The last week has been like nothing I have ever experienced before. My friend Ronnie Smith went to be with The Lord on December 5th. He was seeking to be a blessing to the Libyan people, and gave his life so that people might know Jesus. There is nothing quite so surreal as hearing a friend who has been far away was killed. The sense of emptiness that sets in and the emotional paralysis only highlights for me that we were never intended to taste death. I am praising God, however, that Ronnie is now face to face with our King Jesus, and experiencing a joy that is inexpressible.
Ronnie was one of the sharpest men I knew. His quick tongue could make you laugh in an instant. His last tweet to me was not exactly profound, but certainly captures him well:
@toodus shut it!
— Ronnie Smith December 1, 2013
Despite the fact that Ronnie loved Michigan football (the occasion for the tweet above), the gospel has torn down the dividing wall of hostility, and we learned to love each other in Christ.
Ronnie also shared my love of Chemistry (yes, there are people who love chemistry), and was a scientist as well as a theologian. I am grateful for walking through the transition to vocational ministry from the academic world with him, and grateful that, while very similar to one another, God also wired us very differently. Often it is only through people who are very different than you that you can understand who you really are.
Ronnie’s ministry was brief but powerful. He devoted himself to knowing God’s word, and teaching God’s people to treasure God’s promises. Although we often disagreed on the practice of how that worked out (I still remember arguing over it!), Ronnie taught me to treasure the future promises of God as a sure foundation for the believer. Ronnie’s willingness to go overseas is still a testimony of God’s power to me. The fact that an introverted man who loved the comforts of the first world (namely air conditioning and convenient food) would consider moving himself and his family to a war torn country makes no sense apart from the value of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit. I continue to be encouraged by Ronnie’s faith to go.
This past Sunday, we had the opportunity to remember my friend with our church community. We listened to one of Ronnie’s most powerful sermons, grieved with one another, and encouraged one another to persevere in living all of our life to God’s glory. As I’ve been processing through this loss, I have come to realize how paltry my everyday fears are in light of our eternal hope. Ronnie faced perhaps the greatest fear that many of us have, and through his death he has shown me there is nothing at all to fear. For those who are in Christ, to die is indeed gain, and though we hurt for a little while here, we will be fully healed when Jesus takes us home.
The death of a loved one, whether they are in Christ or not, seems to bring our life into focus. Things that seemed like the most important tasks quickly become insignificant. Arguments that cause relationships to fracture now seem like stupid spats not worth getting frustrated over. Distraction from God’s word and sharing it with others becomes far more urgent, and far less fearful. Pursuit of your own kingdom and accolades becomes far less appealing that pursuing Christ’s kingdom and His glory. In these times, the eternal purpose of our lives is seen clearly, and our mistaken priorities are brought to the light.
Thank you Ronnie, for challenging us through your faith, and for showing us the incomparable riches of Christ in your death.
May I never live a moment without a sense of urgency for the glory of God, and may I carry on the legacy of my friend who counted all things as a loss for the sake of knowing Christ.
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If you’d like to support Ronnie’s family, you can find out more here: http://austinstone.org/ronnie