Two days ago, a startling news story popped up on my phone. It was another in what’s sure to be an ongoing string of stories about the Ashley Madison website hack, the revelation of who had accounts, and the heartache that follows in the wide and devastating wake that follows a simple decision to indulge our dark sides. This time, however, the story about the suicide of popular New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) professor John Gibson that lit up the national news outlets and hit home.
For starters, this story involved another Christian brother, a reality that should remind us that we are all vulnerable to the temptations thrown at us by the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are all, indeed, broken people. But it also hit home for me because of my many trips to speak at NOBTS and the Youth in Ministry Institute over the course of the last couple of decades. The NOBTS community is one where I have made many good friends, and I’ve come to love the place.
Yesterday morning, my good friend and NOBTS professor Dr. Allen Jackson, posted an article from Wednesday’s Washington Post about Gibson’s suicide on his Facebook page. Allen wrote, “Our friends Christi, Callie, and Trey make much of Jesus.” Christi is John Gibson’s widow. Callie and Trey are his children. Allen and his family live across the street from the Gibsons and they are extremely close friends. The article was well-written and moving, clearly citing the hope of the Gospel that is ours in Christ.
Later yesterday morning, Allen called me and we talked for quite some time about how John Gibson’s story should spark all of us on to earnestly seek and develop vulnerable and deep accountability with other believers. We chatted about our own need for accountability, the need of all men for accountability, and the special need that the young youth workers we know and love have for accountability. . . especially since they are launching their ministries in a narcissistic, image-conscious, hyper-sexualized world that discourages opening ourselves up for any kind of examination.
At Allen’s urging, I carved out an hour yesterday afternoon to watch John Gibson’s memorial service (video embedded below). I was especially moved by the words spoken by John’s college-aged son, Trey. His spiritual and emotional maturity shines (You can and should watch Trey’s remarks at 29:35 in the video). In addition, Allen issued a moving challenge to all of us (You can and should watch Allen’s remarks at 40:55 in the video). After listening to Allen’s words, I couldn’t help but think how important it is for each of us to keep digging deeper in our deepest friendships. I also sensed a need to encourage young youthworkers to listen to and heed the wisdom that comes from Allen.
I don’t think it was any coincidence that yesterday my mail included a review copy of an important new book from InterVarsity Press, Unburdened: The Christian Leader’s Path to Sexual Integrity, by Michael Todd Wilson. Certainly a timely release when we think about what’s happening in our culture. I haven’t read the book, but this morning I glanced over the table of contents. In the latter half of the book, Wilson lays out a list of five disciplines in which men need to engage on the path to sexual integrity. Not surprisingly, one of those disciplines is “The Discipline of Intimate Relationships.” That’s what Trey and Allen are talking about.
The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble (4:9-10, NLT).
Adversity and the history of those who have encountered adversity are both powerful teachers. Perhaps our youth ministry world should ponder this story of adversity and then learn.
And as you learn, keep the Gibson family and NOBTS community in your prayers.