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He Gives and Takes Away

Ralph Duerden, RIP

The only reason that we shouldn’t want to be in Ralph’s condition right now is that we want to obey God’s calling. God has called us to stay, He has called us to continue working here. Here is where the good is that God is giving us. But God has given Ralph gain. As Paul wrote:

For me to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. (Philippians 1:21-23)

Ralph is now with Christ, and he has got it better.

Many of us have known Ralph as a brother in Christ for over a decade. Mary Kay has known him as her husband for six and a half decades. Others of you knew him as friend somewhere in between.

The last few years had been especially difficult for him. Some of you visited him, either in the hospital or at home, before he moved into the care facility and we got shut out by COVID protocols. I remember talking with him in the hospital, maybe three years ago, I think it was after he had fallen, and it seemed obvious even then: he was ready to see his Lord. Of all the things that got him excited, heaven was near the top.

It was hard as his body and mind declined. Even though I never knew him younger than 70 (which is sort of wonder), he wanted to work. He loved when guys came out to their property to do stuff, and he’d be lifting things heavier than he should have, or climbing ladders higher than he should have. Other times he had stories about growing up, about what he could remember about his mom’s passing when he was still such a young boy, about his service in the Navy. He loved seeing kids running around after church, trying to remember their names and which family they belonged to, and he wanted to be at church more than his health allowed. We are lesser because we get less time with him.

He could be cranky, and while it wasn’t helpful, pain and meds, chemo and falls, do make for quite the temptations that all of us need grace for. But Ralph professed faith in Jesus Christ, he gathered with the assembly for worship when he could, and he has entered into the joy of his Master on a different level.

Ralph’s life and death, his story and struggles, his faith and his home-going, remind all of us that we are immortal beings. We have so many things to think about that seem small, finite. In Ralph’s case, think about all the pills and the appointments and the pains. It is tediously consuming just trying to stay alive sometimes. And to whatever degree he was able to care about the news, he lived through WW2, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and other national and international dramas. It’s not necessarily the case those things distract us from the “important” things, but that those things tend to make us think our lives are a wrong sort of small.

The small part is comparative, so let’s make sure we pull up the right standard. Our lives aren’t small compared to supply chain problems and seven dollar a gallon gas, or compared to war in Ukraine. Those are beyond our control, but they are not that big. Our lives on earth are small compared to the glory of God’s kingdom and the glory He will give us in our eternal inheritance. Our pains are small not because other people don’t seem to care but because our heavenly Father’s rewards are great. The small part is only small like a seed is small, but that is far from insignificant.

I’ve been reading Mere Christianity for my first time, and Lewis makes the observation about how the choices we make now, here, today, are making us into the sort of people who will be able to know even more of what we’ll be in heaven (or hell).

every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. (Location 1252)

Lewis originally prepared these talks to share over the radio in England while World War II was taking place on their own continent; Ralph would have been three and a half years old when the war started. Elsewhere Lewis argued that wars, as significant as they are, aren’t enough to satisfy all our attention, because they are too small. Our souls are eternal, immortal. We’re looking to the Ancient of Days whose glory never fades.

It’s why 1 Corinthians 15 means so much for Christians. As Paul argued, we are quite pitiable creatures if we put our faith in a still-buried Savior. But Christ is raised from the dead, the first-fruits of many brothers, and we who believe in Him will likewise we resurrected. But the difference won’t be night and day, it will be more like the candle to the sun. It will be faith to sight. It will be seed to fruit.

What is sown perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)

Of all the places to start, perishable seems maybe the most obvious. The body we have now is breaking bad. Whether quickly and painfully or not, whether we recognize it or not, it is inevitable. What is sown is perishable. It is in a state of corruption, of gradual decline; the body we have is at best temporary, and at death begins to decompose into dust.

But remember, this is not bad news for a seed. A seed is created as perishable by nature for something better. And, because of Christ, what is raised (from that perishable seed) is imperishable. The raised body is not provisional but eternal. But this is not merely a comment about how long this body will last, it is even more about how complete this body will be. Yes the resurrected body will live forever. But the raised body will be more than durable, it will be the perfect body, the body brought to fruition.

