There is no way to adequately describe the emotions of this weekend. Yesterday, I was a pall bearer at the Celebration of Life Service for Dr. Bill Bowyer – likely the most worshipful memorial service I have ever attended. Almost nineteen years ago, I joined Wake Cross Roads Baptist Church and met the man who would not only become my pastor, but also my mentor and friend. After 4 ½ years serving as a church member, Sunday School teacher, evangelism trainer, etc., I came on staff and served as Associate Pastor under Pastor Bill Bowyer. For the next 10 years, I had the daily blessing and opportunity of observing his life, learning from him, serving with him, and following his example. It was from him, not a seminary class, that I learned to passionately preach God’s Word, shepherd God’s people, and proclaim the Gospel of Christ, from our own community to the ends of the earth. Whatever I am that is of value as a pastor, I likely observed and learned from Bill. Whatever shortcomings I have as a pastor, those are all mine.
Over the past week, there has been a mixture of tears, laughter, and, frankly, some numbness and disbelief. I expect that next text message or phone call from Bill. But the harsh reality is, those texts and calls will not come. Bill is gone. But, my loss (and the loss for his family, church family, friends, etc.) is certainly Bill’s gain. His faith has become sight. He is now in the presence of His Lord Jesus – the one He served faithfully and proclaimed passionately. At the graveside yesterday I could almost hear him saying, as I did so many times as we did funerals together, “Bill is not here. This is just the body-house that carried him for those 63 years. But, based on the promise of Scripture, Bill is with Jesus. The Scripture tells us, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” As I thought about that, I rejoiced. In the midst of the grief, I rejoiced. Bill is no longer suffering from the terrible pain that racked his body as a result of his cancer. Bill knew, to die was gain. But again, his gain was my loss. The Lord takes away.
But today, I couldn’t help but recognize God’s faithfulness and provision in a new and fresh way. As a church, Central Baptist , the church I am now privileged to pastor, celebrated 30 years of ministry. We called the celebration, “Celebrating 30 years, and greater things to come.” In some ways, it was tough to celebrate today in light of yesterday’s pain. And yet, in other ways it was healing. It was a great blessing to see and remember God’s faithfulness to us as a church over the past 30 years. However, I couldn’t help but see God’s faithfulness in my own life in the midst of the celebration. I realized that while God called one of my pastoral mentors and friends home (what seemed to be way too early), He also provided me another pastoral mentor and friend – Pastor Alan McAlister, the founding pastor of Central Baptist who faithfully pastored the church for its first 21 years.
For some new pastors, the idea of a relationship with the founding pastor of the church might be intimidating or unwanted. For me, it has been a tremendous blessing from our faithful Father. Pastor Alan has encouraged me. He has challenged me. He has given me the blessing of being this church’s pastor with nothing but the founding pastor’s full support. He has only supported my leadership before our people, encouraging them to follow my leadership. God has given us the blessing of serving together in international missions in Kenya 3 or 4 times already. I look forward to future opportunities as well. Every time I talk to him he tells me, “I pray for you and Melanie every day.” And I know he means it. We have laughed together and cried together. He really is a gift from the Lord as a mentor and friend.
As I thought about the grief of Bill’s death this weekend, alongside the celebration of Central’s 30th anniversary, and God’s provision of another mentor in my life, the words of Job 1:21 came to mind – “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” He is faithful. He is sovereign. He is good. My prayer is that God will use me in the lives of other young men in the ways God has used these men in my life, all for His glory!