Death. It is a word we are often numb to or do not consider too deeply. With the vast amounts of information available at our fingertips, it would not be surprising to hear of death almost daily. But death changes when it creeps close to home, when it touches people we know and love or even are acquainted with. Deaths that ring close to home push us to put our lives into perspective, and teach us that we are not guaranteed tomorrow.
On December 14, 2017, R.C. Sproul, a well-known theological giant, passed away at 78 years old.
On December 17, 2017, Matthew Clemons, a teen evangelist, passed away in his mid-20s, leaving behind his wife and baby boy.
On December 17, 2012, Kyle Nathaniel Rackley passed from this world into Heaven, and was delivered two days later.
These deaths have each weighed heavy on my heart, even as the news of the first two is still fresh, and the grief over the third will never truly be gone. The first, Dr. R.C. Sproul, had a profound impact on my life. I first encountered his writing when I read his book, Glory of Christ, for a class in college. As I began to learn and read from Sproul and others like him, my theological thinking grew in leaps and bounds. Concepts and beliefs that had already started to form in my mind began to take more definite shape and solidify. Things I didn’t understand suddenly made sense as I sorted through why I believed what I believed. I will forever be grateful for R.C. Sproul
Even though I never met him, like most students who attended Bob Jones University while he was there, I “knew” Matthew Clemons. He was part of my freshman class, and seemed to be known by everybody from day one. He had a joy that was contagious, and everyone wanted to be his friend. He was a godly young man and led by example. He and his wife (then girlfriend), Carol Anne, both served in leadership positions within the student body. Ever since they graduated from BJU, they have been serving in evangelistic ministry, working tirelessly to reach others for Christ and encourage their fellow Christians spiritually. Everyone who knew him describes him as a godly man who lived to serve and care for others.
Although he never took a breath outside the womb, Kyle Rackley, his sweet momma, and the rest of his family were able to share the message of hope that we have in Christ through Kyle’s short, but beautiful life. I knew his momma, Kim, when I was a young child, and had recently reconnected with her when she received Kyle’s diagnosis. I, along with countless others, had a front row seat in watching how God took a painful and heartbreaking situation, and turned it into something that brought him glory and spread hope literally all over the world. Although he is five years in Heaven, Kyle’s life is still making impacts everywhere.
As I reflected on this baby boy and these two men, their lives, and their deaths, I found myself remembering what the Bible has to say about our lives.
Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths, And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah. Psalm 39:5
Man is like a mere breath; His days are like a passing shadow. Psalm 144:4
For who knows what is good for a man during his lifetime, during the few years of his futile life? He will spend them like a shadow. For who can tell a man what will be after him under the sun? Ecclesiastes 6:12
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. James 4:14
The end of these three lives and these Scriptures teach us so much about the shortness of our lives. Blink, and it’s over. We are not promised tomorrow. We are only promised, if we are in Christ, that God will be with us every step of the way.
What also stands out to me, however, is the completeness of each of these lives. From an outsider perspective, it may seem that only Dr. Sproul got the opportunity to live a full life. After all, he lived past the average life span of most Americans. When you read his obituary, the fullness of his life is obvious: he wrote books, spoke, preached, taught, started a university, started an organization, and so much more. He is survived by his wonderful wife, numerous children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. The Christian community has left a beautiful tribute to him in the form of Facebook posts, articles, and the hashtag #GodusedRC. His life was long, full, and glorifying to God. When he breathed his last breath on earth, surely he heard the words well done, my good and faithful servant. I get tears just thinking of it. He was a man known for the way he longed for Heaven, speaking wistfully of it, in eager anticipation of meeting his Savior face-to-face.
I would argue that both of these people – this 20-something and this tiny baby – both lived full and complete lives. God knew and ordained the days their lives would begin, and the days they would come home to Heaven. He ordained that they would share the same “promotion to Heaven” date. He knew them intimately and was with them through every moment of every day of their short, but precious lives.
Like I said before, Matthew Clemons was the life of our university’s campus. If you had never met him, you at least knew who he was. He was just that kind of person. Joyful, energetic, Christlike, and servant were all things he was characterized by. And he lived a full and complete life. We all watched as he dated and fell in love with his beautiful wife, Carol Ann. I saw them and knew I wanted a love as beautiful and Christlike as theirs. He served in ministry until his dying day. He became the father to a little boy named Asa. By the world’s standards, his life may not have been “perfectly complete.” He will never get to meet his grandchildren or reach retirement. But he lived. He lived to serve and glorify God.
Then there’s Kyle. This sweet little baby boy, born sleeping. It is difficult to find the words to describe the impact his life made not only on my heart, but in the hearts of all who have heard his story. Moms and families all over the world have heard Kyle’s story and through it, have learned of hope. They have heard of the hope that can be found in Christ and his redeeming love. If you take the time to read his story (and I hope you will), you will understand just how incredible and full this little boy’s life was.
Living is not about reaching specific milestones like marriage, having x amount of children, retiring with so much money, or even becoming the top person in a company. Living is about what you make of the time you have. This doesn’t mean you have to become famous on the internet, or anywhere else. This doesn’t mean you have to start an international ministry, open a college, or even die young. Living is about using your time wisely, living each day for the glory of God. Even doing the small things, like cooking, cleaning, raising your children, being there for others, and turning your gaze away from yourself and towards Christ, are glorifying to God. Doing the next right thing, and focusing your heart and mind towards what is good and right, and godly and biblical.
So, today, hug your loved ones a little closer. Let them know you love them. Be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who may be losing hope, or do not know the hope we as believers have to begin with. When you are discouraged, or walking through a valley, breathe in and remember that our God is near to the brokenhearted and he’s walking through the valley with you. If you are among those who mourn, know that as the Bible tells us we should, I am mourning with you.
Today, do not forget the hope we have in Christ. That, if you are indeed in Christ, this world is not it for you, just as this world was not it for R.C. Sproul, Matthew Clemons, and Kyle Rackley. We can rejoice, knowing that they are in the arms of God, safe and never to experience the troubles of this world again. May we see the example they have set for us, in living a full life no matter how long or short, and follow that example for the glory of God.
12/19/2017: The links embedded in Matthew Clemons’ name have been updated to direct you to an official GoFundMe account for Carol Anne Clemons. It was set up by Coffey Ministries, the ministry team Matthew was a vital part of before his passing. The previous links directed you to an unofficial GoFundMe account, which has now closed. All of the money from that account has been sent to Carol Anne, but per Coffey Ministries, any additional donations should be sent through the official GoFundMe.