In my study at the church I have a hexagonal table with four covered chairs on rollers around it. The table and chairs have been "redeemed." They used to function as my father's poker table, but for years now they have been used for counseling and small classes in my study.
Recently I have been teaching a church membership class to four people who have used those chairs. These folks have several qualities in common. All four have been in jail. All four have abused substances. All four have struggled mightily to overcome their addictions. And all four have laughed over the irony that their presence in church was as unlikely as a poker table in a pastor's office. Their eagerness to learn has been exciting to me.
Yet this Lord's Day one of the chairs was empty. One of the attendees died in his sleep this past week.
Back in the early days of my training, somewhere someone told me to put an empty chair in the circle at a Bible study to represent the next person you hoped would join. This visual illustration was to keep the ongoing need to tell others of the gospel before the group. Because a purposefully empty chair always felt gimmicky to me, I have not made that a practice.
But the tragically empty chair in my study truly shook us. It spoke loudly to us. Life is a vapor. Eternity is an ocean. From the one to the next is an eye blink. Christ is our only hope. Faith in Him must be sincere.
So prior to beginning to speak at a youth conference tomorrow night, I will be doing a funeral tomorrow morning. At first I was concerned that it might interfere with my preparation. Then I realized an empty chair was ordained as a significant part of my preparation.