I had excused myself prematurely from an evening church fellowship. There, all alone in my office, I wearily faced a pile of books, papers, Bibles, and “stuff” that covered my desk from one corner to the other, but tonight I wasn't going to organize my desk. Oh, how I enjoy peaceful Saturday nights. These moments of quiet fellowship with my Savior are to prepare my own heart for Sunday's worship. My eyes closed and I breathed a sigh of relief. “It's so good to have this time alone with you, Lord.”
The silence was shattered by the sound of the phone. My heart sank. “Really, Lord . . . I need to calm my mind and focus my heart for tomorrow. Please, pretty please, let it be a telemarketer.”
On the other end of the line was a woman who lives on the opposite side of the continent. She had just received a call from the retirement center near me and had been notified that her father, a resident there, would probably not live through the night. “Pastor,” she said, “could you go and be of comfort to him in the last few hours of his life? I'll get the first available flight and be there as soon as possible.” “I'm on my way,” I replied.
Lew was the oldest member of my church and I knew him quite well. In two months he was to celebrate his 100th birthday. I had celebrated the last five with him. Lew was a dedicated Christian man who never came to church late. Sometimes he arrived an hour earlier than me and one time he arrived the day before! Snow, sleet, ice, sub-zero temperatures, pouring rain, unbearable heat - none of it made any difference to him. At ninety years of age he drove across the United States to visit relatives. At ninety-six he was still cooking the beans over an open fire for our church's “Old Fashion Day” celebration. At ninety-seven he was still living by himself and driving to church three times a week. That's just the kind of man he was: strong, loyal, independent, energetic. About three years ago he suffered a stroke which impaired his speech and mobility. Finally, his daughter was able to convince her “daddy” to sell his house and move into the neighborhood retirement community - still close to his church family and his friends. Now I was on my way to see him through the last mile of his nearly 100 year journey.
When I arrived at the retirement center, they were preparing to take Lew to the hospital. His doctor had decided to admit him in order to make him a little more comfortable; albeit, Lew wanted nothing to hold him back, nothing to prolong his life here on earth, no tubes, no IV's, no machines. As I followed the Emergency Squad to town, I prayed and asked the Lord for a Divine favor. “Father, let me be there for Lew as he leaves this temporary dwelling place and enters into the glorious presence of Jesus.”
Soon after arriving at the hospital, the physician came in and spoke with me. “He may have an hour or so, but not much longer,” he said. “Comfort him.” I spent the next hour holding those 100 year old hands, softly singing a few hymns, quoting the Scriptures and whispering prayers of intercession into his ears. The room was beautifully quiet and I found myself deeply engaged in an attitude of worship - something I had thought would be lost this evening.
Just as the doctors and nurses had predicted, Lew took his last breath an hour later. It was quiet. It was peaceful. It was perfect. There are times when a pastor witnesses the pure mercy of God in such a profound way that it changes everything about him for the rest of his life. This was one of those moments.
As a father, I had witnessed the awesome miracle of birth five times. What an honor to see life emerge into the world and watch each child take his and her first breaths. No human words can describe that sacred moment when God manifests His glorious powers of creation to your mortal eyes.
That Saturday night, God called me to leave the solitude of my home and to enter into a place of worship and awe that was as inspiring and beautiful as any sanctuary I had ever visited. Just as God had stirred my heart at my children's first breaths, He had stirred my heart at my friend's last breath. Lew's faith-filled life gave me solid assurance of his personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The honor of being with him as he was escorted through the portals of Heaven was unforgettable.
The following Monday I sat at the dining room table and had devotions with my children. I was reminded that the most important thing in my life as a father was to influence my family's choice to have a second birth: the birth which would eternally affect their relationship with One Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is why we pray together. This is why we faithfully attend the Lord's house of worship and prayer every week. This is why we read, write, and memorize the Scriptures daily. I want to take advantage of every possible opportunity to instill a passion for the Lord Jesus Christ in my children. I want them to choose eternal life - whatever the cost. This is why we homeschool.
My wife and I may not be the best teachers. Our choice of curriculum may be antiquated. We may be disorganized, hap-hazard, or even clueless by some standards. We may not be able to “multi-task” or want to… even if we could. Everything about our earthly lives may be plain, mundane, or possibly arcane. On the other hand, we don't feel a pressing need to apologize to anyone for it. Knowing the Lord and loving His Son, Jesus Christ, with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our mind is the foundation for what we do and the choices we make for our children. We're not preparing or leading our four sons and daughter to set their sights on such fleeting ambitions as fame or fortune. Don't get us wrong, we want our children to succeed in life. We want them to love wisdom and gain understanding in all things. We want them to be responsible citizens and patriotic Americans, but what good have we done if their souls are lost in the process? “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36 (italics mine). Our highest goal is to prepare them for eternity.
I hope I never forget the inexpressible joy of holding Lew's hand as his soul was transported into the presence of Jesus. As great as that was, an even greater joy awaits me: knowing my children will be with me in eternity. When I stand before the Righteous Judge, I want to be able to proclaim with confidence and boldness, “I have made them aware of their own sinful nature, I have shown them their need for salvation and taught them about the Redeemer, they repented from their sins, called upon the name of the Lord, confessed Jesus as their Savior, and committed their lives to His will and service. I have been faithful to teach them the Holy Way.” There can be no greater joy than this. Thank you, Lew, for the fresh fire in my bones. May you remind me every day to set my eyes on what matters the most - preparing my family for eternity.
Timothy Palla pastors Fairview Baptist Church in the Lucasville/Minford area of southern Ohio. He and his lovely wife, Jennifer have five children: Drew, Dane, Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan and have been homeschooling for over eleven years.
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