Friday, February 19, 2016

And Mike Scott Smiled

I attended a funeral today—helped with it even.  Mike Scott died last Saturday at the end of a battle with liver failure.  And it wasn’t the liver he’d been born with.  That one gave out years ago, and Mike was the recipient of a transplant from some kind person who determined that death for him would mean life for someone else.  He couldn’t have donated his liver to a better man.  I had known Mike for the many years he and his family had been part of our church.  I got to know him a little better during his liver transplant.  But I never knew him all that well …

Until today.  The service was simple—the way Mike and his family wanted it.  Laura, his wife, and his adult children, Rachael and Bailey, didn’t want a lot of fuss.  These are quiet people.  That didn’t change with the funeral.  There was a piano medley of praise songs, one solo—Great Is Thy Faithfulness—and three speakers.  I was the parenthesis around a beautiful sentence weaved together by two of Mike’s best friends: Robert Farrell and Kevin Scanlon.  These guys were Razorback buddies in the late 70s who have maintained a growing friendship across all these years.

What rich tributes they offered to their friend!  Robert shared about visiting with Mike on the team bus as the Razorbacks were leaving College Station on the heels of a big Hog win over Texas A&M.  Robert had caught the first touchdown pass in his Razorback career.  And he told Mike, “Why is it that when I just achieved a childhood dream, I feel a little empty?”  Mike said, “Robert, it is just a football game, you know.  Maybe your priorities are out of order.  Try seeking Jesus first.”  Robert remembers that to this day, and he said that statement got him moving more fully toward the Lord.

Kevin and Mike were roommates in the athletic dorm.  Early in the relationship, Mike told Kevin, “I’m not a drinker or a carouser, and my faith is really important to me.  I also like Skoal.”  Kevin was amazed at the way so many people came to Mike for advice and how very much respected Mike was by the team and by so many others.  Mike was never shy to speak of Jesus but he didn’t blast his faith like a trumpet—loud and with a lot of fanfare.  He played it more like a flute—quiet, crisp, clean, and clear.  Kevin told a number of other stories as well.  Kevin’s presence on the team made it harder for Mike to ever get on the field as a quarterback.  And after college, Kevin even became Mike’s immediate boss with Stephen’s, Inc.  But their friendship ascended way above all that.

Mike would have rather lived than die.  He had overcome a lot in his life to succeed on so many levels.   Sadly, he couldn’t overcome this latest bout of illness.  But he was okay with that.  He was content to leave that in God’s hands.  He never worried for himself, but he was concerned for his family.  Still, he knew God would take care of them too.  So Mike faced these days with confidence.  Not long ago he talked with Laura about the apostle Paul’s line to his Philippian friends: “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  That was Mike’s sentiment to a T.  As long as he lived, he wanted his life to reflect Christ.  But when death came, he knew it would be gain for him.  He tried as hard as he could to get through that infection and numerous other complications in his illness.  He gave it his best shot.  But when a Christian gets to the place where there really is no living and he can only say “For me to exist is Christ,” then the gain of death and heaven is just too enticing to kick against any longer.  So late last Saturday, surrounded by family and friends, Mike knew the race God had called him to run was coming to an end.  He saw the finish line.  Like any good athlete, he bolted for it, and as he broke the tape, he raised his arms in praise to Jesus for getting him all the way home.  And he did so amid the cheers of a great cloud of witnesses, some of whom may well have been there because Mike helped them to Jesus.  What the apostle Paul said about himself to Timothy, we could say about Mike today.  Mike fought the good fight, he finished the race, he kept the faith, and now he is enjoying Jesus and sweet reunion and the glories of heaven.

Did I tell you it was a really good funeral service?  Hopeful, encouraging, faith-filled, plenty of laughter, and a few tears too.  But here’s what was so remarkable about it: even though Robert and Kevin told a lot of Mike-stories, somehow Jesus came off the hero.  That’s the way, Mike, Laura, Rachael and Bailey wanted it.  And that’s the way it was.

I had two thoughts as I left the service today.  One, I sure hope my funeral is not the next one to follow his J—it would be so anticlimactic.  But the main thought I walked away with today is not a thought I’ve often pondered at the end of any of the gazillion funerals I’ve been part of in my decades of ministry.  I walked away asking God to make a better Christian out of me.

And Mike Scott smiled.