Charles Brazeal Funeral

Charles Brazeal Funeral

Charles Brazeal Funeral

November 10, 2008 (died November 6)

Note:  In my 50 years of church ministry, no one ministered to me personally as much as Charles Brazeal.  He was the single most supportive lay leader during my two decades in St. Louis, and his death was a huge personal blow, coming as it did less than two years after my father’s passing.  

Opening remarks:  We are gathered here today to pay tribute to a very good man, but more than that to a very great Savior.  Charles Brazeal was a dear friend to so many people.  There are few I admired as much, and none more, than Charles in respect to commitment to God, love for family, and deep and abiding loyalty to friends.  I shall never forget the impact he had on my life, on my family, and on our church. 

But while we honor Charles today and intend to talk a lot about our friend, we can’t talk about Charles without talking about Jesus, because Jesus was the most important person in Charles’ life.  

This is going to be a worship service, so I ask you to stand as we sing together several great hymns of praise to Jesus Christ.

Hymn sing: All Hail the Power, O For a Thousand Tongues, Down from His Glory

Scripture readings and prayer: Pastor Bill Jones

Tributes: memories by family members, read by Dr. George F. Collings                

Men’s Quartet: The Lord Is My Light

Message:  Charles Brazeal was a man of stature–not just physically but spiritually.  He had a distinctive voice that exuded warmth and love.  His presence emanated quiet confidence and always had a soothing effect on all our spirits.   No matter how difficult the circumstances, if Charles was there, we felt safe, and hopeful. 

Everyone needs a pastor.  Even a pastor needs a pastor.  Charles Brazeal was my pastor for the last 24 years.  Charles was waiting for me when I came to St. Louis in 1984.   He and Ruth heard that I had been called to be the pastor of First Free, and they started attending the church between the time I was called in August and arrived in October.                                    

You see, we actually go back much further than that.  Ruth’s favorite professor in Bible College was my father.  She remembers me from about age 3 as an ornery kid, but with potential.  When Ruth and her sister Eileen had a double wedding, my parents attended.  Charles became one of my dad’s favorite student-pastors.  Eileen’s husband Ron Krestan went to work for my father and served him faithfully for many years.  Eileen became my mother’s best friend and remains so today.  Charles and Ruth’s nephew Ron was ringbearer in my wedding to Jan nearly 45 years ago.  When Charles became a pastor in Arizona, my parents followed his ministry with great interest and prayer.  Eventually he became the pastor of Brentwood Bible Church, a church my father was instrumental in getting started.  

But by the time Charles, Ruth, and I got reacquainted here in St. Louis in 1984, he had left the vocational ministry and was a high school teacher.  He soon became an elder here at First Free and served in that capacity with distinction for many years.  But even when he was not on the Elder Board, Charles was my personal encourager, my confidante, and, as I said, my pastor.  

Charles would tell you I never preached a bad sermon, so you know he was more gracious than honest.  And when I was called to take a leadership position with the denomination in 1992 it was Charles who singlehandedly talked me out of it.  When another call came six years later to another leadership position, it was Charles once again who told me, “God isn’t through with you yet here in St. Louis.”  He believed in me more than I believed in myself.  Everyone needs someone like Charles in his life.

Now I want to speak for a few moments on the Epitaph of a Faithful Servant.  My text is from the fourth chapter of Paul’s second epistle to Timothy.  The last time I used this text for a memorial service was in 1989 at the funeral of Gary Jost, who was the principal leader among the five families that started this church.  In my book Gary and Charles are in a class by themselves.  

Second Timothy was written just prior to the Apostle’s martyrdom at the hands of the Emperor Nero.  In the early part of the 4th chapter Paul gives Timothy, a good friend whom he had discipled and encouraged, instructions about how to carry on the ministry in his absence.  Then, Paul writes his own epitaph.  It’s these verses that I want to focus on, because I see some beautiful similarities between the example of Paul’s life and the life of our dear friend, Charles Brazeal.

         “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing.”  (2 Tim. 4:6-8)

It takes courage to write one’s own epitaph in the way Paul does here, but in a sense we all write our own, don’t we, by the way we live our lives?  In this Scripture passage I see six characteristics which describe the Apostle’s philosophy of life and remind me so much of how Charles lived.

