FIRST-PERSON: At the base of the Rockies, love & servanthood amid tears
FLORENCE, Colo. (BP)--Rick Ferguson once wrote about the comfort of Christ's love in his book, "The Servant Principle":
"As a pastor, I have performed literally hundreds of funerals. I have officiated ceremonies for the saved and unsaved. I've presided over funerals for Christian families and for families who have no faith in God. The most noticeable difference between the two types of families I have witnessed is the believers' experience of Christ's love. Their comfort is visible, evident, and undeniable. When the pain of death and separation pierces the heart of the believer, the love of Jesus Christ actively, attentively, and purposefully cushions the sting and begins mending the ragged hole left behind.
"This is not to say bereaved Christians do not mourn. Their hearts ache because of the loss. Their tears stream just as heavily as they reflect on happy memories. Their lips quiver and their throats thicken and choke up as they attempt to eulogize their beloved friend or family member. The homes' hallways still echo with laughter of past joys. Favorite chairs remain empty. Pictures are still poignant reminders of the beloved's best qualities. Death is death. Loss is loss, regardless of salvation. It hurts all the same, and when you hurt, you will mourn.
"Even though the experience of death is the same for Christians and non-Christians, it is also much different. The unsaved feel helpless while a dying kin or friend struggles for life, but Christians find solace in knowing that everything that occurs does so above the caring net of God's will. The lost search fruitlessly for a purpose in death, but the saved rest in the comfort that all things, even death, serve a definite purpose orchestrated by God. When the unbeliever drops to the bed, burying hot tears in the depths of pillows and shouting blame to God, the believer drops to knees bruised from constant prayer, lifting hands in praise and shouting, 'Rejoice that God is still God!' In the bleakest hours, when death is the only certainty, the future is filled with agonizing questions, and when the stark reality of saying your final goodbye coldly slaps a stinging smack across your face, God's love is the only comfort.
"And it is sufficient."
Rick Ferguson will be missed for the very same reasons his life was so loudly and joyfully celebrated. He was a pastor to thousands. He was a pastor to pastors. He was a scholar. He was a visionary, a leader, an evangelist, a discipler, a minister, a worshipper, a prayer and a fellowshiper. More than anything, Rick was a man who loved Jesus.
It was a love for Jesus that led Rick to come to a church at the base of the Rocky Mountains still healing from past hurts. It was faith in God's clarion promise of John 14:12 -- "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father" -- that allowed Rick to look with eyes of faith and what eyes of flesh could not. These eyes of faith saw a church winning the Denver metroplex and even beyond to the Lord Jesus Christ. He saw a church of thousands giving birth to churches that gave birth to churches.
It was a love for Jesus that allowed Rick to understand and embrace his "life verse," John 15:5: "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." Rick experienced tremendous success and blessing because he understood the revealed secret that confounds so many: the hardest work is done in the prayer closet. Ministry is simply the manifestation of what has already been promised in prayer. Rick was a model and a mentor and a minister to so many because Rick lived the exchanged life. "Not I, but Christ." These were the four words that defined, described and delighted the life of Rick Ferguson.
When Rick's eternal life in glory began July 25, 2002, thousands of people across Denver, Colorado and beyond lost their pastor, their counselor, their mentor, their father, their son, their husband and their friend. In grief, many people find themselves asking, "what should I do now?"
I believe what Rick would tell you to do is what Rick always did. He would point you to Jesus.
Writing about the Upper Room in his book, The Servant Principle, Rick recounted:
"Jesus had only a few minutes left to get his message through to these selfish, thickheaded disciples. He had spent three years with them, at their side day and night, teaching them the principles of the kingdom of God and trying to get them to live and act like real kingdom citizens. Unfortunately, they were slow learners. While the reek of their feet was barely tolerable amidst their loud infighting for power, position, and prominence, it was the stench of their arrogance he found unacceptable. Finally, Jesus could stand the odor no longer.
"He silently pushed himself from the floor and walked to the basin. Most likely, not a single apostle broke from the intense discussions to observe his actions. When he returned, Jesus wore only a towel wrapped around his waist, and he carried the water basin in his arms. Without a single word of announcement or a single act of drama, the apostles' Lord dropped to his knees. He humbly placed the muddy feet of the first apostle in the basin and began to rub against the thick mess. The room fell silent as Jesus moved from apostle to apostle, subjecting himself to his servants, cleaning away both the filth on their feet and the filth of their pride and ambition. It was probably so quiet you could have heard the candlelight hitting the walls.
"As he pulled each foot from the basin, the water swirled darker and darker shades of brown, while bits of debris floated in the small currents. Jesus paid no attention to the stained water. He instead focused on the clean feet of his disciples, lovingly drying each with the towel modestly covering him. When he finally cleansed the final foot of the last apostle, Jesus looked each in the eye and solemnly stated, 'I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you' (John 13:5).
McAnally is pastor of First Southern Baptist Church, Florence, Colo.