I consider myself a lifelong learner. Truly, if I discovered an oil well on my property tomorrow, I would go back to school and learn about subjects that interest me.
It seems to me there are three, maybe four types of activities you can do in your spare time. We will exclude working, unless you are fortunate enough to work in an activity that provides you joy. I would say that you could spend your time exercising your mind, your body, your creativity, or just simply being entertained. I believe Americans spend way too much time in the last category. If you doubt me, just look at the number of hours Americans spend watching television per week. We just want to sit passively, and be fed a constant stream of meaningless brain candy. If you don't know who Honey Boo Boo is, consider yourself lucky, and for heaven's sake don't go looking for her.
I must admit that I fall into this habit as well. I don't read as much as I once did. I have a stack of five or six books on my nightstand just waiting for their turn. Not that all my books are deep and meaningful, but most are nonfiction, and many of them deal with history of one sort or another. I do have my favorite historical authors; McCullough, Keegan, Ambrose, Hanson, and even on the fictional side of history, Steven Pressfield. I like these guys because they know two things, they know their subject, and they know how to communicate.
I have only run across a few people in my life who were this way. I had a political science teacher in college who just loved the subject, and wanted nothing more than to pass that passion on to his students. The other person gifted in this way was my pastor, John Withem.
John loved what he did. You could see it in every aspect of his life. You could almost feel it when he was talking about his relationship with God. John had those same two traits; He knew his subject, the Lord, and he knew how to communicate.
I was always in awe of how John could quote scripture for seemingly any situation. No matter what challenge, crisis, or achievement you were encountering, John could equate what you were feeling to a situation somewhere in scripture. Not that John was a one trick pony. There are plenty of people who know their scripture, it seems that some of them have just memorized the parts that make them feel good about themselves, or they use scripture to cover their faults.
John used the Bible not only to convey the good news, he used it a diagnostic tool for his own life and the life of his church. If there were problems or challenges in the church, or in his own life, John turned to scripture for the right path to follow. This principle was never more on display than in John's battle with cancer.
I won't try to tell the story of John's battle with pancreatic cancer, a battle that he certainly should have lost almost two decades ago, it is far too personal. I would however like to use it as John might have, as a teaching moment.
How many of us have been granted a second chance by God? You know the one I'm talking about. That time when you pleaded for that situation to change. That time when you promised to give your life to Him if He could get you out of these circumstances, yea, that's the one I'm talking about. Now, I want to point out that God isn't some cosmic game show host playing let's make a deal. However, I do think He would like us to make the most out of the situation we face. I have been through enough of these challenges now that I try to get past the 'why me?' phase, and go straight for the 'Lord, what do you want me to learn from this?' phase.
I know many of us were praying for John to be healed so we could keep him with us, but that is not what happened. With the help of some wonderful words from pastor Leonard, I am past the why, and I am now trying to figure out what God wants me to learn from this. Here is what I have gathered so far.
John was placed into each of our lives to be an example. Each of us will pull some deeper meaning from different parts of John's life, but one unique aspect of John's character will be the example God will use to make us a better people.
For me, it will be John's perfectly positive attitude. I can be a glass-half-full kind of guy. In fact, I have a tendency to try to find out what happened to the other half, and see if there is anyone who needs to be held accountable for its loss. John would put his arm around me and say with a smile, "Walt, isn't it great you have half a glass to drink? Imagine how good that is going to be when you are really thirsty? You know, I wonder if you could find someone who really needs a drink right now and share your half with them?"
That will always be John for me. No matter where you were in your life, on the top looking back down the hill you just climbed, or upside down at the bottom after a terrible wreck, John would ask, "Isn't it great that God is right here with you? Isn't it great how much He loves you, and that He wants the best for you? Let's get back up and start climbing again, c'mon, I'll climb with you."
Some of you will take John's strength. Some of you, his seemingly infinite compassion. For others, it will be John's love for his family, his church and most importantly, his Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Each of us will all take bits and pieces from John's life. If we infuse these into our lives, we will be better people for it.
I guess in the end, as we head off to celebrate John's life this afternoon, I do not look on John's passing as a sad or mournful time. Although I'm sure my eyes will fill with tears a few times today. I look upon John's passing as more of a challenge. What am I going to do with the second chance God has given me?
If I ever falter, or start to wonder what God wants my life to look like, all I have to do is remember my friend, my pastor, my example, John Withem.
God bless you my friend, I will see again one day.