John Frederick "Fred" Fish

A Tribute

 

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John Frederick "Fred" Fish

June 15, 1925 - October 7, 2002

Randy Gariss, Senior Minister of the College Heights Christian Church, where the Fish family attends, framed the funeral service. The funeral sermon was preached by David Fish (Fred's son). The text for the sermon appears below:

A Funeral Sermon I Did Not Want to Write

By David G. Fish

(preached October 9, 2002)

This is a funeral sermon that I did not want to write. I would have liked my father to stay around for a long, long time. He has now gone on to a better place, a place where sickness and death do not exist. He has gone on to his reward.

As a representative of the family, I would like to express our deepest thanks to those who have expressed sympathy and love at this time. May God repay you for your kindness to us.

A funeral is a time for remembering, a time for honoring. In these short minutes, I hope to aid you in remembering my father. I want him to be remembered. I want him to be honored. He was a good man. But, in keeping with my father's faith and his wishes, I want even more for His God to be known, and for His God to be honored. He would not want you who have gathered to remember him to leave this place without knowing the one in whom he placed his faith, our Lord Jesus Christ.

When a Christian dies, though sadness and grief are present, one does not grieve like those who have no hope. The Christian grieving process is different--it is filled with hope. The hope that my father had was based on his faith in Jesus Christ, who said these words:

1 Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 6 Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:1-3,6)

Much in keeping with my father's nature, he had a pre-paid reservation on one of those rooms. He has gone there now, to be with his LORD.

My father came from a Christian family, and trusted in Jesus at an early age. He was a pretty sharp fellow. He grew up in the Brandon, Iowa area. He never lost his ties to that community, and returned there frequently for high school reunions. He enjoyed those reunions. I graduated from a large high school over thirty years ago, and have never gone back to a high school reunion. Dad has always said lots of things "tongue in cheek". About his high school class--he was the valedictorian of his high school class. He used to slough of the importance of that by quipping that the other kid in his class was really dumb.

Did my father have a mischievous side to him? Why, yes, I think, though two of his sisters are present and could probably better answer that question. I believe that the answer to the question is found in my father's love for life. He enjoyed life to the fullest. The story was told; I really do not have historical validation of this event, that in the Brandon, Iowa area, there was a pretty mean and cantankerous neighbor. It is reported that each night before retiring, he made a trip to an outhouse to "do his business". Though it is difficult for me to believe it, it is said that my father, certainly together with somebody else who was more guilty, waited behind the outhouse one night, and with the neighbor inside, tipped it over on its front side, making the neighbor's only exit through the seat on which he was sitting. It is certainly not a true story. Had I done something like that when I was growing up . . . Well, we won't go there.

Another story that I remember was this. My father was a veteran of WWII. He served in occupied Germany, and missed active duty because of an illness he contracted at the time the rest of his buddies were shipping out to war, and to death! He recovered from his illness, and about the time he was ready to go, the war ended. He liked to say that Hitler found out he was coming, and it was time to "pack it in." It may have been coming home from the war. During a train ride somewhere, there was a young woman who was interested in him. Evidently, he didn't share her interest, so though he identified his hometown as Brandon, Iowa, he told her that his name was "so-and-so" instead of John Frederick Fish. He must not have thought he would ever hear from her again. Some time later, she made a trip to Brandon, Iowa to find my father. The person she found, however, by asking for "so-and-so" was a married man who had no idea who she was!

I do believe that my Father went through a period of reforming his life after that event, which must have taken place almost 60 years ago! Like I said before, had I ever tried to do anything like that . . .

When Dad came back from the war, he went back to help out on the farm. He owned and operated a farm implement store for a while. A few years back, he told me that he made more money in one year in that business than he had ever made in one year in the ministry. With a growing sense that God was calling him to the ministry, he left that profitable business, and went off to Dakota Bible College to study for the ministry. That was the beginning of a life of ministry that spanned well over fifty years. In fact, his first sermon was preached on July 10, 1949 at South Elrod, South Dakota. His text was Romans 12:2-- "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will." Notes from his journal titled My Pastoral Record indicate that he was nervous. It came off all right, though. The journal reads, "It was a warm, sunny day. (The palms of his hands perspired all the way to Elrod.) With the exception of a little struggle with the communion cloth, everything went smoothly."

His last sermon was preached on June 30 of this year, nearly 53 years later! That sermon was titled "Great Example", based on Philippians 2:1-11. It was preached at the Iron Gates Christian Church here in Joplin. During those nearly 53 years, he kept meticulous records of his ministry. I would like to share some statistics from that record. During his lifetime of ministry, he preached 4,069 sermons, officiated 160 marriages, 505 baptisms, and preached at 195 funerals. The last funeral sermon he preached was between Christmas and New Year last year. He was a hard worker, who believed that a church was built by using up shoe leather. He was one of those warriors who just kept going, and who never gave up.

