Erik Thoennes told me some time ago that he loves going to funerals for godly people. That was a couple days before I went to see Britt in Illinois for the first time because my first evening there would include a funeral for a woman named Joanie who had made a point of praying for her throughout Britt's high school years. That was the kind of funeral Thoennes liked going to, and I understand why.
I never knew Joanie, and I only knew Aubrey Lee Culp (better known to those of us who knew him as a UPS driver as "Al") from my job at the Sunglasses Giant, where he would drop off boxes of sunglasses shipped by UPS every afternoon. When he died of a heart attack last week, Al had been working for UPS for 31 years. Talk about high energy, Al was the a short, stringy fellow who talked and walked and carried boxes a million miles an hour all the time. He was always joyful and often full of Scripture citations and general encouragement to "keep the faith".
So when he passed, Gregg Angier (my co-worker at "the Giant") and I were only too happy to attend his funeral. Strange how much you can like a guy who you only talk to for a couple minutes a day, but Al was that kind of guy.
I could not be gladder to have gone.
For one thing, the funeral was remarkably well-attended for a guy in a line of work you don't normally think of as "high impact" where people's lives are concerned. As mentioned, we only saw Al for a few minutes at a time, and we were 1 of 120 stops he would make each day (by the way, his replacement told Gregg that it will probably take two drivers to take over Al's route, because he was so good at what he did and so hard-working that he is literally irreplaceable by a single driver). Yet I always felt like we were the only stop Al made- or at least that he liked us more than the others. For that reason, UPS drivers, FedEx drivers, and presumably other retail employees packed out Living Waters Church in Chino, CA, along with his relatives and church family.
So it is not terribly surprising that every person who spoke could commend nothing higher than his daily faithfulness to Christ. Al exuded faithfulness. His daughters said that standards for husbands (both are now married, as of the day before the funeral) were through the roof because of the example of their father. Every day this man would work as hard as he could, yet he'd always be home in time for dinner. Dinner would be followed by some alone time for prayer. Every day.
One of his co-workers said that while he had known Al for 18 or so years, it was only over the last five months that they became better friends when they started carpooling. The guy said that it was only during that time that church attendance was definitely weekly in his life. In their daily drives Al would tell him, "You need to learn some verses" and taught him to memorize Scripture. No sense in wasting opportunities for Al.
Indeed, over and over the adjective that came up in the funeral was "faithful". Al was committed to Scripture, to worship, to prayer, and to loving his family. He made himself available to those most important to him, and he shared Christ with the people around him.
I suspect that despite being related to at least three pastors, Al Culp never preached a sermon in his life. That's not part of the job description at UPS. And yet hundreds sat in a church to commemorate his life. Apparently it isn't just the front-and-center type stuff that moves people.
It's folks like Al who make me wonder if all of our emphasis on doing great things for God misleads us to forget that what He wants most is daily dependance on Him. Al's life was an example of what that looked like, and I wonder if it's time more of us started praying to develop the kind of daily discipline required to live such a godly life.
Yes, I hope to become a good preacher. I love to play worship music that is creative, and I'd like to write a good worship song or two in my life. I want to lead non-Christian to know the overwhelming grace of God. And if I could write a book or essay or something that would help people know and see Jesus more, I would be thrilled.
But when my funeral comes, I am not so concerned that people stand up and say that I was a great preacher or guitarist or singer or songwriter or evangelist or author. These would all be lovely accolades, but because of their publicness, I find them easy to pursue. I also find that many of things can be performed with normal human skill even if there is no devotional life to back them up. Just ask the many great preachers who have blown up their lives with "big" sins.
What I find more difficult is the daily prayer, the daily self-sacrifical love for my wife (as easy to love as she is), and the daily witness of a faithful life. This is the stuff that I hope characterizes me, and that I hope people speak about when I die.
Thing is, when someone dies it is easy to stand up and wax eloquent about their character. Too often, that is more because they are dead than because it is true. For Aubrey Lee Culp, it seems that the accolades were spoken only for the latter reason. And so it was the funeral of a godly man that felt more like one last witness of faithfulness for those of us who need to be reminded.
So what of me and you? What will they say at our funerals? Will they wax eloquent, or will they speak truth? I pray it is the latter, and I pray that our Lord will send more men like Al to remind me of what is important.