The Lord's Timing -- Celebrating Bill Fisher
Many people have commented how much I look like my dad. If he were here today, he and I would listen to you. Then we would find a moment alone. And he would say to me, "If you can't find anything nice to say…". Dad loved to tell jokes. He had great timing.
The Lord has timing, too. He has a time and a season for everything. Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us of this fact. God has His timing and it is perfect. May not be *our* timing. We schedule things as if they might happen. God schedules things and they must happen. No other plan can hasten, nor scheme can alter or delay His purpose. We are safe in the timing of the Lord.
On April 16, 2020, God's perfect timing saw fit for our friend and pastor, my Dad, Bill Fisher to enter into his glorious inheritance in Christ Jesus. Just three months shy of his 73rd birthday. He passed in a year no one planned for -- a year when loss and grief seemed to swallow up the whole world. Dad's passing might have been just another drop in the flood of bad news. Today's celebration was almost washed away; forgotten. But it is by God's perfect timing, and Mom's perseverance, we are here today.
Over the last year, we have had time to absorb this news, come to grips with our loss. Today we gather to reflect -- on the life and ministry of Bill Fisher. How exactly does one sum up a life who started from the simple, sprawling hills of Gainesboro, VA and stretched out into a world to touch so many. Impossible indeed. But with the Lord's help, I have found a few stories that, for me, help show the kind of man my father was, and how good God's timing really is.
Entering into the Ministry
Our first story goes like this: Bill Fisher dropped out of high school. Twice. Both times for the same reason. That reason? Too scared to stand in front of the class and give a book report. Instead, he married his high school sweetheart and they began a journey together that would last over half a century. Very early in their marriage, they gave their lives to Jesus Christ while watching a Billy Graham crusade that just happened to be on TV that night. God, in His infinite wisdom and jest, then called my father to be a preacher. And with that call, the Holy Spirit empowered him to do the one thing he swore he would never do again: stand up in front of people and give a book report. Every Sunday. For 40 years.
God's timing is hilarious.
Take Your Hits
Dad was committed to following Christ no matter the cost. I drove home one summer just in time to catch the first service after Dad had made the kind of controversial leadership decision that splits a church in two. After the service, he made himself available to anyone who had questions. Those who gathered had more clubs than questions. I watched and listened helplessly as my father absorbed the verbal blows of angry, disappointed people he had been sent to serve. I saw his anxious hands gripping the edges of a Manhasset music stand like it was his only shield. He did not retaliate. I felt his heavy frame sink in my arms as I hugged him in the privacy of his office after the carnage came to its merciful end. Later that week, we sat down for our usual father/son breakfast at Cracker Barrel. Over eggs and sausage, I asked him: Dad, honestly, with all this unraveling now going on, would you have done things any differently? His response stays with me today: Son, if you have a difficult decision to make, and it comes between pleasing man or pleasing God -- go with God. And take your hits.
God's timing teaches us hard lessons.
One Last Appointment
During his 40 years of ministry in the UMC, the Lord's timing often required Dad to move our family from one church to another. Like criminals. From appointment to appointment. Assignment to assignment. In 2009, the time for retirement seemed a good idea to the old man. And so he did. Soon after, Dad began to exhibit the signs of Alzheimer's -- the disease that would eventually consume him. Even so, God's timing was not finished. There would be one more appointment.
Dad spent some of his final weeks in a hospital. Alone. Confused. Every familiar sight, sound, and person ripped from him. To anyone watching the arc of his life, it might have seemed a pathetic, ignoble end.
One night, a new patient was admitted to that hospital. They were frightened. They were alone. And in their hopelessness they asked the staff for a preacher to pray with them. Guess who they got?
I do not know that person's name. But I know beyond all doubt -- when my father came into the room, this dear soul did not see a diseased, diminutive, disheveled weakling of a man, unsure of who he was or why he was there. Rather, he saw the Bill Fisher we all remember: Empowered by the Holy Spirit. Strong in Lord. Confident in his faith. Eager to see God's love and hope invade a moment of personal crises. Present to help one more frightened lamb get off the cliff. To make it another day. We don't know what he prayed that night. But then again, if we know Bill Fisher, yes we do.
God's timing is with us to the end.
That was my father. Providing God's comfort to needy people on the worst days of their lives. That was our friend and our pastor. He wasn't perfect. But he knew the One who is. He never was so confused as to preach about himself. He was a crooked finger pointing needy people straight to Jesus.
Since I was a child, I have always wanted to be like Dad. Over the years, I finally figured out how to do it. The answer is not: be like Bill Fisher. The answer -- and Dad would agree with this -- is to be like Jesus. Do that, be caught up in that, and we begin to look like Jesus. And that is all Dad ever asked us to do. If he did his job well, it is Jesus who we see today. He's the reason we're gathered here. When we celebrate Bill Fisher's life and ministry, we really celebrate what God did through him. And Dad spent a lot of Sundays telling us God wanted to do that through us, too. Did you hear him?
If you did, then in God's time, we too will come home to receive our glorious inheritance in Christ Jesus. And when we do I am sure we will see Bill Fisher again. With that smile. Shaking his head. Teasing us. Saying something like, "They'll let anyone in this joint, won't they?"
Dad…if you can't say anything nice…