Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Remembering a Brother and a Friend

Below is the message I delivered at the memorial service of my brother-in-law and dearest friend, Geoff Kugel. 

A Man Who Walked With God

I have heard the fifth chapter of the book of Genesis described as the graveyard of the Bible. There is a statement repeated throughout that chapter that rings in our ears like the tolling of a funeral bell: “AND HE DIED.” It is said of several men, one right after another, verse after verse through the fifth chapter. Of course, that is not all that is said about them. We also read that they lived, they had families, they lived for so many years after that, and then, of each one, we read that he died. We could say the same thing about so many people we have known. They were born, they grew up, they went to school, they got a job, they had a family, and they died. But in Genesis Chapter Five, one person stands out from all the rest. One man among all of them was unique. This man’s name was Enoch. Enoch was like no one else that anyone of his generation ever knew. And I would say the same thing about Geoff Kugel. Geoff is like no one else I have ever known – like no husband, like no father, like no son or brother, like no uncle or friend, that I have ever known! I am sure that many of you would say the same about him.

When we come to Enoch in Genesis 5, the pattern is broken. Of Enoch, and no one else in this chapter, we read that he “walked with God,” and we do not read that “he died,” but rather that “he was not, for God took him.” But the text is clear that Enoch had not always walked with God. Indeed, those words cannot be said about any mere human. The Bible teaches, and human experience confirms, that we are all born with a nature that is bent toward sin. It began with Adam and Eve, and it passes one like a genetic disease from one person to the next. The Bible says that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; it says that there is none righteous, not even one. The great Christian leader of the fourth century, St. Augustine, tells a story about how, as a child, he and his friends used to steal pears off of a tree in a neighbor’s yard. He remarks that pears are not attractive to look at, and he did not even enjoy the taste of them. They did not steal the pears to eat them, but rather to throw them to some pigs nearby. He says, “Our real pleasure consisted in doing something that was forbidden.” There is not a person in the room today who does not understand what he is talking about when he says that, though there may be few who would openly admit it. By nature, we are driven toward rebellion and disobedience. But for some, there comes a turning point in life. For Enoch, the Bible says that the turning point was when his son was born. “Then,” the Bible says, “he walked with God.” There was a conversion from the former way of living to a new way of living. No longer was he walking against the way of the Lord. He was walking with him. It was a deliberate, conscious, volitional change of mind, change of heart, change of belief, that led to a changed life.

Now, let me tell you something about my relationship with Geoff. I met Geoff in the Spring of 1995 at a friend’s wedding. I was told very unexpectedly and abruptly that I would be sharing a hotel room with Nicole’s boyfriend whom I had never met. I didn’t really care for that idea too much. And Geoff came into the room there that afternoon, you know Geoff, smiling, bouncing with every step, and he was saying, “Hey man! I’m Geoff! We're sharing a room!” And he was just being so chatty. And I thought, “Oh great! I’ve got to share a room with this guy!” But you know, we just started building this bond of friendship that I would have never imagined. Now, there came a point when Geoff was going through a really hard time with some stuff, and I wrote him a letter. I told him about my own bouts with discouragement and depression, and how my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world at those times. And rather than helping Geoff, my letter really upset him. He thought I was judging him and condemning him, and it hurt me so bad to think that he had misunderstood me. But we had a chance to clear that up and I told him that I just wanted to be there for him and help him in any way I could, because I knew what he was going through that the God I knew and worshiped could help him. It was not long after that, I was part of a leadership team in Philadelphia that brought Pastor Greg Laurie to town for the Harvest Crusade in 1999. We learned that there was going to be another one in Hickory, and Donia and I came home to visit family and invited Geoff and Nicole to go with us that night. It was October 2, 1999.

