As I drove my car into work, the radio announcer of a Christian show was taking calls from persons who had experienced unexpected bad news. The show was an encouragement as each person, with different types of “bad news”, talked about their journey and the wonder of God to bring them through the awfulness of the unexpected. Yeah, that’s what I want to call the “awfulness of the unexpected”. As I listened, I encouraged myself to not “expect” bad news – but rather to look back on all the times, when bad news came, the Lord was with me, healing me, comforting me and making streams in the deserts through the situations.
Believing also from the Spirit of God, that the radio show was not only about unexpected bad news, but all of the unexpected blessings the Lord sent my way, helped me to balance the whole “is something bad going to happen blues”. However, 14-hours later, I heard that Pastor Lawson died at home. Wow…is all I could say…Wow…the Lord always knows what we need to hear before something happens to cushion life’s blows.
Besides my father, Rev. Lawson is one of the few men that I actually admired in my 48-years of living. A man after God’s own heart, he was a man from Boston, trained in theology school, trained by the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who also went to school in Boston, trained by street and mission’s ministry and a humble servant.
He was a worker – do you know what I mean by that? So many pastors, Bishops and leaders in the church want to be served – not him. He was real fussy about being given a lot of attention, entourages and security guards. None of that junk! He was touchable, reachable – he came off that pulpit and talked with the people. He was involved with missions in the church and out of the church – yes, he put on denim overalls and went to the streets and handed out gospel tracts to those he met on the street. He went to the prison, the hospital, the sick ward, the convalescent home, the member’s home. He went to prayer service and bible study – so it was easy to hear him complain about persons who said they loved Jesus Christ but didn’t want to pray and learn more about Jesus in bible study. I miss having that type of relationship with a pastor.
He taught the Bible with power and conviction. He taught us “long meters” – that’s a style of music in the African-American congregation, where people sing without hymn books by chanting the verses of the hymn and then the congregation sings the verse after the chant – real…slow. For years, the church did not have a minister of music – nor did they have a piano player! I have to chuckle at that because for a long while I thought it was because he was not a great singer. He loved the hymns and loved the sincerity of the words of faith that leapt off the pages of music that confirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the power of faith in a believer’s life. That’s what he taught me through his life. “We’re marching to Zion” was one of his favorite hymns. I believe it was the song we sang during his pastoral installation.
He was very strict about the money of the church, giving reports, keep a firm accounting of everything that we did. He appointed deacons to members of the church and expected them to visit the sick, call members and be involved in ministering to the body of Christ at that local church. In fact, he got into some trouble at one church because he made the deacons and the trustees leave the “counting rooms” to come out to hear the sermon every Sunday. Hahahaha…oh, I can’t tell you how well that went (not very well at all!) When we founded the new church, he was careful that the membership and leadership did not spend frivolously. He did not take a lot of money from the church – a modest pastor’s salary and benefits package – he did not leave the church broke or the membership wondering if there was a thief in the pulpit when he retired as Pastor Emeritus. He was a man of integrity. He believed in people more than programs. He believed in Jesus Christ by the way he preached, lived and shared with others.
I am older and wiser and it has caused me to really appreciate what the Lord gave me in the example of a godly man in the person of Rev. Earl Lawson. I recognize that it is only what we do for Christ that lasts – the impact of the gospel of Jesus Christ on a life – my life – demonstrated by someone who was saved, loved God and loved people. I never felt abandoned – I don’t remember that – I don’t remember not feeling loved – I do remember we had differences of opinion (who doesn’t?) – But I remember most his smile, his zeal for God’s house and His Word, for prayer, for service to others and the people of God. He reminded me of Jesus.
I talked with someone today who made me laugh and remember the lessons he taught and the things he used to say to each of us. I just have to put out some famous sayings of his:
“Stop eating in the church...you can’t even be in church without eating a peppermint and hearing the paper while you eat during the service.”
“If you are late, you can’t come in – we are not going to wait for you – sit out in the vestibule. Always late, [people], you need to come to church on time.”
“We don’t need no music, open your mouths and sing for the Lord!”
“Come to prayer and bible study…”
“If the person hasn’t paid their dues, take them off the membership roll…”
“God chooses who He wills…”
There were some others…I can’t wait to talk to others about some of the things he used to say. People used to call it “grumbling”, but he was not grumbling, he was just fed up with the lazy attitude of people concerning the things of God and working in the community. He was a servant and he wanted others to be a servant too.
You know, he ordained my dad, the late Deacon John Birdsong, Jr. to the Deacon’s ministry? My dad, a humble man with little education became Chairman of the Deacon Board of that foundling church. Yes, my father, who never had a corporate job, led other men and women in the church of Jesus Christ. Yes, “God chooses who He wills…”
And, I just remembered something else about him: he was not afraid of controversy. When he heard from God, he did what God said and he didn’t take a vote from the people on this or that. He knew what God was telling him to do and he did it and he was not about being popular, on television, or famous. He didn’t care about any of that kind of stuff.
Prayer during my grief: Thank you Lord for Rev. Lawson. I am grieving but I know he is in glory with you Jesus. No one else spoke into my life like he did… Help me Lord to remember what he taught and to run my race with you, keeping my faith in you Jesus who will see me through all the way to heaven. I love you Lord and I thank you again for the life and ministry of Rev. Earl W. Lawson. Help me as I recover knowing that He is with You in Glory. Hallelujah Lord, hallelujah Lord…blessed be the name of the Lord.
Written the day after the news of Rev. Earl W. Lawson going home to be with Jesus, January 19, 2012 by Verinda M. Birdsong, Copyright 2012.