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Rest in peace, Nancy Butler

December 13, 2016 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Posted in: Death

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

This past Saturday, I attended the funeral service for Nancy Butler, a pastoral colleague who pastored Riverfront Family Church, a church which was recently located in Glastonbury but now meets in Hartford. I first met Nancy in 1999, when I was the youth pastor at NewLife and she was looking for a youth group for her daughter, Liza. Our paths crossed again in 2005, when she hosted a regional Emergent conversation (for those who remember the Emergent movement). Soon after that meeting, she started Riverfront Family Church, and on occasion we would meet for coffee and to catch up. While we had our theological differences, I appreciated Nancy’s love for Jesus and enthusiasm for building a church community that would be welcoming to everyone.

In February of 2015, Nancy was diagnosed with ALS, and she spent her last couple of years learning to let go of the church she had planted while also leaving a lasting legacy in the lives of her family and friends. Her disease made her death and funeral service unique for a few reasons. Firstly, she pretty much decided when she was going to die, by coming off her breathing and feeding tubes and letting nature take its course. Secondly, she was able to plan her own funeral service. And thirdly, there was not as much crying as there usually is at a funeral. I got the sense that the family and friends had gone through a lot of emotion already in preparing for her death, and was able to celebrate Nancy’s life at her funeral service.

I recently completed a series on the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, which contains the passage I often quote at funerals: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). Death may be an enemy, but it is a defeated enemy thanks to Jesus, and therefore funerals can be a needed reminder as to the reality of death and the necessity of living in the light of our mortality so that we make the most of our lives. One of the things I took away from Nancy’s funeral was that she knew what was important to her and she lived her life towards those goals. As I reflected on the testimonies her family and friends shared about her life, I wondered whether my life was being lived as intentionally as hers was. Do I know what my goals and values are, and am I living my life towards those goals and values? Would the people who speak at my funeral one day be able to testify that I was living towards those goals and values, or would they remember me for things that were never really values to me?

Philippians 3:7-14 is one of Paul’s classic statements regarding his goal in life, and how he would forget what was behind and strain towards what is ahead, pressing on towards the goal of knowing Christ. As we near another New Year, take time to reflect upon what you are living for. Are you living in line with God’s will for your life? Do you know what your goals and values are, and are you giving yourself to those things? In what ways can you press on towards Christlikeness in the year to come? May 2017 be a year in which you give yourself more fully to the work the Lord has called you to do.

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