He faced the facts.  Paul wrote from a Roman dungeon, with death breathing down his neck, “The time of my departure has come.”  Knowing that, he refused to engage in denial because denial weakens determination.  No one finishes strong who lives in a dream world.

Five weeks ago on October 4 Charles learned that he had acute leukemia. Up until then he had been feeling fine. The first time he told me about the diagnosis he was considering a brutal chemo treatment that would have put him in isolation in the hospital for a month, with little promise of remission.  But the next time we talked he said he had opted not to do that.  He wanted as many good days as possible to spend with his family.  

While others prayed for physical healing, Charles looked forward to ultimate healing.  I was able to spend a day with Charles and Ruth at the end of October.  We did a lot of laughing, crying, and reminiscing.  He talked about our years together in leadership here at FEF, about his impending death, and about his memorial service.  But the most striking thing to me was how ready he was.  There was no denial, no anger at his misfortune.  He knew that the time for his departure had come, and he accepted that as God’s will.  He faced the facts.  

The second characteristic of the Apostle is that …

He fought the good fight.  We use that phrase to describe one’s courage–whether in sports or in the business world, or on the battlefield.  One who fights a good fight is admired even if he loses.  But that is not the meaning of the phrase here.  It is not describing how Paul fought; it describes what he fought.  He fought the fight that was good and worthwhile and eternal, the only fight that ultimately makes any difference, the fight for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are many in the church today who are fighting petty battles over minor doctrines and personalities and methodology and political power.  They prostitute their gifts and abilities with small-mindedness and doctrinal rigidity and partisanship.  Leslie Flynn described them as “an army of insecurity, marching to the tune of mediocrity, and packing the deadweight of rifles that fire only blanks.  These soldiers don’t even know who the enemy is.”

But not Charles.  Charles had an unusual ability to see the large picture.  For him the thing worth fighting for was not a human creed, nor denominational distinctives, nor a certain form of church government, but rather a common commitment of heart and life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  I do not mean to suggest that he was indifferent to issues of faith and doctrine and denomination, for he was a good student of the Word, had many strong convictions, and loved the Free Church.  But the only fight that really consumed Him was the fight for the Gospel.

The third characteristic I see in Paul’s epitaph is …

He finished what he started.  Verse 7 goes on, “I have finished the course.”  The Apostle Paul was at peace about his impending death because he knew he had no unfinished business.  I don’t mean that there was no more he could have accomplished had God given him more time; but he had finished his course.  Many people wouldn’t know if they had finished their course or not because they don’t have the slightest idea where they’re headed.  They’re like the guy who shot an arrow into the barn, then drew a target around it.  

But from the moment he met Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, Paul knew that there was a divine claim on his life, and he bent every fiber of his being to accomplish the ministry God entrusted to him.  Charles Swindoll has written: 

“Thoroughness is a rare quality of character.  Completing a project with gusto and enthusiasm is unusual in our just-get-by world.  Many a school paper, many a course, many a promise bears the ominous mark:  incomplete.  Ask any foreman, any manager.  Their number one problem is personnel—finding people they can trust to do a job without cutting corners and dodging the difficult details of their work.  Starters are a dime a dozen, but it’s hard to find one terminator, especially when there is no extra pay, when it requires an extra thirty minutes after quitting time, or if no one will ever notice.”  

In our day we need more like Paul who “finish the course.” 

Charles Brazeal was such a man.  He lived a life of integrity, authenticity, and fulfillment.  There were no bitter feelings left unresolved; no loved ones with whom he had not shared Christ; no friends left wondering if he really cared; no tasks God had assigned that were left incomplete.  As he was approaching the age of 77 this summer Charles decided to paint his house, and I’m talking twenty-foot peaks on the west side! And he finished the job, just a little over a month ago!  Charles finished what he started. 

The fourth element in Paul’s epitaph is found also in verse 7.

He kept the faith.  Paul was entrusted with the truth of the Gospel and he guarded it with his life.  While society around him was constantly sending out false messages about life and happiness and morality and the future, Paul stuck with what he received from the Lord.  He didn’t feel the need for being “up-to-date” or “on the cutting edge.”  It was enough for him that he be faithful in preserving the Gospel treasure, teaching it, applying it, living it, and passing it on to others, despite all the opposition and persecution he received.

