Friday, July 4, 2008

"I'm Gonna Tell Jesus On You"

We laid to rest this past week, a great spiritual man--an elder, a godly man who was revered and admired by all in our congregation, Wellington (Bill Canniff). His way of letting you know he was praying for you was the heading of this post. Following is the message that was given at his memorial service. I thought it would be good for all to see.


Today is a day of sadness for us but rejoicing in Heaven because Heaven will never be the same again because it has Bill Canniff as one of its residents. Bill loved the Lord. He loved God’s Word. If you had seen Bill a year ago, he would tell you.”I’m going to make it to a 100.” However, in the last few months, I am sure he became aware that God was planning an earlier homecoming in heaven for him. He had turned 97 this past May.

When I saw him last week in the hospital, I knew he was suffering; he didn’t want to eat, so I encouraged him that if the Lord reached out to take his hand, reach out and take it—it was O.K.! We had a little talk about that and he seemed comforted. Little did I know how close his departure would be. Later that afternoon, they took him back to No Auburn Rehab, put him in his bed and came back to check on him in a few minutes, and he had gone home to glory!

And so today, as we reflect on his life, so many memories come flooding in of this outstanding Christian man. How gracious he was in the care of his late wife, Harriet, as she grew older and unable to care for herself, Bill was by her side to the end. I remember the celebration of their 60th? Wedding anniversary down in the Fireside room. I remember many visits and chats with Bill and Harriet and then for the last few years, just Bill.

Some of the following information, I quote from the article on the church web site on “Bill Canniff Day” declared by our Mayor, Pete Lewis about a year ago.

“Those of us who attend Northwest Family Church and know Wellington “Bill” Canniff feel blessed to have him as part of our faith family. Turning 96 in May, Bill is the oldest member of our church. But if you refer to Bill as a “good, old friend,” you might get corrected. While he is a friend to many, Bill often reminds people that there is “none good” but God.

Also, very few of us know the “old” Bill Canniff. The old Bill was a smoking, swearing, cantankerous, quick to anger, hard living alcoholic. He was a very unhappy Navy veteran and railroad man with the Burlington-Northern line who made those around him pretty unhappy, too.

But in the 1960’s a small prayer group placed Bill in their intercessory bull’s eye. Bill’s late wife, Harriet, along with Phyllis Anderson, Claire Dray, Mildred Utz, and Maxine Helser began to pray for Bill. They also focused on Maxine’s husband, Fred, believing that these two men and others would find Christ. They were unrelenting before the Throne of Grace.

Bill was gloriously saved. Almost immediately his personality and personal habits changed. The old Bill died and the new Bill became an asset to the city of Auburn and our church. That’s why we say most don’t know the “old Bill.”

Over the years Bill has been a leader in bringing about positive changes in the lives of men and boys. From its earliest days he helped to solidify a national scouting program we call Royal Rangers. Our church’s outpost was one of the first in Washington, and Bill was its guiding light.”

(And saved he was! A radical transformation that has left a strong imprint on our church congregation.)

Bill has been a spiritual leader and a man we have trusted to keep us in his prayers. Hundreds have heard him say, “I’m gonna tell Jesus on you,” which is his way of assuring you of his prayers. For more than a quarter century we have looked to him as a member of our elder board. He has demonstrated godly support to our pastors and given wise counsel to our church in spiritual matters. His strength and wisdom have come from his close walk with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Life Beyond

Revelation 14:13

13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”


A. The Bible teaches that life does not end at the grave.

The eternal spirit and image of God within us cannot be destroyed by the death of the body.

John must have had this truth in mind when he wrote: (Rev. 14:13) "I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them."

B. Obviously, this is a view of death from the other side.

Viewed from our vantage point, death appears to be dreadful, defeating, and devastating.

But from God's vantage point, it is altogether different.

He calls the dead, "blessed".

That word literally means "happy", "to be congratulated", "fortunate".

Far from being pitied, God tells us that those who die with faith in the Lord are to be envied.

Why is this? Because from now on, they rest from their labors and their deeds follow them.

C. John Milton saw this when he described death as, "the golden key that opens the palace of eternity."

He saw it as the doorway into the marvelous life beyond.

Because it is an entrance into eternal life, it becomes a blessed and fortunate experience for God's people.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions and I go to prepare a place for you that where I am there you may be also.”…John 14:1

Death then, for God's people, such as Bill Canniff is the doorway to rest, to rewards, and to the resurrection.

Transition: 1st, we see that death is:


A. John says that death is the doorway to rest from our labors.

The word "labor" describes a wearing out from work, a wearisome toil.

It suggests to us that life is often hard.

It can be full of difficulties, disappointments, and disease.

