A tribute to God and to Liam Isaac Mooneyham (April 8, 2008 – June 17, 2014)
I delivered this talk in a shorter form at Liam’s funeral, Monday, June 23, 2014, at First Baptist Church ofJennings, Louisiana. What you read here is an edited form.
Aaron Tucker, Philadelphia, Mississippi
email: rev [dot] tucker [at] gmail [dot] com
Why is Liam’s six year old grin no longer here? Why were we wearing bright colors at his funeral? Why?
I tremble at the thought of trying to devise a simple answer that will meet our satisfaction. If I had a simple answer, it would not satisfy us in our pain. No. Our pain is too deep for simple. And in our search for an answer, we find that the answer is not, in fact, simple at all.
The Mooneyham’s know why. They know why Liam is no longer here, and they know why we wore bright colors and released balloons at his service. They want you to know why. The answer is in four parts. And the answer comes straight from God’s Words to us. Find your Bible, and you can find the answer. This four-part answer gives us the “why” that we are searching for. These four parts also help us to smile, because all four parts, when put together, tell us Liam’s story.
Part 1 – CREATION
Genesis 1 reminds us that “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Think about it. A brilliant sun. A shining moon. A monstrous mountain. A brilliant sunset. A multitude of brightly colorful fields filled with wildflowers of every hue. A garden growing every kind of food you can think of. Oceans filled with creatures as large as whales and as small as minnows. Land overflowing with massive elephants and intricate butterflies. And what then? Genesis explains to us that God created man and woman in God’s own image. And when he was done with all of that creativity, he looked it over and said, “Very good.” Then God spent time face to face with his children in the beautiful garden. And all was as it should be.
The poet king, David, said in Psalm 139:13-16,
“LORD, you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
As we look at this first part of God’s story, we see Liam. He, like King David, was created by God, the God who loved Liam and made him the funny character he was. He was being carefully put together in the image of God when he was just a bun in the oven. Did you notice something else, too? Liam’s life story was written not as it happened, but was written by God even before his birth. So if every day was written down ahead of time, why were there so few days in that book? Could it not have been longer? Why? Let us keep looking.
Part 2 – THE FALL
After God’s good creation, Adam and Eve follow the tempting advice of the trickster Satan, and they rebelagainst their Creator. And men and women ever since have been disobeying God’s way in favor of their own way. Our sin has brought two categories of brokenness: the physical and the spiritual. Physical: death comes to every living thing on earth now. Spiritual: sinful rebellious souls now require God to fairly punish them. The great missionary apostle Paul explained in Romans 3:10 that no one does right… not even one person. He says later in verse 23 of that chapter that everybody has sinned… that everybody is not nearly good enough compared to God. Think about it. Think about how perfect everything was, and think about the state of the world and its inhabitants today, compared to that perfection described in Genesis. And God has been both punishing and delaying punishment for our rebellious and selfish ways from the days of Adam and Eve until today. After that first sin, death came into our world. Romans 6:23 explains that the work of sin results in a paycheck, and the paycheck is death. Understand what this means. Death is separation. Physical death is separation of the body from the soul. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from the One who made it and loves it, in the eternal punishment of hell, designed for all rebels, especially Satan.
To all the children at the funeral, including Liam’s brothers and sister: The Bible explains what happened to Liam. He had inside him a soul, and the part you saw at the funeral on the outside was Liam’s body. When a person dies, their soul leaves their body. Look at a balloon.
When a balloon is inflated, there is the balloon on the outside and air on the inside. This is like us. Our bodies are on the outside, and our souls are on the inside. When you deflate a balloon, all the air leaves the balloon, and all that remains is just the balloon.
We saw this, too, at Liam’s funeral. Liam’s body was buried, but his soul is not on earth right now. A person’s body is put in a casket and is buried in the ground. But their soul never dies. You can’t see it, but it goes to heaven to have a meeting with Jesus.
This second part of our answer also reminds us of Liam. Nothing in this world is as it was meant to be anymore. We spend our days in selfish pursuits. We twist God’s truth to suit our wants. We do what we want, when we want, and we complain when we cannot do it as quickly as we think we should. Also, we live in a world of physical death. Everyone dies. Everyone. And yet we spend many, many dollars and much, much energy pushing death as far away from us as possible. Our world, in its broken state, has auto-immune diseases like Liam’s. It has cancer. One man in my community has a mom who has battled cancer, a sister unsuccessfully battling brain cancer, a wife with a recent diagnosis of cancer, and a baby who suddenly died in her crib. We live in a world where humans hate and kill one another, where humans follow their heart into all sorts of sins, where humans cut off their family because they cannot seem to forgive them, and where natural disasters like a recent tornado near my community takes homes and churches and lives.
Liam was a beautiful boy, but he was not perfect. Because Nathan and Beth love Liam, they have had to do what all parents do, and that is to punish and correct what is wrong in their children. As much as Nathan and Beth love Liam, the God who loves you even more than that will punish your sin and mine, too. Liam, at his young age, was learning the same lessons over the years that the children of this church learned the third week of June at Vacation Bible School – to “A” admit to God you are a sinner, to “B” believe that Jesus is God’s perfect son, and to “C” confess your faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord. Liam learned some difficult lessons in his life. He learned that God’s broken world is full of broken bodies and broken souls, that is, physical death and spiritual death.
I have good news!
