Monday, December 24, 2018

God Sent Forth His Son in Love for Kevin Taylor

Kevin Taylor
It's Christmas Eve.

As I write, I vacillate between emotions. The joy that comes from reflecting on God sending forth His Son is mixed with sadness over losing a friend.

Kevin Taylor died very early yesterday morning (Central Time). He fought a brief, courageous battle with brain cancer.

With permission from his wife Robin, I'm writing this tribute.

God's love is real, but if the conversation is only about "God's love for the world," Divine love remains in the attic of our thinking - distant, impersonal, and conceptual

But when Divine love is discussed in the living room of a sinner's personal experience, God's love is brought home to the heart - a present, personal, and practical love that transforms lives.
"When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son." (Galatians 4:4)
That verse is the basis of my Christmas Eve message for those who will later gather for our Candlelight Services at Emmanuel Enid, Oklahoma. 

I want to bring God's love home to the heart for the reader, and for Kevin Taylor's family particularly, through telling Kevin's story of faith, courage, and grace this Christmas Eve. 
"God sent forth His Son in love for Kevin Taylor." (Galatians 4:4)

Kevin Taylor's Courage

I first came to know Kevin Taylor when he emailed me this fall, shortly after he'd been told he didn't have long to live. As I was working on my computer in my home office in late September, I received a notification of a new email in my inbox.

I clicked on it and read this: 
Hi Wade,
I have listened to a number of your messages and archived series. I want to say thank you for the blesssings they have been to my wife and me. I have stage 4 brain cancer and have been given less than 6 months. I have no fear of where I will spend eternity either going to sleep or to be in His presence. the peace that I have is because of the truth God has given to you. I am not worried "Did I do enough?" as it is all been taken care of at the Cross by Christ!!
Thank you for speaking out in love and truth it is a the truth and a message to all to those who might be held in bondage of legalism and hopelessness. Till we rejoice together in eternity in Christ.
Your brother in Christ.
Kevin Taylor
Two things in Kevin's email immediately stood out to me. First, Kevin took a matter-of-fact approach to his terminal illness. I’ve been around death and dying people my entire life. The reaction to impending death is usually fear. It’s always refreshing to sense someone facing death like they would an impending vacation to an exotic, far-away city. It may involve some work, discomfort, and even trouble getting there, but in the end, it’s worth it.

Second, people who reach out to express their appreciation to someone else during a difficult time in their own lives – a time when most people would be thinking only of themselves -  is a characteristic to be admired and imitated. 

I immediately wrote Kevin back and gave him my cell phone number and asked him to contact me so I could visit with him further. 

Kevin called me. I learned that on Friday, September 23, 2018, Kevin had struggled to land his Citation jet at the airport at Jackson Hole, Wyoming. He had suddenly lost his depth perception and spatial comprehension at 20,000 feet. The mental confusion came next, seizing him rapidly and without warning.  The flight had been smooth until Kevin completely lost his ability to know up from down, left from right, backward from forward. 

Fighting the urge to panic, and feeling concern for his passengers, Kevin forced his eyes to concentrate on the jet’s instruments as he made his swift descent and approach to Jackson Hole’s airport runway. Looking back, Kevin didn't know how he managed to get the plane safely to the ground. 

“It was a miracle.” As soon as he landed, Kevin called his boss requesting a replacement pilot to finish the charter.

“I’m sick,” Kevin said.  

What he couldn’t have known at the time was that this charter flight to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was to be his last flight. Kevin was more than just sick.

Kevin was dying.

A glioblastoma malignant tumor had overtaken the left side of Kevin’s brain, putting pressure on his cerebral stem. Thinking that he only needed adjustment from his chiropractor, and not knowing the seriousness of his medical condition, Kevin rented a car at the Jackson Hole airport to drive 90 miles to his home in Afton, Wyoming. “I’ll be home in a couple of hours,” Kevin told his wife, Robin.

The rental car company would later tell the family that Kevin damaged the rental on his way home, sideswiping the guardrails on his way out of the parking lot. Kevin vaguely remembers running red lights on the way home, but not comprehending what he was doing. When he finally made it home, he could barely walk.

Robin immediately took her husband to the hospital. After a CT scan that showed the tumor, the doctor recommended to Robin that Kevin be med-flighted to Salt Lake City, Utah, to see the chief neurologist at the University of Utah Medical Center.

Choosing instead to drive her husband. Robin drove Kevin to the hospital. Their three kids met them at the hospital and the neurology department sent Kevin through a battery of tests.

The diagnosis came back. 
"Kevin, you might not make it to Christmas, maybe not even Thanksgiving." 
Wade Burleson and Kevin Taylor, November 25, 2018
After a few conversations with Kevin and Robin over the phone and Facetime, I flew to Irvine, California on Sunday, November 25, 2018, to meet them. They had moved to Irvine to live with their son Colby, a worship pastor at Mariner's Church, after Colby and his wife Brittany offered Robin their help in caring for Kevin during his final weeks under hospice. 

As I sat outside with Kevin and Robin drinking coffee on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, Kevin told me his story. He would say it's a typical story of an average American middle-aged male.

But I believe Kevin's story tells us that one is not ready to live until one is ready to die.

Kevin Taylor's Career

Kevin was born to blue-collar parents Roman Catholic parents from West Alton, Missouri. He was the seventh of what would be ten Taylor kids, with four other foster kids that Kevin's mom and dad later adopted. Kevin's dad was a carpenter by trade, and his mom stayed at home, caring for all the children.

