On The Death of the Saints
About the Guest
The death of someone we love is an unwelcome reality, but how do we continue to live and function in a worldly realm when someone who has impacted us so deeply is no longer with us? Join us as Dr. Michael Easley eulogizes his friend and mentor Dr. Howard Hendricks, and unpacks the Gospel truth of our coming resurrection.
How do we continue to live when someone who has impacted us so deeply is no longer with us?
On The Death of the Saints
Bob: Doctor Howard Hendricks taught seminarians for more than sixty years at Dallas Theological Seminary. Of all the lessons he taught, perhaps the most important lessons were the ones he taught by how he lived. Here’s Michael Easley.
Michael: The Prof reminded us that we are in the land of the dying, going to the land of the living. I don’t think we believe it. We cling too tenaciously to this land. We’ll cross this threshold but once. We might dread it. We might welcome it. We might fear it. We might try to ignore it. It is inevitable. It’s coming.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What we believe about death will have a significant impact on how we choose to live. We’ll hear more about that today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. I don’t know that we’ve ever aired a message, given at a memorial service, on FamilyLife Today. I don’t think we’ve heard a sermon preached at a funeral before.
Dennis: It’s a good thing to do. I’m telling you—it’s a good thing to do. In fact, you’re going to hear the sermon preached at Dr. Howard G. Hendricks’ memorial service in Dallas, Texas, about two weeks ago.
Bob, this is good for all of us. I don’t know of anyone who goes to a memorial service or a funeral, who doesn’t benefit by just pausing, and stepping back, and thinking about the brevity of life, their own lives, the legacy they’re leaving, and just reflect on: “Am I on track? Am I headed in the right direction?” I think you’re going to be encouraged today to do just that.
Bob: There were a number of people who attended the memorial service—whom our listeners would know—people whose lives have been marked by Howard G. Hendricks—folks like Chuck Swindoll, and the President of Dallas Seminary, Mark Bailey, and others you saw there.
Dennis: Yes, Chip Ingram was there. Dr. Robert Jeffress from First Baptist Church of Dallas—
Bob: A lot of former students from Dallas Theological Seminary, whose lives have been marked by Prof.
Dennis: Oh, my goodness—13,000 students were taught by him, over a period of sixty years. Bob, I now have some letters from Dr. Hendricks in my file that, all of a sudden, became that much more valuable. In fact, he would write me a note, a hand-written note. His handwriting was so distinct. He would sign his name “H.G.H.” and you knew what it stood for—Howard G. Hendricks—or sometimes he would just sign it “Prof” because he was the Prof.
Bob: Tell us about the person who was selected to give the memorial message at his service.
Dennis: Well, it was my friend, Dr. Michael Easley. Michael had been emailing me for the past couple of weeks, in anticipation of the service, just wondering if he’d be able to make it through without just breaking down and sobbing. Dr. Hendricks was powerful in his life, as he was in mine. Personally, Bob, I was glad I could just sit in the service and be a participant. I kept watching Michael, who was seated right behind the pulpit. He’d pull his glasses off, and he’d wipe away the tears, and put them back on. He’d pull them back off, and—it was just a powerful moment. I kept praying for him; and he did a great job, as our listeners are about to hear.
This is a great reminder. In fact, what he’s going to exhort us to do, in this sermon—he says we grieve, we hope, and we remain. That’s kind of how we should look at the life of someone who has pointed us in the right direction—toward living for eternal matters. We grieve, we hope, we remain.
Bob: Here is Dr. Michael Easley, with his thoughts on the life of Howard G. Hendricks.
