Posted by: Chris Sandel | April 11, 2009

My Friend Mike

My first memory of Mike is from a Sunday morning at West Side.  He was sharing his story of how a co-worker reached out to him and shared the love of Christ with him and the difference it had made in his life.  His story was really cool but beyond that, we don’t get a lot of big, bald men with a Chicago accent and lots of tattoos on our stage that often so he was pretty easy to remember.

Not long after that, Mike ended up joining our small group.  He brought a really different dynamic to the group and it made for some cool conversations.  In addition to being fairly new to his faith (most of the rest of us had been Christian for a long time), Mike also had a rougher past that most of us.  He’d gone through some difficult things growing up and he’d regularly tell us about old friend’s he’d visited in prison.  But despite the relative newness of his faith, he pursued God more passionately than any man I’ve ever met.  He did everything at 100% and just knowing him challenged me.  I’d like to think that I live my life full on for God all the time but I know that far too often, I settle for what is easy and what is comfortable.  Mike didn’t care what was easy, he just wanted to follow Christ.

Mike’s passion for God was evident in lots of ways.  Even though he was pretty new to his faith, he was constantly sharing the story of how God changed his life with the people around him.  He wouldn’t just talk to individuals though.  He’d tell any group that would have him (students, adults, schools, etc).  Beyond all of that, there was one thing that stood out to everyone who met Mike…his tattoos. 

Mike wanted everyone to know the impact Christ had on him and one way he let people know was through is tattoos.  And I’m not talking about some wimpy little cross on an ankle.  He got tattoo after tattoo in places that he knew people would see.  He had several on the outsides of his hands and he even had the insides of his palms tattooed with a Bible verse.

hirsch-45 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. - Isaiah 49:16

One of my strongest memories of Mike is from the grocery story.  One day I was at the store and I remember seeing Mike several aisles down from me checking out.  He hadn’t seen me but I noticed him get into a conversation with his checker and the people in line with him.  They noticed his tattoos and just like that he was able to tell people why he’d gotten them and how important Christ had been to him.  It isn’t often that you get to see people you know sharing their faith like that but I think it was a pretty regular occurrence with Mike.  I was so proud to know him that day. 

Mike made a big impact in the lives of his friends and I’m sure he touched countless strangers.  But his biggest impact was on his family.  In the few years since Mike became a Christian he was able to baptize both of his children and his wife.  The day his wife came forward I was so excited I ran to tell Melissa and another woman from our small group.  There were in charge of an event outside of the service.  I ran over and told them that Amelia had come forward and they were so excited that they jumped up and down and ran over to the service (leaving their class) in time to see Mike baptize her.  I’ve never been more excited to see someone make a decision than that day.

Several years ago, Mike was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He fought it with all that he had and I never heard a negative word from him.  This week he passed away.  He left behind his incredible wife Amelia and two great kids, Madison and Tucker.  His funeral was Thursday night and I don’t think I’ll ever be at a more inspirational funeral.  I’m not a big crier but the whole night I was just so thankful that I had the chance to know him.  I couldn’t help but get emotional. 

One moment I don’t think I’ll ever forget is when we sang In Christ Alone.  I’ve sang the song many times but it never hit me the way it did then.  I always sing this verse in reference to Christ (and I’m sure that is how it was written) but for a moment I realized that it really applies to all of us…especially Mike. 

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine—
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.

Mike is not longer here in his earthly body.  He has left behind the cancer that caused him so much pain.  Now he is experiencing the promised resurrection.  He really is bursting fourth from the grave standing with Christ in victory. 

We’ll miss you Mike but I am so grateful for the chance I had to know you.  Thanks for living every minute of your life completely sold out for God.  Thanks for helping me see what it looks like to really love people the way Jesus does.  Thanks for reminding me that people are hurting and in need of a savior.  Most of all, thanks for challenging me to get out of my safe, comfortable little bubble to share the love of God.  I can’t wait to see you in heaven.  You’ll have to show me all the new tattoos I’m sure you’ll have gotten by then.

(I made this short video to conclude the service.)

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