As the Psalmist reminds us, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15). That truth applies to every believer, but I can’t help but believe that some deaths are more pleasing to God than others, because of how God has so cherished their witness and anticipates sharing with them their eternal reward.
One such saint went to be with the Lord this week. Bobby Bowden, legendary coach of the Florida State Seminoles, passed away at the age of 91 in his home in Tallahassee, surrounded by loving family. Coach Bowden’s witness was a vibrant one, which earned him the moniker “Saint Bobby.” Most folk I know would have recoiled from such a nickname, but Coach Bowden accepted it in stride, no doubt because he interpreted it as evidence of his Christ-centered devotion.
I was Coach Bowden’s pastor for seventeen years. Over the course of that time, we shared many good times, mostly on the golf course, where I found Coach Bowden to be as serious a competitor on the links as he was on the gridiron. He also was a faithful member of his church, both in worship and Sunday School. I thought it ironic that most of his fellow Sunday School members were graduates of Florida, since FSU was a girl’s school in their day. They never talked football in class. It was faith and family and everything else men talk about in Sunday School classes across Baptist life. In worship, Coach Bowden and his wife Ann sat in the balcony, and they would often leave during the invitation so as not to get caught by the crowd, particularly on those rare Sundays when the Seminoles had lost the night before.
But on one Sunday, for some reason, Coach and Ann didn’t get out of the Sanctuary as soon as normal so that I had made it out to the vestibule to greet the congregation as they left worship. I was in the process of opening the Sanctuary doors when I felt something I had never felt in all my preaching life – a pat on the backside. I turned around and it was Coach Bowden. “Attaboy, Doug! Good job today!” Suddenly, I was back in high school, ready to get back into the game and give an even greater effort.
But that was Coach Bowden. He was as much an encourager as anything. As I think about his good life, I’m reminded about how we need such saints in the church today! There is far too much moaning and groaning, complaining and bellyaching taking place in this current season of church life. There is far too much “what’s in it for me” and not nearly enough “what’s in it for Jesus.” Perhaps you can find it within you to be such a saint. I’m not suggesting you pat anyone anywhere on their person. But I am suggesting that you think about what you can do to show your support, pass on your faith, and bear witness to the hope you have in Jesus, until the precious day comes when Jesus calls you home.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).