Funeral Sermon

Question 1: What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death,1 am not my own,2 but belong unto my faithful Savior Jesus Christ;3 who, with His precious blood,4 hath fully satisfied for all my sins,5 and delivered me from all the power of the devil;6 and so preserves me7 that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head;8 yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation,9 and therefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life,10 and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto Him.11

Biblical Christianity recognizes and affirms along with St. Paul in I Corinthians 6 that we, both individually and collectively are not your own. We understand, confess and affirm that we have been bought with a price – that price being the precious blood of Jesus Christ which paid for our sin. There are several implications to that, the most immediate one being that we are to glorify God as the Apostle writes. And that is why we are here. We are to glorify God even when adversity, trials, and heartaches by His providence cross our paths. In doing so we are acknowledging and bowing before He who is the creator of life and death and the creator of eternal life. In gathering here we are glorifying God by acknowledging and affirming that the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the name of the Lord.

However, the idea that we are not our own also has the implication that as the God of the Bible owns us He therefore owns everything that we have. We are never owners in the full sense of that word but only stewards operating under God’s ownership. This means that the children God gives His covenant people are God’s children before they are our children. We are not our own, as the Scripture teaches, and because we are not our own it is the assertion and affirmation of Biblical Christianity through the centuries that our children belong to Christ just as we, the parents belong to Christ. So, before any child bears the family’s surname, that child first bears the name “Christian.”

There is no middle ground on this. Children, like adults, either are of their Father the Devil or they belong to Christ. The Christian faith affirms that the Children of believers have God’s claim of ownership upon them.

This means we understand, affirm, and confess that as the children of Christians belong to God should they die while under our covenant headship the conviction is that those children have been gathered into the arms of their savior, who while on earth went out of His way to command His disciples, to “forbid not the children to come unto me for such is the Kingdom of heaven.” If it is not the children of covenant parents who are gathered unto Jesus upon an untimely death then there are no children who are gathered unto the Kingdom of God and His Christ.

Our Father King David expressed this conviction when, following the death of his newborn child could say;

I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” II Sam 12:23

In the midst of the great grief surrounding his son’s death our Father David affirmed that His child was not His own and that His child had been gathered to his Fathers by God the Father. This is the mindset of all Biblical Christians who mourn over the untimely death of their babies, toddlers, and children.
From this we embrace the truth of Scripture when it teaches that our times are in God’s hand (Ps. 31:15). God owns His people and the children of His people and it is the case for all of us that

“whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that He might be Lord both of the dead and living.” (Romans 14:7-9)

As God of the Bible own us and our children it is for Him to sovereignly administer our time and times. Scripture explicitly affirms this when the Psalmist speaks.

    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

Our times are in God’s hands and for His elect those times may be counted long so that we are graybeards when we die, or those times may be counted short but long or brief all the days ordained for any of us … all the days ordained by God for Stephen Elliot Cave were written in God’s book before one of them came to be.

Now this ownership that God claims upon His people and their seed is an ownership that is based upon the finished work of Jesus Christ dying on the cross in order to pay the penalty of our rebellion against His character and His gracious Law-Word. God owns His people because in and with the death of Jesus Christ the just and perfect wrath of God against sin and sinners was turned away that we who trust in Jesus Christ may have peace with God and entry into the family of God.

Of course you have to know and understand that God’s people were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain lifestyle received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

This was the basis of Stephen’s being owned by God. Stephen’s being owned by God was not based on his innocence as a Baby. Scripture teaches that even newborns have a sin nature. Stephen’s being owned by God was and is anchored to the reality that He was conceived by covenant parents who themselves are owned by God and all of them together Stephen and His parents owned because of the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

This is the hope of the Gospel. This is the comfort for those of us who grieve with Jared and Kathryn in the covenant community. These are the truths upon which the anchor of our faith must hold should we be able to navigate such depths of sorrow.

If God be for us, who can be against us?

To Jared and Kathryn and the rest of the family, allow me to remind you that your heavenly Father has not forgotten you. Allow me as the minister of Christ to remind you again of how much our heavenly Father loves you for the sake of Jesus Christ. And while I would never presume to tell you or anybody going through adversity the whys of your trials I do have the authority as the minister of Christ to tell you that nothing can separate you from the love of God. I do have the authority to tell you that He will never leave you nor forsake you. I do have the authority to remind you that as weary and heavy laden you are invited to come unto Christ for His burden is easy and His yoke is light.

In times and events like these we must say with the disciples; “Where else would we go save to you for you alone have the words of eternal life.”

Allow me to round off here with a more personal word to those who are feeling like all this has sucked their lungs right out from them. The Scripture teaches in Hosea 6

Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.

