The Joy of Knowing Christ (1 Peter 1:3-8)
It's interesting, when there are so many different things you want to say at an occasion like this, that in looking at one of (Name)'s favorite Scripture passages, we find--almost in outline form--the very ideas which I believe should grab our attention.
First Peter 1:3-8 is printed on the inside of your memorial folders. That passage begins and ends so appropriately with a praise to God, and a focus upon the joy of knowing Christ. Between those "brackets" lie three truths which penetrated (Name)'s very being. . . . Three truths which God would have us to rest upon in times like these.
The First Truth
God, in His mercy, has provided for new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Another passage records Christ's teaching about new birth: John 3.
- The key to this first truth is faith in the finished work of Christ.
The Second Truth
Each believer possesses an inheritance which never deteriorates.
- The nature of this inheritance is incorruption.
- This inheritance includes our new bodies....
- The receiving of this inheritance is in heaven.
- The receiving of this inheritance includes the fullness of salvation: freedom from not only the penalty, and the power, but also from the presence of sin.
- (Name) is now experiencing the joy of his inheritance.
- The key to the second truth is also faith in the trustworthiness of a God who has given a pledge of our inheritance by giving the Holy Spirit.
The Third Truth
Trials and difficult times are often a necessary experience in our attempt to glorify Christ.
- Trials are often necessary.
- Trials have a purpose in God's plan.
- (Name) desired to glorify Christ -- through all the struggles life brought. He kept a diary the last months of his life. One entry particularly stuck out as I read it. In the midst of describing his failing condition, and relating some of the hardest days and worst news yet relating to his cancer, he spontaneously recorded this poem, a song he had memorized:
"How good is the God we adore,
Our Faithful, Unchangeable Friend;
Whose Love is as good as His Power,
And knows neither measure nor end.
'Tis Jesus, the First and the Last,
Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;
We'll praise Him for all that is past,
And trust Him for all that's to come.
That so characterized (Name)'s implicit trust in a God who always was, and is, worthy of our complete trust and confidence.
God WILL call each of us to face various trials. Our only rest now is in the assurance that God will remain faithful, and that when Christ takes us to be with Him, that then we find complete rest.
Second Timothy 4:7-8 speaks of a struggle: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing."
A little over a year ago, much of the world watched with amazement as Canadian Ben Johnson easily outdistanced Carl Lewis in the 100 meter dash. I will never forget Johnson's look of triumphant disdain and Lewis's look of amazement as they crossed the finish line. Johnson's victory was short lived. The world's admiration soon turned into revulsion as we learned that Johnson had cheated: steroids were the cause of his triumph. His was a hollow victory.
Even though in the eyes of millions of TV viewers he had apparently won, his victory was not final until it had been proven that he had won lawfully. You see, it isn't enough just to win, you must also win according to the rules of competition. Johnson's moment of glory was quickly overshadowed by his treachery and deception. His name has come to symbolize hollow victory. Paul, the apostle, may have had this in mind when he penned Second Timothy 4:7. "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." There is some debate about the exact meaning of the last phase, "I have kept the faith." Paul may be saying that he has not diluted or contaminated the pure gospel that he received from the Lord Jesus Christ. But the idea of athletic contest is prominent in verses 7-8. It could be that Paul is thinking of the early Olympic Games. After an event, the judges were consulted to determine if the winner had competed according to the rules. If he hadn't, the prize was awarded to another. In this passage, when Paul writes "I have kept the faith," he may be saying, "I've not cheated. I've followed the rules. I've not been disqualified." His was not a hollow victory.
Today, there are many men in various positions who have been widely admired for what they do and say. But often, theirs is a hollow victory. What they are in public, and what they are in private, differ widely. I think of Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision. He was a serviceman in WW II, and saw the desperate needs of millions around the world. After being discharged from the military, he devoted his life to providing food and aid to the world's starving and homeless -- and in the process lost his wife and family. He spent the last years of his life separated from his wife. His daughter recently wrote a book chronicling her father's obsession with his ministry, and consequent destruction of his family. His was a hollow victory.
A good friend of mine shares one of his memories: that of breakfast one morning in a Denny's restaurant with his father and Merrill Unger, a well-known Bible teacher, seminary professor, scholar, author, and conference speaker. His voice was filled with anguish as he said, "I have lost my son, I have lost my son." All of his achievements paled in comparison with his son's rejection of Christianity. His, too, was a hollow victory.
The fact that (Name) had an effective career in Panama, and in the military, and a great ministry among many, is a great tribute to him. But it would have been a hollow victory if he had sacrificed his marriage on the altar of ministry or career. (Name) experienced years of productive ministry, and a successful career . . . and with the same wife! That is a greater tribute. But even that would have been a hollow victory if he had sacrificed his children on the altar of ministry or career. He didn't! Years of fruitful service with the same wife and with seven children who have married well in the Lord, and who are now endeavoring to serve the same God he served. That is not a hollow victory!
But even that would have been a hollow victory, if, when faced with terminal cancer, (Name) had cursed God, abandoned his trust in God's faithfulness. He didn't.
The Greeks had a unique race in their Olympic games. The winner was not the runner who finished first, but the runner who finished first with his torch still lit. (Name) competed according to the rules, finishing the race not only with a good ministry, but also with a godly marriage, a solid family, and an abiding faith. (Name) finished with his torch lit!