This is the message, spoken by Melanie's Pastor, Terry Janke, at Melanie's Celebration of Life Service on August 28th, 2015. Melanie and her family had a unique bond with each of the pastors at their church. Her family would like to thank Pastors Terry, Kevin, and Doug for being an amazing source of support and encouragement.
Darryl, Kira and Teagan - I am sure you know this, but let me say it anyway, that we who fill this room today knew and loved Melanie; and we are here not only to grieve her loss with you and to celebrate her life, but we are here to support you - and going forward may you feel that support in many forms.
Not many people are told, "This cancer is going to take your life. You don't have long to live. Go home and build a legacy." That is what Melanie was told over a year ago. And we know a bit of what her life looked like after that point because she felt called to not live it in secrecy, but more publicly for the sake of others. She and Daryl decided together one step at a time what this season of life would look like. So, between appointments and treatments, Mel spent her last year blogging, speaking to groups, visiting friends, and sharing openly with even strangers about her journey.
On June 1st of this year I sat with Mel in her living room and after talking and praying, she shared how much she wrestled with trying to live and speak for Christ, especially to friends who did not know Him the way she knew Him. She longed to show Christ to others and she carried many of you on her heart and in her prayers. She told me that afternoon, that when I spoke at her funeral one day, to make sure I explained the way of knowing Christ and His forgiveness. She had worried that maybe she had not been clear enough sometimes.
So, as I begin I want to say that though you are here as a last gift to Melanie - she has asked me to pass on her last gift to you, and I pray that I will be a worthy messenger to share the story of Christ this evening. To do so, I want to share from a letter the Apostle Paul wrote. (Read Phil 3:7 - 11)
You can tell by how Paul writes that he is thinking he might be nearing the end of his life. He wrote this letter from Rome, where he had been placed under house arrest and was chained to a Roman guard on four hour shifts. And as he reflects on his life, he begins to take stock of his gains and losses. This is not a foreign concept to us, especially in these days when the stock market is so volatile and what was gained yesterday might have been lost today. The consumer-oriented society we live in leads us all to measure life in terms of monetary or material gains and losses.
Most of us are never forced to measure life by any other standard until we are older or become sick; but Melanie was forced at the age of 36 to take stock of her gains and losses, and initially it was natural for her to think more about her losses than her gains.
She shared on this theme about a year ago on a Sunday morning (Sept. 28/14) when we were going through the book of Philippians. The losses she listed were the obvious ones - being apart from Daryl, Kira and Teagan, her family and friends, but she also mentioned her loss of health, peace of mind, financial security, career, her health and fitness, and so on.
When Paul received his life sentence in Rome he also had the uncertainty of when or how he would die as well, and in the verses just prior to what I read, he lists some of what he had to lose. He makes a list of his net worth, some which was inherited and some acquired. Under his inherited worth he counted things like being a Hebrew of Hebrews of the tribe of Benjamin, raised in an orthodox family and taught at the feet of the esteemed Rabbi Gamaliel. Paul had a pedigree to boast about.
But he also could boast (humanly speaking) of his acquired or attained worth; achievements such as belonging to the elite group called the Pharisees, and in terms of being a legalistic do-gooder, no one could top Paul. He fasted more, prayed more, gave more, studied more, and did more than any others he knew. When you put the list together it added up to a lot of pride. In Paul's world it meant that if anyone could have been a candidate for heaven - Paul would have been that guy!
But then he meets Christ. His conversion story is found in Acts 9, and when he does the math and re-calculates his gains and losses he comes to a bizarre and very surprising conclusion. He takes all his inherent and attained achievements, his pedigree and accomplishments ------ and he writes in vs. 7 - 9, 'WHATEVER was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.'
Paul does a spiritual inventory; weighing out his gains and his losses, and he determines that everything he depended on beforehand was small compared to knowing Christ. Christ was worth more than all he had inherited or attained put together. Whatever was to my profit I now consider loss.
Now, Melanie did not think of her family, her education or career as some kind of merit before God. She did not think that some of her circumstances in life or something she attained would pre-dispose God to looking more favourably upon her. But in a way similar to Paul, Melanie had to take an inventory of her hearts affections and see if she treasured anything greater than Christ. Her faith was put to that kind of test. And when she did this inventory, as hard as it was to face the losses that she anticipated, she came to the conclusion that Christ was better by far than all of them put together.
