Are You Taking Care of Business?
I had the privilege of visiting George and Bev a little over a week ago, on Thursday, July 17th. George was in the hospital then, waiting to undergo the test that eventually told him the cancer had spread into his body. After that time with them, I had left town and upon my return had actually planned to visit with George again this very day. Instead, on Monday it became clear to George and the family that the end was drawing near more quickly than they had anticipated. He requested of his family that I share with you what we had discussed. So I come today as a minister of the Word of God to testify to you what I witnessed in that hospital room and with a sense of being commissioned by George himself to tell you these things. This I consider not only a tremendous privilege, but on this day above all a sacred and solemn duty.
To say George was a businessman is to state the obvious. He was the owner of the S.U.S. Cast Products facility here, and when he took me on a tour a few years ago his clear business sense flowed during our conversation. He spoke of capitalizing on certain markets, ways they had recently been able to save on production costs, and his plans for expanding their operations. Jeff, on that day he told me of how he was looking forward to handing things over to you as his son. Not many men know how to take care of that business in the careful way you would testify that your father went about it. As his obituary notes, George served on different boards in the community, including the Chamber of Commerce, and was a member of the Rotary Club. Yet you did not need to know of these positions to know that with George Todd you were dealing with a businessman. From the first day I met him, being the pastor of his daughter Angi, just his personality alone emanated that here is a no-nonsense, business kind of guy. Though he was a kind man, he was a man who expected no monkey business. He would shoot straight with you and expected the same in return.
And that’s what took place last Thursday. An honest conversation. I asked George a question, and now apparently he wants me to ask it to you (And if George wanted something done, it better get done!) So here's the question: “Are you taking care of business? The most important business?”
To help you in answering that question, look at the front of your bulletin where you will see a verse from Psalm 116. It is verse 15 which says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” If you are not careful, you could quickly read over those words with the quaint sentiment of a Hallmark greeting card. Yet to the thinking man or woman, these words should actually be quite provocative. "What do you mean that the death of a godly one is precious to Lord? Someone we love suffered, at times horribly so, and has been ripped away from us!" Since it says the death of a saint is precious to the Lord, perhaps we might reason that it is speaking of the preciousness of God in receiving a departed spirit into heaven. Yet though there is truth in that, it is not the meaning of the verse. Let me tell you of my conversation with George, as it will help answer our question and open up this verse to us.
In my visits with George, both on the 17th and some weeks prior to that, he was expressing doubts. Though he had professed faith in Christ, and was showing more and more fruit of that to those who knew him, especially in these last years and days, he had regrets over things he had done and things he had left undone. The pain of cancer was there, but a deeper pain was being felt on the accounting sheet of his conscience as he acknowledged failures and shortcomings. He wanted to express himself more clearly in his relationships with friends and family, especially his children and grandchildren, and show fuller expressions of his love than he knew he had time to do. What was he to do with his conscience?
On that Thursday meeting I read to him excerpts from the letters of Samuel Rutherford, a Puritan pastor in Scotland during the 17th century. Rutherford, imprisoned for his faithfulness to Christ, used that time to write letters to his friends. One was to a public official named John Kennedy who had recently escaped shipwreck at sea. Hear part of Rutherford’s counsel to him as he expresses in business languiage what lessons he should draw from his narrow escape:
"Now, in the strength of Jesus dispatch your business; that debt (of death) is not forgiven, but deferred: death has not bidden you farewell, but has only left you for a short season. End your journey before the night come upon you. Have all in readiness against the time that you must sail through that black and impetuous Jordan; and Jesus, Jesus, who knows both those depths and the rocks, and all the coasts, be your pilot. The last tide will not wait you for one moment. If you forget anything, when your sea is full, and your foot in that ship, there is no returning again to fetch it. What you miss in your life to-day, you may amend it to-morrow; for as many suns as God makes to arise upon you, ye have as many new lives; but ye can die but once, and if you mar or spill that business, you cannot come back to mend that piece of work again. No man sins twice in dying ill; as we die but once, so we die but ill or well once. You see how the number of your months is written in God's book; and as one of the Lord's hirelings, ye must work till the shadow of the evening come upon you… Fulfill your course with joy, for we take nothing to the grave with us, but a good or evil conscience."
I told George, using Rutherford's words, that he needed to take care of the business of dying well. As he did not have much time, dwelling on regrets or wishing he could do more was not to be his pursuit now. It was to end his life with a clean conscience, in peace, in a demonstration of trusting Christ through the agony of death. That’s what Bev and the children and grandchildren needed at this time.
But where does the clean conscience come from when you know you have not done all that you should? Listen to Rutherford advise another man whose conscience plagued him:
"Your heart is not the compass Christ sails by. He will give you leave to sing as you please, be he will not dance to your daft tune. It is not referred to you and your thoughts, what Christ will do with the charters between you and him…Your thoughts are no part of the new covenant; your dreams change not Christ. Doubtings are your sins, but they are Christ’s drugs and ingredients that the Physician makes use of for curing your pride…In the passing of your bill and charters, when they went through the Mediator’s great seal, and were concluded, faith’s advice was not sought. Faith has not a vote besides Christ’s merits; blood, blood, dear blood, that came from your Surety’s holy body, makes that sure work."
George understood. He said, “No place for pride anymore, huh?” He knew it was not his business accomplishments nor the ones that were now more important to him - his family accomplishments - that ultimately mattered. It was trusting in Christ’s blood for cleansing. He trusted in the precious blood of Christ to take all those debts off his accounting sheet. He knew that his true business was to make that hospital room where he would die a sanctuary testifying to that truth.
And in the final day, those final hours, with his family at his side, that is what happened. They saw an ill man die well. He died in their very arms, but more importantly, he died in the arms of Christ. When the tide came, when the greatest of all enemies came into that hospital room, when death took their husband and father away, peace, precious peace, was in that room.
Hearing this helps open up our verse, and will help you to see how to answer the question about whether you are taking care of business. For how is the death of a godly one precious in the eyes of the Lord? That word precious means "costly, expensive, highly valued." In the Bible it is a business term used to give value to such things as expensive jewels, costly stones and (George would have liked this) precious metals. When God looks from heaven, and sees one of his godly ones trusting in the blood of Christ that is more precious than silver or gold - for only it can purchase a soul from sin and hell - God himself values that as precious. When a person comes to the end of his life with a diseased body, knowing as George did it would lie here today before us as a shell, and believes the resurrected Christ will raise it one day to be a body immortal and imperishable, that is valuable, weighty, precious in the eyes of the Lord. The God of heaven values faith in His Son above all else.
I stand before you today, at George’s request and as God’s representative, and ask you, “Are you taking care of real business?” Twenty years ago this summer my businessman father died, and now here I am his age at his death. Those years have passed by like the snap of a finger. So will the time that separates you from your funeral. So I ask you, "Will you go to the grave as George did, with a conscience cleansed by Christ's blood?"
"Are you taking care of business?"