Speech Made at the Funeral of Irven Lee
When I preached the funeral for brother Lee's mother, he emphasized to me again and again that he wanted me to thank the friends for coming. I know he would want me to do so now. Sister Lee, Sandra and I, Judy and Wayne, and all of us who are his family in the flesh, want to say thank you for your kindness in being here.
In recent years I have told Daddy Lee that I have known him since he was a young man, because the first time I saw him, he was about 45. That is several years younger than I am now. During the past thirty years, he and his family, particularly my wife Sandra, have been by far the predominant influence in my life for good.
One of the points brother Lee told me he wanted me to make was that his work has been among the common people and, for the most part, among small churches. There is an additional point I want to make today, and that is that when one sets out in his life to accomplish something, he sometimes forgets what his priorities are, and he forgets what it was he set out to do in the first place. Brother Lee did not seek for fame and prominence; he sought to please God. Whatever fame and prominence he attained came solely through the pursuit of this goal. This is a marvelous lesson for us to keep in mind - all of us - but especially those who are preachers.
His books are among us, and the fruit of his work lives on. Various friends have told how Daddy Lee touched their lives, how he helped them. One of the things I told him in his last days was how comforting it is to know that our work goes on beyond the limits of our earthly life. This is a comforting thought, and it was comforting to him.
I think that the story of his life is an interesting story, and he told about his life in his books. I would strongly recommend that you read what he wrote, but now is not the time for us to narrate his life.
Instead, I want to make a few observations based on what I learned from Daddy Lee. He would not want me to preach on him, but he would like for me to emphasize the principles he followed in his life. It is surprising how little he taught me by word, but what I learned from his life is incalculable in value.
Daddy Lee was a preacher of the gospel; not only did he love preaching, he loved preachers of the gospel. More than anything else, he would applaud my efforts to say something to Christians in general, and to preachers in particular.
Whatever a man may do in his life, whatever his occupation may be, his character is the spiritual clothing which he wears all the time. Irven Lee was the best man I have ever known. This is not to say there are no other men as good, but I did not have the pleasure of knowing them as I did brother Lee. His life was a life of service and dedication to God from his earliest youth.
Brother Lee was definitely not of this world. He walked with his feet on the earth and his heart in heaven (Col. 3:2; Heb. 11:10). We, his family, often wished we could have had a bigger share of him, but we all knew and appreciated his dedication to the cause of Christ. We knew that he loved his family and enjoyed very much the times we were together.
In talking about character, we need to say that Daddy Lee was an honorable man. He did not leave a trail of bad debts. There was never the slightest taint of the unsavory about his life. There was no scandal in his life, and he is living proof that preachers, elders, and saints do not have to have scandals in their lives. It has come to the point where we think it necessary, that we are not full-grown spiritually, until we have a scandal in our lives. I feel sorry for those who are caught in the traps, who stumble and fall, and have some horrible blight to come into their lives, to stain their reputations. But I am saying to you that one of the lessons I learned from brother Lee is that it is not necessary for such things to happen. He took thought for things honorable in the sight of men.
Though acquainted with sin, and he was acquainted with sin, Daddy Lee lived the principles he taught. Sin did not rule in his mortal body that he should obey the lusts thereof. Often we preachers make the mistake of getting out of balance. We enjoy the intellectual exercise of studying and preaching, the association with other preachers, the collecting of books and tapes, and the accumulation of knowledge. Many times in our quest for the goal of knowledge and scholarship, we forget the rock bottom essentials of righteousness, holiness, and godliness. In a day when, more and more, our society is tempted by the display of fleshly allurements, how important it is for all Christians to put on the whole armor of God.
The beatitudes were given to us by our Lord in the Sermon on the Mount. They were given as a description of the character of a child of God, and it is interesting to read these beatitudes and remember the godly whom we have known. "Blessed are the poor in spirit (the humble), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3-10).
Manner of Preaching
The second point I would like to mention is that Daddy Lee was an incomparable teacher of the Bible. The few times I sat in his Bible classes I was spellbound by two things: one was his complete mastery of every jot and tittle in the text, and the other was the utter simplicity with which he could present even the most difficult material.