Michael: Years ago, I sat on a plane, flying somewhere, and opened the flight magazines that they have for indolent and bored businessmen. There was a full-page—product that was a new supplement—a new age-reversing diet plan. It had the head of a 70-year-old man on a 30-year-old body, stripped from the waist up, with his thumbs in his belt loops of his blue jeans. The product was HGH. [Laughter] I tore it out of the magazine and sent it to the Prof with a handwritten note about it. [Laughter]
I have had three fathers—my earthly father, whom I buried a little over two years ago. I loved him deeply. He taught me to work, he taught me not to quit, he taught me to try, and he taught me many things that I am forever grateful for. Floyd Sharp—some of you know the name—became a second father to me in 1984 or 1985 when I served at a church in Grand Prairie, Texas. He became a mentor and friend. Then, God gave me the Prof—for 30 years, he has fathered me. I loved him so.
Ever since Adam and his bride ate of the fruit, death has spread at every level. We will all be a central figure in a service like this one day. The time to come to terms with that is not that day, but today. We make the presumption that most in this room have trusted Christ and Christ alone as your Savior. That is the greatest prayer of our life—that He lived, that He died, that He came back from the dead, and that any and all who put their trust in Christ and in Christ alone are promised a free gift called eternal life.
It is our hope. He is the only One Who has overcome the grave. This other-worldly Book we hold and love—I hope we love it—gives us other-worldly help. How do we then live, in a physical realm, when someone who has impacted us so deeply is no longer with us? No matter what our emotions or experience tell us, we live by faith; and faith means it is unseen.
The Prof reminded us that we are in the land of the dying, going to the land of the living. I don’t think we believe it. We cling too tenaciously to this land. We will cross this threshold but once. We might dread it. We might welcome it. We might fear it. We might try to ignore it. It is inevitable.
Our God-Man, the Sovereign King, hated death. He wept at the tomb of his friend, Lazarus. I’ve always pondered that story in a rather bizarre way. As my wife will attest, I have a very bizarre sense of humor. I think Lazarus got a bum deal. He was dead and on his way to glory—[Laughter] —and he had to do it again. That stinks! I wonder what Lazarus’ second funeral service was like. [Laughter] “Ditto!” [Laughter]
But we miss the story when Martha is pleading with her Friend, “If You’d been here...” Jesus, of course, says: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even if he dies.” And then, He asks her, “Do you believe this?” She waxes on; but the question hangs to me, “Do you believe this?” Sometimes, the common, everyday illustrations are missed because they are so obvious we don’t think through them well.
Years ago, living in Texas, Cindy and I were in a small church in Grand Prairie. I remember coming home one day, being stung on the heel of a hand by a Texas-sized hornet, about that big. [Laughter] I remember being dropped to the ground. I dropped the mail. I sat on the ground. All I could think about was, “How do I stop this pain?” There was no Sting Ease in those days. For whatever reason, I had a reaction. My hand swelled, and my arm turned wonderful colors. For several weeks, it was a constant distraction. As it started to subside, once in a while, I would bump it; and it would remind me—that little sting—that little hornet sting—smaller than the size of a pin—immobilized a six-foot-three, 200-pound man. Paul tells us death is like a sting; and then asks the question, “Oh death, where is your sting?”
As school children, we were often arranged, alphabetically, in desks—or by grades, in my case. I sat at the back. The nuns and I did not get along. As the teacher would look down those wooden desks, he or she would notice who was absent. “Where is Howard?” “He’s absent,” and on we went with the day. It was school. We went through the routines. We heard lectures, took notes, and took tests. The next day, we came to class; and “Where’s Howard?” “He’s absent.” Maybe, he’s sick. Maybe, there’s a problem in the family. Maybe, he’s in the hospital. Maybe, his appendix needed taking out. The days transpire, and he’s absent. But what is the implication of his absence? He is present elsewhere. Every child could understand the concept—to be absent from the class is to be present at home, or in the hospital, or on a trip. Our Prof—your precious husband—is present.
In another world and lifetime, I would backpack the Rockies often. I would go in winter, and in summer, and in fall—all the seasons. One time, I took a group of novice backpackers. We found ourselves above timberline in Columbine Pass. Some of you may know it. We encountered a hailstorm, unlike anything I had ever witnessed. We set up our backpacking, mountaineering tents; and we burrowed down.
