As memorial services go, it was a grand and glorious affair.

Dr. John H. Stevens, who died this past December at the age of 85, was my old pastor and friend. His family waited to hold his public sendoff until this past Friday, a warm and sunny April day that befitted their patriarch’s distinguished and gracious personal style.

Across the span of four decades, John Stevens was the man responsible for casting vision, setting strategy, making the major decisions and then leading both the staff and his congregation of the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. He also spearheaded a major effort in the early 1990s to repel a progressive takeover of the denomination. Sadly, the PCUSA eventually did fall, but John’s principled leadership delayed the collapse.

Shortly after John passed away, his oldest son and my friend, invited me over to his dad’s home office. It was a snowy Saturday morning when I arrived. Most of the rest of the house was already packed up and emptied, but not the basement office, which was a suite of several rooms.

Offices reflect more than our professional interests, concerns, and responsibilities. They also represent our passions and priorities. John’s bookshelves were lined with countless theological masterpieces, but also plenty of business classics: Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, Conrad Hilton’s Be My Guest, Jack Welch’s memoir, Jack: Straight from the Gut and Jim Collins’ Good to Great.

“My job isn’t to just lead people to Christ,” John once told me. “It’s to help people lead good and useful lives here on earth.”

John’s bookshelves were also filled with small binders containing all 1,200 of his sermons. Each one represented 20-24 hours of preparation time. His last sermon on Easter Sunday of 2005 was titled, “The Difference a Day Can Make.” His main focus that day was on the monumental contrast of Good Friday to Easter Sunday, but he also applied it to our everyday lives.

“If you’re going through a difficult time,” he preached. “Hold on. Sunday is coming.”

John’s sermons are being donated to his old church, but his oldest son told me I could have anything else on the shelves.

It’s the temporal way of the world. A person’s library – our books and notes – they mean so much to us, but usually very little to anyone else. At death, it’s one more thing the spouse or children have to deal with because no one values another person’s books as much as their original owner. In time, all our possessions will one day be boxed up and dispersed.

Yet, it’s the wisdom and impact those books have had on us that will live on in memory and in the lives of our loved ones and friends. So, spend time with your books – but spend more time with those who, by reading you, will be reading the words and wisdom contained in those volumes.

John’s memorial service sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. James R. Edwards, a former associate of his at First Pres, and a longtime New Testament scholar at Whitworth University. Dr. Edwards’ message was titled, “A Wise Architect, and a Firm Foundation.”

Dr. Edwards taught from the apostle Paul’s letter to Christians at Corinth, urging and guiding them towards spiritual maturity. He then likened the call for laying a strong foundation to the ministry of his former boss. He said John was someone who knew the difference between “ecclesiastical gimmickry” and “authentic and biblical Christian convention.” He was right.

The service closed with John himself praying the benediction. It was from an old recording. Tears streamed down faces as the familiar voice that once filled the pulpit and sanctuary for so many Sundays, bounced off the walls once more. It all ended with a stirring rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” a traditional funeral spiritual that left no doubt where John Stevens had marched off to – and to where he was leading the congregation once again.

Once a pastor, always a pastor.