This message by Pastor Kevin Harris explores the foundation of the church and Jesus’ purpose for the church in today’s world. The focal text for the message is Matthew 16:13–20.
My father passed from this world into the next on April 9, 2015. I gave this eulogy for his memorial service on April 11, 2015 at Central Baptist Church in Magnolia, Arkansas.
– Kevin Harris, Fort Worth, Texas
His name was “Harold William Harris.”
His mother called him “Harold.”
Many called him ‘Hal’.
He was known by his family as ‘Daddy, Dad, or honey’.
Many people in Magnolia and Hope called him ‘Mr. Hal’.
Occasionally, when he was in trouble with my mom, she called him ‘William E!’ — after his father. Because he really did take after my grandaddy in so many ways.
After the birth of his first grandson, Ryan, my dad decided that wanted to be called ‘Pop’. It didn’t take long for all of us to start calling him ‘Pop’ — even by those who were honorary members of The Harris Family.
We are here today to honor the life of my father. But anybody who knew Hal Harris well, knew of his humility. Pop was a shy man about public accolades. He would much rather see his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ proclaimed.
Pop’s main desire in this life was that he be known as a good and faithful servant of Christ. He understood clearly that our faithfulness to God pales in comparison to the faithfulness that God shows toward us, which is so clearly spelled out for us in that old hymn that we just sang [Great is Thy Faithfulness].
I have been told by many of you — both before and after his death — that Hal Harris was well known and recognized for his sweet and encouraging personality, for his acts of service to this church and the people of Magnolia and Hope. But perhaps the greatest hallmark of his character was his great faith in God.
I have seen this goal of his met in many ways throughout my dad’s life. But nothing held a candle to the way his light for Christ shined in the last few years of his life.
His long battle with cancer, especially after the cancer went to the bone three years ago, echoed with the refrain of his great faithfulness. He would not hesitate to tell anyone proudly how his faith in Christ sustained him through the great inconvenience that cancer had on his life.
Many of you have remarked upon the fact that Hal Harris was inspirational to you. So many of you have said that his Sunday School lessons given in the Adult Men’s Sunday School class had a great impact on your life and the on way that you have lived. I know that many of you have sought out his advice just as I have done as his son.
Of course you all know that dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer over 16 years ago. This was a diagnosis that he shared with his father and brother. As a result of the hereditary connection with this cancer, he never failed to warn his sons, grandsons, and nephews to get their annual checkups and to know exactly what their PSA number was and to be aware of any fluctuations from year to year in order to allow for early detection and treatment.
It was three years ago that we learned of Pop’s diagnosis revealing that his cancer had moved into the bone. We as a family were told that we may not see Christmas together due to the rapid progression of his disease. We thank God that we had three extra Christmases with him.
This news seemed to light a fire in Pop as he realized that his time was short. He began to do things that some would view as odd. I sat in restaurants with him as he asked waitstaff how he could pray with them. This often took people by surprise. But Pop was truly sincere and more than once I saw him take the hand of a waitress and pray openly and honestly for their concerns right there in the middle of a busy restaurant.
Pop really cared about people and was very encouraging to anybody that he met. I know for a fact that he asked some of you how your walk with Christ was and he always sought to encourage others to gain firm assurance of their salvation in Christ.
Many of you know that, in recent weeks, dad began to get some confusion in his words. This was the result of a small stroke and the loss of his ability to communicate his thoughts frustrated him greatly.
We had one of these incidents on Easter Sunday morning as we watched the church cantata playing on TV. It was rather alarming and we were attempting to diagnose the severity of his condition. We asked him several diagnostic questions like:
“What’s your name? When were you born? What is my name?”
Pop’s confusion was pronounced and he had some difficulty answering any of our questions.
Grasping at straws, my brother, Keith, asked him, “Pop, are you a Razorback fan?” He responded quickly and with great resolve, “NO DOUBT ABOUT IT!!!”
Pop has always been and always will be a Razorback fan, if such a thing is possible in Heaven. He was very proud of his second granddaughter, Morgan, who recently started a new job working in the athletics department at the University of Arkansas.[I won’t have you all call the Hogs, because I might have trouble with Brother Mike if I do that. Not to mention my mother.]
Easter Sunday was our last good day with Pop. We are blessed that his convalescence was brief. But in his rapid decline we could see him slowly withdraw disconnecting from this weary world as his mind turned toward the glory of the next.
I gave Pop a book for Christmas titled Heaven, by the author Randy Alcorn. Pop allowed that book to prepare him for his move to his new address. Alcorn had this to say about death:
“God uses suffering and impending death to unfasten us from this earth and to set our minds on what lies beyond.”
As we gathered around Pop’s bed near the end, there was a great anticipation among us as we saw him go through this process. We saw it very clearly that he was nearing the finish line of the race of his life. We, together as a family, cheered him on, encouraging him like a runner in a marathon.
In my mind, we were clearly standing on the leading side of the finish line but I could also see a great crowd of faithful spectators standing on the other side of the finish line cheering him on as he arrived. And right there at the end of his long race was the throne where Christ was waiting to embrace this long expected friend of the Father.
Pop wanted for you all to know what he knew:
The Secret That Takes Away Death’s Sting
Pop knew that the only thing that can take away the curse of this world is a relationship with Jesus Christ, the one who died on our behalf, the one who has gone ahead to make place for us to live with him for eternity. Without this relationship there is a great fear of death and the sting associated with it.
As Christ stood with his disciples at his Ascension, he knew that he was departing from their presence to be in Heaven. Christ told them to “be of good cheer.” If you count yourself as a follower of Christ, these words apply to you today just the same as the disciples on that great day.
We, The Harris Family, have a great cheer and an odd sense of relief in knowing that Pop finished well in the race of his life. He was welcomed into the arms of Father God as well as the arms of his earthly father, his mother and sister as well as many others who ran along ahead of him from this world into the next.
The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church of Colossae and in reality to us all ‘Set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above not on earthly things.’ – Colossians 3:1
Pop knew what this meant. And he would encourage you all to live your lives with your eyes toward the prize. We cannot set our eyes on Christ without setting our eyes on Heaven and we cannot set our eyes on Heaven without setting our eyes on Christ. In other words, the whole purpose of Heaven is Christ. And while we plant our feet on this earth, which can be weary and difficult, it is the job of the Christian to overcome the doldrums of this world with great anticipation for the glory of the next.
Pop finished his race a winner and I pass along this question to you all… How well will you finish the race of your life?