The other day, when we met at the funeral home to discuss plans for today, we were asked that question of whether or not he was retired. He didn't believe in a preacher retiring. I guess in one way, he was retired. He formally retired from his last, full-time pulpit ministry, on May 31, 1992, with a sermon titled "I Commend You to God" at the Morningside Church of Christ in Sioux City, IA. But, like the Eveready Bunny, his ministry just kept on going. He and my Mom relocated to Moberly, Missouri, where soon, he found himself in an interim ministry at the Union Avenue church. He and Mom moved to Joplin in 1994, just a few weeks ahead of our arrival here. That saved me the expense of a few nights' motel. Thanks! We have enjoyed being close to them during these last 8 years. From 1976 until 1994, we lived 8,000 miles from them. During the last 8 years, we lived just 8 miles away.

So, what does a retired preacher do? Well, to put it one way, he preaches. In his 10 years of retirement, he preached 436 sermons. I invite you to do the math. That is an average of 43.6 times a year. And if you consider that he battled cancer for the last two and a half years, and figure 8 years of active service after retirement, that would be an average of nearly 55 sermons per year! In retirement, he had interim ministries in the following places: Union Avenue Christian Church of Moberly, Missouri; Southside Christian Church of Mexico, Missouri; Bethany Christian Church of Springfield, Missouri; Iron Gates Christian Church of Joplin, Missouri; Jasper Christian Church of Jasper, Missouri; Central City Christian Church of Joplin, Missouri; First Christian Church of Vinita, Oklahoma; Mound Valley Christian Church of Mound Valley, KS; and the Blendville Christian Church at Joplin, Missouri. You might be tempted to think that the man was incapable of holding a job, but that would be far from the truth. Several of those places would have liked to hire him full-time, but he refused. He was a bridge builder, preparing the road for a future minister. In fact, he preached in 78 different churches since retiring in 1992. But was he uninvolved here at College Heights church? Not at all! For years he led what at College Heights we call a Care Group, which met in their home on Northview. For those of you from his Care Group present this day, he really did love you, and I know that you also loved him. He so enjoyed the last evening he spent with you on September 26! Thank you for loving him so deeply.

So, what kind of a man was my father? May I quote an article published in last Thursday's supplement to the Joplin Globe?

He may never make the top-ten list of a national magazine's Most Admired Men of this Century, but he's definitely the No. 1 choice of the hundreds of people who know him. Ask his school classmates; ask his wife and children; ask the people in church congregations where he ministered; ask the morning "walkers" at Northpark Mall; ask his many Sunday school and church friends; ask his fellow ministers across the country. All would agree that he is a man whose life is worthy of being patterned. When the Spotlight on 50+ is turned on him, he can stand up to the scrutiny. Even deteriorating health cannot dull his ready, quick wit and his engaging smile. Even waning energy cannot diminish his quest for learning, doing and going. Even failing strength cannot take away his love and concern for his fellow man and family nor erase his lifelong faith in his God. With a beaming smile he sums up the goal and focus of his life, "I'm going to live until I die . . . and then I'll really start to live."

Psalms 116:15 says, "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, The Message, renders the verse in the following manner: "When they arrive at the gates of death, GOD welcomes those who love him."

Three weeks ago, my father was torn between two worlds--this world, and his future world. As he moved towards the next world, we could detect that he was releasing this life. Since his fall at home on the morning of September 27, his physical strength waned quickly, and he moved with acceleration towards the gates of heaven. How could I sum up his life? Let me use his words. Just a few days ago, a very competent hospice nurse visited their home. She had such a kind manner, and was very professional. Before leaving Dad's side, she looked at him, and asked him if he wanted to say anything. Would you listen to his words? He said, "I'm just a sinner, saved by grace." A sinner, saved by grace, indeed. A sinner, saved by grace, now cancer-free, never more to suffer, because he believed on the one who suffered and died for us all, and vanquished forever death and the grave:

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, penned these words concerning the resurrection of Jesus:

In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:

"Death swallowed by triumphant Life!

Who got the last word, oh, Death?

Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?"

It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!

I loved my father. All of you knew him, and loved him as well. I feel certain, however, that he would want to take a seat in the background. I want to honor him and his life, but more than that, I want to honor His God. You knew my father. Do you know his Jesus?

 

 

 


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