The Special of the Day… From the Orange Moon Cafe…
"Outside the Comfort Zone"
I once had an interesting opportunity to speak at a funeral service. During the last three months of her life, Mrs. Johnson lived in a retirement community where we conduct services. She could not communicate due to the effects of a severe stroke that affected her ability to speak. There was, however, an exception. When I quoted Bible verses in my sermons, Mrs. Johnson somehow rose to the occasion and quite frequently joined me in their recitation (I am reminded of a friend who knew the preacher Vance Havner and visited him when he was confined to a nursing home near the end of his life. Vance spoke very little - unless you asked him to pray. Then, like Mrs. Johnson, his Christ-filled heart overrode physical incapacities to utter prayers as he had during his lifetime of walking with the Lord. "My strength is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9).
When Mrs. Johnson passed away, her daughter asked me to speak at the service because I had served as her mother's last pastor. I was more than agreeable to do so, but her daughter threw me a bit of a curve. "Please don't tell anyone I asked you to speak" she requested. I responded that if she felt uncomfortable with my participation for any reason, I would surely understand. "No, Glen, I want you to speak," she said. "But please don't tell anyone I asked you." I suspect the issue had to do with cultural matters. Mrs. Johnson was African American, and I am Caucasian. Perhaps her daughter may have wondered if some folks in the church might be uncomfortable with my presence, and even more, with my participation. As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Frances and I drove to the funeral, expecting it to be a small gathering. We knew Mrs. Johnson had a fine family (ten of them had joined us in our chapel service on Mother's Day not long before Mrs. Johnson's passing). However, nothing led us to expect what we encountered when we arrived at the church. We discovered a full parking lot. We walked into the building to find a standing room only congregation of at least four hundred people. It turns out the Mrs. Johnson was very well connected in her community, and knew dignitaries at both the political and social level. A state senator spoke before I walked up to the microphone, and it was obvious that Mrs. Johnson was greatly loved and respected by many family members, friends, and acquaintances.
Mrs. Johnson's daughter instructed me before the service when I should approach the front of the sanctuary to speak to the congregation. "Are you sure?" I asked again. She nodded. The time came. As far as I know, only three people in the church - myself, Frances, and Mrs. Johnson's daughter - knew why a funny looking white guy made his way to the front of the church, and then of all things, faced the congregation and began to speak. I introduced myself, and shared how much Mrs. Johnson had meant to us, and how much we would miss her. Of course, I mentioned her joining me in reciting the Scriptures, which led to many smiles, knowing nods, and "Amens!" When I finished, the people graciously acknowledged my words and I returned to the place where I had stood before speaking (remember, standing room only). People offered me their place in the pews (as they had before I spoke), and I can honestly say I have never been more blessed by the graciousness of God's people.
I look back on the occasion as one of the more memorable times in our ministry. And one of the more blessed. I also realize that the Lord leads us into some strange and difficult circumstances in life that place us far outside our comfort zone. We cannot avoid feelings of uncertainty in such times, but we do well to remember His promised presence and enabling in all things. Mrs. Johnson's homegoing service surely confirmed such truth, and even more, the memory of it reminds me of how much we can trust our Lord in all things, regardless of uncertainty or discomfort. We often find Him best outside the comfort zone, where we most realize our need, and even more, His faithful provision.
"When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee."
Weekly Memory Verse
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight, but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do."