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(This is a blog I wrote a couple months after doing the funeral of a family member in Texas back in the summer of 2008.  Our brushing up against  man’s mortality are some of the most sobering moments for all of us.  Life really is a vapor!)  – MDP-

It happened to me again last Sunday. Another person, who I did not personally know, came up to me to tell me that they were at the funeral a couple months ago and heard what I said concerning “church attendance”. About the only thing she repeated correctly in what I said, was the usage of the word “screwed”. But, she was very sweet and was trying to encourage and compliment me that I had taken such a risk and said such a thing in that particular setting.  (Let me warn you straight up…I’m going to tell you exactly what I said later in this blog…but in PROPER context!)

As I have already mentioned, this isn’t the first time I’ve been approached about this. I received all kinds of feedback within hours of the funeral. The only thing I really care about when I do a wedding or a funeral is whether or not the family got what I was saying and that they were blessed or not. That is the bottomline for me and I usually don’t give a rip about what the crowd hears or feels in either one of those situations. In this very difficult situation the family overwhelmed me with their words of acceptance to my ministry that day. But, in all fairness, I need to point out that this family is not what we might call “church people”…by that I mean, people grafted deeply into regular church attendance. I render no thought about their relationship to the Lord. To me, the two are not relevant and MAYBE that is the deeper point of what I’m writing about. Standing in the pulpit at that funeral was a very significant sight. It felt almost biblical…if I may use that word? Before the service ever started I believed that the large majority of the attendees would be young adults, friends of the deceased and unchurched people. I don’t think I was wrong in that assumption. Of course there were “church people” sprinkled throughout the place, but I felt like I was in a foreign land…bringing the “good news” to ears that were hearing it for the very first time. I was very honored to be involved, but I knew the task was touchy and holy at the same time. So, I actually made a distinction in my spirit about who I was going to talk too. I chose to talk to the family, the lost, the unchurched. Take a wild guess who the people were that got offended and most disturbed by my “church attendance” comments?  I’m smiling right now, because you already know who was offended! I told you this felt like a scene right out of the gospels. I don’t have to hit this too hard, but very little truth that Jesus verbalized was received or accepted by the religious police and “system people” of his time. About 100% of the time, the pharisees, saducees and scribes were totally put off by the words of our Lord. How can it be, that the most significant man to ever walk the face of our planet could offend so many people who supposedly loved and served God? But, it happened over and over again…so much so that they finally took him out permanently…or so they thought. I’m sure the same kind of emotions and feelings could be generated within a few seconds if someone like myself or any other preacher in McGregor was seen eating breakfast in the Coffee Shop with a known prostitute or drug dealer. That would be a scene way too juicy for a normal “church person” not to judge and then gossip about! It’s an old drum that I beat on a regular basis, but I can’t help myself. Sorry!

So, here is how it went down. I was finishing the message making the last of five points taken from my favorite author Franciscan Richard Rohr. I had massaged them to fit my message, but the last point was (and this is verbatim out of my notes): IT IS TRUE THAT EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US WILL DIE AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE…BUT, DEATH IS NOT THE END…IT IS A NEW BEGINNING. Then I read this passage of scripture:

John 14:1-61 “Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.2 “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.3 “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, {there} you may be also.4 “And you know the way where I am going.”5 Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. (NAS)

Then I made the comment in question (verbatim): “Too often we picture the long-bony finger of God stuck in our face and He’s making a “last second determination” concerning our prospects of heaven, based on whether we go to church or not! Looking across this room…if that is true…WE ARE SCREWED!”

“Mike…do you have any regrets about saying this?” Honestly, I have zero regrets about it. Why? Because I believe it’s true. Because I don’t really care that some “church person” or “religious person” was offended by it. I do care about them as an individual and I’m always available to anyone who might have a need. Also, I do care that people heard this in a way that totally missed the point, but I don’t have any control over that. That just comes with the public proclamation of preaching. Some people only hear what they want to hear…and rarely is anything repeated in the right context. I can’t worry about it and definitely can’t fix it with everyone. Yes, the Apostle Paul did say this “Let your speech be with grace, seasoned as with salt…” But, let me ask you a question. For those of you who heard the talk, was the speech seasoned with grace? Is there “grace” in the thought that a relationship with the Lord is not determined by God on whether or not a person goes to church or not? Have you ever read Matthew chapter 23? Does that sound like grace to you? Be sure to notice that every verse in that chapter is in red letters except one! After close to 32 years of studying scripture I believe that Chapter 23 of Matthew is one of the most grace-filled books in the gospel! How can I possibly think that? Because, Jesus was having a truth encounter with people who thought they had cornered the God Market! God with skin was standing in front of them confronting their religious ideals and reminded them…“you know most of the scripture but you don’t have a clue who I am!” Honestly, that kind of brutal truth feels harsh, but it is a real “gift” / “grace” to someone who cares more about what God wants than what he or she wants! Sometimes I think we have goofy ideals about the definition of “grace”. I actually did say, that I went to church, liked church, believed in church and thought church was a good ideal for everyone! No way did I say or imply that “church” is a bad thing! No way! But again…that isn’t the point! GOD DOESN’T DETERMINE HIS LOVE, FORGIVENESS AND ACCEPTANCE TOWARDS US BASED ON OUR CHURCH ATTENDANCE!!!! That was the whole purpose in what I said that dreadful and teary day.

I’ll end this with a memory. I had just gone out of the church in front of the casket. A young hispanic kid, prolly early 20’s, came up to me and grabbed my hand. He had multiple tattoos, more than one piercing on his face, but he was neatly dressed. A very good looking kid! Anyway, as a few tears dropped from his chin I heard his chilling words that still press my spirit: “Thank you for saying what you said. It touched my heart deeply. I think I can follow the Jesus you talked about.” That was enough for me!


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 3, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Great story, Mike. I love it. Absolutely love it! Keep speaking with grace… because it gets me every time.

  2. Tex
    March 3, 2010 at 9:15 am


  3. Shawn
    March 3, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Selah…..Sweet story!

  4. Wog
    March 4, 2010 at 4:55 am

    Good to hear that again. Best funeral I’ve ever been too!

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