John Stone's Song

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Apr 11, 2009

"To die is to go and live in another home." 
Charles L. Allen

For nearly 40 years my older brother, Ken, has been a pastor. Currently, he is in his 24th year leading First Assembly of God, New Castle, PA. A few weeks ago one of his parishioners, John Stone, had a heart attack and died. His passing was most unusual because it took place in the middle of one of Ken's sermons. 

John Stone was 70 years old. All his life he attended the church. You could almost say he was born in that church. His parents worshipped there before he was born. Though he retired after teaching fifth grade for 40 years in the public schools, he remained active in the church. One of his special gifts was playing violin in the church orchestra. On occasion, he would play a solo during the service.

Whenever he played a solo, he would usually have an instrumental accompaniment assisting him with his music. That fateful evening, however, he had selected a CD with vocal music to provide the background for his song. It was as though he wanted everyone to pay close attention to the words of his song. 

The title of his song was "Goodbye, World, Goodbye." The words and music were written by Hovie Lister in 1955. I remember this old gospel song about heaven from my own childhood. The author captures with faith and optimism the hope of someone who is about to leave this earth and move to one's eternal home. 

Here are a few lines: 
I've told all my troubles goodbye. 
Goodbye to each tear and each sigh. 
This world where I roam cannot be my home 
I'm bound for that home in the sky. 

How I remember people of faith, young and old alike, fervently singing about leaving the problems of this old world for a much better place. 

Now don't you weep for me when I'm gone 
'Cause I won't have to leave here alone. 
And when I hear that last trumpet sound 
My feet won't stay on the ground. 

I've always loved that song as it repeats the title "Goodbye, World, Goodbye." 
And so did Ken's congregation. When John finished, they responded with thunderous applause. Ken himself said he didn't think he had ever heard John play any better than he played that night. 

As John walked off the platform to a side door, he briefly looked back, graciously acknowledging the continued applause. As he placed his violin in its case, then no longer in sight of the congregation, the applause continued. One of the staff members nearby said, "John, they must have really liked your song." 

Moments later he quietly found his way to a pew and joined the congregation to listen to Ken's sermon which was already in progress. Just a few minutes later, Ken heard someone loudly saying, "Call 911. Call 911." And though several medical professionals from the church and subsequently the paramedics attended to John, it was his time to go home. 

I've told that story many times since I first learned it. The message is timeless. We are reminded how fragile life really is. We can be in the middle of a routine day and, just like John, our lives can be over in an instant. 

But what a way to go. No one in that service will ever forget that song and how John played it that night. For him, it was a kind of coronation message. As he played "Goodbye, World, Goodbye" he really was playing his final farewell. What a moment that must have been! 

Perhaps Ruth Graham anticipated that moment. On her tombstone are these words, "End of construction. Thanks for your patience." Though few of us will have as flamboyant an exit as John Stone, all of us remain under construction. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
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