When I was in 5th, 6th, & 7th grade my Dad was Dean of Students at Bryan College in Dayton, TN and, to supplement his meager income, he pastored a rural church about 30 minutes away. It was a country church with humble Tennessee mountain people who loved Jesus. I still remember being in their homes: no TV’s; simple wooden furniture, if there was an upholstered chair it was reserved for the guests; and a small coal stove in each room. Many of the homes had no indoor plumbing but had a two-hole outhouse in the backyard with a Sears & Roebuck catalog sitting on a shelf! I think one of the reasons those people loved Jesus so fully, and had such an impact on my life, is because they had so few “things” to distract them.
In our second year at that church tragedy struck one of the families. Dwight’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. Everyone was stunned. Here was a young mother with five children (the oldest was younger than me) and she had a death sentence. Cancer. In 1965 there wasn’t much that could be done. In a matter of weeks she was dead.
Three things stand out in my memory. One was that the family – the husband and his oldest son – dug the grave and then covered the casket when the service was over. Some may think that was cruel work but I disagree. The sweat and tears that went into the digging of the grave provided an outlet for the physical work of mourning. Much of what we do today when death occurs denies the need to physically express our grief.
The second thing I remember is from the memorial service – Dad didn’t call them funerals and they were not held at funeral homes but in the church – and the many individuals who stood to their feet to share memories about the deceased. Some stories brought tears, some laughter but each recollection helped us celebrate the life that was now gone.
The third memory always brings tears to my eyes. At the close of the memorial service, Dad led in the benediction and thought the service was over. It was not. Dwight, the newly widowed husband walked up to the pulpit and with a clear, strong voice, overflowing with confidence and hope, led us in singing, “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be, when we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.” There are five stanzas in that great gospel song and we sang every one. There wasn’t a dry eye anywhere. There wasn’t a hopeless heart to be found.
No matter what pain or hardship you now face; no matter what has happened in your past; the fear of the future, or the biting criticism of the last phone call; in spite of the financial pressures that grow greater every day: Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Do the physical work of mourning for past sin. Tell stories to each other about God’s faithfulness. Remind one another that God is always trustworthy. Keep your eyes on Jesus.
Jesus is the beginning and the end. He is the living reminder of the Father’s love for you. Don’t lose hope. Don’t allow all the “stuff” of this life to become a distraction.
Keep your eyes on Jesus.