Sown in dishonor is not moral shame, but it is certainly physical loss and humiliation. The grave is just the last humbling.

In Christ, however, we will be raised in glory. This is what God does best. He’s already given glory to earthly and heavenly bodies (verse 40) and granted different glories to the sun, moon, and stars (verse 41). The process of glorification has already started for those who have turned to the Lord (see 2 Corinthians 3:18), and God purposes to finish the process (Romans 8:30).

Sown in weakness: we are without strength. Weakness could be from a debilitating sickness or disease, it could be the general condition of fragility. We do not share the same degree of weakness while alive, but we definitely share the same degree of weakness when we’re dead.

We will be raised in power, with enlarged capabilities and abilities, with remarkable energy and endurance. We will not be raised omnipotent, but we will be raised über-potent. What sort of work is the Lord going to give us to be done with these sort of empowered bodies?

It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body, bearing not just the image of the man of dust, but the image of the man of heaven.

This hope is only for those who hold fast to the gospel, that Christ died for our sins, that He was buried, and that he was raised on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). As sons of Adam we sin and we die, as believers in Jesus we are in Him and in Him shall be made alive. This victory over sin and death is God’s grace to us through our Lord Jesus Christ. It is what takes away the sing of death. It is what makes Ralph’s current condition so much better. He’s fought his fight, finished his race. We give thanks to the Lord for taking Ralph home.

The Lord still wants us on the field, like seeds. This does not make the present work small, it makes the present work significant. So, brothers,

be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

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He Gives and Takes Away

Isaiah Funden, RIP

When I was younger I remember hearing people around me refer to someone who had just passed away by saying “RIP So-and-so.” Other times I’d see R.I.P. written out, including on fake tombstones in front yards around Halloween. I never bothered to find out what it meant, but it sounded irreverent, sort of a wooden way to distance oneself from the pain. It sounded like a cold, non-Christian response to death.

It was only in the last few years, really, hearing it used by some people who I know to be faithful and unflinching Christians, that its history and meaning and value became clear. I think it also has special application for Isaiah.

The letters RIP are an acronym for a Latin phrase, requiescat in pace, meaning “may (the deceased person) rest in peace.” It turns out that the acronym works when translated into English, rest in peace. The three letters have apparently been found on some gravestones in Christian burial places, some as far back as the 8th century. It became a common reference for the next thousand years.

Also, as it turns out, it is a Christian condolence, and as Christianity had such a dominant influence in a number of cultures, especially English speaking peoples, even those who didn’t believe in Christ still picked up the phrase.

It’s sadly not much more than shallow sentiment apart from Christ. When it comes to both rest and peace Christ makes all the difference in this world, and for the next.

Those who belong to Christ, who believe in Him, are given a taste of rest now and promised a full share in Christ’s rest forever. Christ finished His priestly work of offering sacrifice for our sins, of offering Himself as the sacrifice for sinners. So all who put their faith in Jesus look forward to eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3, 8-9). This rest doesn’t mean that we’ll be sitting around all day staring out the window, but that we’ll be doing our resurrection work without the frustrations and difficulties we endure in a broken world. Our works will be done in rest, not in bitterness or exhaustion.

And that rest will be in peace. God reveals in His Word that peace isn’t superficial, nor is it necessarily circumstantial. God’s peace is a fulness of soul. His peace is connected with real and joyful and loving fellowship. It’s better, and deeper, than just not being at war or in a fight (though it can include that, 2 Chronicles 14:6). The absence of conflict isn’t as good as grace and peace. This peace provides reasons for rejoicing beyond removal from a bad situation.

Ultimately, and certainly eternally, this kind of peace, in souls and on earth, only comes from the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Isaiah was looking for this peace. It’s part of what makes this memorial more heart-heavy, and it’s also what gives us comfort in the heaviness.

Through a series of choices, some that were his own and some outside his control, Isaiah was working to deal with various messes in his life. He knew that he wasn’t where he needed to be and was taking steps in a better direction. He desired to live in his own space, to have a place where his son could visit him. Isaiah was working to reestablish his responsibilities as a young man.

