Forrest and Elaine Martell and their children were our neighbors for many years. They moved to Libby in 1957, just a year before my family, and ended up attending the newly formed Faith Bible Church where my future father-in-law, Clarence Kutz, had come to be their first pastor in 1955. When my folks, having heard about the great Bible teaching of Pastor Kutz, went to visit at FBC, the Martells were among the first to befriend our family. They were very involved in helping get the church built (both the structure itself and the assembly of believers who ended up calling that their church home). They were great examples to us and became good friends of my folks and I. They ended up living next to the Kutzes and when we moved back to Montana, we built our house in the same area. Our children attended school together.
Jim and Louise Morris were among the first missionaries supported by FBC. They attended Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta (north of Calgary) where several of the Kutz children also went for Bible school. Ray Kutz became a very close friend and roommate of Jim’s and they played in a trumpet trio together. Jim also often spent Christmas with the Kutzes since his home, Kansas, was too far to travel. After Bible school, the Morrises went to Thailand as missionaries and spent 15 years of faithful service before seeing a spiritual breakthrough. Now there are thriving churches in the area.
This past week, both Forrest Martell and Jim Morris escaped their earthly bodies and made the exciting instant transition to the home prepared for them in heaven, and I’m sure received a great welcome from family and friends in Christ who preceded them. What a reunion that must have been! But most of all, they got to see their Savior face to face and hear, “Welcome. Well done good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord” (Mt. 25:21…my paraphrase).
Both Forrest and Jim had lived for nearly 90 years on this earth when God called them home. They were given a few more than the 70-80 years that Moses wrote about in the one Psalm attributed to him: “As for the days of our life, they may contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away (Psa. 90:10). When Moses wrote those words near the end of his life, he was 120 years old (Dt. 34:7), but all the rest of the people of Israel (except Joshua and Caleb) who had been more than 20 at the beginning of the 40-year wilderness wanderings, had died there (Nu. 14:28-34), and so there were no others more than 60 years old! (Someone who was well up in years commented that you are to respect your elders, but I don’t have many of those left!)
Prior to the Flood of Noah, the average lifespan was 912 years! Adam died at 930 and Noah at 950, and of course Methuselah at a record 969. But then Shem only lived to 600 and Abraham died at 175. Thus the normal lifespan by Moses’ time was down to 70-80 years, and he prophesied that this would continue—and it has. It is remarkable that, with all the increase in medical knowledge, this figure has stayed about the same, and there seems to be little the gerontologists can do to increase it. The reason is, it is not a medical or biological problem; it is a spiritual problem. Death entered because of sin and though Christ conquered death, it still remains the final enemy to be destroyed (I Cor. 15:26). Until then, the death rate will remain the same, no matter the advancements of medicine and gerontology, for “It is appointed for men to die once and after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
Moses also indicated that the latter—so-called “golden years”—are largely “labor and sorrow” just as God had told Adam when his sin brought God’s curse on the earth (Gen. 3:17-20). No matter how much we try to prolong our lives, we are soon cut off. But then, PTL, “we fly away”! The soul/spirit of the Christian, released from its weary body, flies away to be with the Lord. Those behind may sorrow, but “to depart, and to be with Christ…is far better” (Phil. 1:23). The Christian may confidently say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (v. 21). In the meantime, as our days on earth grow to an end, it is more important than ever that we “Conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col. 4:5).
Moses’ conclusion? “So, teach us to number our days that we may present to God a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12), prayed Moses, and so should we.