Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remembering My Father

This is the first Father's Day since the passing of my dad last Thanksgiving. He is missed. There are days it still hurts that he is gone. But there is also great rejoicing. Because of his example, because of his life, I will see him again.

It seems odd to put thoughts of this nature on such a medium. But for those who knew my dad and loved him, I want them to understand that what they loved in my father was Jesus. It was His love and grace that shown through in my father.

Below is the eulogy I delivered at dad's funeral, sans a few remarks that came to mind as I was speaking. I hope that it honors him. He was a man who deserves the honor of his son. I look toward the day when I see my heavenly Father, but my earthly father as well.

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Lloyd Dow was never big on rituals and traditions. Dad would not have wanted much made of this event. But many have come today because in one way or another, at one time or another, he was an integral part of the rhythms of our lives. We have come, rightly, with heavy hearts because a source of stability, sameness and godly consistency has been taken from us, never to return. We grieve because of the awful reality of death that rips apart body and soul in a horrible act.

The great king David captured something of our sadness as he sang of his covenant with God. From dust we have been made and to dust we will return. The life of a man, says David, is like grass, the wind passes over it and we are gone.

Yet dad’s life does not seem so fleeting and inconsequential as grass. Dad redeemed the time because he was concerned with things of permanence rather than the fleeting material trifles that fill our day. At his core, Dad loved God and he loved people. Jesus said that when fully formed a student looks like his teacher. In his life dad sought to look like his teacher and his Lord. In his own way, though a pale and imperfect reflection, dad sought to mirror Jesus through a life of self-sacrifice and service.

I could go on for hours about the ways dad served and loved others. I’m hoping that today many of you will take time to tell me stories about dad. As his son I would cherish that.

Perhaps you are here today having worked with my father or maybe were his student. Dad’s former students are everywhere and whenever I meet one his name always elicits smiles and spontaneous laughter. About five years ago I recall stopping at a McDonalds in Decatur with dad and my oldest son, Andrew. While I was trying to gulp down a quarter pounder dad was surrounded, awash in a swell of townsfolk eager to chat with “Mr. Dow” some eleven years after his retirement. It was like being with a minor celebrity.

Dad had an evident gift for making learning fun. I picture his class as a place with a slew of hands-on projects going on simultaneously with paint, glue and plaster of paris being slung hither and yon by overzealous kids with dad overseeing it all like a whirling dervish. I visualize model rockets being shot skyward and students trudging through graveyards or interviewing elderly residents of the hometown he loved. Dad could be a stern disciplinarian applying the “board of education” to the seat of learning. He was also the teacher and principal who gave kids dollar bills on their birthday, took them to eat ice cream for no reason, went to their ballgames and brought them into his home. He gave them himself. For dad teaching was

more than a career and heaven knows he didn’t become an educator so his family could live in the lap of luxury. Dad had a deep and abiding affection for his students because he wanted to serve them and saw teaching not as a cross to bear but a calling to enjoy. He labored hard because he loved.

Dad also faithfully served many in this church and various gospel ministries. Most of you know dad as the self-appointed greeter of Oakwood Bible Church, stationed near the door greeting visitors and long-time members alike with a hearty handshake and maybe a joke or quick story. In recent days I’ve heard countless times from many that they suspect dad has surely pushed St. Peter into heaven’s break room and is now greeting saints as they enter paradise.

That’s the Lloyd Dow that many Oakwook Bible Church members may know. But if you haven’t been around for longer than a decade or so that really only scratches the surface. Mom and dad joined Oakwood Bible Church in 1965 and from that time he served numerous stints on the church board as an elder and deacon. He chaired the building committee responsible for the construction of the facility we’re sitting in this afternoon. If I’m not mistaken, my father and older brothers stained the very beams that hold this roof aloft and dad and I painted several of the nursery rooms down the hall—this was the sort of thing he did in “retirement”. In fact, I’m guessing that where you see paint you see the hand of my father. That only scratches the surface of his efforts on behalf of his beloved church.

Dad also taught an adult Sunday School class for years—decades would be a more accurate description. His specialty was what might be called very slooowwww expository teaching, meaning that he sought to teach through books of the bible in a systematic, verse-by-verse manner. The only problem is that he proceeded at a pace that could only generously be termed snail-like.

Though he lacked formal theological training dad doled out Spirit-filled Biblical wisdom with the best of them, and tossed in a slew of humorous nuggets for good measure. Dad labored mightily to handle God’s Word with care. One enduring image singed into my memory is dad seated in his recliner, leaning forward hunched over a card table. He may have been grading papers, but as likely he was surrounded by stacks of notes, commentaries, bible dictionaries and theology books as he prepared his weekly lesson. He labored hard because he loved.

Dad also loved, served and provided for his family. Because dad was a teacher, Christmas break and summer were times for family vacations. Until later years, dad was always on the move and never one to enjoy relaxation and didn’t seem to much enjoy traveling. Nevertheless we visited Florida, the American West, New England, the East Coast and other locations. We were often pulling a camper and always on the move….go, go, go. Dad’s idea of a family vacation leaves me dizzy and faint when I think about it to this day. I’ll give you one brief glimpse inside a Dow “vacation.”

