December 15, 2017

Mourning the Passing of a Friend — Some Thoughts

Today’s post is by IM First Officer Michael Bell.

It was my birthday today, April 5th. Easter Monday. It will be a day that I will now forever remember for two reasons, for my friend Michael Spencer, also passed away today. I mourn for a friend, whose passing will leave a hole in my life, but I grieve much more for those he has left behind, who have lost a husband, father, and pastor/shepherd. He has been a pastor/shepherd to so many of us, leading us through the “Evangelical Wilderness.” His blog, www.internetmonk.com, was a home for so many who struggled in their own church home, or who struggled even to find a church home.

Michael had been blogging for 10 years, long before most of us knew that there was such a thing as blogging. Yet, it seemed that he was just starting to come into his prime, where the rest of the world was just starting to discover the incredible writing gift that God had given him. Reading Michael’s blog has been one of the first things that I would do every morning for the past three years. I rejoiced that I had found another kindred spirit who understood me, placed a priority on many of the same that were important to me, and struggled with many of the same issues with which I struggled. Not only that, but he gave voice to a community of people, who had concerns with what they saw in the church, but who’s voice was not being heard. As I read Michael each morning, my jaw would often drop with the profoundness of what was written, and I would marvel at the gift that God had given this remarkable individual. I would often exclaim to my wife, “How does he come up with such incredible material day after day after day!” Michael loved baseball, and to use a baseball analogy, it was like he had an on base average of .900, swatting 100+ home runs a season.

But first and foremost, Michael was about the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. This was what was closest to his heart, and what drew me to him. His concern was that in all the many things that the church was doing, the gospel was being obscured. This was his greatest concern, and to what he paid the most attention in his writting. He regretted that so many people got the wrong idea from the “Coming Evangelical Collapse”, that more than anything it was a call to action, a call to return to the first love of the good news that God has given us.

So, while horribly sad, it seems somewhat appropriate that Easter would be the time when God would call him home. For Easter is a time of good news, and Michael’s life was all about proclaiming this good news of Jesus Christ. This was his unceasing focus, and one that he maintained until the very end.

I echo the words of the Apostle Paul:

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

—Philippians 1: 3-6

In the words of Jesus Christ: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Comments

  1. JoanieD says:

    Michael Bell wrote, ” “How does he come up with such incredible material day after day after day!”

    I used to to wonder and be amazed by that too, Michael. I mentioned your comment in a post I made under Chaplain Mike’s most recent post, having copied and pasted it there, forgetting I didn’t read it somewhere in a comment under THAT post. Sorry for not giving you the credit!

    Thank you, Michael, for your wonderful participation on Michael’s blog.

  2. Rob Grayson says:

    So saddened by this news, and the speed with which it has all happened. But death, where is thy sting? Through Michael’s life, many seeds have fallen to the ground and will produce a multitude of fruit.

    I hope it’s not inappropriate to ask what, if any, are the plans for the Internet Monk web site? At the very least, I hope the site will be preserved in its current form so that all of Michael’s wonderful writing continues to be available for years to come. It would be wonderful to see Chaplain Mike, and maybe other contributors, continue to blog here as a tribute to Michael and to continue to carry the torch of the gospel of Jesus Christ in this corner of the internet.

    • Graham (the other one) says:

      It would be wonderful to preserve Michael’s work, and if others such as Chaplain Mike could carry on the IMonk’s work.
      Also, I wonder if some thought might be given to publishing in book form a compilation of some of IMonk’s essays that aren’t in his forthcoming book. (I recall him saying that most of his book had to be new material.)
      I’d buy such a compilation and dip into it often to get my vision refocused. (I preordered “Mere Churchianity”, as I know many who stop by here have done.)

      I’ve followed this blog pretty much daily for the past 3 years but have rarely posted because I do this on a smartphone and typing is laborious. For me, this blog has been a bright spot of hope and a sign of what the Body of Christ could become, with believers from all across the denominational spectrum gathered here to dialog under Michael’s guidance to keep down any bickering.

