Clergy Corner: Joy comes in the morning

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Rick Puls.

■ By Rick Puls / Contributed

About two weeks after my wife and I were married, we began working at a church in South Gate, California. She became the substitute church organist, and I became the new youth pastor. The senior pastor at the church was named Troy Heard. He immediately became my mentor. I knew very little about ministry and he taught and modeled how to preach, teach, care for the sick, encourage the fainthearted, do spiritual warfare, work effectively with leadership, and simply love and care for people in the name of Jesus Christ. I soaked up everything he said and did. Troy had his faults, as we all do, but he was a marvelous model of effectiveness as a pastor.
We left the church in a couple of years for another ministry, and eventually came back for a second time. About a month after our return, Pastor Troy saw a doctor because he was experiencing some weakness in his arms. After about three hours of testing, he was given unbelievably devastating news. He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, as it was often called at that time. It is the same ailment that afflicted theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Although Hawking lived many decades after his diagnosis, most people with ALS live only a few years after the onset of symptoms. That’s what happened to Pastor Troy, who died four years after he was handed the usual “death sentence” that accompanies ALS.
That began a spiritual odyssey for Pastor Troy, his family, and his close friends. After the shock of the diagnosis began to wear off, the reality of the progression of ALS became apparent. His hands and arms gradually became weaker. Suddenly, it seemed, he had difficulty walking and began using a wheelchair. His voice faded in strength and he had difficulty swallowing food. He was 6’1” and weighed about 230 pounds in the beginning. When he passed away, he weighed only 75-80 pounds. It affected his emotions also. If something struck him as funny, he could not stop laughing, and if he experienced sadness, he could not stop crying. Although his body became increasingly useless, his brilliant mind remained as sharp as always. He became so in tune with God, you could experience the presence of the Holy Spirit by simply sitting in the same room as him.
The church, his family, and his friends continually prayed for Pastor Troy’s healing. We knew God could perform a miracle if He chose to do so. We laid hands on Troy, anointed him with oil, prayed fervently for hours, read Scripture over him and claimed its promises for health, and even took him to healing services. Yet, God did not take away the ALS. Pastor Troy died, leaving his wife to raise three young children by herself. I didn’t understand how all this worked together for good, as Romans 8:28 asserts, and I still don’t fully comprehend. Yet I’m content to admit that God’s ways are infinitely higher and beyond my ways, and I can completely trust Him, even if I don’t fully understand what He does or allows.
Pastor Troy wrote a book during his final months on earth, entitled, “…And there I’d be willing to die.” In his writing, he expressed his willingness to surrender to God’s will for his life, despite not fully comprehending it. His faith in the Lord was great, and his ultimate reward for his faithfulness was even greater.
Psalm 30:5 says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” God impressed that verse on those close to Pastor Troy and it became a promise that all could cling to. Yes, we wept during the dark times of that spiritual journey. Yet the morning came, and, even though Pastor Troy was gone from us, we knew that he was experiencing an everlasting joy in God’s presence, no longer limited by a failed body. And we shared that joy with him.

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