Psalm 115:1 "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
On Monday, April 16th, I was informed that a friend of mine had gone missing from his home in Russellville, Alabama. His name was Jeremy "Skeeter" Patterson. For over 48 hours, authorities, family, and friends searched, made phone calls, and aired reports of his disappearance on TV as well as in the newspapers. On Wednesday morning, April 18th, I was in my office at the church when I received an instant message that they had found Skeeter. It would not be too unusual for Skeeter to go wandering off with some buddies for a day or two, so I didn't think much about him missing at first. When I asked if he was alright, the person informed me that he was not. I asked if he was hurt, in the hospital, or was he even alive. The response I received was that they found him, and he was dead. He had hung himself from a tree not very far from where he was living. Skeeter was only 39 years old.
Seeing those words on my computer screen caused my heart to sink to my stomach. For you see, Skeeter wasn't just another buddy, he was a friend. Skeeter had experienced much in his life; he grew up most of his life without his mother, being raised by his father in rural Phil Campbell, Alabama. Skeeter lost his father to a massive heart attack only a couple of years after getting out of high school. After his father's death, Skeeter inherited the house in which he and his father lived, and it became a place for anyone who needed somewhere to stay. During this time, I lived with Skeeter for over a year or so, coming and going, as many others did also. Nonetheless, Skeeter's door was always open if you needed a place to stay and he had food to eat if you were hungry. Skeeter had such a kind and caring heart toward his friends. If you were Skeeter's friend, you were his friend without any catches at all!
After hearing of Skeeter's death, I spoke to some friends of ours to see what I could do to help. A friend (who is now a pastor as well and had also lived with Skeeter at one time) asked me to help with the funeral service. I was thankful to be asked to speak at my friend's funeral, but I also pondered on what to say on that day. I never imagined in a million years that I would be speaking at Skeeter's funeral. As I traveled from our current home in Tennessee down to Alabama, my mind raced back to us hanging out together, playing horseshoes, grilling those big steaks from Marty's meat market, and going camping together on the Buffalo River. He was more like the older brother I never had. But, my mind also wondered, "Why?" Why did he take his life? He had so many people who cared for him and would have helped him if they only knew he needed help. I thought to myself (we had lost contact in the last few years), I would have helped him in any way I could. What about his daughters that he leaves behind-- what kind of life will they have without knowing their dad? They won't get to know him as I did; they won't get to enjoy his friendship, his smile, and the camping trips.
The funeral was Friday, April 20th in Russellville, Alabama at Spry's Funeral Home. When I arrived, I was greeted by many friends--some I had grown up with, though I hadn't seen them in over 15 years. It was almost like a class reunion, yet in a sad way. The Lord gave me grace as I preached from 2 Corinthians 5:21, on "Christ Being Our Substitute." I assured those in attendance that it was only by God's grace that they were not there attending MY funeral. I shared how God had given those in attendance the grace and ability to come and hear the word of God on that day. The other pastor friend, Brian Scott, stood and declared from God's word on "Standing Upon the Rock"-- that Rock being Christ Jesus. I believe in my heart without a doubt that "Jesus and Him crucified" was preached that day!
Now, fast forward two weeks after the funeral... I was checking my Facebook page yesterday when I ran across a post from a friend of ours who attended Skeeter's funeral saying that the Lord had "saved" him. I messaged him to let him know I would be praying for him and his family and this was his reply:
" I just want you to know that you and Brian really opened my eyes at skeeters funeral. Before that day I was 100% of the devil. I deleted you and anyone else that posted anything about god on Facebook. Hadn't been to a church service years. Didn't want to talk about god or hear anyone talk about god at all. I would avoid people I had been friends with all my life so I didn't have to hear it. I sat there that day and listened and said you hard headed fool that could be you up there in that little box. I said right then and there I didn't want my child to go through life wondering if her dad made it to heaven. My heart was so heavy I cried all the way to the house. I called Brian that afternoon and talked to him. He made me promise that I would come visit his church. I did The lord saved me and I have felt the weight of the world come from me. I love you and I thank you."
Upon receiving this message, I did what any good Baptist preacher would do-- I shouted, "Hallelujah!" Only God can give a sinner a new heart! A man who once hated God has now received a new heart and a love for God. What an encouragement to know that God took a tragic situation and brought glory to Himself by saving a sinner by His grace. It was all because of the simplicity of preaching the gospel of God's grace. I rejoice with this new brother in the faith. I also encouraged him to keep his eyes upon the Lord and find a local church where the Bible is faithfully preached and taught.
As I reflect on the last few weeks of my ministry, I see God bringing glory to Himself through every and all situations in the life of His creation, just as He has ordained it. I am humbled and honored that the Lord chooses me in order to use me for His honor and glory! This reminds me of the verse I posted; this is not about us, but "to God be the glory!"
For all my friends and family from P.C. or wherever you are reading this from, although I rarely speak to you in person, know that I am here for you, whether you just need to talk or need me to listen. I am only a phone call away. May God's grace be upon you and if you do not know God through His Son Jesus Christ, I urge you to seek Him!
Sola Deo Gloria!