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If you were touched by John and his life or ministry, consider sharing this. Obviously, I want this to honor John’s legacy as much as possible. So, if this article echoes your heart, consider passing it along. For God’s glory alone was John’s life lived.
A Typical Friday Morning
It was a typical Friday morning, just like any other. We have our elder meeting every other Friday and they are always a pleasure. The delightful smell of freshly ground coffee, the sight of snowflakes falling from a grey sky outside the window, and the company of my mother and long-time friend, Steve. My son nestled onto his grandmother’s lap playing with his Christmas toy. We had only been together for about forty-five minutes when my mother received a call, to which she said to us, “This is from Montana, I should take this.”
Nothing troubled my mind, as Steve and I continued to discuss the topic at hand. In the moment, I had seemed to forget my uncle was sick. Then to hear my mother, with a shudder in her voice, “No. No. No! You’re not talking about my brother!”
I immediately stood to my feet. No. No. No. No. No. No. Uncle John. No. No. No. My mother’s brother, my uncle, my longtime Pastor, an incredible man in so many regards. Not him God. Please no. No. No. Please. Then my mother screamed out, as if someone had just took a sword and plunged it deep into her heart. I began to cry. The entire atmosphere shifted from warm, cozy and delightful to shearing pain, confusion and sadness.
Realizing fairly quickly that I could not be the one in the most pain at the moment, I ran to grab my son from my mother. Steve, with his kind-heartedness also offered to take him from me. I couldn’t stay still, but I also couldn’t move. I kept getting up and down as I cried out – with echoes of my mother in the background, “No! No! Noooo! No! No!”
Uncontrollable sobbing and weeping as my mother and I came together. Her heart broken, we embraced and cried out to God and wept together. Why God? Why? Why now? Why this? Why? Why? No! No! Not now! Not ever! Please God! Please! Not John. Not him! Please not him! This lasted several minutes. My heart was so broken for John but also so deeply broken for my mother. I cannot even imagine losing my brother.
My mother had hung up on the call as soon as she was told and broke down. She couldn’t even function to grasp the totality of what was happening. She called them back and asked with a broken heart, “What happened?”
The Legacy of a Man
John was my uncle. John held a special place in my heart, as in many others. His kindness and loyalty kept him many supporters throughout his lifetime. To say I know everything about this man would be a lie. But I will tell you what I do know, this man knew God and was called according to His purpose.
Early on in his life he felt a call to move to Ogden, Utah. He and his wife, Audria, began a small church from their home. In 2002, my family moved from Idaho to join them in this adventure for God’s Kingdom. I was only a small child, but I loved my uncle and the whole family. He was a great Pastor, father and role model for all around. I was so excited to be with them and to be a part of the new church.
John undoubtedly had a Heavenly demand upon his life, as his intimacy with God and yearning for time spent with Him was infectious to everyone around him. His sermons were always full of wisdom and discernment. He brought sound teaching and an obvious piousness to the Word. The church went from a home, to a coffee shop, to a retail pad next to a dance club, to a small stand-alone building, to a former LDS building. The former LDS building was four stories tall, had a lovely old-fashioned interior, an industrial kitchen, an apartment, several bathrooms, food pantry, several classrooms and offices. As a church, we couldn’t ask for a better building.
God used John to bring many to know Christ under this ministry. Many of my closest friends and contacts in God’s kingdom have been born under this ministry. He pastored for 12 years and led the church through small revivals, sound teachings, ministry training leadership courses, all-night prayer vigils, church-wide fasts, social events, amazing services that honored God, and so much more. The church was able to build up twelve strong intercessory prayer leaders who were constant in their pursuit of guarding and protecting the call upon John’s life. We were dedicated to God’s plan on this man’s life, because it was so obvious.
Not everything is perfect, and toward the latter years of his ministry he stumbled. Unfortunately, this stumble took a toll on numerous people. So many of us likely had him on a pedestal he should not have been on – including myself. He was clearly called, anointed and devoted to Pastoring, but he burned out. It becomes easier to fall when your legs are trembling from fatigue below you.
