Encouragement in THIS HOPE

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (I John 3:2-3)

In July 1986, Edna and I moved to the Bentonville Community of Johnston County where I began to serve as Pastor of the Pauline Baptist Church. I was a mere 24 years old — still in seminary and clueless as to what being a pastor meant or would mean to me over the next 30 years.

I had barely gotten started in this new ministry when I received a phone call one afternoon. The voice on the other end of the phone was one of my church members and he wanted to know if I would mind coming over to his house. I jumped in the car and made my way over to Terry and Sheila’s home. When I got there, I quickly realized this was not going to be a fun social call. Instead, Terry (who is my age by the way) explained that in a doctor’s visit that day, it was discovered that he had testicular cancer. Terry, Sheila and I stood in their living room that day and we cried and we prayed. We prayed that Terry would be healed and we prayed that God’s will would be accomplished in our lives.

That visit, just two weeks into my new ministry forever changed my life. Terry, Sheila, Edna and I became wonderful friends. Terry and Sheila had a son, Chase who was just a few months older than our daughter Danielle. Our families spent much time together. Terry literally became like a brother to me. As I walked with him through the journey of chemo and radiation, God bound our hearts together in a special way. Terry was told he and Sheila would probably never be able to have more children. Through all this, Terry and Sheila’s faith was strong and our faith grew as we saw God at work in Terry’s life. (Ultimately, they DID have another child…a beautiful daughter…a true gift from God.)

One year, Edna and I bought Danielle a new swing set for her birthday. Terry volunteered to come over to my house and help me put it together. He was sure it wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours and our kids would be outside playing and enjoying the new swing. We started the project about 10 AM on Friday morning. Sheila and Chase came over and spent the day with Edna and Danielle. Throughout the day, the kids would stand at the back door with eager anticipation wondering when they would be set free to swing and play on the new equipment. Our “couple of hours” project turned into more than Terry or I ever imagined. To make this long story short…at about 10:30 PM that night, the children and their mothers (all of whom were ill and sleepy) finally made it outside to swing on the swing set. Terry and I laughed (which didn’t go over that well with our wives) and for years we have relived that story and wondered how we ever made it through the night.

I was privileged to ordain Terry into the ministry of deacon while I was his pastor and after I left, Terry surrendered to the Gospel ministry and for years has been preaching the Gospel and serving God’s people. God anointed this young man to be an encouragement and inspiration to me even though the years and miles have separated us. We haven’t talked as often as we would have liked, but deep down we both have known there was a bond that was unbreakable between us — put there by God Himself.

Last week, I received news that Terry was critically ill. He has pulmonary fibrosis — a lung disease which was probably caused by the chemo and radiation he endured 30 years ago. My heart broke. I texted Terry to tell him I loved him and I was praying for him. Once again, God used my “brother” to inspire and encourage me. He wrote to me…

“You, Edna and your family have always been family to us. You are all very precious to us even though we don’t communicate a lot, we’re never far apart. We love you all and thank you so much for your thoughts and prayers. My family and I are resting in Jesus and our goal is to please Him on my passing and not to allow one second of victory to death. Because of Jesus, I will suffer as one with hope. I will pass from this life into His eternal victory. Praise Jesus. I love you very much always.”

Very soon, Terry will pass from this life into the next. The Bible tells me that THE HOPE we have is that one day, Christ will be revealed to us and we shall be like Him. The older I get, the more I look forward to that day. I’m not a morbid person, and I’m not wishing to die. However, I’m not afraid of death. Like Terry, I rest in Jesus and my goal is to be pleasing to Him as long as He allows me to breathe. But I also know this…

“And then one day, I’ll cross that river; I’ll fight life’s final war with pain;
And then as death gives way to victory, I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; Because He lives all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living just because He lives.” (Gloria Gaither)

In a few days or maybe a few weeks, my brother Terry will experience the reality of THE HOPE we have. In what may be my last words to my friend, I said… “Save me a seat at the table. I’ll see you soon and we will praise Jesus together for all eternity.”

To God be the glory.