Eddie & Cheryl Hales
A great friend and a member of my Sunday school class passed from this life into life with God this week. Her name was Cheryl Hales. Her husband is Eddie. Cheryl was 54 years old and died after battling cancer for almost 2 years. Some months ago, she asked me to speak at her funeral service. Specifically, she wanted me to speak on John 3:16,
For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Yesterday, October 2, 2013, was the Memorial Service for Cheryl. With the gracious permission of Eddie, I share these thoughts with you:
Let me take you back to a time before we counted time.
Look around. Everything is wet, muddy and dank and musty. You would think the whole world has been in a flood. An ark leans on its side. The animals look confused as they work to figure out where to go and what to do.
Above, you see a lone figure leaning on the banister of heaven. It is the Lord God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. With his face in his hands, he sobs, weeps, and cries out for his creation, his beautiful world, now destroyed. He raises one hand and traces a rainbow across the sky. “Never again” he shouts.
Angels gasp at his word. They whisper to one another, God so loves the world.
“For God so loves the world.”
Here is how it works:
First, the world is good. God loves his world and everything in it. He loves you.
Second, evil is real. The unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil are running wild.
Third, God has a plan! He will give “his only begotten son.”
“…He gave his one and only son”
This is a wondrous mystery you cannot quite get your head around, you just put your heart into it.
My mother explained it to me when I was a child. During the Lenten season, I heard the story of the cross and the crucified Christ. Just old enough to be curiously concerned, I asked my mother about it. She was prepared for my question.
As we talked, we walked into the yard and she had me touch the thorn of a rose that I might understand the crown of thorns on his brow. Back in the kitchen, she took down a jar of vinegar. I put it to my lips and squirmed. Mother explained how Jesus received vinegar when he cried “I thirst.”
On the couch in the living room, we read the story of Jesus from my children’s Bible. I looked long at the picture of Jesus on the cross. She asked if I wanted to invite Jesus into my heart. I said yes. We knelt at the couch as she gave me words to pray. A five year old has all the faith required.
Some 16 years later, I pastored a small country church. I did this as I completed my seminary degree.
An evangelist visited the church upon my invitation. He was a good man and took it on himself to teach me how to share the gospel of Christ with the good people in my parish. I believe he wanted to make sure that a seminary education did not impede the advancement of the kingdom of God. He was a smart man.
He explained the gospel on five fingers:
The small finger reminds me of something far away, and I am, in my own selfish ways, far away from what God has in store for my life, from what God wants to create with me.
The weak finger explains why I am far away. It is that unholy trinity of sin, death, and the devil that haunts my life. On my own, I try and fight the battle, and I lose.
The tall finger points me to God who loves me and wants my life to be changed, and changed from the inside out. He wants me to be forgiving and have a grander purpose, his purpose for my life.
The pointing finger points me to Jesus Christ. What he did on the cross for the whole world, he does in my heart through his Spirit.
I remember explaining the gospel to a good man, a simple man, a truck driver. He had just started attending the church. Turning to a verse in the book of Isaiah, I explained how Jesus took all of it on himself: the grief of sin, the power of death, and the battle with the devil. I quoted Isaiah 53:5.
“And the Lord laid the iniquity of us all on him.” As I quoted the verse, I passed my Bible from one hand to the other to demonstrate that shift from our burden to Christ’s burden. The man looked at me and said, “Do that again.”
“And the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” I shifted the Bible from one had to another a second time. The man looked me in the eye and said, “Will he do that for me?” YES! But what are we to do?
That brings us to the last finger, the thumb – the fat finger of faith, “whosoever believeth in him.”
“Whosoever believeth in him…
Cheryl believed in Jesus. Eddie, you believe in Jesus. You are on the “whosoever” list. I am on the list also. And I have a gift for you, Eddie, from your Sunday school family.
This last Sunday, in memory of Cheryl, we each wrote our testimony, the story of how God changed our lives. Those stories are all in this book that we want to present to you. We love you. We love Cheryl. And, we love Jesus who brings us together.
This book is filled with “whosoever” stories. So along with a gift of flowers and food, we have a book of faith that we want to share with you, our friend.
What is the result of trusting God’s gift of grace? That, my friend, brings us to this grand phrase in John 3:16, “shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“Shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
These are grand words and we must be careful with them. Be careful with the word parish. It means death. It certainly looks like Cheryl has died. In Christ, we have a new set of eyes. In Christ, death is not a dead end street but an open door to a new life in God. Death is entrance into the presence of God, perfect and full. Death in Christ is hope for the day when the whole world will be made new in Jesus.
In addition to the word parish, we must be careful with the word everlasting. The word does not simply refer to a matter of time. A life of everlasting cancer? No thanks. A life of everlasting family turmoil? I’ll pass. A life of continual grief and suffering? Count me out. That’s not what this is about. The important lesson here is not the length of life, but a different quality of life.
Eddie, you told me that Cheryl was very particular in these last three months. She kept visitors to a minimum so that the two of you might have this time together. You also shared with me that would not be your way. You would have many visitors.
Nevertheless, looking back on it, this quiet time with just the two of you was a gift. The quiet conversations, the easy silence, and the tender moments are your treasure. There were also many times the two of you were joined by a third presence, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. In those moments, you forget your watch, you lived in the moment, and it was love, all love.
Eddie, you have tasted everlasting time. Now, take that that experience and expand it to relationships, emotions, perspective, and motivation. You begin to “see through a glass darkly” at the wonder of everlasting life in God.
So let’s pull it together especially for Cheryl:
God so loved Cheryl that he gave his one and only son.
And Cheryl believes.
She has not perished, but has passed into the presence of God.
There, she is already enjoying everlasting life with him.