On Tuesday, August 14, 2012, my hero, my earthly father, Edward David Smith was laid to rest. I had the incredible honor of officiating his funeral service. By request, I am posting my funeral message. This is an edited version of the sermon I preached that day.
The first two verses of the Book of Hebrews chapter 12 contain an incredible description of our lives here on the earth, considering them as though it was a race that we are running. The race the writer of Hebrews is referring to is a race that is somewhat different from our earthly competition-type races, in that he refers to the earthly race that began the minute you and I were born. The finish line for this race is crossed the minute we die. The rules of this life-race are different in many ways compared to our competitive earthly races. For example, in our life-race, we are not in competition to see who gets across the finish line first; and it doesn’t matter who the best trained or most qualified. Another difference is that we are instructed to help others along the way who stumble or fall instead of taking advantage of the situation in order to get ahead of them. The only important thing about this race is whether we will run it faithfully or just drop out. You see, the only losers in this race are the ones who refuse to accept the baton and carry it along with us. Christ is the baton I refer to and living our lives faithfully to Him is the way we run the race.
Dad chose to run his race faithfully. Although his words were often few, his example in deed spoke for itself. While Dad was anything but perfect, he remained faithful until the end. And, when he failed, he didn’t sit on the ground pouting. He got up, dusted off his knees and started to run again. He didn’t cheat either. I can honestly say that Dad finished his race well.
William Shakespeare said, “When a father gives to his son, they both laugh; when a son gives to his father, they both cry.” It wasn’t until I came so close to death in 2006 as my family gave sacrificially to care for me as if a newborn babe that I began to understand what Shakespeare meant by that. These past 4 years and 8 months of caring for Dad during his last days brought with them a lot of laughter and many, many tears along the way.
Dad has always been my hero. He taught by example, and he lived what he believed. He made a difference when it mattered the most. And, I have learned so much from his faithful example. I watched him smile when he was hurting and didn’t feel like smiling. I watched him keep going when many others just quit and didn’t care any more. Dad didn’t know the meaning of the word “quit.” Others around him continually told me how his quiet presence at church or other functions was an incredible blessing to them because they knew he was deaf and that he really didn’t feel like being there that day; but he came anyway and he worshipped God without complaining or bemoaning his circumstances.
I’ve been preaching and ministering on Christian Radio for well over 36 years, and Dad often told me that he would give anything to hear my voice; yet he never heard it one time since I was about 3 years old. As Dad left us for Heaven this past Sunday just after 6:20AM, I looked at the family gathered around his bedside at our home as he took his final breath. I said, “that’s it. I think he’s gone.” Immediately, Marie responded with tears welling up in her eyes, “He can hear!! And his back doesn’t hurt any more!” We all shed tears of joy for Dad because we knew that was the first words he had heard Marie or me say! I think that Dad may well be listening in on this funeral service today, so I want to say those words that he could not hear me say during his lifetime, “Dad, I love you dearly. And, I want you to know how much you impacted my life. Now, go and rest in Christ. I’ll see you soon.”
Danny, you and I are the only two people in the world who are blessed to have been able to call him “Dad.” Plus, there are 4 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren (plus their families) who have been blessed to be able to call him PawPaw. But, no matter what title you addressed him by, be it friend, co-worker, neighbor or family; you knew that he was a man of integrity and honor. I think that it would be fair to say that each of us who knew him, whether we are his family, extended family, friend or acquaintance could all say that Dad influenced our lives in a positive way by the example he set before us. Dad thought it was better to live by example than by words alone. And, he was right. Actions always speak louder than words, and he knew that well.
Over the past few months as Dad’s health declined, Marie had become his nurse and primary health care provider. Sweetheart, you already know that Dad loved you as though you were his own flesh and blood. I’m not sure he could have loved you more if you had been his own daughter. People everywhere were shocked to learn that you were his daughter-in-law because you took such good care of him. He genuinely appreciated everything you did for him, and so do I, sweetheart. Marie, you are an incredible blessing to our family, and I couldn’t love you more.
Of course, we have been reminiscing a lot over the past couple of days, and I am blessed to have some precious memories that will go with me the rest of my life. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of Dad playing with Danny and me outside in the summertime. It was always a struggle for our parents to get by in those days, so money was never plenteous at our house. But, our creative Dad always came through. One time, he took some old lawnmower wheels, some junk and scraps of wood that he had picked up somewhere and built us a soapbox derby “car.” It was a wooden box on wheels complete with a rope “steering wheel” and a crossbar to put our feet on. We would push with our feet and pull on the rope to turn that contraption. If you measured whether we liked it or not by how much we played with it, you’d have thought that crazy thing had leather bucket seats and plush carpet on the floor. We would get on that thing and go screaming down the hill at our house and run off the end of the driveway and down the bank; then drag that thing back up the hill and do it all over again. I’ll never forget the way he smiled as he watched his kids at play….and then we’d watch Dad climb on it with us and ride down the hill, and we’d scream all the way down. Years later, Dad built another “improved model” for his grandkids; and once again smiled as he watched his kids scream down that hill.
