23 March 1995
Memoir by Michael S. Usey
As you all know, the book of Proverbs in our Old Testament has a wealth of wisdom. The book is easy to read, but extremely difficult to live out. In the Hebrew Bible, the spirit of God takes the form of wisdom. The ancient Hebrews understood that all wisdom comes from God, and that, without fear of God, no one can be wise. So they saved and treasure these bits of wisdom and understanding and collected them so that God's wisdom might guide their lives. All through the season of Lent, I have been reading through the book of Proverbs, as a spiritual discipline. I am hoping that one or two pieces of wisdom would snag on something within me, so that they would stay with me, like branch that gets caught on the rocks of a rushing stream. Like pellets, the individual sayings of Proverbs pelt us. If we let them, their divine wisdom will enter our blood stream and become a living part of us. To live out the incredible storehouse of insight and judgement contained in the book of Proverbs would take several lifetimes. But it's a worthy goal for any one life.
John Gillespie knew, I believe, that all wisdom came from God. As is my custom, I visited with some of John's family briefly yesterday. And the stories that they told me reminded me of the Proverbs that I have reading. John lived 85 years, 8 mos., and in that time, he showed he knew something about wisdom.
One of the first proverbs is this one: "How does a person become wise? The first step is to trust and reverence the Lord." If you knew John just a little bit, you knew that he loved God, and he loved his church. John cherished his association with College Park, and he and Lillian came whenever they could. They were last here in December, and I remember seeing John then: he was dressed sharply, and there was a swamp of people around him and his wife as they greeted a host of friends. In fact, he was so hungry for news of his friends here at this church that several members took to mailing him both the Wednesday night announcements and the Sunday worship bulletin, as well as the newsletter.
Proverbs 12.22 says, "God delights in those who keep their promises." John kept his. His ambition was to give to his children the opportunities that he was not able to have, and he did so: all of his children got to go to college, and they had him and Lillian to thank for that. And he kept his promise to his wife and his church: he loved them both faithfully for many, many years. John and Lillian came to College Park after they moved to Greensboro in 1940, and they have been members for almost 55 years. That is a promise kept.
Another proverbs says this: "Reverence for God gives a man deep strength. His children have a place of refuge and security." In John and Lillian's living room, the top of the TV and the coffee table are littered with pictures of their children and their spouses, their 8 grandchildren, and their 4 great grandchildren. Truly, his children had a place of security and refuge.
Proverbs 17.6 goes like this: "An old man's grandchildren are his crowning glory." John knew this. His grandson remembers a time when John caught a 7 foot long sailfish with animal crackers from his grandson's snack. It was the fish that didn't get away, and it was the second biggest catch that season. And John delighted in his great grandchildren as well. He was amazed at the energy of his 2 year-old great granddaughter. But their energy was no match for his experience. In fact, he taught his 6-year-old great granddaughter how to make his hearing aid whine with feedback, and it delighted them both. How could you not love a man like that?
John was a great tease and had a fine sense of humor. Proverbs 16.31 says that "White hair is a crown of glory and is seen most among the godly." He used to tease his son, that he and his grandson had more hair than the son.
Proverbs 27.18 says this: "A worker may eat from the orchard that he tends. Anyone who protects another's interests should be rewarded." John was a hard-working and responsible employee. And after he retired, he enjoyed the fruits of that labor. John loved to play golf, especially on the Starmount course.
"A little gained honestly is better than great wealth gotten by dishonest means," it says in Proverbs 16. Furthermore, "The Lord demands fairness in every business deal." A number of the men under him looked up to him. After his retirement, John was visited on occasion by some of his former employees. One said to him, "I would never have learned to save if it were not for you, John. You practically forced to me save out of my paycheck, and I'm glad you did. I have you to thank for developing this life-long habit." John knew the truth of Proverbs 21.20: "Wise people save for the future, but the foolish spend whatever they get."
Other proverbs apply to John's life as well, like 18.15: "Intelligent people are always open to new ideas. In fact, they look for them." John was considered innovative at his work. Or in Proverbs 6 there is a list of 7 things that the Lords hates, two of which are lying. John was direct and plain-spoken, something that is unfortunately rare these days. Or Proverbs 10.14: "Wise people hold their tongue." John was a good listener, and a great reader. On the coffee table were 4 huge library books he was reading. After all, reading is just listening with your eyes.
Yes, all these proverbs were true of John, and more than can be said here this morning. John Gillispie was an honorable man who worked hard to help his family and who loved God and his church. But consider this last proverb that was evident in John's life: "Let your manhood be a blessing. Rejoice in the wife of your youth." John loved Lillian deeply, and she him. They were married 66 years. The last words that John and Lillian said to each other were these: "I love you," said John. And Lillian answered, "And I love you, too." When they were in church for the last time, John held her hand. Someone asked John why he was holding her hand, and he explained that Lillian was afraid she would fall, and John held on to her so that she would not. "Oh," that person said, "I thought it was because you two were still so much in love." That too, I thought when I heard the story, that too.