When I was 13, which was just a few years back, mom, dad and I traveled to Philadelphia to spend time with dad’s sister. After a week or so with Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Bob, who served as our unofficial tour guide, we departed one morning for Williamsburg, Virginia. Well, dad thought it would be a good idea for his son to see the nation’s capital. So after barreling down I-95 for about three hours we pulled into town and started walking. We proceeded to visit the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Air & Space Museum and Capitol. I think we may have also sprinted through the Supreme Court and National Archives but it is still something of a blur. For good measure, we took a tour of the White House and then drove another 6 hours to Williamsburg. All of this was a fairly typical lazy day on a Dow family vacation. Dad didn’t like to waste time.

Dad also took time for things like coaching my brother’s basketball team and showing me how to properly launch a two-handed set shot and shoot free-throws underhanded out in the driveway. Let it never be said of dad that he was huffing and puffing trying to keep up with the times. Dad was definitely old school in every way and I loved him loved him for it.

But I will be most grateful to my father for introducing me to Jesus. Dad was my first shepherd and showed me in word and deed the fatherhood of God. He taught me to be a Christian man. He taught me what it means to love my wife like Christ loves the church. He showed me how to raise my sons in the fear and instruction of the Lord without provoking them to anger. When I was in danger of straying, like my heavenly Father, he came to find me. He labored hard because he loved.

Dad was able to serve so many for at least two reasons: First, because his beloved wife was at his side. Lloyd loved Marilyn with all his heart and she graciously supported him for many years, allowing him to touch so many. Second, dad served because his faith was merely intellectual but an active faith incarnated and made alive by good works. His ethics and actions were primarily expressions of gratitude for the grace shown to him. If you loved my dad, what you really loved was Jesus working in and through him. If you loved my dad, I would plead for you to love and serve his God.

A cardiologist told me last week that dad had a weak heart. With all due respect to that doctor, his knowledge and the miraculous medical gizmos at his disposal, he had fundamentally misjudged and misdiagnosed my father. Dad had a mighty and joyous heart and it ceased beating, appropriately on Thanksgiving Day, because he had poured his life out as a drink offering to his Lord. He had presented his body as a sacrifice and simply had nothing left to give.

The passing of a loved one, the event we are marking today, is a stark reminder of an uncomfortable truth that we are inclined to avoid until it is impossible to look away. Unfortunately it is often only when staring into the face of death that clarity becomes possible. One truth we are acknowledging today is that we are all in Adam, and we all share in his curse. Because of our sin we are hurtling rapidly toward an eternal death, a death we have chosen and a death we deserve.

Scripture describes man as “dead” in trespasses and sins. We are, spiritually speaking, already corpses awaiting in history the finality of that inner reality.

But in God’s Word we find hope, life, joy, liberation and victory. The curse we share with Adam is overshadowed by the steadfast love of God. This love is not a concept or an abstraction but rather it is a person, a person who takes on flesh, blood and bone. In the brutality and suffering of His crucifixion, Christ took the curse upon Himself. In his resurrection He stood where Adam could not, crushing the head of the serpent and defeating sin and death. In His ascension to the right hand of the Father He began the process of reconquest, of restoring the creation, of reconciling all things to himself.

Because of these truths, Lloyd Dow lived his life with hope, but not a hope in his own righteousness. That could never be enough. Instead, his hope was in a righteousness outside of himself, a righteousness only found in his union with Christ. And though God has promised to put all things under the feet of His Anointed King, we see in this world of funeral homes and graveyards that the process is incomplete. Our bodies and the entire creation still groan and cry out from the corruption wrought by sin.

The hope for Lloyd Dow, and the only hope any of us can have, is something that happened in a graveyard in Palestine two-thousand years ago. The Scriptures call the resurrection a down-payment of Christian hope. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that all who throw themselves on the mercy of God in Christ will share in this resurrection, they will conquer with Christ and His saints over death itself. This is the only hope for a man in the face of death.

Dad told me many times over the years that the one question he always asked perspective teachers was, “Who are your heroes?” For me that’s easy. There are countless men I love and admire; countless men who have taught me much. But it was my father who raised me; it was my father who held me in his arms, tucked me in at night, read me stories, taught me to serve others and daily showed me the grace of God. My hero was and always will be my dad.

As his health declined and death approached I know that dad was anticipating and longing for the resurrection of the body secured for him by Christ. Dad’s body ultimately failed him, a process that had been ongoing for many years. But he now has his rest and awaits a day when he will have a new, glorified, perfect body instead of a body wracked by diabetes and heart disease with nothing untouched by pain and decay. Dad’s mind, which had dulled in recent years, will be sharper than it ever was in life. His sense of humor, which so many of you loved, will be restored to perfection.

Like any child of God he longed to hear the words of Matthew 25:23, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”. We are here to affirm that Lloyd Dow led a good life, loved his students, church and family. But more than anything, he loved God. He ran the race well and persevered to the end by the grace of God. Though dad will be missed, he has entered into the joy of his master and for that we rejoice.

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