[Tim Lafferty’s Comments]
It is difficult at a time like this to look past the tragic event that has brought us together today. Probably some of you who maybe didn’t know Kyle as well as others will always associate the mention of his name with what happened last Sunday night. That is truly unfortunate.
I would hope that our focus would be less on how Kyle died but more importantly about how he lived. While his death leaves many questions unanswered, his life was unquestionably special. Kyle was only with us for a short time and yet it is obvious by the outpouring of emotions here today that he made a big impact on those of us he came in contact with.
I was fortunate enough to know Kyle throughout his teenage years. As a teacher and a coach I got to see him in a variety of situations. On the surface Kyle seemed to be this polite reserved young man who was a very good student, a leader in FFA, and a dedicated football player. But to those who really knew him, Kyle Johnson was much more than that.
To his parents Kyle was their devoted and loving son. With his father there was a special bond. They were best pals who shared a love of farming. To his mother he was her little boy, now growing up to be a fine young man. They knew he was special and they were right.
To his sisters, Kyle was their loyal and considerate, although sometimes mischievous brother. Like any siblings they sometimes disagreed, but they knew they could always count on him when needed. To his younger sister, Kristina, he was a hero. Her big, strong brother who could do almost anything.
To his friends he was K.J. or simply Kyle. He had an easy manner that made you feel welcome right away. If you knew Kyle, you were his friend because he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kyle was kind and caring and quick with a smile. His eyes would light up when he teased you good naturedly, and he would blush, but loved it, when you teased him.
Kyle was passionate about farming. It was in his blood and he loved everything about it. He grew up wanting to plant corn and raise cattle, and never grew out of it. He loved both the simple pleasures of life on the farm and the long hours of hard work that often went with it.
Kyle was quiet and thoughtful. He was a great listener because he actually listened to you rather than just waiting for his turn to speak. Many of his friends confided in him with their problems and he always made time for them. They knew he truly cared and would not judge them for their mistakes.
Kyle was a leader, for his class and the FFA. His honesty and integrity made those around him know that he could be trusted to get the job done. Kyle was Chapter President of the FFA and a class officer, because he had the ability to get people to work together. He also knew how to offer his opinion without tromping on the opinions of others. He was respected because he treated others with respect.
Kyle was a Thunder football player. He was not the biggest or the fastest player on the team, but his dedication, work ethic and commitment were respected by both his teammates and the coaches. He may not have been a great player, but he was a great teammate.
Kyle was a doer and not a complainer. He always pitched in when there was work to be done. He was the type of person who would try to make things better rather than sitting around and complaining about what wasn’t fair or right.
Kyle was a perfectionist in many ways. He always strived to do his very best in the classroom and it showed in his grades and in the scholarships that he earned. It also showed in how neat and clean he kept his vehicles. A cleaner truck was never seen in the parking lot at LHS.
Kyle loved the outdoors. He loved to hunt, fish, and ride 4-wheelers and do the other typical things that young guys like to do. He also liked spending time with his friends who shared those same interests, and they would talk endlessly about their hunting adventures. It just goes to show Kyle wasn’t always as quiet as he seemed.
Kyle was fun-loving and mischievous. He liked to stay up all night with his friends at the 4-H fairs and scope out the girls at FFA activities and ballgames. He once shot a turkey hen illegally and made his friends swear a vow of secrecy. Sorry, I guess I shouldn’t have mentioned that.
Kyle Johnson was all of these things and much more. I don’t know if his parents preached the Golden Rule to him or not, but I do know that his lived his life that way. In my 20 years in education, I have never known a student more universally liked and respected than Kyle Johnson. I never heard a mean word about him and I never heard him utter a mean word about someone else.
I know that we are all saddened by the loss of a true friend and a special young man. Yet we need to remember how fortunate and blessed we were to know Kyle Johnson. It’s my hope that when we think about Kyle it will be about how he lived and not how he died. That your memories of him will be of that cheerful smile that he shared so often. Maybe all of us can learn a lesson from Kyle and try to share our own smiles more often. Wouldn’t that be a tremendous tribute to him. God Bless you Kyle.
[These are Bruce’s remarks at the funeral]
Kyle Johnson was a remarkable young man. He was a quiet leader. He led, not by force, but by character and example. He brought people together because he was able to see beyond himself. He worked hard because he wanted to do his best and was eager to help others. He had a wonderful sense of humor and was able to disarm a room full of people with his ever-present smile. Kyle Johnson was a friend’s friend. He was the guy who would be there for you when no one else was around. Kyle possessed an uncommon humility. Everybody who knew Kyle Johnson, liked him.
