It’s my privilege to pray every Saturday for five preachers I know and admire, as they’re putting the finishing touches on their weekend sermons. I lift up both the pastor-givers and the congregation-receivers of the expounded Word of God.
Although I love and learn from many more than five godly pastors, these are the ones covered in my Saturday prayers:
- Phil Bubar
- Erwin Lutzer
- James MacDonald
- Colin Smith
- Greg Waybright
Each of these men have, at one time or another, been Nate’s and my pastor, each one a fellow traveler and a brother-in-Christ. All of them are still shepherding congregations, and our cottage bookshelves are well stocked with books and sermon CDs by these five men, because I hate to miss even one preached message.
When Nate was sick, we conducted our own church services at home, 13 of us gathered in the living room around his lazy-boy chair and a CD-playing computer. We would listen and later talk about the teaching from one of these five men. To a great extent it’s been their faithful preaching over the past 25 years that has enlightened and challenged our family. Through their insights, we’ve been led forward, nourished through painful crises and coaxed to grow.
This morning my girls and I drove 90 minutes to attend Moody Church’s morning service for a very special reason: Pastor Erwin Lutzer was planning to preach about death and dying. All of us have had death on the brain for quite some time, Nate’s death in particular, and I was eager to hear Pastor’s teaching.
To our great delight, in his sermon he used Nate as an example of a man who died well, someone who acquiesced without protest to the surprise end-date given him by a team of oncologists last September. Nate could have lashed out in anger, turned away from God, or gotten stuck in denial by expecting healing before he died. Instead, he squared off with his own mortality and by doing so, Pastor said, was a witness of Christ.
What encouragement it brought to our still-aching hearts to hear Nate’s own words read from the pulpit today: “It’s really not about how many years a person gets. Rather its how we use the ones we have. It’s not about the number of candles on the cake but rather how good the cake tastes. If I could sign on a dotted line to get out of this, my pen would already be out of my pocket. But in the end, it all boils down to two things, just as the old hymn says: trust and obey.” (See Oct. 7, 2009 post, “A Message from Nate” or Sept. 27 post, “CANCER!”)
I remember well the evening those sentences came out of Nate’s mouth. He wanted to compose a blog post for GettingThroughThis.com, and I was thrilled he was able to put his thoughts into words so well, only two weeks after receiving his terminal diagnosis. We had gone upstairs immediately after dinner that night, as was our pattern, leaving the hustle and bustle of family downstairs. His painful back always felt better lying prone, on ice packs.
The two of us relished this private hour each evening before he got too sleepy to continue talking. We would read encouraging emails laced with powerful Scriptures, and we’d speak to each other about his impending death, the most excruciating conversations any husband and wife can have.
When he said he was ready to dictate a post, he slowly, painfully, stood up next to the bed, wanting to do it right. As he spoke the words while I typed, his matter-of-fact demeanor astounded me.
Today Nate’s heartfelt message was quoted through a microphone to thousands of people, and my heart swelled with joy to hear this witness of Christ once more. God wastes nothing, including Nate’s agonizing cancer and his earthly finish. The Lord’s purposes in our lives, even through anguish, are always meant for our good.
”We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
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And one last quote from Nate’s mouth: “I’ve been able to attend the best churches in the country and have been taught by the greatest preachers.”
Amen to that!