Dear Brethren and Friends, In the early morning hours of June 16, 1976, my daughter Elizabeth came upstairs to wake me as I had requested. For I had wanted to “be there” if my dear wife, Margie, somehow awakened from her swoon and was able to briefly communicate with me before she died. The nurses and doctors had assured me that she was dying of cancer and she was not in a coma, but a “swoon”—wherein she did not suffer but was still basically asleep and only groaned when the ladies had to turn her over to bathe her, etc. Elizabeth came up quickly and said, “Mother has partially awakened and you might come down quickly.” So I put on a robe and went down to where she was lying on a hospital bed in the family room. But it was too late. She never came fully back to life and alertness, and she died even as I was holding her hand there on the bed. Up until that time, that was the very worst thing to “hit” me in my entire life. I was deeply upset, perhaps more than I should have been as one understanding God’s truth. But I was still very human.
My whole life passed before me in the early morning hours of the days and weeks following her death. I wondered: “Why?”
One morning, soon after Margie died, I was driving to Ambassador College. A young man roared down an onramp onto the 210 freeway and nearly hit me, then kept speeding on ahead. Being in a very unstable condition, emotionally, I started roaring after him—I was so upset that I thought for a moment I would ram him! Suddenly, though, God’s Spirit took hold of me—and I realized I had responsibilities to uphold. I had four children to take care of. I was a minister of Jesus Christ! So, why had I briefly become so upset? Thinking about this sobered me and helped me maintain my proper balance.
Brethren, at this time in the history of the Living Church of God, I know that many of you are facing severe trials. God does allow these things to come to “test” us. But, in the end, our trials are good for us—even though it may not seem like it at the time. Recently, we have experienced the death of Mr. Pieter van der Byl. Despite the loss we all feel, we can be comforted in knowing he was given 78 very productive years of life. Mr. Fitzroy Greeman, a wonderful elder in the Caribbean, was only in his 60s when he died recently. As most of you know, Messrs. Rod King, Sheldon Monson and Harold Way are going through severe health trials. Locally, Mr. George Webb is dealing with the effects of another stroke. All around the Church, there are men and women who are facing serious health trials, and who really need our prayers! We pray that God will give all of them more time to finish the course and to do the Work which God wants them to do in this life. But we know—as I understand in my own life—that God does not give us eternal life in this flesh. A few days ago, I had a routine physical and was pleased to find out that, overall, I was in very good shape for someone who has my various health issues. I hope and pray that God will keep me able to serve you brethren for many more years. But I know that it is up to Him, not to me! Over the years, more and more, I have come to see the “Big Picture” as I often say.
It was the “Big Picture” that helped me keep my balance after Margie’s death. As I meditated and studied and prayed over and over, I realized more than ever that:
- God was still on His throne! The sun was still coming up every morning and the moon every night. The major prophetic events were still unfolding just as we had been preaching for decades. God was still hearing our prayers in many particular ways. God’s Spirit was still available.
- God’s perspective was bigger than mine! Despite my personal grief, I knew that multiple thousands were still dying all over—some of them in very brutal and painful circumstances. My wife, Margie, did not die in that way. Rather, she died peacefully in her own home with her own family nearby who loved her and prayed for her.
- The Resurrection, not the length of our physical life, is our hope! As I studied, it became all the more clear that God does not promise eternal life in the flesh! Yet there I was, still alive, and I still had the strength and the ability to give much knowledge and understanding of God and His plan to others. So I realized that I must carry on to do what I could. I found that my greatest help in this trial—as in any trial—is focusing on God and on giving myself to His very Work in every way I could! As we do so, in whatever circumstance God has placed us, we are fulfilling the very purpose for which we are called and for which we are drawing breath. This understanding helps us get our minds off the “self” and focus instead on things that are really important. I found that if I really tried to get in extra Bible study and saturate my mind with God’s Word, it gave me understanding and strength beyond anything else I could do to help me gain God’s perspective on past, present and future trials.
