I met Mike Dyer eleven months ago, which begs the question, Why am I preaching his funeral? That is a question that I intend to answer. And in so doing I hope you will see and hear the message that God is speaking, because our relationship was ordained with a purpose. And I hope you’ll learn a few things about Mike along the way, too.
I first met Mike in this sanctuary. We were attempting to put all of these chairs back in place after our annual missions banquet and he volunteered to help. It was a few hours of pretty hard work, and I had no idea how difficult it was for him to do that work. After a while I began to notice that the effort was taking a bit of a toll on him. So, I let him know that he had done more than enough, and that he should probably call it quits. Of course, he refused to stop. And that’s when I learned the first thing about him. Mike is a stubborn man.
We finished up the work and Mike asked if it would be possible for us to meet soon. He said he had a few things he wanted to talk about. He promised me he would take no more than twenty minutes of my time. Since it was a going to be a quick meeting I told him I could do it that afternoon. So, he came back that afternoon for our twenty-minute meeting. He left my office two hours later. And that’s when I learned the second thing about him. Mike likes to talk.
I cannot remember everything that we talked about that day. I know that we talked about my job at the church. Once he understood my responsibilities he had some ideas about how I might do my job better. We talked about some of the type of people that don’t come to church. So, Mike had some ideas about how the church might do its job better. We talked about his six children, and at that he beamed. He informed me that his kids were really nice looking, and at that I looked at him with suspicion. We both got a good laugh, and then he had some ideas about how he could do his job better. And that’s when I learned the third and fourth thing about him. Mike has a lot of ideas and Mike likes to do things better.
When Mike left my office that day he asked if we could do it again some time soon. I said yes. He said he would contact me. I did not think too much about it, people say things like “Hey, lets do this again some time” and “I’ll give you a call” all the time. Often you never hear from them again. But the following week I got a text from Mike. “Hey can we meet again? I’ll only take twenty minutes of your time.” And that’s when I learned the fifth thing about him. Mike actually puts his ideas into practice.
There were many things I learned about Mike in those first several weeks. Time does not allow for me to share all of them. But I will quickly say that Mike was one of the more intentional people I have ever known. Although he had lots of ideas he did not throw around ideas carelessly. He intended to follow through with his ideas. He was also a very practical man. Someone with his intelligence often obsesses over impractical ideas, but Mike despised empty words. Mike loved simplicity, and understood the gospel to be a simple message from God. One of his biggest concerns was that the church had moved away from the simplicity that is in Christ, and he was determined to develop a simple message that communicated the gospel in simple terms that could be easily shared and understood by everyone. Finally, Mike was a man of his word. He did everything he ever told me he was going to do accept for one thing, keep our meetings to twenty minutes. It was the one promise he never kept.
We were only a few weeks into our journey when Mike leveled with me. He came in and sat down, and after a few words he dropped his bomb on me: “Look, here’s the deal,” he said. “I’m dying of cancer. I don’t know if we’re talking months or years, but it looks inevitable. And I want to ask you if you will preach my funeral.”
I was stunned. I could tell that he was ill, and possibly terminally ill, but I couldn’t tell for sure. But more than anything I was having trouble understanding why, after only a few meetings, he was asking me to preach his funeral. That question would linger with me during our eleven-month friendship, and it wasn’t until his final few days that I finally understood.
Along the way I speculated about why he asked me to preach his funeral. I wondered if he was a somewhat isolated man with very little family support. By the end I knew that was not the case, and if you look around you also know that is not the case. Mike is blessed with a large and loving family, both his immediate and extended family. I also wondered if he had a lack of spiritual relationships. However, that turned out to be the false as well. Mike has been very involved in various small groups, Sunday school classes, ministries and churches around town. He has poured into others and allowed many to pour into him. Mike has had plenty of spiritual relationships. So, I thought that perhaps he lacked some basic friendships. But once again, by the end of our journey I saw this was not true either. Mike has many friends. He has come to know a wide variety of people through work, through small groups, through spiritual retreats, and various church functions through the years.
