The sun had not yet crested the rolling plains of Texas when I woke to find several missed calls and text messages. “Pastor, Please call us when you can.” It was not yet 6:00am in Dallas. It was not yet 4:00am in Las Vegas. I knew. And immediately my heart sank.
Heather and I were scheduled to speak several times that morning at a couples retreat and I was to preach several more times the following day in a prominent baptist church in the region. But, there I was, utterly speechless and devastated by the news that my longtime friend had just passed away.
Ken and Susan Savage first walked into our church’s membership class over a decade ago. Back then we sat around a table in a borrowed conference room next door to our store front church plant. There were only 6 other people in the room and I was extremely nervous because Ken and Susan were nearly 40 years my senior. We hadn’t had a lot of older folks willing to stay in a church filled with young families and millennials. But they were different. Week after week they faithfully came to church and membership class. Week after week he asked more questions. Our relationship was growing and I was slowly becoming their pastor. One day, over a cup of coffee, I asked Ken to tell me about his spiritual journey. Though he had several interactions with Christianity as a young man and remembered putting his faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, he had never been truly discipled in the ways of Christ. He readily confessed that he allowed his wonderful career at IBM and his beloved family’s schedule to keep him from becoming a deeper Bible student and disciple of Jesus. I asked him right there if he’d like to be discipled by an inexperienced young preacher-boy. With a broad smile and a deep voice he said, “I would love to do that.”
Over the next 6 months Ken and I would meet weekly to discuss theology, practical holiness, the commission of Christ, and the importance of the local church. It was humbling to watch a man with so much life experience eagerly receive truth. It was during those hours together that we became friends. We became brothers.
The next 12 years would hold some of the most terrific joys and terrible sorrows. I was standing in the ICU, holding hands with Ken as his beloved Susan passed into eternity. I was there when Linda came into his life! I’ll never forget the day they were engaged and the subsequent wedding I was privileged to perform. I watched as Ken made it his personal mission to disciple Linda and share the love of Jesus with her (now his) entire family. He was like an overflowing fountain of love – sharing the love of Christ and the deep truths of the Bible with everybody he knew and loved. When Linda suddenly passed away we wept and cried together. We spent time discussing how God brings people into our lives, often temporarily, to love and then let go. We are then left with the memories we’ve made and the people to which they connected us. Now, Ken had become a spiritual patriarch for two families: the one he and Susan had raised and the one Linda had raised. In his latter days it seemed that God had many people with whom he wanted Ken to know and influence. A few years later we met Charlotte. Charlotte was an energetic spitfire! And when Ken, now a key leader in our Senior’s ministry, attempted to reach out and invite her to several seniors ministry events – she decided that she would marry him. Before long I was watching Ken fall in love once again. Before long I was weeping with Ken over the tragic loss of life, again.
Ken was there when we first went to 2 services. Ken was there when we had to cancel Sunday School and introduce Small Groups. Ken was there when our church broke the 150 attendee barrier. Ken was there when we broke the 1500 attendee barrier. He championed the purchase of the new land! No one was more thrilled at our Groundbreaking Ceremony than Ken was. He prayed with me. He prayed for me! He counseled me in the ways of business and gently offered advice when he thought I would be humble enough to receive it. He was a foundational member of Southern Hills! He was my friend.
The last 48 hours have been extremely strange for me. Having had to compartmentalize my emotions and thoughts in order to do two full days of ministry in Dallas was certainly odd. Late Sunday night we landed back in Las Vegas and laid down in bed after midnight. When my eyes popped open this morning and the haze of deep sleep gave way to reality – I could only think of Ken.
I said he was my friend. This is not wholly accurate. He is still my friend. As a follower of Christ I believe in the eternal soul. And Ken, he is still very much alive in the presence of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:8). Today Ken resides in the presence of God and is highly anticipating the arrival of all his friends and family who have received Christ as Savior. He is currently experiencing the very things we studied together over strong coffee, scribbled notes, and ancient scriptures. He is enjoying the fellowship of those he loved here on earth and he eagerly waits to see us once again.
I cannot wait to celebrate his life this Saturday at 2:00pm at Southern Hills Baptist Church of Las Vegas! This memorial service will be very special for so many people. And, to me, a beautiful moment to bid farewell to a friend I will not see again until I too walk the way of all men.
God in Heaven – thank you for bringing this man into my life!