And, Dad loved our mother, too. I was told many years ago that he said of her that if he could marry that Caldwell girl, he would have everything any man could ever want in life. And, marry her he did…and there is no doubt that he loved her. I remember how she always wanted to live in a brick house, but they couldn’t afford to move, so they compromised and decided that Dad would brick our house. Dad didn’t know the first thing about brick masonry, but he saved up his money and bought some bricks and mortar and a few crude tools and did it anyway. During the long months that followed, he worked patiently as brick by brick he wrapped that house with love and determination to do his absolute best work possible. Often, he would spend more time tearing down something he didn’t like than actually getting the job done; but after a very long time and a boat-load of patience, he finally finished it. I remember another time that Mother wanted a rock fireplace, so he went into the hills and came back with pick-up load after pick-up load of rocks that he piled up in the yard and sat there with a mason’s hammer breaking them in half; in search of the rocks he wanted until he perfected his collection and built a rock wall that housed a fireplace. It was not experienced or qualified hands that built that house; it was Dad’s love for his family that built it.
Many years ago, a relative asked me what it was like to live with a father who was handicapped. I responded by saying, “I wouldn’t know. My Dad is not handicapped.” You see, Dad was deaf, but he was not handicapped. He made the best of whatever situation he was in and became an over-comer.
Dad’s influence reached deeply into my family. The result is a life-long impact that will outlive him by at least another generation. Dad leaves behind several “name sakes” in the family. Our oldest son, David is here today, along with his family. David was the first to be named after Dad. And, our David brought his son today, and his name is “Isaiah David.” Our second son, Vern is here, along with his son, Aaron David. So, you can plainly see that Dad made a lasting impact on our family. If you are here today and have any doubt that Dad loved everyone in this family, please let me assure you today that your doubts are misplaced. There is no doubt that PawPaw loved his family….each and every one of you. One by one, Dad asked to see each of his family as he prepared for his own death. The day we told Dad that he was not going to get better and the doctors had done all they could do for him, he just patted Marie on the arm and smiled. And he continually told us how much it meant to him that everyone came to visit with him. He went to church two weeks to the day before he passed away. He never quit, and he finished his race well.
I mentioned earlier the great life-race that we are in that is recorded for us in Hebrews Chapter 12, the first two verses. Let’s look at those verses for just a moment.
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance (patience) the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Who are those witnesses? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to ask another one: Who is not in that crowd?
1) Those people are not in the cloud of witnesses.
a. Those who are in hell. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus gives this bit of information.
i. Those in hell see what is going on earth but are powerless to do anything about it or to communicate with their loved ones on earth.
ii. Those in hell are in torment themselves and are quite preoccupied with their own suffering.
iii. God refused to hear their request to send someone back to their loved ones who are still behind on the earth.
b. Those on earth are not in the cloud of witnesses. They are in the race themselves, so they cannot be a spectator or witness to something they are involved in. They have limited sight as to the track compared to a spectator who is in the stands with a full view of the track and the runners.
2) Those who are likely in the crowd of witnesses.
a. Angels. God’s messengers have always been cheerleaders among humans.
b. Those who are already in heaven.
c. Those in Heaven who have an interest in each of us specifically. I believe that our friends and relatives in Heaven are watching each of us as we run this race just as we might pick out a favorite athlete to cheer them on as they run a race in the Olympics. I can see them leaning over the banister rails in Heaven watching us run our race, and hear them as they shout encouragement to each of us along the way. So, from now on, when I get discouraged or depressed, I’ll think of my dear old Dad and listen closely to hear him as he cheers me on, then I’ll be aware that he falls to his knees asking God to bless me and deliver me from the things that would ensnare me in their trap as I run my race. Dad is now a cheerleader in Heaven, and he is cheering for each and every one of us this very minute.
So, Dad has finished his earthly race, but his legacy and his example lives on. He has joined that chorus who is cheering us onward and he is now praying directly to God the Father on our behalf. He can hear!! And, his degenerative discs in his back are healed! He is singing loudly in the Heavenly choir, and I can almost see a tear in his eye as he watches us even now. Right now, he is resting high on that mountain with his Savior, as the song says. I remember catching Dad trying to sing that song along with Vince Gill with tears in his eyes a few years ago. I believe that if Dad could come back to this place just for a few minutes right now and address each of us, he would tell us to live honestly and faithfully before God, to love our families and most importantly, to love God with all of our heart, with all our soul and with all of our might. This next song that we’re about to play is one Dad asked me to play today. So, Dad, this is your requested song, and it is dedicated to you. I miss you, Dad! But I know I’ll see you again someday soon.
Remember that you are loved with an everlasting love. The Love of Christ. And, I love each of you as well.