The Purpose of a Funeral

The Purpose of a Funeral

According to Wikipedia, a funeral is a ceremony connected with the final disposition of a corpse, such as a burial or cremation, with the attendant observances. Funerary customs comprise the complex of beliefs and practices used by a culture to remember and respect the dead, from internment to various monuments, prayers, and rituals undertaken in their honor. The definition sounds cold and devoid of emotion or the usual feeling we associate with the word funeral.

A more pleasant description might be that a funeral is to help the bereaved to accept the reality of death.
As we enter into the stages of grief, we must first accept what has happened. We associate a meaningful grief experience with the beginning of the healing process. And, it gives mourners the opportunity to come to terms with the reality of the passing of a loved one. This process has been referred to as the Five Stages of Grief

However, for the believer, the funeral should represent much more. It’s an opportunity!

As a pastor, counselor, and life-coach, especially during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been called upon to bring comfort to many friends and relatives across the United States who have been adversely impacted; financially, health wise, and yes, even by the death of loved ones. COVID-19 has dramatically changed our lives and even how we funeralize.

Recently I was asked, what is the purpose of funerals?

Customs vary between cultures and religious groups. Funerals are often shaped by culture and tradition. Common secular motivations for funerals include mourning the deceased, celebrating their life, and offering support and sympathy to the bereaved; additionally, funerals may have religious aspects that are intended to help the soul of the deceased reach the afterlife, resurrection, or reincarnation.

As a pastor who has officiated hundreds of funerals, the purpose of a funeral is clear. It is my opportunity to fulfill The Great Commission. A funeral presents a unique opportunity to reach the lost and reclaim the fallen. It is a time to share the good news of Jesus Christ, that death is not the end for those that believe.

Christian funerals should be a time of celebration for the loved one that transitioned. The departed have moved from labor in this life to the reward of being now in a place of peace waiting for the return of the Lord. My perspective, which is anchored in faith, often puts me at odds with those who hold a more traditional understanding of what should transpire at a funeral.

I see the Funeral or Memorial Service as a Worship experience. And that informs and guides everything that takes place—from the music played and sung, to how the service is led.

“Therefore, as a Pastor, I am called to lead the people in Worship. To proclaim God’s Word as we focus on Christ’s presence and promises. Certainly, the funeral is a special event. But it is one that takes its cue from the biggest event of all: God coming to us in His Word.

That is why the Service is in God’s house; that is why we seek consolation and comfort from His Word. Our hope and joy, our strength and solace are not found in memories—but in means, God’s Word.

The focus of the funeral is not about the legacy one leaves; it is about the eternity one lives—by the faith, God gives us by His grace, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This truth is spoken in love and is a biblical mandate. However, the truth is not always easy to hear. At Christian funerals, I always tell the truth. But telling the truth can get you in trouble!

Often at funerals people lie. The reason they/we feel compelled to say nice things about the deceased comes from the word eulogy. It basically means to say nice things or to praise the dead.

So we employ hyperbole and use platitudes to celebrate the deceased. We will say nice things about people who were not nice. We’ll lie because it makes folks feel better. The reality is, truth is hard for anyone to hear whose reality is not in line with the scripture.

Truth is troubling for the selfish because they are self-serving. Truth is inconvenient for the narcissist because they create their own reality.

Pastor Ezekiel, what are you talking about? What’s your point?

On Saturday my mother died. As a son I am heartbroken. As a believer, and my mom’s Pastor for 25 years, I am admonished by the scripture in Ezekiel 24:16-18 –

“Son of dust, I am going to take away your lovely wife. Suddenly, she will die. Yet you must show no sorrow. Do not weep; let there be no tears. You may sigh, but only quietly. Let there be no wailing at her grave; don’t bare your head nor feet, and don’t accept the food brought to you by consoling friends. I proclaimed this to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did all the Lord had told me to”.

This scripture has provided me with comfort and peace, as well as purpose as I came to grips with the fact that my mother was making her transition. God’s Word was clear, my responsibility is to do the work, spread the gospel.

Recently a family member told me that “we should respect the traditional notion that funerals are the place where truth does not always have a place”.
Both of my parents are now deceased. at one time I pastored them both.

Truth.