Mel also had to look within her own soul and see that she needed the kind of Saviour that only Christ could be. Someone on the outside could have looked look at her life and thought - 'Well, if God doesn't let someone like a Melanie Penner into heaven, then there is no hope for a lot of us!' But she knew who she was from the inside - out. She knew that all of her goodness still fell short of the holiness that God requires for heaven. She realized that nothing on her list of inherited or attained gains in this world made her fit for the next world. She understood that all of her good deeds would be worthless currency when she arrived at heaven's gate. Nothing she did in this world could earn her place in heaven or her favour with God... only Christ could do that for her.
The reason that Mel could count all of her earthly gains as losses compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ was because her spiritual eyes had been opened to see that all of her own self-effort was nothing compared to the glory and purity of Jesus who took her sin upon Himself on the cross and rose to new life to give her eternal life after death.
There is a very important spiritual principle that Paul teaches in the Scripture we read, and to live by it will cost you your pride. The principle Paul teaches is all efforts at self-righteousness or being good can actually serve to hinder you in the end, if you are depending on them instead of Christ.
Imagine for a moment someone has a cheqing account and all month long they make deposits into their account. But at the end of the month when their bank statement arrives, instead of being deposits, they actually appear as withdrawals and debits. Instead of being a profit, they are a loss. The efforts made to save money were actually counter-productive.
This is the essence of what Paul is teaching. He lived his whole life as the most religious, devout, do-good person one could imagine, thinking that he was storing up righteousness with God. But instead of all his accomplishments and good deeds counting in his heavenly account, they actually served as debits. Paul was under the delusion, like so many, that at the end of life when he did his spiritual accounting, adding up his losses and gains, he would come out far ahead. But after meeting Christ, he realized that he had not gained anything; but in fact, all of his efforts were counter-productive because they deceived him into thinking that he could be justified before God by himself! The word that the Bible writers use to describe how any of us are ever fit for heaven is the word "grace". It means unmerited favour. It means nothing you do can earn it. It means that only the humble receive it, and that exalts the One who alone can give it. Jesus is the only One who can give you grace that helps you in heaven, because Jesus left heaven, came to earth, lived a sinless life, died in your place, and rose again to defeat death, the last enemy.
And as you listen to this simple message, you either respond at your core by thinking that you are not that bad, that you're good enough; or you respond knowing that you need your soul washed clean from evil and sin. Paul took all the good he could do and he said - I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ, and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.'
I heard a story recently about a missionary in Cameroon who had asked directions on how to get to a certain town in a jungle area. After travelling for some time, the road became a trail, and then the trail became a path and soon the path was not even discernible in the dense jungle. Thankfully he ran into an old gentleman in the jungle and asked him if he knew where the path was to this certain town. The old man nodded and said 'Follow me'. So he followed the old man, and they hacked their way through dense undergrowth and after about an hour he said to him, 'Are you sure you know the way? Where is the path?' And the old man turned to him said, "Out here, I am the path."
Friends, when you step out of this physical, material and monetary existence and find yourself lost, you can do many things. You can try harder to find your way. You can search out what other religious road maps tell you - OR, you can follow Jesus who has been to death and back again to tell of it. He made His message in the Bible very simple. He said, "I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus suffered all that we should have suffered; and He obeyed all that we should have obeyed - and so to know Him means simply to humble yourself, admit your need and run into the arms of the One who has loved you from the beginning with a perfect love.
Right now, Melanie is enjoying the fullness of this love in the very presence of her heavenly Father. She has gained by the grace of God what she could never earn - because for her to live was Christ, and to die was gain. John Piper wrote - "If you want to make Christ look great in your dying, there is no big performance or achievement or heroic sacrifice. There is simply a child-like laying yourself into the arms of the one who makes the loss of everything gain."
Melanie - you have fought the good fight. You have finished the race. You have kept the faith. And now there is in store for you the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award to you... (2 Timothy 4:7 - 8)
I have asked permission from Daryl and the family to let Mel have the last word in this message like she did last September, so would you pause with me, stay seated, and listen to words of one who wrestled through what it means to lose everything and to gain Christ. Amen.