Monday, August 21, 2006

Dying Well

The story is told of a man who approached John Wesley one day, seemingly at random, and asked the famous evangelist how he might come to faith in Christ. Wesley explained to the man the way to become a Christian and the man trusted in the Lord for salvation. Wesley then asked the man why he had sought him out specifically to ask him how to be saved. The man replied, "Because I have observed that your people die well." I've often thought about that response in the years since I first heard that story. It has come to my mind repeatedly in these past three years as I have been privileged to serve as associate pastor to a large group of senior adults. I have witnessed repeatedly the same phenomenon that this unnamed man saw in the followers of John Wesley: Christians know how to die well.

I performed a funeral service this afternoon for a lady I had only known a few months. Wilma had been struggling with cancer for several years, but she faced it with undaunting courage and faith. We spoke several times in recent weeks about her approaching death, and she always responded cheerfully that she was ready to go home whenever the Lord called her.

Many of the services I do are for folks I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the course of the entire time I have been with this congregation. Such will be the case on Wednesday as I do the eulogy for another of God's dear saints--a man named Nathan. Nathan was 94 years old and was a faithful member of our church until the end. He attended prayer meeting on Wednesday evening before passing away on Saturday afternoon. Nathan kept up with several missionaries around the world, composing handwritten letters to them to encourage them in their work. He took a personal interest in my family, cutting out newspaper clippings of our sons' awards and accomplishments and passing them along to us with his congratulations. When I lost my father, Nathan wrote letters of encouragement to my mother, and never failed to ask how she was doing when we were together.

Nathan was an adopted grandfather to a lot of the children of the workers who serve at John Knox Village, the retirement community where he lived for many years. He spent time telling them stories, loving them, and sharing his wisdom. Nathan also was in charge of securing entertainment and speakers for our monthly senior adult gatherings of the Joy Club, and already had folks lined up for the next several months when he passed away.

Heaven's gain is earth's loss this week as our church bids farewell to two distinguished followers of the Lord. They would both decry any such attempts to praise them, as a hallmark of both Wilma and Nathan's life was their humility. But the Scripture admonishes us to give praise to whom it is due, and these two choice servants of the Lord deserve our respect and commendation for a life lived well. They surely have already heard the voice of their Master say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

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