For the past several years, our Bible study has been praying for the brother of one of our members. Finally, after two bouts with cancer and every conceivable treatment that the doctors could try, Frank Swarts passed away and went to be with the Lord on March 17th. Our friend, John, his only brother, has kept us advised of all the treatments and we have prayed for Frank these many months. So it was with a heavy heart that John sent us an email letting us know that Frank’s earthly struggles were over.
Frank has visited our Bible study a time or two but none of us knew him well. But in honor of our friend, Janet and I believed it was necessary to attend the memorial service for Frank this past Saturday morning – in Fortville, IN about 30 minutes from our home. The service was set for 1:00 p.m., immediately after time for friends to pay their respects to John and the extended family. The event was marked not by how Frank died, but by how he lived.
In fact, I remarked to Janet that I don’t think I have ever been to a memorial service or funeral where so many people said so many kind things about someone. Now you would expect there to be accolades and remembrances of funny stories, but Frank was one of a kind. He was a quiet man, introspective and deep in his faith. His entire life was devoted to serving God and the funeral home was packed – and I mean packed. Extra chairs were brought in and every room, hallway and entryway was filled with people who came to honor Frank.
Many people gave testimonies about him and childhood friends told stories that dated back 65 years, back to when Frank was born back in 1950. But to me, the entire event of Frank’s passing was best told by his brother, our friend John. After Franks’s passing John was asked how he was dealing with the aftermath of losing his brother, his only sibling. John quietly responded that it was a “60/40 kind of day.” He went on to explain that while he was 40% sad because he would miss his brother, he was 60% joyful because he knew that Frank was in heaven with the Lord and that was a wonderful thing to know.
Now John is very quiet and introspective – just like his brother was. The more I thought about his comment, the more I realized how unusual it was. Because most of the time, people’s grief overwhelms them and it takes time for them to really grasp the idea that the Lord is present and that their dearly beloved is, in fact, in heaven with the Lord. And it’s a rare person, of significant faith, who can put the joy of heaven ahead of the pain of loss minutes after the departure of a loved one. But John is a special man – and a steadfast believer in Jesus Christ and His ascension to heaven to take His place at the right hand of the Father.
The verse for this evening highlights one of the early martyrs of the church. After Stephen, a devout believer, gave a full account of the history of the Jewish nation he was stoned to death. As he was suffering this terrible punishment, he even asked God not to hold the sin (of murder) against the people. The entire account of this incident can be found in the seventh chapter of Acts, and you can even note that Saul, later known as the apostle Paul, was an eyewitness to these events and even gave his approval for the stoning of Stephen. I can’t help but think that Frank was much like Stephen, full of grace and forgiveness.
We are told that, prior to his death, Stephen had the rare opportunity to see heaven for himself. Luke, the author of this book, tells us in Acts 7:55, “But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” That must have been magnificent!
My encouragement this evening is that God will eventually welcome each of us to our eternal heavenly home. While Stephen caught a glimpse of what heaven was like, it is unlikely that we will experience the same assurance, in the physical sense, of the existence of heaven. That is what our faith even more important – believing something that we just can’t see for ourselves. But Frank knew, and John knows, that God is in heaven and that there is eternal life after our earthly death. All believers can rest in that assurance. My prayer is that you will have the kind of faith that I saw exhibited this week-end – an undeniable knowledge in the reality, grace and love of the Triune God. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…