Francis and Dorothy Green lived in Metairie for all their married lives, the last 39 years. In the early 90s, someone recommended they attend the First Baptist Church of Kenner, and that’s how I became their pastor. They were a wonderful and faithful couple and a joy to have as friends. Today we held her funeral in McComb, Mississippi.
I used to ask Dot, “Do you ever think of moving to Vicksburg, to be closer to your daughter Debbie?” Her only child. “Oh no,” she would say. “This is my home.” Then Katrina hit. They sold their flooded house in Metairie and bought another in Vicksburg and joined the First Baptist Church there. Today, their pastor, Dr. Matt Buckles, and I shared the honors at her service.
Dot was a painter. The first time she mentioned this to me, I thought, “Oh yeah. Sure you are.” The way people are who take a 6 weeks class at a community college, then try to sell their amateurish doings for big money at an art sale. Then I saw her work, and believe me, she was an artist. In fact, she once served as president of the New Orleans Art Guild and belonged to several other guilds.
One day she said to me, “Take your pick of all my paintings.” I was like a kid in a candy store. The one I chose she had painted in June of 2002 and titled “Misty Bayou.” It has hung above our bed ever since. Monday, I took it down and carried it to our office. Freddie and Ninfa removed it from the frame and laid it across the color copier and made a reduced copy of the picture, then ran off a number of copies. I carried it with me to McComb and gave to daughter Debbie to share with their family and friends. Margaret had given me notice that I was not to carry the original; she was afraid someone would try to talk me out of it. “You’re such a softie, if someone asked for it, you’d give it away.”
I was pleased to meet Dot’s sister Kathryn. I said, “I have told a story about you for years. Now, I want it from your mouth so I can get it right.” Dot had told me the funny story, and I had told and retold it so many times, the details were hazy.
Here’s the story. Waylon Bailey–lover of great sermon illustrations–take note. This one is for you.
Kathryn said, “I was talking to my family about smoking. I said, ‘I hope none of you will ever take up that filthy habit.’ Megan, my 11-year-old granddaughter, moved over and put her arm around my neck and said, ‘Grandma, that’s one thing you’ll never have to worry about with me. No cigarette will ever touch these lips.'”
“Megan was quiet a moment, then she said in all seriousness, ‘Unless I’m drunk.'”
True story. I told it at the funeral, and added, “Dot loved a good story. And she got a special joy out of seeing people enjoy the stories she told.”
That’s why I told the other story in her service.
Philip Alford and Edwin Sudduth, staffers from the FBC of McComb, had just presented “Beulah Land,” the inspiring Squire Parsons song about Heaven. In fact, while Philip was singing and Ed was playing, I had a little silent conversation with Dot about whether to tell this. I could see the twinkle in her eye as she said, “Oh, go ahead. We’ll all enjoy it.”
Here’s the story.
Squire Parsons tells this himself. A pastor from America was preaching in various Russian cities, using a local translator. The minister would meet with the translator and go over what he intended to say in that service, to help him prepare. One night, in the middle of the sermon the preacher really got into the spirit and decided to sing “Beulah Land.” After the service, he apologized to the translator. “I’m sorry I slipped that in on you. I hope you were able to handle it.” The translator said, “Pastor, you might want to sit down. I didn’t know what the Russian for Beulah Land was, so I made it ‘Disney Land.'”
Which, when you stop to think about it, is just about the concept a lot of people have of Heaven.
Dorothy Green will be right at home in Heaven. She loved everything about it–the Lord of Heaven, the people who populate the place, the activities of worship and service, the music, the joy, everything. She will have very little in the way of adjustment.
Some people, however, would be so out of place in Heaven. They do not love the Lord of Heaven, they do not care for His word or to talk with Him. They do not like the people who are going to Heaven since they never spend any time with them in church. They don’t care for the music of Heaven or for serving the Lord. They would be out of place and miserable in Heaven, so the Lord is not going to force it on them. He will not make anyone go to Heaven who does not want to go.
Unfortunately, there’s only one other choice that we know of for spending eternity, and you most definitely don’t want to go there! Matthew 25 calls hell “a place prepared for the devil and his angels.” Any human who goes to hell will be eternally out of place.
God made you and me for better things than hell, friend. That same passage in Matthew 25 calls Heaven “a place prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Think of that. God is planning on us being in Heaven with Him.
But He will not force it on us. He lets us choose.
The answer to the dilemma of not fitting in Heaven and being out of place in hell is to be reborn. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Simply stated, that means humbling yourself, repenting of your sin, and asking Jesus Christ to come into your life as your Lord and Savior.
That surely is the simplest and best news on the planet. Right now, our friend Dorothy Green is giving thanks that someone led her to Christ many years ago, and giving thanks that the Lord heard her prayer.
He’ll hear yours too. Don’t miss out on this, the greatest adventure in the universe. And the longest lasting one!