On Saturday, June 26th, UCLA honored the greatest Coach in all of sport, Coach John Wooden. He died at age 99 and many people were hoping that he could have celebrated his 100th birthday before he graduated into glory. But an honest and quick question to ask oneself is, "Would you rather celebrate your 100th birthday here on earth? Or would you prefer to celebrate your 100th birthday in heaven with your beloved wife and your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ."
Up to the very last moment, Coach was aware of everything that was going on -- his health, his family, his condition, his place in history and of course his faith. We talked and prayed many times during the last 10 days of his life, and he simply had reached a decision that he wanted to go to heaven.
He would smile and jest with you. He was polite. He was considerate. He said, "I love you," to everyone who uttered those words to him. And, by the way, everyone who came to see him, his players, his friends and his family, said those beautiful words, and every time, Coach returned those same words of affection with such compassion. More than food or water, his only petition was that he wanted to go home. He wanted to be with Nell. On several occasions, a tear would come to the corner of his eye as his mind would flash to that moment that he would graduate into the arms of God.
His family was torn between him staying here in the present, with his 99 year old feeble frame, or allowing him to journey to his next place of residence...Heaven, with its golden streets and pearly gates, and of course, it's eternal clock. As only a true family can do, they came together, strengthened by each other, reaching the only conclusion they could, that they wanted what was best for "Papa".
So when it came time for the public service, they instructed the University that it was imperative that someone should speak and highlight the faith of Coach Wooden. It was one of the pillars of his life as evidenced in his poems, his words and his life. Credit goes to Jim and Nan Wooden, along with the grandchildren, for making sure this was a part of the service.
Thus, I was asked, by the family to make a presentation about Coach's faith. And for those who knew Coach, he never pushed his faith onto anyone else, but he did make it clear where he stood regarding his beliefs. And as I shared in the memorial service, he is in heaven today because of his faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.
He personally declared his intention for the scripture in Matthew 22 about "loving God and loving others" to be used, and thus I used that text. He felt, that the greatest word in the English language was the word love. He was a giant of a man, the likes of which we will never see again in our lifetime.
I want to leave you with the poem that the family placed in the program. It was entitled, "Don't Look Back," and it speaks not only of Coach's faith, but it also speaks of the family's wishes for the funeral to truly represent his life and thoughts.
The years have left their imprint
On my hands and on my face.
Erect no longer is my walk
And slower is my pace.
But there is no fear within my heart
Because I'm growing old
I only wish I had more time
To better serve my Lord.
When I've gone to Him in prayer
He has brought me inner peace
And soon my cares and worries
And other problems cease.
He has helped in so many ways,
He has never let me down,
Why should I fear the future
When soon I could be near His crown.
Though I know down here my time is short
There is endless time up there
And He will forgive and keep me
Forever in His loving care.
May I not waste an hour
That's left to glorify the Name
Of the One Who died, that we might live
And for our sins, took all the blame.
Thank you, Coach, for showing us how to live, and thank you for showing us how to live again.