Originally written July 29, 2010
I heard a saying once, that the only guarantee we have in our life is that we’ll always have taxes. Another person told me once that we can always count on the government to tax us to death…they’ve even created a “death tax.” I can see where they’re both coming from, but I’ll add one more guarantee in life to those…death. Death is a natural part of every life, human or otherwise. Every living creature on this Earth has been moving toward death since the very instant God first breathed life into it. You and I are no different. We will all die when God calls upon us in that final moment.
In the course of my career as a Firefighter and 911 dispatcher, I have seen and experienced death far more than I care to recount. Everything from the old and infirmed to the young and vibrantly healthy. Expected deaths from long-term illness, sudden deaths due to unforseen medical issues, sudden loss due to accidental trauma, and even violence. Death awaits us all in one form or another, and we NEVER know when it calls our name.
Within the last week, two people whom I knew passed away. The first was a man of God…served in the church and no doubt helped to plant countless seeds for Christ. I had an opportunity to visit with him in the hospital before he died…one final time. He had been ill for over a year, and we hadn’t seen him for several years. I knew he was ill, but quite honestly we weren’t close enough friends that he was on my mind much. I’m very saddened to admit that he was “out of sight and out of mind.” My heart aches and weeps knowing that, and it hurts me to admit it openly.
I do so, though, in the hope that you learn from my mistake. You see, I had the opportunity to visit with him one last time in his final days…when I got the call that he was dying, I was told that he wasn’t expected to make it through the week. I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity. I was so wrapped up in what I had going on in my life that week, that I put it off, saying to myself, “I’ll go tomorrow.” Four “tomorrows” came and went. He died without me ever paying him that visit. I wasn’t able to comfort him as a brother in Christ…to reassure him and his family that his life on Earth made an eternal impact for God’s glory. He knows that now, because he’s sitting with God right now, but I will regret that decision, and my soul will cry out for forgiveness every day for the rest of my days.
The second guy was someone with whom my only interaction was minimal at best. He was an employee of a local grocery store…the guy who brings the shopping carts in off the lot. I only shop at that particular store when I’m on duty at one particular fire station close to that store…maybe two or three times a month. I never knew him except to know that he ALWAYS had a smile on his face…was always very friendly to us…struck up conversations with us, going out of his way to just talk with us. He struck me as a man who was never afraid to work to support himself…he seemed to take pride in his work, and to take pride in developing relationships. He told me once that he used to be a college professor, I think. Very educated and well spoken…up to date on current events. He was a pleasure to be around, and brought a smile to my face many times. I will truly miss him.
He died alone in his home. In the heat of summer, with no air conditioning. His absence went largely unnoticed for four days. He was found by police responding to a request by his employer to check on him after he failed to report for work and phone calls went unanswered. Alone. No family to comfort him, he was hot, uncomfortable, suffering, in distress. Alone.
I don’t know if he had a relationship with Christ or not. Why not? As a child of God, my command from Him is to spread the Gospel of Christ to EVERYONE I come in contact with. I failed this man. I will regret that, and my soul will ache every day for the rest of my days. It’s too late to impact his life for eternity, but I pray that I will be a better child of God from here forward, never missing an opportunity to share Christ. I pray that you will learn from my failures. I pray that you will be strengthened from my weakness.
The lessons I want you take from this message are these:
1. Your time on this Earth is limited. Nurture the friendships and relationships you have. Grow them and stay close to those you love. Never miss an opportunity to share the love of Christ with others. Never miss an opportunity to be with a friend, no matter how close you are, during his final days. You only get one chance to get it right. Family and friends are the most important things, second only to your relationship with Christ. Don’t ever forget that.
2. Always treat others with respect. No matter how different from you they are. Everyone has a story, and every person on this planet is created in God’s image…worthy of your love. Your time. Your respect. If God can love every person equally, we can certainly try. So many times I blew off that shopping cart guy. Wrapped up in my own selfish needs, I brushed him off so many times. Oh, how I could have shown him so much more love. So much more respect. So much more time. He probably would have still died alone in his home…my talking with him may not have changed that. But it may have. I won’t know until I stand before God to answer for my time here in this life.
You’re not always going to get it right, but my prayer for you is that you learn from my mistakes. I pray that my time here impacts your lives for eternity…for Christ. I love you.