I have told many friends, over many years, that nothing sobers and strengthens my soul like leading a funeral service. I remember many funny, unusual and delightful moments about scores of weddings I have conducted but I remember almost every funeral in a much more powerful way. I have preached a funeral service for friends of all sorts and for both my parents. I always know, as I stand by a grave, "Someday they will bring your body to such a place. Are you ready?" Nothing moves the mind and heart so powerfully.
I have conducted several funerals this summer. A recent service was for a dear friend whose husband I wrote an entire article about four and a half years ago. This appeared in one of my weekly articles. Her husband’s legacy marked my life profoundly. He was a mentor figure who helped me time and time again. He taught me how to get involved in the lives of men and thus how to make a one-on-one difference in doing so. His name was John Shoop.
On July 16 I led the funeral for his widow, Ardella Shoop. The service consisted of about 15 people, almost all family. This allowed me to say and do some things reserved for such private moments. And it also allowed me to reflect upon the life of this godly woman who lived and died so very well.
When I came to Wheaton as a pastor in 1976 John and Ardella Shoop were really the reason I took the call from my church. I did not want to come really. I saw nothing but problems on the horizon and time proved that my judgment would be correct. I took John and Ardella aside during the candidate process and said, "I will take this call if you will stand by me." John was, at that time, the executive director of the Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC), based in Illinois. He was also the best elder in the leadership of the church. Within a year CBMC would move their national office to Chattanooga and I would thus lose my best elder and dearest friend in the church. This loss was huge. But John and Ardella stuck by me and prayed for me for many decades. They also refused to listen to my critics without also listening to my side of a story and they offered wise and thoughtful counsel to me without simply telling me: "You are OK."
I reflected on their lives this week at Ardella’s grave site
and remembered that they had met both my parents before my dad died and the Shoops moved on to Tennessee. Eventually John would leave the national position of CBMC. He much preferred to disciple men, not run a national organization! He moved to the Dallas area and took up a city ministry for CBMC once again. When he retired, so to speak, he just kept doing the same things he had always done. He met men all the time. He asked them great questions about their walk with God. He insisted they stay in the Word and pray regularly. He would ask you, point blank, if you were doing these things and get very specific so you were not too comfortable if things were not right.
John could not have done all that he did without a godly, supportive and very spiritually mature wife. Ardella and John both lost they mates when they were around forty years of age, give or take. They were in the same congregation in Elgin, Illinois, and then later were married. This is a case where a second marriage, following two tragedies, produced great blessing for so many people. When I met them in 1976 they were beginning to "hit their stride" and their maturity and ministry were deep at that point.
Ardella devoted her life to John but more than this she devoted it to Christ. She had many gifts in her own right and used them widely. She was not only a loving mother to children from two marriages but she had her own ministry as a counselor, confidant, mentor and "mom" to students and young adults. Her gifts of mercy, comfort, discernment and hospitality stand out to me. Her home was always warm, charming and inviting. I could relax there and share my heart.
At the funeral, which we held at the grave site, I used Ardella’s own Bible. Her daughter Marsha, who cared for her over the last four-plus years in New York, loaned it to me. I read inscriptions and notes from her worn out Bible that revealed where she got her depth and power. It was deeply moving for me to hold and use her own Bible. Several from her family shared stories and we concluded with the Lord’s Prayer. It was a blessed season of praise, and a commitment to the earth of her remains, in the sure hope of the resurrection to come.
I learn again and again, at such times as these, one simple lesson: If you want to really be prepared for the end of life then live each day well and put your life in his hands and your heart into his Word day-by-day. There is no other way to live well and finish well.