He delighted in teaching and preaching the word. His lessons reflected profound understanding which enabled him to make the messages of God's word simple. This is another lesson we who preach the word need to bear in mind: that it is possible to take the word and use it merely as a tool to display our intellectual prowess. Or we can make it our goal to take the profound message God has given and preach it so that all men may see what is the mystery which was hidden for generations but now has been revealed.
In addition, though Brother Lee was very reverent, and not a comedian, he sometimes injected a note of humor into his lesson which brought the house down. He never told a joke in the pulpit to be funny. His humor always was secondary to the lesson and served somehow to enhance the point.
The first story I ever heard about brother Lee was from Earl Kimbrough. It was the winter of 1960, and I was home for the Christmas holidays. I had gotten a little too involved with one of the young ladies at Florida College and, since I did not think I had a chance in the world with her, I was glad to have a break so that I could get over her. I got to talking to brother Kimbrough about her, and he told me this story about her father Irven Lee.
Daddy Lee was on the lecture series at Florida College. His assignment was a sensitive subject. At the time, weather permitting, lectures were held at the amphitheater on the banks of the Hillsborough River. Every speaker therefore spoke with the black, swirling waters of the river flowing behind him. Brother Lee said, as he began his lecture something to this effect, "I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to you today, and I would also like you to know that this is the largest baptistry I have every had behind me during a sermon." This simple, gentle humor helped to dispel some of the tension which was so heavy in the audience.
Closely related to brother Lee's life and his teaching was his conviction, his profound commitment to truth. He did not know how to shirk a duty or to compromise the truth. I have heard him preach sermons that made me glance around to see if anyone were picking up stones. I never knew a man with more courage.
There were times when his convictions got him into trouble; there were times he had to pay a tremendous personal price. Nevertheless, he paid the price and kept his convictions - to the very end of his days. He bought the truth, whatever the cost, but he never sold it for any price.
Our age of relativism has affected us more than we care to admit. How easy it is to relax our convictions on worldliness, on divorce and remarriage, to ease our opposition to denominationalism and to false doctrine. It is more comfortable to take a broader view, one which is more acceptable to the masses. True preachers of the gospel can never do that. We must preach the word.
In taking our stand for truth, we can be Christians, we can be gentlemen, we can be kind. Brother Lee was as bold as a lion, yet he was meek and gentle. We do not have to be ugly to be right. Though conduct in this area should grow out of principles of Christian character, yet, as a practical matter, we should realize that we will get much further in reaching people if we seek to persuade and teach. Nevertheless, there comes a time to reprove and rebuke. When that time comes, our voices must not be silent.
I would like to close my lesson by telling you a story about a Bible character. Many times I have applied this story to the end of Daddy Lee's life.
In 1 Samuel 12:1-5 the Bible says that Samuel came before the people and said, "I have done everything you asked for, and have given you a king. He now walks before you, and I am old and gray. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. Here I am. Before the Lord and before His anointed, witness against me. Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whom have I taken a bribe? Tell it now, and I will repay it."
The people answered, "You have not cheated anyone. You have oppressed no one. You have never taken a bribe."
Samuel said, "The Lord is witness against you, as well as His anointed, that you have found nothing in my hand."
The people cried, "He is witness."
Then in 1 Samuel 25:1, the Bible tells us that Samuel died, and all Israel gathered together to lament him, and they buried his body at his house in Ramah.
What a record for a public figure to have! Let it be our goal to have such a record, when we reach the end of our way.
I want to append here the poem which my brother-in-law, Wayne Moore, read at brother Lee's funeral. With some adaptations by Wayne, it reads:
Lord Jesus, Receive My Spirit
This is the aftermath of war
This is the end of the symphony, the final note, the second before the final applause.
This is the end of the journey, the sight of home.
This is the end of the storm, the sun piercing the clouds.
This is the Christian's sigh of joy: "Lord Jesus."
The Eternal Word, the Eternal Life, the Wonderful, the Counselor, the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Lord our Righteousness.
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
An angel sighs, a star wipes away a tear.
"Take me home!"
Yes, take him home.
Take this prince to his king, take this son to his father, take this pilgrim home.
Let him rest from his labors.
"Take me home! To be with you is much better."
Come, ten thousand angels.
Come take this wounded soldier home.
Take him to the cradle of his father's arms.
Bless you, slave of God.
Rest, sweet soldier.
The battle is over.