Twenty years ago today, my dad went home to be with Jesus.
While I wasn’t there when he died, the Lord honored him with a pretty remarkable sendoff.
My dad was raised in a Catholic home, but became “born again” around the time I started high school. He became a passionate student of the Bible, and for many years co-lead the Christian Businessmen’s Bible Study in our hometown of Boardman, Ohio. He served faithfully on the Board of the ministry charged with feeding and housing the homeless in nearby Youngstown. He had been asked to become a national speaker for CBMC near the end of his life, but developed heart problems and colon cancer shortly thereafter and was unable to travel.
Throughout his life, he was actively involved in the ethnic church where he was baptized. One of his passions was teaching the Bible to his fellow Roman Catholics. He developed a popular course in which participants could cover the entire Bible.
On his last day, he had the opportunity to go to his favorite breakfast place with my mother (Bob Evans)…although I suspect he would have enjoyed Chick-fil-A had they made their way into Ohio in the early ’90s. They then went to the church near their home where he taught. A woman who was active in my father’s Bible Study had died, and her family had asked him to deliver the eulogy at her funeral.
My dad finished the eulogy, looked at my mother, stepped down from the pulpit and died at that very moment of a massive heart attack, right at the foot of the altar, in front of the cross.
While I was obviously bummed about temporarily losing my dad, I couldn’t help but be happy for him for achieving his life’s goal…getting the opportunity to meet Jesus. I thought it was incredibly cool that he was called home while doing what he loved in God’s house.
His outlook on life was pretty much summed up in Philippians 1:21-23…
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
He made quite an impression on my wife when he was excited about having had a heart attack because to him it meant he was getting closer to meeting Jesus. He wanted to meet Paul next, because he had a laundry list of questions he hoped to get clarified about the Epistles.
Clearly, seeing the way he lived over the last twenty years of his life made a big impression on me and my family.
Friday night, I was hobbling back into the hotel after having the opportunity to speak at the Joni and Friends’ Global Access Conference thinking that I’m getting the chance to finish the work that my dad started. He never got to go on any speaking trips before he became too ill to travel.
A couple of months ago, I was digging through one of those cabinets where one hides old news clippings and found an obituary written about my dad in the Catholic Exponent. While my dad was a teacher for a time, his primary career was as a broadcaster. He had a classic, deep voice for radio, and was an early rock and roll DJ in the late ’50s. He later went on to start the telecommunications department at Youngstown State University, launching a public radio (WYSU) and television station (WNEO/WEAO). After he retired, his last job was working for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, helping to grow a cable television station started to reach people in his area who couldn’t get to church.
Two entirely different upbringings and career paths, but yet we ended up with pretty much the same task in the Kingdom, separated by a generation. I do wish I’d inherited his voice and his skills as a baseball player as opposed to his sensory stuff…he hated long-sleeve dress shirts because he didn’t like how they felt, and I have the same issue, but with collared shirts and ties. Coincidence? It’s clear to me that God orchestrates our paths.
While I’m glad to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my dad’s homecoming this weekend, there are only two things I’m sad he missed out on…getting to know his grandkids and being on the team for keyministry.tv and our Front Door online church. He was quite the “techie” in his time, and he would freak (in a good way) if he saw the technology that’s available for sharing the Gospel with families impacted by disability.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to take the next step with the work God gave my dad to do and mindful of trying to be as good a model for my kids as a spiritual leader as he was. I do think it would be pretty cool if I could be serving somewhere when it’s my turn to meet Jesus and hear what he unquestionably heard twenty years ago today…
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”