The passing of friends is always difficult, especially when it is not particularly expected. Grief is a unique experience and there is no manual on how to manage grief.
Over the last week, two people I was privileged to call friends passed away. Of course I am sad – I will miss them both dearly, but as a follower of Christ I need to see the hope of Christ. Except, in this situation it is quite hard because I do not know if they were saved. I do not know if they are presently in heaven or hell, but I do know they are meeting their maker.
Call me selfish, but my reaction to their death apart from the obvious sadness is a tendency towards guilt. There were countless opportunities in my times together with them to share the gospel and countless times when for whatever reason I held back.
What if I had actually offered them the chance to respond to Jesus’ call to follow him? What if I had made more of an effort to see one of them when she was ill, would I have taken the opportunity?
The first to pass away was Rita Miller. I met Rita some years ago through the Conservative Party. A strong and traditional British woman in every sense of the description she had the toughness of a Yorkshire lady coupled with the love, care and affection that only a mother could have.
When I first turned up to volunteer in a by-election, Rita was there to guide me in my first steps in the world of politics. I got to know her over a steak following a particularly gruelling and long polling day at a by-election.
When I started volunteering in the local party, it was Rita who showed me the ropes. It was Rita who spoke well of me to senior figures in the party and helped them to trust in me. It was Rita who sourced opportunities for me that eventually led me to working for the Conservative Party and the local MP on a professional basis. Rita continued to be an invaluable source of wisdom, knowledge, enthusiasm and wit that could turn any stressful situation around and lighten the mood.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Rita for all the opportunity that she gave me in politics. However, it was not just in politics she helped me. When I came back home after studying in Glasgow I needed a place to store my rather bulky belongings. Without even asking, Rita volunteered the space in her garage for what was meant to be six months, but in the end was six years! Not once did she object to this seemingly never ending storage arrangement. Never once did she ask for a penny of rent for the space I was using.
In more recent years, as my job has become more intense with lengthy shifts, visits to see Rita have been less frequent, but I always valued our time together. Her longevity in life gave her a unique insight. She was old enough to have memories of the Second World War yet politically astute to understand and cast an opinion or two on the present condition of things. She was an instrumental figure in the local political scene, a pillar of the local Conservatives who served as an officer in various capacities most recently as President and then latterly made an honorary life vice president. Yet, despite all this she never sought political office or gain for herself. She was always keen to promote others and it was that selflessness that shone out from her the most.
Over many conversations I weaved my faith in and I shared how important faith was to me, but I’m not sure how much it ever sank in. Rita’s neighbours always took her to the annual carols by candlelight service which she not only dutifully attended but also looked forward to, so she had plenty of opportunity to respond to God.
The second to pass was Kim Coleman. I’ve known Kim for less time than Rita, but she was equally an important figure firstly in politics and then as we grew as friends. Kim was a fascinating individual. Primarily an academic, she shared a love for history with me which led to many lengthy conversations on a whole raft of topics during which I discovered she had interviewed Saddam Hussein at one stage. I expect we will never know the full extent of her academic studies or her service to the nation.
I first got to know Kim when she took on the fight to protect a natural woodland area next to her street which was going to be destroyed to make way for yet more housing. She fearlessly and tirelessly fought a campaign that included enlisting the support of ‘eco warriors’ and exposing apparently dubious practices in the planning section of the local council. Her campaign led her to seek selection as a local councillor and she served as a deputy chairman of the local Conservative association.
Like Rita, I had numerous opportunities to share the gospel with Kim. Some I took, others to my shame I let go. Kim knew I was a Christian and when her husband’s mother passed away, I was asked to lead a short service at the internment of her ashes where I took every opportunity to share the whole gospel of Jesus Christ.
The point I am making in highlighting the exploits of these two remarkable women is that regardless of everything we achieve in this life here on earth, eventually we will all die and we will all meet our maker where we will be held accountable for our actions. Those who accepted Jesus as Lord and saviour will inherit eternal life with God, those who did not will find themselves spending eternity in the fires of hell.
This may all sound a bit stark, but I make no apology for that is exactly what it is.
It is no good living a ‘what-if’ life. We need to focus on the urgency of the need to share the gospel with those who are yet to respond to it. We must never give up for plenty of people have accepted Jesus on their death bed and been saved from the clutches of the fires of hell.
The passing of these two friends causes me to reflect on whether I really prioritise the lost I come into contact with. As followers of Christ we need to remember that our one mission is to make disciples of all nations. Everything else is secondary.
I pray that when I shared the good news of Jesus Christ with Rita and Kim that something in them was stirred and that they were stirred enough to respond to Jesus’ call to them, but whether they responded is not my responsibility, for my role is simply to share the gospel with them.
If you are a follower of Christ and do not prioritise the sharing of the gospel, that same gospel which has supposedly transformed your life, you need to take a reality check. Start sharing the gospel for this is literally a matter of life and death.
If you do not yet know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour then why not? What is it that stops you from believing? Know this today that God loves you with such an everlasting love that he reached out to you and sent his only son Jesus who died for you and who was raised to life that the power of death and sin could be broken. It means that all you need to do is reach out to Jesus today, ask forgiveness for your sins, resolve to turn away from sin and he will open up new life to you and when you die, eternal life with God in heaven will be yours. The importance of this cannot be understated. It is literally a matter of life and death and if you pass up this opportunity, you may never get another one.
So, whilst I am sad at the loss of Rita and Kim and I will grieve for some time, it leads me to resolve to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with an increased fervency. Reflecting on opportunities missed, it causes me to not want to miss another opportunity to lead someone to Christ.
From the creation of life at conception onwards our life is eternal. We will live on earth and we will die on earth. Our destination will be one of two places. Either the eternal fires of hell or the glorious presence of God in heaven. That destination is entirely in our gift to choose. Which will it be for you?