We buried a good one on Wednesday. A giant has fallen. Bob Deist succumbed to a lengthy illness. He was on a cruise when his illness struck with a vengeance. He made it back as far as Florida where he died in a hospital there. I’ll just say it: Bob was better than most of us—surely one of the best Christians I’ve ever known. And being a pastor for 35 years, I’ve known a lot of Christians. Bob was also a personal friend. In reflecting on that friendship in the funeral sermon, I shared this:
Bob was a great friend and encourager. He prayed for me and with me. He told me that my sermons helped him. I don’t know how many things he’s installed or repaired in my house. He’s been a great friend. I heard Jay Leno say, “A good friend will help you move. A great friend will help you move a body.” Well, I doubt Bob would have helped me move a body, but he would have thought about it for a few seconds. I’m thankful today for my last three encounters with Bob. The Wednesday evening before he and Paula left for their trip I remember praying with him and watching him pull himself up from his knees. Later that week before they left, he brought me an envelope of cash to use to help people in need. And when I was talking with Paula while they were in the hospital in Mexico, Bob knew it was me, and I heard him say, “I love you.”
He will be deeply missed by so many. Because I think more people should know a Christian like Bob, I’m posting the remarks I made as I welcomed people to his funeral service. I hope his life inspires you like it inspires me.
Hear God’s word from Acts 9:36-37 …
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which translated means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died.
Peter got word of Tabitha’s death and headed for Joppa immediately. Upon arriving, he found Tabitha’s body surrounded by widows who were crying and sniffling and showing Peter all the things Tabitha had made for them. Peter put them outside the room, knelt down by Tabitha’s body, prayed, and then said, “Tabitha, arise.” And Tabitha arose. God raised her from the dead and the widows danced and sang and clapped their hands.
So Bob was on a trip. He got sick. Thankfully, he made it back to the states. And he died. And everyone who knew him, everyone he served across the years, wept. We’d all be dancing and singing today if God had raised Bob from his death bed. But God didn’t. So Bob is doing the dancing and singing, and we are doing the weeping.
I wish I could say that Christians like Bob were a common lot—how different the church and world would be if they were. But there aren’t many Bobs in the church or the world. I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings, but I’ll just say it: Bob was better than most of us. But he didn’t know that, and he didn’t think that. And he never acted that way. That’s part of what made him so unique. Bob was the real deal—an example worth following.
When God called Isaiah the prophet, God said, “Whom shall we send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah replied, “Here am I, send me.” Bob said that too: “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” And God sent Bob to a myriad of places and people locally and around the world to serve them. God calls all of us to serve. God gifts some of us to serve in exceptional ways. But Bob Deist took service to a whole other level, made it an art form. If there was a periodical called Servant Magazine, Bob would be the cover boy. Bob was the epitome of a servant—any need, anything, anywhere, for anyone. Bob was a jack-of-all-trades and could do most anything with his hands: have tools, will use them. And Bob did these things quietly. Service was never a photo-op for Bob. Service was a Jesus-op—an opportunity to show and share the love of Jesus with those he served. Bob didn’t serve for pats on the back. He served to help people and give glory to God. Bob set a high bar for selfless service.
In a church that is mission-active all over the world, Bob and Paula Deist were pioneers—mission service on several continents. And they were doing missions before missions was “cool.” And much of what they did was quiet and behind the scenes. I had forgotten until our Hispanic Pastor Margarito reminded me this week that Bob and Paula were the ones who got mission trips going to Mexico—and oh, the kingdom good that’s come of that! Bob lived Matthew 25. In mission and service, in generosity and love, Bob served “the least of these” brothers and sisters of Jesus.
Bob was also a pastor’s friend. For years he met with a couple of other men and me every Wednesday night to pray for each other and for the needs of the church. Bob was a man who liked to get things done with his hands, but he understood that the things that matter most and last forever cannot get done without prayer, without God’s hands being in the mix.
Someone once said, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.” Bob didn’t say that, but he lived that. Even in his sickness, he lived that. Bob, like Jesus, just went about doing good. Bob the friend, Bob the encourager, Bob the Christ-follower, Bob the servant, will be greatly missed.