Kevin attended St. Patrick's School, participating in mass before the first bell, and later serving as an altar boy. He played football and baseball at St. Patrick's but spent most his time either at church or at work. To help out with family finances, Kevin went to work as soon as he could, finding as much manual labor work as possible.

On November 28, 1975, Kevin Taylor married his high school sweetheart (Robin) at the same Catholic parish where he'd been made an altar boy exactly twelve years earlier. 

The young married couple did all they could to make financial ends meet.  Robin worked as a teller, and Kevin worked at Pepsi, loading delivery trucks. 

But then Kevin had an idea.

In Alton, Illinois, right across the Mississipi River from West Alton, Missouri, the Alton Civic Memorial Airport ran an FBO (Fixed Base Operator) Pilot School.  Kevin saved his money, took pilot lessons, and after obtaining his pilot license, became an instructor at the school.

Soon, some businessmen opened a Charter Company at Alton and asked Kevin to fly for them. 

That was the beginning of a charter flight career that took Kevin all over the country. The Taylor family grew in size as they welcomed three children into their home: Ryan, Colby, and Miranda. 

Kevin, Robin, and their oldest son Ryan (Colby and Miranda were not yet born) lived in Alton, Illinois as Kevin commuted to airports all over the east coast (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York), flying for his wealthy clients. In 1985, the Taylors bought a home in Barrington, New Hampshire so Kevin wouldn't have to commute so far for work, and then they later bought a home in Rockland, Maine where the kids would eventually graduate from high school. 

Kevin told me some pretty incredible stories about his flying career. Protecting the privacy of his clients, I won't share most of the stories, but he did give me permission to write that many of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein most likely occurred in the back of planes Kevin piloted for Mr. Weinstein. Harvey was always nice to Kevin ("He tipped my crew and me $1,000 every trip"), but Kevin sadly reminded me that one never knows what goes in a person's private life. 

Kevin shared some stories of flying well-known evangelists who preached "faith and prosperity," but 20,000 feet high, they practiced "fear and panic," doubting the love of God because of storms all around. 

Kevin could have taught those evangelists a lesson about trusting God.

Kevin Taylor's Christ

Robin, Colby, Wade, and Kevin
Most of the time I spent with Kevin on Sunday, November 25, 2018, involved a discussion with Kevin about Christ's love.

Raised as a Catholic altar boy, Kevin's concept of Christianity was all about performance. "If you perform for God, then God will bless you." 

It was not until Kevin and Robin were married adults with kids of their own that they came to an understanding that the performance they should trust was God's performance on their behalf, not their performance on God's behalf. This was a radically new way of thinking, and it was the culmination of many years of God pursuing Kevin and Robin. 
"Through the influence of business associates who talked to us about the love of God, events in our families that led us to questions about God's love, and a pastor who came by our house to pray for us when we were in serious need of prayer, we opened our hearts to the love of Christ and came to rest in His performance on the cross for us." 
Kevin and Robin were baptized on Easter Sunday 1987. For nearly three decades they were faithful to their small evangelical community church, but due to a move that necessitated leaving their home church and subsequent problems with leaders who were spiritually abusive at their new church, Kevin and Robin began listening to Emmanuel Enid's LIVE broadcasts on Sunday.
"Often when I fly, I'm gone over the weekend, so I'd pull up Emmanuel's online service and participate. Over time, we learned so much about the grace of God in our lives and the work and ministry of Emmanuel that we began to consider Emmanuel Enid our home church.  
Kevin told me the Sunday morning study at Emmanuel from the book of Hebrews crystalized his understanding of "the liberty and peace that comes from trusting Christ and not one's performance for God."

It's the message from Hebrews 12:22-24 entitled But You Have Come to Mt. Zion which turned Kevin's life around.

Kevin told me that he came to a firm conviction through listening to this sermon that obedience to the Law of Sinai, or to the law of the church (be it Roman Catholic or Fundamentalist Baptist), or to any other law would never bring him true freedom or give him true peace.
"I can't thank Emmanuel Enid enough for all the church has done to strengthen a couple that's never been to Enid, never set foot in your buildings, but have benefited from the teaching ministry. This former Roman Catholic altar boy and former Fundamentalist Baptist is now only impressed with God's grace; nothing else. I'm prepared to die because I understand that true riches in this life are found in Christ alone. 
With the help of Colby Taylor and Mariner's Church video team, Kevin made a video for our church members, expressing his appreciation (it will be shown at Emmanuel Enid next Sunday).

Our Christmas Eve services begin in just a couple of hours, and I must go prepare to speak on God's love. But Kevin's testimony and example have helped me today move God's love from the attic of my mind to the warmness of my heart. I'll be speaking this Christmas Eve to other Kevins who need to know that God loves sinners, not perfect people.

And when that love is known, even a sinner can face impending death with courage, grace, and peace.

I'd like to close with a pastoral word to Kevin's family.

Your husband, father, and grandfather taught me by experience what it means to rest in God's love. I may preach it, but he practiced it. He faced his death so courageously because he embraced Christ's death so confidently.

My personal message to you this Christmas 2018.
God sent forth His Son in love for Kevin, and for you Robin, and for you Ryan, Jennifer, Wesley, and Camden; and for you Colby, Brittany, and Levi; and for you Miranda, Chris, Ryken, and Brycen.
The sign of God's love for you during this difficult hour comes directly from God: "For the Lord Himself has given you a sign: The virgin conceived and gave birth to a Son, and she called his name Emmanuel - God with us."
God is indeed with you, loving each of you personally, deeply, and eternally. 
Emmanuel proves it.