Sermons from Lone Rock Bible Church
Stevensville, MT
February 9, 2003

In Light of Going Home
Psalm 116:15

When I first learned 13 months ago that Mr. Lacey was terminal, a Bible verse popped into my mind -- it was Psalm 116:15, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" or, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones." That would be his funeral verse. Mr. Lacey knew this; we talked about it.

If we took a poll of Christians, we would agree that most of us would prefer to be raptured out of this world rather than die. I’ve said those words, perhaps you have: "Wouldn’t it be great if we were just minding our own business, going about our daily chores and we hear the trumpet sound, and Jesus takes us out of here?" Voila! We’re gone to heaven, everything’s fine!

I once sat in a church service where the pastor cleverly tricked his people. He asked, "How many of you want to go to heaven?" Everyone did. "How many of you want to die?" Nobody really wanted to die. Isn’t that interesting?

The Bible verse says clearly, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones." I’ve never found anywhere where it says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the missing out on death of his godly ones, or the rapture of his godly ones." It’s the death experience that God holds as precious.

Interesting reflection, isn’t it, on our faith, perhaps on our maturity? The disciples felt this way too. They wanted to be with Jesus but they weren’t really excited, or at least they didn’t have a realistic handle on the dying part. Remember the night He was betrayed, He’s telling them, "I’m going to be betrayed and they’re going to come and get Me and you’re all going to leave Me." "No, - we’ll die for you, Jesus!" [say the disciples]; --until it came right down to it. The Bible says they all left Him and fled. We’re a lot like they are. We want to avoid that.

I’ve come up with a number of reasons why "the death of His godly ones" might be "precious in the sight of God", and perhaps you can think of others. Here are six:

Reason 1: Because the training and waiting time is over.

Here’s an interesting thought. Romans 8:22 says, "We know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And  not only this, we also ourselves having the first fruits of the Spirit, we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body."

We want out of here; we’re groaning right along with this cursed creation, this waiting time. The Apostle Paul, in crystallizing this waiting frustration, down to the pain of his own soul, cried out at the end of Romans 7, dealing with the struggles he faced with sin, "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ." The Bible says that this life, being temporary, is like a training time, a preparatory time for the real world which we can’t see yet.

In our culture we go to school to learn to become something in the real world, correct? A professional student to us is something a little different. A professional student is a strange duck in our world, not necessarily a complimentary term. There’s always training and never arriving. When we have transition from school into the next step we call that a graduation ceremony. Another word for that is commencement. Students think of it not as a commencement but as an end, but the word depicts not something we’ve finished but something we’re beginning. Commencement means to begin something we haven’t seen yet, getting on with life. Death is kind of like graduation. The training is over; new life, where we’re really going with things, is begun. Death is commencement. That’s got to be precious to the Father, to see His children getting ‘out of school’ and getting on with life.

Reason 2: Because upon death, true citizenship is realized.

In Philippians 1: 21, the Apostle wrote:

"For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me and I do not know which to choose."

"I am hard-pressed," Paul said, "I’m on the horns of a dilemma. From both directions -- having the desire on one hand, to depart and be with Christ, that is much better; but on the other hand, I can see where you might want to have me around for awhile." Paul knew where his citizenship was and in Philippians chapter 3, verse 20 he wrote this:

"For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself."

Our home isn’t here – our home is there. This occurred to me as I read recently through the Gospel of John. Notice how many times in John’s Gospel Jesus refers to where He’s from. Even in a matter of fact sort of way. It’s not a strange thing to Him to think of heaven being home. I’m going to read from the book In Light of Eternity by Randy Alcorn. This is a phenomenal book, where he develops the notion of heaven and does it very well. These are his thoughts on heaven being home, where we really, really belong.

"When we arrive there, heaven will immediately feel like home because we’ll instinctively connect it to all we long for, and occasionally caught magical glimpses of while on earth. But in heaven we won’t look back, we’ll look forward to and anticipate all that’s ahead of us there. The longer we’re in heaven, the more memories we’ll make and the more our home will be home. It won’t lose its hominess; it will always gain more. Home is a place where you fit right in. It’s the place you were made for. Most houses we live in on earth weren’t really made just for us, but heaven is.

"Home is also about comfort. It’s a place where you can take off the dress clothes and put on jeans and a sweatshirt and throw yourself down on a couch and relax. It’s a refuge from the world. It’s a place you want to be. That craving for home is sweet and deep. Home is our reference point, what we always come back to. No matter how much we enjoy our adventures away, we always look forward to going home. It draws us. Home is where friends come to visit us. Home is where we read and reflect and listen to music we enjoy. It’s where we putter and plant gardens and rest and gain strength for our tasks. Home is the place I inhale the wonderful aroma of strong, rich coffee every morning.

"Home, as a term for heaven, is not simply a metaphor. It describes an actual, real, physical place. A place built by our bridegroom, a place we’ll share with loved ones, a place of fond familiarity and comfort and refuge, a place of marvelous smells and tastes, fine food and great conversation, of contemplation, of interaction and expressing the gifts and passions God has given us.

