Memorial Service – Donald Shipman
Missionary Alliance Church
2 December 2016
Good afternoon. For those of you with whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting, I’d like to introduce myself to you. My name is Justin DuBose and I have had the pleasure, for a little over the last three years, to serve as Donald and Suzie’s pastor. I also baptized Nathan right in this sanctuary a couple of years ago. I’m honored to be here with you and am thankful for the opportunity to share a little bit about Donald and what I knew about him.
Although I didn't know Donald very long - and certainly not as long as most of you - I knew him long enough for him to both teach me some great life lessons, and spiritual lessons, and remind me of others.
Firstly, Donald was a man who loved and cared deeply for those in his life. The last conversation we had, which was the Tuesday afternoon before he died, he talked fondly and tenderly of his wife of 39 years, Suzie. He told me that he had married a good woman, and that he was a lucky man. He expressed his deep love for you, Suzie, and his love for you as his wife was undoubted. In our conversations, Suzie echoed that sentiment. She told me that she never lacked for anything; Runt would always find a way to provide not just for her needs, but her wants, as well. She told me of the time she expressed to him that she wanted a Kirby vacuum cleaner, and those things don't come cheap! Somehow, to Suzie’s surprise, Donald found a way to get it for her. When she tried to tell him that she didn't need it and that she could do without it, he would have none of it! He was going to give her not just what she needed, but also what she wanted, because he loved you deeply, Suzie, and always sought to provide like a good, loving husband.
This love and care was also evident in the way he helped raise his grandchildren. Although he had raised his own kids, he actively invested in the lives of his grandchildren. He wanted to make sure that not only were they provided for, but that they also developed a healthy, responsible work ethic. He showed them how to work with their hands, how to operate a lawn mower and take care of the yard, and how to fix what was broken. Although he and Suzie had raised their own children, they were still, and are still, investing their life’s energy into raising these three fine young men and women. And for that I have always, and will always, admire you and have the upmost respect for you.
One more thing about Donald was that he was certainly not pretentious. He was who he was and he never tried to be something he wasn’t. With Runt, what you saw was what you got. He treated everyone equally and respected no man above any other. I’d like to share a funny story with you to highlight this truth.
On my last visit to see him, he was complaining about how badly he needed to use the restroom. He had a portable toilet there by his bedside, and I asked him if he wanted me to help him get on there. He said, “Naw. I can do it.” So, he just dropped his drawers and, for the next ten minutes or so, we had a great conversation about everything from heaven to the hospice facility he was in.
The most encouraging thing I learned about Donald, though, was that he was certain about his eternal destiny. I went to see him on a Wednesday night a couple of years ago when he was in the hospital in Wilmington. The report was that he may not make it through the night. I had not had a conversation with him before then about eternity, so we talked about it as he sat hooked up to a number of machines that helped regulate his breathing. I asked him if he was sure of his eternal home and then got a very typical Donald reply, “Oh, yeah!” We talked about Christ and I prayed with him. Luckily, we were able to have several more of those conversations before he passed. I’d like for us to contemplate together this evening not just our great memories of Donald, but also of our own lives and eternal destiny as well.
It is really a testament to the inherent value that life has that brought us all here today. Sure – this is a memorial service for Donald, but is a memorial to his life and a celebration of that life that brings families and friends together for occasions such as this. We understand that life itself is precious, immeasurably valuable, and, above all, worthy of remembering and celebrating together. It’s life, not death, that brought us here today and, if you’ll indulge me for a few moments longer, I’d like to share with you a biblical truth that radically transformed my own view, understanding, and appreciation of the gift of life.
When the Bible talks about life, it is painfully clear on one point: in the grand scheme of things, it does not last very long. James 4 says very pointedly, “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” Our lives, the Bible tells us, are like mists of water that are here for a little while and then vanish. Psalm 90 even quantifies that word “life” for us. It reads, “The length of our days is seventy years – or eighty, if we have the strength; for they quickly pass, and we fly away. Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
When speaking of life, the Bible is very clear: it is unbelievably short – like a mist, even. This is why the Psalmist prays that he would learn how to number his days aright with wisdom, because he knows his time is fleeting and precious. But, like Donald and I talked about, through the Resurrection of Christ Jesus our Lord we can actually live our lives both now and for eternity with this blessed assurance that, not only will we see Donald again, but also that our lives today and tomorrow will have an impact that will far outlast our own lifetimes. And, most amazingly, the process really is as simple as the Holy Spirit said through the Apostle Paul in Romans 10:9, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Please don’t let this solemn opportunity of pause and reflection pass you by without examining your own heart in light of this truth.
