What is your deepest longing? What desires have captured your heart?
I’ve been asking myself these questions this week as I have had the privilege and honor of participating with a dear family as one of my closest friends approached death and, eventually, fell asleep. These last months have been, in many ways, special. I have walked beside a brother who I deeply and profoundly respect as he has dealt with the inevitable, death. He was a mentor to me, a person with whom I could share my deepest struggles, who would always faithfully redirect me towards Christ, who would call me on the carpet when my attitude was not in conformity to Scripture (lovingly), who loved me and my family deeply. Bill died two years ago from a heart attack; however, it was not Bill’s appointed day… he was rescued from death. Since this time, Bill has consistently told me in confidence, “the Lord brought be back from death so I could be an encouragement to you, Scott, as you walk through difficulties in life and ministry…” – and these have been in abundance. Some of the deepest pain in life has been in these years. Through it, God has taught me endurance, that He is fundamentally good, and that He loves me. Bill was a significant part of that process of learning. Though I’m confident that God brought Bill back from the dead for a plethora of reasons, our family has been privileged to be one of these.
Bill made the choice to join me in planting two churches in Portland, OR – Eden Bible Church and Portland Biblical Community. In making this choice, he left an amazing church that he had served faithfully as a member, an elder, and a sent missionary (Bill and his family were pioneering missionaries in Congo, Africa for more than 25 years leaving behind a legacy of disciples that have impacted the country and continent of Africa) for more than 50 years, all for the sake of the kingdom. He has told me, on many occasions, that he has never experienced community, Biblical teaching, mentorship, equipping, and genuine service among the poor like he did in Portland Biblical Community. He called our little community “special”.
From my point of view, Bill’s life exemplified what Paul expressed in Philippians 1:
“My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body.” (Philippians 1:20-24)
I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced a brother or family like Bill’s. Bill longed for Jesus. The last few months, that longing increased. He could not wait to be with the One who had died for him. As Bill approached death, his family surrounded him with love, prayer, Scripture reading, the sharing of memories, and singing songs to Jesus. It was sweet, the way it should be for one devoted to Christ, who had loved and served him faithfully for more than 60 years.
Was Bill perfect? No – he was sometimes ornery and quite stubborn, but he knew a perfect God that had captured his heart and transformed him. His life reflected that. Up until the very last moment he could communicate, his conversations were about Christ, how good He is in his wisdom and sovereignty. He made every effort to pass on a heritage of the gospel of grace to his children, his nephews and nieces, his grandchildren, his great grandchildren – anyone who would listen.
His life and death give me hope. When I approach death, I desire to be like Bill, to have my heart surrendered and completely captured by the One who died for me, rose again, and dwells in me by the Spirit – to be found faithful as a servant of the most High God. Bill, I miss you, and I look forward to the day when we will be together again with the Lord.