Coach Lafferty has shared some great snapshots of Kyle’s life. Pastor Greg is going to talk to you about our hope in the time of sadness. And I want to talk to you about some nagging questions we face today. Kyle was a great young man . . . . and that is exactly why the way he died is so confusing to us.
Kyle Johnson is the last person we would ever think would commit suicide. He was one of the most “together” people we have ever known. How could this happen?
I feel I have to address a question that everyone thinks about but no one asks: “What happens to a person who commits suicide?” “What happens to this person after death?”
The church has always taken a dim view of suicide. There are some who tell us that the person who commits suicide has no hope of Heaven. They see suicide as the ultimate act of defiance against God.
Make no mistake . . . suicide is sin. Matters of life and death belong to God and God alone. Suicide solves nothing. As it is often said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
But saying suicide is wrong and saying the person who commits suicide forfeits any opportunity of heaven are two different matters. The Bible says there is an unpardonable sin. But that unpardonable sin is not suicide, it is an ultimate and final rejection of God’s offer of forgiveness and new life in Christ. So, if suicide is not the “un-pardonable sin” then it must be “pardonable”. It must be something that God can forgive.
Suicide is generally an impulsive, illogical act. Often the person who commits suicide has lost the ability to think rationally. All they see is a seemingly hopeless situation that overwhelms their life. They can’t see beyond the problem. They don’t consider repercussions. Some people who commit suicide actually feel that the act of suicide will help them feel better when they carry on their life tomorrow. They are not thinking straight.
We know that the young man who took his own life on Sunday night was not the real Kyle Johnson. This was not the same young man who spent his life thinking about others. It was not the same young man who saw life with uncommon clarity. Kyle wasn’t thinking straight. God will not condemn Kyle simply because he “lost his reason”.
This is an important matter so let me ask you some questions. Do you think a person in a nursing home should go to hell because they have become demanding, mean and sometimes say and do hurtful things? No. They are suffering from dementia. Their reasoning process has been damaged. We know that God understands their physical situation.
Do you think a person who has had brain cancer should go to hell because their personality changes and they become abusive and reckless in their living? No . . . We know, and God knows, that these people are not themselves.
Isn’t suicide the same kind of situation? Do you think God will condemn someone to hell because they weren’t thinking clearly and did something bad? I don’t. God understands our situation. God knows our heart. He sees our confusion.
Please, let me be clear. I am not saying that a person who commits suicide goes to Heaven. What I am saying is suicide is a non-determinative factor in our eternal destiny. It has no bearing on whether or not we go to Heaven.
The Bible tells us that the determinative factor for Heaven and Hell is how we respond to Jesus Christ. God has offered us forgiveness and a new beginning in life because of the death of Christ on our behalf. Our eternal destiny (whether we go to Heaven or Hell) is determined by our response to God’s offer of salvation. The person who receives Jesus Christ as Savior, and follows him as Lord, is given new life in Christ. Our response to Jesus is what determines whether we go to Heaven or Hell . . . not how we die.
Pastor Greg will share with us about the faith of Kyle Johnson. And it is on the basis of this faith that we believe Kyle is with the Father in Heaven. We do not believe that this one wrong choice changes the nature of God’s love and grace.
But there is another matter I want to talk to you about. The thing that makes suicide so hard to live with is all the unanswered questions.
1. Why did this happen?
2. Did I do something to cause this?
3. Could I have done something to prevent it?
We ask the questions, but there is no way to find the answers. The fact is, there are some questions in life that don’t seem to have any answers. There are some circumstances in life that just don’t seem fair. There are some things that will never make sense on this side of eternity. We wish it wasn’t so, but it is.
In response to these unanswered questions people seem to respond in one of three ways. Some choose to blame.
They blame other people (if you hadn’t done this . . . this wouldn’t have happened). They blame themselves ( If I hadn’t done, said, not done, not said this or that, if I had been a better friend, co-worker, parent, this wouldn’t have happened. ) Or they blame God. They cry out, “Where was God? Why didn’t God do something? Why didn’t God prevent this?”
Blame is an attempt to make sense of something that doesn’t make sense. It isn’t helpful and usually it is destructive. These people insist on probing for details and draw conclusions without all the facts. We don’t have all the facts. And we will never have all the facts. This is the time to pull together rather than tear each other, and ourselves, apart. Hopefully we will come out of this horrible time wiser and more attentive to each other . . . but the blame game doesn’t help . . . it just makes things worse.
A second way of dealing with the unanswered questions is to become bitter and withdraw. The people who respond this way conclude that nothing matters. To avoid the pain of loss they just stop caring. They shut down emotionally. They refuse to love because loving brings the risk of loss. These people withdraw from life and faith. Some of them spend the rest of their life trying to numb themselves from the pain with alcohol and drugs. In essence, these people run away from life. It’s another poor choice and it just compounds the problem.
