Tom Christensen's Homegoing
As Preached by David W. Breese
Certainly, the most marvelous event in our human lives is when we are translated from the Church Militant to the Church Triumphant. About which the Apostle Paul says, Now, “I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them who are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, them also who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not precede them who are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God: the dead in Christ shall rise first: and we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
We Christians, by contrast to this world, are strange people. We believe something. We believe that this life is not final reality. It is the prelude to reality. It is “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, which works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but the things which are not seen: the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). And it is about the things of eternity that we would speak today, about the Person who stands behind this one whom we say goodbye to today, and who stands behind each one of our lives: his name is Jesus Christ.
And the Apostle Paul talks about him, and our relationship to him, and especially he gives us words of marvelous comfort because they are based on hope. Bear in mind that there is no comfort without hope. There is no comfort just by saying, “All is well,” of its own sake. There is only comfort when we remember that we who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ have a hope that goes beyond the grave, both sure and steadfast, and it is anchored in the promise of Jesus Christ. And this hope one day will expand into the wideness of eternity.
Listen to Paul as he speaks about this: “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not that we should be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Now he that hath wrought us for this selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit. Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, while we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). Marvelous words of assurance because they aren't assurance of their own sake, but these are words of assurance that are based on the hope of the Christian that reaches into heaven itself.
May I have us just note in these moments together what the Apostle Paul really says about the personal future of each one of us who believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and about this hope which is ours both sure and steadfast?
He begins this marvelous passage of scripture by saying, “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved we have an house not made with hands eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1). The Apostle Paul says, “We know” something. No one has sung in this service today, beautiful Isle of Somewhere, a vague idea that no one understands, and is based on simply human optimism. We know something, dear friends. We know that we have a hope that is anchored in the wideness of eternity. And how do we know? We know because Jesus said so. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection, and the life: whosoever believeth in me shall never die, And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall not ever die forever” (John 11:25-26). And that is the strongest expression in the entire Bible. He will never die forever and ever. That’s what Christ says about those who believe the gospel and have trusted him as their personal Savior.
The scripture reminds us about Jesus Christ telling us that Christ hath abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Humanly speaking we say that our beloved Tom has died, but from a spiritual point of view believing the gospel of Jesus Christ we know that strictly speaking this is not true. A Christian does not die. He does not even lose consciousness. The Apostle Paul says, “absent from the body is present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8), and he tells us that that presence is far better.
Indeed, we mean it when we sing, “Blessed assurance Jesus is mine / Oh what a foretaste of glory divine,” and there is no better time than this time, and no better place than here, and no better occasion than the one that we gather to celebrate in this moment to remind ourselves that all that is a part of our Christianity in this world is not final reality. It is the prelude to reality. It is the foretaste of eternity. Ultimate fulfillment is not available in this lifeonly in the life to come. And therefore, it is the knowledge that when we pass from this world to the shining shores of heaven’s glory, it is that knowledge that bears up our confidence today. We say, “Goodnight,” here. We say, “Good morning,” up there. We know that when we pass from this life we are present with the Lord.
We know it because Jesus said so. In fact, he elaborated on it in a way that can be heard with particular blessing to our hearts at this time. He spoke to his disciples knowing that being human, and knowing we are human, he speaks to us saying, “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 , I will come again, to receive you unto myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3). And I especially like the fact that Jesus said, “if it were not so, I would have told you.”
I've often thought about that little expression. It almost seems like a gratuitous statement that isn't really necessary in his words, and yet Jesus Christ iswhen he says thattelling us how much he understands us. Every person within the sound of this voice (or reading this transcript) who's a Christian and who knows Jesus Christ as personal Savior has already had develop within his mind and heart and life that nameless, that beautiful, but that mysterious confidence that to be associated with Jesus Christ is to be associated with him forever. That to be associated with Jesus Christ is not some temporal thing in this world that passes leaving us in disappointment and despair and heartbreak. Not at all. In other words, just by knowing him we are touched with that inconsolable longing for a land that we have never seen where he lives. And just by knowing him our hearts tell useven if no one else doesthat to be an acquaintance of Jesus Christ, to be his brother, to be saved by him, to have Christ in you, the hope of glory (which in my view is one of the most beautiful descriptions of anything found anywhereand that's what a Christian is) one with Christ in you, the hope of glory, to know Jesus Christ as personal Savior we immediately sense, even though somebody didn't tell us, that is an eternal thing.
Jesus senses that about every one of us, and so he seconds the motion. He says, “It's true.” He says, “Amen,” to what has already touched our hearts. “If it were not so, I would have told you.” “I have a mansion for you. I have a place that is your eternal dwelling place. I'm going away for just a little while to prepare that for you, and then I am coming back, and I'm going to take you into the presence of God.”
