Ronald Kent Obenhaus
My father passed away last week.
And I can't fathom he's actually gone. Grief has me in a fog.
I'm doing my best to rest and process the trauma of the last 3 weeks and I'm hoping that I can work out some of my grief here in this space of the internet. Fifteen years I've used transcripts to prepare my messages and I'm especially grateful for that practice for this season to process my grief.
My father's funeral was a whirlwind of tears and hugs. I honestly don't remember the details. I sat down to look through the pictures we had put into a slideshow because I really didn't get to absorb the service. In fact I had a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that I wasn't getting up at the funeral to be a professional speaker. I was there as my father's grieving daughter. I didn't have a "presence" on stage, my movements didn't exude confidence, and I didn't think about "engaging the audience." All I could do was breath and read and repeat.
Below is my transcript from the funeral. I wrote this and read this out loud and yet I'm feeling like I'm just now absorbing the words on this page for the first time. Praying you are encouraged by this today.
My dad loved to tell jokes. My brother Matt and I heard the same jokes over and over and over on road trips and social gatherings. All. The. Time. We would just look at each other and roll our eyes. But the truth is my father never told an off color joke, and his humor brought joy to everyone around him.
I think he'd want me to start his funeral message with a joke to break the ice, but I'm very sad, really nervous, and thinking my attempt at humor today will not land. Maybe you could indulge me with a courtesy laugh.
Here are two of his favorite jokes paraphrased to the best of my ability...
- Three men were having dinner in NYC. One was Russian, one from New York, and one from Texas. They all had ordered steak and the waiter came back to the table and said, "Pardon me, but we have a shortage of steak." The Russian said, "What is 'steak'?" The New Yorker said, "What is 'pardon me'?" The Texan said, "What is a 'shortage'?"
- This man goes into a fast food place really late at night and there is nobody behind the counter so he waits around and waits around. Finally he gets impatient, so he jumps behind the counter and goes into the staff only area and finds the employee sitting down having a smoke. The impatient customer says, “Why are you not behind the counter? I’m the CEO of this company, what do you think of that?" The employee says, "I don't think you or I are going to go any higher in this company."
My father was a magnetic and charming man and could make everyone in the room feel important.
Kimberly and I were sharing memories of our father, and she shared that she got a real kick of his "isms," those sayings he would repeat to us that didn't make sense at all. Like "if wishes were horses, all beggars would ride." I looked that up on the internet and still have no idea what that means.
My earliest memories are of me snuggled up next to my dad on the couch so he could read his newspaper or of us being outside on a swing. My dad loved to swing. Now for those youngers in the audience, a newspaper has the same info as a tablet but it's on paper.
Many of my peers in high school longed for an involved and loving father, and I treasured my dad because he was those things to me. His presence in my life, his love for me, and his verbal affirmations helped me become secure. Security is a rare gift and I’m so grateful he gave me that.
Dad loved Zig Ziglar as much as Aaron Armstrong loves Tim Tebow. So Matt and I grew up listening to Zig Ziglar on tape in the car everywhere we went (or at least it felt that way). Dad introduced me to music because he was a music lover and had a beautiful singing voice. So I wanted to listen to The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Linda Ronstadt, and The Eagles (all the bands he had introduced me to). But instead, he wanted us to listen to Zig Ziglar on tape in the car, and those words of hope helped define who I am today.
“You were designed for accomplishment, engineered for success, and endowed with the seeds of greatness,” Zig Ziglar used to say. My father believed that for all of his kids.
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for,” Zig Ziglar used to say. My father was a man full of gratitude. He was complimenting my mother in front of us, thanking everyone for everything, and was quick to express thanksgiving.
My father loved the story of the prodigal son in the Bible. He must have listened to five online sermons a week, but that prodigal son story was his favorite. I know he felt like a prodigal son himself and like he had children that fit the description too, including me at times.
The truth about that story is that we are all the prodigal son. Aren't we?
We can read the prodigal son story and find ourselves in the judgmental brother, the gracious father, and the rebellious son. But the big picture view on that story is that God’s economy is strange and unlike the one we have built in our society. God’s kingdom--God’s economy--has an emphasis on the lost, the disconnected, forgotten, unworthy, flawed, and too hard to reach.Dr. Luke emphasizes this point in his gospel by repeating it through stories about the lost sheep, lost coin, and lost son.
It is not enough for the one true living God to have 99 sheep, He will go after the one missing. It is not enough to own all the riches in our world, we are His lost coin and He will find us.
Like the prodigal son, we are not enough. We squander our inheritance, we abandon our families, we lose it all, and yet God throws a party upon our returning.
What our society would view as an extravagant and unwise reward to those deserving justice is the economy of our God. He gives us what we don’t deserve. God is gracious.
My father was complicated and flawed just like you and me. And at the end of his life he had lost hope. Despair set in and I dare say all of us have faced the lonely and dark place that is despair. Maybe not to the same degree, not for such an extended season of life, but we all know the face of despair.