"It will also be a place of unprecedented freedom and adventure. Home. Our citizenship is not here, and when our Custom Builder flings open the door of that place for which He’s been preparing for us for 2000 years, that will be a precious moment to our Father. Do away with that tent. Be done with it. The Custom Builder says, ‘It’s yours; here’s the key, come on in.’ And it will feel instantly and fully the place we were born for. We’ll be home."

Reason 3: Because one more saint is praising God perfectly.

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones", because now one more saint is praising God perfectly. In I Corinthians 13, beginning in verse 10 the Apostle says:

"When the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child. When I became a man I did away with childish things." (Children have limited comprehension, don’t they? Just limited – not enough life.) "But for now," he says, " we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, just as I also have been fully known."

I John 3:4 says similar words:

"We shall be like him for we shall see him as he is." The veil will be gone, the glass will no longer be cloudy, all will be absolutely, perfectly clear, and we will then be praising God perfectly. He’ll have one more voice, a perfect voice, in His choir. Our best wor-ship now, here today, in this life, this room, this bunch of people, is now imperfect. We bring our distractions, our pains, our coughs and sneezes, our differences of opinion, our musical preferences, our preferred order of service, preferred translation of the Bible. All we bring as Christians to worship, are constantly pulling at us and creating a bridge over which it’s very difficult to see clearly. We give it our best shots, by God’s grace we do.

Are we worshiping truly? Yes, we are. Are we worshiping perfectly and fully? No, we are not. Will we be then? Absolutely. Is Mr. Lacey? He sure is. And is that not precious in the sight of the Lord? Imperfect praise is all throughout Scripture. God’s people giving it their best shot, albeit imperfectly.

Reason 4: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his godly ones", because of the testimony to God’s grace in the transition.

This is where it gets pretty personal. In II Corinthians chapter 12, beginning in verse 9, the Apostle Paul reflects on his physical affliction and even says, "It’s ok, because when I’m weak, God looks better. If I’m strong, I look good. If I’m weak, God looks good. Let me be weak then, so that He may be honored and glorified."

In II Timothy 4:17, as Paul stood at the end of his life he says, "The Lord stood with me and strengthened me that through me the proclamation of the gospel might be fully accomplished that all the Gentiles might hear. The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be the glory forever and ever."

"Not to me, but to Him, and He gets the glory in greater measure when I’m not doing that well. Because when I’m hitting on all eight, I look better." Mr. Lacey astounded me with his comment on these words when he once had the affliction of Bell’s palsy. He said to me, "I used to want to be raptured. Not any longer. I want this. I want what God has for me." His nearness to the Lord was never greater. His appreciation of God’s love through His people was never more intense, and I would suggest that the last 3 months of life on this earth were the most spiritual 3 months he ever knew. He preferred it to being raptured away, and that is an amazing thing. God came through for Mr. Lacey in amazing ways as the clock ticked on and as his time on earth was drawing to a close

I’ll share with you this story, how it was last Tuesday, as a very touching example of God’s working. As I was leaving the Lacey’s home at about noon, Don Oberg pulled up. Don is from Lolo Community Church, a friend of the Lacey’s for many years. Don got out of the car and he had in his hands a towel and some other things. He said "You’re going to think I’m really strange, but I just I feel so strongly compelled to come down here and minister to Mr. Lacey, uniquely. Remember in the gospels where Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and rubbed his feet? For some reason (I’ve never done this before), I’ve got to." He had brought a towel and some olive oil with some of his wife’s perfume mixed in. He went into Mr. Lacey’s room. At that point he was sleeping and not responding, but Don rubbed the oil on his feet, rubbed his feet, sang a song or two, prayed with him and shared Scripture, and gave him a hug; did all these things, then left.

That was about 12:15 pm. Charlene found out later when she checked her email, that 5 minutes before noon she had received a letter from a friend in Atlanta, who wrote her words of counsel that said, "It might be good if you were to rub Jack’s feet. He may not be able to express it but he’ll appreciate it. And sing him a song, too."

Don was there, prompted by the Spirit of God without question, doing what this dear soul in Atlanta was encouraging. You see that God’s hand was in it throughout.

When we think ourselves strong, it’s difficult to see those things. But when we’re at the end and our resources are diminished and our avenues of help are exhausted, it’s here that God comes through and his grace in transition is powerful. Mr. Lacey went home with a smile of joy. His last words that Charlene is aware of, were to the hospice nurse, and characteristic of his Christ-like nature, his last words were "Thank you." And then he left.

Reason 5: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones", because those left behind will grow in faith

Now, I’ll say this in advance. It is all well and good to memorialize and, indeed, to honor our brother who is gone, but friends, there would be no greater honor paid neither to Mr. Lacey nor to the Lord Jesus Christ whom he served, than to pick up where he left off.

As the chaplain in Deerlodge would say, "Talk is cheap. Save your breath to cool your soup." Those left behind will grow in faith, first by remembering.

