Do you ever wonder how things work in Heaven? Will we all stand in line to receive our rewards and crowns? Or will they all be wrapped up nice and neat and placed on our bunk just like our badges and tee shirts are when we first get to summer camp?
If we have to stand in line, do you get to pick who you stand next to? I mean, I try real hard to do lots of things well, but there are some men and women whose dedication and commitment put me to shame. I’d feel real unworthy standing next to them.
We are losing our World War II veterans to the tune of almost one thousand each day. These heroes who endured so much, yet demanded so little, act as if their selflessness was no big deal. Each one that passes takes with him a legacy of commitment that is uncommon in my generation. They seldom talk about their experiences, and act as if the sacrifices they made for others was no big deal.
That generation also produced some spiritual giants, some grand soldiers of the cross. They gave, they served, and they went quietly to their reward.
One of those old soldiers lived in Chicago. He and his wife worked in factories to support their family, but their lives were spent reaching out to the boys and girls in that vast city. They knocked on doors and hauled children to church on big school buses long before bus ministry was popular.
They were the Sunday School teachers, too. They visited the kids on Saturday, picked them up early on Sunday, taught their Sunday School class, then took them all back home. All while working five, six, and even seven days a week.
When they had to work all week without a day off, on Sundays they would ride the city bus to church during their lunch break so they could still teach their Sunday School class.
When they retired from their jobs in the factory, they moved to a little town in Tennessee. Not the type to push their way into a position or to boast of their experience, they joined their new congregation and worshiped each week without fanfare. One day their new pastor happened to talk to their old pastor and learned of all the experience they had in ministering to children – so, though retired, they accepted the challenge of reaching children in this small town with the same love and fervor that had marked their service during all those years they spent in the big city. Sundays and Wednesdays, these senior citizens were surrounded by dozens of children who could hardly wait for church to start.
Nearing his 80th birthday, this unusual children’s minister told his pastor that he felt it was time to pass his work on to someone else. So the pastor appointed a new leader and the old soldier, once again, retired.
Things rocked on for a couple of years, but a tragic and sudden sickness took the life of the popular and capable children’s minister who had taken his place. The loss was a horrible blow to both the pastor and the congregation. When the news reached the old soldier, he called his pastor. “Don’t you worry about children’s church,” he told him. “I’ll take care of it until you find the right person. But until then, don’t you worry about it.” Now in his eighties, the old soldier took charge one more time, and gave his pastor and church time and space to heal.
As a crisp autumn wind cooled the Tennessee hills last Sunday evening, God sent His angels to gather the soul of the soldier who had served Him so faithfully. It was fitting that God chose to call him home on a Sunday. Come Thursday, this friend that I’ve been privileged to know and admire for these few years will be laid to rest. We won’t be able to call him back the next time we are up against the wall, but there are countless men and women ready to rise to the occasion because of his life and example, and the lessons they learned from Brother John Fish.
Brother Fish, you were loved and respected for the faithfulness, commitment, and love that you lived every day. Although you and I never attended the same church, I was blessed by your life, and you encouraged me more times than you know. So rest in peace. You deserve it. I look forward to seeing you again inside those pearly gates.
But when I get there, please don’t get upset if I don’t stand next to you in line.
Note: Brother John Fish attended the First United Pentecostal Church of Camden, Tennessee. Brother Marty Johnson is his pastor. Please keep his wife, Susie Fish, and their children in your prayers.