From many of our Christian fore-fathers have drawn out the principle that teaches that whom God would heal He first wounds. God has wounded you … has wounded us, but He will heal us and we will be all the more pliable in His hands for His wounding and consequent healing. We will be all the more fit for the master’s use having endured this and then been healed from it.

This is what scripture is getting at when it teaches;

11 Now no discipline seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

And so you and we have been wounded by the hand of God. It is painful. It is not easy. Being pruned never is comfortable. But shall we not, by faith, long to find some balm that this wounding has been from the Father’s hand – a Father who loves us for the sake Jesus Christ, and that these wounds – these afflictions which we bear now will yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness not to mention they are also working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?

How else can I understand all this heartache if I am to believe Lord’s Day #1 which teaches “that all things must be subservient to my salvation?”

With all that in mind let us as God’s people stand and together make the good confession;

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;

And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell;
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints;
The forgiveness of sin;
The resurrection of the body:
And the life everlasting. Amen.


Nisbet and McAtee on the Professional Man of Knowledge

“Who, we are obliged to ask, looks with respect any longer to the professional man of knowledge: whether scientist or scholar?”

Robert Nisbet 
Twilight of Authority — pg. 110

Nisbet goes on to explain why this is so. This is so because the putative “wise men” for so many generations have disappointed and let us down. People have gotten wise to the con that the professional men of knowledge pulled for so long. For a couple generations, now these men have been all hat and no cattle.

In my environs, I see this most commonly among the clergy. The clergy was once accepted as the professional men of knowledge par excellent. This is rightfully no longer the case among and for those who are not simpletons or groupies.

The clergy has shown themselves too often to be vacuous hacks whose expertise is more akin to the kind of expertise one finds in those who have made a career of building McDonald and other fast food franchises.

Clergy as “Professional men of knowledge?” That is almost as incongruent and ridiculous as the idea of Psychologists as being “Healthcare providers for the mind,” or “Friends of the Court” as being “Friends of the family.”

And so, we must each, on our own, go to the well of knowledge, and labor to be our own “Professional men of knowledge,” because it is unlikely (though not impossible) that we are going to find Professional men of knowledge in this culture. We must become a culture of autodidacts, eschewing the popular outlets of knowledge such as University, and Pulpit.

Now, don’t mistake this commentary as the kind of anti-intellectualism found among what was known as the Fundamentalist movement that arose in response to the Liberalism of the early 20th century. If anything this is a plea for a return to a Biblically centered and grounded intellectualism. Everywhere we turn it seems as if Nisbet’s professional man of knowledge has been educated into imbecility. We are asked to believe the most outlandish contradictions and to embrace the most preposterous suppositions. In the Reformed Church alone we are presented with just ridiculous systems to believe in such as the New Perspective on Paul, Radical Two Kingdom “Theology,” “Reformed Catholicism,” “Federal Visionism,” and “Liberation ‘Theology,'” not to mention the usual Pietism that has infected the Reformed Church for so long.

The Professional man of knowledge, may well still exist, just as the Bornean orangutan or the Black-footed ferret exists but all and each is nigh unto extinction.  If you find a live professional man of knowledge still in his original habitat make sure you do all you can to protect him from predators. If you can’t find one, it is to the library you must go for only there does the professional man of knowledge still exist.

Reformed vs. Lutheran Preaching … A Brief Synopsis


Lutheran preaching uses the Law and Gospel hermeneutic. It will often begin with what God requires and man can not give (Law) and will finish with what God alone gives (Gospel). Like Lutheran theology, Lutheran preaching terminates on man.

Reformed preaching often likewise followed the Law and Gospel hermeneutic. Reformed preaching will also emphasize how the law leaves us guilty before God, with the same ringing announcement that God must do all.

The difference between Lutheran and Reformed preaching is that Lutherans saw Justification (the Gospel glad tidings in preaching) as being an end in itself. Once the announcement was made to man that God has done all that is the end. Not so the Reformed. The Reformed agreed with Lutherans on the wonder of Justification (the Gospel glad tidings in preaching) BUT the Reformed insisted that Justification was not an end but a means to a higher end — a higher end that could not be spoken of apart from the good news. The higher end of Justification was the answering of the question, “How shall we now live, as a Justified people, in order to glorify God.”

In brief the Reformed didn’t absolutize the antithesis between Law and Gospel. The Reformed in their preaching, following Scripture, saw the hermeneutical antithesis as between the seed of the Woman and the seed of the Serpent. The law does not function solely as negative in the lives of those who belong to Christ. The Reformed saw a harmony between the Gospel and the third use of the law with which Lutherans are not typically comfortable.

