David William Long is now absent from the body but is at home with the Lord having died yesterday at age 60 after battling melanoma. Dave served as pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette, Indiana for 31 years. He ministered deeply to me as he mentored me and others. My reflections here in the midst of my grief are in no way a complete reflection of his life, but they are some of the ways he so deeply touched me. He was not perfect by any means, but I am so grateful that the Lord put him in my life.
My first memory of Dave is not particularly warm. Our church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Lafayette was without a pastor, and as a seven year-old, I liked the slow delivery style and gentle manner of the man who filled the pulpit frequently. As a boy, I didn’t understand that he was not a candidate, and so I was rather disturbed when I overheard my mother tell someone else that it looked likely that we would call a certain young man out of seminary – Dave Long. He had been to church to preach, but I had no idea that his presence had meant he was a candidate. Little did I know how blessed I would be.
All I remember of his ordination service was the cherry tarts that one lady made for the reception. That, and that the kids played ball in the grass afterward and Dave walked past near the end and threw me the ball as we headed to the car. Dave and Jenny’s arrival left a sweet taste in my mouth.
It was not long before I grew to love him, in spite of the fact that he had gone to Indiana University and was an obnoxious IU fan. A few years afterward, at an annual congregational meeting of the church someone raised a question about how much the church was paying Dave; it must have been with some objection. On the drive home, my father didn’t object, saying “It’s not very often you’ll find a pastor like Dave Long.” I started to understand in deeper ways that God had given us something special.
In the Lord’s providence, my life was about to line up perfectly to get the most out of Dave. Our church had always had a number of students from Purdue University, but because the families of the church needed to be strengthened, the elders asked Dave to set aside his emphasis on student ministry for a season. So, Dave and Jenny gave some of that energy to leading the youth group. They led the youth group through all of my junior high and high school years. I will not forget the fun we had playing games, teasing about battles between Purdue and IU, and the joy of life together. I also got in the habit of recording the lengths of his sermons. When I finally posted them publicly after a year, his average was 31:06 per sermon. Barry York was our associate pastor that year, and his average sermon length was north of 33 minutes. Dave was pretty proud of his record. But, amid all the fun, I will also never forget the way he taught us the basics of how to walk with God. It was just what I needed at that stage of life, and I often think about that as I work with young people today. He preached through Second Timothy during my freshman year of high school, and the Lord lit a fire in my heart by his Spirit midway through the year. I became so hungry for the word of God that I purposed to memorize Paul’s second epistle to Timothy before Dave finished preaching it – how I was fed! Dave is also the first person I remember outside of my family to forgive me – though I’m sure others had. I had been obnoxious in some way, and had to seek his forgiveness; his forgiveness ministered deeply to my soul. It’s amazing how much the little things mean.
I had begun to sense that the Lord may be calling me to pastoral ministry by the time I made my profession of faith to the elders and became a communicant member of the Church. A new convert was interviewed in the same meeting. As she left, the elders invited me to remain for the rest of the business meeting. Later in the meeting, Barry York and my grandfather were working through a disagreement over some minutia at the other end of the table. Dave was next to me. Not so interested in the particular discussion, Dave started to eye the peanuts on the dish in front of us. He reached for a few, and then tossed one into the air and caught it with his mouth and looked at me with a smirk. I learned that day that not everything in the courts of the church necessarily deserves our undivided attention.
When it came time to go to college, I knew I wanted to go to Purdue largely because of Dave. The session was ready for him to give himself back to student ministry more fully. In the first week of my freshman year, a group of four students sat with Dave in his office at 545 Hays Street just a few blocks from my dorm. He had discipled individuals before, but he had never covered the same material with a small group. From the beginning, he cast a vision to do for us what Paul had done for the Thessalonian Christians when he wrote, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8). He laid out the roadmap for the next couple of years, and then told us we needed to think of a name for the group. Pretty quickly, we settled on the not-very-flashy but descriptive name “Men-In-Training.” I think it was Dave’s idea. He trained us in the study of Scripture, Scripture memory, prayer, evangelism, and most importantly, he taught us how to pass it on to others in an organized way. The vision was to see people called out of the world through evangelism to conversion and then be trained to be faithful disciples who would be further equipped to be skilled laborer who could be sent again into the harvest field of the world to see the process replicated – all under the Lordship of Christ and in the context of the church.
