Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven
On December 29, 2017, Joe Rheney, my father in the faith and the originator of THE WORD, passed on into Heaven. Today, January 11th, he will be buried with military honors. His family and friends have gathered to honor the man who loved and shared Jesus with countless people. I have the double honor of being a pallbearer and speaking at his funeral. Below is the text of my speech:
I first me Joe in 2004. By anyone’s standards, he had already lived a successful, fulfilling life. He had honorably served his country. He had been married to his sweetheart for decades. They had raised a son who was also married, with his own honorable service and thriving career, and they had grandkids. Retirement was near, and he was entering the time of life when most everyone looks forward to putting their feet up and taking it easy.
I was at the other end of the spectrum. 25. Married for almost 5 years. The father of two young boys. Just starting to get traction in my career. And more naïve than I realized.
Joe was teaching Sunday School at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV, and my wife and I regularly attended his class. One day, as the class time was wrapping up, he stated that the burden of teaching was too much for him to do alone and asked if anyone would be interested in teaching with him. Now I had grown up in the church, and while I enjoyed tutoring and teaching during my schooling and for my job, I knew I was unprepared to stand in front of a class and teach the Bible. However, I felt prompted to tell him, very specifically, “I would like to help you teach, but first I need to learn to study.”
Looking back, this was clearly the Holy Spirit making sure I said the right thing, at the right time to start our relationship. Joe began coaching me through the process of Observing, Interpreting, and Applying Scripture. For nearly 9 years, Joe was my father in the faith – he mentored me through many of life’s early storms – ones that I didn’t even know were on the horizon.
He didn’t have to take me under his wing. No one would have blamed him for coasting the rest of his years. But Joe knew the value of mentoring and training the next generation of disciples. He was the one who taught me how to study the Bible. He taught me how to love my wife when she was rather unlovable or when I was stubborn (or when both were happening). He constantly stressed the importance of being a Godly example for my boys, and making sure they saw me do Godly things. He warned me about the temptations that arise when traveling for work. My wife deals with some of the same health issues his wife has…while he couldn’t tell me how to fix them, he helped me love her and support her as she went through it.
Joe was a great mentor because he lived all these things. He would smile that sly grin and tell me, “I’ve already made the mistakes. If you listen you me, you won’t have to make them too.”
I eagerly played the part of Timothy while he played the part of Paul. Timothy was an outsider with a good reputation, potential, but someone in need of a mentor. The Apostle Paul took him under his wing and guided him to become his eventual replacement. Paul told Timothy do the same. In one of his letters, Paul said, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
It wasn’t just me, either. I have encountered many others over the years that refer to Joe as “my mentor”. His openness and eternity-focused example resonated with so many. Another one of the Apostle Paul’s protégés was a young man named Titus. And when Titus died, his successor in the ministry referred to him as “the exalted echo of Paul’s own voice”.
As I have told friends and family of Joe’s passing on to Heaven, I have struggled with conveying everything that he meant to me, everything that he taught me, and everything did for me. You and I would have to sit down and talk for days if I were to really attempt it. The best way I’ve been able to quickly communicate his impact on my life is to say, “If you know me, then you’ve met him.” I would not be the man I am today if not for his voice in my life. Joe reflected Jesus so well that it rubbed off on anyone who spent time with him. And that’s what Christian discipleship looks like. This is what Jesus meant when He gave His disciples The Great Commission. We teach the next generation how to connect with God. We partner with them, so they learn how to partner with God. In the end, the protégé reflects his mentor, but they both have been reflecting Jesus all along. That is how the world will see Jesus.