It is an honour to assist in Joe Gallagher’s funeral today.

Mary, you brought Joe to my home many years ago when he was already struggling with the onset of dementia. It was not hard to imagine how stressful that was for you Mary. My heart went out to you.

It was sad to see such a healthy looking man steadily slipping into confusion and disorientation. And yet, beneath that, I knew the real man, because I had known his sons Gary and Darren for a good number of years.

Like the giant ferries that cris-cross the Irish Sea every day, a good father leaves a magnificent wash behind him that can be seen a long way into the distance.

And Joe Gallagher has left a magnificent wash behind him.

A God honouring, Christ centred, and faithful life of integrity for his descendents to benefit from.

I knew when I had seen the sons that I had seen the father.

You see I teach about fathers. For nearly twenty years I have taught on the subject ‘The Father heart of God’. Even had a book published with that title.

And the basis of the teaching is that many people have little problem with Jesus – God’s Son - but they greatly struggle with ‘Father’ God, because the word ‘father’ is not a neutral word. It contains many strong emotions, many experiences, both good and bad.

And twenty years of experience in this area has shown me that those who had negative experiences with their earthly fathers will likely have great difficulty feeling loved, forgiven and safe under the Sovereignty of ‘Father’ God.

Well, Joe Gallagher’s family have not had negative experiences of the word father!

The very opposite is the case.

Gary wrote to me about his father, and I confess that half way through reading it I had tears running down my face.

Indeed his conversion sounds like the Apostle Paul’s Damascus Road conversion - straight from the pages of the Book of Acts.

Let me read you a portion..

When God met dad on that road to Athlone he had no choice other than to pull the car over and surrender his life. For dad surrender was an absolute and there was to be no holding back. He was in this ‘lock stock and barrel’ and that produced many difficulties. Our family was radically changed and the things that we knew off were no more. We lived in a small village in rural Ireland where to be different meant you really stood out like a sore thumb. We as a family were effectively ostracised because what Dad entered into was in direct conflict with the status quo.

 

There was no turning back and from that point in time God’s word shaped and reformed his thoughts and ideas, and whilst it was not plain sailing for us as a family, there was a transformative work that happened that was to change the course of many lives.

 

Dad was a faithful man who devoured the word of God and so much of his time was consumed by meditating and reading God's word when he was providing for his family.

One of my fondest memories was knowing that immediately when Dad got up to get ready for work was that he would head straight to the closet to pray. There was never a time that that he missed and as a son there was such a security in that and even as I reflect back on that now it has built something into my soul that will never be removed.

 

Dad was probably one of the most patient men I have ever known. I cannot ever remember a time where he was upset and when I asked Mum the other day this question Mum said there was only ever one time where he was really upset. For me that was a measure of the man and a sign of how much he was truly changed.

 

He was always a worker and you could be absolutely confident that if you gave Dad a job to do it would be done to the highest of standards. Whilst he had high standards and a flawless work ethic when you were around him there was always a sense that we as children were never an inconvenience, or that he didn't have time for us as his commitment to his family was without wavering. His presence seemed to exude calmness and peace and we as children are a fruit of that life.

 

Whilst people may have had issues with his beliefs there was not a person who had a bad word to say about him as a man as his care and nature was in many respects out of this world, and that is where he truly is now.

We all have a deep need to be loved, to be valued and to belong and fathers play an enormous part in their children developing a real sense of their identity and worth, and sadly today’s self absorbed, ‘me-first’ culture is often referred to as a fatherless generation. Or Generation X. Unloved, unvalued and emotional orphans.

Both David Cameron and President Obama both made special mention about their nation’s rapidly growing problems due to fatherlessness.

Oh that there were ten thousand Joe Gallaghers in every community!

God so loved this fallen world that He did something we can barely comprehend. He made a way where there was no way for the likes of us to be able to come to Him and be wonderfully received as His sons and daughters!

He sent Jesus - His only Begotten Son - to earth, to take on human flesh, to reveal to us what His Father is truly like, and to take our sin upon Himself, and bear the full brunt of God’s righteous wrath that should in truth fall on us for our sin.

As He died on the cross Luke 23:46 records that

“Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last

 

Similarly, in Acts 7:59 we read,

 

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Joe Gallagher’s spirit is safe with Jesus.

