Yesterday I had the heart-breaking privilege at preaching Mark Junkin’s funeral. He was an incredible man who left a lasting legacy with his family, his church, and throughout the world. You can watch the archived funeral service at http://www.mtvchurch.tv. Here is the text of the message I shared:
Mark Junkins Funeral Message
Today we’re here to celebrate the life of Mark Junkins. As you’ve already heard, he was a son, a brother, a husband, and a father. His influence extended well beyond his immediate family. He touched lives in the lumber industry and in the military as evidenced by all the folks watching this service online from around the world.
For most of you, this isn’t your first funeral, and this definitely won’t be your last, but this one is especially hard. First, Mark was still young by today’s standards. More, he was in better shape than probably most of us in this room. His death comes as a complete shock and surprise to all of us.
Our hearts struggle with the issue of fairness, because of all people to die too soon, none of us would have put Mark on that list. He was such a giver. He added value to so many lives. He was such a positive force for good. He believed in God, as do many of you, and perhaps the biggest question we’re struggling with today is: why? Why God? Why him? Why now? Why when he was doing so many good things for others?
Now, while I can acknowledge the question that we’re all wrestling with, I cannot fully answer it, or at least answer it to the extent that it will take the pain away. Here’s what we believe: There is a good God that created the world and is still intimately involved in it. Sin entered the world like an atomic bomb through mankind’s choice in the Garden of Eden, and like an atomic bomb, the fallout still affects us today. Through our limited perspective, Mark’s tragic death makes no sense to us. All we can do is trust in a good God, a God who is in control and on his throne. Who knows the past, the present, and the future, all the variables that we could never know. And trust that because of his faith in God, Mark is in a much better place now.
So while we can’t fully answer the question of “why,” here’s what we can do: We can use this tragedy as an opportunity to be reminded of the most important things in life:
- Life is short. The Bible describes it as a mist that appears in the morning for a little while and then vanishes. The end of your life will always be unexpected.
- Life is incredibly valuable. You never know the true value of something or someone until they’re gone. If you have someone you love close to you, don’t let another day go by without expressing your love and appreciation for them. Some of you are estranged from parents, siblings, or children. Make things right today, because no one is guaranteed tomorrow.
- Too many of us are content to distract ourselves through life and neglect the most important things: faith, family, and legacy. Life as a 21st century American is filled with trivial distractions, tempting you to waste your life on things that don’t ultimately matter. But it’s at moments like this when you realize that life is so much more than making money, watching tv, or following your favorite sports team. As another pastor eloquently put it: the value of a life is determined by how much of it you give away.
- Death reminds us of the question of the afterlife. Is there life after this life? Do we cease to be, or is there a heaven and hell? If heaven exists, then are you making sure you’re doing what the Bible says you need to do to go there after you die?
Life is so fast, you’d be surprised at how few times you actually stop long enough to contemplate the deeper things. Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.
But more than just remembering the important things in life, here’s what we can do today, what I hope we all choose to do: celebrate. Celebrate Mark’s life. Celebrate Mark’s legacy. The amount of folks that have contacted Phyllis and the boys over the past few days, who came to the Visitation last night and who are here today, physically and online, are all a testament to the legacy Mark left.
Mark left a legacy with me. He was the chairman of the search team that brought me to Mt Vernon. He was the first person I talked with. As I’m sure he did with many of you, Mark always challenged me to keep learning. He was a voracious learner, a strong student of history. Some of my favorite conversations were of us talking about the book we were reading or how some obscure historical event continues to impact today.
More than that, he was an elder, the first elder, the primary lay leader of Mt Vernon. He was a source of incredible wisdom for Jeff (the previous pastor) and myself. His preference was to be behind the scenes. He never craved the limelight, but I guarantee you that Mt Vernon wouldn’t be what it is today if it wasn’t for Mark’s influence. This church is his legacy.
