God has been speaking to my heart this week deeply, profoundly, and lovingly through my own devotional times and through the ministry of Dr. Richard Blackaby.
The same messages can be heard at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary website under Chapel.
As we were preparing for worhip today, I was remembering one of our saints who recently went home to be with Jesus. Caryl Borges lived a life that reflected God's love and that took her around the country and to Yemen in the service of the Master.
As she fought cancer, she did so with valiant faith. I was honored to be with her during various stages of that disease process. While I wish I had been more of a support along the way, the greatest blessings came during the last two weeks of her life as I witnessed her slipping away, but enjoying every moment God gave her with family. At the same time, she was genuinely excited about going to Heaven.
I was sitting in that seminary chapel this morning, waiting for students to arrive, preparing to sing with the California Singing Churchmen, and praying about my own ministry and the song I would sing tomorrow night. It hit me - something I never learned in seminary - one of the greatest ministries we can have as pastors is just holding hands.
Caryl gave me the privilege of holding her hand as she prepared to meet Jesus face to face. I was privileged to pray with her and to visit her numerous times during those last days to sing for and with her some of her favorite old standards: The Old Rugged Cross, Do Lord (I've Got a Home in Glory Land), In the Garden, and Onward Christian Soldiers.
We all sang and she sang as long as she could.
About 5 days before she died, it occurred to me that I was always doing the "out-loud" praying and that she was closer to God at the moment than I was. I told her that and asked her to pray for me and my ministry. She did so with her whole heart.
Not to ask a dying saint to pray is like saying, "You're done now."
She wasn't done until God said she was done - and when He said it to her, she'd let the family know. And she did.
You're not done till you're home and then it is a brand new adventure.
I was told early in my ministry to preach like a dying man to dying men as Richard Baxter said of his own ministry.
How do we do that?
Through pain and suffering - our own and that of others which we absorb with comfort. Pathos oozes into our preaching, mingles with joy, is refined by holiness, and comunicated with love. When this happens, as we walk along side others in their pain and offer our own to God in devotion, we enter into the suffering of Christ. We become wounded healers with a Word from God to those who also suffer.
There is purpose and there is comfort and with these two, there is hope.
I am a pastor, an undershepherd, I walk with my fellow sheep through their pilgrimages of pain. I join the Good Shepherd as He walks alongside them through the valley of the shadow of death.
How difficult it must have been for Mr. Dorsey, having received news of great family tragedy that night long ago, to stand and sing to the Lord. That great founder of what has been called Black Gospel Music, sang, "Lord," as the story was told on PBS, and a little lady replied, "Precious, Lord."
He went on: "Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand ... through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light ..."
Jesus is in the ministry of hand-holding and there is no more precious ministry that we can share with those who are in their own deep valleys of suffering. We are present and as we are present, we are living, fleshed out reminders that God is also present. Where He is present, there is joy in the midst of sorrow.
"And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known."
When I return to Fresno from Canada, I intend to do more hand-holding, but more than anything else, I want my hand in His.
Just to bring you up to date, Caryl finished her journey well. On her last day, she could not sing or talk, but she could listen. Her daughter was telling her stories of the life they had shared. When they got to the part about the church building program and the hard work we all did, she sighed one last sigh, job done, well done, time to come home. That was it. Her next breath was without labored breathing and it was in the presence of her Savior whom she had loved and served. She had walked through the Valley of Death with Him and arrived at the table He had prepared for her. We walked with her as far as we could and held her hand along the way.
What a blessing!
That is pastoring.