And so Reformed preaching goes on from Lutheran truncated Law Gospel to explain what it looks like now, in keeping with the third use of the law,  for a purified people who have been Redeemed by Christ from every lawless deed to now live as a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14)

Lutheran ears hear Reformed preaching and think that it fails their Law Gospel hermeneutic, and so is legalistic, but the point of the matter is, is that Lutherans have made the Gospel end upon man’s salvation (and so really is anthropocentric) while Reformed preaching understands that man’s salvation serves God’s glorification and so Reformed preaching, while announcing the same glad tidings as Lutheran preaching goes on to instruct God’s people that salvation means that we make it our goal to please Him and then spends time how it is that people who God is pleased with, for the sake of Christ’s atoning work, can live as children who please their Father in all their living. Thus Reformed preaching is Christocentric.

Subtle differences. Important differences.

Now, Reformed preaching can break down and where I have heard Reformed preaching break down is in the respect that it is often Law/Gospel/ and then the Law again as a means to earn God’s favor. It ends up sounding something like, “Yeah. Isn’t the good news good. OK. That’s enough of a break from the burden of the law. Now get back under there and start doing some “sanctified” law keeping.” To avoid falling back under the works of the law, we need to keep in mind the Heidelberg Catechism which teaches us that good works are,

Only those which are done
out of true faith,
in accordance with the law of God,
and to his glory,
and not those based
on our own opinion
or on precepts of men

We also need to keep in mind that we, as God’s Redeemed, never obey in order to attain an uncertain forgiveness, but we obey out of love and gratitude for a certain forgiveness granted. We do not obey to gain life.  We obey out of life already obtained. As such, our third use of the law, law respecting, is not a threat to justification by faith alone.

Next, we need to remember that the Holy Spirit has been given as a deposit guaranteeing that which is to come. Because we have been given the Holy Spirit we are a people thirsty to work out what God has worked within us. We are not a people who are obeying by lifting ourselves by our own bootstraps, seeking to curry an uncertain favor. Rather we are a people who are only living in ways that we are bent toward due to our possession of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, we need to keep before us that even when God is pleased to increase in His people sanctification that we still are only received by Him for the sake of the finished work of Jesus Christ. We remain unprofitable servants who have, even when we have done what we think is our “best,” only done what we ought (Luke 17:10). There is nothing in us or our performance that wins our salvation. Our salvation is anchored only in the performance of the Lord Christ on our behalf. This is a comfort to us when we begin to see that even our best of works are far from what they are called to be.

Requiescat in pace Miss Ethel Smith

Almost 27 years ago, I was called to my first charge as Minister to a Church in Longtown, South Carolina. Longtown was and remains a sign on Longtown road, announcing “Longtown,” Longtown Presbyterian Church, a small restaurant (the Windmill), a gas station-mom & pop convenience store, and a children’s park. That is the town of Longtown. It was and is so small that they don’t even give it a zip code, instead sharing a zip code with the metropolis of Ridgeway (population — 500) up the road. I served as the Pastor of the small rural Longtown Presbyterian church for 76 months.

The membership of the church was small and so there was little problem in getting to know those I would be serving. One of the fixtures of the congregation was Mrs. Ethel Smith. Miss Ethel, as my children came to affectionately know her, was a grandmotherly type for not only our children but for Jane and I as well.

Miss Ethel was 63 when we showed up in Longtown and had seen a good deal of life already. She grew up a Boulware in South Carolina during times that were so lean that “hardscrabble” hardly seems to do those times justice.  The hardness of those times and the simplicity of living they required was testified to by Miss Ethel’s residence. Ethel had the gift of hospitality and many were the times we would visit together in what most moderns would consider “a hovel” but what she found to be home and I found to be a glorious museum of a time I had only read about. In our visits, there by the old stove, she would bring out her knick knacks that reflected a different era and tell me a little of the history behind each knick knack. There in our times of mutual encouragement — times where I’m sure I learned more from her concerning the Christian faith than she learned from “Pastor Bret,” — she would show me her artistic endeavors with her ceramic doll making and adorning. Miss Ethel had artistic blood in her as seen by those ceramic dolls, sewing projects, crocheting ability and by the hand puppets she made upon my request to be used for children’s church — hand puppets that I still own today. Her concern was so great for us that after we left Longtown she crocheted several afghans to make sure the cold northern climate wouldn’t overwhelm us.

Miss Ethel, of course, had all the domestic skills and abilities that one would expect to find in a lady from the Southern yeoman class. She could cook “Southern” with the best of them and was one of the folks of Longtown who introduced Jane and I and the children to scrambled eggs, tomatoes and grits,  as prepared for our Sunday Morning Breakfasts, which took place once a month in the fellowship hall prior to church. Those domestic skills including canning. Jane tells the story of how Ethel and her sister Allie May would come over and help Jane can tomatoes from a garden that violated the Southern principle that “a man shall not plant more than a woman  is able to can.” Ethel, along with her sister Allie May would periodically babysit for Jane and I as we would get away for a “date night.” She loved our children and our children loved her.

