In January, I attended a funeral service for someone whom I did not know. The deceased was Pastor Mark McWilliams, the pastor of Starrville Methodist Church who was shot on a Sunday morning when he tried to apprehend a fugitive who was hiding in his church. I attended the service to support his faith community and his wife and to represent Marvin Church as we sought to declare to this small historical country church that we stood with them as they worked through their grief. Jim Broussard and Jonathan Story provided music for the service, and as always, brought the Lord’s comfort and strength through the great hymns of the church. The 50 sympathy cards offered by Marvin members and church staff were well received and appreciated.

A special highlight of the service for me was Pastor Mark’s wife Rosemary offering a spontaneous eulogy for her husband. In my 30 years of officiating funerals, I have never seen a spouse spontaneously eulogize. I learned through her sharing that her husband was a prayer warrior, a fisher of men, a seeker of revival and a man inspired by spiritual conversation. His favorite motto, written on the ribbon of one of his memorial floral arrangements, was “In Him, We Win!”

Following the eulogy, Rosemary offered a prayer over the congregation, something which she was very comfortable and notably experienced in doing.  One week earlier, at the community prayer service hosted by their church, she had offered words of forgiveness for her husband’s killer and prayed for his salvation.

I went to the funeral service not knowing Pastor Mark, but at the end of the service I had a great appreciation for his faith and the reminder that we never know how long our time on earth will last. Rosemary, reflecting on having breakfast with Mark the morning of his death, stated, “You never know when you might see your loved ones for the last time.” Live and love generously and bring heaven wherever you go.

When I started the New Year sermon series entitled Autobiography of God, I noted that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is wherever Jesus’ domain is found and believers are praying and serving under the banner “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Whenever we are striving to follow Christ and live as his disciples, the Kingdom of Heaven is present. Through our words and through our deeds, a little bit of Heaven is brought to earth. As I stated in the traditional service the Sunday after Pastor Mark’s death, even though the church lost their beloved pastor, the Kingdom of Heaven is there. When words of forgiveness are offered in Jesus’ name; when a grieving congregation gathers to celebrate a life and ministry and declare “In Him, We Win,” the Kingdom of Heaven is present. “The Kingdom of God is in our midst” (Luke 17:21).

During February, the church begins another season of Lent, and with this, launches a new sermon series encouraging us to keep “pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Accompanying this will be a discipleship retreat on Saturday, Feb. 27, where we will be challenged to assess where we are in our faith and how we can best be equipped to press on to our heavenly calling.

I look forward to enjoying the journey with you. Hope to see you in church (or on-line) soon as we strive together to bring a little of God’s Heaven to earth.

Are you growing in your faith and good deeds during this new year? What will others one day say as they speak your eulogy?