Monday Minutes With Pastor Chris McCool (October 4, 2021)

I lost a very close friend yesterday to the pandemic. Bro. Jake Abrams contracted COVID a few weeks ago, and after about four weeks on a ventilator, Jake passed away around noon yesterday, on a Sunday while church services were being conducted.

Jake was the best banjo player I’ve ever known. He taught himself how to play by slowing Earl Scruggs’ records down to the old “16” speed, and tuning his banjo to match the record. Then he picked out the tunes, every day, day after day, until he could play just as well as Earl!

Jake was one of the most positive, upbeat persons I’ve ever known. He brightened up a room just be being in it! His sense of humor was pretty corny, which matched mine just right! I can honestly say I never, EVER, heard him speak disparagingly of anyone. He had a sincere naivety that was so refreshing in such a cynical day and age. His ability to be impressed over and over by the same guitar or dobro lick, or the same song sung pretty well, was so refreshing – I can still see him after somebody (or even he) hit a particularly good lick on a guitar or dobro, smiling his big smile, encouraging him or her with a “Man, that’s something!” or “That there’s good, brother!”

Jake was a huge encouragement to me in my growing-up years. He was four years older than me, and I looked up to him like I didn’t look up to anybody else. He was a football player, a popular musician in our community, a football manager at the University of Alabama (like his father before him), and just an all-around good guy. And what’s most important when you’re twelve or thirteen years old, he spent time with me! I can still remember how patient he was as I learned to play the guitar and then later on the dobro: I’m sure he got tired of having to help me tune my guitar, or tell me what chord came next, but if he did he never showed it.

He encouraged me about more than music, though. I first heard the truth of God’s sovereign grace at a little Independent Baptist church about two miles from my home: Double Branch Independent Baptist Church. The pastor, Bro. Richard Vaughn, preached that man is a depraved sinner who cannot save himself, and that Jesus is a great Savior Who saved His people from their sins. He taught us biblically that, if anyone was to be saved, God had to do it because a man can’t do it for himself! This was SO different than all the denominational churches round about me! Even the Primitive Baptists in our area were way off base in my early years, having descended into rank absolutism and ultimately making God the author of sin. It would have been so easy for me to go to a more popular church, and perhaps I might have been tempted to do so, had it not been for Jake.

There were other kids my age at this church, including my best friend and several others. But Jake was the older boy whom we all looked up to, and he sat on the front row every Sunday beside his grandfather, whom he called “Pap.” Guess where I (and the other boys) ended up sitting? You guessed it – on the front row, right beside Jake! You see, Jake made it okay to be in this little country church that preached the truth of grace, and wasn’t like the other churches. He sort of made it “cool” to sit on the front row, too!

“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). Jake did this for me. Even in later years, when he was living in Pennsylvania with his precious wife (and lately in Louisiana, where they moved not too long ago), and we didn’t see each other as much, I always felt “sharpened” when he would come home to visit and we would get together to play music or just to visit. He was a truth-believer, and he was a good man and a good friend. He wasn’t perfect, but he was constant: reliable, loving, friendly, and a godly influence in my life.

Why am I writing a devotion about an earthly man? I’m not completely sure; perhaps it’s selfish, perhaps I need to get this weird feeling off my chest of how strange the world seems today without him in it. Perhaps I just miss my friend, and need to tell you about it.

But, in truth, I believe this matter is from the Lord. I think it is important for us all to remember that we are always – every day – influencing someone around us. Even when we don’t realize it (I’m not sure Jake ever really knew how important of an influence he was on my life), someone is watching us and being influenced by our lives. Maybe I will do better in the future about remembering that MY actions affect others.

More than anything else, though, I am clinging confidently tonight to the blessed hope that is the anchor of my soul, both sure and steadfast (Heb. 6). What is that hope, you ask? It’s the same hope that Jake had, the hope that has now become reality for him: that Jesus Christ destroyed death, and made our salvation certain through His blood! Because of the perfect sacrifice of Christ, my friend Jake has finally entered the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God – a home that he looked for his entire life!

I can just see my brother Jake, walking the streets of heaven, with that sincere naivety and incredulous countenance, marveling at the glories of the heavenly Kingdom. More than that, he is basking in the presence of the One Who died to save him for eternity. And I have to confess, I can’t wait to join him there! In truth, I am a little jealous of my friend, and look forward to being there soon myself.

I am praying tonight for his family. May the Lord comfort all those who have lost loved ones, and may He bless you is my prayer.

Elder Chris McCool, Pastor