Houston “Phil” Phelps
September 5, 1932 — January 28, 2014
The funeral service for Houston “Phil” Phelps was held at the Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta, Georgia on February 1, 2014. The following message was delivered by Rev. Warren Gardner.
The Witness of God’s Word Regarding Death and God’s Promise of Eternal Life
Let us seek God’s presence through prayer:
“O Lord God, we petition you to make your presence known among us.
You have identified yourself to us in so many ways: as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Lord God Almighty, The Lord who Provides, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and among many others — the God of All Comfort. What comfort to know that there is life after death! What a kindness that the Lord Jesus has gone to prepare a place for those who put their trust in Him! What love that this is all made possible by the Lord Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself for our sin and His continual prayers in Heaven on behalf of those who trust in Him!
Remind us Father that Houston Phelps’ departure is your answer to our Savior’s prayer, from Jn. 17: 24 “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am…”
Father, dispel our sorrow over Brother Phil’s departure with our Savior’s joy to have Him come. O Lord, we invoke Your presence that You would grant more than we could think or ask in turning our mourning into joy and laughter as we celebrate our loved one’s coming home to You. We ask that You would draw his loved ones to You in the time of their sorrow and comfort their hearts through faith in Jesus Christ.
Hear our prayer and forgive our sins, for we ask it all in the name and for the glory of, Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen!”
As Houston (Phil) Phelps’ pastor, I am grateful for the privilege to share with you the witness of God’s Word regarding death and God’s promise of eternal life. When we consider death, we enter into a realm personally unknown to those who are living. There are many who claim that they have been to heaven and returned. God’s Word disputes that claim with these words, “It is appointed for man to die once and after this the judgment.” (Heb 9:27) As those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, our confidence in the face of death must not be built on peoples’ near-death experiences but on the Word of God. Our Lord does not leave us to ignorantly speculate about death — He has much to say to prepare us for death:
The verses in 1 Thess. 4:13 say, “But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others— who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.”
In Eccles. 3: 18-21 the Lord explains to us that men die like the animals, but there is a distinction: verse 20 “All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. 21 Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?” Note that the spirit of the animals returns to the earth while the spirits of men go upward. Solomon in his God-given wisdom warns young people to not squander their lives but to remember their Creator in the days of their youth for the day will come sooner than you think when we will go to our eternal home: Eccles. 12: 7 Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”
We are taught that the life of our bodies is in the spirit which God has placed in us. At death the spirit departs the body and when life is restored as with the little girl Jesus raised from the dead in Luke 8 with His command: “Little girl, arise.” 55 Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. …”
The Lord prepares every believer for death with these encouraging words: 2 Cor. 5: 4 For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. … 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.”
Charles Spurgeon helps us put this into perspective in a beautiful way: “It is sweet to die in the Lord. Death is “a going home to the many mansions where the loved ones already dwell.” He said that the distance between heaven and earth “seems great, but it is not so… when the eyes close on earth, they open in heaven.” In heaven they come to the great assembly of, verse 23 “…the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” (Heb. 12) While departed saints’ spirits are now with the Lord, their bodies are committed to the ground to await the resurrection day.
At Christ’s coming, our bodies (whether living or dead) must be changed. 1 Cor. 15: 50 … flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. 51 Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. 53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.”
In verses Jn. 11: 25,26, Jesus said …, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
The verse Romans 6: 23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The verses in Jn. 3: 16 and 17 say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. … 36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Jesus said in Jn 5: 25-29, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, 27 and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth— those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
So, then, those who believe in Jesus for eternal life may say with ancient Job: (Job 19: 25) “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; 26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.”
This is the promise of God: (1 Thess 4: 15) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
On January 28, 2014 the spirit of Houston Phelps, aged 81, departed from this world into the presence of God. Your beloved “Opa” loved each of you and prayed for you. He was a man of few words but when he spoke of spiritual things he testified that he knew and loved the Lord Jesus and was confident in the Lord’s promise to forgive His sins and grant him eternal life. He like every believer was blessed with many strengths, and also weaknesses. I encourage you to remember the good that the Lord accomplished in him, and the blessings of the Lord which came to each of you through his life. Thank the Lord for how you were blessed by his life. When you think of His weaknesses remember, if the hope of heaven depended on our perfected goodness there would be no hope for any of us. His and our hope of heaven is in the Lord alone who loved us and gave His life for us.
May the Lord grant that your grief will be strangely different from that of this world. As you weep for your loss, may God grant you that precious comfort that you rejoice for Phil’s going home to join the assembly of the spirits of ‘just men made perfect’ in the presence of God and the Lamb. And may you comfort your heart, as ancient David did at the death of his infant son, “he will not return to me, but I will go to him.”
I leave you with this testimony:
From 1 Jn. 5: 11-13, “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
Let us sing Psalm 23, most Christians know and love this Psalm by which King David expressed his confidence that his Lord loved and cared for him in this life and had prepared for him an eternal home.
~Rev. Warren Gardner
Note: United States Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 (CW2) Houston “Phil” Phelps was laid to rest with military funeral honors for his service in Vietnam and Korea at the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, Georgia on February 3, 2014.