He had begun to reach out to make some new friends, even among some of us at TEC. He would sometimes be able to attend our meetings, most recently coming to the Meat Eat less than two weeks ago.

But he was still struggling, still reckoning with consequences and trying to get untangled from a number of challenges. It was hard. Just a day or so before his death, his mom and dad said that Isaiah told them that he really loved Jesus and he really wanted to find peace.

It’s understandable that we who remain ask, Why? Why Isaiah? Why now? Why when he was still so young, just 24 years old? Why when it seemed that there were so many possible good things ahead of him? And for us who remain, we are not likely to get complete answers.

But, we should remember that the Why? questions only make sense if there is a sovereign God who is in control of all things. In a godless world, Why? has no target, it floats out into the void of senselessness and meaninglessness. If there is no god, then there is no one to answer. When we ask Why? to God, we are asking the One who is sovereign and good, the God with omniscience and mercy. For Christians, we are asking our Father.

And though we can’t know for certain right now, perhaps part of the Why? is in answer to Isaiah’s longing for peace.

In the prophetic book with his name, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote about a particular kind of mercy from God. The prophet was describing a society in decline, a society in defiance against God. Righteous men were perishing among such a people and no one cared. What stands out is that the prophet announced that the righteous man “is taken away from calamity.”

For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
who walk in their uprightness.
(Isaiah 57:1b-2, ESV)

Here is another translation:

no one understands
that the righteous are taken away
to be spared from evil.
Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.
(Isaiah 57:1b-2, NIV)

We don’t naturally think this way, and in Scripture death itself is not a friend. But there are times when to be “taken away” and taken “into peace” is God’s mercy.

It may be God’s purpose to remove His people from seeing more trouble and enduring more torment, as He causes them to enter peace in His presence earlier than what we might have expected, earlier than we want. Though Isaiah’s fruit did not fully match his profession, he did long for this peace. And though we aren’t able to celebrate a life full of days, we do commit Isaiah into the Lord’s righteous hands. Again, our merciful Father can be trusted.

Since we remain, God is being merciful to us as well. Perhaps God is mercifully reminding you that no one is guaranteed another day, and that only in Christ is it possible to rest in peace.

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience…No creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:11, 13).

We must look to Christ.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16)

So now we grieve for the loss of a son, brother, dad, grandson, nephew, friend. We grieve with his family and we pray that the Father would grant them peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). We pray that this peace of God will guard their faith and comfort them, directly by His Spirit and using us as His agents.

While Isaiah may have remembered the “stupid people” part of Psalm 94 in verse 8, we also remember application from later lyrics:

When I thought, “My foot slips,”
your steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
When the cares of my heart are many,
your consolations cheer my soul.
(Psalm 94:18–19 ESV)

So we pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, may Isaiah rest in peace.

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He Gives and Takes Away

Last Number of Times

If you read my blog you probably already know through some other channel that my sister went to be with the Lord on February 17. The funeral home website posted her obituary and a video slideshow, and the following are the notes for the talk I gave at the funeral service.


My sister was a gifted crafter. As the many quilts displayed in the sanctuary demonstrate, she had a keen eye and deft touch to put her ideas into incarnated form. Before she was squaring quilts, she was knitting, inventing her own patterns for socks and sweaters and hats and turtles and costumes for pirate turtles such as Captain Knack Sparrow.

For as many projects as she finished, word is, even by her own testimony, that there were dozens more she’d begun. Miles of of yarn and square yards of fabric in her stockpile were waiting for their turn on her needles or craft table respectively. It seems that socks were her particular weakness. She often knit one, that couldn’t truly be called the first, because she never cast on the second.

In some ways it feels as if her life was only half finished, or as if she had started some elaborate quilt that is now sewn short and not so neatly. Switching analogies, not many authors would write a story like this. She gave her life to Christ less than a year ago, so how many more things we might have anticipated for her? How many things did she anticipate doing differently? I believe that God is sovereign, that He writes the story how He wants and that each individual sentence ends for our good and His glory. I’m not questioning His timing. I’m saying it’s different than we would do.

