The church bustled with a sea of people for the memorial service. Certainly there had to be over 1,000 present and the massiveness of the crowd struck each in attendance as they scanned the church, looking, wondering….
How could this be? Bruce didn’t attend a large church; he led a decent sized ministry, and worked for a local mid-sized city. He wasn’t a government official or a man of fame. Nonetheless, the church buzzed with people.
As the service began, the friends and loved ones could tell that this was going to be unique. So apropos for a man who could fill a church of this size. A mime was the first to grace the stage acting out a scene of an unloved man whom our friend touched and led to Christ. Each song, skit and testimonial was a reflection of his life and his passion. Reaching out was his gift. He lived each day with a zeal – for God, for his family and for the recovery of himself and others that struggled with hurts, hang-ups, and habits. Touching those who he loved; touching those who were overlooked and unloved… he loved.
Nonetheless, I wondered – how?! Really, how could one man draw this many people in?! Could one man really affect so many?
Then it hit me. As his family shared, the answer unfolded. Surely, the common man would’ve thought he must have neglected them. But no. As his children spoke – individually they told of a father that was always present, made himself available, and showed his love for each of them – and that’s when the answer revealed itself. This wasn’t one man’s ministry. It was a team effort. This wasn’t one man touching thousands. This was the power of a family supporting one man’s passion and joining him.
Finally, the pastor began to speak. He struggled with his own grief as he shared. He too had lost a close friend and recalled special times they had had together playing tennis, elder board meetings, serving others, pranks our friend was a part of and so on. We laughed and cried along with him as he remembered.
The congregation nodded as the pastor spoke of Bruce’s affinity for his phone. Always texting, emailing, calling, checking up on others. He chuckled as he remembered how he had received a text from him during a sermon (about a tennis date later that week) – when he, in fact, was even in the congregation a few feet away! The pastor didn’t seem bothered, rather amused, knowing this was our friend’s sense of humor as well as his gift of juggling so much.
As the pastor spoke, the minds of family and friends swirled, grasping for answers – for their loss and pain. “Why?” Would certainly be the most common question. “Why would such an effective man, who touched so many, be taken from us?”
The pastor shared how just a few days before surgery, the congregation had laid hands on our friend and prayed for healing and a successful recovery. How could he not be here today? If we prayed….
He continued ….
When we pray, he explained, God has three possible answers: “Yes, No, or Not now”.
We love the “Yes.” When God says “Yes” we celebrate and rejoice and praise God and talk about how good he is!
Conversely, when God answers “No” we wonder, what did we do wrong? Did God hear us? How can this be?!
The pastor explained that we can’t always understand why God answers the way He does. He reminded us that God’s ways are so much higher than ours, His thoughts greater than ours. We will not fully understand God until that time when we are face to face with Him.
My mind drifted a bit, but tuned back in when a phrase caught my attention, “The power of God’s “No” is greater than the power of man’s “Yes.”’ The pastor repeated this statement many times, obviously hoping that we would grasp and believe it.
“The power of God’s ‘No’ is greater than the power of man’s ‘Yes.’” Huh?!
Through the pain, in our humanness, not many of us could really grasp, understand or quite honestly, believe that God’s “No” is greater than man’s “Yes.” So many would feel their friend’s absence. He was always available and we knew he always would be…..
As the pastor spoke, he acknowledged the chasm that our friend had left. Who would be there for us? Lend a smile, word of encouragement, offer a helping hand, listen to our concerns, and minister to our needs? He too would feel the loss of a dear, close friend.
Subsequently he painted a word picture. He asked the family to remain seated and spoke to rest of us. He solicited our help. We all knew if one man could fill a church this size – his presence would be sorely missed. We knew many would miss his friendship, his love, his encouragement. He touched, genuinely touched, so many. In lieu of his absence, the pastor asked each of us to consider committing to reach out to three people in this upcoming week – to check on them, give them a word of encouragement, love them, and help them. We were to stand if we accepted this challenge. Surely we could contact three people! The sea of people rose to their feet.
The pastor then asked the family to rise to their feet and turn around to see the commitments of loved ones and supporters who would step up in their beloved’s absence….
Then he said it. The words struck me and I felt my heart cracking from the impact.
“This is the power of God’s ‘No.’”
The power of God’s “No……” greater than man’s “Yes” …..
We all knew if each of us followed through, we could do more and have an even greater affect than this one great man we knew and loved.
The reality struck like a sharp pain. Accepting God’s “No” is amazingly difficult when the pain is so deep.
Ignoring the ache within each of us, he continued…
Explaining that this was the part of the service where he would typically ask the congregation about their hearts. If they knew where they were going, if they knew Bruce’s savior. But not today. Because, he explained, just a few days before Bruce’s surgery they had recorded our friend as he led his weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting – something they do only once a year.
So he let Bruce do the honors…..