Not much. Actually, both were celebrations, one of a life and the other, an event. But I cannot remember ever sitting through two more contrasting versions of life as I experienced this past Sunday within hours of each other.
The first celebration was the funeral of my good friend and colleague, Steve Stoner. He was taken to heaven after a long bout with cancer and his funeral was definitely an experience that touched me beyond words. Steve had time before he passed away to write his own funeral and the message was very clear. It was all about Jesus. There was a beautiful flower arrangement at the center of the pulpit saying TO KNOW HIM, TO MAKE HIM KNOWN. The whole service was about that from the songs to the testimonies of friends, to Steve's own story which he had written and requested that it be read by his son, Tim. There were 400 + who came to give honor and celebrate the life of a man who had impacted their own lives.
Steve lived from his purpose: to know God, and to mlake Him known. He lived so that others would know the power of Christ not only to save lives but to also make a life infinitely more fullfilling and joyful because he had experienced such a transformation in his own life. Almost every person I talked with afterward expressed what an impact Steve had made on their life. The funeral was truly a celebration of a life lived well, that influenced literally hundreds of people. I went home with a lot of emotions, certainly a sadness for a friend that I'll miss dearly, but also a feeling of awe of the influence that Jesus Christ can have through the life of one individual.
As I got home that night I turned the television on to watch the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, which I had taped. I was stunned as I watched a spectacle that was literally beyond words. The production was bizarre to say the least. I felt as if I was watching some scene from a movie about life on another planet. Some of it I couldn't watch and just fast forwarded past it. At one time when the whole stadium was turned to a crimson red, the floor of the stadium was filled with fire, and actors were dressed in various shades of red, I told my wife that this looked like what I envisioned hell to be. When it was done, I had a totally different feeling than what I had experienced just a few hours earlier. I was confused and saddened because this stunning display of lights, colors and sounds didn't make much sense. If there was a theme it seemed to be about self and a secular world of odd sorts. I couldn't remember seeing or hearing one thing about spirituality, faith or Christianity in either the opening ceremonies or the closing. And the opening ceremony centered around British history and life. Surely Christian faith played as strong a role in forming their society as anything else, but not a mention.
Was the closing indicative of a society without God? Was this one man's (the producer) worldview, or is it a closer representation of the real world than I ever thought possible? Has culture changed and passed me by this fast?
As I thought about the contrast between the ceremony and the funeral, I thought about Deuteronomy 30:19 This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life.
I imagined God laying the two before me. You can choose either a life lived in pursuit of pleasure and all the world has to offer or a life lived like Steve Stoner, a man who lived for God and others. It's not much of a choice for me. I pray that I would always choose life!
Did you see the Olympics? What were your thoughts about it?