Altar Call Ė Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

February 26, 2006


The passing of a friend reminds us of the brevity of life


††††††††† They called it ďa massive heart attack.Ē One minute my friend John Knowles was alive; the next he was dead. The good Methodists at First Church buried John two days later. My friend Melinda Jackson told me that had a good funeral for John. His pastors spoke well of him.

††††††††† Now he is gone and I miss him already. There will be no more long telephone calls listening to John share about the ups and downs of his unusual life. No more questions about whether he should return to Russia. No more talks about the demons he fought, or about the extent of Godís mercy.

††††††††† The time I first saw John is etched in my mind. He came forward as we were singing the last hymn in a Sunday morning worship service in Opelika. He had been deeply moved by the Spirit of God not merely to join the church but to get right with God.

††††††††† John and I met together frequently after that. We became good friends partly because he and I fought some of the same demons. We could identify with each other. We had walked some of the same trails, and had shared some of the same trials.

††††††††† Johnís temper got the best of him sometimes. I understood that. Mine has dogged me most of my life. I liked Johnís transparency. He was many things but he was not the Great Pretender. He told me the truth about the dark side of his life and I shared mine with him.

††††††††† John knew the deep pain of shame. When things had not gone right, John was embarrassed, enough to sense his need of Godís mercy. I remember especially one day John walked into my study, closed the door, and said in a sober tone, ďWhen I walk out that door, I want to know that God has forgiven me of all my sins, so we have got to do some serious praying.Ē

††††††††† We did not sit and talk very long. Soon we were on our knees talking to the Lord, pleading for mercy, not just for John but for me as well. I never help anyone seek mercy without asking for some myself. I guess that is one reason John trusted me. He knew I was not a holy, righteous preacher asking God to help a vile sinner. When John and I prayed, we were two men in need, praying side by side and believing that God wanted to make us both clean and holy in his sight.

††††††††† Like all men, John fell from grace a time or two. (If dear reader, you think you have never fallen, then donít look now but the demon Pride has you by the nap of the neck.) The good news is that John knew the way back home. He was sure that God would forgive a repentant sinner. Repeatedly John escaped from Satanís snares and found peace again with God.

††††††††† I remember another time John met me at the altar. He was convinced that God wanted him to go to Russia and do missionary work. Though I was reluctant to send him, John insisted on going. He served there for a time, came home for rest and renewal, and went back. His life there was not easy in Russia, but he endured it in obedience to God.

††††††††† Like the best of us, John had his shortcomings. We disagreed about many issues. A few times I chastised John until tears were on both our cheeks. But he had a heart for God. He loved God. He wanted to serve God. He loved Cynthia, and his children Drue and Blair. He loved his church in Lanett, even when for an interval he belonged to Trinity in Opelika. John felt a deep gratitude for the mercy of God. He was my friend. I will miss those long conversations on the telephone.

††††††††† Life can end so abruptly. Our days here are indeed like a vapor or a shadow. We are here for a little while and then we are gone. The sudden passing of a good friend reminds us of the brevity of life. Often this reminder can be a wake-up call to put things in order and prepare for our own departure.

††††††††† One thing is certain as I mull these sober thoughts. No matter how long or how short our days on earth, life is made richer by true friends. John Knowles was one of mine, and today I give thanks for his friendship. + + + +