This week marks twenty years since I took a job in ministry. Twenty years feels like a long time but I still remember my interview like it was yesterday. Twenty years means a lot of kids, a lot of families, have passed by, but I can still remember most of them. But twenty years can go by in the blink of an eye.
Bob Wagner spent more than fifty years in ministry. He was the pastor at Second Baptist Church in Marion, IL for thirty of those years. He wasn’t my pastor; I went to Third Baptist. But that doesn’t mean his ministry didn’t touch my life.
Bob’s church was the first in our town to go to Camp Lookout, a summer church camp on Lookout Mountain, TN. After Bob’s church went a few summers, taking most of the teenagers in town, my church decided to go along, taking some of the last few who had never attended. Camp Lonestar is where I, along with most of my friends, made a commitment to follow Christ. Camp Lonestar is where my mom made the decision to rededicate her life and promised to follow through with baptism when we got home, despite her crippling fear of water.
The touch of God’s Call on Bob’s life didn’t stop with church, though. In fact, for me, it wasn’t where it began.
Bob and, his wife, Sandra, had three kids. The baby, Stefanie, was my very first new friend in junior high. When my mom dropped me off at the corner of West Main Street and South Russell Street on my first day of 6th grade, I started across the lawn, heading towards the school building, where a large herd of kids gathered. Stefanie was the first person to smile and wave at me. In fairness, lest I make her out to be an angel, she thought I was someone else and when I got close, and she could see me better, she stopped awkwardly. But, also in fairness, she didn’t let the awkward get the best of her. Stefanie and I were inseparable from that day until we got our driver’s licenses and could take ourselves elsewhere.
Stefanie and spent every weekend, for years and years, at each others houses. When I wasn’t at her house, she was at mine. We vacationed with each other’s families. She knew my people and I knew hers. We were never apart. My parents were her parents and her parents were mine. This is where I got to know Bob Wagner.
Bob wasn’t an easy man to know and I didn’t understand that when I was twelve but, after twenty years in ministry myself, I sort of get it now. Now I know what it’s like to give everything you have to a family in need that isn’t your own. Now I know what it’s like to allow the Holy Spirit to pour through you so fully in order to reach one kid that you get home and don’t have much left for your own. Now I know the pressure of worrying about people relying on you to have all the right words in public and coming home and having no words left. It doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t make an excuse and I don’t know any way to explain it. Bob gave his all to the ministry to which God called him, just like so many others do every day.
Please hear me. I don’t say any of this to say Bob wasn’t there for his family. He was. Bob loved his wife, and he loved his kids, and he loved his grandkids, and his great-grandkids. Bob was few on words at home, but those words were often hilarious. Bob could walk through the room and drop and word and keep walking, while everyone else broke out laughing. Bob could drop truth bombs when needed. Bob could comfort the hurting. And Bob never stopped cheering for the Dallas Cowboys.
Bob left this world last week, but he is not gone. Bob went home to be with Jesus, but he left a legacy of lives touched by the ministry to which he devoted his life. God poured love and life into Bob for many, many years and, thankfully, Bob allowed it. And because Bob submitted to God’s will, thousands of lives were touched; including mine.
There was a song that was made popular among Christian circles in the late 80s/early 90s by Ray Boltz, called “Thank You.” The chorus sings, “Thank you for giving to the Lord;
I am a life that was changed. Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am so glad you gave.”
Because Bob gave, because God opened Bob’s heart and life and, allowed Jesus to work through him, there will be thousands of people in heaven one day. One day, we will all walk in Glory and bow at the throne of God. Bob will be there with us, thanking Jesus for the people who gave of themselves, so he could be there, too.