I spent some unexpected time on the road this week, getting home just a few hours ago. The emotional journey began Sunday afternoon when I jumped on Facebook to repost the link from my sermon earlier that morning. Then I saw the news. One of my college friends had posted that her father, Max, had died in his sleep at about one o’clock in the morning. I read the news, paused, and the memories and emotions flooded. Deb and I served with Max and Marilyn Goins in Moscow, Russia, from 1994 to 1996. A year before, Max resigned from a 20-year, stable, and secure ministry to move to Moscow and establish a Bible College to train young men and women for ministry. I was there to help him, and, in the process, he mentored me.
That relationship continued when Deb and I finished our two year commitment and returned to the States for ministry work and graduate school. Max was indeed a significant father figure in my life, and a big part of the man I am today is due to him.
While I could not attend his funeral, I took off a couple of days and drove to Arkansas to visit his bride, Marilyn, and his two daughters, whom Deb and I went to college with. The conversation was brief but rich. Before the local church pastor arrived to discuss viewing and funeral plans, I prayed with them, shared some hugs and laughs, and headed out. That was a long trip from Houston for such a short time. However, the life investment warranted the trip. Deb and I both saw the solemnity in the moments arising this week.
Max loved people and sacrificed so that others would know Jesus and grow in their faith. It was interesting, if not also providential, that 2 Timothy 4:7-8 was chosen for the closing words on the bulletin for the funeral. These short verses were among the last words Paul wrote before being executed for the faith and one of the first sections of the sacred text I set to memory. Knowing his end was near, the aging Apostle declared, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Those words apply so much to Max, and I hope they will also be for me someday.
While many ministers made short term trips to Russia when the Soviet Union fell, Max and Marilyn risked the hard choice to move there and build in the long-game work of not only winning souls to Christ but leading them in growth. I know that Max invested heavily in my life and the lives of so many others. So, we celebrate and thank God. We pray for Max’s family left behind as they wait to see Jesus and Max again on the other side of eternity.
But in addition, Deb and I feel that the baton has been passed along to us in another way. My heart has always been for evangelism and connecting people to Christ. It still is. But over the past few years, I have been sensing more and more of my need to be still and present and intentional about helping younger men coming behind me, just as Max did for me and so many others. Deb and I see that and are rising to the occasion.
For all of us, the Bible is clear that our time is limited on this earth, and in fact, James tells us that our life is but a mist or a vapor, as the old King James Versions says. So maybe times like these, filled with sadness and celebration, can also be times of challenge. The question needs to be not what people will say when I die, but how am I building into others while I am still here today?
Who are you building into today?
Who has built into your life, and how can you thank them now?