In Philippians 1:6, the Apostle Paul writes about his personal faith, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” So it is God’s will that each of us will be able to do our part to complete the Work that God has given us to do. If we do our part, He will keep us alive until we have “finished our course” and learned the lessons, done the Work and are ready for the resurrection to the degree we remain faithful.
Again, in Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul writes about being in “chains” and being tried and tested in many ways. He asks: “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (vv. 18–23).
In the many dozens of trials I have had to face during my 65 years in God’s Church, I have learned that the only way to face the trials successfully—and to conquer them—is to have Christ in me giving me the strength to do so. For the Apostle Paul stated: “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12–13). No matter how many ups and downs we may go through, we must come to the profound realization that nothing can turn us aside from God and from ultimate success if we walk with Christ and are able to do “all things” through Christ who strengthens us!
It is extremely broadening and encouraging to read over the examples of how God dealt with His servants down through the ages. You will see that even the most faithful patriarchs and servants of God had seemingly “bad things” happen to them. After describing how “God appeared to Jacob” and blessed him, the Bible tells us: “Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, ‘Do not fear; you will have this son also.’ And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem)” (Genesis 35:16–19). Some might wonder: “Why—if Jacob was one of the leading ‘patriarchs’ in God’s service of all time—did God allow his wife to die in a very inconvenient time and had to be buried ‘on the way’ to Bethlehem?” But, in fact, she died peacefully, after just having given birth to a child and was encouraged, hopefully, by the realization that the son would still live and be able to serve God.
A little later in the book of Genesis, God described how Jacob gave a “final blessing” to his sons before he died: “And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days: Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father’” (Genesis 49:1–2).
Your Bible then reveals that after Jacob had given his sons awesome prophetic blessings: “Then he charged them and said to them: ‘I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave that is in the field of Machpelah, which is before Mamre in the land of Canaan, which Abraham bought with the field of Ephron the Hittite as a possession for a burial place’” (Genesis 49:29–30).
So, the elderly Jacob, as he died, calmly told his sons what to do with his body and instructed them to carry on, even as he breathed his last breath. What an example! Yet some of us may wonder, from time to time, why some of our own ministers or leading members die of disease—rather than peacefully of old age? One of the greatest prophets of all time was Elisha—as most of you know. Notice what God’s Word says: “Elisha had become sick with the illness of which he would die. Then Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over his face, and said, ‘O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!’” (2 Kings 13:14).
Even the great prophet Elisha died of an illness. We do not all just die of “natural causes” without any accompanying sickness or disease. In describing the men and women of great faith, the book of Hebrews tells us: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
We do not all die “peacefully” in our beds at home! Again God describes many things that happened to the most faithful men and women of ancient times: “Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us” (Hebrews 11:35–40).
Brethren, we all need to realize that—on the whole—God allows most Church members to die rather peacefully and under normal circumstances. We are not subject to such great persecutions that we are tortured to death. We are not sawn in two as were some of those who opposed the Roman church in years past. So we must be grateful that God is being very merciful to those of us in this generation who perhaps do not have the total faith and courage to go through some of what our forefathers had to endure!
Yet, perhaps more than any previous generation, we desperately need to beseech God to put genuine faith within all of us as these trials increasingly begin to come upon us. For as God revealed through the Apostle Paul: “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7–8).
God reveals that “when the Son of Man comes” it will be difficult to find people with real faith in God. Each one of us needs to beseech God with all our hearts! For we will need faith—desperately need faith and courage—in the trials just ahead. Remember God’s direct warning in Revelation 21:7–8: “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Notice the first two of those qualities that God says we must overcome. We must not be “cowardly.” We must not be “unbelieving.” Are you boldly pressing forward with Bible study, prayer, meditation and occasional fasting, despite whatever distractions may tempt you to “take it easy”? Brethren, we must be willing to set ourselves to go through weeks or months with constant Bible study, prayer and fasting and the continual practice of “seeking God”—powerfully drinking in of His Word and crying out to Him for help and strength and guidance. Then, we must “renew” this contact with God throughout our lives. Then, and only then, will we “make it” through the trials and tests just ahead!
With Christian love,