It is perhaps one of the puzzling ironies of the human race that we tend to reflect most seriously about life after we encounter death. One would think that people would naturally treasure life and seek to get the most out of it that they could. But often that is not the case.
This past month Americans were shocked by the senseless slaughter of twelve people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, along with scores of others who were wounded and traumatized. The rational human mind cannot fathom what would motivate someone to callously and senselessly end the lives of innocent people who were simply enjoying an evening with family and friends. It is claimed that such perpetrators commit such heinous crimes to make a name for themselves. In some demented way, they take delight in causing people around the world to think about them, even if it is with unmitigated disgust.
Of course, no one attends a movie assuming it will be the last thing on earth that they do. None of the victims updated their wills or called their loved ones to say goodbye before setting off for the theater. We assume we are safe in such settings.
Numerous uplifting stories have emerged of people who willingly laid down their lives to protect their wife or girlfriend or children. It is often during the most dastardly moments of humanity that people demonstrate their highest nobility. In the case of Aurora, people had only a few seconds to decide how they would conduct themselves. Their decisions determined whether they, or others, lived. These people had no training or preparation for dealing with a madman in a theater. They simply had to react, instantly.
While the tragedy in Aurora rightly captured the nation’s headlines, there were two other deaths that also impacted me. One was that of my friend Ron Wagley. Ron was the retired CEO of Transamerica Insurance. For years he successfully led a multi-billion dollar company. However what I especially appreciated about Ron was how he spent his retirement. When he stepped down as CEO, his staff and colleagues established a fund in his honor to be used to assist worthy causes. Ron also began meeting every Saturday morning with fourteen “young guns” as he called them. These were young businessmen who wanted Ron to mentor them. Investing in these men was the joy of Ron’s life.
But Ron had another dream. He had written a book about dealing with hardships. He used the unpublished manuscript as a tool to encourage others who were experiencing difficult times. Recently I had the privilege of helping Ron get his manuscript published by Russell Media. It’s called, Finding Strength in Tough Times: A Biblical Approach to Conquering Life’s Hardships. Two weeks ago I was with Ron at the International Christian Retail Convention in Orlando where he launched his first published work. On Tuesday evening, my father, my son Daniel, Ron, and I served on a panel together. Ron had everyone in the room laughing at his dry, self-depreciating humor about being the Blackaby’s gardener and his wife doing our laundry. I insisted he give me an autographed copy of his first book so I could keep it as a reminder of his accomplishment in following through to the finish with a dream God had placed in his heart. We all returned to our homes Wednesday. Early Saturday morning Ron began suffering severe chest pains. On the way to the hospital, he died in the ambulance. It will take me some time to process that experience. What I appreciate about Ron was that he invested in the next generation and he tried to finish everything God put in his heart to do. For, just like the theatergoers in Aurora, we never know how many days of we have left.
Finally, I just learned of the death of another of great man of God: Bill McLeod. I first met him in the early 1970s when he was the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. He would meet regularly with my father and others to pray for revival. In the Fall of 1972, that for which he prayed, came. The city of Saskatoon was swept by what became known as “The Canadian Revival” that ultimately found its way into places around the world and greatly impacted my father’s church that was on its way to “experiencing God.”
Bill eventually resigned from his church and spent the remainder of his life traveling the world speaking on revival. Thirty years later, I was teaching a class at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary on revival. I learned that McLeod was in our town, visiting his son. I brought Bill into the classroom and asked him to talk to the students about his experience. This humble, gracious saint began to reminisce about being a part of a mighty movement of God. It was one of the most profound moments I have ever had in a classroom. Like the glow on the face of Moses, it was evident that this man had been in the presence of almighty God. McLeod lived to an old age. Sadly, I suppose, even the greatest of saints reach the end of their days on earth.
This past month seems to have brought an unusual focus on death to me, as well as many others. For some, like those in Colorado, death came far too quickly, prematurely, and unexpectedly. Those people had only seconds to make their final contribution to humanity. Others like Ron Wagley, had their entire working life to invest in the lives of others. He was seemingly in great health and prepared for decades of further usefulness in his retirement, but in the end, that was not the case. Thankfully, Ron kept his accounts up to date, and so when death took him, he left behind many who missed him, but no unfinished business. Finally, there are those like Bill McLeod who live a rich, long life in service to their Lord. Only heaven knows the accumulated spiritual accomplishments of such an extensive, fruitful life.
We have no guarantees on our life. I am writing this blog on an airplane. Yet I have no assurance I will land safely or return home. My life, as well as your life, is in God’s hands. What I can do is live today well. To finish the tasks God put before me today. To keep my accounts with others up to date. To not put off until a later time what I could accomplish this week. I’ve been reminded again how precious life is. May you and I live it well.