In some ways it’s surprising that she made it this long. That’s partly because one doctor forecast in the middle of August that she might have only three weeks to live, and she lived more than six months longer than that. It’s also surprising she made it this far because, among other things, I tried to teach her how to ride a bike by pushing her down a hill when she was I only four years old, or maybe she was only three. Apparently I forgot to tell her to go toward the side without the car at the bottom; she did ride down the hill…directly into the car.

We shared a variety of memories, including the times when dad and mom required us to put our noses on the windows in the back of the car when we were messing with each other’s stuff, or sneaking over past the halfway mark on the backseat. We often threatened each other in the heat of some sibling argument that when we grew up we wouldn’t give the other one a kidney.

One of our competitions also involved seeing how long we could get mom to respond to us saying goodnight. In one of the houses we lived in, mom would tuck us in and then head down the stairs. Brooke and I would try to see how many ways we could say “Goodnight” and “I love you” until Mom had had enough at the bottom and shut the door. One of our favorite techniques was, “I love you last number of times” because you can’t go any higher than that, right? Then our higher math developed and we loved her last number of times, times infinity, plus one.

As I said earlier she repented and put her faith in Jesus Christ less than a year ago, here at West Hill Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, 2016. She immediately found a church near her apartment in Cincinnati, Truth Community Church, and started worshipping there. I saw her a few weeks after she professed faith and she was so excited to be learning about Ephesians verse-by-verse. Her only disappointment was that Pastor Green was already in chapter 6. She asked me, “Do you think there is any way I could go back and study the first five chapters, too?”

She was already feeding on and being satisfied by the God’s Word. The Bible is like food. It is bread and wine that give joy and peace.

Eleven years ago when I talked at my dad’s funeral service I said he possessed an uncommon diligence and that I wished he had known more Christian joy. My sister had an uncommon ability to make others feel included. She was funny and smart, quick as anyone with witty wisecracks. And I still wish my sister had known more Christian peace. For a variety of reasons, and for many years, she didn’t have the security and stability that only comes from the blessing of the heavenly Father. She had some great friends, she accomplished some stunning projects, but until she submitted to Christ she did not start to have the peace or the firmness of being planted like a tree by living water as Psalm 1 describes.

She knew the gospel. She grew up going to church with the family, she graduated from a Christian college, she taught in a Christian school for a few years. Sadly not everyone in those places treated her well, and she didn’t see the gospel well-adorned by professing believers. Some of the “Christians” were real jerks (“jerk” being the only word dad taught us how to spell in sign-language). Yet if she could tell us something from heaven, I suspect one thing would be: don’t let any of that keep you from the peace of God the Father that comes through Jesus His Son.

The Lord has decided that it is best for her to get her heavenly dose of His peace sooner than later. Though she only began to know His peace on earth for a short time, He has blessed her in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Ephesians 1:3), and she’s there now. She has full redemption through Christ’s blood, the forgiveness of trespasses according to the riches of grace (Ephesians 1:7). She experiences the rich mercy of God, He has raised her in heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). She knows the breadth and length and height and depth and the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19). And at this point she knows way more about Ephesians than I do!

The gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15) has brought her to her eternal peace, and all of us who believe will get there too.

So I love her last number of times, and I’m glad to get the final word, because I know that she has great peace with our Father.

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He Gives and Takes Away

The Precious Possession of Diligence

Many of you know that my dad passed away early Monday morning, April 17. We travelled to Ohio for his funeral last week and soberly enjoyed the time we were able to spend with my mom and sister as well as other family and friends. I had the privilege to speak for a few moments at his memorial service and the rest of this post is the substance of my message.


Fathers and sons have a special connection, and the relationship between my dad and I was no exception. I absolutely loved my dad and it seemed right for me to honor him today even if for just a few minutes.

There are many things I owe my dad.

Dad taught me to love the game of baseball. He instilled me with a passion for mowing the yard to make it look good. He taught me about generosity, never letting any of my friends pay for lunch when we went out and occasionally sending that $20 for pizza when I knew they didn’t have much to spare. He taught me about the power of respect, gradually increasing both my freedoms and responsibilities which only made me want more to grow up and be a man like him.

