We gather this morning to celebrate the life and mourn the death of Dr. John Peterson. As we do so we seek comfort from the Word of God.
In Psalm 145:17-21 we read these words,
17 The Lord is righteous in everything he does;
he is filled with kindness.
18 The Lord is close to all who call on him,
yes, to all who call on him in truth.
19 He grants the desires of those who fear him;
he hears their cries for help and rescues them.
20 The Lord protects all those who love him,
but he destroys the wicked.
21 I will praise the Lord,
and may everyone on earth bless his holy name
forever and ever.
In John 14 Jesus spoke these words of comfort to His disciples,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” . . . 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” [NIV]
Please pray with me,
Our Father, we bow before you and ask that you help us to hold on to the promise that you have given us. Help us to catch a glimpse of what is beyond the curtain that stands at the end of this life. Help us to trust You.
Draw close to us during this time that we might know your comfort and your grace. Wrap your arms around. Remind us again and again that this is NOT the end of the story. It is just the title page.
Be present in our remembering and as we reach for you in faith. We ask in the name of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
John Peterson was a hard-working, intelligent man, who was known for his generosity, unselfishness and humility. John was a man who tried to see the best in others. He would say, “Oh, don’t be too hard on them. You don’t know their whole story.”
John met his life partner Bobbie at Peterson’s clothing store. John was working for his dad and Bobbie came in to shop with her brothers. John flirted but didn’t get anywhere. He was a man who didn’t give up however.
He went to school at the University of Iowa and he roomed with Bobbie’s brother-in-law. Bobbie was scheduled to go on a blind date (with someone else) but it didn’t work out. John suggested to her brother-in-law that Bobbie should come to the school and he would take her out. They dated for four years and then were married. And thus began a relationship that resulted in a 63 year marriage.
John was accepted into grad school to be an Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon. After two years in the three-year program he was drafted into the Army to serve in Korea as a Captain. When he came out his spot in the program was gone. He finished his third and final year at Duke University.
John had a busy practice in Burlington. He would head to work around 6:30 am and then return at 8:00 or later in the evening. John was also often called out to the hospital to help with an emergency situation. Bobbie took care of the business end of the practice. John would tell you that he had the privilege to work with some of the finest staff anyone could ask for.
At home John had two little girls that he adored, Maia and Nena. He loved being a dad and later he loved becoming a Grandfather to Elise and Arie. After the family started lives of their own he always looked forward to talking with them on the phone.
John was a dad who was eager to help the kids. When it came to science fair time sometimes. . . he may have helped a little more than he should have. He only wanted the best for his girls.
John had a great sense of humor and loved to joke around yet he was always (it seems) dignified. The only exception may have been when he would be singing with Nena in church. John liked to sing loud. Occasionally he would miss the fact that the congregation was going to skip a verse of a hymn. So, John would be loudly singing the wrong verse. When he became aware of his mistake he and Nena would start giggling.
John Peterson was a guy that had lots of interests. He and Bobbie liked to Cross Country Ski and the family went to Aspen every winter. In the summer he loved to Fly Fish in Montana. He was an outdoorsman and loved to duck hunt with his brother Walt or anyone else who would go with him. He golfed a little and played tennis for a while. He enjoyed taking care of his yard. John even tried sculpting for a short period of time. In making a mask of Nena, he almost suffocated her!
As John got older he was slowed by a number of ailments. When he and Bobbie started coming to La Harpe to go to church they decided they would join the church in 2004. I came to the house to visit and John said there were a few things I needed to know before they were going to join. First, he wanted me to know he was 76 so he wanted me to know they wouldn’t always make it to La Harpe. Second, he said I should know that he liked to drink wine on occasion. I smiled and told him that neither of those things would be a deal-breaker to him joining the church. I appreciated his desire to have all his cards on the table.
If you knew John, you knew that he loved to read the Wall Street Journal. He was up on most of what was going on in the country. He was an avid reader. You certainly also know that John was a staunch conservative Republican. In fact, in my last conversation with him he talked about the sorry state of affairs in this primary season.
John and his brother Walt were wonderful friends as well as brothers. They met every Friday for lunch. On a few occasions, I shared Friday lunch with the guys at Applebees. Lately, you may have seen them at Gator’s. During these lunches a good deal of problem-solving took place.
John suffered greatly from back pain. It was fortunate that he had his dog Peppy to keep him busy and amused. John refused to give up living. He handled the terrible pain the same way he handled everything else, with dignity and grace. He didn’t draw attention to his limitations but instead eagerly visit with people with that unique sparkle in his eyes. He was the kind of man everyone was proud to know. Including me.
In the book of James, we read a description of a wise and godly man. It sure makes me think of John,
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:12-18)
We will miss John Peterson. He made the world a better place, a more joyful place, and a kinder place to be. I am confident He will hear the “Well done good and faithful servant” that the Lord will say to him.