Whether it’s a sudden and unexpected death, or a sad but welcome end for one whose quality of life has been greatly diminished, the sharp sting of death can still be cruel.

I remember a good friend David Steele speaking of the time when he was told that his best friend – a mighty Christian called Joe - had died after falling down a mountainside in Scotland. He spoke of the unspeakably intense pain that flooded his heart. He retired to the bathroom and suddenly Jesus spoke into his spirit, and imparted just three words.

“He’s with Me”

David said that yes, the natural grieving emotions were still there - but the devil’s cruel ‘got-ya!’ sting of death was gone.

In 1st Corinthians 15:54-55 we read,

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable,
and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true:

“Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory?

Where, O death, is your sting?

Paul described the reason for celebration when a Christian’s departs this earth.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” 2 Cor 5:1

 

“Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. ” 2 Cor 5:8

And so Jesus would say to those grieving today, “He’s at home, with me”

If your life truly and wholeheartedly belongs to Jesus then rest assured you will see Joe Gallagher again.

You see a train always goes where the driver goes, and if you are safely onboard Jesus’ train then you go where he goes.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. John 14:1-3

Scripture speaks of the everlasting fire - prepared for the devil. If you are still – knowingly or unknowingly - on-board the ‘devil’s train... .. well you can work that destination out for yourself.

If you are on the wrong train, running along the corridors in the opposite direction will make no difference. The train always goes where the driver is going.

Best to get off that train and on to Jesus’ train!

Let me go back to July 2005 when I was hanging on to the very edge of life and expected to die within 24 hours. The consultants told my family they were keeping me alive 15 minutes at a time.

My heart function was down to 10% with a wildly erratic heartbeat of 200+, my kidneys had stopped functioning and my liver was ‘shot to pieces’

The NHS hired a private Lear jet from Luxembourg to fly to Belfast and then fly me to the hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. When that happens you know it’s not the flu!

After a week the hospital brought me out of the induced coma to see if I could live unaided, and if my brain still functioned normally. It was only then I was found out how dangerously ill I was, and that I was now in a hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne!

Trust me, it’s a time when you are no longer looking ahead, but you are looking back down your timeline. And suddenly, with great clarity you see that what you did for God still stands while most other things have fallen flat like demolished buildings.

You will never hear the following death-bed sentences...

“I wish I had played more golf”
“I wish I had worked longer at the office”

“I wish I had watched more television”
“I wish I had taken more holidays”

For all of us that day will come. For some sooner rather than later.

When Joe pulled his car over to the side of the road and fully surrendered his life to Jesus, his name was added into the Lamb’s family book of life.

And those whose names are in that book will have eternal life! Lived in God’s glorious Presence!

And so today, even through tears, we celebrate Joe going home to be with His Lord and Saviour.

Death for the Christian is but heaven’s door swinging open.

Speaking of a Christian’s departure from this mortal coil, someone once wrote,

“When we are born, we come into the world crying and surrounded by people full of joy... and when we leave the world, we are full of joy surrounded by people who are crying.”

The scripture that Joe chose for his baptism was taken from Revelation 2:10

‘Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life.’

 

Way back in 1980, when Joe heard the call of God and felt the call of God he responded in the only way he knew how. With his whole being.

As we have heard, following Jesus, being a ‘living letter from Jesus’, being an ambassador for the Kingdom of God and showing what life looks like lived under the Lordship of Jesus, was not the easiest call to follow, but Joe had counted the cost, and he followed hard after Jesus.

As he was able, he was faithful until death, and it is wonderful to realise that he will experience the welcome applause of heaven and hear His Saviour make the Divine declaration,

“Well done good and faithful servant”

 

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Let me finish in prayer......

Lord, your word says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” (116:15)
And so Lord, we rejoice with heaven that your son Joe is home.

 

We give you thanks for his life, for what you did in his life, and for what you are still doing in his family.

 

Lord we ask that you grant peace and strength, rest and renewal to all who will sorely miss him, and especially Lord, for Mary.

 

And we would ask that Joe’s legacy will continue to influence the future generations in his family.

 

We ask these things in the Name that is above all Names, the Name of Jesus.

Amen.