In Memory of Rick “RJ” Nelson
May 4, 2009 § Leave a comment
Last week I got a call from Rick Nelson’s son, Kyle, letting me know that Rick had passed away. Rick had been diagnosed with cancer only in January. Rick was 58 years old when he died.
I had the honor of helping the family to grieve and remember Rick by officiating at the memorial service. The service was a wonderful time of reflecting and honoring Rick’s life. Many of Rick’s family and friends were in attendance along with many of his son’s friends.
At one point in the service I gave a sermon, below is the manuscript.
What Do We Do Now?
There are times in life that our circumstances cause us to stop and ask deep questions of life. Questions like, “Why am I here? What is my life for? Why does pain exist?” These times that cause us to think this way are at pinnacle points of relationships, births, weddings, and deaths. Here we are today, honoring Rick, asking these questions.
The question that I would like to address is, “What do we do now?”
The passage that was read a few moments ago, was from the gospel of Luke. I’ll read again in just a moment, but first I’d like to share the immediate context in which Jesus gives this advice. Jesus has just been telling his disciples about destruction, disaster, and calamity that are coming. He has foretold the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, has foretold the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, he has just warned that nation will rise up against nation, and that there will be earthquakes, famines, terrors, and persecutions. This is no shock to us, we know that these kinds of calamities could always realistically occur. Looking back at history we can see that some of these things have happened and some of them continue to happen. The point is we live in a world where calamity exists.
Now, with that in mind, I will reread the passage. This is the concluding statement from Jesus.
“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:34-36
As human beings we have been wired for joy, pleasure, happiness, and excitement. This is not a bad thing, this is good. The desire for delight is a pure desire at its core. In fact, Jesus acknowledges this core desire in this passage. When calamities come, as he has just described, there will be a void of joy. Because we are wired with the desire for delight, we will naturally turn from this sorrow and seek delight. We will try to remove the sense of pain, sorrow, and unhappiness. Again, this is good.
The warning from Jesus, to not be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness, is actually a call to delight. What I mean is, alcohol does delight to some degree. It does bring happiness. But it’s fleeting, it goes away too quickly. It’s not long lasting, it’s not made to be long lasting, its purpose is to delight for a short period of time. And so by warning against drunkenness, he is not trying to take our pursuit of joy away. The Bible even says that wine makes the heart glad and doesn’t criticize the gladness that is felt from it. So what Jesus is doing is calling us to delight in something greater, a relationship.
The Bible never tells us not to do something just because. That is, the Bible does not arbitrarily command us to not get drunk. The Bible does not say, “You are sad, but you better not get drunk, get over it” end of story. That is not Christianity that is moralism. The commands that God gives us are not for are ruin, but for our good. God is kind enough to tell us how we ought to live, and not for the purpose of ruining our joy, but for the purpose of increasing our joy. He is telling us not to delight in wine because there is something better. It’s as if we are at a buffet line in Vegas, and we are loading our plate down with celery, but at the end of the line there is fresh lobster, prime rib, and crab legs. If your father, who loves you, told you not to delight in celery but instead said, “Trust me, something better down here.” You would be foolish to not trust him.
Obedience to God is its own reward. That is, when we obey God our delight increases, and not in some abstract spiritual sort of, but the very occurrences in our life become joy-filled. When my wife speak to me disrespectfully, and I trust God enough to obey him and I don’t lose my temper, I have not lost my status as a man and I have not lost any clout with my family. Rather, I have gained their respect and they trust me more and they honor me more.
The Bible tells us not to ultimately delight in the cares of this world because there is something infinitely greater to delight in. God himself is calling us to delight in him. He is calling us to have a relationship with a person that really lived and lives today, Jesus.
C.S. Lewis discusses the same phenomenon when he compares the delight found in the cares of this world juxtaposed to the delight found in God. Lewis says that it is as if you are watching a man drink stagnant pond water, and between the deep gulps he is taking he looks up at you and he says, “ This is so good.” But you know that if he would remove his head from the pond and look behind him there is a fresh waterfall, with pristine fresh clean water that can satisfy his thirst so much more.
That is what Jesus is saying, he is saying, “You think pond water delights, and it does delight to some degree, but I am offering you something that will ultimately satisfy.” When tragedy comes, and it will come it’s part of life, fill your void of delight with God.
So what we are supposed to do in light of Rick’s death? I have been discussing the two kinds of delight, but to specifically answer the question of what we are supposed to do, we will look again at Luke’s gospel, this time in chapter 13 verse 3. In this passage, a building has just fallen and killed 18 people. Again, another tragedy. Jesus’ disciples have now come to him to find answers for this tragedy. They are looking for some comforting word. His response is staggering, he says, “Unless you repent, you will likewise perish.” At first glance this may seem incredibly insensitive, but in reality it’s not. It is actually the Jesus calling people to himself through tragedy. Not for their harm, but for their good. Tragedy has just struck and Jesus is calling.
Just like the tower of Siloam, one of God’s purposes in Rick’s death is to call us into a relationship with Jesus. Romans 2:4 “Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” God forbearing our death and allowing us to live a little longer is him showing us kindness. When we ask, “Why Rick and why not me?” One answer is, God is being kind to you and calling you to delight in him.
Turning to God is for your good. He is only calling you too truly delight and to truly live. He is not trying to put chains on you and ruin your life by trusting him enough to actually obey him. If the quest is for joy, it is found in Christ.
One of the greatest ways we can honor this man’s life is by understanding God’s purpose in drawing people to himself through tragedy of his death.