W0053288-1_162137Tony Cronin’s Funeral – 2/24/16

Tuesday of last week I went where I go every 3rd Tuesday of the month, the Rec Room of the Warrick County Jail. On a monthly basis a teammate and I hold church services there. We talk to the men about the gospel, about forgiveness, about peace, and hope. We take time to pray with them, listen to their heartaches, details about their pending court cases, and the like. I stood in the back of the room while my teammate Chris talked to a dozen inmates about “Who do you say that Jesus is?” and replayed the last conversation that I had with Tony.

I had recently run a marathon and I was in the best shape I had been in since college- much better shape than I’m in right now, by the way. Tony noticed and paid me a compliment. “You’re looking healthy, bub!” he said. We then talked awhile about the workout he was currently doing and the shape he hoped to before he went on work release. Tony was pretty proud of the muscles that he built. Looking at the pictures that family members have posted from when he was a kid, I can see why. He was a scrawny kid! He had worked hard on those muscles.

We also talked about his children. He was proud of how good looking they are. How smart they are. How good on a skateboard they are.

I invited Tony to join us at Faith when he was released. He did and that meant the world to me. Afterward, however, our relationship grew distant and we only spoke when we ran into one another at the store and we would have brief exchanges on Facebook every so often.

Standing there in that rec room I went through the mental anguish that I’m sure many of you his friends and family have also gone through over the past 13 days…

Can this be real?
Was there something more that I should have done?
Was there something more that I should have said?

I was reminded of a passage of scripture. This passage came to mind because it has proven to be comforting to me in difficult circumstances. It also came to mind because of the context it was written.

After Jesus was executed, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, his followers scattered going from city to city telling people about the forgiveness, love, and grace that Jesus had made available.

One of those followers was named Paul. Paul hadn’t always been a believer. In fact, originally he was violent and attacked Christians- he was an accomplice in the murder of Stephen- a deacon. He imprisoned many and ran many others out of town, but God reached his hard heart. Paul went from being an angry man to a loving pastor. Then he too went from city to city sharing the love and grace of Jesus. In one city name Philippi he and his friend Silas helped a slave girl and because her owner didn’t like it, he had Paul and Silas thrown into jail. In that Jail Paul and Silas were able to tell the guard about Jesus because even though they had been thrown into jail for doing nothing wrong, they had a peace about them. A joy. They weren’t happy about being in jail, but what they were happy about didn’t change no matter where they were, even if it was jail. Paul was released and he established a church in Philippi that included the guard of the jail he had been put in.

That might sound crazy, but that’s just the kind of thing that God loves to do.

Years later and in another city Paul would be thrown in jail again.  While in that jail he wrote a letter back to the people in the city of Philippi. In the 4th chapter of his letter to the Philippians he said this:

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.

11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I’m sure some of the Philippians receiving this letter were thinking, Really!? Paul is in Jail and it doesn’t look like he’s gonna get out. There’s a good possibility Nero is going to kill him, but he’s telling us not to worry!? He’s telling us to rejoice!?

You see, Paul had found something, a secret he says in verse 12, and he shares it with them in this passage. What Paul found is what I have found too and I hope to share it with you in this message.

I’ve found that
There is no circumstance too desperate for the power of the gospel.
There is no heart too broken for the hope of Christ.
There is no person too messed up for redemption.
There is no situation too tragic for the restoration of Jesus.

Paul says in verse 7 that the peace of God that he has experienced “surpasses all understanding.” It’s beyond comprehension. Many people struggle to grasp that it could be real because it is so wonderful…Sadly, we often have perplexing and overwhelming experiences only when it comes to sad and tragic news.

All of us, when we heard that Tony’s life had been cut short, we all had this overwhelming and perplexing experience. It didn’t seem real. It was beyond comprehension. It was impossible to fathom or understand.

Paul had found a positive overwhelming and perplexing experience. He had experienced something that was beyond comprehension because it was so wonderful. The experience Paul had wasn’t impossible to fathom because it was so shocking and tragic but because it was so beautiful. It was peace that passes all understanding. Paul wasn’t being trite. He wasn’t merely passing along platitudes that people say when they don’t know what else to say.

Paul wasn’t saying, “hey just keep your heads up” or “don’t worry the sun will come up tomorrow.”