So, too, our friend Charles.  He believed the truth of Col. 2:6,7:  

         “And now just as you trusted Christ to save you, trust him, too, for each day’s problems; live in vital union with him.  Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him.  See that you go on growing in the Lord, and become strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught.  Let your lives overflow with joy and thanksgiving for all he has done.” 

Even during the difficult days of the past few weeks Charles’ faith never faltered and he never doubted His Lord.  He never questioned the fact that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew what was best.  He didn’t understand why, but he knew he didn’t have to.  He kept the faith and passed it on beautifully to his family and to many of his friends.  

The fifth element in Paul’s epitaph is that …

He was confident about the future.  Look at verse 8:  “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.”  Think for a moment about the emotions that must have been in his heart when he wrote these words.  Nero is about to declare him guilty and order his execution.  But, Paul believes, soon there will be a magnificent reversal of Nero’s verdict by “the Righteous Judge.”  And  a crown of righteousness will be given to him because of his faithfulness.

Charles too was confident about the future.  Though there was certainly mental anguish at the thought of leaving his wife and children and grandchildren, there was great joy in contemplating entrance into the very presence of God.  On Tuesday, the 28th of October Charles spent a day in the hospital, and said to me on the phone, “Wow!  It’s getting exciting!”  He looked forward to seeing his Savior face to face.  I believe with all my heart that he is doing that right now.  

The final part of Paul’s epitaph is that …

He remembered that he was not alone.  At the end of verse 8 it reads:  “The Crown of Righteousness will be awarded, not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”  There was no room for Elijah complexes in Paul’s philosophy.  Remember how Elijah complained that “I alone am left,” and God told him it wasn’t so, that there were 7,000 others who hadn’t bent the knee to Baal.  Sometimes we may feel that we’re in this by ourselves.  The valley of the shadow of death can especially seem like a lonely valley.  

But Paul knew and Charles knew that death need only be a temporary cessation of fellowship with his family and friends.  He rested in the assurance that he will see again every member of his family, every friend, and  very colleague who also knows his Savior and looks for His coming.

In our society today there is a vigorous disdain of narrow thinking.  Our culture can’t seem to tolerate intolerance.  Yet Jesus Christ made one of the most narrow, exclusive claims ever made by any religious leader when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No man cometh unto the Father except through Me.”  (John 14:6)

And when Jesus spoke, Charles listened.  He accepted the fact that there is a great gulf between sinful mankind and a holy God.  He also realized that every human effort to bridge that gulf is doomed to failure.  But he believed that God himself bridged the gap when He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us and to pay the penalty for our sin, so that as many as received Him are given the privilege of becoming children of God.  He also believed that when you become a member of God’s family, the relationship is forever.

These six truths that come from Paul’s personal testimony, and were likewise seen so clearly in Charles Brazeal’s life, constitute a philosophy of life that’s impossible to improve upon:

Face the facts.

Finish your course.

Fight the good fight.

Keep the faith.

Be confident about the future.

Remember that you’re not alone.

I thank God for the example, the witness, and the friendship of Charles Brazeal.  Jesus Christ was glorified in Charles’ life; I believe He will be glorified in Charles’ death also.  One way that could happen is if some dear friend or loved one or former student, who has been touched by Charles’ life were to surrender his or her heart and life to Charles’ Savior today.  In fact, I’m going to ask right now that we bow our heads and I’m going to pray a prayer of commitment to Jesus Christ.  If you desire to know God as Charles knew him, won’t you silently pray with me?  

“Dear Father, thank you for the life and witness of our friend Charles Brazeal.  Thank you even more for sending your own son, Jesus Christ, to die on Calvary’s cross to pay the penalty for my sin.  I confess that I am a sinner, estranged from you, but right now I place my faith in Jesus and accept your free gift of salvation.  Thank you, Father, for giving me eternal life.  Amen.” 

Men’s Quartet: Victory in Jesus

Congregation standing for Hymns: His Name Is Wonderful, How Can I Say Thanks, When We All Get to Heaven