Two days after the celebration of life service for Ellis (Al) Stewart (long-time friend and elder at Three Lakes where I pastored), I was involved in a memorial service for another dear saint, Phil Lemen, to whom God gave 96 years on this earth.
After retiring from pastoring at Three Lakes, Kathy and I returned to Faith Bible Church which was our home church from the mid 1950’s through the late 1960’s. Kathy’s dad, Clarence Kutz, was the first pastor at FBC and our wedding (June 16,1967) was the first service in the upstairs sanctuary, so this fellowship has always been very special to us.
When we returned, we saw a few familiar faces from the past, but lots of new folks. Among them was the Lemen couple, Phil and Olivia. I started teaching the monthly Bible study at the men’s breakfast. Phil faithfully attended, and though in his nineties, always learned the memory verses I assigned. Often he was the first one to quote them for us. Phil had much wisdom from his many years and shared lots of insights from Scripture and from his many life experiences. Though he had been a Christian for many years, He still had a great desire to keep growing spiritually. What an inspiration he was to us all!
For a number of years, Phil and Olivia would drive to Texas and stay for the winter in a little community called “Bibleville,” which is next to Rio Grande Bible Institute. Those who lived there would help out at the school in whatever ways were needed. Phil and Olivia, among their other ministries, sang in a choir. They also enjoyed many special concerts and great Bible teaching.
Just a few years ago they decided they could no longer make the trip south so sold their home there and remained here in the winter. I had started a weekly Bible study at a local Laundromat, “Moody’s Dirty Laundry,” Jay Moody, the owner and a friend and neighbor, has a classroom at the Laundromat where he often teaches EMT classes, so I asked if we could have a men’s Bible study there. Phil, again eager to keep learning God’s Word, began attending. Several of the fellows who attend have military backgrounds, as did Phil, so they had a great time sharing stores of their service days. Phil’s desire for spiritual growth right up to the very end was such an encouragement to all of us. He would often have a little twinkle in his eye during our studies which meant he had something valuable to offer. We will really miss him. But the impact he had on our lives and on his family will continue.
At the memorial service, two of his sons got up to share memories of their dad. One son shared how Phil’s faith has been passed down to the next several generations, for not only are his children walking with the Lord, but also his grandchildren and great grandchildren. Phil definitely followed the command in Psa 78:5-7 regarding passing on your faith in Christ and His Word. It reads: “That they should teach them to their children. That the generation to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they may arise and tell them to their children, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God.” Phil was also a great man of prayer and he always participated in our prayer time at Bible study. Once when his son had come to visit, he got in on Phil and Olivia’s morning devotions. After reading a devotional and the Scripture that accompanied it, Phil prayed. He prayed for every family member by name. He had been married before his marriage to Olivia (His wife had died and Olivia’s husband had died), and he prayed for all his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and then for Olivia’s side. He prayed for an hour for ninety-some individuals!
The other son who came for the memorial service shared how Phil would not always discipline them right away after they had done something wrong. Sometimes it would be two days before they found out what the punishment would be! He finally asked his dad why he had done it that way and Phil shared that when he grew up his father would often discipline in anger in an abusive way and he was determined to never do that to his children. He broke the chain of abuse for which his family is very appreciative.
As I considered the life of Phil Lemen, I couldn’t help but think about a few of the spiritual giants of Scripture and what they had written about them as they approached the end of their earthly lives: “And Abraham breathed his last (KJV = “gave up the ghost”) and died in a ripe old age, and old man and satisfied with life (KJV = “full of years”) (Gen. 25: 8). The same is written of Isaac (Gen. 35:29), David (I Chr. 29:28), Jehoida (the priest…II Chr. 24:15) and Job (Job. 42:17). All these references describe men who died as believers, mature in their faith. We can now add to that list: “And Phil Lemen breathed his last and died in the ripe old age of 96, full of days, and has been gathered to his people!” He definitely fought a good fight, finished the course God set out for him, kept the faith and will receive a crown of righteousness (II Tim. 4:7,8).
Thank you, Lord, for allowing Phil to be part of our lives these last few years.