The hardscrabble times that Miss. Ethel grew up in wrought in her a wonderful Christian character marked by charity and humility. Her charity and humility were seen in a host of way but not least in her “doing” for her family. One of Ethel’s daughters (Francis) lived right across the street and as Francis was a teacher up the road Ethel would help keep house for Francis and John David. Ethel’s disabled brother M. L. lived in a trailer on Ethel’s property and Ethel was constant in looking in on  and doing for M. L. him. Ethel’s sister “Allie May,” were constant companions and her affection for Francis, Lois, Susie, Ginger, Summer, and April and all her family was constant.

Miss Ethel, had not only a joyful disposition, she had the ability to be painfully direct in her speech when needs be. In conversing about matters important one was not required to have to read between the lines when speaking with Miss Ethel. She had no trouble making her mind known when that was required. This “plain speaking” was not overbearing but was characteristic when the nub of the matter needed addressed.

Miss Ethel delighted in attending Church and Bible study during our years in Longtown. Being the only one who could drive, she would often gather up Miss Allie May and Miss Nellie and Miss Rachel Gove from up the road and bring them to mid-week study.  She had the ability to make a very young minister believe that he really was dispensing pearls of wisdom. I can still  hear Buster pounding out “Beulah Land” on the piano in the Fellowship Hall and Miss Ethel singing at full voice. I can’t wait to hear that again.

I often describe the Longtown years to others as years of living in a land time forgot. The people of Longtown were comparatively untouched by what afflicts us as moderns. It remained a place where one could still hear a real southern accent, could experience genuine southern hospitality, could still attend a Southern turkey shoot or a pig roast or a community pig butchering. You could still meet people that actually still ate Possum and who would take you on a all night coon hunt. My elderly friends and flock from that time are almost all gone now. Gone are Miss Ethel, Miss Allie May, Miss Nellie, Miss Mary, Miss Janie May, Miss Betty, Miss Louise, Miss Rachel and  Ted & Janet Goodwin and Ralph and Jean Evans and Hoy and Dot Bundrick. Gone is Mister Buster and Mister Fisher. They taught me about the ministry and about life. They were the ones who first put flesh on the idea of the importance of kin with their forever talking about “their people” and asking me about “my people” — phrases I had never heard before that time. They taught me the helpful but then curious phrase of “I’ve been knowing him” instead of “I know him.” A phrase I’ve used many times as a sermon illustration for “knowing God.” Gone is the gloriously high pitched laughter of Miss Ethel and the sound elderly counsel of Buster and Hoy. Gone is the table fellowship with the McFaddens and Miss Mary and the Bundricks and Miss Louise. Each of them and all of them will ever remain my small rural “Jayber Crow” congregation.

And so with Miss Ethel’s death the circle is once again broken but we are reminded of a day coming when we will all join at the table of the great King where the circle will then be unbroken in that eternal land that time will have mercifully eternally forgotten.

From the Mailbag — Charlotte Pastor’s Chit Chat


To be honest with you there is no good fruit to come from the argument that will ensue if we continue this conversation. I used to enjoy apologetics in my early years in ministry. I have lost my taste for that and this invitation to pray was not intended to spark debate nor win in any argument anyway. I want to see the Kingdom of God come in our city. I will not convince you to ENCOUNTER Jesus in any way that you are not already expecting. And you will not convince me that what I EXPERIENCE is not valid. GREATER THEOLOGY IS NOT WHAT THE CHURCH NEEDS, what we need is Greater revelation of who Jesus is.


Rev. Sandy Andrews
Full Life Church
Charlotte Mich.

Dear Sandy,


1.) You want a “greater revelation of Jesus” but expect to have that greater revelation apart from a greater understanding of our undoubted catholic Christian faith and the doctrines and theology that convey that greater revelation? That is passing odd and demonstrates a false dichotomy on your part. There will be no greater revelation of Jesus apart from a greater theology.

2.) I appealed to Scripture. You appealed to experience and encounter. You do realize that your appeal is classical liberal theology right? Have you ever read or are your familiar with  Schleiermacher? I ask because you are channeling him right now Sandy.

3.) Honestly, I think I’m the only one with the different theology here. Inasmuch as y’all are coming together you express that you have a unity in theology.

4.) With all due regard, given your language, I will be praying that your vision and understanding of the Kingdom of God will be kept at bay.

A man with an argument is never at the mercy of a man with an experience.

I promise to pray for your repentance while I am praying for my repentance and while you are praying for “revival.”

How can two walk or pray together Sandy, unless they agree?

May the Lord Christ grant us grace to be His genuine under-shepherds,