Remembering David by Gavin Duerson, May 17, 2023
This past week our simple church lost someone special. David was our next-door neighbor and a faithful pillar in our simple church family. Loving and being loved by Dave has been one of the biggest blessings of hosting simple church on our street. Simple/house church creates family and as we grieve the loss of Dave, I realize how true this is.
I was honored to facilitate Dave’s “Celebration of Life Service” this past Saturday. It was a true joy to hear others tell stories about Dave. His hilarious personality, love for others, and desire to always help people were common themes. The stories of the jokes and laughs Dave and I shared could fill up pages. We experienced Dave’s love in so many wonderful ways. He already is so greatly missed.
I wanted to share a part of the message I passed on to friends and family. I’m grateful for being able to see God work in Dave’s life through the interactions and relationships that developed in our simple church.
Today, this is called a “Celebration of Life Service.” But it doesn’t feel like a celebration, does it? If Dave were here with us wearing some goofy shirt or costume and we were having a party, good food, and good Dave stories, it would seem much more like a celebration. But that cannot happen. Last Sunday at our house church meeting this passage was brought up.
“It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2)
The Scriptures teach that there is something really healthy and good about seasons of life like this – as painful as they may be. As I got to know David after Debbie (Dave’s wife) passed, he would often say that as painful as losing Carrie (Dave’s daughter) was, losing Debbie was worse because he was now alone. He no longer had a partner to help him deal with his grief. His honesty was a real gift to others because it gave those who knew him a window into God’s work in Dave’s life. In our church, Dave didn’t try to just move on or forget about his losses or pretend to be okay. I saw him lean into his grief and “take it to heart,” as this Scripture mentions.
We have and will continue to speak a lot of Dave and all the amazing things about him – and rightly so. But he wasn’t a perfect person. He had faults as we all do. When he started meeting with our church family, he would often say things like, “I just don’t know if God can forgive me.” He voiced doubt about his standing with God. But two weeks ago, when Dave was on his way to a follow-up appointment with a doctor, I had a conversation with Dave that I’d like to share.
Dave told me they were going to run some tests and that everything would be fine, but that if it wasn’t fine and for some reason he didn’t make it, he wanted me to tell everyone that he knew that Jesus Christ lived in his heart, that he was going to Heaven, and that he was 0% afraid of death. I told him that I didn’t anticipate having to have those conversations any time soon and that I expected him to have many more years ahead of him and to that he said, “Well, it’s true. I’m not afraid of dying and I’m ready. I have had an amazing life.”
How does someone move from wondering if God can forgive them to making such a bold and confident statement like that? How might we arrive at a similar place through our grief?
First and foremost, it begins by leaning into our pain and grief – running to God and not from Him. That’s what Dave did. I think he would encourage everyone here today to do likewise as they deal with their grief today and in the days to come.
Secondly, it does involve getting to know what Jesus is really like. My wife shared that Dave reminded her of Jesus. In the Bible, in the book of 1 John, the author, reflecting on Jesus, states that the Christians loved Jesus because He (Jesus) first loved them. My wife mentioned that we wouldn’t have picked David to become what has amounted to an adopted member of our family. We wouldn’t have done that, but we grew to love Dave because from the moment we moved across the street, he loved us first. He showered us with his love as he has many of you here today.
Over the past seven years, we have spent a great amount of time together with Dave discussing and experiencing the amazing and unconditional love of God. During this time, our family welcomed Wylie, who was not expected to live beyond a few days, and Dave really loved her. He would always call her “Ms. Wylie.” Not only has Ms. Wylie played a big role in us all understanding God’s love better, but also the multiple conversations around the person of Jesus we often shared did, too.
It is so easy for us to fall into this religious trap that says we try hard to love God and if we do it good enough God will love us back. While this is what a lot of people believe Christianity is about, it’s the opposite of what Jesus is about. It is as backwards as thinking that if my daughter Wylie loves me good enough then I will love her in return. This lie is so easy to creep into our minds. When we get to know Jesus, we realize that He came to flip this whole idea of God’s love being based on our performance on its head. He came to show us all that He loved us first and his love is perfect and powerful enough to take care of all our mistakes. When we encounter His love, then we can truly love God. We love because He first loved us!
I want to conclude by sharing this passage in its context with you all because I think it beautifully explains the truths that David was able to absorb and ultimately led him to a place where he was able to express the things he expressed to me on his way to the doctor appointment a few days ago.
1 John 4:4-19 [NIV]
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
19 We love because he first loved us.
David loved his family. Cars. Music. Food. Making people laugh. He loved greatly, and in the end, Dave was confident about his transition to the next life because He learned most of all that God is love, and that he was loved by God despite his mistakes. He embraced what Jesus did for him when He absorbed all his sin when He died on the cross. I’m confident that if Dave could speak to us today from where he sits, he would long for us to lean into our grief and get to know the real Jesus as well.
Gavin Duerson, Simple Church Alliance