Of my five siblings, Jon and I were the closest. Ben and I had a sibling rivalry growing up, with both of us trying to fill the role of the firstborn. Isaac and my sisters are just so much younger that we experience life at a different pace. We’re not supposed to have favorites. I love all my siblings equally. But Jon was my closest sibling, so he probably was my favorite.
When Skylar and I were getting married and I could only have three groomsmen, I chose my two best friends and my brother Jon. Not to exclude my other siblings. Just that Jon was the closest.
When Skylar and I got our first house, we opened the spare bedroom our home to cousins, college friends, and Jon. Jon was our only roommate that paid his full rent on time, helped with the chores, and did not only what he was asked, but more.
When my daughter Keaton was born, Jon loved her almost as much as I do. He was like her second daddy.
Jon was the one that I wanted to look after my family if anything ever happened to me.
If I wanted a drink, he was my drinking buddy. If I wanted a cigar, he was my smoking buddy.
More than anything else, what I remember most about my brother Jon is how much he loved Jesus. Because of that, the rest of what I have to say is more like a sermon than a eulogy.
Now that Jon is Gone
I have spent this last month in the hole and under a bar.
The kind of bar loaded with a crushing burden. The kind of hole at the bottom of lifting that burden. The guy in the picture is about to squat more than 700 pounds.
Sticking with that metaphor, I’ve handled 500 pounds. I’ve handled 600 pounds. Never 700. This is crushing. This is too much for me.
To handle those past burdens, I had to look to four places to gather the needed strength:
I am immensely blessed to have a loving and supportive family and friends, and an understanding and supportive employer. I could not get through this without the people around me who love me and have held me up in their prayers, and literally held me up as I cried on their shoulders.
Thank you to everyone who has answered phone calls or texts at inconvenient times to help me get through this. Thank you to everyone who has changed their schedules to either be with me or to watch my children so that Skylar and I could have some time together.
You have been more than just “spotters” for me. I cannot thank you enough.
My prayer for the rest of you who are grieving my brother is that you have a similarly supportive community around you. If you do not, come see me or Greg. We’ll get you connected to people who will love and support you.
Horatio Spafford was a Presbyterian layman from Chicago in the 1800’s. He had established a very successful legal practice as a young businessman and was also a devout Christian. Among his close friends were several evangelists, including the famous Dwight L. Moody, also from Chicago.
Spafford’s fortune evaporated in the wake of the great Chicago Fire of 1871. Having invested heavily in real estate along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, he lost everything overnight. In a saga reminiscent of Job, his son died a short time before his financial disaster. But the worst was yet to come.
Kenneth Osbeck tells the story: “Desiring a rest for his wife and four daughters as well as wishing to join and assist Moody … in one of [his] campaigns in Great Britain, Spafford planned a European trip for his family in 1873. In November of that year, due to unexpected last-minute business developments, he had to remain in Chicago, but sent his wife and four daughters on ahead as scheduled on the S.S. Ville du Havre. He expected to follow in a few days.
“On November 22 the ship was struck by the Lochearn, an English vessel, and sank in twelve minutes. Several days later the survivors were finally landed at Cardiff, Wales, and Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband, ‘Saved alone.’”
Spafford left immediately to join his wife. This hymn, “It is well with my soul,” is said to have been penned as he approached the area of the ocean thought to be where the ship carrying his daughters had sunk.
These are the words to the song he wrote:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
It is well with my soul,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
But, Lord, ’tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh, trump of the angel! Oh, voice of the Lord!
Blessed hope, blessed rest of my soul!
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
Christian history is full of examples of men and women like Spafford. People who, in their pain, turned to God and found hope, then applied their gifts and talents as a way of spreading that hope to others.
I am a writer. So writing has been a helpful way for be to find and spread hope.
Whatever your talents are, use them as part of your grief process. Use them to spread hope.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. – 1 Corinthians 10:13
The Greek word for “temptation” is interchangeable with “test” or “trial.” No trial has overtaken you that is not common to mankind. No test has overtaken you that is not common to mankind. No temptation, trial, or test ever overtook Jon that is not common to mankind. The loneliness due to his move, the shame over his finances, and impaired thinking from lack of sleep blinded him to God’s faithful provision of a way out.
