Saying ‘goodbye’ to a good friend

A sad day

15079034_1026862530772733_3224708844393030373_nYesterday at Grace Church we said goodbye to a dear friend and church member, Richard Owen. Richard and Wendy have been part of our church since before it began; they helped to plant it. Richard will be greatly missed.

If you want to know what sort of man Richard was, you could do a lot worse than to look at the things written about him on Facebook since he was taken home. For example:

  • It was a pleasure to know Richard, such a kind & generous heart
  • Richard was one of the first people to welcome me to Grace Church, and he knew my name. He was such a lovely man
  • We will miss this man of great faith, humility, compassion, love and joy. He is an inspiration
  • Richard will be greatly missed – such an example to us all of a real warrior for God showing great perseverance and faith
  • Richard was such an inspiration to me as a young adult. He brought faith and fun together in a natural way
  • Richard is an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord

Inspiration

15171334_1026862740772712_7280242106463818483_nOne word seems to come up a lot: Inspiration. There was something about Richard that inspired people to live well and follow Jesus wholeheartedly.

Something about Richard inspired people to look to God and to stand firm in their faith. The final post that he made on Facebook, on June 24th following the EU referendum, said this:

“God is building His Church. He always has and He always will. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that has always transcended borders. Nothing can thwart His eternal will and purpose. The outcome of the referendum makes not one iota of difference to Him who is forever praised. To His redeemed He has promised that He will work ALL things for good to those who love Him and are the called according to His purposes. We have nothing to fear. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal.”

Richard had his gaze set beyond this world and onto his heavenly home; the home to which he has now gone.

Thanksgiving

At the thanksgiving service we focused on these words from the Bible, 2 Peter 1v5-8:

“Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

That passage sums up some character qualities which we saw in Richard’s life, and which were the source of much of the inspiration he gave.

The first quality it mentions is faithRichard was a man of faith. He had his own personal faith in Christ, but he was also prepared to take steps of faith: travelling to India, setting up charities, giving himself to an adventure like church planting. These were faith steps.

It says, “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness”: Richard embodied goodness in many ways: he was good to people; he was always willing to do good to others and to put himself out. He spent hours showing pastoral care and love to people who needed it. He was willing to help when help was needed. Many of us benefited from his goodness.

Next it says, “add … to goodness, knowledge”: Richard spent hours studying and reading books about his Christian faith. Even in his final days he was deep into books by the great authors of the Christian faith. He was devoted to growing in the knowledge of God right up to the end, when he saw him face to face and no more books were necessary.

15110901_221087181649703_7917039115661628657_oTo knowledge we are told to add, “self control”: I’ve no doubt that Richard got cross or upset sometimes, but in the 11 years I knew him I never saw it. I never saw him lose it, or fly off the handle, or gossip or back bite or complain or get angry or bitter. That’s a serious level of self control – and it’s not as if he never faced any disappointments!

Ask him how he was and he would say, “I’m good”. Even when he was dying of cancer and I thought that maybe now he might be forgiven for a few grumbles, he would just say,

“I can’t complain; God is good!”

Then it says, “add … to self-control, perseverance”: I saw Richard persevere when his house in Hove refused to sell for two years. Believing God had told them to move, he persevered. I saw him persevere when Wendy battled breast cancer. I saw him persevere though the challenges of church life. And we all saw him persevere through his illness, only reluctantly stepping back from his many serving roles when Wendy insisted!

“To perseverance” we are told to add, “godliness”: As someone said on Facebook, “Richard was an inspiration and benchmark on how to live in the Lord”. And someone else said, “He brought faith and fun together in a natural way”. I’m not sure there are any better definitions of godliness than those two.

To godliness we are told to add “mutual affection”, or as other translations say it, “brotherly affection”: Many of us benefitted from Richard’s affectionate nature; the love he showed to his brothers and sisters in Christ.We see it y in the way he served in so many areas: setting up events, leading small groups, his travels to India, his commitment to leadership and his acts of service and generosity. Richard exuded brotherly affection.

15095030_1281942981827381_953735968216780002_nAnd finally, to “brotherly affection” we are told to add “love”: The type of love it refers to here can be summed in one phrase: self sacrifice. This is a love based not on feelings but on a decision; a love that chooses to prefer others and put them first. And Richard showed that so well: in marriage, in parenting, in friendships and in church life too.

A high calling

What an incredible list and what a high calling, and Richard embodied it well. The passage finishes with this: “If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

And Richard was anything but ineffective and unproductive! What a faithful servant! What a life! No wonder he was such an inspiration to so many!

The source of it all

So what was it that made Richard such an inspiration? What motivated him? What shaped him? Was he just a naturally good person?

Without being rude or disrespectful, the answer is no! If Richard had been willing to acknowledge that he had these qualities at all, he would have been clear that the source of them was not found in his own natural character or goodness. These qualities were not inborn; they came from his relationship with Jesus Christ.

They came from being born again!

Despite all his natural good qualities, and they were many, as a young man Richard came to realise that he was a sinner and that he needed forgiveness and mercy from God … and in Jesus he found the source of an eternal forgiveness and mercy.

The Bible puts it like this in John 3v16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life”

Richard knew this to be true. He believed that Jesus was the son of God. That he came from heaven to earth, born as a baby. He believed that Jesus lived a sinless life, and that he died on the cross in our place, to pay the price for our sin. He believed that Jesus was punished in our place on the cross. Crucified, dead and buried, and then three days later Jesus rose to life again. That was the basis of his faith.

No fool

398822_2708099735376_825295775_nNow Richard was no fool. He was a policeman for 28 years. He was used to looking at evidence. He didn’t let people put one over on him easily. He had some gruesome stories of dead bodies too that he used to roll out from time to time to make people like me squirm. Richard was no fool.

Yet Richard believe that this one man, Jesus, had done something that no one else in all history had ever done: he had risen from the dead. And the implications of that fact, carefully considered and researched by Police Inspector Owen, changed his whole life.

Richard knew that through Jesus we can each find forgiveness and mercy and be made right with God again. And on believing that message  Richard put his faith in Jesus and followed him. And I know that Richard would want each of us to do the same.

Jesus changes everything

When you put your faith in Jesus it changes everything. Jesus is the source of the good that we saw in Richard:  faith, goodness, knowledge,  self control,  perseverance,  godliness, brotherly affection, love … all these things find their source in Jesus.

When we put our faith in him, he not only makes us right with God, he not only forgives our sin and promises us eternal life, he also starts to change our lives and make us into the people we were created to be.

Real evidence

Perhaps the real evidence of the truth behind Richard’s faith in Jesus, the evidence that we should all pause to consider, is the righteous life that Richard lived as a result of his faith. This was not the result of human effort; it was the result of God at work in Richard’s life.

So we thank God for Richard

We thank God for his example. We thank God for his life. And most of all we thank God for the eternal life that he now enjoys through his faith in Christ, a life that is available to each of us by faith too.

Faith was the first quality on that list for a reason; it all starts with faith … and maybe now is a moment for us to put your faith in Jesus too, perhaps for the first time or perhaps to reaffirm our own faith again.

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