Part 3 – REDEMPTION
The question still is why? We already heard that Romans 6:23 began with sin’s wages / paycheck being death, but there is a free gift offered, too. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
God’s Christmas present to you and me is eternal life. How? Through Jesus, the Messiah, who is also our Master. You see, Romans 5:8 tells us that while we were still rebelling and sinning, Christ died for our sins. This is how you can tell God loves you! The most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, which is straight out of the mouth of Jesus himself, lets us know that God loved all of us so much that he gave us his son, Jesus. Galatians 1:4 explains that Jesus gave himself for our sins to deliver us from this present age.
Now, after death, you meet with God face to face. He talks with you about every good and every bad thing you’ve ever done. Because he is fair, he has to punish the bad, but what he really wants to do is to hold you and love you. And yet, your sin must be punished. So how could he fix this? Here is what he did. He sent his son, Jesus, (who never rebelled nor sinned his whole life!) to be punished for my bad. However, there is something required of me. I must decide if this is really what I want. Because it certainly sounds great to have my sins taken away and to be forgiven, but having that means deciding to follow Jesus for the rest of my life! Jesus’ gift is not automatic. We must switch our life for Jesus’ life. We need Jesus to forgive our sins, and we need to give EVERYTHING to him. God gave you everything in the first place, so it is not unreasonable for him to demand back from us. Remember that Jesus, when questioned, declared that the most important command from Almighty God is to love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, and ALL your mind (Matthew 22:36-37).
Liam’s story, too, includes redemption. We are trusting today in God’s grace to young children. We see this when King David declares that he will see his young child in heaven one day in 2 Samuel 12. We have seen God’s grace in Nathan and Beth’s life. They have asked Christ to forgive them, and as they have followed Him, they have taught all of their children these truths of God. When you have faith in Christ as they have, you too can experience forgiveness of sins and a new purpose in God. And it is only faith that has kept the Mooneyham’s going. Jesus told his disciples in John 13, as he washed their feet, that they would not understand now what he was doing, but that they would understand later. God does things we don’t understand, and often answers our prayers in ways that are opposite from what we think they should be. In those moments, faith is what we need. The Bible defines faith in Hebrews 11 as being certain of something you have not yet seen. This is not only believing in a God you cannot put eyes on, which is how you become a Christian, but also believing in God’s love when you cannot feel it in your heart, which is what we relied on at Liam’s funeral.
Part 4 – RESTORATION
It is a beautiful promise from God, that one day, all things will be back to the way he created them to be. For now, he is allowing brokenness, Satan’s destruction, and sin. But one day, all that will change. The final punishment for sin will come, and the full rewards for faith will come to his children. When the Bible describes heaven, it is not described as a family reunion. The point of heaven is Jesus. The point of the entire grand narrative of the Bible has always been Jesus, so it is no surprise that it ends that way! There will be creatures and people there who will sing God’s praises over and over and over and over.
Revelation 21 is a picture of what will one day soon come to pass:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
This promise gives us hope. We do want to see our loved ones in heaven again, but we must not forget that our chief joy in heaven will not be anyone we knew here on earth. Our greatest ecstasy in heaven will be seeing Jesus face to face! We are jealous of little Liam now, because he gets to see Jesus before we do! Paul reminded his brothers and sisters 1 Thessalonians 4 that they needed to understand death, so that they would not grieve in the same way as people with no hope grieve. I hope you are beginning to see the why. People with no hope grieve when they lose their loved ones because life is all they have. Christians have HOPE, and their hope is in Christ. Because of the power that raised Christ back to life, we believe in a God who has completely conquered death. God tells us this in 1 Corinthians15, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin.”
Remember the two kinds of death? Physical and spiritual? Listen to what God says elsewhere in 1Corinthians 15. “For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Liam is with Christ face to face, right now. Even though our ancestor, Adam, left us with a legacy of sin and death, our Savior and Master and Messiah, Jesus, destroyed that legacy of death, and made a new legacy. Physical death is still around, but because spiritual death is now destroyed for the Christian, physical death now only ushers the Christian straight into God’s presence. And Christ’s victory means that death doesn’t hurt the same way for the Christian that it does for the unbeliever.
Look at the end of 1Corinthians 15. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” You are watching these verses happen right before your eyes. Many of you have said that you were inspired by the faith you saw in the Mooneyham family. They want you to know why they have faith. It is not because they have weird beliefs about death, or because they are strong people. It is because they serve a strong God. They are not inborn with a lack of fear of death. They do not fear death, because our mighty Jesus destroyed death’s stinging hurt.
You don’t need the faith of the Mooneyham’s. You need YOUR OWN FAITH. What do YOU believe? Have you seen God working? God loves you, and wants you to love him back. What are you going to do about that?
I hope you understand some of what God is doing here. He is fulfilling Romans 8:28, which declares that God works anything – good or bad – together for good to people like the Mooneyham’s. He also is fulfilling 1 Corinthians 1:25, that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Only God could use the illness and tragic death of a child to touch an entire community. Only God could use the internet to reach out to thousands upon thousands of people for the purpose of prayer, like He did through Liam’s Facebook page and his YouCaring page. Only God could give this family the strength they need to survive years of the pain they went through. Only God could impact an entire elementary school through the suffering of one of its children, so much so that a brand new program there will be done in memory of Liam. Nothing the world contains works all things together for good.
My wife Marion clings to God’s Words in times like these. David said about God in Psalm 56:8, “You [God] have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?” Only God could keep track of your every sleepless night. Only God could keep track of your every tear. Only God can help you have the faith you need to survive this tragedy. And He will. If you ask Him.
Let us pray.