I have a son named Joe. We can't see him or touch him anymore... his body, so dear to us and so precious in God's sight, sleeps in the grave. His soul, so missed by us and so greatly loved, lives on now in Heaven. But the day is coming...the trumpet is preparing to sound...that last trumpet, which signals the end of corruption and sin, and at whose call Joe's body will revive again, and be changed instantaneously. The atoms and molecules which make up Joe's physical body will fly together again, no longer hampered by mortality, glorious and changed...that body will be quickened to life by the Spirit of God and Joe's own spirit. The grave will open up and Joe will be raised!
Joseph liked ponds and little boats and catching fish.
Joe had a neat way of being pretty honest about himself, and with other people. He had blind spots, but once he saw something as the truth he didn't back down from it. (For instance, he probably never fibbed about the size of a fish he caught!)
Joe, Rachel and the biggest fish of all
I began a blog called Sober-Minded in June, 2004 as a place to write about how we should live for God. My reason for naming it that had to do not only with me but also with Joe, whose struggle for sobriety I was so intimate with. And even though I'd never been a user of drugs or alcohol, I had not necessarily lived soberly, for I had failed to obey the Biblical command to "think so as to have sound judgment" (Romans 12:3.) My failure to do so resulted in pain and chaos in our family's life.
God used what Joe went through, among other things, to show me the truth about myself, about all of us when we fail to heed God's warnings and take His Word seriously. I had not guarded my own heart and mind, and so as a parent, I also made my children vulnerable.
But in many ways, and so often through the suffering brought on by the consequences of selfishness and sin, God opened our eyes to see that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." We began to see more clearly that His commands, given to us in the Bible, are to be greatly respected and obeyed. By His mercy, we began to want to do what it says... "Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning" (1 Corinthians 15:34).
Joe went up to Etowah, Tennessee in January 2003, to a beautiful place called Miracle Lake Christian Training Center. He went, not because he especially wanted to, but because he had come to the end of things... facing prison mainly due to failed drug tests, Joe recognized that in Miracle Lake the Lord had provided a way out for him. Brother Jack Bryant runs Miracle Lake with lots of love and lots of discipline, and as week followed week, Joe began to hear God speaking to him through His word. He realized that the gospel was true and that he was saved from eternal punishment by Jesus' death for him on the Cross, and he realized a lot of other things. Here is Joe's testimony.
"I had been drawn to the negative the world has to offer ever since I can remember. It started with pornography, smoking tobacco, and using perverse language. Then after my parents divorced, it turned into drug use...heavy use of alcohol, LSD and marijuana.
"We were constantly moving from place to place. Through all this I was struggling with depression and anxiety. The doctors thought they had the answers, but we all know what was truly missing, and that was Jesus Christ.
"Through associations with gangs, then joining a large gang, life took a turn for the worse, but at the time it seemed to provide what I'd been missing. Plenty of drugs, respect, and people that seemed like family. The Lord preserved my life through many scrapes with death. Finally after I almost lost my life due to gun play, the gang activity ceased.
"But Satan then strengthened his hold stronger than ever on me. I was introduced to club drugs...ecstasy, ghb and cocaine. In the process of coming down I started taking benzodiazipines and became heavily addicted to them. I was incarcerated on a cocaine charge and got clean in jail. But soon I was right back where I had been, and worse than ever before.
"I was in and out of jail for other charges and failing drug tests. By the Lord's grace and through prayer, the Lord opened the door for me here at Miracle Lake, and if He had not I truly believe I would be dead or in prison. I was sick of living a life of sin. The Lord is in the restoration business and I have been restored. Miracle Lake has given me an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord in my knowledge and faith through the Word. I have rededicated my life to Jesus Christ, and now is fixed what the doctors could not fix, and that is having Jesus Christ in my heart."
