“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
One of the pastors from my church died this last week. He was in his sixties, and, by all accounts, too young to die. For months he fought the cancer that raged within his body, but according to his family and by his own testimony, in death he did not lose the fight, he won. Paul said, “to die is gain”, and in passing from this world, Pastor Billy gained the presence of the Lord.
I didn’t know Pastor Billy personally, but in the last couple of months he was alive, he was admitted to the hospital where I work. My husband, Matthew, told me about it so I made it a priority to go by and see if there was anything he or his family needed. I wasn’t expecting to be able to offer much; it was more of a courtesy or a kindness than anything else.
I knocked on the door quietly and opened it just a little. I saw what appeared to be a healthy, robust man lying in a hospital bed. Appearances can be deceiving. I saw his wife sitting on the foot of the bed. She smiled when she saw me, and motioned me in. I held back, explaining that I was merely there to see if they needed anything… that my husband had recently come on staff at the church, and was told Billy was in the hospital. I did not want to intrude or disturb.
At that point, Billy began waving me into the room. His wife told me to come in, that Billy couldn’t see me. As I walked farther into the room, I could see he had a patch over one eye. I stood at the end of the bed and explained again, to Billy this time, why I had come. I had come to see if I could offer any help to him. Instead, he blessed me.
With surprising strength in his voice, he spoke to me of how folks in my profession spend their days giving their lives away and how much he loved nurses for that reason. He told me how people who spend their lives for themselves live much less fulfilling lives.
Then he told me that he had wondered throughout his life how he would feel about death when it came to him. He then told me two things.
He said that the gospel is real, and that there is no fear in death.
He thanked me for offering to help him, but that in Jesus, he really had all he needed, that he had peace.
I left his room a little off kilter. I had gone in hopes of encouraging Billy and his family, and in hopes of offering what help to them I could. I left realizing that I had been the one helped.
As I made my way down the hallway passing other hospital rooms, I noticed a young black man seated in a chair. He wore a nurse’s uniform and held a glucose monitor in his lap. He looked up at me as I exited Billy’s room, and watched me intently as I walked down the hall. When I got to him, his eyes met mine. It was just a little awkward.
Groping for a way to break the weirdness, I asked, “Have you met Pastor Billy?” He replied, “Oh yes, I have.” He stole another furtive glance toward Billy’s room. I said, “He’s quite a fellow, isn’t he?” “Yes… he is”, came the reply. I laughed to myself and wondered just what Billy had said to him!
Later I heard that Billy had blessed each staff person that had cared for him in one way or another while he was hospitalized. He encouraged them all, thanked them profusely for tending to him, and shared most of all that the gospel is real and in death, there really is no fear for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I attended a memorial service for Billy a couple of days ago. It was intended to celebrate his life. It was both bitter and sweet. Billy spent his life loving his family, and raising up young ministers and sending them off to plant new churches. Many of them where also there at the service. Some had flown great distances to attend. Because of Billy’s leadership, and because he believed in those young church planters, thousands have had the opportunity to know Christ. I also noticed John Maxwell seated on the front row.
His family and friends hosted the service we all attended because they felt Billy had led a life worth celebrating. We sang worship songs, listened to his family and pastor friends share about his life and the special things that he had done and said for and to them. The service celebrated Billy, and honored Christ. I thought it was really nice.
As I sat there in the service I wondered, at the end of my life, will I have led a life that my family and friends find worthy of celebration?
The only thing I noticed, as I looked around the room at all who attended, is that there was far too much black in the room. You know, folks like to wear black to funerals. This is the south, and often tradition wins out over good sense. I think Billy would have preferred brighter colors. I know I would. I had chosen a bright turquoise jacket and felt more than a bit conspicuous. I didn’t care, for I had come to celebrate a life, not to mourn a death.
I have decided that I do want to live a life worth celebrating.
Yet, as I look back at my life so far, I think I can do better. I can invest more, love more, encourage more, and live more of my life for my Savior. So if you come to my funeral one day, don’t wear black. Maybe a nice bright yellow, or how about coral? Everyone, looks great in coral.