In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote,
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of every man;
the living should take this to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
because a sad face is good for the heart.
4 The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.
Solomon observed that it is more beneficial to go to a funeral than it is to go to a party. At a party we amuse ourselves and can sidestep the essential questions of life. Questions like:
- Why are we here?
- What is the purpose of life?
- Is there anything beyond the grave?
- If there isn’t and purpose what is the point? If there is, how do I get there?
At a funeral these questions start you right in the face. As we consider the death of someone we love and cherish we can’t help but ask, “Is this it? Is this all there is?” We want to know, “What is the point of sacrifice, moral living, or even obeying the law if we simply live, die and that is it.
I do not believe this is it and that is because of Jesus and what the Bible teaches us. A good place to start is 2 Corinthians 5,
For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands. 2 We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing. 3 For we will put on heavenly bodies; we will not be spirits without bodies.4 While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh, but it’s not that we want to die and get rid of these bodies that clothe us. Rather, we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life. 5 God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit.
6 So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. 7 For we live by believing and not by seeing. 8 Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. 9 So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. 10 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.
How you view life, and how you view death is determined by your belief or lack thereof in God. Those who say there is no God are left with the unhappy conclusion that man is simply a cosmic accident. There is no ultimate meaning to our existence. We live, we die, and that’s it. It is a very bleak picture.
And even if you say you do believe in God you should ask: Who is this God we should believe in? Is he a god of your imagination or is He a God who has revealed Himself to us?
I believe God has revealed himself to men though the years and this revelation is recorded in the Bible. God has also communicated with us in a special way through Jesus. He was “God become man to dwell among us”. It seems very reasonable to me that the God who created us would want to have a relationship with those He has created. He would want us to know about Him.
Paul says when we die we will have “an eternal house in Heaven not built by human hands.” Jesus says He is preparing a place for us and He will come and take us to that place when we die. This means John Peterson left this world holding the hand of Jesus!
Jesus explained to the disciples that there is only one way to get to Heaven: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me”. Many rebel at these words. They say they are narrow-minded. But the invitation is not restricted. Jesus invites everyone and anyone to turn to Him as Savior and Lord. However, not everyone will do so.
Let’s be clear. Not everyone goes to Heaven. In fact, it may be safe to say that the majority of people do NOT go to Heaven. There are always those who say, “I want to go the Hell because that’s where all my friends are.” But they severely miss the point. When God’s love is replaced by God’s wrath there will be nothing good about Hell. The bond of friendship which we cherish comes from God . . . it will be gone. The delight we feel at the pleasures of the world comes from God . . . it will be gone. Joyous laughter . . .gone. Taste buds….gone. Amusements . . . gone. Friendship . . . gone. There is NOTHING party-like at all about Hell.
The Bible tells us no one deserves heaven. Imagine you were in debt for several million dollars. It is not a business debt; it is a personal debt. You make a pretty good income and you pay what you can on the debt. Some people may be able to put $50,000 a year on that debt. Some may only be able to pay $1000. But neither one is going to be able to keep up on paying even the interest on that debt because we keep adding to the debt!
The Bible tells us that Jesus came into the world to pay off the debt to God we have incurred. He came to be our substitute. He took the failing grade and penalty that we deserved. In exchange He gave us His perfect standing before the Lord. His payment covers the sin of our past, present, and future.
How is this possible? How can one man possibly take the place of so many? If you were holding a bunch of hostages, would you trade all those hostages for the President of the United States? I would think you would do so without much thought. Someone might say, isn’t it better to have a bunch of hostages rather than just one? Not if that one is the President. His great value is in the office that he holds.
If you turn that around you can say: how many Secret Service agents would give their life to save the President? How many soldiers and law enforcement officers would do the same? Most of these people would give their lives to protect the President. We may or may not like the man who occupies the office but you would still protect the Office.
On the cross, Jesus as Son of God traded His life for all those held hostage by sin. Because of the value of His position as Son of God He can trade His life for ours. But why would He do it? It’s because He loves us more than we realize.
Jesus is the only way to Heaven because He is the only one who can pay the price of our sinful failures. All the other religions in the world may be well meaning but they are set up to encourage us to pay off our debt by working harder. However, when your debt is as big as ours is, it doesn’t matter how hard you work or how religious you become. You cannot ever erase the debt you continue to accrue.
Jesus said whoever believes in Him will live even though He dies. He doesn’t impose His gift on anyone. We must put our faith in Him. What does it mean to believe in Christ?
According to the Bible, believing in Jesus involves several things: First, it means we recognize that we are lost without Him. It means realizing that we have failed to meet God’s standards. Our lives are a mess. Even the best of us have a spiritual resume that is a train wreck. Until we admit we have a problem, we can’t get help.
Second, we must acknowledge that Jesus is the only One who can save us. It means believing He is God’s Son who died in our place. It means believing He uniquely and truly rose from the dead. His death was sufficient to pay for our sin debt.