  • My father never loved me, sold my car without permission, and kept the money. My mother supported me all my life. My mother made sacrifices.
  • My father stole from me. My mother prayed with me and held me in her arms. My mother owned a business and taught me to be an entrepreneur.
  • My father was a contractor and gambled his money away and then attempted to borrow from me. My father when confronted about his lack of love for his only son responded in a manner that is too horrible to write about here.

Yet, I continued to treat him in love because the bible says “Be not overcome with evil but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

When my father died he instructed my sister to not allow me to speak at his funeral because he knew I would tell the truth. I knew that Satan would not want the truth to be told. Many people bought into the lie.

At the funeral, my son was asked to speak. He deferred to me and I talked for about 3-4 minutes admonishing fathers to love their children; for my father never loved me. When I sat down I knew that people, including my sister, were less than pleased with me. Truth can be costly but worthy of the expense.

A couple that was having trouble in their marriage heard me and the husband said to his wife; If that man can be that honest and transparent about his own father, he can help us. They came to me for counseling, accepted Jesus as their Savior, and joined the ministry.

God does not call us to be politically correct. He calls us as servants to obey Him through his word.

Traditions hold a lot of value for some people. However, a former mentor said to me on an occasion that traditions are yesterday’s answers to yesterday’s problems.

I am thankful for the opportunity to travel across the country in ministry. I visit scores of churches. But, I do not make the mistake of thinking that everyone that attends church is committed to Holiness. Funerals are worship experiences that should be centered on truth and righteousness.

When I shared for that 3 or 4 minutes about my dad at his funeral, there were people who were angry with me because of what I said and challenged my mother about it. Her response was that my son told the truth!

Filling The God-Shaped Vacuum

Filling The God-Shaped Vacuum

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.” – Blaise Pascal

God-Shaped Vacuum

Blaise Pascal, a mathematician and philosopher from the 1600s is often quoted as saying, “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every person which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator.”

However, somewhere along the way, it seems the institution of religion has largely failed the individual’s need. It has gone from being an honest pursuit of God to a systematic set of regulations, instructions, and dogma. It has not fulfilled its promises of purpose and hope. Religion has left its inventors feeling unsatisfied. See, The Vacuum In Our Hearts

In our pursuit of our individual development or goals, we often become more interested in doing than in being. We lose sight of our true purpose and latch onto the convenience of the commercialized virtues of our hedonistic society.

Flooded by Madison Avenue’s pervasive and invasive onslaught of advertisements designed to persuade us to choose one product or service over another because of its perceived aesthetic value, we often do exactly what the Apostle Paul warned us against; we become little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit (Eph. 4:14).

Even worst than the seemingly endless methods employed in our indoctrination – television, radio, cable TV, Internet, Social Media, etc., is the feeling that somehow, even though we have a standard of living second to none, better healthcare, more material wealth, greater conveniences and the ability to almost instantaneously acquire information on almost any subject, we still feel empty.

We begin to question whether or not the choices we have made were in retrospect, for our betterment. We begin to realize that all the hours and all the work to gain promotions, to gain a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment tend to become hollow, especially when there is no one to share them with.

woman-sitting

An empty feeling begins to well up in the pit of our stomachs and the things and experiences; even the people who we at one time found so satisfying suddenly seem unimportant and unfulfilling. We begin to perform a personal inventory. Am I having a midlife crisis? Am I experiencing depression? What’s happening to me? Nothing satisfies this aching in our soul. I call this the “God-Shaped Vacuum.”

Filling the Void

Let’s define vacuum as a state of emptiness, a void. The term void refers to a feeling of want or hollowness. Many fill this void with alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, or work. Unfortunately, this only leads to a cycle of addictive behavior and never addresses the real underlying issues.

Our shift from a God-centered universe to that of postmodernism facilitates the embrace of naturalism, cultural relativism, existentialism, and pluralism.

Somehow, we have become our own bottom line.

Rather than stretching ourselves to reach the bar, we simply lower it to accommodate our own selfish whims and desires.

It is this moral insanity that separates us from the source of fulfillment – God. The consequences of our insanity are that we are lost, separated from God, enslaved to debilitating habits, and helpless. But simply recognizing that we are spiritually void is not enough. There must be some action on our part to confront the truth about self and move toward change.

The Bible calls this process repentance. It is the turning away from sin and turning toward God. It is not just being sorrowful or remorseful. It involves a complete change of heart & mind.