From Hebrews 12:1-2: In light of this "great cloud of witnesses" cheering us on from the grandstands, those who have already gone before, the Bible says, "keep running steadily the race that is set before." The witnesses are cheering; our eyes are on Jesus. Keep running. Don’t quit. The witnesses are cheering, and our brother is among them -- now. He’s among them – now. Cheering – now. What would be his message? "Hey, I’ve been there. I know. Keep your eyes on the prize and move forward!"

We’ll grow in faith by remembering. We’ll grow in faith by trusting His grace in grief. And brothers and sisters, we have a grieving family among us. Others are grieving for other reasons. It’s time to minister. It’s time to care. It’s time to love. How comforting is it that the Apostle Paul exhorted the believers in Thessalonica and said: "We grieve." There’s an empty place at the table. We grieve, we cry. It’s good. But, "not as the rest who have no hope", because we do have that hope. We grow in grief because we can only cling to the One who defeated it.

Third, by stepping up to the plate in serving. God’s people grow in faith in light of the passing of a saint, by stepping up to the plate in service. Mr. Lacey swung at a lot of plates. Most of them, I think, we don’t have a clue. I wonder who will pray like Mr. Lacey prayed. Prayer in support of those hurting. Prayer in support of those on foreign fields in mission service. Prayer for the conversion of lost souls. Prayer for leaders and those in authority. Who will pray now? I would challenge us, myself, all of us – where will we step in? Mr. Lacey was a prayer warrior.

He was a sacrificial giver. He understood better than most that what he had was not his. And his very best investment was the kingdom of God. He knew that and he practiced that -- sacrificially so. He saw God do some miraculous things there as he stepped out in faith in regard to giving.

He was so encouraging, and could we be perhaps, a little more encouraging now to those we know are hurting, to those who are confused, perhaps to those who are just in need of an uplifting word, which he always had? Who will be that voice from the back of the room at the nursing home, who knew every hymn? And he was such an angel of mercy to the folks who couldn’t leave there.

His burden for men’s ministry and men’s fellowship was well known. And thankfully, that ministry is ongoing. His support of missions, the open door of his home for hospitality, the fact that he looked for in prayerful sensitivity and took advantage of any opportunity he could to share the gospel with the lost. Will we share the gospel more now? Will we be quick to see and humble to open our mouths?

Reason 6: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints", because those left behind will grow in faith and finally, because the blood of the Lamb has done its work.

This is the best one. This is really what it’s all about. Mr. Lacey said, speaking of the old hymns, "I do not cherish the old rugged cross. I cherish the Lamb who died there." He was pretty ‘persnickety’ about the words of songs, but he had it right. The worth of Jesus meant all to him. He was an active person, did a lot of things, had many gifts and abilities, but his point was always the worth of the Lamb.

Many years ago, when we were in Bible school, about this time of year in 1979, a total solar eclipse of the sun was predicted on a certain day and the best place to view that eclipse was Lewistown, Montana where our Bible school was located. Becoming aware of that, a lot of the students rallied for the gospel and had a big campaign in the chapel to really get out there and hit the streets and give every single person a tract. When it was over, the student leader stepped from the platform and who should confront him but the dear, elderly, sainted, frail founder of the school. In a very loving way he said, "You’ve forgotten about the blood of Jesus."

You see, it’s not the ‘rah rah’, it’s not the activity, it’s not what we can generate or we can do or we can accomplish. It’s all about what Jesus did. He paid the price. He deserves the purchase. Sometimes there’s a fine line in our minds and in our hearts between who we are and what we think God wants us to do and devotion, simply first of all, to the Savior.

In Revelation 5 that’s very clear. The Apostle John who’s translated there rejoices to see the victorious Lamb. When the Lamb of God, Jesus, Who has been slain, receives title deed to the earth and there is a happy ending, the Bible says in verse 9 that everybody fell on their faces and sang a new song to Him.

"Worthy art thou to take the Book and to break its seals for thou was slain and you did purchase for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation and thou hast made them to be a kingdom and priests for our God and they will reign upon the earth."

When a saint dies and goes to heaven, Jesus receives what He paid for. And that’s the most precious truth. Mr. Lacey’s going to glory is vindication of the cross. The Lamb that was slain receives the reward of His suffering. It’s all about Him. It always comes back to the beauty of Jesus and the glory of His death on the cross. We can never get away from that and Mr. Lacey would be the first -- he would have been in this life; he certainly would be in the next -- he would be the first to jump up and say "All glory to the Lamb!" The Lamb – He’s the One Who was slain. He’s the One Who bought us. He’s the One Who paid for us.

Let me close with one final scripture in I John 5. Mr. Lacey lived a very confident life spiritually. He knew his Lord. He died a very confident death. He knew where he was going.

Beginning in verse 11:

"The witness is this. God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God doesnot have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name  of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life."

That’s confidence. Today if you have the Son, if you have surrendered your life to the One who died on the cross and shed His blood to pay for your sin – if you have Him – you’ll live forever because He lives forever and He lives in you.

It is a most precious truth; one that we’ve got to hang on to, that we’ve got to know and certainly that we must apply.

  Jim Carlson 2003, Lone Rock Bible Church, Stevensville Montana, USA