Monday, July 9, 2012

Precious in the Sight of the Lord

The title of this post refers to Psalm 116.15, which reads in its entirety, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."

I received an email notification tonight that Norm Glewwe, a pillar of faith and leadership at Riverview Baptist Church passed away.  Norm had been battling cancer for, I think, a couple years now, and God finally saw fit to ultimately heal him of his ailment.  I've been reflecting on Norm and his life (what I know of it at least) tonight, his ministry in the church, my own interactions with him over the years, and mostly how the process of his death has affected his family.  I've stated before how I've recently developed a friendship with Matt Glewwe, Norm's youngest son.  Matt and I grew up together in the church, although we were never friends until more recently.  We found that we had a lot in common, given that we were both false converts throughout the majority of our lives, and only more recently came to be genuinely converted.  A lot of my reflection on Norm's life and death has been in the context of my relationship with Matt.

Norm and Matt lay carpet squares during
Phase 1 of the Century 2.2 Project.  Note
Norm's bald head, as he was doing this
work during his cancer treatment process.
But I do have quite a few memories of Norm as well.  Norm was one of a few guys who volunteered to lead the Boys Brigade program when I was a young boy.  I remember him calling the boys to "fall in," and we'd all stand in our age-appropriate groups, which when they all came together, formed a square.  Norm would then call out, "Attention!" and we'd all stand at attention.  When our postures were all to his liking, he would call out "At ease," and we would relax, separate our legs, and put our hands behind our backs.  Boys Brigade was a great time for me when I was a kid.  I don't recall ever having Norm as one of my direct leaders (I think he was the Battalion leader, the group for teenage boys), but he was a big part of my Boys Brigade experience as a kid.

I also remember Norm as being a guy who was constantly involved in leadership at the church.  He served on several boards and committees, and even chaired the Church Council a few times - a position he held at the time of his death.  He definitely had a lot of experience that gave him insight into the business matters of the church.  For instance, I think I can soundly say that Riverview's recent building project would not have gone as smoothly as it did, had Norm not been a part of it.  He was a wealth of knowledge and experience, and had several contacts within the construction and architecture fields.  Even when Norm was in the midst of battling cancer, he was getting his hands dirty and helping out wherever he could.

Norm and his wife Barb also spent some time on the mission field when they were younger (Cameroon, maybe?)  Norm recently relayed a story to me about always being able to get liver to eat on the mission field.  Recently Matt and I split a portion of a side of beef with one another, and Norm offered to take the liver, since neither Matt or I wanted it.  He said that he had always had liver as a kid, and that, on the mission field, whenever there was beef to be had, all the "good" cuts were bought up quickly by the locals, leaving only undesirable parts of the animal left, like the liver.  Norm said that he always got the liver, and since he liked it as a kid, he always enjoyed in on the mission field.  Pretty soon the locals (who apparently never considered eating the liver) asked him what he was doing with it.  When he told them he was eating it, they became curious and tried it for themselves.  They soon found out they liked it, and pretty soon when the beef came in and was bought up by the locals, Norm found himself without the liver too!

Norm and Barb were the most faithful Sunday School teachers I've had as volunteers during my tenure as the Pastor of Christian Life and Growth at Riverview.  They taught the 4-6 year old Sunday School class every week up until just a few months ago when Norm's health wouldn't allow him to get up and around as much as he had previously.  Their dedication to some of the youngest kids in our church will certainly have a long-term influence on the spiritual destinies of those they ministered to.  Speaking for myself, my Sunday School teachers that I had at young ages were instrumental in the process of my coming to faith.  I believe it was the foundation that was laid in me as a child through my early spiritual education that God ultimately used to draw me to repentance and faith.  By God's grace, this will be the case for many of the kids whom Norm and Barb have taught over the past 10 years.

Norm's condition had been worsening for a while over the past few months, and I think he and his family knew that they were coming to the point of his death.  This was certainly made evident over the past two months or so.  Throughout all of this process I have had the chance to interact with Matt about what he was thinking about his dad's decline, and how he was praying through the whole situation.  Matt recently told me that he was at peace with the whole thing, and that he was actually encouraged through the process of watching his dad slowly decline, because everything he was reading in scripture about life and death screamed out hope, and served to accentuate the promises of God.  Indeed, this is truly a monumental theme in scripture, and it is one that we can all latch on to.  We are not people without a hope!  We have a faithful God who is not slack in keeping his promises.  They are so sure that we can even die in confidence.  It has been a blessing for me to be able to talk through some of these things with Matt.

As Matt and I have gotten to know each other more and more over the past few years, so have our families.  My kids know his kids.  Tonight I explained to Han and Ferg that their friend's grandpa died today.  Jamie said, "Oh no," in a genuinely concerned tone.  But then I got to tell him the good news that this wasn't the end for Norm, and that instead of living here, now he gets to go and live forever with Jesus.  We ended the conversation by praying for Norm's grandkids.

I started this post by quoting Psalm 116.15, which when examined in context, seems a bit out of place.  The psalm talks about how the world is closing in on David and he is near death.  He calls out to the Lord, and God miraculously delivers him from his near-fatal circumstances.  His life is restored, and he honors God as being the one who is able to do all things, including save him from death.  Then, in verse 15 we get this: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  Huh?  The whole psalm is about how God rescues David from death, and how grateful David is to God for preserving his life, and then "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints"?  How does that fit?  Here's how I think it fits:

David realizes that his life is totally and completely in God's hands - God can sustain his life, or he can take it away.  In David's case, God preserved his life and allowed him to live.  For this, David praises God.  But, had God chosen not to preserve David's life, he would have died.  I think David's saying he would have been OK with this.  In fact, if he had died, David says "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  It's a general recognition of God's common grace, and God's sovereignty over the affairs of life.  Only when we realize that God is who he is, and he does what he does because of who he is, can we look at life - and death - and be OK with it.  Should we pray that God would preserve life?  Of course, and we should praise him when he does.  Should we curse God when he does not?  No, because God is sovereign, and if we realize that, then we can affirm that "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."  When we realize God's sovereignty and good purposes that he works out for his good pleasure, the whole ideas of life and death seem to be somewhat puny.  What is life and death compared to the sovereignty of an all-wise God?  He can and will do as he pleases, and he always does everything for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  So then, if God preserves life, we praise him; if God takes life, we praise him, and we say, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.

Verse 16a says, "O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant."  We submit and glory in God's perfect will for our lives (and deaths), and God delights in those who will trust in his word, even and especially in the dying process.  I believe Norm Glewwe was a servant of the Lord, and that his death was precious in God's sight.

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