Change is not change until it’s change.

Many of us are like the woman Jesus encounters at the well in Sychar (see John 4). Like her, we have serious issues and we’ve insulated ourselves from reality. This woman sought to fill the vacuum in her life with “husbands.” At the time of her encounter with Jesus she had had five husbands and was currently living with a man that was not her husband. She was addicted to husbands.

When confronted by Jesus about her lifestyle she resorts to the superfluous conversation of the carnal. She does what many “believers” do; she attempts to deflect the conversation through religious rhetoric, to mask her carnality in culturally acceptable language; all the time knowing that she is empty.

Her lifestyle based on the narrative may have been the reason that she comes to draw water at Jacobs well, when according to Alfred Edersheim, “there was another well (the ‘Ain, ‘Askar), on the east side of the little town, and much nearer to Sychar than ‘Jacob’s Well’.” She avoids the other women of the village and any unpleasantness that might ensue. Deep down, she knew she was “off.”

Look at your own life. Do you make detours to avoid family members, friends, or business associates for fear of judgment, ridicule, or confrontation because of your lifestyle choices?

Challenged To Change

Jesus’ encounter with this woman at the well was not an accident. He purposed to be there, much to the surprise of his disciples. In fact, the scripture states, “He must needs  go through Samaria.”

Here is the key to change – A broken heart and a contrite spirit. When challenged by truth, this woman was broken. Through this divinely appointed meeting, she comes to understand that what she needs to satisfy her thirst is not husbands, but faith in Christ.

It is her realization of this truth, that Jesus as Messiah is the one who fills the vacuum in our lives.

Why Brokenness Is Essential in the Heart of the Believer

Why Brokenness Is Essential in the Heart of the Believer

Brokenness – Part 1

Brokenness in the life of the believer is an essential element in the development of a heart towards God and others. Often, only after pain, anguish, or loss do we come to understand and embrace what it means to be broken.

Psalm 51 tells us much about the difficulty that rebellion and sin cause to our inner man. It reminds us in less than endearing ways that we have become liars and frauds by pushing an agenda not sired by the heart of God. We must be careful of every path we take, every agenda we follow, and all advice that is given. Otherwise, we find ourselves distant from His will, continuing this path until we have drifted away from the very will of God.

“Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” – Psalm 51:7 (NLT)

The seventh verse implores God to wash, purge, and restore us to a state held before our rebellion. The writer is pleading to have the forfeited pleasures of intimacy and closeness with God restored. Without a doubt, it was sin that robbed the Psalmist of his vital connection. His request to be purged was ceremonial. However, the disposition of the writer is that he is genuinely disturbed by the lack of a productive relationship with our God.

How wonderful it is to discover the lack whenever it exists. The bible speaks of dead works. I wish that everyone would have their conscience cleaned and cleared of the guilt of dead works and the stain it leaves. I look forward to my sin damaged conscious being acquitted by the higher court of God’s holiness. I learned to my own understanding and went in the wrong direction. Everything I did on that journey resulted in dead works. We were convinced that we had a good plan and an astounding idea, but it did not originate through prayer, for we simply figured it out.

The Psalmist’s penitent heart can’t be mistaken. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

How shall we describe this new attitude with the sensitivity of the spirit as it’s the main concern? It is like the bible states “brokenness”. It is the result of work done on and in the heart. It is humiliation and a broken-heartedness not related to the despair of life. It is a heart pliable to the Word of God. It is a state of being broken from yourself, your pride, and your sin. There is no notion of arrogance for the heart is subdued and brought into obedience through humility.

As we read we discover that the sacrifices that God accepts are this very state of brokenness (Psalm 51:17). It can never be self-imposed, but it can be maintained through steadfastness in prayer. The very notion of protracted corporate prayer is a turn off to our flesh. However, the discipline of prayer is not optional in the life of the believer.

Unfortunately, much ministry is attempted without that constant state of brokenness. To pray with the body of believers until there is a blending of heart and spirit is a must. Anything else would simply be carnal activity.

There was a time in the life of a man I know, that he became pleased and overwhelmed with very little. What was so noteworthy is that in his past he had many possessions, and accomplishments. Yet this man became so contented with so little. He experienced the grace of brokenness and was no longer driven by things but only moved by the urging of the spirit. What about you. Do you practice brokenness?