Leonard lived with his wife and daughter in a small worn out dilapidated trailer on the outskirts of a small town in Michigan. Throughout his life he worked at various jobs. He worked in factories, small businesses and for himself doing odd jobs and lawn care. Leonard never accomplished a great deal in his life from a worldly perspective, but he did the best that he could. While his life was simple and less than earthshaking he knew he had to provide for his family and he did it regardless of the difficulties each situation presented. Leonard was not a wealthy man when it came to the material things of this world, but he was rich!
I met Leonard one day after his daughter appeared at the free clothing store my church was operating. Her name was Lauren and she possessed a quite meek and unassuming spirit. One day at the Free Store Lauren came in quietly and spent a few hours shopping and going through the racks. She was amazed that the clothing was “free” and that it was of good quality and without blemishes. As I approached her she quietly gazed at the floor because she was embarrassed. She was very aware that her dress was shabby and that her hair was un-kept and tangled. As Lauren and I talked I quickly realized there was a deep pain and sorrow in her heart. Her dad, Leonard, was dying a slow death because of a lung disease.
Several days later I gathered some food from our food pantry to take to their home. Lauren had told me that they were struggling and didn’t have any food in the house. When I found the small trailer, I knew I was in for a shock. There were piles of “stuff” all around it as if someone had moved in and there was not room in the house for their belongings. When I went in I entered into a situation of utter despair. Leonard was on the couch, TV blaring and you could tell that he was almost unable to breathe at all. Leonard had one lung that had quit working years before and his other lung was filled with cancer. With every labored breath he took you could see the agony of pain in his eyes.
The amazing part of this visit was that in the midst of all of their poverty, strife, dysfunction and pending death I found an amazing level of faith in Christ. As I sat with Leonard he would struggle to tell me about his faith in Jesus, but always the light of his face would beam as we talked about Jesus. It became obvious during my visits that Leonard had for many years enjoyed an abiding relationship with Christ, one that I envy to this very day. Leonard had transferred this relationship to his wife and daughter as they too were filled with joy and faith in God. That faith in God had rescued them from the clutches of despair even though Leonard would soon be missing from their presence.
As I talked with the three of them we talked about how “searching for God” was the one single most important thing Leonard had ever done in his life, and it would be the same for the family. Astonishingly that day, I saw one of the most powerful sermons of my life played out before me. From the lips of a dying man, and from the mouths of a daughter and wife that would soon be experiencing a great loss, I heard about the hope that we have through Jesus Christ in a life changing way. The bottom line: “Seek God First!”
Psalm 14:2 The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. (Just one of Leonard’s favorite verses)