No temptation, trial, or test has overtaken any of us grieving Jon that is not common to mankind. God is faithful. This grief does not have to crush us. Look to your left and right, these are your spotters. These are your God-given way out from under this grief. Do not be blind to them. None of us want to be here again.
People grieving together in a healthy way are stronger than people grieving alone. There is a healing synergy in grieving together.
Dave Ramsey, in his book Entreleadership, said this about synergy:
One of the largest, strongest horses in the world is the Belgian draft horse. Competitions are held to see which horse can pull the most and one Belgian can pull 8,000 pounds. The weird thing is if you put two Belgian horses in the harness who are strangers to each other, together they can pull 20,000 – 24,000 pounds. Two can pull not twice as much as one but three times as much as one. This example represents the power of synergy. However, if the two horses are raised and trained together they learn to pull and think as one. The trained, and therefore unified, pair can pull 30,000 – 32,000 pounds, almost four times as much as a single horse.
People grieving together are similar. So stay close and connected to each other in this time. You will make it through.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul shared a struggle that grieved him. A heavy temptation that he constantly had to seek refuge from.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:7-10
This is one of those times in scripture when God is intentionally vague. We do not know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. It could have been enemies that hounded and discredited him. It could have been a sickness or physical ailment. It could have been thoughts of suicide. It could have been anything.
Whatever it was, the point of it was to remind Paul to rely on God. Every weakness, insult, hardship, persecution, and calamity presented Paul with an opportunity to rely on God so that God could be glorified.
As we grieve for Jon, we have an opportunity to rely on God so that He can be glorified.
Some of you may be thinking, “wait, God’s the one that let this happen, why rely on Him?” God let this terrible darkness consume Jon to the point that he took his own life. Why rely on God? God let me lose Jon. Why rely on God?
Rely on God because if you let him, He will redeem this tragedy into something better.
Nothing worse ever happened to any better person than Jesus Christ being crucified on the cross. Jesus was innocent of the charges against Him. He was “convicted” of blasphemy by an illegitimate court. He was then tortured to death in one of the slowest and most brutal forms of death known to mankind.
And three days later he rose from the dead.
Now, if you’re an atheist, you don’t believe that. But I am a Christian. I believe that. The hope of Heaven and of the final resurrection is only for Christians. The hope of Heaven and seeing Jon again is only for Christians. What better time than now to turn to God?
God is capable of redeeming Jon’s death and our grief into something that changes lives. My prayer is that at least one of you hearing this will have a softened heart, and turn to God.
What if we’re wrong to rely on God? What do we lose? Nothing!
Blaise Pascal argued that it is better to live deluded as a theist and be wrong than it is to live deluded as an atheist and be wrong. If the theist is wrong, he loses nothing. If the atheist is wrong, he loses everything.
I argue that it is better to live deluded as a Christian and be wrong than it is to live as deluded as anything else and be wrong. If Christians are wrong about the afterlife, and wrong about salvation by grace alone, through Christ alone; then when we die we either:
- cease to exist
- reincarnate and get another chance to get it right
- our energy joins with the energy of the universe
- or we at least go to Heaven’s basement
Going to Hell is not on the list of possibilities if Christians are wrong. We’re the only ones that believe there’s a permanent Hell.
If anyone else is wrong about the afterlife, and wrong about how salvation works, then going to Hell is one of the possibilities.
If you want to see Heaven, if you want to see Jon again, you need to be a Christian. Your past does not matter. God would have forgiven Hitler if he had repented. Forgiving you and me is easy in comparison. If there are things in your life that separate you from God and from being in community with Christians, join us at Parkside, Harvest, or Grace. We’ll love you where you are, and let change be between you and God. Martin Luther said that “the Christian life is one of constant repentance.” It doesn’t all happen at once. It doesn’t all happen overnight.
Choose to start repenting now. Model your life as much as you can after Jesus’ life. Join a community of Christians who will love you where you are and support you as you grow. You’ll see Jon when you get to Heaven. And I’ll join the party eventually.