The place was packed. We couldn’t even get into the baseball stadium. That stadium seats 5,000 people and 15,000 showed up that night. It was the largest crowd ever assembled in Catawba County. We were sitting on a hillside outside of the stadium, listening to Greg preach. I have a copy of the sermon he preached that night. He spoke about death, and heaven and hell, and fear. Greg said, “Death is no respecter of persons. Everyone will stand before God one day. Death is the great equalizer. Everyone is headed there.” He said, “Listen! Every wrong in the universe will ultimately be paid for! Either it will turn out to have been paid for by Jesus Christ when He died on the cross if the offender repents of their sins and puts their faith in Him, or it will be paid for at the final judgment by those who do not trust in Jesus for salvation.” And when Greg concluded, He said the words, “Prepare to meet your God!” And he asked anyone who wanted to receive Jesus to come forward to the field and meet with a counselor. And I don’t know if any of you ever saw Geoff in a sense of urgency, but he would get this real serious look on his face and his upper lip would kind of tighten, and he would just speak really short, staccato, words, and he said to me and Nicole and Donia, “Hey, I’ll be right back, I need to go down there.” He took off running, and I took off running after him, and Donia and Nicole took off running after me. And there were 1,300 people standing on that field, and there were counselors trying to get to everyone, and I just said, “Geoff, let’s do this, me and you.” And the greatest blessing of my life was leading him to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior that night. Geoff would speak of that night to me and say that before that night, he really didn't know if he had ever truly put his faith in Christ or not, but after that night there was never any doubt. And I want to tell you that there was a decisive turning point in his life. “THEN Geoff walked with God.”

You might say, “What are you talking about?” I knew Geoff before 1999, and he was a good guy then.” I would agree. But that is not the point. The point is not that Jesus makes bad people into good people, or good people into better people. The point is that it does not matter if you are a good or bad person. The Bible says that we are all sinners, and we know that it’s true when we are alone with our own thoughts. And the Bible says that spiritually, all of us are dead in our sins. So, it isn’t that Jesus came to make bad people good, or good people better. It is that He came to make dead people alive, to make sinners righteous, and to make rebels into His worshipers and servants! And that is what happened to Geoff on that night in 1999. You saw the effects of that every time you were around him.  

Now the Bible tells us more about Enoch than just this little bit about how he began to walk with God. It tells us something about what Enoch did with his life from then on. In the little book of Jude in the New Testament, we read that Enoch began to speak to others about the God he came to know and serve. Enoch began to tell others that they needed to know this God, and to turn to him in repentance and faith before it was too late. You see, when you are a beggar, and you find bread, you want to help other beggars find bread too. Geoff had found Jesus Christ as the bread of life, and he eagerly desired that others would have that bread too! We used to talk a lot about it. He would tell me about someone he was concerned for, and ask me, “How do you think I should talk to them?” And we’d talk a little bit about it. And one day Geoff called me, and he was so excited. He said, “I did it! I did it!” And he started telling me how God had given him this opportunity to talk to a friend about Jesus and to help his friend think through some spiritual issues. He said, “I’ve told him, now it is up to him to believe and turn to Christ!” And we just rejoiced together. And Geoff kept on telling people. And you know, Wednesday night, at the Emergency Room, Dan Flood told me, “You know, just earlier today, our last real conversation, Geoff and I were talking about what it really means to be a Christian!” And there are many people in this room who had conversations like that with Geoff. And if you never had that conversation with him, it isn’t because he didn’t want to.

I’m really struggling here to keep referring to Geoff in the present tense, not the past tense, because he lives on. He lives on in heaven with Jesus, because Jesus saved Him. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life, and whoever believes in Me will live even if he dies. And the one who lives and believes in Me will never die.” And I am saying what I am saying today because I know Geoff wants me to. He cannot speak to us anymore here, but I am telling you what I know he wants me to say to you. I know that because he told me. He wanted nothing more than to share the good news of Jesus Christ with everyone he knew. He didn’t get the chance to tell you all that, but you saw it in his life. You saw it in his smile. You felt it in his love. You knew it from his joy. And there are many of you who know that Geoff has something that you do not have. And it’s not a thing, it is a Person, and the Person is Jesus. And so, it’s up to me to tell you what I know he wants you to hear. He wants you to have what he has. And what He has is Jesus.

It is one thing to say that you believe in Jesus, or to call yourself a Christian. It is something altogether different to experience His saving grace in a truly personal way. It is one thing to say that you believe Heaven is real, and that Geoff is there with God. It is another thing altogether for you to know that is an absolute truth based on the promise of God’s Word. It is one thing for you to say that you are praying through these circumstances, and it is another altogether to know that Christ is present with you and within you carrying you through this. And if you don't know what it means to really know Him and experience Him in a personal way, let me explain.

