Bernice Larner (1918-2017)

bernice larner

During the last week two people who have had a significant place in my life as a Christian pastor experienced what has been described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism in the following way:

Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united to Christ, do rest in their graves till the resurrection.

One of these people, Dr. R. C. Sproul, through his teaching, preaching, and writing, is known in Christian circles around the world. His gift at making the complex simple has helped many come to grips with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He has preached in front of tens of thousands during his life, and his radio broadcasts have touched hundreds of thousands down through the years. (He has even played golf with Alice Cooper, but, I digress) His ministry has been an enormous blessing to me as I have struggled to teach God’s people the truth of His written Word over my three decades of being a pastor.

The other, Bernice Holder Larner, is known primarily by the people who live in Erath County, Texas. You have never heard of Erath County? The Erath County website declares:

Erath County is located in central Texas, and includes the communities of Stephenville, Dublin, Three Way, Morgan Mill, Bluff Dale, Lingleville, Huckabay, Selden, Alexander, Duffau, and Clairette. Estimated Population 2010 – 36,184.

It is the home of Tarleton State University, “The Better Part of the Texas A&M System,” and the place where Ruth Buzzi now lives in retirement (If you don’t know who Ruth Buzzi is, use Google).

The first time I saw Bernice she was pushing a wheelchair containing her 95 year old mother into the Morgan Mill Baptist Church where I was about to preach “in view of a call.” (Southern Baptist Lingo Warning) At the time I didn’t know how important she would be to this twenty-six year old pastor in his first pastorate. On that day she was approximately the age that I am now, sixty-three.

A few weeks later, on the Monday morning after I had preached my first sermon as the “official pastor” of that congregation, as I sat in my study with my Seaport coffee steaming in my cup, I received a phone call from Bernice. She said, “I just wanted to let you know that Russell Laughlin is in the hospital in Stephenville.” As one who had been trying to memorize the church directory over the last few weeks, I was surprised not to recognize the name. I responded, “Should I know him?” She said, “No, he doesn’t go to our church,” but then proceeded to tell me all the different connections that made it important for me to know this information. She didn’t say I should go and visit him, but I figured that I probably should. At that moment, she became my official “go to person.” She knew everybody; their parents, their kids, their grand-kids, their third cousins once-removed, etc., and any other history that might be helpful to me. She wasn’t demanding. She didn’t tell me what to do. But, she made my life so much easier as a pastor. If anyone was ever sick, in the hospital, in some kind of trouble, or even mad at me (yes, that could happen), that phone would ring, and she would let me know so that I could shepherd Christ’s flock more effectively.

She immediately adopted my three year old son and three month old daughter, and became “Memaw Bernice” to them (their grandparents lived 400 miles away). Josh and Leah loved to walk down the farm to market road with their Mom and visit with her, and see what candy the glass hen on her living room table had laid that day. She was also a wonderful listening ear to my wife when the doctors diagnosed my daughter with Cystic Fibrosis.

She was one who loved her Lord, loved her church, loved her family, and loved her pastor and his family (And this doesn’t even begin to mention the meals she cooked, the cards she sent, the visits she made, the piano she played, etc.). I may have met some people who were as influential in his/her community for Christ, but I have never met any one who was more influential in his/her community for Christ than she was. She will be missed greatly by all those who knew her and loved her, which includes me.

Jesus Christ did a mighty work in her life, and then used her to minister to those around her in a humble, gracious, God honoring way. May her tribe increase!

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Dr. R. C. Sproul

Yesterday afternoon R. C. Sproul became one of those men that the writer of Hebrews calls a “just man made perfect.” (Heb. 12:23) I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally, although I once saw him from about 20 feet away in the baggage claim area of an airport (I was too in awe to go up and introduce myself to him); yet through his teaching, preaching, and writing my life was profoundly affected. His understanding of the sovereignty and holiness of God, along with his ability to explain it in simple terms, allowed this young pastor (I was young back in the early 1990s) to begin to apply God’s truth to my personal and ecclesiological life.

I once heard someone say that “Books preach when we dare not, when we cannot, and even when we are not.” Although Dr. Sproul is no longer a part of life on this terrestrial ball, his books, articles, and now, audios and videos will continue to be used by God to change lives for years, decades, and even centuries to come should the Lord delay His return to usher in the new heavens and the new earth. His ministry will not end as his physical life did, but continue to be of great benefit to Christ’s Church.

May the Lord comfort his family and friends greatly during this difficult time, and may Ligonier Ministries continue to point people to the Gospel of Christ as the only hope for this fallen world.