It’s been a year since my youth pastor, buddy, mentor, and friend went to be with Jesus. I’ve thought about Joe a lot over the last year, and I will remember him for a long time. I haven’t published this before, but this is what I said at his memorial service last February.
It’s a little long, but it’s what I could see in his life. I hope it encouraged someone that night and encourages someone today.
As we have seen tonight, We all have our stories about Joe. He was my youth pastor when I was younger. I was lucky enough to have him reach out to me when my parents were going through some rough times.
Joe told me the other day that he saw many people rushing to help my sister, and he knew that if he didn’t do something for me, I would fall through the cracks. I think that is how he saw most of the people in this room…as people who were very important and needed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ…a relationship that he lived out every day. Joe was the example and influence he was for so many of us because he understood that none of us are better than the other. We are all sinners in need of a Savior.
Joe knew he was not a super hero. He was simply a man who had been saved by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He knew that Jesus was for everyone, whether we were little 10 year old boys and girls, alcoholics trying to get help, students in his classes, super important businessmen, or soccer moms. To Joe, God’s love is for everyone. And he lived his life so that he would be in a position to share Jesus with whoever would listen.
For me, that meant he came over one day and brought his baseball and football cards. We went through them all and had a great time talking about sports. Then he’d take me to play basketball at the Rec center. He brought his New Testament with him in case he needed it to share the gospel with some of the kids there. He knew he wasn’t good at basketball, but he played anyway because it was his way of connecting with me and with others with the hopes of leading us to Jesus.
He would pick me and our faithful band of teenagers up for youth group in his rickety pickup truck that I just found out had an exhaust leak. We were in the back of a pickup truck breathing fumes until we got to youth group. We would play some sort of game like monkey soccer or some other crazy thing he would make up, and then Joe would share an important truth from the Bible. He may not have been a flashy preacher but he believed every word of the Bible.
Sometimes we would have special events. One time we had a lock in, where we would stay at church all night. I remember one night when we forgot to advise the police department that we had something planned and two officers barged in on our board game with their guns drawn at 2 am. They were surprised to see us there. Even then, Joe remained calm and was a great example to us.
I looked forward to youth group and church because I knew that Joe and Lisa would be there, but I can’t remember any of the messages he taught us. Except for one. The last one he taught us before he left Victory Baptist to move to Warner Robins. He shared a verse out of Philippians 1, which sums up his life. I wanted to share it with you today.
It says, For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
For Joe, to live was to know and show Christ. We all remember him as a man of love. We know him as a man who reflected the love of Christ to all around him. Sharing with others the gospel, the message that we are all in need of a Savior and that God sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins so that we…those who deserve death…can live…that was what Joe lived for. Even as he was laying in the hospital, he was telling me about his hope to lead some of his friends to the Lord.
Joe believed Galatians 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)
Joe believed Romans 5:8 – that God demonstrates His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
That is why Joe treated us like he did. He believed that God’s love reaches down to where we are at and loves us unconditionally. Joe’s love was like that, too, because for him, to live was Christ.
When the Bible says, For me to live is Christ, it means, that for as long as I live, Christ’s love will be reflected and projected to those around me through my actions. The author is basically saying, “I will be a servant of Jesus.”
That is what Joe was. That is the kind of life he lived.
But there is also a second part of that verse which says, “and to die is gain.”
Joe understood that his belief in Jesus would give him eternal life.
His time here on earth was spent serving His Savior and now he is in His presence.
His pain is no more. His tears are no more. He is dwelling with his Savior. He is experiencing the gain.
We are still here, and not having Joe with us makes us sad. It hurts. It is not fun. We are supposed to hurt. We are supposed to feel this way. But our sorrow is temporary. We will one day see Joe again if we too have placed our faith in Jesus.
A few weeks ago Joe was in the hospital preaching yet another final sermon to me.
He was quoting 2 Timothy 4, saying, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Then he said, “I’m so happy to be one who has been faithful.”
Continuing, he said, “I don’t even think of the rest of the passage that talks about the reward…you are the reward.”
2 Timothy 4:8 says that because he has kept the faith and fought a good fight and finished the race, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
I am sure that the presence of Jesus and the crown of righteousness are Joe’s reward beyond his wildest imagination. But while here on earth he thought of each of us as the reward. Getting to see God work in our lives brought joy to Joe.
We who have been impacted by Joe’s life (and there are many of us) are part of the incredible reward God has for him. Knowing we are following the path he tried so hard to teach and model for us was of great importance to him.
May we always strive to be those who hold fast to the end.
Reminds me of Philippians 4:1, “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.”
So our challenge now is to do what Joe did. Believe that Jesus died for us on the cross and was raised again. If we believe that we are saved. To live will be CHRIST in us.
If we say we believe that, may we live our lives in such a way that we can say, like Joe, for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
I’m sure that is what he wanted for each one of us.