Mike has friends. Mike has spiritual companions. Mike has both spiritual fathers and spiritual children. And Mike has a loving family that is so dear to him that I cannot imagine how he could have had any more family support. So, the question remained. Why did Mike want ME to preach his funeral?
One day a few months ago Mike contacted me. He was very excited. He had finally boiled all of his theological studies down into a simple message of God’s love and our response. You can find the simplest version of it in the program. It might be tempting to look at that message, in all of its simplicity, and pass over it as the most basic form of the gospel…stuff that you already know. But that would be a gross misunderstanding of what this is and how Mike got to it. He spent years of study trying to figure out for himself what was essential and what was secondary. He passionately wanted to discover the gospel in its purest form. He did not pursue that for personal benefit. He pursued that because all around him he saw angry orphans, children of God who had left the church disillusioned and confused about the message that they were being taught. He wanted to see lost pilgrims and prodigals, loners and misfits, wayward sons and wandering daughters returning home.
This is a message that Mike believed was essential for returning the church to its purpose in the world. It is the missiones ecclesia, the mission of the church. It is not merely a convenient form of communicating the gospel, it is the very foundation of the gospel. And any time we move past it without coming right back to it we begin the process of eventually missing the whole point. So, I want us to read this together. And I want us to get the point.
God’s Simple Answer
By Mike Dyer
1.) God loves us.
2.) God takes the first step and reaches out to us.
3.) God wants us to be happy and wants us to love Jesus.
4.) I choose to be in a loving, healthy relationship with Jesus.
5.) I choose to obey Jesus and form loving relationships with others.
6.) I choose to remain in Jesus, accept his help and produce love.
My mission: Loving Jesus, Loving others.
Singularity of all truth is found in the Bible, the life of Jesus and the moment Jesus died on the cross.
In all of my chapels and convocations and church services during my five years at Lee University I only remember one sermon title. It was a message from Dr. Conn, and the title was It’s the Relationship Stupid. If I had to put into one short phrase the message of God that Mike Dyer so desperately tried to share with us that would be it. I can almost hear him saying it: It’s the relationship stupid!
But we still have this question before us. Why did Mike choose me to preach his funeral? I eliminated all of my initial ideas. Mike didn’t need me. He was not bankrupt on spiritual companionship. He was not a lonely man. He was not short on family. But in the final days of Mike’s life it finally hit me that I was missing the point by asking the wrong question. The point was not WHY Mike chose me. The point was that HE DID choose me. And as soon as I had that revelation the Lord gave me these verses:
12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
Mike chose me, just like God chose me. I no more understand why Mike chose me than I understand why God chose me. The point is that he did. And just like God has called me his friend so has Mike. I am Mike’s friend and he is my friend. And I pray that you don’t count me rude, but I need to say a few final words to my friend:
This is it. You have fought the good fight, not only of faith, but in life. You have heard the words that all of us long to hear, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into your rest.” Down here we are all still fighting. It’s pretty tough, but you left us with some mighty fine weapons. I have done all of the things you asked me to do. I don’t know how well I did them, only that I was faithful in what you asked me to do. May God bless the work of our hands.
I miss you, Mike. I wanted to talk with you one more time. I understand our relationship now, and it’s kind of ironic. Michael means, “Who is like God?” I know that you didn’t claim to be a whole lot like God, only close to him, like a child and his father. But that is exactly how I understand our relationship now. It is a lot like God. You chose me, and now I see that God chose me as well. God chose all of us, and he calls us his friends. All he wants from me is to call him my friend. That is all he wants from all of us. You taught us that. Love God and love others. That is our mission. Thank you, Mike. I know this is not goodbye, but see you soon. I pray it comes quickly. Goodnight, my friend. Enter into your rest. We will continue the fight here.
Now, I leave us with only these words: God calls you his friend; so be one.