(When I was senior pastor of Thompson Road Baptist Church, we published a monthly “TRBC Times” newsletter. This is a reprint of an article I wrote for it in July 2004.)
For several hours the Friday before Father’s Day, I sat transfixed before the television watching the funeral service for the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Not since the laying to rest of the slain John F. Kennedy has America paid such homage upon the death of one of its leaders.
Ellen and I cleared our schedules so that we could watch together the service, held in a church in Washington, D.C. From the very first word of Sen. John Danforth—who quoted the words of Jesus when He said “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25)—to the benediction, the service was emotionally compelling, spiritually uplifting, and nationally unifying. The eulogies by President George W. Bush, his father, Margaret Thatcher, and the former Prime Minister of Canada were beautiful and appropriate. Especially moving was Mrs. Thatcher’s taped tribute to the man with whom she had forged such a close friendship.
But what was most memorable about the funeral was the graveside service in California, at the site of the Reagan library. Of course, the television cameras were fixed upon every detail. Invited guests began arriving more than two hours before the service was scheduled to begin. Many of them were dignitaries, including the governor of California and his wife, many movie stars, and other prominent figures. For at least 90 minutes before the service officially began, an Armed Forces choir sang many great hymns of the faith. Most of them were old-fashioned gospel hymns and, specifically, invitation songs. Did you get that? “Just As I Am,” “Softly and Tenderly,” “Till the Storm Passes By,” and many, many more. Not one contemporary hymn was played. The music would have been appropriate in any church in America where the Word of God is proclaimed.
And the message was eloquent. The former pastor of the Bel Air Presbyterian Church in California spoke to Mrs. Reagan and the family while the nation watched. Who will ever forget the moment he opened his Bible to 2 Chronicles 7:14? Someone said it was as if God was giving America another chance to hear and to heed His call to repentance.
None of us could have anticipated this glorious demonstration and testimony to God’s grace and power. As a nation, for a week, we were reminded of our foundation of faith; we were told of our fallen leader’s God and his commitment to Him. We heard strains of the old songs of Zion wafting through our homes and into our hearts. What a glorious week it was. We can only thank God for His providential timing and for His powerful triumph, even in death.
(Ellen wrote her own regular column, “Ellen’s Corner,” for the TRBC Times, and I would like to share her contribution for July 2017):
“Against the backdrop of history, I gazed at the giant columns remaining from the Roman Forum and the Coliseum. One is struck with the grandeur and enormity of the structures. Then, as you go a short distance away to a dark, damp church basement where Paul was imprisoned, you have the contrast of the two worlds during the first century. Rulers had no newspapers, televisions, or electronic media to communicate with their constituents, so they built grand, beautiful buildings and statues to themselves to let everyone know how important they were. They provided entertainment by the gladiators in the Coliseum to keep the people happy. The games were cruel and the bloodier they were, the more the crowd cheered. A short distance away, Christians were thrown to lions for the enjoyment of the onlookers.
Paul, in his prison cell with a guard, could receive people. So, for two years, he witnessed and preached about Jesus Christ to all who would listen. With visible images of massive statues to gods, kings, and emperors all around, how could one man in prison make an impact with a message of an invisible God? And yet, with his testimony and the Holy Spirit, he saw a great church established in Rome.
I visited the Louvre in Paris, which houses one of the greatest art collections in the world. I don’t know the percentage, but a majority of the paintings were about Biblical characters or Biblical themes. I also visited Rembrandt’s home in Amsterdam, and almost all the paintings there were about Biblical characters. I wondered why this was so until I realized that people didn’t have the Bible in their language and this was the way they learned Bible stories and passed them along to others. (The King James Bible was translated five years after Rembrandt was born). The stained-glass windows in the churches also told the Bible stories. St. Chapelle in Paris was built in the 13th century, and every wall is a stained-glass panel. The panels tell the Biblical stories from creation to crucifixion and redemption through Christ. The Pentateuch, the Kings, history books, the prophets and the New Testament to John the Baptist follow one after the other. Each window, divided into arches, reads from left to right and from top to bottom.
The history of Christianity has been that of difficulties. The persecution of Christians from the first century through the Dark Ages was an attempt to mute the story of how Christ works, but it was told in numerous ways, and in the 17th century the Bible was printed for the common man. Today we have the privilege of reading His Word and knowing Him in a way previous generations could never have fathomed. Some of those beautiful buildings in Rome are crumbling, but God has promised that His Word would never pass away. It has been kept alive from creation until the present hour through various means and ways—and it will prevail until the final chapter in Revelation is fulfilled.