Joe's heart and mind were changed during this time. He was never the same... gone were the agonizing doubts he'd had about God and the truth of the Bible. He learned that the Bible is indeed God's Word to us, that through this word Jesus is revealed and explained to us, and he came to understand and believe that Jesus bought his salvation on Calvary, and that it was to Him he owed his allegiance and life.
Life is difficult and Joe knew it as well as anybody. As we drove home from Etowah after his graduation from Miracle Lake in 2003, he expressed his concern about finding a good church and about being back home around old temptations. He was right, of course, and it didn't take long to find out just how difficult it was going to be. I did not understand the crucial importance of a church that faithfully proclaims God's word. Joe's old hurts and problems were still old hurts and problems, and the old ways of dealing with them had not really been overcome. Still, Joe witnessed to his friends that his hope was in the Lord. He "confessed with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believed in his heart that God had raised Him from the dead" (Romans 10:9.)
He was young, and until the recent past had been deeply rooted in a deadly culture. Joseph needed to grow, to come to a better understanding of God and his ways, but we did not yet understand the urgency and the implications of that. We didn't yet grasp how utterly sinful sin is, and how great our need of the Savior. And the enemy of our souls--the thief, as the Bible calls him, that deceitful serpent--comes only to steal, kill and destroy.
The next year-and-a-half was, in some ways, the most painful time yet; it was a time in which we saw God's hand of discipline, coming as a merciful warning. We were humbled during this time, yet in so many ways our own thoughts and desires remained at the center of our lives. But looking back I see that God was faithful and good to us; He has promised that He will never allow those who belong to Him to be taken from His hand, and the changes He worked in my son's heart, especially during his last months of life, were of eternal value.
One evening after his first week at a technical school in the area, Joe went out with classmates. Although encouraged about school, he had also been quite sorrowful over some very personal things. He came home the next morning not feeling well; he had been drinking the night before, he said. He went to bed to sleep and I thought that was what he needed. I sat with him for a while before he drifted away. He told me he was sorry for drinking... that it had been a return to the old way of handling hurt. We talked for a few more minutes, and then he fell asleep.
As I sat with him, the Scripture that I had clung to so many times as I'd prayed for him came to mind: "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans for welfare and not calamity, to give you a future and a hope" ( Jeremiah 29:11.) I started to say it out loud to him, to wake him up to be sure he heard me, but a foolish reluctance to be overly dramatic stopped me. I left him sleeping.
And Joe never woke up in this world. He woke up, it is my hope and belief, in the presence of the Lord. It is my great hope that Joseph awoke to look upon his Savior; that at long last, in the presence of the One who had bought him with such a great price, my son could see Him clearly.
Isaiah 57:1-2 ~ The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, he enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way.
This passage of Scripture was mentioned by several people after Joe's death, and it was a great comfort. We think of a righteous man as one who behaves uprightly, or irreproachably, and it does mean that. In its truest sense, though, a righteous man or woman is one who, though unworthy, has been made righteous by God--given right standing with Him--based solely on the sacrifice of His own Son on the cross.
God, because it pleased Him to do so, reached out and brought Joe by grace into covenant with Himself, a binding covenant based not on Joe's merit but on His own sovereign promise. This covenant is ratified and sealed by God Himself, by the blood of Jesus, the atoning Lamb; it is a covenant that can never be broken! God clothed Joe in the robe of His Son's perfect righteousness, so that then and now He sees, not Joe's sin and failure to live up to His standards, but the very righteousness of Christ.
Joe understood that, because he had struggled for so long trying to be good enough for God. In the years before his "spiritual" eyes were opened, he would often grow angry, thinking that God was demanding from him what he could not find the strength to do. But as he began to understand God's word, he knew that in Christ his heavenly Father had taken away the sentence of condemnation he had carried around for years.
