I attended a memorial today for a saint of God I knew many years ago. In fact, I was his assistant for a period of time when I was in college. His name was Pastor Harold Green. He was the associate pastor of the North Phoenix Baptist Church back in the 80s and 90s (I was a member there from 1978 to 1989). Harold was the kind of guy who always had a positive word for you, always directed you to look to Jesus. He had the fastest sense of humor west of the Mississippi. I still chuckle at some of the stories he told, and cringe at the few times I tried to get one past him (it just wasn’t possible). He had a real pastor’s heart. The church was very, very large, and when you came in looking for guidance or help, it was normally Harold Green who you ended up dealing with.
I would like to share only two Harold Green stories briefly here. The first showed his humor. We were attending either a wedding or a funeral at the church. I even remember where we were sitting in the very large main auditorium, and I happened to be sitting next to Harold Green (which makes me think this was a wedding, since, in your late teens/early twenties you attend a lot more of those than you do funerals, and the slow and noticeable transition between the predominance of the one over the other is, I think, part of God’s way of reminding you that your a mortal and you should be considering eternity). In any case, they started that well known song, “Morning Has Broken.” Harold leaned over to me and in his own inimitable style said, “Please, whatever you do, make sure they do NOT sing this song at my funeral.” Well, I just attended the funeral, and his wishes were carefully observed.
But the far more important story relates to something he said to me that I have carried with me my entire life. (I am thankful that I and my father had lunch with Harold about two years ago or so, and I had the opportunity to tell him about this incident, and how much it had impacted me). The staff at NPBC was very large, and as is the case when you put redeemed sinners together in close quarters, sometimes friction developed. Well, I saw Harold mistreated, clearly, by one of the other staff members out in the main area of the offices (I had a small office directly across from Harold’s). I followed Harold into his office and asked him, “Harold, how do you put up with that?” And he turned to me and said, “Jim, if you ever get your eyes off the Shepherd and onto the sheep, you will burn out of the ministry quickly.” I have never forgotten those words, to be sure, and am thankful for the wisdom I learned from Harold Green.
The memorial was more like a reunion. It was surreal to see so many people I had not seen, in most cases for twenty one years. Some had changed little, some had changed a lot. But, we had all changed. I had hoped Rick Green would be there, Harold’s son, and he was. Rick and I had sung in a group there at NPBC called “Liberation.” Some of my fondest memories go back to Liberation and the traveling we did, singing in churches all over the area (we even won the small group competition at the Christian Music Festival in Estes Park, Colorado, in the summer of 1981). Rick sang tenor, I sang bass. Time has been far more kind to him in appearance than it has to me, to be sure! And I really wanted to make sure to get a chance to say hello to Pastor Richard Jackson. My wife was with me, and I knew that he would never recognize me, but he would probably recognize my wife, since she, like Rick Green, looks almost identical to how she looked when Richard Jackson officiated at our wedding in June of 1982. Pastor Jackson was very gracious, and said that he has kept up with my work, and is thankful for what the Lord has done in my life. It was great to get a chance to speak with him, if only briefly.
I am sure Harold Green would have been pleased that some of us (myself included) had to stand along the walls of the chapel building (which is larger than most church buildings, seating over 500) for his memorial. And yet, there was much laughter, much joy, for you just could not think back upon your interactions with Harold without smiling. So many of us had gone our various ways, and it was a reunion tinged with sadness, yet, with an abiding joy and thankfulness for a life lived in service to Christ.