"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ." (I Corinthians 12:12)
I fancy myself to be a pretty good writer but I'm at a loss as to how to begin this piece. There really doesn't seem to be any "good" way to begin it, and yet my phrase: "...I'm at a loss..." is most appropriate because over the past few weeks there have been so many deaths which have rocked my world! I feel like I'm living in a season of death. Each time the phone rings I wonder if I'll hear that someone else has passed away.
These words may seem strange coming from a "Bible-believing minister" who truly embraces Jesus' words from the tenth verse of the tenth chapter of John's Gospel,
"... I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
I truly believe that Jesus does bring abundant life and, in the words of the old Gospel chorus, "Joy unspeakable and full of glory". Yes, I believe in all of that, but I'm also mindful of the shortest verse in the entire Bible which is found in the very next chapter, in John chapter eleven. That verse is number thirty-five which simply says, "Jesus wept." Even Jesus wept at the grave of his dear friend Lazarus. Yes, "Heaven's sounding sweeter all the time," as the old country Gospel tune proclaims, but the whole death and loss thing is, well, sad and painful.
Just two weeks ago, I conducted the funeral service of little David Magorian who died at the young age of two months. It's only through the prayers of the saints and the anointing of the Holy Spirit that I was able to do that. It seemed like hardly any time had had gone by when I was shocked to read the obituary of "Danny". Danny was seventy-three-years old. I think the last time I'd seen him was in 1995. Yet, in the late seventies and early eighties he'd been a close friend of mine and I'd spent a lot of time with him. Then, I was notified by a Facebook friend of the death of "Shirley". Shirley was (I'm guessing) about "eighty-something". She and her husband were living in Florida. I had not seen Shirley in at least ten years, but back in the eighties I saw her almost every day. She was the senior pastor's secretary at the large church where I served for several years as one of the assistant pastors. Shirley was both a friend and a mother figure. She truly had a great impact on my life.
The thoughts of this piece were "germinating" in my heart and mind for several days when I sat down at a public library computer yesterday (Thursday, March 19) morning. I was all set to start writing when I was jolted to learn that "Michelle" who'd been one of my co-workers at my answering service job had been shot to death by her boyfriend on Wednesday. That news had such a profoundly sad impact on me that I just couldn't write what I'd been planning to write. I don't want to share anything that might tarnish Michelle's memory, but let's just say Michelle and I were about as opposite as you could possibly imagine when I met her several years ago. It was both my surprise and delight to watch the subtle yet real and positive changes in Michelle's life as she accepted Jesus Christ as her Personal Lord and Savior and began studying the Bible, attending a good church, and taking her responsibility and disciplines involved in her own "recovery" process very seriously. No, I wasn't the one who led her to Christ or discipled her. It's usually best for men to work with men and women to work with women at that stuff. I will say that whoever led Michelle to Christ and was leading her in discipleship was a real hero in my book! No, Michelle wasn't perfect, but watching her learn to walk with God was like watching a one-year-old learn to physically walk. Sometimes they fall down and bump their heads or skin their knees, and maybe they cry a little, but they get up and they learn to walk and eventually they learn to run. Michelle had a great life ahead of her. That's why her murder at the age of thirty-one is so hard to accept. But the great news in this tragedy is that she's with the Lord and I'll see her again one day. The last time I saw Michelle was at the Framingham (MA) WalMart store just a few weeks ago. As always, she gave me a big enthusiastic greeting, as though I was her best friend and the greatest guy in the world. Honestly, I wish I could thank her for being so affirming and that I could congratulate her for making that important decision (as Billy Graham and his son Franklin would put it) to follow the Lord. From Michelle I was reminded that the person who seems the least Godly can turn around and become extraordinarily Godly! That's one important legacy she's left for me. She may have been in the early stages of her Christian life, but she was an important and vital part of the Body of Christ, nevertheless.
Now, back to Danny. In so many ways, Danny's life was a paradox. I guess part of why I really connected with Danny is that people either absolutely loved him and considered him a great man of God or they couldn't stand him and considered him a persistent problem and annoyance. As difficult as this may be to understand, Danny was both. Danny came from a pretty rough background. A nominal Catholic, he had no real relationship with God until a small group of born-again Christians "witnessed" to him in the mid-1970s and he gave his heart to Jesus. Danny had one of those "Damascus Road" sort of conversions! Suddenly he was reading the Bible all the time, preaching the Bible to friends, family, and co-workers constantly, up to his eyeballs in evangelical Christianity and driving everybody crazy! There's a bittersweet aspect to the conversion of people like Danny. They join a local evangelical church and pretty soon they're the first ones to show up and the last ones to leave every Sunday. They arrive for every Bible study. They even show up for every "church work day". Danny and his wife Cathy began cleaning the church building where they attended (as volunteers) every Saturday. The problem is, the Dannys can't understand why not all of the born-again Christians are as committed and enthusiastic as they are. Then they can't understand why their brothers and sisters are not all as eager to pray or study the Bible. After a couple of years, Danny became disillusioned with the church he'd been attending and he left. Danny attended a few evangelical churches off and on, but his disgust with American evangelical churches became so strong that he pretty much stuck to Christian television and personal Bible study. It may surprise you that I liked and appreciated Danny, but I did. Of course, we did not agree about the importance of the Church. As far as I'm concerned, and as far as the New Testament is concerned, each Christian is to be faithful to a local church and its ministries, whether he or she likes everything about that church or not. Danny was (sadly) wrong about that area. Yet, Danny who had been a very average, blue-collar guy went back to school. He attended college for four years graduating with a B.A. degree, and then he went to graduate school and earned a Master's in Counseling. Danny worked for years as a staff member of a recovery program. He touched many lives and led many people to Christ. He was a valuable member of the Body of Christ, albeit a disobedient and independent one.
And, then there's Shirley. Shirley meant just as much to me as Danny did, but she was exactly the opposite of Danny. Shirley was the epitome of a Christian woman who was committed to the local church "through thick and thin" as some would say. She and her husband Dick were the types who'd show up for church no matter what! They loved God and they loved the local church. Most pastors would not hire a Member of their church to be their employed secretary. This is because the secretary learns so many secrets of people in the church. The secretary often knows what families are in crisis, what person is struggling with depression, or serious illness, or doubt. The secretary may know of things that are going on in a church that even the Board members don't know about! There are very few people who would have the maturity and character and Godliness to be able to (frankly) handle a job like that. Shirley did, and she did it well. I learned a lot from Shirley. In my early days as an assistant pastor I was so naive and so, well, green! There was so much "practical stuff" that she taught me! For example, one day an older woman walked into my office. I said "hello" and made small talk with the woman. Later, Shirley came in to correct me! "You didn't stand!" she admonished, "You didn't stand!" She carefully explained to me that proper etiquette calls for a younger man to stand when an older woman comes into his presence. I honestly did not know that. I never forgot that. I won't tell you all the faux pas that I was guilty of as a young assistant pastor, but Shirley made sure to set me straight, and I'm glad she did! Please don't misunderstand. Shirley always gave me respect as a minister and valued what I had to say about Scripture, etc. Upon learning of her death, I wished I'd have thanked her for the impact she made in my life. The next best thing is to public acknowledge her, as I'm doing now. Yes, she too was a very important and vital member of the Body of Christ.
None of us is perfect. We all need each other. I learned from Michelle, I learned from Danny, and I learned from Shirley. I benefited from kmowing them. I'm sixty. It seems like yesterday that I was in my middle twenties and just "getting my feet wet" in ministry. The years have gone by so quickly. In closing, I also remember another line Christians of yesteryear often used: "Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last!".