And there's a real sense in which Jesus Christ expresses that not only are we privileged and delighted to know him, but it is in a sense an honor for him to welcome us home.
It was my opportunity to speak just this morning at a men’s breakfast in southern Ohio, and we talked together about Stephen, and how Stephen became the first martyr for the crossthe first one of a long gray line of embattled veterans who was to give the last full measure of devotion to Jesus Christ. And you recall that just before Stephen died he said, “I see Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Now, why was Jesus standing at the right hand of God? The book of Hebrews tells us, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus Christ took his seat at the right hand of God. Why, then, when Stephen went to heaven, was Jesus standing? Is it possible that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was standing out of respect, was standing in welcome, was standing, if you please, in honor for the first of many of the sons of God who would give themselves to live and to work and to suffer and to die for his Name? I think so, for the Apostle Peter says, in the first chapter of Second Peter that some of us will be enabled of God to so live that when we arrive at the gates of heaven there will not only not be any doubt about getting in, because that resolved by the finished work of Christ on Calvary’s cross, but that an “abundant entrance” will be “ministered unto us” when we arrive in those glorious shores of heaven (2 Peter 1:11).
The Apostle Paul speaks about all of that when he says, “We know.” We know. We are not here pursuing dark suspicions. We are not here wondering about unrevealed mysteries. We are not here hoping against hope, and saying, “Well, all is well,” but not being sure. We know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle be dissolved, we have the building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
I say to every one of you, and especially those of you who loved him so well, that we have not said, “Goodbye,” to Tom except for a short time because there is coming a day when we will gather first together, and then we will go into the presence of Jesus Christ. This we know because Jesus said so, and not only did he say so, he proved it by his death and resurrection. And after he arose from the dead, he spoke to everyone who would subsequently believe in him, and made them a similar promise: “Because I live, you too shall live” (John 14:19). A Christian does not die: “absent from the body is present with the Lord.” “We know” this, Paul says.
He doesn’t, however, stop there because, you see, the Apostle Paul being human didn’t settle for knowledge alone as the motivation and the ground and the important thing of life. But after having said, “We know” that when we go from this life to the life to come that we will be with Jesus Christ, he made another statement. He said, “We are earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:2). We not only know, but we look with happy anticipation. We desire to be with Jesus Christ.
Again, we Christians are strange people. We read in the Word of God, in the second chapter of Hebrews that Jesus Christ died to “destroy him that had the power of death, even the devil, and deliver them who through all of their lifetimes were subject to bondage because of the fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). The greatest terror of this world has been utterly taken away from our lives who believe the Gospel. We know nothing of what the world is afraid of. In fact, we not only know that when we pass from this world we’ll be with Jesus Christ, but we know it so well that we desire to be in his presence.
We read verses in scripture that are marvelous promises. “Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). We read Paul say, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). We read in the book of Ephesians that we are saved by God’s wonderful grace. In fact, perhaps we should remember that grand set of promises: “You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins, when in times past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind and were by nature the children of wrath even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we dead in sins hath quickened us together with Christ, by grace are you saved, and has raised us up together and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus,”and then do you remember the next verse?“that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:1-7).
We read verses like that, and we tell ourselves, “Heaven must be better than earth”which it is. Being with Jesus Christ must be better than being with any person in this worldwhich it is. We read about the joy of being on the glorious scenes of heaven, and we desire to step over to be with him.
Now happilyand I think in all divine wisdomGod hasn’t told us too much about heaven lest we become so homesick for it, lest we become so utterly reactionary from this world, that we would desire too much to be there because just one glimpse of heaven makes you very tired, very sick, very very at your whit’s end about the so-called pleasures of this world. Just a glimpse of heaven makes earth seem as nothing. To see too much of it would make us desire too much to be there. So he gives us analogieslittle illustrations.
What is heaven like? I remember talking to my daughter once upon a time, who is here today, and about the age of five or six she said, “Daddy, when I go to heaven will there be swings in heaven?” The answer to that question is, “Sure there will be swings in heaven. Whatever it takes to make you happy, that’s what will be there.” Our other daughter one day said, “Daddy, when I go to heaven, will I get to wear my long white dress?” The answer is, “Yes.” And then, of course, she asked the inside question, “Daddy, when I get to heaven and wear my long white dress, will it button down the front or will it button down the back?” I thought about that and said, “Lord help me in answer to this question,” and I said, “Honey, I think it’s going to button down the back.” She said, “That’s great. That’s the way I wanted my dress when I get to heavento button down the back.”