God, in His infinite love for you, has made a way for you to know Him – for you to be forgiven of all of your sins, to be covered freely and undeservingly in the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself. The Bible says that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him would not perish but would have everlasting life. Jesus Christ is God, and He became a man, and He lived among us. He lived the only sinless life that has ever been lived – a life of perfect righteousness. But He was put to death by the hands of the sinful people He came to save. And in His death, all of my sins, all of your sins, all of Geoff’s sins, were placed upon Jesus at the Cross, as He became the sacrificial substitute for us. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin, and it is Christ’s blood that was shed to redeem us. He died so that you might live, abundantly in Him in this life, and eternally with Him in the next. And on the third day following the death of Jesus, He arose from the dead, having defeated our sin and its penalty forever. So, now, all who turn from sin and trust in Him by faith as Lord, will be saved! The Bible says that “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Your life will be made brand new in God’s sight, and you will be adopted into His family. God will be a Father to you, and you will be His sons and daughters. And His Spirit will take up residence with you and empower you to live for Him so that the light of Christ will shine through you. That is what you see in Geoff, and it can be true of you! This has been our prayer all week long. “God, if you can be glorified through all of this, through Geoff’s death as You were in Geoff’s life, do it Lord!” And we are praying that some of you, dare I say, MANY of you, will know Jesus because you saw Him in Geoff, and you want Him for yourself.

There was a book that I gave Geoff a number of years ago that helped him grow as a Christian. It was a book called Mere Christianity by a brilliant guy named C. S. Lewis. I KNOW that Geoff has given some of you copies of that book. And in that book, C. S. Lewis, who was once an atheist and became the most intelligent defender of the Christian faith in the 20th century, says this about Jesus:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Jesus is Lord, or else He is a lunatic, a demoniac, or a compulsive liar. Those are the only options. And in Geoff Kugel you see a man who knew Him as Lord, and worshiped Him as Lord, and served Him as Lord. I heard a story once about a man named Joe who served the Lord faithfully with his life. One day, someone came upon a man praying and heard him saying, “Lord, make me like Joe. Make me like Joe!” And the passer-by stopped and said, “My friend, don’t you mean, ‘Make me like Jesus’?” And the man said, “I don’t know Jesus. Is He anything like Joe?” And I know from talking to so many of you over the last few days that there are people here in this room who are praying right now, “Lord, make me like Geoff.” But Geoff would be the first one to tell you that Geoff is Geoff because of Jesus. You want to be like him, because He was being transformed into the image of Jesus. So you might say, “I don’t know Jesus; is He anything like Geoff?” And I am going to tell you that everything you saw partially in Geoff can be found fully and abundantly in Jesus and only in Him.

Enoch was the kind of person that people liked to be around. He walked with God. And though it could be said of every person of his generation, “and he died,” of Enoch it was said, “God took him.” He took him to be with Himself, and when He did, it wasn’t a meeting of two strangers. God knew Enoch because Enoch had walked with Him by faith ever since that turning point in his life. The Bible says that Enoch’s life was pleasing to God. And when God took him, the Bible says in Hebrews 11 that Enoch “was not found because God took him.” He was not found. That means that people were looking for him. They missed him. They noticed his absence. And you and I are going to really notice Geoff’s absence from us. We miss him. We’ll be looking for him, for anything that reminds us of him. But we won’t find him here, because he walked with God, through Christ, Geoff’s life was pleasing to God, and God took him. But don’t you dare ever say that we’ve lost Geoff. You have only lost something if you do not know where it is. And I know exactly where Geoff is.

Because of his faith in Jesus Christ, I know that Geoff is seated forever before the awesome throne of God in heavenly glory. Everything he believed by faith has become visible, tangible, touchable to him now. When King David’s son died, the Bible says that David said, “He cannot come again to me, but I can go to him.” And the way, the one and only way, for you go to Geoff is for you to come to Jesus. As Greg Barnes read moments ago, the Lord Jesus Himself said this: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except by Me.” Geoff would want you to know Jesus. He would tell you, “Don’t do it so you can be with me. Do it so you can you can be with Jesus, forever! Because He is infinitely and eternally glorious and gracious!”

In a few moments this service will end. People have used the word “closure.” I hate that word. In a sense, I sincerely hope you never have “closure.” I do pray that we can all get beyond the shock, and the sorrow and grief, and the confusion, but I pray that we will never forget. Never forget that life is short and it is hard, and we must make the most of every moment of every day, because we are not promised another one. Never forget that God is good, and that He will carry you through things that you cannot even imagine. Never forget Geoff Kugel. Never forget about Nicole, George and Annie. Remember what a gift we were given to know him for such a short time. And you remember what makes Geoff so special. It is Jesus. 

We may never know why God took Geoff the way He did, and when He did. But if God can be glorified in Geoff’s death, as He is through Geoff’s life, then know that this family will rejoice together in God’s presence because of that. 

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