      Like all of the IMonk community, I mourn Michael’s passing and keep him and his family in my prayers. it would be a great loss not to preserve IMonk’s voice.

      Thank you, Michael Spencer, for sharing the great gifts God gave you. May you rest in eternal joy, IMonk, and please pray for us all!

    • I would like to second the notion that the Internet Monk website should be preserved, and to take this to a practical level, I am quite prepared to help with the cost of domain name and hosting. I am also ready to help out with technical issues, as I run a number of WordPress based blogs and sites myself.

      I also want to echo the request someone else has made in a comment to yesterday’s post that if anyone has copies of the earlier podcasts, to help us assemble a complete archive of those.

      At the same time we need to be patient; these decisions cannot be made without involvement from Michael’s family, and they have other things on their minds right now.

      Wolf

      • thanks for going the extra miles to see this fine work continue, Wolf Paul; there is nothing quite like this ‘neighborhood” in my life, it fulfills a unique need for a gaggle of very unique people

        again: may your generous heart be multiplied
        Greg R

    • It’s in the works, friends. Thanks for your affirmation and support. We are committed to keeping Michael’s voice and legacy alive. More to come…

      • Jason Blair says:

        Chaplain Mike,

        It cannot be said often enough: THANK YOU for being what Michael needed, as a friend, and as a keeper of his site. You have done a fantastic job shepherding this place while Michael fought his last battle. I know we’re all looking forward to what will come in the future, and hope to preserve the thoughts Michael gave us to make us better disciples of Jesus.

      • Ditto what Jason said. You were exactly what Michael needed and what we all needed during these last few uncertain months. Thank you for being willing and available. I trust that we will be able to preserve Michael’s “voice” here in some manner, thereby giving others – for a long time to come – the opportunity to learn from Michael’s transparency and wisdom. He truly was a servant of Christ.

      • I too am saddened but hopeful that the site will be maintained. I have not been to it long but am one of the kindred who are encouraged here. God’s peace over Michael’s family.

  3. “…he gave voice to a community of people, who had concerns with what they saw in the church,…”
    This statement sums up why I was among that community of folks who daily read Michael. He put into eloquent words what many of us were feeling along our way through the “evangelical wilderness”. He will be missed indeed.

    • Caleb H says:

      Same here. I found this blog after all the hoopla surrounding “The Coming Evangelical Collapse,” and am probably only one of many who added it to my regular reading afterwards. The IMonk quickly became my favorite blogger. I could identify with many of the struggles and issues he wrote about, and his focus on Christ above all else was encouraging and inspiring.

      Rest in peace, Michael. My prayers are with the family.

      On a side note, I, too, would be interested in seeing a compilation of Michael’s essays on paper. He was one of the few contemporary Christian voices I agreed with more often than not.

  4. My prayers are with his family and friends. While I am happy that he is now with Jesus and no longer suffering, I have missed and will continue to miss his unique voice in the “evangelical wilderness”. His honesty, especially about the Coming Evangelical Collapse, was both courageous and personally inspiring. He will not be forgotten.

  5. Reading Michael’s essays was like breathing fresh air. I will miss him greatly.

    Here is what I posted on my blog

  6. I would like to add my voice to those who wish to express my love for Denise, whose writings have blessed me as much as Michael’s have, and that is an awful lot. I will miss the interaction all of us have had with Michael in the comment sections and the hard questions Michael asked from time to time. He didn’t want to hurt the church , he wanted to better the church and the Church.(all believers in Christ).

    I too would like to add that I believe the writers who have been filling in for Michael during his illness have done a wonderful job and I too would like to see this blog continue. As a die hard fan of Michael’s I don’t think I could stand for this blog not to be. Just my opinion.

