Funeral Mediation for the Reverend Dan Stevens

Below is the funeral mediation honoring the Reverend Dan Steven’s, former pastor of the Park View Baptist Church (now Patterson Avenue Baptist).

Dan Steven’s Best Day – Revelation 21:4-7

The last time Dan preached at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, he addressed the question:  “What do you do on the worst day of your life?”  We video record the sermons each week and I have watched this sermon several times in the last few days.


“What do you do on the worst day of your life?” 


When you consider the grief that brings us together today, it is a rather prophetic question.  Many here probably feel that this is one of the worst days of their life.


“What do you do on the worst day of your life?” Dan focused the congregation on a story from 1 Samuel 30. The backdrop was the conflict between King Saul and David.  David was proving himself to be a great leader, which made King Saul feel jealous, threatened, and angry – so angry, in fact, that he tried to kill David on several occasions. David was forced into exile with a small band of his most loyal soldiers.   With Saul in pursuit, David tried to build alliances whenever possible.  There was a new challenge and battle around every coner.  Weary of battle,  David and his men retreated for some rest and recovery.   Then they returned to their base of operations, a small town called Ziklag, where the families of David and his troups had relocated. Arriving at Ziklag, they found that it had been destroyed by the Amalekites. Everything they owned had been looted or burned to the ground. Their wives and children had been taken into captivity.


This was the worst days in their lives.  They lost everything they owned and everyone they loved.  All that was left was the ashes.


At this point in retelling this story, Dan looked at the congregation and asked:  “What do you do on the worst day of your life?”


We’ve probably had days those kind of days.  For some, today is that kind of day.  In his sermon, Dan spoke about some of the bad days that he had experienced in his lifetime.


He spoke about his older brother who was a school principle.  He was a healthy young man with a good job, a young family, and all the potential in the world. His brother went to school one Wednesday.  Everything seemed fine when he left the house, but later he became ill and fetl tired.  He laid down on the cot in the nurses office to regain his strength.


The next day, he still didn’t feel well, but he made it through the workday.  Friday he left the school early to go to the doctor’s office.  They put him immediately in the hospital with a diagnois of leukemia.  The next day, a Saturday, he died. That was the worst day of Dan’s relatively short life.  His older brother was gone quickly, unexpectedly, without warning. “What do you do on the worst day of your life?”


Four years later Dan’s father died.  Dan said that his father never got over the death of his brother.  The family believed  that his father grieved himself to death.


“What do you do on the worst day of your life?”


Dan had experienced many other bad days, but the worst came this past September when Zetsie died.  Zetsie had lived with debilitating illnesses for many years, but matters became serious in late July of 2014.  Zetsie spent most of the next two months at Henrico Doctors Hospital on Parham Road. I remember the morning phone call when Dan informed me of her death.  You could hear the shock in his voice.  Things were bad with Zetsie, but she had a way of rallying.  There was some hope that she would rally again, but she didn’t.  Dan was devastated.


Dan loved Zetsie.  I visited her three or four times a week while she was in the hospital.  On all but two occasions, Dan was right there at her side.  One of those times she sent him to run some errands, probably so that she could rest without worrying about him worrying about her.


On that occasion, Zetsie said:  “I don’t think he’s eating enough or getting enough rest.”  Then she said:  “He’s such a good man.”  “He’s such a good husband.”  “I am been fortunate – blessed – to have Dan in my life.”


“What do you do on the worst day of your life?”


Please don’t think that everyday was a bad day for Dan.  He was blessed and a blessing in so many ways.


He had a rewarding career in ministry, impacting the lives of thousands of people with his love, compassion, wit, and charm.

Dan and Zetsies had two great children, Cosette and Matthew, whom they always spoke about with great affection. always spoke about them with great affection. Dan  got to spend more time with Savannah and Mackenzie because they were local, but they loved  Jake, Reagan and Julianna just as much and was proud of them all.


Cosette, Clay, Savannah and Mackenzie, spent many Sunday afternoons with Dan and Zetsie eating dinner and playing games.