Joe's death was not an accident from God's perspective, and it was not a win for the enemy of his soul. God was sovereign in saving Joe's soul by grace, and He was sovereign in taking him away. Our heavenly Father disciplines those He loves; if we are without discipline, we are not truly sons. I believe that God saved Joe, through His discipline, from condemnation (1 Corinthians 11:32.) And that discipline, that judgment mingled with mercy, changed our lives forever.
Our Father removed Joe from the evil that so distressingly beset his soul. Joe didn't lose... rather, he has gained it all. Joseph Emmanuel Pollard, the young man made righteous, not by anything he could do, but by Jesus' blood shed for him on the cross at Calvary, entered into peace resting in his bed. It seemed that God wanted him home.
Joe grew to become like the ones Jesus spoke of when He said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3.) God worked in Joe to remove haughtiness and pride: he did not fancy that he was more important than he really was. Joseph was poor in spirit because God in His mercy changed his heart, for Joe's good and for the purposes of His good pleasure. Being poor in spirit is having a pleasing sense of dependence on God's mercy. I read a eulogy given by Dr. Brian Chappell shortly after Joe's death that expresses this...
"What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Even if your mind does not have a ready definition, your heart knows. To be poor in spirit is to be empty inside; to know the anguish and heartache of not having what seems to be necessary for spiritual survival; to feel keenly the bankruptcy of our answers and our adequacy; to feel helpless before the wrong in our world and in our heart.
Are there any poor in spirit here today? You need to be able to answer yes, because your blessing, according to Jesus depends on your poverty. We have trouble expressing or confessing such poverty, because it seems improper for those who know God to acknowledge their struggles, their emptiness. Perhaps that is why the Bible not only shows us the crowds who knew spiritual poverty but the saints, too.
The God we need is the one Scripture promises: the One who loves you so much that he gave his Son for you so that you need not fear that even your greatest failures will deny you his eternal kingdom or his heart. Love for that God of grace will do more to hold you to life than all threats of hell from a god you dread and wish to flee. The Bible says the kindness of God leads us to repentance and draws us to life with cords of divine affection that nothing can sever. In that assurance there is love that is more powerful than death."
This is a picture of Joe and my mom, "Butta" to her grandkids, in 2003. Butta was also one of God's own who was poor in spirit. Her life ended suddenly as well, just six weeks, to the day, after Joe's death. Though she had had many struggles with depression, my mother was a great comfort and blessing to me in the days following his passing. God's ways are far above our own as He works all things acccording to His good and wise plan.
My mother had found this picture tucked away somewhere just a few days after Joe's death. And just a few weeks later, my husband had this great truth of scripture transcribed over it. Grandmother rests now beside grandson; the scripture is engraved on two headstones. The great thing is, it's all true. The trumpet will sound... our Lord will appear, and all those who have loved His appearing will rise to everlasting life with Him.
I long for that day.
Shortly after the loss of my son, I received an e-mail from a friend who sent me this poem by Ben Jonson, who lost his first-born son Benjamin to the plague in 1603. These words provided much solace to me. Here is the grief of a parent who, knowing his child has "'scaped world's rage," yet cannot but grieve the loss of the child he liked so much. The author expresses the sorrow of his heart, and how in burying his son he buried a part of himself, too...
On My First Son, by Ben Jonson
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov'd boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And if no other misery, yet age!
Rest in soft peace, and asked, say,
Here doth lie Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.
We love you, dear son... our best piece of poetry.
To think, that God Himself will wipe away the tears from our eyes.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." And He said, "Write, for these words are faithful and true." Then He said to me, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be His God and he will be My son." Revelations 21:3-7
My son Joe was a joy to know, all boy, a fine young man, a pleasure to be around, a talented musician, singer and artist and a car and motorcycle enthusiast. No one could enter a room like him. He was a friend to people when a friend was hard to find. He could make you mad enough to spit nails, but the next minute have you laughing at his silly antics. He was a great mimic. He loved the book of Proverbs. He loved the Lord.
We miss him very much... we look forward to a glad reunion on a soon-coming Day.