I got the call yesterday morning that a faithful member of our church passed away during the night. What made the news so shocking was the fact that Bill had seemed fine Sunday morning. He and his wife, Celeine, had taken their usual seats in church and enjoyed the service just like they always did.
I myself wasn’t fine that Sunday morning, and Bill picked up on it as soon as he saw me. For various reasons, I didn’t sleep well Saturday night. Then I woke up Sunday morning with a fair amount of vertigo. That was only the second time in my life I had experienced vertigo, and I don’t want there to ever be a third. As I walked into church, I put up a brave front and figured that nobody would be able to tell that I was struggling a little just to remain upright. But when I walked over to shake hands with Bill and Celeine, Bill looked right at me and said, “You’re sick.” I’ve got to admit that I was taken aback by the straightforwardness of his remark and the accuracy of his diagnosis.
After I explained to him what was going on with me, he asked me something I will never forget. His question was, “When was the last time you had a physical?” I stuttered and stammered a little and then finally got out the answer, “Oh, I don’t know, I guess it was five or so years ago.” The truth was, I couldn’t remember. Bill’s reply was, “You ought to go have one. You might have some high blood pressure.” (For the record, I’ve had my blood pressure checked in the past few months. It was fine.)
After the Sunday service, I got involved talking to other people and didn’t really say much to Bill and Celeine. I regret that now. If I had known that was the last time I would see Bill on this earth, I would have made a point of spending a lot of time with him. But we never know such things, do we? Life really is “a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).
We don’t know exactly what took Bill’s life around 1:00 a.m. Monday morning. He lived each day with a garden variety of physical ailments. I can’t even begin to remember the number of hospital stays he endured, the surgeries and the procedures. At his home yesterday afternoon the family showed me the list of medications that he took. It looked like an encyclopedia of Latin. He had to have a chart just to keep it all straight. I think that’s why he encouraged me to get a physical. He knew far better than most how quickly your health can deteriorate.
I took great joy in informing the family that Bill no longer needs all his pills or his oxygen machine. His soul has now departed (Genesis 35:18-19) from his “body of death” (Romans 7:24). I’m happy for him. I’m also a little envious. I’ve noticed that something strange has happened to me over the past few years. I’ve begun longing for heaven to a degree I didn’t expect to reach until I was much older.
And here’s the shocking thing (at least it’s shocking to me): My increased longing for heaven springs much more from a desire to leave behind the pain, suffering, injustice, and wickedness of this world than it does a desire to see the splendors of heaven. I’ve begun to see heaven not so much as a desirable location but as an escape from an undesirable one. I’m as excited about getting to leave this world as I am about getting to enter into heaven.
Do I still love my wife and want to spend our “golden years” together? Yes. Do I still love my two boys and want to watch them finish growing up? Yes. Do I want to hold grandbabies in my arms and get to spoil them? Yes. Do I want to keep on enjoying all the pleasures of life? Yes. But do I now see this life for what it is and look forward to a better afterlife? Most definitely! I think it’s quite appropriate that the text God has given me for Bill’s funeral sermon is Job 14:1-6, a passage which begins with the words: “Man who is born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.”
Bill is out of that trouble now. He is in that better place that we like to talk about. But his is only a better place because he knew Jesus as his personal Savior. Can you imagine how awful it would be if this life was the highlight of your eternal existence? Can you imagine being born of woman, living out your “few” days (few in relation to eternity), experiencing all of life’s trouble, and then having your soul depart for a gruesome place of suffering and anguish? Can you imagine lifting up your eyes in hell and being in torment (Luke 16:19-23)? I don’t even want to think about such a horror.
But the stark reality is that most of the people on earth right now are staring straight down the gun-barrel of that horror. They don’t know Christ as Savior and if they die tonight their souls will not go to heaven. This should compel us Christians to be all the more involved in evangelism. We must share the good news of Christ’s gospel with those who need it. Someone once shared that gospel with Bill, and he responded by placing his belief in Jesus as his personal Savior. For that reason, I won’t have problems preaching his funeral and his family won’t have to search fruitlessly for comfort. But that puts us in the minority, not the majority. And that, Christian, is not a good thing.
You say, “But Russell, I’m just one person and the task of world evangelism is far too overwhelming.” You’re right, it is. That’s why Jesus doesn’t expect you to take on that task. What He expects you to do is engage in individual evangelism. Don’t focus on winning the masses of China to Christ. Focus on that one person the Lord puts right in front of you today. You know the one, the one with your name on them.
Maybe the person is a family member. Maybe the person is a friend. Maybe the person is a co-worker. Maybe the person is a neighbor. Maybe the person is a fellow parent from your kid’s ball team. What I’m saying is, door-to-door evangelism to rank strangers has its place, but so does relational evangelism to people you already know.
You see, the fact is, some “Bills” will die tonight, and one of them might just be a lost person you know. That person needs Christ, which means that he or she needs you to tell them about Him. Stop talking about politics, the weather, the economy, or the ball game, and press on into spiritual matters, eternal matters. Be tactful, but get the conversation there. Tell that person about Jesus.
If you don’t feel comfortable quoting scripture, at least tell the person what Jesus has done for you. Talk about the trouble you’ve experienced in this world and then talk about heaven. Make a point of explaining that you are guaranteed heaven only because Jesus died on the cross for your sins and you have believed in Him as Savior. You don’t have to hold an evangelistic crusade. You don’t have to try to be someone you’re not. But you do need to be a witness who’s trying. And don’t worry about how the person responds to what you say. That’s not your department. Your job is simply the telling.
I will miss my friend Bill, but I know his soul now resides in heaven’s glory. He has been reunited with Christian loved ones who passed on before him. Most importantly, he now sees Jesus face to face. That Savior that he only knew by faith he now knows by personal appearance. That’s a joy that everyone should get to experience. I realize that’s not going to happen, but you and I can help it happen for some folks if we will open up our closed lips and share the gospel.