Editorial: Life lessons from saints who passed from us far too soon

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Americans are laboring under news overload these days. Since Donald Trump took the oath of office, we’ve hardly been able to keep up with the swirl of executive orders, rules changes and appointments that are reshaping our common life together. And then, of course, the Texas Legislature is in session.

knox newMarv Knox

Directly or indirectly, President Trump’s order banning immigration from seven predominately Muslim nations prompted four opinion pieces and three letters in this week’s Baptist Standard. The Legislature’s challenge to public education via vouchers inspired another column. You should read them all.

But even in the most fraught times, the reality of life—and death—provides perspective that cuts through the clutter of politics and –isms and hype.

Our church, Valley Ranch Baptist in Coppell, knows. We’re reeling through the agony of the deaths of two wonderful, beloved middle-aged leaders in back-to-back succession. And so, this week, while politics shifts about us, I want to talk to you about Janie and Todd, because they grounded their lives in faith and touched the world around them.

Frankly, I’m slightly embarrassed to tell my stories, because I’m still relatively new to our church. Scores of other folks have known Todd and Janie for years and could tell stories with greater depth, insight and poignancy than I. But perhaps their transcendent spirits will shine through, and we will see what was true and lasting and powerful about them.

Love stories

I’ll never forget meeting Janie. We crossed paths at Tom Landry Elementary School, where we both mentored children. We recognized each other’s faces but had not met. In an instant, thanks to Janie’s warmth, we became friends. First-name, hugging friends.

Later, she parlayed that friendship—which she lavished generously on folks all over church—to good advantage. She recruited Lord’s Supper servers, and I could not tell her no. Even though that meant staying after church to clean the trays.

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And Janie often served as a greeter at the main church door or just inside the lobby on Sundays. No matter how your morning was going, you were ready to worship and study the Bible after you’d been greeted by Janie.

Todd and I met over salad. Actually, we met in Bible study class, but it didn’t take long to realize this guy was different—formerly with a big accounting firm, but then in ministry that involved training pastors in South Sudan and starting churches on the Rio Grande and loving people at his CrossFit box on the edge of our neighborhood. Early on, I must’ve said something like: “How did …? What? And why do …?” And Todd said, “Let’s meet for lunch, and I’ll tell you all about it.”

So, I learned he did indeed give up a successful business career for a varied and far-reaching ministry. Soon, Todd’s became the first face I always looked for on Sunday morning, because I felt more in God’s presence when he was across the room in Bible study or across the aisle in worship.

Well, those are little stories, but they’re love stories. They’re just one person’s version of friendship with two remarkable Christians whose spiritual imprint marks hundreds of lives.

A vapor not taken for granted

Janie declined from seemingly robust health to dire illness quickly. And although she lingered for a while, her illness progressed rapidly. Todd’s passing occurred with lightning speed. On Sunday morning, he looked like the member of our class who would outlast us all. By Monday evening, he beat us all to heaven.

Those facts are important, because they remind us this life is a vapor, and we dare not take it for granted. Although their passing shocked us all, Janie and Todd certainly didn’t take their lives for granted.

They made their lives count. They loved the Lord, and even folks who didn’t know them well could tell. They weren’t “preachy” or sanctimonious. They were kind, funny, faithful, generous and sweet.

They served others. They met needs. They shared the gospel. They lived their faith winsomely wherever they went. Like me, all kinds of people wanted to be around them.

They loved their families, their friends, their church.

Live with purpose

Well-lived lives like Janie’s and Todd’s remind us how to make the most of our days, too:

Invest your time—your life—in things that matter. Help people know Jesus loves them because you love them. Make your church and your Bible study group stronger because you’re part of them. Cause people to place their trust in Jesus because they know that’s where your trust lies, and you exude peace.

Love your family, and show it. Spend time with them. Pay attention to them. Be there for them.

Same goes for your friends. When you care for them, Christ’s presence enfolds them.

Don’t hesitate to tell people you love that you love them. They probably know it already, but they need to hear it. And you’ll never know when you won’t have a chance to say it again.

Laugh and smile and sing.

Pray for others, and let them pray for you.

Thank God for the sweet fragrance of their friendship and the lingering aroma of their memory.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss Zac Harrel’s beautiful reminder to find grace and beauty in our numbered days.

Follow Marv on Twitter: @marvknoxbs

We seek to inform, inspire and challenge you to live like Jesus. Click to learn more about Following Jesus.

If we achieved our goal—or didn’t—we’d love to hear from you. Send an email to Eric Black, our editor. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.

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