I got home on Tuesday, June 1, from speaking to a conference in Pennsylvania. One of my messages there was based on Philippians 1:21, "To live is Christ and to die is gain." The first news I heard after I got off the plane was that our much-loved choir member and former deacon, and husband and father and friend, Carl Fredericks, had suddenly died today of a heart attack.
As soon as I got home and had devotions with my family, I spoke with Yvonne, Carl's wife. She was, of course, overwhelmed by the utter unexpectedness of it all. There is no minimizing the pain. But there is the unwavering Lover of her soul. And he is a tender Rock.
Now I sit here numbed by the back-to-back departures of two of our great older saints, Muriel Sundberg and Carl Fredericks. For me, they framed the congregation visually. Bert and Muriel sat on the west side of the main floor on Sunday morning. Carl and Yvonne sat on the corresponding east side (when the choir wasn't singing). They were both of the hardy, solid, faithful stock that brings stability and strength. They both loved great music. And they both loved the people of Bethlehem. And now their places are empty. O, so empty.
I want to thank God publicly for these two gifts to Bethlehem. Who can calculate the price of a soul? Just last week the staff was away for two days of praying and fasting and seeking the Lord for the future of Bethlehem. One of the texts we lingered over was Psalm 116:15, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Another meaning of the Hebrew word behind "precious" is "costly." Both are true. To us, so costly. To God, so precious.
Why so precious? One reason is that God gave his own Son to die for Muriel and Carl. When Christ died, their death was defeated. "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV). In other words, because of Christ's suffering and the Father's sacrifice, the death of Muriel and Carl was robbed of its victory.
This means that the death of every saint is a demonstration to all creation that Christ's atoning death was gloriously successful. It was not in vain. Therefore, the arrival of every saved saint in heaven is another trumpet-tribute to the preciousness of Christ's life and death on this earth. He must (it seems to me) take each one by the hand, as it were, and lead the saint to the Father, and say, "Look! Another trophy! Another 'fruit of my travail.' Another sinner saved and soul made perfect. O Father, look what we have wrought! Is this not precious!"
And costly. O the tears of loss! No, not as those who have no hope, but tears nonetheless. I remember weeping until the heaves continued, but the eyes had no more fluid. Such is the overflowing effect of love, when it is robbed of the beloved.
Dear friends, God is speaking to us all in these sudden, unexpected and painful departures. Are you listening? I said to my family tonight during devotions: it could as easily have been me. Or you. Are we ready? O Bethlehem, are we ready? Do we trust him? Do we love him? Do we live for him? Is he our Love above all loves? Pursue him and know him. Live with him as if tomorrow you might meet him face to face.
Thank you, Lord, for the lives of Muriel and Carl. And thank for the heart-wrenching message of their precious and costly departures. O grant that we might say concerning ourselves - and because of them - "To live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
Grieving with hope,