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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Martin and Arlene Spickler
Martin and Arlene Spickler

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"What We Live For"

"For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).

Martin, a long-time "pew neighbor" of ours, went home to be with the Lord this last weekend. Martin and Arlene, his wife of 65 years, sat right behind us in church on Sundays prior to our ministry as interim pastor. In the customary greeting we often turned around, met their smiling faces, and shook hands with them. I distinctly recall the firm grip from his rough workman hands. He was a lifelong farmer, working the rich soil here in Lancaster County Pennsylvania. He had an earnest faith in God and, years earlier, served his church as a deacon for over 30 years.

In the weeks leading up to his death Martin knew his departure was near.  Along with many other caring believers, Brooksyne and I prayed for him and his family during this difficult period and were greatly blessed as we'd hear reports of how his faith was soaring.  Though Martin's body was growing more fragile, his spirit was growing stronger. His family often saw his arms upraised in anticipation of his departure. He was inching closer and closer toward heaven spiritually and physically, as others would come into his home and sing hymns of the faith in his final days.

His funeral celebration yesterday was a rich reminder of what we live for.  Our pastor did an outstanding job of not only sharing words of comfort to the family, but instilling a great sense of anticipation of heaven for all.

Pastor shared the following illustration to help us get a glimpse of the believer's promotion to glory.

Picture the scene of loved ones boarding a ship that is sailing across the seas to a faraway land.  Due to the great love in their hearts for their departing loved ones they stand on the seashore for however long it takes to see the ship cross the horizon and finally fade from view.  The family left on shore, in final resignation, say to one another, "There they go."

But far away on another distant shore are more loved ones anxiously awaiting the arrival of the same ship.  As they see the ship approaching in the distance they exclaim, "Look!  Here they come!"  This is an analogy of what it is like as a believer to reluctantly bid farewell to our loved ones on earth and consider that there will be other loved ones anxiously awaiting their arrival in heaven!

The apostle Paul's perspective on life and death is so liberating.  After his conversion on the Damascus road he began experiencing the great joy that comes in living for Christ. He declared "to live is Christ." It wasn't by any means an easy life but millions since have testified to the joy of serving the living Christ.  Indeed "life is worth the living just because He lives."

Yet Paul realized "to die is gain."  The word translated "gain" has the sense of advantage.  In fact a few verses later Paul says, "I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far" (Phil. 1:23).  Several years later Paul is writing his final letter to Timothy and he was aware that "the time has come for my departure."  What solid resignation I see in these words as he faced the martyr's death, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).

Today, what a joy it is to follow Christ and to have a deep, abiding assurance of His love.  And when the time comes for our departure we "gain" and are better by far.  That's what we live for!  Praise the Lord, today I am a child of the King and so are all of you who have placed your faith in Jesus Christ!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Daily prayer: Father, as I live out my time here on this earth, I'm so glad that I belong to You.  You hold my right hand and guide me with Your counsel which is leading me to a glorious destiny.  Whom have I in heaven but You and I desire You more than anything on earth.  My health may fail and my spirit may even grow weak, but Father, You remain the strength of my heart and You are my portion forever.  You are my Refuge, my Fortress and my Deliverer and I will joyfully tell those who will listen of Your mighty works.  Amen.

(Prayer inspired by Psalm 73:23ff)

Martin and Arlene Spickler wedding photoOne of the interesting features at many funerals is a display of photos and other memories of the deceased. We only knew the Spicklers when they were in their 80's. Here's their wedding photo 65 years ago. It was a blessing to see their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren filling up the front of one side of the church.  There is no greater legacy to leave than a godly heritage! Here's a song I consider when I recognize Martin's life and the aspiration we should all have to live a good life.  "Find Us Faithful"
(Audio file 1)  Sample studio version
(Audio file 2)  Full live church version

Pastor Bob gave me permission to share the three main points in yesterday's funeral message.

We have hope because of the:
  • Release of the spirit.
  • Resurrection of the believer.
  • Reunion of the saints.
Pastor does a tremendous job in striking a balance between colorful, relevant illustrations and solid, Biblical exposition.

Today's suggested music resource is an uplifting song we used at my Mom's homegoing celebration. It shares from the perspective of one who has gone to heaven and is speaking to us on earth. "If You Could See Me Now" (Audio file)

Another song many of us have been blessed by related to this topic is, "I can Only Imagine." This version is from a musician named Brian Powell. (Audio file)  

For additional perspective on this subject we suggest a Discovery series booklet titled "Where Do We Go From Here? Life After Death" (This is downloadable as a printable pdf)

Spickler farm and John Deere tractor
Martin's favorite tractor with their farmhouse in the background.
(click to listen to a John Deere tractor)

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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