Five years ago today (July 31), my brother died at the 58 years of age. I still miss him! I felt as though I had lost my “elder brother” of sorts. We were very close, and talked together often.
I talked with him by phone the evening before he died early the following morning.
Our conversations during the last few months of his life often focused on how we want to be remembered on earth when, at the end of our lives, with nothing but memories to look back upon and nothing but death before us. Larry wanted to remembered first and foremost as a holy man of God. To this vocation and calling, my brother was radically committed.
I remember my brother as:
#1. A pastoral theologian of grace
Larry never doubted that God “graced” us bountifully over the years in ways we could never comprehend. We were indeed, “sinners saved by grace.” The gospel song that includes these words, “That God would love a sinner such as I…” echoes our testimonies of the amazing grace of God at work profoundly in our lives. To grasp that we were the blessed, gifted, called and graced children of God was for us, overwhelming!
Even more humbling was the realization that God’s amazing grace was not only extended to us to redeem, transform and empower us, but that He extends His grace through us as we reached out in His name to serve others.
We were nothing, so we thought. But God, by His mercy and grace found us and transformed us, chose to call us and use us! We never doubted that God extended His grace to us, but what overwhelmed us was this realization that God extended His grace through us to others in need of “grace greater than our sins.”
This “Liberating Grace of God” became a theme and refrain of Larry’s pastoral and preaching ministry.
He and I were increasingly challenged to see and focus on the potential in people rather than on their problems. Even now I can hear him sing, “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater…to added affection He extends His mercy…He giveth, and giveth and giveth again.”
Larry and I talked often about “the pain of leadership.” Pain experienced when, in the exercise of pastoral or district leadership, good and godly people with whom you work and live sometimes differ, even collide, with you as leader or vision and values. We talked often and with tears in our eyes at times about the imperative to be Christ-like in our responses. We had no option but to be channels of grace and mercy to others who had honest differences with us regarding our leadership vision and values.
I remember my brother as a pastoral theologian of grace. I also remember my brother as:
#2. A powerful preacher and consummate churchman
Regardless of the ministry assignment, Larry was first and foremost a pastor and preacher. This was his DNA. He had an amazing ability to relate the grand themes of scripture to the human experiences of those who were listening. He connected. Over and over again, people would walk away from his sermons believing that Larry had spoken a word from God to them personally.
Two days following Larry’s death, Dr. James Couchenour, former chairman of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University Board of Trustees, called me. He recalled in detail the devotional Larry gave almost ten years previously to the MVNU Board. Larry had an amazing ability to intersect the gospel of God’s grace to the life conditions and human life concerns of others. He connected and brought connections! Amazing!
It was perhaps old fashioned, but for Larry, words like “loyalty, respect, commitment, faithfulness, and responsibility” to his church assignments and church leaders were not options for Larry. He was not a “lone ranger.”
As district superintendent, Larry defended his pastors, believed in the district camp, focused on local church Board development, and was intentional regarding the professional development of the district pastors. He also served as secretary of the Finance Committee of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University Board of Trustees. He relished his involvement on the Nazarene Bible College Board, and took very seriously his responsibility as a delegate to the Church of the Nazarene General Assemblies.
Eight months prior to his death, Larry traveled to Ethiopia and was amazed at what he learned from African leaders. We talked often about the mission trip he took two years prior to his death to the Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines.
During the year just prior to his death, Larry was most engaged and energized by the training that he and his district pastors and advisory board members received on “Strengths-Based Leadership” provided by the Gallup organization.
I remember my brother as a powerful preacher and a consummate churchman. I also remember him as:
#3. A passionate family man and loving husband.
His loving wife, Kathy, died approximately five years after Larry’s death. He called Kathy, “his best friend.”
Both Larry and Kathy thought that she would be the first to die. Larry cared for Kathy during her illnesses, and the increasing challenges of her Parkinson’s disease. Larry’s concern for Kathy was both deeply moving and reflective of the passionate concern he had for his beloved wife and best friend. The examples are too personal and numerous to share. Just ask Julie or Russ, Savannah or Sidney, Carolyn or me.
Just two weeks prior to Larry’s death, Savannah and Sydney were in St. Mary’s, Ohio for their annual week at the grandparents’ home. What therapy and pure delight the grandchildren brought to Larry and Kathy. They gave priority time to their grandchildren whom they loved so very much!
Just recently Russ reflected on the plans of Larry and Kathy to move to Chattanooga on Larry’s retirement as district superintendent, and to assist Russ in the new church plant he is leading. He depended on his dad for counsel not only as his DS, but also as his mentor and greatest supporter.
My brother is not longer with us. I continue to miss our discussions. I find myself, five years after his death, stating, “I need to talk with Larry.” He was also my closest friend.
Family members and friends especially remember him today, July 31, on the five- year anniversary of his death. We continue to remember him as:
#1. A pastoral theologian of grace;
#2. A powerful preacher and consummate churchman; and
#3. A passionate family man and loving husband.
Most of all, we remember him first and foremost as a holy man of God. And that he was. Well-done, good and faithful servant. You continue to be greatly missed, but your testimony and influence remains. May all who come behind you find us as faithful. Well done.