In the next few years, he lived that out to the fullest. We could recount in detail the times he knocked on our dorm door at 6:30 a.m. for MIT group, his sermons, his evening service teaching on the Westminster Standards, conferences attended together, new men and women drawn into the ministry, the camping trips for vision casting and planning, football and basketball games played together, and the fireside chats that he and Jenny would host in their home on Lord’s Day evenings. Dave was early-to-rise, and after the fireside chats, we always knew it was time to go when he would start to scratch his belly – the sure sign that Dave was tired. That MIT group would multiply to many more in following years as students came one after another to Dave to be equipped for ministry and to learn to equip others.
It doesn’t take too much to figure out that he was dealing with men who had a lot of problems and were not exactly the cream of the crop by any worldly standard. Dave suffered from migraine headaches a lot through life, and we didn’t help the situation all-too-often, I’m afraid. Through it all, he patiently endured our immaturity and kept loving us while the Lord was at work.
If we had the time, we could fill a book with stories of all that God was doing. Perhaps there is not time to write the physical book to tell of the fruit of Dave and Jenny’s ministry, but the book exists in dozens of lives of former students, “being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
He was there to help officiate our wedding, and he and Jenny continued to invest in Elizabeth and me as a couple when we stayed in Lafayette after graduation. As I worked in the automotive industry, he invited fellow MIT alum David Hanson and me to do a joint pastoral internship for a year while we worked our day jobs and anticipated seminary. We learned so much about leadership and counseling. We valued co-leading small group Bible studies with him, presiding over parts of worship, engaging in counseling, attending session meetings, considering how presbytery meetings work, learning how to discern the “will” of a body as it deliberates, and then meeting bi-weekly over breakfast to evaluate these and other functions of ministry. He made us co-laborers with him – and he made us feel like it too. He emphasized the “with him” principle of Jesus’ ministry and he emphasized it in deed as well as word. Elizabeth and I also lived in the apartment in the church building for two years. In the workday, Dave frequently brought blueberry cake donuts to the church from Mary Lou’s to share with Elizabeth, inquire about her well-being, listen to her, and care for her soul in her early years of marriage and motherhood.
I will always remember going to his office for counsel on several occasions with significant decisions to be made. Dave always left me frustrated because he would listen, ask questions, offer a few insights, and then say, “I don’t know what God wants you to do; you’ve got to figure that out.” Somewhat frustrated for the lack of an answer, it was back to the word and prayer.
It was a great joy to work in the presbytery with Dave after I completed seminary and was ordained. He was always respected as even-handed and a good listener in presbytery meetings. When we knew one set of meetings was going to be particularly difficult, it was a no-brainer to nominate him to lead us as moderator. In other times of need in the presbytery, in our congregations, and in personal counsel we who had been sent out by Dave would call for his counsel. Even though he rarely gave us the answer, we always seemed to walk away with the answer after talking with him. How we will miss his wisdom!
Dave was remarkable because of his vision not only to make disciples but to make disciple-makers. As far as he was able, he took everyone willing to be faithful, available, and teachable to disciple and to teach them to reproduce disciples. He didn’t wait for the most gifted people to arise – he worked with the men God had given him and drew out their gifting and developed it. He believed that all of God’s people should be equipped as laborers. Consequently, he sent a lot of men to seminary to become pastors, but he also sent a lot of people to be laborers in many places around the world as ordinary members of Jesus’ church – even some whom he wisely held back from seminary who now fruitfully serve in a variety of other ways.
Dave Long was extraordinary because he was faithful as an ordinary man to train up a lot of other ordinary men. Some of us are now very ordinary pastors. I’m thankful to be counted as one of those ordinary men that Dave invested in. He was not the greatest preacher, but he fed the flock well. He was not a dynamic evangelist, but he led people to Jesus. He was not a church planter, but two congregations were planted through his local congregation and he helped oversee many others. He was not a missionary, but he cast a brand new vision for our denomination’s global mission board and drove a renewed vigor for missions. He was not a counselor authoring books, but he dispensed godly counsel that changed lives. He was not the greatest scholar, but helped provide for theological education for many people. And he loved us deeply.
