Pastor's Pastor

Mary K. and Karla Faye

Another look at sin and the Blessed Hope we have in Christ to save us.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

These two women could not have been more different. Mary K. was a pastor's wife. Karla Faye was an ax murderer. Mary K. was a woman of virtue. Karla Faye was a woman of violence.

For nearly 60 years, Mary K. gave her life in willing service to others. During her much shorter life Karla Faye destroyed the lives of others.

Recently, much of the world watched and waited to see if Karla Faye Tucker would become the first woman executed by the State of Texas in 135 years. Thousands of individuals---including personal pleas to the governor from such notables as Pope John Paul II and Pat Robertson prayed that her life would be spared from the lethal injection which finally ended her life.

Now let's make one thing clear. Karla Faye Tucker deserved to die for her sins.

Back in 1983, during a weekend orgy with her boyfriend, Karla Faye, a drug-addicted prostitute, consumed astonishing quantities of Valium, heroin, speed, percodan, mandrax, marijuana, dialudid, methadone, tequila, and rum. Then, in a revenge robbery, the pair brutally murdered two individuals by hacking their bodies into pieces with a pickax.

A Texas jury found the evidence of her guilt so compelling and her crime so heinous that they sentenced her to death for her deeds.

And at the end, Karla received the death penalty she deserved despite unmistakable evidence that while in prison she had been genuinely converted and had become a born again Christian.

Neither legal appeals that reached even the Supreme Court of the United States, nor fervent requests for mercy from famous preachers, nor a United Nations resolution, nor the fervent prayers of thousands of believers, deterred her execution from moving forward on schedule.

Of course, not everyone prayed for Karla's life to be spared. Although the brother of one of her victims' pled for her death sentence to be commuted, the husband of that same victim expressed his delight in the approaching death penalty and loudly declared that Karla was about to meet his wife "on the other side." There, he asserted, she would receive an even more severe punishment.

Likewise, skeptics of jail house conversions declared that any prisoner facing execution will get religion and that if Karla's conversion was not "death bed," it was, at the very least, "death row." They point out that jailhouse conversions are both commonplace and not relevant in deciding who gets a reprieve and Texas has never granted pardon to anyone based on religious conversion.

On the other hand, Mary K. was the consummate pastor's wife. Baptized as a young girl of 14, she devotedly followed her Lord for the next 56 years, over half a century of that in partnership ministry.

If Mary K. understood God's will on any subject, she followed it. All who knew her declared she was a saint, if for no other reason than that she faithfully supported her pastor spouse who self-admits he was "difficult" to live with.

Throughout their ministry, Mary K. was often the oil poured on troubled waters in the churches they served and her sweet spirit was influential in showing many the meaning of God's love.

From a young age, Mary K. dedicated whatever talents she possessed to Christ's service. Her musical abilities, organizational skills, outgoing demeanor, savvy understanding of personalities, intuitive comprehension, firm will, and financial acumen consistently secured the best for God's cause and for her family.

As a direct result of Mary K.'s influence, all three of her sons became ministers. The Biblical description of a virtuous woman aptly describes Mary K.'s life.

Facing her threescore and tenth birthday in declining health, Mary K. expressed her confidence in her Saviour and her desire to rest in Jesus rather than to continue the struggle with pain and disability. In His mercy, our Heavenly Father allowed her to fall asleep in Jesus.

Now let's make one more thing clear. Mary K. deserved to die for her sins.

You may wonder at this assertion after I've told you of her saintly service through so many decades. But the reality is that Mary K. was as much a sinner as Karla Faye.

Scripture declares the wages of sin is death and, like Karla Faye, Mary K. was a sinner. Whether pastor's spouse or pickax prostitute, the reality of human existence is that we are sinners. We may all sin differently, but we are all sinners alike.

I can even tell you a few of Mary K.'s faults. Although she would have never stooped to their level, she seldom suffered fools or their ventures. She also made obedience a virtue to the extent that she later realized she had never fully known the reality of righteousness by faith until the last decade of her life when she read the personal testimony of Martin Weber in his book, My Tortured Conscience and experienced years of greater joy as a result.

Now Mary K. was several decades ahead of Karla Faye in her walk with God as well as light-years in the process of sanctification, the life-long, ongoing experience of God's work in the lives of His people. But in the assurance of justification and in eager anticipation of resurrection, the pastor's wife was not one step ahead of the pickax killer.

Although they approached their death's from different perspectives, both these women now await the promised resurrection when Jesus returns.

Both Mary K. and Karla Faye approached death in the certainty of the blessed hope. Mary K. knew that she would experience the rest of the blessed in Jesus and Karla Faye was certain that she would meet face to face with Jesus the next moment after her execution.

And that blessed hope they shared is the personal promise of our Saviour. If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, to receive you unto myself that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:1-3). The whole purpose of Jesus' return is to reunite Himself with His people so that we can all be together in His kingdom.

Blessed hope! Blessed assurance!

Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, with the trump of God and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then, we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (I Cor.i5:51-54 and I Thess. 4:16-18).

By the way, I share the Blessed Hope with Mary K. and Karla Faye. In fact, I am personally related to these two women of such disparate backgrounds. Mary K. Cress is my mother. And Karla Faye Tucker, through our mutual faith in Jesus, is my sister.

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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