Several months ago I wrote an article about my brother-in-law and his church. The title of the article was Is There a Future for Old Military Road Baptist Church? Judging from the feedback I received, it was one of the more helpful articles I have written.
My brother-in-law was dying. He had been battling cancer for about five years. Last week, I attended his funeral. In times like these, I am reminded why I love the church.
Into every life some rain must fall. Jesus taught us that the storms fall on the just and the unjust. The house built on a rock and the house built on the sand both receive their fair share of storms. David and Mary have had more than their fair share of storms.
25 years ago when we were in Wayland Baptist College a major storm came David’s way. I remember being in a bowling class with David. He complained one day that something was wrong with his eyes; the pins were out of focus. After seeing a doctor, he discovered there was nothing wrong with his eyes. This was due to unusually high blood pressure. This was due to the failure of his kidneys. I remember sitting with David as he went though dialysis. Eventually, he was able to receive a kidney transplant which relieved him of this burden.
His health was pretty strong for about twenty years until this kidney failed about five years ago. He was able to receive another kidney transplant, and we thought we were in the clear again for another twenty years perhaps. About six months later, we got the word that David had cancer. They thought they could get the cancer, but were worried that the treatment might get the new kidney as well.
Good news. The treatment got the cancer and the kidney was fine.
Further complications. The radiation was over-done, causing a burning sore that would not go away. It caused another cancer. During the week of September 11, 2001, as the rest of us were grieving our national tragedy, David and Mary were grieving a tragedy of their own. David had his arm amputated to rid his body of this cancer.
After a while, the cancer was back. They had to remove his shoulder. It was like they were taking David a piece at a time.
About a month ago I got a call from my Dad. David had seen the doctor who brought the sober news that they had done all they could do. “Call Hospice. Prepare to die. It will only be a few weeks.”
Last week I got another call from my Dad. David died on the morning of February 16. I was in-between conferences in Oklahoma. I spoke that night in Ponca City, then drove all night to arrive in Little Rock around 4:00 a.m. He was buried later that morning.
In times like this, I am reminded of why I love the church. Every day for the last month church members have brought food in as family members came and left to say their final good-byes to David.
We can’t do anything about the fact that people have kidney failure and cancer and arms amputated and die. We pray and sometimes God heals. He gives us a few more years. But, for reasons we will never fully understand this side of heaven, sometimes God does not heal.
We can’t do anything about that. We can do something about the fact that we don’t have to grieve alone. In times of profound loss and unspeakable grief, I am reminded of why I love the church. In times like this, it is so good to have friends who love and care and cry and bring casseroles and send cards and pray and hug. It is so good, in times like these not to be alone. It is so good to have the church.
The truth is, we all have a terminal disease. It is called being human. Eventually it will be me. It will be my new bride, or it will be my child. It will be my father and my mother. My mother is one of 11 children in her family. Her last sibling will likely die soon. Eventually, we will all pass to the other side. And when it happens, it is so good for those who are left to be surrounded by friends. It is one of the many reasons I love the church. It is why it is so wonderful to live in community.
I have been around long enough to see the ugliness of the church. It is not perfect. We are sometimes hurtful and hateful and judgmental and sometimes just plain mean. But, ironically, life at its worst seems to bring out the church at its best. Just as I had seen several months ago, again I saw the love of this little, obscure fellowship called Military Road Baptist Church. These people know how to love. They remind me of why I do what I do. They remind me of why I love the church.
After the funeral our family gathered together at Mary’s house and spontaneously someone said, “Let’s sing.” With no band and no PowerPoint and no music we sang for thirty minutes or an hour. One song after another–mostly old hymns of the faith–the stuff we all grew up on. One stanza or two, sometimes three or four. We sang and sang and sang. It was a slice of heaven, a glimpse of the world David had entered. One of the reasons I love the church is because I love to sing.
The funeral service was about an hour and a half long, but no one was bored. David has a family of preachers and everyone, it seemed, needed to get their two cents in! There were testimonies from people in the church. People who loved David. They said he was the best preacher they ever had. He had buried their friends and their family members. Now, they gathered to say good-bye. I love the church.
There were songs. We met in the fellowship hall that bears David’s name–Vosburg Hall. The tile floor amplified the sound of two hundred plus voices. Boy, did we sing. It was glorious.
My contribution was a PowerPoint presentation on David’s life. Some preach; some sing; I do PowerPoint. Pictures of David and the family over past twenty-five years. Pictures of his wedding, of the kids growing up, of family and friends.
Sharon, David’s sister-in-law, had recommended Beautiful by Amy Grant that played while we watched images of a life lived in serving God. My Dad commented that it was like the song was written for David. Be prepared to cry.
I’m looking for a way to feel you hold me
The stars we put in place
Some days missing you is overwhelming
The stars we put in place
It was beautiful indeed.
Dad spoke to close the service. He spoke of the rightness of crying, but the fact that we don’t grieve like the rest of men. He spoke of our sure and certain hope. He spoke of heaven.
This message that the church stewards is incredibly comforting when life is at its worst. The church is not just about hugs and casseroles and songs. It is also about presenting a message about a hope that is steadfast and sure. Another reason I love the church.
I listened to a John Ortberg talk recently and he made a point that I had never thought about. I think this is deeply profound. In the book of Genesis there is a song of sorts. The refrain goes, “And it was good. And it was good. And it was good.” Suddenly, there is a break in the refrain and it changes abruptly. “It is not good that man should be alone.” Here is a perfect man in a perfect environment with a perfect relationship with a perfect God. Yet, something is not good. Indeed. It is not good that man should be alone.
We are fond of talking about the fact there is a God-shaped vacuum in all of us. That is true. We all have a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill. Toys won’t. Success won’t. People won’t. Only God can fill it.
But we also have a people-shaped vacuum that God himself will not fill. That is what it means when it says that a perfect man in a perfect garden with a perfect relationship with his God is not good. We need people too.
I have heard people say, “When you come to the end and all you have is Jesus, you will discover that Jesus is enough.” I don’t think this well-meaning platitude is true. We need the Bible. We need the Holy Spirit. We need the Father. And, we need the church.
In days like these I am reminded why we need the church. I am reminded why I love the church.