Though he may have not ended his race as a Pastor on a mountaintop, he certainly achieved greater heights with God than most ever will. As I said earlier, he is the reason so many people I know even serve God today. My wife, Cecelia, found God in his ministry. My brother and I discovered our purpose in Christ in this ministry. Brian and his wife, Nitra were rock-bottom and they walked in to find kindness, love and the mercy of God under this ministry. Lynne, the gal with a smile, found God under this same ministry. Steve may not have found his faith, but he ignited it to a deeper level. Lonnie and Nicole discovered God’s saving grace in this ministry. Malik, my friend since a kid, found God in his ministry. Corbin and Timmy were first exposed to God’s love in this ministry. So many more, but my eyes burn and my head sways as I type this, please forgive me – for the number who have been impacted is greater than I can state. Say what you want about a man who falls, but I will honor any lasting impact that is made. John’s impact still remains.
I could write forever on the gratitude in my heart just for him preaching and teaching me the Word of God for over a decade. So many people, far and wide have been impacted, saved, re-dedicated, pursued deeper relationship with God and so much more under John’s ministry. Even now, when I am called to step up and Pastor, I look to John’s example he set forth. His demeanor was patient, kind, humble, quick to listen, slow to respond, discerning, full of love, joy, good, faithful, gentle and full of self-control. He was an example to me of not just a Pastor, but a genuine Christian in love with His savior.
My heart broke when he fell and opted to not Pastor. My heart broke again when I discovered he didn’t want to be married to his life-long partner, my aunt, Audria. My heart broke again and again when his life came crashing down. I didn’t understand how this man could fall in this manner. It was easy for many to say, “Well if he falls, I will fall too.” Everything that happened during this time, broke my heart. It was a season of mourning and hardship for so many people.
I used his falling to constantly remind myself to always ask God to keep my life in check. I never wanted to fall away, I never wanted to have a family, a church who loved me so deeply and then hate my very existence. He failed, he fell, he hurt many. But to me, this didn’t change what he accomplished and who he still truly was, a man saved by grace alone. I prayed and prayed for his eventual return to glory – to God’s grace, to rekindle his love for God and God’s ministry call upon his life. Much like David’s fall with Bathsheba, was this man’s fall with sin – he was blinded for a season. What was the price? The whole lot.
My heart has always been for John because rather than be upset with what he did or what happened, I’ve always thought this could happen to me, this could happen to anyone. Since his fall, I’ve prayed and prayed to never fall. I’ve asked God to be quick to discipline me when I’m stumbling. I’ve begged God for strong support and people around me to help me. I’ve sought earnestly mentors and people who love God to speak into my life. People who can shoulder my burdens with me. Thank God for my wife, alone she helps me more than I have words to say.
But to anyone reading this, how much did John impact you? How much did he teach you? Forget the fall. Forget the latter few years of his life. Forget all of that. Remember how for over a decade God used him to build a church from the ground up. Remember for how over a decade how many people came to find God in this church. Remember for over a decade how many meetings to counsel, teachings, sermons, prayer-battles and even regular fights he fought for us. Remember for how over a decade he invested in building up sound leaders to take care of the homeless, to take care of the children, to take care of the teenagers, to take care of managing our own houses. Remember? Do you remember? I will never forget – my wife found God in his sermons, all I did was tell her she could come with me to church. I owe so much to this man and his ministry, and I am broken inside that he is gone. John was a man that I still aspire to be – I long for a call like his, John was an incredible man. I hope to honor him, his legacy and his call with my own life.
What I Know
Many who haven’t connected with John in some moons may wonder what is going to happen with him – was he serving God when he passed? I dare say, as much as any man in his situation could. He went to a Baptist church, that reminded him of his childhood. He spoke with me about Biblical doctrines. John made my heart glad when we ended our most recent conversation and said to me, “Thank you for talking with me. This got me excited about the Bible again. I miss studying His Word.”