The family told stories of joyful times visiting Myrtle Beach, playing putt-putt golf and racing go-carts.  They laughed as they remember Dan and Zetsie taking Savannah and Mackenzie to the Cookout restaurant drive through for dinner with milkshakes.  Dan paid for the food, then he became distracted by the kids wanting more french-fries than had been ordered and he ended up driving away without getting the food.


The family said there was always lots of laughter.

Dan had some hobbies and interest he greatly enjoyed.


He enjoyed tinkering with Grand-Father clocks, was an avid reader, and enjoyed anything to do with his school, the University of Richmond.  He also enjoyed the Andy Griffith Show and could recite dialogue from memory from many of its episodes.


Dan and Zetsie were married 49 years at the time of her passing.  This past November they would have celebrated 50 years. You’d hardly ever see one without the other.  They enjoyed each others company and were very happy together.


Life is a mixture of good days and bad day.  We know that.  We have had both the good and the bad is all of our lives.


But in his last sermon at Patterson Avenue Baptist, however, he spoke more about the bad days.  They were fresh on his mind.  Today is a bad day for many of us.  Our grief is fresh on our minds.


“What do you do on the worst day of your life?”


Dan’s reflection on the scripture offered three suggestions.  1 Samuel 30: 4 says that the first thing David and his men did when they saw the devastation on their hometown was to weep till they could not weep any longer.  They cried till they had no more tears to shed.


Dan spoke about his last visit to the eye doctor.  Due to Zetsie’s illness, Dan had missed a few appointments.  After the exam, the doctor told Dan that his eyes had improved.


“But doctor, I am 76 years old.  How is it that my eyes are getting better?” he asked.


The doctor said, “You’ve been crying a lot lately haven’t you?”  Of course he had been crying in grief.  “Tears help your eyes,” the doctor continued.  “Tears can be healing!” Here’s Dan’s advice to everyone who mourns his passing today.  Go ahead and cry.  Let the emotions out.  Express your feelings.  Don’t hold back because you are afraid of what somebody might think.   It’s alright to cry.  Tears can be healing, not only for your eyes, but for your soul.

The second thing the text says is this:  “David found strength in the Lord.”  Dan pointed out that this strength in the Lord comes from times of prayer.  Dan was always known as a guy who practice and advocated the discipline ofprayer.  After Zetsie’s passing, Dan said that he was praying more than ever.


Here’s Dan’s advice to those of you who are feeling like this is the worst day in your life.  PRAY!  Spend time in fellowship with the God of love and grace.  David prayed and asked God for encouragement.  He received it.  Dan prayed to God seeking encouragement and he received it.  You, also, can pray and God will grant you encouragement.


After crying till you can’t cry anymore and praying to the Lord for strength and encouragement, Dan pointed out that David and his men got up, tracted down the Amalekites, and rescued their wives and children. There comes a time when you simply need to get up and start living your life. You can’t make the grief go away. The pain and sorry will still be there. But you have to get up and keep living.

Dan got back involved in ministry. He’d said he would preach a sermon at the drop of a hat. When he wasn’t preaching, he became actively involved at Patterson Avenue Baptist, attending Sunday School and worship almost every Sunday. He was also visiting church member who were home bound, in hospitals, or in nursing homes. He was recovering by engaging in ministry. “What do you do on the worst day of your life?” Dan suggests that we cry, pray, and give ourselves away.


Can I offer one other suggestion?  If Dan sould speak to us right now, I think he might point out that this past Friday was not the worst in his life.  It was his best day.  Dan would invite us to celebrate the grace of God that overcomes even death. This past Friday Dan passed very quickly from this life into the next.  He  went to be with God.  We believe that he was reunited with his brother, his parents, and with Zetsie. This past Friday might feel like one of the worst day in your life.  This is especially true for his children, grand-children, family, and close friends.  But for Dan, it was the best day ever.


The scripture I read earlier tells us what happened.


The Lord wiped every tear from their eyes.  There is no more death or mouring or crying or pain.   To those who are thirsty, there will be plenty to drink.  They will know they are God’s children.  The old order of things will have passed away. 


While you mourn your loss, celebrate the grace of God that has brought Dan and Zetsie safe into his eternal embrace.


Thanks be to God.

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