I'm comforted by many ancient songs written and ascribed to King David, preserved for us over thousands of years. King David’s songs were full of honest and raw words toward God. Even though he was a man after God’s heart, David felt the freedom to express his deepest despair. At times to blame and yell at God.
I think my dad sometimes felt like he lived much of his life in The Eagles' "Hotel California" but now he is in a place where the streets have no names, where all the colors bleed into one according to U2.
It's a tender day for our family. It's with great sadness we commemorate my father’s passing. We will miss my earthly father for the rest of our lives here on earth.
Things will never be the same.
Thankfully they can be made new.
We need not grieve as those without hope. It is with great joy that I'm reminding us all that Christ-followers will get to see Ron again and we will be together forever in the new heaven and the new earth. Dad's spirit is with God now and that old body that failed him over and over will be recreated when redemption is complete. God can bring beauty from ashes.
My faith brother John was one of Jesus’ contemporaries, one of His closest friends, and claims to have seen Jesus risen from he dead. He risked his life to share God’s love through gospel proclamation after Jesus’ ascension. And John had a vision, a clear picture of the future of Christians, and here is what John recorded about his vision of the Christian future hope:
Revelation 21: 1-5
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
I want to share one more story with you before I close. I’m not sharing this story with you to capitalize on this captive audience. This moment is too tender for that. Too sacred. I’m going to share with you what united me to my father and him to me. I’m going to share with you what would best honor the truest part of himself.
My dad and I disagreed on a lot of things and most recently it was politics. But we were united around these sacred scriptures and the true narrative it tells. I want to tell you the story that is in here. A story that has stood the test of time, complements with reason, and will prove to be the story of our own lives if we allow ourselves to awaken to its truth.
My father and I both believe that this collection of divinely inspired manuscripts written over 1,500 years by over 40 different authors that resulted in 66 different books in 2 different testaments really told one big story. A story we both agreed was true. God made something good, we messed it up, Jesus makes it right, and one day God will make all things new.
GOD MADE SOMETHING GOOD
Death stirs in us questions we push down in the absence of suffering. But my father’s death can remind us again of those nagging questions within us about why a loving God (who does not create evil) allows suffering. These are fair questions and I have reasonable answers for you at another time.
I want you to consider a different question. Instead of finding the scapegoat for our mess, we need to ask ourselves why does this hurt so much? Why does death leave us in a heap of tears? Why, with so much suffering around us, do we still feel the pain of it all?
I know the answer to this question. It hurts so much because God made something good and things now are not as they were supposed to be. We were not created for death.
God's project with humans started in a garden. It was to see us, all of us, His image bearers, flourish and co-create. The soil was good there. In the beginning there was peace, beauty, order, and life. It was good.
Death is a reminder that things are not as they should be, and someone needs to know we feel the pain of suffering because we were designed for flourishing and life, not death.
WE MESSED IT UP
We all know the mess of life and the broken pieces we carry. No one is immune. We are a rag tag bunch of rebels, and in some way and in some part, the mess around us is our fault. We've all got that in common.
My dad made a mess of things. His mess hurt many people. I’m like my dad in this way. We all mess things up.
Another part of my dad's story and my story and the big story unites us: we literally can't help ourselves. We can cooperate with God and that is our responsibility. But I believe the restoration and renewal we need comes from Christ. We need the hope of someone who has lived and died beyond the mess, risen from destruction and has the power to make all the repairs. Christ knows what wholeness looks like.
JESUS MAKES IT RIGHT
God can clean up all our messes, and He does it through the person of Jesus. No one denies Jesus lived and died. That's just history. It's the empty tomb and the hundreds of witnesses who saw Him after death that makes us tilt our head. Because science can only prove something that is repeatable, we are dependent upon their testimony for this once-in-history moment. If Jesus rose from the dead, and we believe He did, He is exactly who He said He was, and He accomplished exactly what was predicted for thousands of years. He restored us. Jesus made it right.
Many have asked us how we are doing and my answer is we "have all the feels." I’m not trying to be funny or use hyperbole. I’m being quit literal. I feel all the feelings and all at once. But what I feel most is comforted.
Comfort is knowing Christ will make things right. All the wrongs, all the mess, He will make it right.
Heavens if I know.
That is a divine mystery.
But I do not grieve as someone without hope. I have hope that things are working together for my good and yours too.
ONE DAY GOD WILL MAKE ALL THINGS NEW
This is not all there is. This life is not as good as it gets. A day is coming when Christ will return. He will complete His new creation with a new heaven and a new earth; a place with no tears, no pain, no suffering, no brokenness, no helplessness, and no faith or hope, just love. God will make all things new.
Like my faith-brother Paul once concluded, it would be better to go and be with God now, but you and I are on assignment here and given everything we need to complete it. So we stay. In hope. And that is how we will honor my earthly and heavenly father. By fulfilling our assignment, joining God in His work to restore all things.
You are mission critical here. The talent you have, the image you bear of God is too important. We need you here. What you have to offer no one else can replace. Yes, you. Even you. Especially you.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.