The Sad and Joyous Passing of Our Friend Syd Lawrence
I got a call early this morning from my dad. His dear friend and ours, Syd Lawrence, had gone home to be with the Lord at 4 AM. Syd always referred to me as "The Part-timer", an old joke that people make about pastors "only really working on Sundays" but that joke never got old to Syd. He welcomed me with it just this past Sunday, 2 days ago, so "The Part-timer" would like to share some thoughts about my brother and friend who has gone on to be with His Savior...
Over the past couple of years there have been many close calls with Syd but the Lord kept bringing him through. There have been many hospital visits where it could have been the last I saw him but there he was the next Sunday, a bit more broken down physically but even more appreciative to be with his new brothers and sisters at Redeemer, worshipping his newly proclaimed Savior.
If you ever visited with him in the hospital, you'd know that it is not an exaggeration to say that he would have wheeled himself to church in his hospital gown if that's what it took. He genuinely loved you people in the Redeemer Family and you precious people taught him what it meant to love Jesus.
So, as I mourn Syd's passing and share this word with the body who will also undoubtedly mourn his passing, there were some things that I felt it was important to share. I want to both remember Syd and bear witness to the AMAZING POWER OF THE GOSPEL!
A Thief on the cross? Yeah, right...
When my parents, Ralph and Susan first met Syd just a few short years ago, he was...let me think of the right words...a little rough. He lived across the street from my folks in their retirement community and had just lost his wife of 50 years. He would walk his dog and his dog and my parent's dog became buddies. As a result, my folks and Syd became buddies.
He would come over and they would discuss church and eternal things. As Syd grew sicker their prayers and desire to see him come to know Jesus were magnified.
After months of daily visits, sharing meals, meals and groceries provided by some of our community groups, hospital visits, rides to the doctor, help from our generous benevolence team and many other ways to tangibly show this man the love of God, Syd bent his knee to Jesus.
What a joy it was the day that we baptized Syd!
Even as we went down to the water, Syd was his usual wise guy self asking, "What's God got against the fishes?" He was referencing the country song about when the meanest guy in town was taken to the lake to be baptized. The fish trembled as the preacher brought this guy down to the water to proclaim his new life in Christ. Syd joked that when he finally got baptized we would have to change the water before anyone else went in.
Looking back, I thought this was a "thief on the cross conversion". That's a reference to one of the men crucified next to Jesus who called upon Christ in his final hour and Jesus assured him that, "today, you will be with me in paradise".
Because of Syd's failing health, I assumed that God in His infinite mercy was saving him just before He took Syd home. But God had so much more than that in store...for US!
So, it turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks...
When I met Syd, he was gritty. He was a tad bit opinionated. He was pretty prejudiced and challenging to the hospital staff.
There are more things that I can say but I bring these things up because I was able to see the Lord change this man's prejudices. I was able to watch the Holy Spirit transform the way that he spoke to hospital workers when I'd visit with him. I was able to see him listen more and learn more about his faith along the way. I watched the stack of devotional books on his hospital table begin to grow and as he began to read them, Syd began to grow as well.
He was still grittier than the Marlboro Man himself. Can't take that away from the man.
I was able to see the power of living as a missionary along with the power of being a slow, faithful witness...
There was a time before Syd got really sick over the last year that every time I went over to my parents, Syd was there. Like any Gospel-minded Christians, my folks have big dreams and want to be used by the Lord in big ways. We all do.
Here's the kicker. We so much want to be used by the Lord in "big ways" that we walk right past the seemingly "small ways" that are right out our door. That was what Jesus was getting at in Luke 10 when He answered the lawyer who asks, "Who is my neighbor?" with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
It is our desire to have a church that has a missionary presence in our area. If each family in our church had someone, anyone, who did not know Jesus and invested in that one person the way I saw my folks invest in Syd, we'd see a near revival.
And it wasn't anything complex.
He was lonely, they provided company.
He was looking for community, they invited him to church. Jesus did the rest.
He was bored. They invited him over to watch TV with them.
They simply opened up their home and their hearts to him.
He had a hard time making ends meet. A community group filled his house with easy to prepare meals. He brought that up until the day the Lord took him.
None of these things are beyond the scope of anything that can be done by any of us. And that slow faithful witness was what the Lord used to bring this man to Himself.
Syd understood the value of coming together for fellowship better than most people who I have ever met...
There was something unique about Syd. Something I have never seen in someone with the intensity that I saw it in him. THAT MAN LOVED COMING TO CHURCH! I am not kidding or using the slightest bit of hyperbole when I tell you that EVERY SINGLE TIME I ever visited him in the hospital, after his usual greeting of "Hey there Part-Timer", Syd would tell me his plan to get out of the place and get back to church.
When I was talking to him about potential assisted living communities, he wanted to know what their transportation situation would be to church. If my parents were not around to drive him, he wanted to know who was available to drive him to church.
It was pretty awesome. Really.
In a day and time where church attendance is considered optional even to those who would describe themselves as commited believers, Syd stood as a revelation.
He knew that He needed you! Which brings me to my final reflection...
We needed Syd, and you as a church body, loved this man well. Well done Redeemer Family...
One of the coolest things was watching this man widen his social circles. I saw different families bring him to church. Different people push him around in his chair. I saw my mom and dad be like Jesus to this man who called them daily like clockwork. I saw people give much so that he could have a little. I saw him become a part of your lives just like you became a part of his.
If there are any tears of sadness shed, it is over this:
Syd will be missed. Thanks to the grace and mercy of God, Syd is now present with our Lord Jesus. Thanks to the love of a faithful body of believers, Syd got to experience a taste of Jesus while still on this earth.
I will update this post and send out a church email when we know more about the arrangements, but as I reflected on hearing the news, I wanted to share these thoughts because the Lord kept impressing upon me, "THIS IS WHY WE DO WHAT WE DO"
Love you, Syd!