Now John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us." But Jesus said to him, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side."
Luke 9:49-50 (NKJV)
This week, a dear friend, Robert Washington, died. For over 12 years, Robert and I were encouragers for each other. Like me, Robert was a pastor, and understood many of the pressures and trials that we experience. I know I would do anything for Robert and he would fight for me, too.
I met Robert when he was between church assignments. When we met, he was struggling with the grief of ending a wonderful pastorate. Because he had no place to worship, I encouraged him to worship with us. Soon, he joined our church and began a wonderful ministry of encouragement to our membership.
His favorite work was with school-aged boys. He was our church basketball coach. Robert was about 6’4” tall and weighed about 320 pounds, all muscle, and no fat. Robert had played sports in high school and looked like a linebacker for the Chicago Bears.
With his positive approach, he helped many become athletes. More than that, Robert helped them walk with Jesus and become Christian men.
Our church was so impressed with Robert, they sponsored his seminary education. Robert was a great student and his previous experience made him a leader among the other students.
After four years, Robert helped us plant a new church in Jackson, Oak Forest New Beginnings. His ordination and commissioning service was a genuine celebration for the entire church as they acknowledged God’s call and sent Robert out. For many years after that, our church financially supported the new church start.
One thing I forgot to tell you about Robert is that he is black and I am white. The reason I haven’t mentioned that before now is that it didn’t matter to us. We didn’t see any difference. Robert and I were one in heart.
We admitted that we had different backgrounds. We also admitted we had our own prejudices. But, we had one thing in common; we both loved Jesus and wanted to honor Him with our lives.
In Luke 9:49-50, John said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” Jesus said to John, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” Like John, we often draw too many lines of distinction. The emphasis should not be on what separates us as much as what we have in common.
I like “Duck Dynasty” on television but will never grow a beard. I think others can be enjoyed without having to be identical at every point. Everyone can be appreciated when we “put a face on them” and allow them to stand on their own feet.
Both of us have been accused of being radical for our connection with each other. Calloused hearts and narrow-minded thinking often gave us labels meant to discourage and sting. But, the labels didn’t hurt because we bore another label, “brother.” That title was given to us by Jesus through His grace.
At noon today, I will go to Robert’s church and celebrate his graduation to be with Jesus! I will shed a tear and hug Diane and try to speak over my brother. I had hoped it would be Robert that spoke over me, but our Lord had other plans.
Robert has begun his worship of Jesus in heaven and I plan to join him one day. On earth, I taught Robert how to lead a church and he taught me how to shout and sway. In heaven, Jesus will teach us both how to celebrate.
Why not go out today and make a new friend? Tomorrow’s celebrations are couched in today’s conversations. I celebrate the day Robert came into my office so many years ago. It was the beginning of a friendship that will last forever.
Even now, I can almost hear Robert calling me on the phone. When I finish my delivery at Robert’s funeral, I plan to end it as he ended every phone call we had. “I love you, my brother.”
Dr. John A. Temple is pastor of Poplar Springs Drive Baptist Church, located at 4032 Poplar Springs Drive in Meridian. Visit the church website online at www. psdbc.org.