For 18 hours, the hail came. From pea-sized to nickel-sized gravel—it covered the land above timberline on Columbine Pass. When we emerged from our tents, it looked like a science fiction picture. As far as you could see, hail—white gravel—and these bright orange mountaineering tents—covered all the way up to the fly line with gravel-sized, pea-sized, nickel-sized hail. It was a long 18 hours in that tent, and I would not want to live there. Paul tells us—in this tent, we don’t want to be unclothed. We don’t want to die. We don’t want to cross the threshold. We cling to these failing threadbare clothes that we must give up.
Ernest Gann, in 1979, in a television interview, was talking to a young pilot friend of his. He was dying from brain cancer. You may have heard or seen the story. Gann said to this young pilot:
You are standing upon a shore somewhere. There is a ship in front of you. She spreads her white sails for all to see, and she starts for the blue ocean. She is beautiful and strong; and the ship you watch will hang like a speck of white cloud, just where the sky and sea mingle together. Then, someone on the shore says, “She’s gone.” “Gone where?” “Gone from our sight”—that is all. She’s just as large, in mast and spar, as when she left the shore—just as strong and just as able. Her size is diminished in you, not in her. While someone on this side has said, “She’s gone,” someone on the other says, “Here she comes.”
All of us remember Prof quoting D.L. Moody’s famous statement:
Someday, you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield is dead. Do not believe a word of it. At that moment, I shall be more alive than I am now. At that moment, I shall be gone up higher—that is all—out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned into the glorious body. I was born in the flesh in 1837, and I was born of the Spirit in 1956. That which is born of the flesh may die; that which is born of the Spirit will live forever.
Paul tells us in First Thessalonians 4, a passage we all know well:
We do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as the rest who do not have hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
For the Lord Himself will descend with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, with the trumpet of God; the dead in Christ will rise first. (We’ve heard this already.) Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another with these words.
Number one: we are not uninformed. The word in Greek is agnoeo, where we get agnostic. “You’re not ignorant. Don’t be ignorant like those who have no hope. Don’t be like the rest of the world that fears, and wonders, and becomes existential and gestalt-ish, and invents things about heaven,” as Bill wonderfully alluded to. Rather, “We want you to know. Christ wants you to know.” We are left here, in the body, in various stages of decay. As Buckley once said on his 80th birthday—“How does it feel to turn 80?”—he said, “I’m decomposing!” [Laughter]
We are at various stages of it. We can repress it, we can ignore it, and we can try to fend it off. It is going to come. The Thessalonicans were confused or uninformed about those who had died. Their issues were a bit different than ours. They wanted to know if they were going to miss out on something because they had died and they thought Jesus would soon return. Paul straightens out their theology. But I believe the application is just as relevant because we don’t live as ignorant people. “I do not want you to be ignorant about death.”
Secondly, we do not grieve as the rest who have no hope. Grief is real. Grief is normal. It’s a reality of the flesh. It’s a reality of our mind and spirit. If we do not grieve, something is wrong. We’re sad, we’re sorrowful, we’re distressed, we’re vexed. We might have a wave or two of, “It’s going to be okay,” covered by a tsunami of, “It’s never going to be okay.” Christ doesn’t want you or me grieving the way the world grieves, and the world grieves without hope. Paul explained it in Ephesians 2. He said, “Having no hope without God in the world.” What a depressing lot, having no hope without God in the world. Our grief means that we hope.
Christ grieved. He wept over Lazarus; and He knew, in a moment, He would resurrect the man. And He still wept. Nothing wrong with grief—it’s healthy. It’s good. It’s important. But hope is a confidence of something we can’t see. Hope is not hope against hope, against hope—it’s not The Little Engine That Could theology. Hope is in a confidence that Christ is real.
A plowman plows in hope—Scripture tells us. Abraham believed God, in hope against hope, the text says. He believed God that he would become a father of many nations. Paul explains it in Romans 8:24, “We hope that we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope.” “Hope that is seen is not hope,” he writes, “for who hopes in something he has already seen? Faith is confident assurance of things hoped for, with the conviction of things not yet seen.” We grieve as those not ignorant—we grieve as those not who have no hope—we grieve as those who have hope.
