Today was Justin’s memorial service. It was a God-glorifying service if there ever was one, and I am praying for the seeds planted by the clear Gospel presentation. Amazing.
A facet of the Christian faith that I am passionate about is “joy in suffering.” Let me be clear: I have not suffered much. Once, in a down moment, I tried to list 13 difficult things I’ve experienced in my Livejournal (a blog of a different sort – not usually public). If you read the entry, which I’ve shamelessly made public, you’ll see that I could only list 6 things, and I couldn’t resist including the amazing way God had redeemed the situation, brought me comfort, or accomplished a greater plan alongside each difficult experience. Some people might say that some elements of my life could be classified as suffering. I will say that while the errors of my parents caused me much pain, I do not feel that I have suffered. And if I have, I emphasize the joy that my suffering has produced.
I have not lost a child. I have not lost a brother, a cousin, or a best friend, but Justin’s dear family has. Together with my church, however, I have lost a dear sister-in-Christ to a very tragic end. So, as part of a church family that has lost a loved one abruptly, tragically, I can say that I have suffered the very same way that Justin’s church family is surely suffering. And it is with the lenses of that experience that I write about Justin’s memorial service, in which his father was able to say, the very same week his son was taken from him, that his family does not view Justin’s death as a tragedy, but as something to celebrate. Why, and how, is he able to see this nightmare that way? Through the grace, and peace, and comfort given to him by Jesus Christ.
Justin’s father sees the many ways that Justin influenced and affected people, and he is able to praise God for it. He sees the evidence of Justin’s witnessing, and ministering, and is able to thank God for His work. Finally, he miraculously sees the full picture – that Justin is seated at the banquet table with his Best Friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, celebrating, and is therefore able to celebrate with his son. Furthermore, he knows he’ll see his son again, in Heaven, soon. Soon and very soon.
That, my friends, is the “joy in suffering” that James speaks of: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Fittingly, Justin was a guy who desired the testing of his faith. My most precious memories of him are from the year he started, and fought for, a Bible study called The Word at our high school. He actually had to go to the school board to get our study approved. And which book did we first study? To be honest, I don’t remember. But I like to think it was James. 🙂
Justin used to admonish me the verses about gentleness and being slow to anger. He would say, “Rosie, be gentle!” And I would retort, “Justin, be NICE!” He could really… ruffle my feathers because he was so intelligent, he was always able to shut me down. In my yearbook, he wrote, “you are the most vocal Christian I know. Remember gentleness in 1 Peter 3 (I think).” I remember thinking, “well, you taught me everything I know!”
In so many ways, I failed. I was young, and inexperienced, and zealous for the Lord. I am thankful for God’s forgiveness, and friends’ forgiveness. I am also thankful that so many people heard the message again today, in light of Justin’s amazing life, no less.
It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.
By the grace and power of God, I can say that I was glad to be in the house of mourning today. I “lay it to heart” tonight.