One of my favorite authors talks about a “long obedience in the same direction.”* When I hear that phrase, I think of Pastor Salim Elias. On June 30, 2021 Pastor Elias took his final rest in Jesus at the age of 98 years old. This weekend (April 16) is his birthday.
98 years of loving Jesus and walking with Him. Decades of sermons, home visits, Bible studies, prayers, and warm welcome. He died in Jesus and in hope of what is to come.
The Scripture says, “We do not grieve without hope” (1 Thess 4:13), but we do grieve. We grieve the loss of our dear Patriarch Pastor at Azure Hills Church who loved Jesus and loved us all. My heart is especially heavy for the Elias family who lost their dad and grandfather, uncle and brother. I continue in prayer for them.
The legacy of Pastor Salim Elias is significant. The way he has blessed the Azure Hills Church where I pastor is immense, his meaningful ministry woven into the fabric of this congregation since 1976. 45 years of presence. For 45 years, he tangibly represented Jesus to so many, including me in the 5 years I knew him.
I have to be honest with you: I have wept over the loss of this man. Pastor Elias was special. I still feel an ache, a longing for him to be back with us.
Church members have recounted stories of open arms and loving acceptance. Of how Pastor Elias said, “I love you” as they came in the door and greeted their children with big hugs and kisses. The stories of how he called at Christmas and New Year’s. Someone from the community said they left the church and for 10 years afterward they got a call from Pastor Elias on Christmas. They didn’t know how the church would respond to their divorce but here was this loving call, year after year. I’ve heard so many beautiful stories. If I could summarize them all it would be this: Pastor Elias loved me. He was excited when he saw me. He remembered me. He prayed for me.
I believe that what sustained Pastor Salim Elias through all of his years of ministry was his connection with Jesus. Jesus was his life and his love, his Source and his hope.
For me, the welcome and love of this man has made a forever impact on my heart. Pastor Elias called me “Beloved of God” and said, “I love you” as he greeted me on Sabbath and kissed my cheek. After words were no longer assessable to him, I could see the same message being communicated in his expressions. His eyes and smile, so full of life and love. I was taken with his love for Jesus. He had a sweet and tender relationship that drew us in. I will never forget his kindness and hospitality. The light in his eyes. I will miss my mentor and my friend. I feel like God connected our hearts in ways that are beyond my ability to express in words.
At the end of my ministry and my life, what I want more than anything is to know that I have loved with the best of what I have. That I have loved Jesus and loved all the people around me with His love. There is nothing more important. Absolutely nothing.
Beloveds, in what way is the Holy Spirit calling you to focus on what matters most today?
My prayer for myself and for all of us is:
God, turn our hearts to you.
Keep us faithful until the end.
Keep us open, loving, and serving as you.
As we wait for our Jesus and the blessed reunion.
Our hope is in You.