    Debbie Kaufman

  7. Amen to those who have asked that the Internet Monk website be continued! Michael has been such a wonderful challenger and encourager and an encyclopedic resource for all of us who have been part of the “Monk” community. I would not only miss Michael, but also the other comments and interaction with the rest of us in the wilderness.

  8. Dan Crawford says:

    Nearly four years ago, I stumbled on Michael’s blog and was so enthralled by what I read, I came back daily even when I was away on vacation and away from my computer. (I discovered local libraries and their computers.) I do not consider myself an “evangelical” but what he wrote about “churchianity” and his personal struggles to remain faithful to Jesus and the Gospel were not only a challenge but a consolation. Echoing so many others who had never met him, I have lost a close friend, and the news of his death caused me to shed tears. Even on matters about which we would disagree, I know Michael was the kind of person I could sit at table with and understand that our disagreements were not estrangements.

    May the angels lead you into Paradise. May the martyrs receive you and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem, and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest.

    I too pray that an archive of Michael’s writing be made available on the web.

  9. David Cornwell says:

    I am a late arrival here, coming after Michael’s illness started doing its deadly work. But stopping here, lingering here, and pondering once again the great questions of our faith have renewed my passion for the gospel. I’ve read some of his older writings and their truths resonate deeply.

    Somehow, if one must die, the Season of Easter with all its hope in the Risen Christ is an appropriate time to make this passage.

    His work and this blog are in good hands. It will continue to be a daily stop for me.

    Some day we too will pass to that land where tears are wiped away.

  10. I admit I have been avoiding this site the last week just for my fear of just this news. It still is beyond my comprehension that such a soul is now lost to us. I grieve and cry, not just for the family and Michael’s readers but for the Evangelical Wildnerness that needed such a voice. The church is immesurably poorer from this day onward.

    it is simply not fair or right on any level.

  11. steve schromm says:

    Just a little note that I put on my Facebook. Had to edit the length so hope it does not seem too trite. Just wanted to say the same here…

    When I left the shallow church stuff after seeing what it really led to I came across a blog that really helped me start making sense of things. Some people were leaving not just churches but also Jesus behind. He helped me see the difference. He died today. Never met him but I am in tears. Tears for myself that I need him to begin with and that I’ve yet to become what I should for others. Michael Spencer, Thanks

  12. I’ve been lurking around here since before Internetmonk was an official blog, when it was just a collection of essays. I think it was the “Why Calvin is Cool’ essay that brought me here in the first place. I’m a lot younger, I was still in highschool when I began visiting the site, but in a lot of ways, my journey has reflected Michael’s… maybe its because he has been the most consistently read author in my life thus far.

    It is tough to see him go.

  13. A fellow traveler from The God Journey directed me here three years ago when I was very much stumbling around in the evangelical wilderness. I received much encouragement and guidance from the voice Michael was giving to many here as I read and listened during a crucial phase of my own journey with Jesus. Even after hearing the podcast dozens of times, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the various clips in the intro, which gave me a taste of his sense of humor that went beyond all that Michael said and wrote. Although I’ve often been moved to tears at the thought of his passing, and at the many tributes to the man and the work he was empowered to do by the Spirit of Christ living in him, I believe our baseball-lover friend Michael would continue to confront us with those immortal words: “There’s no crying in baseball!” And I’m eternally gratefully, with Michael, that in the unfathomable recesses of eternity past, our Father spoke words to the Son and Spirit somewhat similar to “I’ve figured out what to do with our sinner children!”

  14. Oh, goodness gracious. What a great saint.

    “Thoughts on Seeking the Kingdom” is one of the wittiest and most devotional pieces I have ever read anywhere, a life-adjuster.

    Love and prayers for his family, and thanks be to God for them and for Michael.

  15. John Jory says:

    Chaplin Mike says “It’s in the works, friends. Thanks for your affirmation and support. We are committed to keeping Michael’s voice and legacy alive. More to come…”
    THANK YOU! (and did you hear the WELL DONE!! shout from Heaven on Monday?)

