"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
"As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their wicked ways and live."
The past week or so has been a time of extreme contrast for me, an emotional rollercoaster of joy, sadness, celebration, and grief. It began Thursday night, December 12, as my wife Julie and I attended Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God" concert at the Ryman Auditorium. It has become a holiday tradition for us and it's always a tremendous blessing to celebrate in music and song the coming of Jesus into the world to save us from our sin. I love listening to the recording, but it is much more powerful when heard live, particularly the songs "So Long Moses" and "Behold the Lamb of God".
The next day I got the news that Bob Mowery, former pastor of Park Avenue Baptist Church, had gone to be with the Lord at the age of 87. "Brother Bob", as everyone called him, was my pastor for the first 21 years of my life, but his ministry and influence reached far beyond that time. His memorial service was scheduled for Tuesday, December 17, which happened to also be the date of our 30th wedding anniversary.
The memorial service was a warm and sweet celebration of his life. I've never known anyone who exhibited more of what I would call a Christ-like life than Brother Bob. The fruit and power of the Holy Spirit was evident in his preaching, his pastoring, his leadership, and his "private" life. His time in this world was certainly a testimony to how God can use a life for His glory in so many ways. Although Brother Bob will be missed by family and by so many people who were affected by him, we can all rejoice for him, knowing that he is now in the presence of Jesus who he loved and served for so many years - a life lived humbly to the glory of God, a blessing and an exhortation to us all.
After the graveside service Julie and I stopped by our house and I surprised her with a poem I had written to her for our anniversary. I know all of you are totally shocked that I could write anything poetic, but I do occasionally have the ability to do that with some degree of effectiveness. In that poem I reflected on the grace of God and His blessing in giving Julie to me. Another emotional moment in a day already filled with a mixture of joy and grief. We then got a phone call from our son Benjamin, who let us know that he had successfully defended the proposal for his doctoral dissertation. Another reason to celebrate.
And the day was not finished. We went to dinner at Maggiano's. If you've ever been you know how awesome it is. If you've never been there, go. When we got in the car to leave after dinner Julie got a text message. It informed us that a friend of ours had died that afternoon, totally unexpected at the age of 52. We didn't even know he had recently been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
The worst part is that as far as we know this friend was not a believer in Jesus. The remainder of our evening was spent mostly in a stunned silence. Earlier in the day we had celebrated, knowing that Brother Bob was now in the presence of God, free from this world, from sin, from sorrow. Just a few hours later, I was faced with the thought that a man I knew and cared for, someone I had hoped would somehow, someday come to faith in Jesus, was now suffering eternal torment.
If you are recoiling in horror or find that statement distasteful, I can understand your reaction. But how you and I feel doesn't change the truth of it. The Scriptures are clear. Funny how truth and theology can seem so clear until it affects us in some inconvenient way. This would be a good time to be a Universalist. My friend is forever separated from God. Nothing can change that. Over the next few days I began to process my thoughts and emotions about it , and I still am.
So here are my thoughts at this point:
I find comfort in the fact that God loves my friend much more than I ever could, and that His grief is far beyond mine. I know from reading the Bible that He is not rubbing His hands and laughing with delight when unbelieving people die.
The Scriptures have been even more precious to me this week. The promises seem surer, the instructions clearer, the exhortations more urgent, the rebukes more pointed, the comforts sweeter and deeper. The Word has fed my soul as it has revealed more the heart of God to me.
What I do does matter. And what I don't do does matter. Prayer also matters. I'll blog more about these subjects another day. Right now I'll simply say that many times God uses people to accomplish his purposes. I've had to deal with guilty thoughts, wondering whether or not the outcome with my friend would be different if I had done or said certain things. I know that God is the one who saves, and I'm not going to lay blame on myself, but I also want to be more intentional about living and speaking the gospel to those who are brought into my life. I'm both convicted and encouraged by the life testimony of Brother Bob in this area.
These days have drawn me closer to God. Sometimes you need a wake up call. And now I'm awake.