Mark worked for McShan lumber, and he leaves a strong legacy in the lumber industry. He was a hard worker, strong work ethic, always there, always looking for the best way. He always looked for the best in people, his coworkers and those he sold to. The way he interacted with others was a testament to his belief in God and His respect for the human life. While he was here, Mark worked hard to make his corner of the world a better place. And he succeeded brilliantly.
Mark leaves a strong legacy in the military. He served himself for the greater good of our country. For the past several years, he and Phyllis have adopted untold number of student pilots at Columbus Air Force base. Mark and Phyllis were like the world’s greatest dorm parents. Phyllis never knew who would be showing up when, but Mark and Phyllis created community for student pilots, serving as surrogate moms and dads, and mentors to scores of student pilots.
But the greatest legacy he left, are his two boys, Travis and John Mark. The greatest legacy any of us will leave is our children, and long after we’re gone, their lives serve as a testament to the years of sacrifice we’ve made. Travis got the build, John Mark got the temperament. For the record, Travis can grow the thicker mustache, but it actually comes in reddish blonde, so not sure how manly that really is. Both of you are in the military, serving this country, trying to make this world a better place. You’re both now husbands, one day you’ll be dads. Unfortunately, your kids will never know Mark on this side of heaven. So his legacy is you. As you live out what your dad taught you, as you live out the best parts of your dad, you two are a living legacy to Mark.
So we celebrate Mark’s legacy, but we also celebrate because we believe that Mark is still alive, although not here with us. This is where our belief in God, the Bible and heaven becomes so precious for us who believe. If this life is all that there is, then we don’t have much hope. But we believe in a God of eternity. We believe that life doesn’t end at death, it merely transitions to eternal life. In the gospel of John 3:16, the Bible clearly states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Mark had placed the full weight of his trust in God, as evidenced by his love for God and service to others. So, Mark has died, but he hasn’t perished. He now has eternal life.
And although we mourn, it’s appropriate to mourn for our sakes, for the void that is left because of his passing. But don’t mourn for him. Mark is in a better place. Mark is with Jesus. Mark is in heaven, in a place of perfection where there is no sickness, no pain, no death. Mark is reunited with the loved ones who passed on before him. Mark gets to meet many of the historical figures he read so much about during his life. Mark is now fully alive, in a way we can never truly experience on this earth.
So, when you think of Mark, don’t think of a casket or a grave. Think of him as he truly is, alive, rejoicing in heaven. I’m not sure if mustaches are fashionable in heaven, but they’re going to be after he’s through. Wherever Mark is in the New Jerusalem, you can be sure he’s probably already gone for a run around the perimeter. And can’t you just imagine Mark hanging out with Peter, with Samson, all doing push-ups together? Mark is gone from here, but he’s not dead. He’s alive in Christ, in heaven, and for those of us who believe, we’ll see him again one day. So, rejoice in that.
If Mark were here and wanted to preach a word, I’m pretty sure what he would share. He would simply share what he shared with many of us throughout his life. If you ever got an email from Mark, then you saw his final words, “Press On.” It comes from the book of Philippians, where the apostle Paul writes these words, “One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14
Rather than focus on the past, focus on the mistakes, focus on what could have been, Mark’s life, like Paul’s, was dominated by a forward-thinking mentality. In spite of the obstacles, in spite of the hardships, he “pressed on” to reach his full potential in Christ. May that example be the legacy we all walk away with. The goal? To win the prize, eternal life in heaven. Mark won. He’s in heaven with his Savior.
So Mark, we’re saddened by your loss, but we’re overwhelmed with joy because you’ve reached the goal. You’ve won the prize. You’re where you want to be, and one day we’ll see you again. I know that many of you here may not know that peace, that joy that Mark had. You may not have a relationship with Jesus. I pray that his life would spur you to investigate faith, investigate God, and discover the beautiful relationship that we can all have with Jesus, and that Mark so wonderfully exemplified in his life.