The third alternative is the one I recommend today. Some people face the unanswered questions with faith and trust.
We have read, and will read some of the great promises of Scripture this afternoon. But, for me, there is one book in the Old Testament that I always turn to in times of confusion, and that is the book of Job.
The book of Job is the story about a very good and godly man (named Job) who loses everything. In a short period of time his business is destroyed and his employees are killed, his ten children were killed in a tornado, and his body was filled with disease and pain. Wave after wave of tragedy overwhelms him. Each new messenger to the city brings more bad news.
To Job’s credit, he didn’t turn away from the Lord. He said, “Naked I came from the womb and naked I will return. . . .the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” Job tried to hang on.
Job’s friends suggested that Job was being punished by God (which is often what people think when something bad happens. We find ourselves asking, “what have I done to deserve this?”). The more they talked, the more confused Job became. Job said, “If only I could plead my case before God . . . if only God would explain things to me.”
Let’s face it, wouldn’t that be nice today? Wouldn’t it be great if God would just explain, Why? Wouldn’t it be great if God would show up and answer just a few questions? Wouldn’t it be great if God would tell us why He didn’t do something that would keep Kyle from taking his life? We hear about God’s intervention all the time . . . why didn’t He intervene here?
That’s the way Job felt. The book of Job is a long and sometimes tedious book to read. And at the end of the book, guess what? God showed up! And God said, “Job, I understand you have some questions for me. But before I answer your questions, I want to ask a few of my own.”
Then God begins with a machine gun like series of questions: Where were you when I made the world? Where were you when I put the stars in place? Where were you when I created the animals? Can you tell me where the darkness goes when light comes? Can you explain how the constellations came to be? Can you explain the change in weather patterns? On and on the questions continue. Finally God asked Job, “Who are you to question my wisdom?” And when God finished, Job apologized to God. He said, “I’m sorry, I should have known better than to doubt your wisdom and Your love.”
That’s how the book ends! God never answers the questions of Job! God never explains himself. But we are told that Job lived happily ever-after.
The message is clear: In uncertain times we must trust the character, love and wisdom of God. In this time of heartache I sense God saying, “I know you don’t understand. I know this doesn’t make any sense. I wish I could explain it all to you . . . but you unable to understand what is happening. It is more complex than you can grasp. So, for now, all I can say, is “Trust me.”
I wish we had more. I wish we had answers to our questions. But we don’t. We are left to decide whether we will turn away from God or run to Him and hold on tight. We are left to choose whether we will focus on the confusing circumstances of life or the sure character of God.
It has been helpful to me to affirm three simple truths:
God is in Control
God Loves Me
God Never Makes a Mistake
I hang on to these truths with every ounce of strength that I have. This life is not all there is. I don’t know why some things happen, but I trust the one who leads the way. Suppose you are going to the home of someone who’s home you have never been to before. Your friend is giving you directions and you keep making turns that don’t seem to make sense. At times you even feel like you are traveling in the wrong direction. But you trust your friend because he knows the way . . . and you don’t.
Life is like that. We must trust the One who knows the way. We must trust God even when life seems to take a horribly wrong turn like it has this week.
I encourage you to hang on tight. I hope you will choose to learn from Kyle’s life instead of being paralyzed by his death. Over the past few days we have found strength in being together. We have been driven to prayer. We have overlooked the petty things that often divide us. Our priorities have been placed into sharper focus. We have been reminded of how much family means to us. We have seen the importance of community. During these last several days we have been reminded of our need for God. Let’s resolve not to forget these things when the crisis has passed.
Please, don’t let the manner of Kyle’s death keep you from cherishing the lessons of his life. Kyle taught us many things:
- A smile is contagious
- Being willing to compromise and negotiate on non-essential issues gets you further down the road than insisting on doing things your way
- Every person has value regardless of age or reputation
- You should give everything you have to everything you do because life is more enjoyable that way.
- Making time for others is an investment that pays rich dividends
- If you respect others, you will receive respect in return
- And in this tragedy he showed us that a deep and abiding faith is the only anchor for the difficult times of life. It is the only hope when the storms come our way.
We ache today. That is right and appropriate. Our tears are not a sign of weakness, they are an indication that we have lost something precious. Our tears reveal that we have been touched by the life of Kyle Johnson. And even though we hate the hurt, the questions, and the emptiness . . . . they are still to be preferred to never knowing Kyle at all. We are better people because of him. And we are grateful . . . even as we mourn.