Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.1 Corinthians 15:58
These are words by Helen Keller, who was not only blind but also unable to hear. Most of us could not fathom the obstacles she faced. Yet, her life is a story of great faith and perseverance, one of the great accomplishments in serving humanity. She credited angels sent from God that unleashed the potential within her to serve others. She also said, “Behind me is God, in front of me is God, I have no fears.” Just think of what we could do for God and others if we could see so clearly and believe so deeply.
The Bible abounds with similar stories of great faith and perseverance, Noah’s putting faith in God that he and his family would be saved from a flood if he built an ark of enormous proportions and collected pairs of all animals to be saved from the world’s devastation; Joseph’s steadfast faith throughout his life of betrayal by his brothers and slaveowners; Job, who never gave up his hope and faith in God throughout his seemingly unending torturous ordeal inflicted on him by Satan; Jeremiah, who was knocked down and beaten more than the worst professional wrestler of today, left for dead, thrown in prison, scorned, etc. Yet, he continued to be God’s faithful prophet. The same could be said of Paul in the New Testament, who suffered harshly throughout his ministry.
I have written about people of great faith and perseverance in past testimonies, such as Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, and Scottish Olympian Eric Liddle, a missionary who died in a Japanese concentration camp. The last time I wrote about TOTAL COMMITMENT, which comes from great faith and perseverance. They go hand-in-hand. True, the examples have focused on well-known saints who allowed God to perform amazing things in their lives. While we are not all as well-known nor as highly respected, we too can be great saints if we allow God to use us for the purpose for which He called us. My dear departed friend Russ Bush was one of those lesser-known “great saints” who loved the Lord as much as anyone I have ever known and persevered greatly while all the time staying TOTALLY COMMITTED to his calling.
I would not be writing this testimony if I had not crossed paths with Russ Bush, and there’s a good chance that I may never have gotten to walk with Jesus either. I arrived in Buckhannon seventeen years ago, the same year that Russ was diagnosed with cancer. From that time on, he would battle fiercely, participating in numerous clinical trials and special treatments. The one constant during that battle was cancer didn’t dominate Him. He used it as an opportunity to serve the Lord, touching countless lives along the way. I was fortunate to have been what his friends called being “Russ’d.” He rarely talked about his cancer, only when pressed. His life was about serving God. He started Bible group studies, did mission work in Haiti, and formed a Sunday morning ministry that is still going strong. He led people to Christ, helped the less fortunate financially and spiritually, and coached young ministers and novice Christians to grow in maturity. A few years ago, he and his wife Debbie flew off to South Africa to work with missionaries they sponsored to get started in neighboring underdeveloped countries. Sadly, Debbie suffered a severe stroke while on the plane, which curtailed their trip and slowed his ministry here at home. He did not become bitter nor disillusioned. Russ threw himself into caregiving with an unrivaled spirit of love while still finding ways to serve the Lord beyond what most of us do. Eventually, he had to leave his home here in Buckhannon, so Debbie and he could be closer to their children in Pennsylvania. He didn’t stop serving. Russ continued forging Godly relationships and ministries in his new community. One of the Band of Brothers went to visit Russ and Debbie at their new apartment. He said he had to smile as Russ had posted flyers everywhere about a new Bible study he was starting. There were more people about to become “Russ’d.” He used every opportunity to tell people about Jesus. Few ordinary, everyday people have touched so many for God as Russ. “Oh, my gosh,” (his words) how he loved Jesus. He would tell you in a heartbeat, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This was his favorite scripture verse. He would tell you, it’s not about you, but “what God does through you.” He would also tell you, “To God alone be the Glory.” Even though gravely ill, he sent me this note after my baptism a couple months ago: “Al, saw the video…Congrats. To God alone, to God be the Glory. Russ.”