    It is Enough
    Words are not enough, No matter how often repeated
    His words were not enough, Yet they are now completed

    His time was not enough, So we feel somewhat cheated
    His sharing was not enough, But we are not defeated

    He wasn’t here long enough, We were not with him enough
    We did not listened to him enough, We knew him not well enough

    His life was a journey, His example was clear
    He lived close to his Lord, He held His truths dear

    So it is enough that we heard his cries
    It is enough to see through his eyes
    It is enough to ponder things not clear
    It is enough to not leave any whys

    Matthew 10:25
    It is enough for the disciple
    that he be as his master,
    and the servant as his lord.

  16. regular-lurker-first-time-poster says:

    Not for the first time in my life, I’m thinking of that scene in The Poseidon Adventure where Gene Hackman, as the angry young minister, faces an unexpected obstacle and (this is a paraphrase) shakes his fist at God, screaming, “What the Hell are you thinking by putting obstacles like this in our path – just as we were getting somewhere!” To be honest, I don’t know what God was thinking by taking Michael from us just now. I do know that the Internet Monk asked those kind of hard questions of God and of the church without the anger and implicit distrust of God’s judgment – and what an astonishing tension to be able to hold onto! It was breathtaking to watch, learn from, and be fed by. Surely that’s part of what God had in mind in giving us Michael in the first place: as a model of how to face certain obstacles with an extraordinary combination of faith, patience, and honesty – all with a Kentucky accent. I’ll miss Michael’s voice, but its already been permanently planted in my heart. I’m so grateful.

  17. I feel I’ve lost a friend, although Michael might (will!) be surprised to see me write that. I’m a liberal Prot from the Episcopal church, and I often posted here in a contrarian fashion. Going up against one or another of his statements helped me to clarify my own beliefs, and I hope that it did not annoy him too much. (He usually won, of course.) I’m sure he’s fine with it now.

    I will miss his writing a great deal. My heart breaks for Denise and for the children.

    From the Book of Common Prayer, A Commendation at the Time of Death:

    Go forth, O Christian soul, out of this world;
    In the Name of God the Father Almighty who created you;
    In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you;
    In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you;
    May your rest be this day in peace,
    and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.

    Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Michael. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.

    Amen.

  18. I have been reading MIchael’s blog for 4 years and it has helped immensely to find someone that could say what I felt inside yet couldn’t articulate in any coherent manner. He helped me on many occasions to think through what I was dealing with and I am grateful to our Lord for that and using him as He did. I will cherish ‘Mere Churchianity’ now as if it were the Opus of his walk in faith. God’s grace to everyone here and those ministering to the family in this time of loss.

  19. Thank you, Michael for putting my thoughts into words. It sounds like we joined the Imonk community about the same time and he was such a God-send during my most difficult time in vocation and church life. He penned so well what was in my head and heart and so I did not feel so alone through this season.

    He reflected the way of our Lord in that he was a kindred spirit to such a diverse group of ragamuffins. Jesus in his perfection made others feel welcome and at home, Michael in his blessed imperfections and in his longing for Christ to be revealed both in his own life, the church and in the world.

    Michael S, I thank God in all my remembrance of you.

  20. I’m praying for the family grieving, but praise the LORD not w/o hope! What a hope Michael has realized with so many other saints from the centuries — unimaginable! Can’t believe he’s gone though . . .

  21. I find it sad I only discovered this blog due to the death of its author. In the little bit of time i have had to read it, i have discovered a Christian who thinks and feels the way I often do, which is sadly quite rare.

    May God Bless his servant.

    • and may GOD bless you JohnTheChristian…..welcome to the party, though it’s colored with sadness and hope; Come stay and journey thru the ev. wilderness with us. Glad to have you with us.

      Greg R

  22. Mark Browne says:

    So sorry to hear of Michael’s passing. I appreciated his candor and honesty to speak the truth in love to Southern Baptists. I guess he paid a price for that, as church affairs can be mean. Anyway, I said a prayer for him and his family today.

