Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Requiem for a Murdered Preacher


Tall, dark, and handsome.

28 years old.  Married to a beautiful young woman whom he adored.

Star athlete in high school, chaplain of his fraternity, great sense of humor, voted best student preacher in 2008.  Beloved by his parents and in-laws. Paid his own way on missions trips to Guatemala. Had a burning desire to minister to the poor here in north Texas.

Murder victim.

In his own church.

Eulogies on a Theme of Young Servanthood

This morning, I attended the funeral of Rev. Clint Dobson, the Texas pastor who was killed last Thursday as his church was being robbed. I'd never met the man, attended his church, or even knew he existed until last Thursday evening, when news of the tragedy broke.

Two hours after the service began, as his casket draped with white flowers was slowly wheeled out of the packed sanctuary of Arlington's First Baptist Church, all of us in the congregation knew much more about this young preacher - who a convicted criminal smothered to death. One of the most touching eulogies came from Dobson's father-in-law, which in itself says something - when your wife's father can give a glowing yet grief-laced tribute of you at your funeral.

Indeed, all of the eulogies - there were five, plus a sermon - portrayed the most unlikely candidate for murder. Somebody who was selfless and giving, a man who made friends quickly and loved spending time in the company of others. A minister whose favorite position for praying for his congregation was stretched flat on the floor, face-down, in his office. Although nobody verbalized it, you'd think that if the robber knew anything about Dobson, he wouldn't have been able to kill him.

Yet here we were, at the funeral of a preacher who graduated from seminary only two years ago. Had only been a husband for two years. And with whom his former college roommate had discussed the current Rob Bell everybody-goes-to-Heaven controversy not long before he died.

So... I guess, according to Bell and his heresy about there being no literal Hell, even if the guy who killed Rev. Dobson never becomes a follower of Christ in his lifetime, he'll still end up spending eternity as a neighbor of the guy he killed in cold blood. Not a scenario Christ would endorse, I'm sure.

And, perhaps appropriately, nothing any of the speakers today felt compelled to address, either. No one discussed the crime by which Dobson died, or its perpetrator. After all, funerals for people of faith should be more celebration than wishful thinking or social commentary. Plus, it's possible the police asked eulogists to refrain from speaking about what remains an open and active criminal investigation. And certainly the family doesn't need to dwell on the specifics any more than they already surely have.

Grief, Hope, Life, and Eternity

Instead, today is a day to rejoice in the promise of eternal life in Christ for all who believe in His name. It's a day to commemorate the faithful service given by one of Christ's saints. And a day to remind ourselves of the temporal nature of this earthly existence.

Dr. Dennis Wiles, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church Arlington, gave the sermon, and his text came from Hebrews 11 and 12, including passages such as the world not being worthy of all the saints who have given their lives for the sake of Christ's Gospel (11:38). And reminding us that these heroes of the faith listed in Hebrews died living as pilgrims on this planet (11:13).

Wiles said his theme needed to be for us to live. And live as pilgrims, on a journey. Live our lives of faith up until death. Up until the point at which our soul transitions from this plane to glory beyond the pale.

Oddly enough, little mention was made of the mission church Dobson had been brought to Arlington to lead. Nobody from that congregation in north Arlington, unimaginatively called NorthPointe, spoke at the service, nor was any mention made of Dobson's secretary, Judy Elliott, who was savagely beaten during the church attack and remains hospitalized in stable condition.

And, interestingly, a Muslim cleric arrived for the service at the same time I did, presumably as a professional courtesy to a fellow clergymember. After all, a lot of non-Baptists like me were likely in attendance. Wearing a white cape and cap, he stuck out boldly in the sea of black suits and dresses filling the sanctuary. Although plenty of seating still remained, he went to a part of the sanctuary that was already full, and momentarily, a woman got up, gave him her seat, and crossed the aisle to another seat. When the praise team began singing the first song, he got up and left, which, while I can't stand contemporary church music any more than he probably does, still seemed a little rude.

After the funeral, a private service at a cemetery had been scheduled.  Hopefully, family and close friends who have endured almost a week's worth of shock and grief will be able to make this day a turning point in their long road to recovery from this tragedy.

As Wiles pointed out, today is also Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. How appropriate to memorialize the short life of one of God's faithful servants, while also commemorating Christ's sacrificial death and burial for His people. And to look expectantly towards the life everlasting His resurrection represents for those of us who believe that Christ is indeed the Son of God.

"'Death has been swallowed up in victory.' 'Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." I Corinthians 15:54b-58

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