In the play Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, Uncle Ben says to Willie Loman:
"Life is a jungle, Willy, be hard. Some go into the jungle and find diamonds. Others get caught by tigers. Life is a jungle, Willy. Be hard."

We all encounter those moments when life is like a jungle—full of terrors, struggles, sickness, and pain.

And it is easy to grow weary of the struggle and long for rest and relief.

B. Death is the doorway into that rest for God's people.

For the Christian,

There are times when a sick man needs to die like a tired man needs to sleep.

There comes a time when we need to lay down our burden and to be at rest.

C. The word "rest" that appears here is a beautiful word.

It means to be at ease, to be refreshed.

It suggests an end to the toils and tribulations of life.

This is what Jesus promised to us when He said, (Matt.11:28-30) "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. {29} Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

In this world of trouble, we can know rest.

D. But there is a greater and more complete rest for us when we go to be with the Lord.

It is the rest of heaven and the presence of God.

And those, such as Bill who have laid their burden down and entered into it are to be congratulated--they are truly fortunate.

Transition: Death is not only the doorway to rest but also the:


Johns says here in Rev. 14, "their deeds will follow them."

A. We are all making a record on earth.

We carry the record of our life with us into eternity.

By the lives that we live, by the words that we say, and the deeds that we do, we are laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

Jesus said if we give a cup of cold water to a little child because we are His disciple, we will in no way lose our reward (Matt. 10:42).

B. The Bible tells us that God will not forget our works and labor of love which we have done in His name as we minister to others (Heb. 6:10).

All of these things are a part of our permanent record that we shall carry into eternity.

C. At the death of his mother, John J. McAller said, "I found a friend's thought apt and consoling: 'You can't weep for people who have left more in life than they have taken out.'"

D. We all leave something in this life.

Our influence or our testimony, good or bad, remains long after we are gone.

But while we leave something behind, we also take our record with us.

Our works follow us.

They accompany us to the very judgment of God.

E. Don't misunderstand the judgment.

The purpose of the judgment is not to determine our destiny.

We determine that here and now by our relationship to Jesus Christ.

It is only as we believe and trust in Him that we will have eternal life and dwell in heaven with Him.

Bill Canniff chose to follow Jesus while still in this life and because of that decision he now resides with Him forever.

If we have lived faithfully and served our Lord lovingly like Bill, then death becomes the doorway to our reward.

And those who have gone to a good reward are blessed, indeed.

Transition: Death is not only a doorway to rest and reward but also a:


A. While the resurrection is not mentioned in this verse, it is affirmed in (1 Cor. 15:20-22)

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

B. The Bible teaches more than the immortality or the survival of the spirit of man.

It also teaches the resurrection of the body.

Those who die in Christ go immediately to be with the Lord.

And when Christ returns the body that has died will come to life again.

It will be a new and glorious resurrection body and will be like the resurrected body of Christ.

As His body was recognizable, so our friend and loved one will be recognizable also. “We will know, even as we are known.”

As His body transcended the limitations of time and space, so our body will not be subject to the limitations of this life.

As His body was no longer subject to disease and decay, so our body will be an immortal body.

It will live forever.

C. Jesus shared this with Martha in her hour of sorrow.

John 11:25 "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies;

And again He declared in (John 14:19) Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

D. This is death from God's point of view.

But I remind you that this resurrected life does not belong to all people.

It is only a promise to people, like Bill who die in the Lord.

It is only as we commit ourselves to Jesus Christ and follow Him as Lord and Savior that death can be a blessed experience for us.

E. When we have Christ as our Savior, death becomes a blessed experience.

It becomes the doorway to rest, reward, and resurrection.

It becomes the entrance into eternal life.

An unknown poet expressed this truth so beautifully when he wrote:

The stars shine on the earth,
And the stars shine on the sea
The stars shine on the face of God,
And the stars shine down on me.
The stars shall shine for a thousand years,
For a thousand years and a day,
But my Christ and I shall still live,
When the stars have faded away.

Let us pray!

Our Father, and our God:
You are the One who breaks our bondage to sin and death.
You are the One who provides us our eternal home--the house of many mansions.
You are the One who gives us the peace that is everlasting, beyond death, and that this world can neither give nor take away.
You are the One who turns our sorrow into celebration, our sadness into joy, our loss into confidence.
And we thank You, and give You the praise, the honor, and the glory.
Thanks be to You, God our Father, for giving us the victory, the life that is abundant and eternal: through Jesus Christ, our crucified, risen, and living Lord--now and forever.

And now Lord, we ask you to be with this family, these friends. May they find comfort in knowing that Bill Canniff had settled his eternal destiny long ago. Be with them, now, in the coming weeks and months.

In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

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