But there is one lesson I learned from my dad that excels every other in my mind. In fact he is not just an example to me in this area, he will forever be THE standard. Perhaps the most amazing thing about this lesson is that he never once talked to me about it. This is a lesson I learned entirely by observation, watching him day in and day out.

The biggest thing I owe my dad is the lesson of DILIGENCE.

Everyone has a basic understanding of what diligence is and most of us know how rare it is to find. Diligence is defined as careful, or better yet, persistent, work or effort. We might call it hard work, tenacity, tirelessness, or perseverance. A person like this is often known as a “fighter” or we might say they have “stick-to-it-iveness.” But whatever we call it, that’s what I learned from my dad.

There is not a week of my life that goes by when I don’t think about my dad’s diligence. When I’m tired or just tired of doing something unenjoyable I remember his example.

He was diligent in his work. As a self-employed draftsman he did whatever was necessary to make his clients happy and provide for his family. He worked out of our house most of my life and I could count on him being at his table every morning–listening to his country music–day after day, year after year.

Not only that, he was diligent to be at every one of my sports games. He missed none of my games until I was 16 and traveling with a summer baseball team in Tennessee. Otherwise I could count on him being there. When I moved away he was faithful to support neighborhood kids or Triway teams or family friends. As long as there was even a glimmer of health he was there.

There were other areas of faithfulness too. He was diligent to get our family to church every week. He was diligent to shine his shoes every Saturday night before church. He was diligent to recycle. He was diligent to walk when he could. Diligence was the pattern of his life.

Most of all he was diligent for the last 14 years in his will to live. Since open-heart surgery in the fall of 1992 he battled uphill against heart disease, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, staff infections, broken bones and other problems that racked his body from head to toe. I suppose most of us were surprised God’s grace enabled him fight this long.

I cannot read the following verse without thinking of him:

A slothful man does not roast his prey,
but the precious possession of a man is diligence.
(Proverbs 12:27, NAS)

Diligence was my dad’s precious possession and is the one thing I most hope to inherit from him.

The only regret I have for my dad was also my most consistent prayer request: I wanted him to experience more Christian joy. There’s no doubt that there were seasons of little joys for him. He did have a great smile and a laugh that welcomed you into any story. But in spite of all the difficulties and pains that seemed inescapable to him I kept praying that he would experience sweet, Spirit-produced joy in Christ.

Joy is what he’d talk about if he were back with us. If he were here, knowing what he does now, I’m sure he would love to tell us about the sweet and sovereign happiness to be found in Christ alone.

I think he’d tell us that he missed out on living in this kind of joy, the kind purchased for us by Christ on the cross. He’d express godly sorrow for so much despondency and point us to Christ who died not only to set us free from the wages and eternal penalty of our sin, but also from the dreary, joy-killing power of sin in this life.

I believe my dad would urge us to live in verses like:

Though you have not seen Him (Jesus), you love Him. Though you do not see Him now, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8-9)

This is the kind of joy he knows about now. This is the kind of joy he’d want us to live in now.

No matter the trial, if we submit to Jesus we can be freed from the concerns of this life to live in the joy of making much of Christ. Jesus is better than life and He promises eternal joy to anyone who will leave their earthly attachments and love Him with their whole heart.

As I close this morning, I saw a Christmas card I wrote my dad in 1995 that he kept it displayed in his room. Though I used the word perseverance back then it carries the same sentiment as diligence. Here is part of what I wrote:

One word that describes you more than any other is PERSEVERANCE. What an absolute pain in the neck to always be physically less than the best and mentally lacking in desire. Yet you get up every day and press on. Thank you. Your example has not gone unnoticed!

…One day, tomorrow or next week, or at least Heaven, WILL BRING ABOUT THE TURNING OF THE TIDE.

Thank you for not giving up and for always being faithful to God and us.

The tide has finally and gloriously turned for my dad. He no longer needs to fight, persevere, or work with diligence. Instead of indescribable pain he has inexpressible joy in Christ. I pray that each one of you have this experience, and hope, of joy today as well.