You have no idea how difficult it was for me to be out of town and unable to participate in Billy Hart’s memorial service. Billy was a special man, always demonstrating a gentle and quiet reverence. Billy never wasted words. So when he did have something to say, it made you want to listen, as you knew that it was going to be something important.
My first memories of Paducah include Billy and Linda. Wonderful moments indeed. Just not enough of them, as we were not ready to send Billy home. Not yet.
But home Billy went. And our God makes no mistakes.
Susan and Shannon, I thought of you last night as the sun was setting over the ocean at a spot that appeared to be the edge of the universe. To capture this photograph, I waited just a few minutes for the sailboat to “touch” the sun. For me it symbolizes all the darkness and turbulence of this transient life being swallowed up by heaven’s blissful glow. The Light has won, and Christ has triumphed over sin and death (First Corinthians 15:50-55)! I know that your dad was an Air Force guy, but I think he’d allow me the nautical analogy.
If heaven is every believer’s real home (John 14:1-4), and it is, then why aren’t our deepest longings more often there than here?
Maybe we’re stained by the pessimism of our unbelieving environs. The late (and that word is key for our present consideration) philosopher, mathematician, logician, and historian Bertrand Russell expressed the hollowness of a hopeless generation: “There is darkness without, and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, no vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment, and then nothing.” Russell was brilliant, but dead wrong regarding this most important subject. Death is not the end, but only the launching pad for eternity.
I think that C.S. Lewis put his finger on the pulse of our heavenly mindedness (and at times the seeming lack thereof). Even we Christians can take our eyes off the prize. But not for long. Observed Lewis in Beyond the Shadowlands: “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else … Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, for you were made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.”
Do you remember in Second Kings 6 when Elisha prayed that his servant would be allowed to peer into the heavenly realm that is always just beyond our line of vision? For at least a second the partition between now and forever evaporated, and the Lord’s “horses and chariots of fire” came into the man’s full view! Fear was destroyed by a sure knowledge of God’s presence and power. May you and I be gifted with eyes of faith to see Billy’s homegoing as the beautiful and glorious wonder that it really is.
So we don’t mourn as those who have no hope (First Thessalonians 4:13-18), for our dear friend — just a blink ahead of us — is no longer in the shadowlands. He is fully within those celestial borders where the brightness of Jesus can never be dimmed. Billy has landed on heaven’s shores. Our brother is safely home.