See, God hasn’t told us all about heaven, and we don’t know just the dresses or suits or clothing exactly that we shall wear. We don’t know what the buildings will be like. We don’t know what’s it like to be in a place where there’s no sun, and yet the light is brighter than the sun (Revelation 21:23; 22:5). We don’t know with our human appreciations what it means to experience fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). We don’t know.
We know a few things. We know the gates are made of pearl (Revelation 21:21). We know that it is a city four square that’s bigger than anything we can imagine in this world (Revelation 21:16). We know that the most precious substance on earththe substance by which we measure everything else, namely goldthat over there they use it to pave the streets with (Revelation 21:21). We know that.
We know that the best of earth is but a pale illustration of the glories of heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12). But knowing what we do, the Apostle Paul says we desire to be with him. In fact, he said of himself, “I have a desire to depart and to be with Christ which is far better” (Philippians 1:23).
I beg of you, therefore, today, on behalf of these who are here and all of us: Do not think of this as being a sad occasion, but rather remember that Tom, whom we loved and who was the delight of so many of our lives, is infinitelyand I use that word advisedlyinfinitely happier and in an infinitely better place than anything that earth at its best could offer. It’s like C.S. Lewis said, “Every person who is born was born with an inconsolable longing for a land he has never seen.” That longing has now been consoled. That fulfillment has now come to pass. That’s what Paul was talking about when he said, “We desire, not to be here, but to be there.”
He made one more statement, and I think that statement should especially be noted to us. In fact, he made several more here, but especially he said, “We know something about everlasting life. We desire to step from this world to the world to come.” But then he said a third thing that I would have us note here today. He said, “Therefore we labor that whether present or absent we may be accepted of him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).
Now this word labor is an interesting one. It means we make it our aim. It is our ambition. It is our noblest goal. It is our dearest desire. We labor, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. We make it our godly ambition.
The Apostle Paul knew that when he stepped into heaven he, along with others, would have the opportunity to stand before Jesus Christ, and as he has promised in Luke chapter 19, to hear Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of thy Lord” (Luke 19:17; Matthew 25:21,23).
The Apostle Paul had written to us in another place, First Corinthians chapter 3, and he told some peoplewhen they stand before Godwill bring before him gold and silver and previous stones (1 Corinthians 3:12). And others will bring wood and hay and stubble (1 Corinthians 3:12). And I’m sure that the Apostle Paul with burning intensity said, “Lord, I don’t want to bring to Jesus Christ the stubble. I don’t want to bring the wood. I don’t want to bring the hay. Oh, may I present to him gold and silver and precious stones.” So the Apostle Paul saw every day from this day until the day that he would go into the presence of Jesus Christ as a day of glorious opportunity to work for heaven, to work for Christ, to work to add to that package of gold and silver and precious stones that he would present in the presence of the Lord Jesus.
And I know that Tom, if he were able to advise me as to what to say todayand indeed he has advised me by the godly impress of his young and quickly passing but marvelously influential lifeI’m sure that he would want me to remind us all that each one of us one day will stand before Jesus Christ. Each one of us, therefore, must have a godly ambition. We must make it our aim in order that when we stand before the Savior we may bring to him gold and silver and precious stones.
And my prayer is that each of us who are in this presence today will remember that in Tom’s homegoing we come to say “Goodbye” to him, but we also see an illustration of the inevitable consequence of this human life for each one of us. “It is appointed,” dear friends, the Bible says, “unto all men once to die and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Being a Christian does not make a difference whether you die, humanly speaking, or not. But being a Christian makes the difference between dying for something and dying for nothing. That’s what it does. It makes the difference between dying for something and dying for nothing.
But, oh, Tom gave his life for something. He gave his life for the dear people of Venezuela whom he loved and dearly desired to reach with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, in the larger sense you and I know that he gave his life for Jesus Christ, and if he had it all to do over again, he would have instantly said yes to the bright prospect of less than a year of glorious service for the Savior in the mission field and the glorious opportunity to be used of God in whatever small way to touch the lives of someone else with the story of the Gospel of Christ.
May I pass that on to you? I’m sure that in his homegoing, but more than that, in the teaching of the Word of God, every one of us mustmust, if this gathering is to have an eternal purpose for usevery one of us must say, “Dear God, I too want to make it my ambition. I too want a new spiritual desire. I too want to make it my aim that when I move from the narrow scenes of heaven, from the shadow to the substance, I’ll be able to stand before Jesus Christ and hear him say, ‘Well done.’”