  23. I just am so sad at this loss I have tears in my eyes as I type.

  24. Duane Young says:

    There is a huge hole in the blogoshere. How sad it was to hear that Michael will not be back blogging. For months I was just praying for good news and his return, but this turn makes it very sad. It is just now hitting me how closely I followed his writing and how much it meant to me. Irreplaceable! I join in the prayers for the family–for support, spiritually, financially and otherwise. The suddenness of it all presses upon us all. I too trust Michael has heard those most comforting and gracious words, “Well done good and faithful servant!” From my puny spot they ring very true.

  25. The only thing I have to say is this:

    All men die, but very few men truly live.

  26. dumb ox says:

    I agree, too, that Michael’s work needs to be preserved. Gerard Serafin’s “A Catholic Blog for Lovers” is still accessible in a limited form, but a lot of the original links are broken. I would hate to see InternetMonk meet the same fate.

  27. “I’ve been lurking around here since before Internetmonk was an official blog, when it was just a collection of essays. I think it was the “Why Calvin is Cool’ essay that brought me here in the first place.”

    Yes, I remember that essay! I somehow came across Michael’s writings just as I was getting into Reformed theology. My own exposure was primarily through the “good guys”, ie. RC Sproul, Michael Horton & The White Horse Inn, etc., so I (fortunately) didn’t experience the more negative Reformed polemic that Michael seemed to have to deal with later on down the line. Today, due in large part to Michael’s more recent writings, I am now part of a wonderful Lutheran church.

    Oh, and I loved his fascinating essay on Appalachian culture (think it was a 2 or 3 part essay) from way back.

    So glad to hear Michael’s blog will carry on as a tribute, with the help of his friends and family!

  28. Christiane says:

    How strange it is that we all come from such different backgrounds and countries and faith traditions, and we all share the same affection for Michael and sadness at his going. There was something about Michael’s writing that resonated within all of us. People like Michael sure don’t come along very often.

    • JoanieD says:

      Christiane…I like to think that Michael got a kick out of we Catholic ladies on this blog! I would say we really enjoyed his honesty, intensity and his great love for and need for Jesus.

      • Christiane says:

        Yes, Joanie, I will miss him. But I won’t forget him. I sure won’t forget him.

  29. I have heard people talk about the online community and how connected people can become on the internet. Well, I know I’ve experienced this community through this blogsite. I am mourning the loss of a friend, even though I never met Michael face to face. I became closer to him than I am to people I see every week because Michael opened his heart to us and shared honestly his struggles and questions, his faith journey. Thank you Michael for your spiritual vulnerability. You have enriched our lives by sharing yours.

    My prayers and thoughts will be with your family as they face the coming days.

  30. Michael Bell,
    All I can say is Amen.
    Thank you.

  31. When I discovered Michael five years ago, it put me on the trail of discovering the Reformation and a saner way of doing Christianity. Had I not found Michael … or rather, had God not lead me to Michael and his writing … I might have abandoned my faith altogether.

    What a legacy he has left for us to treasure. May God bring much peace and comfort to his family and friends.

  32. I was so sorry to hear about IM’s passing. My memory of him was only through this blog but I did communicate with him in this context and found him to be gracious, smart and good humored. He will be missed.

  33. I’m sorry for your loss. I have recently lost a friend who greatly helped strengthen my relationship with God. It is because of her strong faith that I can smile knowing she’s living eternally right now. And because of her, I’ll be reunited with her again in heaven one day. I pray for your heart to continue healing, and ask God to give you continued comfort in knowing the wonders of eternal life.

  34. David Gallas says:

    I am not sure if anyone has posted this, but here is a nice tribute from the radio program, “Issues, Etc.” where Michael was a guest a couple of times.

    http://www.issuesetc.org/podcast/465040910special.mp3