It was a great joy to stand with others of these brothers to nominate Dave to serve as the moderator of our denomination’s synod in 2012. Until that time, it was tradition for the moderator’s congregation to honor the moderator with a bouquet of flowers delivered to the floor of synod on the next day. The Lafayette congregation agreed that it would be a wise idea to break this rather strange tradition of giving a grown man something that resembles a funeral bouquet with something more practical and a whole lot more fun. Since Dave had long loved to stay awake on long road trips by sucking on Tootsie Pops – for that slow but steady intake of sugar – a bouquet of Tootsie Pops was delivered instead. Dave loved it, and others have similarly followed suit since. It’s just another wonderful way Dave helped to transform the church.
I was blessed to have Dave lead my youth group, mentor me in college and in an internship, be my friend through life. Still, last year at this time, I thought the best co-laboring was yet to come. Last winter, the congregation I serve in Indianapolis called Dave to join our staff on a half-time basis and serve on a half-time basis with the Reformed Presbyterian Global Mission Board as its executive director. He would help to train the men pursuing ministry here, engage in leadership development, help to pastor the flock, lead us in missions and more. We were looking forward to Dave and Jenny being with us in friendship and labor for the next decade. It was like a dream come true – and it was a great plan!
But the Lord had other, better plans. After accepting the call but before moving to Indianapolis, Dave called one Saturday to tell me about a lump under his arm. Mid-week, they thought it was lymphoma. The next Saturday he called to say it was confirmed as melanoma. The cancer was spreading. A successful surgery last summer bought more time. After the surgery, several of the couples Dave and Jenny had sent into ministry took a day with them just to float in a pontoon on a lake. We remembered with gratitude on what God has done and looked forward to what the Lord will yet do. And we lingered – cherishing our union together in the Lord and in his service.
Our hopefulness that he would yet recover took a blow later in the summer. I was so thankful to God to receive the word that the cancer had returned at a time when one of the men I am working with was sitting in my office with me for discipleship. We prayed, and wept, and embraced. As I went home to embrace my family, I was met in the parking lot by another man training for ministry. And we prayed and wept. The “with him” principle paid off even when the moment of trouble came and ministered the grace of God to my soul.
Over the next few months, Dave suffered well with his characteristic faith, hope, love, and humor. Many from presbytery gathered to pray for him and anoint him with oil on the weekend he was originally scheduled to be installed with us at Second RP. As we hugged and I wept he reminded me that “The Lord knows best.” Indeed he does. In spite of the bad news, Dave still hoped to take up his new calling at Second RP and with Global Missions. When we talked by phone through the fall months, we talked about life and ministry. A few weeks ago, as we talked by phone, he said that since he couldn’t sleep, he was doing a lot of 2:30 a.m. praying. He said, “I’ve was praying for you, and Hanson, and York, and…you know…the guys.” I was glad he couldn’t see my tears then, but I have never been more grateful to be one of “the guys.” It is such a remarkable privilege to see that Dave followed in his Savior’s footsteps by praying for the men that the Lord had given him as he prepared to die and that we have been so lifted up to the Lord.
Now, Dave is with the Lord, and we have a void in life here on earth. It seems fitting that he would pass on such a wet, cold, dreary day in Indiana. We have lost a husband, a father, a pastor, a friend, a counselor, a suffering saint, a compassionate listener, a wealth of personal wisdom, volumes of institutional knowledge, and eternal optimist who always kept us looking forward. It is a wonderful comfort to have the word of God coming to mind in this hour – through the voice of Dave Long in my head as I remember specific sermons and expositions on death and the resurrection. I recall him preaching on 2 Corinthians 5 and remember the time when the basic pieces of truth regarding death, the soul, the body, the intermediate state and the resurrection all came together for me in a full and fresh way. To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord is now reality for Dave. Yet, he would have been the first to remind us that we ought to sorrow, because the intermediate state is not the end. Things will not be fully right even for Dave until his body is resurrected at the coming of Jesus. It is right for us to weep and mourn because death reminds us that because of sin, the world is not well. In thinking about these truths, God’s words through Dave’s voice ring in my head as God’s way of comforting me in Dave’s absence. What a wonder! And what a privilege that while Dave is present with the Lord in his death on Saturday, we who remain get to enter God’s presence in worship on the Lord’s Day and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord.
Because we have hope in the promises of Scripture and our living Savior, we grieve but not as those who have no hope. And we are able to look forward, praying that the Lord will fill us with a fond affection for others whom the Lord has given us here on earth and to impart to them not only the gospel of God but also our own lives as Dave did with us.