The burden of Linda and of Tom must be passed on to every one of us. One of our noble soldiers has been taken out of the line. He has been taken home, and we may tell ourselves that it was too soon. But, of course, that’s the wrong judgment. We must never ask, “Why?” A question asked of God that begins with the word “why” is always incorrect. But rather the proper question is, “Lord, what? What wilt thou have me to do? What now is my responsibility to give, to pray, to volunteer, to be in his place and in the place of others what Christ would have me to be?” Just a few more days to be filled with praise, to tell the old old story. Narrow limits of time remain for all of us to work. We must then ask the question, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”
And as we think of a young man who had less than a year of service for Christ on the mission field we may ask, “What might have happened otherwise?” and “Is God making a mistake?” and “Aren’t there older onesmaybe some of usthat he should have taken rather than this young life so filled with opportunity?”
There was a young man that went to Yale University once upon a time, and his name was William Borden. William Borden came to Christ, and during his college experience was such a tremendous testimony for the Savior that more than a hundred of his classmates came to know God’s Son as their very own. William Borden had committed his life to the mission field. And he did. He went to Africa to begin a career of distinguished service for Christ. He was a scholar. He was a great mind. He was an earnest heart. But within a matter of just a few monthswithin six monthsWilliam Borden also was taken home to be with the Lord. And people asked on that occasion, “Why?” A young man so filled with potential. “Why?”
However, someone heard about this occasion, and they didn’t ask, “Why?” but they wrote a few lines of verse based on their understanding of God’s program for the life of William Borden, and for every one of our lives. And you know what this person wrote? They wrote this line of verse, and it said, “On the far reef the breaker recoils in shattered foam / But still the sea behind it urges its forces home / Its chant of triumph surges with all the thunderous din / The wave may break in failure, but the tide is sure to win / Oh raging sea, thy message in changing spray is cast / Within God’s plan of progress it matters not at last / How wide the shores of evil, how strong the reefs of sin / The wave may be defeated, but the tide is sure to win.”
We are a part of that remaining tide. God, help us to continue to add our force to that purpose for which Tom Christensen gave the last full measure of devotion. And to his beloved motherwho is my sisterand to each of us, I remind us again that the hymn writer was correct when he said, “Give up thy sons to bear the message glorious / Give up thy wealth to speed them on their way / Pour out thy soul for them in prayer victorious / And all that thou spendest Jesus will repay.” Yes, he will when we stand in his presence.
May we pray together.
Dear Lord, we thank thee today for a wonderful Savior in the Lord Jesus Christ who presides above life and death and of eternity for each one of us, and the degree of his involvement in our lives is no less when we live in health and strength or when we live in weakness and when we pass through the narrow veil of death into the wideness of eternity and the joys of his presence. Therefore, dear Lord, let there be no questions here today. May not one of us go away asking, “Why?” May not one of us attempt to justify the ways of God with men.
Lord, we commit Tom into thy shining presence which is infinitely better than anything we have ever known in all of this world. And we do not ask, “Why?” but each one of us asks, “What? What wilt thou have me to do? What new of myself is there to give, is there to pray for? What wilt thou have me to do?”
There are young men here today who should consider the possibility of stepping into this gap that has been left and serving Jesus Christ in a way they never thought of before.
There are young women here today who should allow at least for the possibility that God would use them to stand in that gap to lift up the cross of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world.
There are adults hereeach of us must newly evaluate, “What have I done? What have I given? Who am I in the presence of Jesus Christ?” and “Am I ready to stand before the throne of his judgment with the expectation of hearing him say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’”
We thank thee for Tom’s life and for his testimony. We thank thee for the winsome spirit and the godly consecration and the simple faith and the wonder that he had at every new day and the joy that was constantly his in living for Jesus Christ. We pray that just from that remembrance we'll derive a new measure of that ourselves, and we thank thee for his life.
We pray for his beloved wife, how we thank thee for Linda and her testimony for the Savior, for godly composure, the sweet serenity and earnest faith with which she has faced this moment that must be trying beyond words. Lord, we commit her to thee, and we commit ourselves to strengthen her hand as well.
We pray, dear Lord, for Tom’s parents and for each of us who loved him so much. Help us to newly commit ourselves to the purpose for which not only Tom, but millions of Christians down through the years have lived and died and which purpose stands today as yet continuing in this world which it shall until Jesus comes. Until he comes, help us to be reminded of your purpose for our lives, and mayas a result of our fellowship togetherwe be newly reminded of the lives we can live and the glorious result that we can accomplish for the Savior.
We ask in Jesus’ wonderful name, with thanksgiving and joy, Amen.