People Who Influenced my Life: Virgil Bears

He was a broken, tired, old man. Strapped to a wheelchair, with his hands cupped in his lap, his left foot slowly moved his chair back and forth. Virgil silently smiled into empty space.

For over forty years Virgil had worshiped in my small, inner city church in Pittsburgh, PA. Besides being married at our altar and raising his children in our church schol, Virgil had been an elder, trustee, and superintendent of Sunday schools. He served his God well; he served us well too. But, now, senility had stolen him from us and placed him in Allison Park Nursing Home.

Serving communion to a saint like Virgil Bears was an inspiring event under any circumstances, but today was turning out to be an extra special day: I was bringing my clerk of Session and good friend, Paul Krakowski with me. Paul and Virgil were two of my most faithful members.

While I prepared the elements, I could not help but overhear Paul speaking to Virgil. “Virgil, Virgil, can you hear me? Wink or something!”

Virgil only smiled.

Paul was not to be deterred. “Virgil, it has happened!” Can you hear me, Virgil? It has happened! Do you remember, Virgil, all those times we prayed that the children would come. . . well, they’ve come, Virgil, they have come!”

For the last year our Sunday School had grown from six children to eighty children and, in spite of the fact that it was a mixed blessing to some, to Paul it was the answer to over forty years of prayer. Virgil and Paul had given their life to a worthy dream. They had sacrificed for that dream and, in spite of the fact that one of them would not enjoy the answer to their prayers, that did not matter. No, they were willing to sacrifice, to pray, to work hard, and to let God be responsible for the results.

We need some more heroes like Virgil. Recently an article in the magazine U.S. News and Word Report gave a list of famous people Americans clearly wanted to immulate. This impressive list included such humanitarian giants as “you make my day” Clint Eastwood (#1); actor, comedian, and “diplomatic” Eddie Murphy (#2); and, thank God, Nobel Prize winner, the truly great Mother Theresa, founder of the Sisters of Charity, rated third!

But, to use the theologian Walter Bruggemann’s language, notwithstanding what most Americans think, people like Mother Theresa are the real history makers. They are the one who really change the course of history. While they may not have big cars or drive fancy cars, they are the ones who really change the way the world looks at itself. History, as it were, belongs to those who are able to obey God no matter how long it takes, no matter how much it costs, no matter how painful it may be.

Now, in 2 Timothy, we listen to Paul as he languishes in Roman jail. Writing to the young pastor Timothy Paul is trying to make sense of his life. A life that is quickly ending. Within days, presumably, Paul will die. His head will be chopped off. And Paul knew it. “I have done my best in the race,” Paul writes. “I have run the full distance, and I have kept the faith.” God help us to have such a testimony when our lives end!

I have kept the faith . . .

How will we be remembered? For buying a new car every year? Or, for leading a young person to Christ? What has more eternal value?

Paul is trying to encourage Timothy to keep his priorities straight. Timothy was the child of a mixed marriage–his mother being Jewish, his father Greek. His grandmother converted him to Christianity.

Timothy was not naturally brave, nor was he particularly strong. He needed constant encouragement. But, Paul saw his potential and called him “my son in the faith.” Paul rightly sought to invest his life in this young pastor.

And that was no small comfort for Paul as he prepared for death. The way we were. Paul, the greatest evanglist of all time is going to die. He knows it. And he won’t die in bed next to his hot water bottle too!

This is Paul’s last and most moving moment of his life. After a lifetime of service and suffering for Christ his is going to die. He is alone except for Luke. Dreams of Damascus. The way things were.

Yet there is no hint of self-pity; there are no regrets. His last word is one of encouragement to all who follow after. He is ready for death because he lived his life with no regrets. The race is over. He is ready for the reward.

“For I am sure,” Paul writes, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be abale to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Rms. 8)” Wow!

I have run the race . . . kept the faith. . .

At the end of his life, memories must have flooded Paul’s mind. What might have been. Memories of Damacus. Endless trips with uncomfortably hard beds. Shipwrecked. Snake bitten. Beaten. And what did it get him in the end? An axe!

What are you doing with your life? Are you a history maker? Are you making your life have eternal meaning?

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