. We grieve. We hurt.

But Jesus promised: He who lives and believes in me will never die.  John 11:26

So, our grief today is tempered:

FIRST by the comfort that Fred’s suffering is over. And by the knowledge that he has now seen Christ Jesus face to face. That he is enjoying the fellowship of family & friends who went before him in Christ.

He is in a safe and blessed place. I am sure if God offered to send him back, as much as Fred loved life and loved us, he would not agree to come. He has arrived. He is home.

Our grief is ALSO tempered by the certainty that our painful separation is temporary.

Even if we were to live to be a hundred, our lives are so very short. We live this life as a people standing briefly on the front porch of eternity, each waiting our turn to enter the house of the Lord where we shall enjoy him and his people forever.

John 16:20 – Jesus promised (just before he went to the cross):

I tell you the truth; you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. …but your grief will turn to joy.

Our grief is real – it is appropriate – it is painful. But it is also temporary.

So we do not lose hope.

Our hope – our certainty – for death and for life — is this:

God deeply loves us and deeply desires to give us His Life – His eternal life.

We who have been born again through the cross of Jesus Christ –

who have been filled with the life of God –

who have walked in fellowship with God –

we are destined for a stupendous homecoming – with our Creator and with family and friends who wait eagerly for our arrival & for those who will come after us.

The author of the book, The Sacred Romance, tells how there was a season in his life when he and his wife drifted apart. Until one day the word ‘divorce’ casually entered their conversation.

Realizing the seriousness of their condition they made plans for a quiet, intimate weekend at the lodge at Yosemite Park where they hoped to rekindle affection and set things right.

He tells the story this way:

We set out the day after Christmas on a warm and sunny morning. But as the hours wore on, a snowstorm was building in the mountains ahead. Evening fell and with it came the snow, softly at first, then heavier and harder. Our car began to slip and spin….

It was dark when we reached the entrance to the park. …I could see the cars ahead of us turning and heading back down the mountain.

O Lord, I prayed, please—not now, not when so much is riding on this.

The ranger told us the roads had become treacherous and a blizzard was raging higher in the mountains. Several cars had already slid off the highway. He recommended we turn back…..

“We’re going on,” I said. As the hours dragged on, the snow blanketed the road and the dark woods around. We were alone. Will we make it? I wondered to myself. Can it possibly be good even if we do…?

Just when I was about to abandon hope, twinkling lights appeared through the trees ahead. As we rounded the bend, the Wawona Hotel came into view—a gorgeous, white Victorian inn with garlands hanging from the balcony and a massive Christmas tree in the window.

The snowfall eased and the flakes were now falling softly, gently. We could see a large fire roaring in the large stone fireplace, casting a romantic glow over the couples who lingered over dinner. Currier and Ives never printed a more beautiful scene.

As I pulled our car into safety, a deer ambled from the woods and across the meadow before us. The scene of arrival was almost too much to bear. We had made it! The beauty of it all seemed to speak the promise of a life restored…. That weekend we turned a corner on our marriage and began the healing we now enjoy.

For now, our life is a journey of high stakes and frequent danger. But we have turned the corner; the long years in exile are winding down and we are approaching home. There is no longer any question of whether we will make it and if it will be good when we get there.

“I am going there to prepare a place for you,” Jesus promised. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:2-3).

One day soon we will round a bend in the road and our dreams will come true. We really will live happily ever after. The long years in exile will be swept away in the joyful tears of our arrival home. Every day when we arise, we can tell ourselves, My journey today will bring me closer to home; it may be just around the bend….

                                                                        The Sacred Romance  portions pp. 191-193

Jesus has kept his promise to Fred. Jesus went and prepared a place for Fred. And now Fred is with him there.

I am grateful to have known Fred. I look forward to seeing him again soon. I look forward to spending an eternity with him unhindered by geographical distance and sickness and aging and death.

I hope each of you is preparing for that wonderful homecoming. I hope that in due season, each of you will arrive in the place Jesus has prepared for you, to enjoy Him and each other forever.

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