Third we must run to Him. We must be willing to bet and build our life on this belief. We must personally surrender to him. We must embrace Him as our King, our Lord, our guide, and our Master. When Jesus called people we are told they “left everything and followed Him.” Jesus tells us that the true believer is the one who begins to walk with Jesus. In other words, they will begin to change.
Anything less than this kind of belief is just being religious. Religion without trust in Christ is just another club to which you belong.
Anyone who knew John Peterson knew that he had placed all of his confidence in Christ. He trusted him in times of difficulty, He thanked Him in times of blessing, He turned to Him with his concerns, and he rested in His work for his salvation. I share the gospel message today because this is the message I know he would want us to share . . . not only now, but always. This is the Good News of the Gospel.
John had always gone to church. However, when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and told there was nothing they could do he had to look death square in the eye. That is when John stopped being religious and began to trust Jesus. John understood that we are saved by the grace and mercy of God. As it turned out, they were able to operate on his cancer and his life was saved. It appears God may have allowed this time of trial just to get John’s attention. John never looked back.
Family members know that it was hard for John to pray at family meals because he was overcome by the awareness of God’s grace and love. When John seemed “out of it” in the hospital he surprised everyone by singing Amazing Grace and Que Sera Sera! Even at this time John was trying (I believe) to declare his faith.
I believe John would want me to take this opportunity to tell you about the mercy and love of God. I believe John would want me to assure you that he is not only OK . . . he is set free. He is more alive now than he ever has been before. The pain has given way to joyful energy and health. The struggle has been replaced dancing. The singing is all on pitch and the frustrations of life have given way to contentment.
So there are three things I hope you take away from here:
First, in this time of sadness I hope you will realize that we grieve, but not as those who have no hope. We know where John is. We know he is home with the Lord who guided his life. We believe he has been reunited with faithful family members who have gone before him. I don’t know if there is hunting or fishing in Heaven. But what I do know is this: John is not going to be disappointed by what he finds in Heaven. Our grief is for our loss . . . not his.
Second, I hope you will be challenged to take a personal inventory of your life. Where do you stand with Jesus Christ? Do you believe this life is all there is? Do you really think we are in a mad dash to nothing? If so, I hope you will take this opportunity to think through the implications of what you say you believe. Don’t waste this time at a funeral. Consider the big questions.
Maybe you think you are “good enough” or that you have “earned” your place in God’s Kingdom? Whenever someone says, “I hope I have been good enough for Heaven” I always respond the same way: “I can assure you, based on the Bible, that you aren’t even close to being good enough.” We are ALL broken people who need a Savior to rescue us.
Perhaps you are on the other extreme and you think you are “too far gone.” Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me I will not cast away.” I invite you to discover forgiveness, new life, and the assurance of Heaven. You can start this process with a simple and sincere prayer. You can pray something like this: “Lord, my life is a mess. I need you. I turn to Jesus as my Savior and I ask you to help me follow Him as my Lord and Master.” If you come truly and sincerely you will be forgiven. It is an amazing promise! By putting your faith and trust in Jesus You will become a child of God and the Lord will make a place for you in His house.
I hope you will make that choice and then spend the rest of your days getting to know Him. Start living the new life that God intended you to live. Discover the contentment that John knew. Start looking forward to Heaven. John will be there to greet you. And I know that he will count this day to be one more miracle, if you respond to him today.
One more thing, if you trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord . . . tell your family. Let them know that you have been forgiven and are headed to Heaven because of what Jesus has done for you. If you will do this, if something should happen to you, your family won’t be left wondering. They will know and they will draw comfort from your testimony. More importantly, if you share your belief your family may also come to trust Jesus and you will be able to die with the peace of knowing you will see them again.
Today we mourn the loss of John Peterson. However, even as we mourn his death I hope you will remember that he lived. I hope you remember his life:
- Every time you see a father enjoying his children
- See someone fishing or hunting
- When you see two people deeply engaged in conversation in a restaurant
- When you hear people bemoaning the primary season
- When you see a man walking his dog
- When you go into a Dentists’ office
- When you see an older couple who are still in love after decades together
- And maybe when you hear some guy singing loud in church (either the right verse or the wrong verses).
I hope there are lots of things that remind you of John Peterson. And I hope those reminders spur you on to learn from his life and emulate His character and his faith. God sent us a special blessing in John. We are wonderfully grateful.
Father, we thank you for John’s life. Thank you for the people he touched (more than we will ever know about.) Lord, I ask that you help those here to find the faith that John had. Help them to find the same sweetness in making this journey called life with You.
Please keep and preserve this family. Stand close to Bobbie in the times of profound loneliness. Surround her with good friends and attentive family.
Please welcome John into the place that you have prepared for him. Help us to live faithfully until the day when we will join with John and with You in your house. Amen.