A few weeks ago, I received word that Dr. Kenneth Swetland had died. That name probably doesn’t ring a bell with most of you; but, he was a friend, a mentor, and a servant of God who helped me in life in more ways than most people will ever know. He was a humble follower of Jesus Christ and a member of the faculty at Gordon-Conwell Seminary. When I attended the seminary back in the early eighties, Ken was teaching a course in practical ministry that truly helped to ground those of us who had an overly “idealistic” view of ministry (“Iknowmorethaneveryoneelse-itis” is a common problem amongst seminary students just starting out in ministry). Along with his teaching and counseling duties at the seminary, Dr. Swetland spent many long hours working with churches and pastors that experienced various kinds of crises – both ministry related crises and personal ones. Little did I know that shortly after reading a book he wrote entitled, Facing Messy Stuff in the Church: Case Studies for Pastors and Congregations, I would soon find myself facing a crisis of my own. When my life began falling apart, and I was in doubt that I would ever - or could ever - continue in ministry, Ken was there to counsel me and help me through the darkest days of my life. The Lord used his calm demeanor and his deep faith in Christ to guide, direct, correct, restore, and comfort me. He assisted our church and denomination as well, providing much needed counsel in a difficult time. Later, Ken was there to share in my joy when I told him I had met a very special woman named Cindy. Ken was one of the first to hear that I was going to propose to Cindy.
He graciously agreed to lead us through pre-marital counseling sessions, and we were honored to have him and his wife, Anne, celebrate with us on our wedding day. I last saw Ken a year ago when I was out east. We shared a meal together as he listened to me babble on and on about all of you and the way WPC had received us. Upon hearing of his passing into glory, I was filled with all kinds of thoughts, memories, and emotions. However, my sadness was strangely overpowered by a sense of great joy. I realize how blessed
I have been to be in the company of so many great people of faith in the 43 years since my conversion to Christ. Far too often, we take for granted the Lord’s grace in placing our lives in the paths of mature Christian saints whom God uses to shape our faith and make our lives so very rich.
For the past few weeks, Dr. Kenneth Swetland’s family has been on my mind as well as in my prayers. Back several years ago, I came across a quote that continues to bring great comfort to me. It is found in a book entitled, “Spiritual Disciplines Handbook” by Adele Calhoun (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Il: 2005). The author observes, “The world is full of reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day. To set our hearts on this joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment. We can search for God in all circumstances, or not. We can seek the pulse of hope and celebration because it is God’s reality. Heaven is celebrating. Right now, the cherubim, seraphim, angels, archangels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and all the company of saints overflow with joy in the presence of their Creator. Every small experience of Jesus with us is a taste of the joy that is to come. We are not alone – and that in itself is reason to celebrate.” Calhoun is speaking directly to me! I quickly added to that list of praising saints the name of Ken Swetland, knowing he is right there in the midst of this melodious multitude. Am I being presumptuous? How can anyone know the ultimate destiny of any person?
This is the glorious hope that Jesus gives to His people – a certainty that though we may now only see a poor reflection in a misty mirror, one day we shall see God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). This kind of assurance is a gift from God through His Son. The Apostle Paul had every reason in this world to be downcast. He was being persecuted due to his persistence in ministry. He was not discouraged, because he was always looking ahead – onward and upward. Paul confidently proclaimed: That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day (2 Timothy 1:12, NIV). What joyous hope is expressed!
Perhaps someone reading my words is downcast and seeking hope today. I would merely invite you to consider the good news of Jesus. He offers a guaranteed hope of a future filled with endless joy. As
Adele Calhoun says, “We can search for God in all circumstances, or not.” The death of a friend and true brother in the Lord brings sadness; but, because of my eternal hope in Christ, the celebration far
surpasses my sorrow and infinitely outlasts my momentary tears.
In God’s Grace,