April 22, 2012 has now become one of the most important dates of my life. My mentor, pastor and spiritual father, Roscoe Adams, went home suddenly to be with the Lord. How a black man who grew up in the segregated Deep South (old enough to be my father) would be come the most significant spiritual influence in my life is something only the gospel could bring about.
Ironically, the day he died was a Sunday. I saw him that morning in church just before the service started. As was his custom, he gently laid his hand on my shoulder and said, “How you doing this morning?” With Roscoe there was never a cliché tone to that question. He genuinely meant it and genuinely wanted to know the answer.
That service was providential for at least two reasons: 1) Our mutual friend, Dave Shive, preached a fine sermon (Roscoe always loved Dave’s teaching) and 2) The last song we sang (and more importantly, the last song Roscoe ever sang) was “Give Me Jesus.” As I look back on that service, now more than ever I see the sweetness of God’s providence. Roscoe got to hear his dear friend preach, and the last line he ever got to sing was “And when I come to die, just give me Jesus.” Just a few hours later, he laid down for a short nap and received what he asked for.
His precious wife of 48 years, Queenie, is the one who has no doubt suffered the most. Her faith is strong, and she has continued to pour herself into her children and grandchildren. Her two grown sons would have made their dad proud in the way they have served their mother, and I cannot even imagine their sense of loss since Roscoe died. I say all this ONLY to prevent you from getting the wrong impression. There are people much farther up on the pecking order whose grief if far more pronounced. I have to remind myself of this in my darkest moments. But I do feel compelled to share a few of the thoughts that have emerged in my mind these past 3 months. This first point is simply a declaration of the powerful emotional effect of Roscoe’s death. Please know this that I’m simply trying to be brutally honest in this first post. I will share some more forward-moving principles in the coming days.
I have for the very first time actually found myself with a new thought- What was it like for Timothy (or Titus) to lose his Paul?
Think of the affection Paul had for Timothy. And since we don’t have Timothy’s letters back to Paul we can safely infer that it was a mutual affection.
To Timothy, my true child in the faith (1 Tim 1:2)
This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child (1 Tim 1:18)
O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. (1 Tim 6:20)
To Timothy, my beloved child (2 Tim 1:2)
As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. (2 Tim 1:4)
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1)
Do your best to come to me soon. (2 Tim 4:9)
That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord (1 Cor. 4:17)
But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. (Php 2:22)
As I read each verse carefully, I am struck with this fresh thought: Timothy likely looked over these words again and again. I wonder if he ever thought, “How can I do this without Paul?” While I can’t prove it emphatically, I would confidently guess that he did indeed ask that question.
I had Roscoe in my life for fifteen years. Now I can see that God intended me to have a spiritual father from the first moment I started in the pastorate. And let me say this boldly- I NOW SEE THAT HAD ROSCOE NOT BEEN THERE FOR ME I WOULD HAVE LEFT THE PASTORATE. That was a stunning realization to come to. Something that always lurked in the unconscious recesses of my brain has erupted to the forefront of my mind in high definition clarity.
Until I was a pastor, I had never realized just how sensitive I was. After a while the criticism really began to get to me, and it would always bring me face-to-face with Roscoe.
“Roscoe- this is getting hard. I’m not sleeping. I’m irritable. I’m just feeling worn down.”
With pure compassion in his eyes, “I know, Greg. I can tell how much this is taking a toll on you. How’s Lisa doing?”
From there the conversation would vary. Sometimes he would urge me to “man up” and just serve Lisa and the kids. Other times he would just listen and absorb the hurt with me. Almost always he would just simply remind me of who I was because of the gospel. But always- WITHOUT EXCEPTION- he would hug me and say, “Greg- I love you like a son.”
I miss him so much that it almost physically hurts sometimes. He always had my back. He always supported me. And he always brought me back to the gospel.
Just knowing that Timothy experienced this kind of grief (and probably in a more profound way) helps me a great deal. In the next couple of posts, I want to share some things I’m learning about how to move forward when a a pastor loses his pastor.