Third, we are alive and remain; and this is the hard part. Paul is telling the Thessalonians: “You see, those who have died, they’ll see Christ when He returns. Worry not for them. But you’re here now and you’ve got to remain,” —perhaps, reflects Paul’s tension between “to die is gain, but to remain on is for your benefit,” he wrote us.
Our hope and our faith are grounded in Christ’s promise that we will always be with the Lord. That’s ethereal. It’s unimaginable. It’s Christianese, but it’s true. We will be absent; we will be present. The sting will be gone. The tent will change, and we’ll be more alive than we have ever been.
Prof often told us, “I do not understand all that I know.” If it ever applied, it applies in the land of the living, though dying, facing the threshold that will be eternity for each one of us. Jesus hated death. He grieved at death. He faced death square in the face, and He overcame it for you and me. So, what do we do? We grieve, we hope, we remain, and we comfort one another. And you honor the Prof by following The Professor, Jesus Christ, the One from Whom he learned and wanted us to know. The author of Hebrews 13, verse 7: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the Word of God to you, and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” We will do well if we imitate the faith of our Prof.
Bob: We’ve been listening today to Dr. Michael Easley—from the memorial service for Dr. Howard Hendricks—that was held in Dallas, just a few weeks ago. It’s important to remember that the promises of life after death are promises given only to those who follow Christ—only to those who have sworn their allegiance to Christ as King.
Dennis: Yes. Bob, there was a story told, and I hope I’m getting this right. I took notes, voracious notes—which, I’m sure, came about through the influence of Dr. Hendricks. [Laughter] He was always taking notes. There was no such thing as a boring sermon—he was taking notes.
But the night before he was about to have his eye removed—because he’d had some cancer on his face that had spread to his eye, and he had to have his eye removed—I believe it was his granddaughter who came into his hospital room and said, “Grandpa, they can take your eye, but they can’t take your vision.” Dr. Howard Hendricks had a clear vision of what he was about.
There are a couple of other statements that he made that our listeners need to hear. This is the kind of vision he had. He said: “Your career is what you are paid to do. Your calling is what you are made to do.” He said, “I love to teach, and I live to teach.” Frankly, he kept that vision before him for sixty years. He lived it.
I think the challenge for us today: “What’s your calling? What were you made to do, and are you about it?” Because you know what?— that’s the stuff your legacy is going to be about. It’s the deposits you make in other people—because there are only two things that are eternal, that are going to leave this planet—people and the Scriptures. They are both going to last for all of eternity. Where are you investing?
Bob: And all of us are headed to a memorial service. There will be one for us, at some point. People will say something about our lives. The question is: “What will they say?” and, “Where will we be when that memorial service is being held?” because life doesn’t end at the grave for us. We pass into eternity.
I just encourage our listeners—if that issue is not settled in your life, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link we have there that says, “TWO WAYS TO LIVE”. It will help you understand that we’re all headed to eternity, but it won’t be the same eternity for all of us. It will be different for those who follow Christ than for those who have rejected Christ. So, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click on the link that says, “TWO WAYS TO LIVE”; and ask yourself the question, “Where am I headed when this life is over?”
Dennis: And I think Dr. Hendricks would be pleased that we’re preaching the Gospel, here, at the end of this memorial service, that we’ve celebrated this week.
Bob: If you’re interested in viewing the entire memorial service, you can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on a link there that will enable you to watch the whole two hours and twenty minutes. So, if you want to gather the family together and watch a memorial service, the kids may ask, “Why are we doing this?” But, “It is good for us to visit the house of mourning.”
Dennis: It is.
Bob: We want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.
Hope you have a great weekend and can worship with your family, together, this weekend. I hope you can join us back on Monday, when we’re going to meet a young man whose life was dramatically altered when his mother made a courageous decision to adopt a baby boy.
Have a great weekend. We’ll see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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