in Tributes

Finishing well

Saturday, May 30, was a day for remembering the life God gave Mark Sheets. As the pastor prayed near the beginning of the service, he asked that our worship would glorify Jesus Christ. I believe his prayer was divinely answered. Each fond memory of Mark pointed back to his Savior and Lord.

It was hearing Psalm 46 read on the radio just after Mark and Nidia learned he had cancer that brought him comfort. Pastor Peter VanDyke (of Canyon Lake Community Church) read the psalm.

My ears heard all the words but my mind seemed to linger on the phrase in verse 3 and did not fully engage again until the final verse.

“God is our refuge and strength,

A very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear,

Even though the earth be removed, — The LORD of hosts is with us

The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

From our perspective, at the death of someone we know and love, “the earth (seems to) be removed.” But from God’s point of view, He has only removed one speck from His creation. God knows the trauma that comes to our lives as He acts. As He works His will, we have the assurance of His presence with us.

The pastor’s meditation centered on “knowing Christ” from Philippians 3:7-11, especially verse 10.

“That I may know him [Christ],

and the power of his resurrection,

and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to His death,

if, by any means,

I may attain to the resurrection of the dead.”

In a couple of vignettes from a video recording of his testimony, Mark expressed how much more clearly he understood Christ’s suffering in order to provide for his salvation (and our’s). Maybe Mark’s perception of our hope that results from Christ’s resurrection was heightened in my own thoughts because of our current study of the resurrection doctrine in 1 Corinthians 15.

I was pleasantly surprised that the final note of the service was a favorite song. Many of you could probably sing “Victory in Jesus” without a copy of the words. Even in the familiar, one truth had new meaning. The last line of the refrain goes like this, “He (Jesus) plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.”

Among Mark’s favorite recreations was surfing. Surfers know the thrill of riding with the force of the waves. Those who do (and especially those who have tried) also know the feeling of peril that can come when a wave breaks over you and buries you under the water. If it is even just for a moment, surfers are at the mercy of the water surrounding them. Surfers do not score points in competitions by falling off their boards or drowning. That’s not victory. Similarly, the best any of us can do to earn points with God for eternal life is to fall and drown. However, those who believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life are awarded the “victory” which He has already obtained.

What about that “plunging” part? Why is it necessary that Jesus “plunge” me to victory? Maybe Jesus knows something about surfing the cold (-cold) Pacific Ocean. If you try to tip-toe into the water, more often than not, you will back out. By suddenly and completely bringing us into a new condition when Christ begins His work of grace we realize how greatly we are at His mercy and know there’s no turning back now.