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..
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
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.
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,
Paul described the reason for celebration when a Christian’s departs this earth.
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.
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...
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
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”
Let me finish in prayer......