Just a few weeks ago he sent me a song, Until Your Love Broke Through. With the chorus saying, like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed. Until Your love broke through – I’ve been lost in in a fantasy that blinded me. Until Your love broke through. And the verse saying, all my life I’ve been searching for that crazy missing part, and with one touch, You just rolled away the stone that held in my heart. And now, I see that the answer was as easy as just asking You in – and I am so sure I could never doubt Your gentle touch again. God’s love still echoed throughout his very existence. He knew God still loved him and John always had a place in God’s embrace. (listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZRMecbA1-g)
Even through this, I am writing to process this information. My Uncle, the man who helped me find God and find my purpose in His kingdom, is gone. I cant make it but a few paragraphs without needing to take break and collect myself. Everyone processes things differently, and I am hoping this is the best way for me. What I also know – countless individuals will need to be processing this over the coming days, weeks, or even months. May God be with us and afford comfort during this difficult time.
Wrapped in God’s Loving Embrace
I believe in something called, Preservation of the Saints. It is the general belief in Calvinism that teaches that God didn’t “miss” with Jesus. Jesus died for those that would know Him and they are not going to fall away from His grace and sanctification. It is the idea that God will always preserve his saints (this is NOT the same as “once saved, always saved”). I believe with every single fiber of my being that God preserved John. John is now wrapped up in God’s arms, where for the first time – John will experience God in an even deeper way than he could have ever known here on a planet made of dirt.
God preserved John’s life until it was time to take him home. I even told John when we last spoke that I believed him to be an interesting case study – which now, I regret that I said – but, he wholeheartedly agreed. He knew he had a call and purpose in God’s kingdom, even now. But John chose to go home, rather than serve out the rest of his days here. I know God gave him the option to either serve Him once again according to his call, or to come home. I’m broken to know John chose the latter. But I also understand – the world rejects where the Father accepts. John only felt true love and acceptance from the Father. I appreciate God’s lovingkindness in even this – though it may tear us up down here, John is now at eternal peace.
That is the only comfort I can find in writing this to you now – I know that John is in heaven, and that we will all one day see him again. I am so excited to see him. I am so excited to hug and embrace him in his perfect form. I am at peace knowing John is exactly where he wants to be. We shall bear this burden of grief for a season, but he shall now carry the banner of joy, praise and adoration for His Father in Heaven for eternity. We’ll miss you John.
I don’t know what to say. You did so much for me and my family, but you probably don’t even realize that. You mean the world to me and my wife. I pray to God that He tells you how much you mean to me. I know you will not be able to read this or see this, but God, would you deliver this message to him? I love you John. I miss you. I am broken up inside for you. I am so sorry I didn’t say goodbye. I knew I should have. I knew in my heart that I needed to call you. I’m so sorry I didn’t. I have missed you since we last spoke over a month ago. I have wanted to be close with you, but my self-made busyness kept me away. I’m sorry. I wish I could have been there more. I know I’m not a son, or even near it – but I was a kid who felt disowned by my own fathers – so I secretly adopted you as a secondary type of father figure. I know my words wont way as heavy as some, but I want you to know that I am so sorry that this earth, including myself, wasn’t as kind and forgiving to you as we should have been. Everyone falls, but your time of standing strong deserved so much more grace and forgiveness than you received. This is not to fault anyone else, I just wish we all, collectively, could have gathered around you during your hardship and helped you get through it. I appreciate your ministry and willingness to lay aside your life for as long as you did. I am grateful God preserved you and that you knew the Father’s love all the way to the end. I hope Heaven treats you to feasts, dance and joy– I hope you find love and peace. I pray you find comfort and rest. I hope you understand how much we will mourn you and miss you down here, but are excited to one day see you again. Until then, Uncle John, enjoy God’s loving embrace. I love you.
-Your Nephew and Pupil