The Glory and Agony of a Life Lived and Lost

By: Evangelist Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministry; ©1999
Mike Gendron explains how living a “good” life, and even recognition for human accomplishments are no substitute for faith in Jesus Christ.

My dad passed away after a long and illustrious life. Because of his courageous ser­vice for his country during World War II and Korea, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. As I watched the nation honor my dad, a highly deco­rated Colonel who served in the U.S. Army for 33 years, I was amazed at the heart-stirring ceremony. It brought back images, still so vivid in my mind, of JFK’s funeral, especially the green rolling hills dotted with white tombstones. We walked behind a six-horse drawn carriage that carried my dad’s casket, covered by the very flag he spent his life defending. A solemn riderless horse accompanied a battalion of soldiers while the Army band played “America The Beautiful.” When we arrived at the grave site we watched eight soldiers fold the flag with such precision and then present it to our family. This was followed by a 21-gun salute and a trumpeter blowing “Taps” which is always a heart-wrenching tribute to a fallen soldier.

My dad was a very proud man, and by the world’s standard, a very good man. The pride that made him such a courageous soldier was also the pride that kept him from listening to a presentation of the Gospel. He was a devout Catholic and refused to believe any spiritual teaching unless it came from the “one true church.” As I sat through the fu­neral mass officiated by my dad’s brother, a Catholic priest of 54 years, I grimaced at his message of salvation by rituals and works that blind so many from the truth of the Gospel. He said, “Surely Tom Gendron is in heaven because he was baptized a Catholic and lived a good life.” We know from God’s Holy Word, it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works—so that no one can boast (Eph. 2:8-9). He (God) saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Titus 3:5).

When the priest finished I eagerly went up to share the true and glorious Gospel of grace in a eulogy to my dad. Here’s a portion of that message:

As I reflect back on the special times I had with dad, none was more meaningful than seeing the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” with him last summer. Oh how I will cherish that afternoon for as long as I live. As I watched the horrific opening scenes of the landing on the beach I was overcome with tears, realizing that my dad was actually there. To see all the shedding of blood and the broken bodies, I realized once again the tremendous price that was paid for our freedom. After the movie Dad debriefed us with such deep and heartfelt emotion. The pain in his face was so vivid when he talked about his soldiers who lost their lives during the invasion. I could not help but compare this with the supreme price Jesus Christ paid for our salvation. . .
He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:5-7).
In the movie, we saw a small contingent that was sent out to save Private Ryan. From God’s Holy Word we know that God sent His only Son to save you and me. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
Because of the great price paid by past generations who fought for our country, each person born in America automatically enjoys the blessings of freedom. However, the blessings of eternal life can only be enjoyed by those who trust Jesus alone for their salvation. As a minister of the gospel, I would be remiss if I did not share the greatest news ever told about the greatest man who ever lived who offers the greatest gift anyone could ever receive. It is available free for the asking because of a love story written in blood, on a wooden cross 2000 years ago. The Bible says: If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-10, 13). When anyone hears the Word of God and trusts the Son of God, they are changed by the Spirit of God into the image of God, all for the glory of God. The reason funerals don’t leave us hopeless is because Jesus died for sins once and for all, the just for the unjust in order that He might bring us to God.

Death is such a wake up call for all of us who have loved ones who have not yet re­ceived the gift of eternal life. One of the most motivating books I have ever read deals with the subject of death so clearly and objectively. The book “One Minute After You Die” by Erwin Lutzer is a great source of encouragement for believers but a terrifying warning to unbelievers. I made it available to my dad last year, but I have since found out he never read it.

I pray that on the occasion of my dad’s death the seed of God’s Word would bring life to his family and friends who previously had never heard or understood the glorious Gospel of Grace. Many who attended his funeral were devout Roman Catholics. Though they have a zeal for God, it is not based on biblical knowledge. They seek to attain their own righ­teousness through good works and sacramental grace rather than receive the gift of Christ’s righteousness through faith in Jesus. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21). The only way we can come to Jesus is with empty hands of faith because God only saves sinners by His grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace (Romans 11:6).

It is God’s grace that brought me peace, comfort and strength as I grieved the passing of my dad. I know one day my Lord will wipe away my tears for the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to come.

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