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“This is the end of an amazing life.” So said Neil Bush when his father, President George H. W. Bush, passed away Friday night at his home in Houston.
Mr. Bush had been dealing with numerous health issues over recent years. In his last hours, he was asked if he wanted to go to the hospital. He declined, saying that he was ready to go and be with Barbara, his wife of seventy-three years, and their late daughter Robin, who died of leukemia in 1953 at the age of three.
Mr. Bush had rallied Friday morning but declined quickly that evening. His children around the country were notified. George W. Bush called from Dallas, telling him he had been a “wonderful dad” and that he loved him.
“I love you, too,” Mr. Bush told his son.
The New York Times reports that they were his last words. I disagree.
The youngest pilot in the Navy
George Herbert Walker Bush was the last US president to have served in combat. He and his wife hold the record for the longest marriage in presidential history.
He enlisted in the armed forces on his eighteenth birthday. The youngest pilot in the Navy when he got his wings, he flew fifty-eight combat missions during the Second World War. On one mission over the Pacific, he was shot down and rescued by a US submarine.
After a successful career in the oil industry, he turned to public service. He was elected to two terms in the House of Representatives, then served as Ambassador to the United Nations, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Chief of the US Liaison office in the People’s Republic of China, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, vice president, and president.
As president, he helped navigate the end of the Cold War, supported Germany’s reunification, and signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under his command, US forces liberated Kuwait and blocked the aggression of Saddam Hussein.
Since his passing, however, President Bush has been remembered most for his personal character.
“The greatest human being that I will ever know”
President Trump celebrated Mr. Bush’s “essential authenticity, disarming wit, and unwavering commitment to faith, family, and country.” President Obama called him “a patriot and humble servant.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said of him, “George H. W. Bush was an American hero and icon, he was a friend to all he met, he embodied class and dignity.” NATO Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison added, “He represented the best of our country with generosity, dignity, humility and kindness.”
His son, Jeb, called him simply “the greatest human being that I will ever know.”
Two commitments explain Mr. Bush’s legacy: his desire to live with integrity, and his love for the One whose Spirit produces such “goodness,” “faithfulness,” and “self-control” in his followers (Galatians 5:22-23).
“I hope I’m seen as steady, prudent and able”
Consider his passion for integrity.
In his Inaugural Address, President Bush pledged to use American strength as “a force for good.” He stated: “The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.”
At the end of his first year as president, he wrote in his diary: “I’m certainly not seen as visionary. But I hope I’m seen as steady, prudent and able.”
Mr. Bush’s faith in Christ was the abiding force that produced such a legacy of character. His pastor in Houston spoke to his deep faith in Jesus and its power in “inspiring us all to great unity, humility, and service.”
I experienced Mr. Bush’s commitment to humility and service when visiting his presidential library at College Station, Texas. My wife and I have visited many such libraries around the country. Understandably, most are primarily a tribute to the person and his presidency.
Mr. Bush’s library is a tribute to the values for which he lived and was willing to die and to the country he loved and served.
“When the time comes to die”
A life of such character does not end when its days on earth are over. The Bible says of the righteous Abel, “Through his faith, though he died, he still speaks” (Hebrews 11:4).
Now you and I have a choice. We can pause to remember the life of George H. W. Bush and then move on with our own lives. Or we can learn from his legacy and resolve to emulate his life of character and commitment to Jesus.
If we make the latter choice, our lives will speak on earth long after we are in heaven.
Yesterday, Janet and I attended worship with our older son and his family at their church. His pastor delivered a brilliant sermon in which he quoted this statement from the martyred missionary Jim Elliot: “When the time comes to die, make sure that all you have to do is to die.”
What if it were today for you?