In addition to these words about life, I’d also like to share with you that it is ok to grieve Donald’s loss. It is ok to be sad; it is ok to be brokenhearted; and it is ok to personally feel Donald’s loss. The only time that Scripture records for us that Jesus broke down and cried was at the news of the death of his friend, Lazarus, in John 11:35. And, when Jesus was facing his own death, he said to His disciples in Mark 14:34, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” Jesus certainly understand what grief, loss, and sorrow feel like, and He would say to you today that it is ok to grieve, even to the point of feeling overwhelmed with sorrow. Take the time necessary to grieve, but, in your grief, turn your eyes upward and see Christ our Lord. And, when you do, I think you will see something astonishing. When you look up to the Father in the midst of your grief you will see that He too grieves with you. When you cry – and, for many of us, the tears will come steadily and likely often - look up to the Father and you will see that He too is crying, only His tears are larger than your own. While He is wiping away your tears with one hand, He is wiping His own with the other. Like us, Christ weeps over loss, and personally knows the pains of sorrow and sadness.
In your grief, though, hold onto to the hand of God Himself and the promises He has for you. In John 16:33, after He says that we can expect trouble in this world, He then gloriously says, “But, be of good cheer for I have overcome the world.” Jesus has overcome the world – the chains of sin, of bondage, of addiction, and even death itself. The fact that He has overcome death by virtue of His resurrection is why He can make this next promise to you from Hebrews 13:5, where He tells us, "I will never leave you and I will never forsake you." Like the previous promise of sorrow and trouble in this world, you can take this guarantee to the bank as well. His love and protection is always with His children; it is simply so consistent that it is often forgotten until it is needed. Well, today it is needed, and today I would urge you to look up and see that The Lord is there still, as He always has been and always will be, holding us tightly and weeping with us.
I'd like to close today by reading you what, to me, are some of the most comforting words in all of Scripture from Psalm 139, and I'd like to speak specifically to Donald’s immediate family and you grandkids who he was helping to raise, and the rest of the family that are present here today, though it certainly is applicable to each of us who belong to The Lord Jesus Christ. I read these same words to Donald the last time I visited him before he passed. It says:
"LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me."
We are all gathered together here today to comfort one another. But, very soon, we will all disperse and the routines of life will employ us and occupy our time with its various necessities. There will be times when you will lay in bed at night, or ride silently in a vehicle, or even for seemingly no reason at all feel all alone and the grief of this moment will come back like a runaway freight train. That sensation of grief overwhelming your soul will strike, and you will feel as though you can't even breathe without inhaling it, open your eyes without it stinging, or even look around. This is normal and all part of the grieving process. But, like the promise of sorrow in this world, I want to plead with you, to beg you, to hold tightly to these promises of Scripture. God is ever-present as only He can be. He has not left and He will never leave or forsake His children. His hand is always holding yours, and He will never leave you.
You are not alone and you will never be alone as a son or daughter of God. As a Christian - as one who belongs to Jesus Christ, you cannot and will not be alone. Hold on to that.
Let’s pray together.
“Lord, we thank you for the gift of life. We know, because we are created in your image, that each moment of each life is immeasurably valuable to You. We thank you that you formed Donald, and made him, and blessed him with life and allowed us to share in that life.
As we have committed his spirit to you, we know from Scripture that you are a righteous God, and that, in Your righteousness, you have rewarded Him with the joy of a new body and eternal joy and bliss with you in Heaven. And now, in this moment, I pray that we would each commit our own spirit to you as we also have your gift of life within us. You, oh Lord, are the Prince of Peace, and you promise to comfort those who seek you in their hour of need. So, Lord, in this hour of need, and in the many hours to come, I ask that you give us the boldness to approach your throne of grace and rely on your comfort to carry us through these times of sorrow and adjustment. We need you every hour, oh Lord, but in this hour remind us of our need for You and the comfort that comes from a relationship with You.
We rest our hearts, now, in fresh confidence upon the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to life eternal through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.”
CLOSE WITH SINGING THE BENEDICTION: “THE LORD BLESS THEE AND KEEP THEE. THE LORD MAKE HIS FACE TO SHINE UPON THEE. THE LORD LIFT UP HIS COUNTENANCE UPON THEE AND GIVE THEE PEACE.”
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