“Now the Word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time….” Jonah 3:1
“After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples….Jesus said to Simon Peter…follow me!” John 21:1, 15, 19
Many times in my walk with the Lord, I am thankful for His forgiveness, and trusting me again and again to be His servant in the path He has laid out for me to follow. He came again to Jonah after his running away from an important assignment; He came again to Peter after denying Him three times just as predicted; and he came again and again to others of His children who, for one reason or another, felt that their way was better than God’s way. In Jonah chapter 1, it is said of Jonah three times that he went down from the presence of the Lord. It is never good to go “down” when God is up!
My siblings and I were reared in an unchurched home. I placed my faith in Christ as a teenager and in my senior year of high school yielded my life fully to Him and chose to go to a small Bible College rather than a nearby University to learn more about God and what He was doing in my life. Thankfully, through God’s amazing grace, I have enjoyed a walk with the Master for many years but for my younger brother, it was a different story. Let me tell you about it.
My brother, Roger, entered life on November 17, 1946, but I didn’t get to see him until nine days later. I was too young to be allowed into our little hospital and mothers in those days often stayed in the hospital that long before coming home. I have often quipped that by the first time I saw Roger he already had teeth and was growing a beard! Roger and I were far enough apart in age that we weren’t really that close growing up. He was entering the 8th grade when I went off to college. Upon graduation he then joined the U.S. Air Force and flew scores of missions into Viet Nam as a crew member of a cargo plane.
In the sixty-three years of life given to Roger, he lived ten years longer than our dad, five years longer than our mother and the same number of years as our Grandpa Myers. Also, during that same amount of time he lived fifty years in the world, but thankfully, lived thirteen years in the Word. I have his large print Bible as a keepsake to prove it. Roger would be the first to say that he took many wrong turns in life and made many wrong decisions, but he also made some good decisions.
In the late 80’s he called me from Florida under deep conviction recognizing the need of God in his life, and that day, as we prayed together over the phone, he acknowledged before a loving and gracious God that he truly was a sinner, asked forgiveness of his sins, and trusted in the risen Christ as His Savior. After sharing Christ with him many times over the years, what a blessing to see God begin changing his life. He grew rapidly in his faith, became a deacon in a large and growing church, elected chairman of the benevolent committee, taught a Sunday school class for Jr. High boys, and became coordinator for Truck Stop Ministries at the I-75 exit near Ocala, FL. This was right down his line for his primary lifetime occupation was truck driving all across the country.
Roger loved every minute of it but somewhere, somehow, along the way the devil lured him back into his old ways of drugs, alcohol and a lifestyle that paid its toll on his body over the next several years. He even lost his family. He became increasingly bitter that the Lord and the church had failed him. As a result, we lost touch for several years as he became like the prodigal who ended up, as Warren Wiersbe once said, living with the hogs instead of living high on the hog.
I remember it vividly. On Sunday, September 11, 2005, I was speaking in a church in Kalamazoo, MI, when a call in the afternoon came that Roger was in a near-by hospital, just a few minutes away, having experienced a heart attack. We hadn’t seen each other for years, and I had heard that he was back in Michigan but he avoided me like a plague. That afternoon when I entered his hospital room he almost had another heart attack! He immediately began weeping and asked for my forgiveness. I said it was the Lord’s forgiveness he should cry out for. He did and that began a spiritual journey together for the both of us that was far deeper than brotherly love. Earlier he had walked with the Lord for some eight years before He wandered off, but now for the next five years it would be spiritual ecstasy.
Due to not only heart issues, but also severe diabetic complications, his hospital stay was extended to three months, two months of which were in Rehab Centers. I really didn’t know if he would survive. Once he was able to return to his small mobile home, he joined the local church where I had preached that Sunday when I heard that he was in the hospital. He attended services as often as he could as well as the pastor’s men’s Bible study. Roger attended several men’s retreats with me, giving his personal testimony and he became a serious student of the Scriptures, marking his Bible with different pen colors and asking me more questions than I could ever answer.
In February, 2009, as his physical condition continued to decline as well as his vision, he moved his residence to the Veteran’s Home in the city where I live, in fact only a couple of miles from my home. Immediately he became a friend and servant to those less able to care for themselves. When he wasn’t feeling well enough to go to church with us, he faithfully attended chapel services and helped the chaplain distribute hymnbooks and notes. Also during this time he joined my home church and gave his personal testimony before the congregation. Everyone knew of his love and devotion for Christ. He loved our pastor’s teaching and the heavenly music that filled our auditorium. He sat on the front row of my Sunday school class sipping his coffee and eating his cookie(s). I couldn’t have been more proud.
During the last three months of Roger’s life there was even greater spiritual progress in His walk with the Lord and I attribute that to his constant time in the Word. When his vision became so impaired he could no longer read his Bible, he would go through the New Testament on video DVDs with print large enough on the television screen that he could see it. He was on the third time through the New Testament when he could no longer focus. During his last days under Hospice Care in a private room, a steady flow of nurses and residents stopped to see him. He always had a smile and tract for them. His roommates cried. The cleaning lady did too.
During those special last few years of Roger’s life we had some unbelievable times together. We took him to special events, ate at some fun places and even took him camping one week with us under rather adverse circumstances. One of my favorite memories of Roger is reading his Bible near the lakeside while preparing devotions for the evening meal.
Roger had many peaks and valleys in his life and in the last few years lived with much pain but seldom a complaint. He was so thankful for God’s grace in his life and the gift from God for a second chance. He had learned when in the valley what would take him back to the peak, and that was trust in the Lord and the reading of His Word. More than once in the last month of his life when we would leave his room Ann and I would hear him say, “Remember Who’s in control!” And he never lost his sense of humor. When leaving I would often say, “I’ll be back.” He quickly responded, “That’s what my ex-wife said.”
My brother carried a heavy burden for the spiritual needs of his family. In the last week of his life, he called a very close nephew and said with tears in his eyes, “Do you know Jesus?” You can tell much about a Christian by reading his Bible. I have cherished from time to time taking down off the shelf his big heavy large-print Bible in a leather case engraved with “Footprints” on the cover, and reading his favorite well-marked verses. The fly leafs of his Bible were filled with such challenging quotations as: Submission to God means taking our hands off what belongs to Him; You have longed for sweet peace and for faith to increase, and have earnestly, fervently prayed, but you cannot have rest or be perfectly blest until all on the altar is laid.
During the last few days of Roger’s earthly journey Ann and I, and a sister, spent entire nights with him. Though I have always been the pastor in the family, and Roger lived most of his life outside the will of God, he taught me two valuable lessons. He demonstrated that there really is “dying” grace for the believer walking with the Lord; and he taught me that our God is a God of second chances. He was a living example of that fact. If you are reading this rather personal story and are living in a downward spiral from God, I John 1:9 is still true, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Then, and only then, are we eligible for what Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter calls a formula for yielding one’s life totally to God: “What I give to God He takes; what He takes He cleanses; What He cleanses He fills; and what He fills He uses!”
-Maynard H. Belt
In loving memory of Roger L. Belt, entered into the presence of his Lord, April 18, 2010.
“O taste and see that the LORD is good; how blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” Psalm 34:8