“And He Himself gave some to be… pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-12
On a cold, winter January day, I learned that the pastor under who’s ministry the Lord brought me to Himself, had finished his course and entered into the glorious presence of His Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was approaching 95 years of age. Many years ago upon his arrival at my home church in a small Michigan town, he immediately called a missionary appointee to the Philippines to serve as an apprentice and he led me to Christ when I was 16 years old.
I had been reared in an unchurched home and invited to Sunday school by a friend when I was in the third grade. My pastor was serving on the board of a Bible tracts ministry and he invited the founding evangelist for special meetings just three weeks before my graduation from high school. I remember the time well. It was Tuesday night and the evangelist’s message was on Luke 9:62: “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” I knew I had put my hand to the plow but had begun to look back and that night God used that message to bring me to repentance and cry out, “Lord, here’s my life, no arguments!” Soon thereafter when my pastor approached me about being baptized I quipped, “I am allergic to water!” He quickly responded by saying , “And Jesus was allergic to the cross,” and walked away. A couple of weeks later I followed the Lord in water baptism! That changed the entire course of my life. I had been accepted at a nearby university but instead applied and was accepted at a small Bible College. Upon my departure to college, my pastor purchased and presented to me a beautiful leather-bound, gold-edged Scofield King James Bible. He said that it was the one the Apostle Paul used and I must have one! Within a year of use he had it re-bound for me.
As I was sensing the Lord’s call upon my life for ministry, my pastor invited me to intern for the summer in my home church. During that time I learned many things that later I would incorporate into my own ministry. He had great patience with me that summer. It was one of my responsibilities to put up the flag each morning when I arrived at the office. One day he came in and asked if I had put up the flag. I said, yes sir, and he said I should go check on it. When I did, I was embarrassed that I had raised it upside down! Another time he had me helping to tile a class room floor. When I went around the corner I did not change the direction of the tiles as I should have and when he pointed it out to me, again I was so embarrassed. He showed me how to do it correctly and simply said, “Every pencil has an eraser!” He also had a keen eye on girls I dated in college. When I brought one girl home for the weekend, he simply looked at me (when she wasn’t looking) and shook his head no! Later when I brought my sweet wife Ann home for a visit, he immediately shook his head yes (and I think she was looking)! Also that summer I recall his sending me to a Christian Camp as a counselor for two, maybe three weeks to keep an eye on his daughters. I felt like a spy! I was close enough to their age that I thought that they should have fun! I know that I did!!
Over the years as I felt I had become a peer, I was more comfortable calling my pastor by his first name, though not without a tint of disrespect. I invited him to speak in all four of the churches I had the privilege of pastoring as well as a special guest speaker at the 50th anniversary of a fellowship of churches where I served as director for sixteen years. My pastor was always in my corner! He was not only my pastor but also my counsellor, mentor, friend and prayer partner. When my mother passed away he traveled a great distance to officiate her funeral and would not take a penny for it. As frugal as he was, I can’t tell you the number of times that he and his wife bought dinner for Ann and me. But we always had to arrive at the Buffet about 3 p.m. to get in on the seniors’ luncheon price and then stay into the dinner hour in order to get steak and fried catfish if they had it! One thing I learned over the years in talking to my pastor was to never tell him about a good deal I might have gotten on something. He could always tell me where I might have received a better price!
Over the years both my pastor and wife showed great concern for us as we both struggled through cancers and other health issues. That’s what pastors and wives do, they love their flock. I always thought that they loved us the most. We also watched them go through great heartache in the loss of two daughters. He loved his children and grandchildren dearly and bragged about them often. A good lesson learned.
Our last visit was bringing a meal out to their farm just before they returned to Arizona for the winter. I sensed that he knew his time was short. Whenever we called them, they always wanted to know how we were doing. The last couple of years before he would leave for Arizona I would ask him what verse of Scripture would he like for his funeral if it were here in Michigan and I could be present. He would quickly change the subject. Because of distance, I was unable to attend his funeral but in a written letter to be read at the celebration of life service, I shared some thoughts and a verse that I thought was most appropriate. The first sermon I ever preached was at the end of that summer internship under my pastor in my home church. He gave me his pulpit and I preached on Psalm 23. I gave it everything I had and if it lasted 15 minutes that would have been long! As I think of my pastor and his earthly journey Psalm 23:6 came to mind: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The two companions that followed my pastor all along his journey from the time of his salvation as a teenager, also from an unchurched home, until his entrance into glory were “goodness” and “mercy.” They were his rear dogs as he faithfully followed the Shepherd all the days of his life. This “goodness” covered all the difficult times and worked out for “good” just as God had planned (Romans 8:28…. all things work together for good). This “mercy” was plenteous and new every morning and was always available as he came daily to the throne room of grace to obtain these mercies and find grace to help in the time of need (Hebrews 4:16). And being a servant of the Lord there were many times he found this a sweet refuge in which to pour out his heart to God. I will miss hearing him pray. I could always sense his closeness to the Lord.
These two companions never left him, even for a moment, for they followed him ALL the days of his life; the good days, the bad days, the hard days, the easy days and every day in-between. They not only followed him, but the Greek word for “follow” means they pursued him! They chased after him! He was never out of their sight! Without interruption, these two companions stood by his side until his final breath and he went to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, now breathing celestial air. For the believer the presence of God doesn’t miss a beat from this life to the next. This heavenly dwelling suggests more than a night or two stay, it implies a permanent stay. After all of his earthly travels (he hosted numerous trips to the Holy Land) and moves, he is now in his permanent “mansion” prepared for him long before the foundation of the world. No longer getting up in the morning and facing pain, but now experiencing first hand that “great getting up morning” where there is no pain! He is now dwelling in the light of the risen Lamb!
Lord, thank you that in your providence you placed a godly, faithful pastor in my path and loved me as one of his own. Thank you for the things he taught me. Thank you for his prayers for me. Thank you for his passion for souls. His perseverance in following Your will. His proclamation of Your Word. His love for family and friends. I know that he would want You to receive all the glory. And I give You all the glory for allowing him to be my pastor. I will miss him dearly but I know that our separation is temporary. I know that your “goodness” and “mercy” will continue to follow his wife and those family members who have followed Jesus, the Door, into the sheepfold. That was always his fervent prayer for all his family that they would be “inside” the sheepfold in the good care of the Shepherd. My pastor, what a trophy of Your grace. Thank you for his godly example and influence in my life, and help me, Lord, to keep my hand to the plow until You call or come again.
With a grateful heart, in Jesus’ name. Amen.