Paul wasn’t being trite and he wasn’t being ridiculous. He was not saying that he was happy about his circumstances. Paul often spoke of heartache and sorrow in his letters. Elsewhere he wrote of being thankful in all things, but he didn’t expect us to be thankful for all things.

In this passage Paul speaks of guarding hearts and experiencing need and being brought low. Paul wasn’t refusing to look at the heart breaking reality that stood before him, rather he was looking straight at it, head on, and seeing through it. Paul looked at the difficulties that he faced and he saw through them to the hope of the Jesus. He said I have learned in whatsoever situation I find myself in, therein to be content. ThereIN to be content. Paul had learned to be content IN whatever situation he found himself.

Many times we merely attempt to find peace through denial or escape. We try to get out. Paul was content in the adversity and difficulty.

We attempt to escape through distraction. – staying busy, focusing elsewhere
We escape through medication. – drugs, alcohol, food
We escape through self-deception. – pretending it isn’t real, refusing to speak of it

He writes to the Philippians to tell them that if they remember what he has taught them and follow his example they will have peace even in the midst of tragedy and adversity, as he has found. In verse 9 he says,

9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

In times like these many people say, “Rest in peace” to the person who has passed way. I think if Tony could respond, he would say “Live at peace.” I believe that if Tony could speak to us today, he would want every one of you to experience what he struggled his whole life to find, peace.

Because in this moment I want to honor Tony and grant what I believe would be his wish, I want to briefly review what Paul had shared with them, because I believe if you receive it you will find the peace of God which passes all understanding. I wholeheartedly believe that the path to peace, is in Christ.

Several paragraphs previous in this letter Paul had remind them of what he taught them about Jesus. In Chapter 2 (2:5-11) he reminded them of the example of Christ when he came to earth to live and die as a servant.

He came as a servant because he came to do something for someone else. He came for us. He came to serve us. To do something for us. Verses 7 & 8 tell us that he came to serve us as one us.

7 Being born in the likeness of men.

8 And being found in human form,

Hebrews tells us that Jesus experienced all of the suffering and temptation and trials that we face. There is nothing that we can go through that he hasn’t faced. He can identify with us. He can relate. If you’re here today mourning the loss of your cousin, I can relate because a few years ago I lost my cousin tragically. It was unexpected and sudden. Jesus can relate too. He knows what you are experiencing, he knows what you are feeling.

He came to serve and experience all of the heartache of this life so that he could minister directly to the needs of your heart. John tells us the story of Jesus coming to the grave of his friend Lazarus. In a short but sweet sentence John tells us that “Jesus wept”. He cried over the death of his friend.

I believe that the path to peace is through God, but not a God is who far off that we can not relate to, not a God is out there somewhere beyond what can experience and relate to…He is a God who came to where we are, to sit with us, to grieve with us, to share the burden with us.

Tonight friends and family have gathered during the visitation this service to grieve together. We have come together in solidarity to support one another and to be here for the family. I’m sure I can speak for the family when I say that you being here means so much to them. Christ came to be with us. To be present.

At the end of the chapter instead of calling Jesus a servant Paul calls Jesus a savior because what he did for us was something we could have never done for ourselves.

What Jesus did in coming here wasn’t just a kindness, it was a necessity. If you hold the door open for me, that’s kind. It’s nice but it’s something I could do myself. If you pull me out of a burning building, you’re more than nice- you’re a hero. You are a rescuer. Jesus isn’t just nice and kind. He didn’t merely come to show us kindness. He came because we desperately needed him to do so.

We need Him to rescue us. Scripture tells us that each and every one of us is broken- that each and everyone one of us has sinned. Every one of us is need of rescue and restoration. Every one of us is guilty of sin that will ruin us without the intervention of the Savior.

Some of us do a better job of hiding our brokenness. We put on our adult costume in the morning and go out and pretend to be responsible and take care of business. Others of us wear our brokenness on our sleeve. It’s obvious to everyone that we are broken.

Whether or not your brokenness is obvious or hidden, we are all broken and in need of the Savior.

In Chapter 3 of Philippians Paul says that we have righteousness through faith in Jesus. When we move beyond looking at Jesus as merely kind and nice, and we look to him to save us and pull us out of that burning building, He does.

He came to live among us.
He came to die for us.
He offers us peace, He offers us rescue.

I can think of nothing that would honor Tony more than that through the tragedy of his death, someone found peace for this life. If you’d like to take this path to peace, please contact me via email or Facebook.