As I prepare to celebrate Christmas this year, I must admit there is heaviness in my heart. My dear friend and mentor Bill Wright, pastor of First Baptist Church of Plains, is living out his last days among us. As many of my readers are aware, Bill was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months ago. With his indomitable spirit Bill took on cancer like David took on Goliath. The doctors used experimental drugs to destroy the cancer, but the cancer continues its death march.
A few days ago, Bill received the news that his days had a small diminishing number. As we all know our days are numbered, but when the number is less than one hundred eighty days it gets our attention. So if you had six months to live what would you do? Would you pull out your “bucket list” and busily get to work finally living.
I doubt Bill had a “bucket list,” but if he did I suspect the list is marked off from A to Z. Bill lived and loved with a gusto that inspired me to be more than I thought I could be. I realize I would not be the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas if it was not for the fact that Bill believed in me, and was willing to stick his neck out for a young, naïve leader. Many have wondered how we became lifelong friends. The journey will take you back to a hospital hallway as we waited together with a young couple whose little girl was in surgery again. Little Shelly had countless surgeries from birth. She was born under Bill’s watchful care, and she came into my life when her parents moved to Flower Mound and join my little mission church. It was our love for people that brought us together, and I suspect it has been this same love that has kept us together. In fact, Bill and I stood over the grave of Shelly’s father Rusty, and I stood at the front of the sanctuary when Bill escorted Shelly down the aisle in her wheelchair when she got married.
In many ways, Bill is everything I hope to be when I grow up. He lives with abandonment. He says what he thinks. He is not calculating or manipulative. Bill is real. Bill is Bill. He is not what you want him to be. Bill is who you need him to be. Too often, I test the wind before decisions. Too often my fears color and hide my faith. I needed a push onto the stage, and Bill gave me a gentle firm shove.
When Bill and I started this adventure of calling for change in the BGCT many questioned our sanity. They wondered how two so unlikely friends ever got together. I remember vividly when I was being strongly encouraged to accept an offer to be vice president one year, so I could be president the next without opposition, that I was asked, “Exactly how many people approached you about being president?” I answered, “You mean besides Bill Wright?” The answer was “yes.” I replied, “No one.” Yes, only two crazy West Texas pastors came up with this plan. Talk about two Texas Baptists that needed to be “committed” in a place complete with padded walls. Like Bill said, “if you can’t vote for David, vote for Joy!” (My only instructions to him about the nomination speech were “please don’t cuss!”)
I want to let you in on a secret, Bill had a covert motive. Bill wanted to get back to the hallways at the annual meetings. This is where Bill shined as he held court with a laughing circle of young pastors. Bill made disciples just like Jesus. He lived out his faith in such a way that young men wanted to follow him, and wanted to be just like him. So my mission was to put our core values of evangelism, Christian education, and caring back on the front page, and then get back to the hallway as quickly as I could.
In Bill’s world, Baptists were at their best when we were out in the hallway together laughing, loving, and caring for each other. Don’t get me wrong, Bill was about making first things first, but the annual meeting was supposed to be a family reunion, a reprieve from the front lines. It was R & R for the warrior, it was not the battle. Bill knew who the real enemy was and it was not a brother or sister wearing a label attached to them by others. Besides, labels like moderate and fundamentalist don’t make for good relationships. First names are a much better starting place.
Even though Bill’s days may be numbered, I am so thankful Bill has an amazing way of making every day count by loving like he does.