Those who are fortunate to be on a journey with Christ are often reminded of how amazing our God is. I was reminded of that again this morning. Yesterday, I sat down to begin writing this testimony. I always pray for discernment to allow God to use me to convey the message He wants to be written. I thought I was sure I knew what I was going to cover this time. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was on the wrong path again. As I sat there contemplating, Russ and his faith journey came to mind. As I started to jot down some notes, one word, perseverance, came into focus, and then the thought, “perseverance in your faith journey,” became a clear theme. We always like feedback that we are on the right track. That night, I got it. You see, one of Russ’ ministries was buying his friends a monthly devotional called “Stand Firm.” It is a powerful scripturally based men’s devotional. I read it every evening, reading the next day’s devotion. As I turned to September 7, I had to smile when I saw its heading “Persevere in Service.” I thought, “Oh my gosh, our God is amazing; Russ must have been smiling.” Clearly, as my opening scripture verse confirms, Russ’ labor (perseverance) in the Lord was not in vain.
Russ was able to stay faithful in his calling no matter what the trial or tribulation. He fully realized that everything is a gift from God. Russ delighted in showing people what God could do and loved making a difference in people’s lives. He had no bucket list, only his Bible to discern what God’s will was for him. When Russ passed, his Bible was at his side along with a “gratitude journal” to document his praises for the blessings God bestowed upon him. He truly earned God’s welcome home, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:23)
Russ had such a profound influence on my life. His insistence that I participate in group Bible studies with people of strong faith put me on a path that led me to the foot of the Cross. Because of him and other people of great faith, I am learning to “Live and act in a way worthy of those chosen for such wonderful blessings.” (Ephesians 4:1) What are those blessings? They are forgiveness that erases guilt, spiritual growth, indescribable peace, tremendous joy and freedom, and real purpose for now and through eternity. I now understand that it is not about me. It is all about God.
We are living in a time when all Christians must stand firm and persevere in the Lord. It is our calling. This pandemic, coupled with unending cultural turmoil, has wrought immense grief, sadness, worry, fear, bitterness, and anger. It is like an ongoing hurricane wreaking death, hardship, and despair throughout the world. Everyone has been harmed in some capacity. In past calamities such as World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and 9/11, people turned to God. Churches were filled beyond capacity, revivals were prevalent, and people in small groups and individually turned to prayer. There was a collective response to call upon God, and there was a national unity of cooperation and support often led by the church. This calamity is filled with discord, hostility, distrust, and disillusionment. Where are the churches that enjoy singing, “You know we are Christians by our love!” Where is the love?
While there are individuals, small groups, and some churches making a difference, winter seems to have settled in our spirit. Lockdowns and social distancing have kept us from doing what we do best, caring for those in need. Collectively, we seem to have allowed the pandemic to keep us from being faithful to our calling; it didn’t, Russ. Even though ill, he continued sending cards and notes of encouragement to those that needed it. He continued to help individuals financially beyond his support of his church and other ministries. He continued to read his Bible diligently and prayed incessantly for others. In short, in the worst of times for him, “you knew he was a Christian by his love.”
We, too, can love like Russ. It begins by listening to God. Spend some time reading the Bible while tuning out social media and worldly things. Then, allow the Gospel to change us to love God first and then others. We can do this by taking action; as you see, love is an action word. “Dear children, let us not love with word or speech but in action and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) It can’t be any clearer than that. Russ embodied that! For us, we need to “realize we are created for a purpose” (Ephesians 2:10) and then take action. Whatever your calling, stay faithful to it as God needs ALL His children “to not become weary in doing good.” (Galatians 6:9)
There is a common phrase in worldly venues called “running with the big dogs.” I once worked for a two-star general who frequently used that metaphor, referring to people in the arena making a difference. He had little patience for those who sat on the sidelines and contributed little. Russ wasn’t wired to sit on the sidelines. His life was about being in the arena, making things happen. It is hard to fathom how one person could make such a difference in so many people’s lives. He left us a legacy of love to emulate. He was a mover and a shaker in the Kingdom who “ran with the great saints” as hard as he could until his last breath. A great saint is simply someone who dedicates themselves to his or her calling from God. I’m sure Russ would urge us to start “running with the great saints.” How do we do that? We do it by doing what God has called us to do. If you don’t know what your purpose is, seek it out earnestly by reading the Bible, praying, joining a Bible study group, talking to a pastor or spiritual mentor until you find out what it is. Do it before you take your last breath. He didn’t put us on this earth for comfort, ease, and worldly things. He called us to “run the race of perseverance marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1) That’s what the great saints do. No matter how you run your race, always remember: