I lost a friend today...Joe Taylor. A tragic accident. Earthly life instantly snuffed out. Lost is a relative term. I know exactly where he is. He is in the presence of the Lord. But he is lost from earth. Thus through tears of grief and joy I write.
To say that Joe is one of the best friends I have ever had is a gross understatement. By the grace of God, Joe entered my life (more accurately, I entered his life) in the Fall of 1981. Janet and I had gone to Eastman, Georgia, along with our baby girl Merea to preach, as they say, “in view of a call” to be the pastor of the First Baptist Church.
It’s strange that I can still remember Joe from that morning, sitting in the section to my right on the second or third row, in what I would come to know as his usual seat. I still remember, 27 years later, his walking up to me after the service and, with the passionate look in his eye that would become all too familiar to me, telling me that I simply must come and be their pastor. Something about him struck a chord with me. It wouldn’t take me long to find out why.
When I think of Joe, I think of David’s “mighty men,” who stood with him in very difficult times—men who were absolutely dependable through thick and thin. That’s what he was to me...a mighty man, a friend who stuck closer than a brother. In the midst of some of the most difficult times of my life, Joe Taylor stood with me, bearing much of the burden, often holding me up, even at great personal cost to himself. Countless times I made the trek to his office at the bank knowing I would come away a stronger man than when I went. I wouldn’t have made it through those years without Joe Taylor.
One of the greatest joys of my life as a pastor was baptizing Joe’s son Vince. I’ll never forget Vince, who was wise way beyond his years, but who was afraid to be baptized, coming to the conclusion that, if Jesus could die on the cross for him, he could take a chance on being baptized. What courage and joy he showed in that simple act. A whole church was blessed by that young life.
Then, joy turned to painful sorrow, as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death together. Vince, who almost died as a very young child from a brain tumor, had the tumor return with a vengeance. He was rushed to the hospital on a Friday morning and on Sunday, while we prayed for him in church, he went to be with the Lord. Losing a child simply has to be the greatest pain a parent can suffer. I watched this man wrestle with God and come out of that valley a stronger man. Yes, his heart was broken, but how true it is that “a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise.”
Through the years, though separated by many miles and many years, the friendship never diminished, though the contacts did. How well I remember the closing words of every conversation, every phone call: "If you need anything, call me." He really meant it. He was that kind of friend. Well, Joe, God knew what I needed. I needed a friend like Joe Taylor. Words cannot adequately express my gratitude to God for His gift of this friend to me.