J.R. Mills was 86 when he died on July 28. I found him to be one of the most well-read and studious individuals I had ever come across. He was the first person in Cleveland, Tenn. to invite me to his home for a weekly study of the Bible.
Anyone who knew him knew how much he loved discussing the Word of God. He had an amazing ability to recite Scriptures and an unquenchable thirst to increase his knowledge and wisdom. I never intended to stay longer than an hour at his home, but 2 1/2 hours later I found myself wondering where the time went. That’s how enjoyable it was to visit with him and his wife, Louise. In years past we discussed everything from life and death to baseball and the Bible. As friends, we saw eye-to-eye on many things. One of the things we agreed on is that death is not a friend.
The Bible calls it “the last enemy” at 1Corinthians 15:26. But as a student of the Bible, J.R. did not fear death. He loved life but he was not afraid of death. This was true because he understood what death was; the opposite of life. He would quote Genesis 3:19 and tell me how God told Adam and Eve “dust you are and to dust you shall return.” — New King James Version.
Then he would tell me if Adam and Eve went anywhere other than back to the dust, God would not have been telling them the truth — that if they ate from the forbidden fruit they would die, not keep living elsewhere, but cease to exist. It was that simple to him.
He based his views on several Scriptures, but three of his favorites that we discussed were Ecclesiastes 9:5 that says, “For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing.” — New King James Version. He would tell me if the dead knows nothing, how could they be tormented or enjoy a life of bliss anywhere else? Sometimes I would just listen and smile. I felt he needed to say these things out loud — things he was convinced was the truth, but could not understand why others could not see them clearly.
We discussed Daniel 12:2, “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” — King James Version.
“Don’t people understand that right now everyone who dies is like they are sleeping?” he would ask. Sometimes he would laugh and say, “They need to read their Bibles and stop listening to what everybody is telling them. It’s all right there in the book!”
Then we’d go to John 11:11-24, where Jesus spoke about the death of his friend Lazarus. In that account he told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up. Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’” — New King James Version.
This is why J.R. did not fear death. He knew it was like a sleep. He also accepted Jesus as his savior and believed in a resurrection to life again. At John 11:25, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” — New King James Version.
At that time, according to Revelation 21:4-5, death will be no more and God would make all things new. This is where I hope to see J.R. — a man who searched for truth and shared what he discovered. Few people his age had his memory. Few people I’ve known shared his eagerness to learn. I never met anyone who loved talking about the deep things of God the way J.R. did. He will be missed.
He also enjoyed talking about the glory days of playing baseball with his longtime neighborhood friends. I can still hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he talked about pitching and playing ball, but he was too modest to mention that he was inducted into the Bradley County Sports Hall of Fame for baseball in 1995, or that he played a key role in organizing the Hiwassee Baseball League. I had to find that out on my own.
However, few things brought him more joy and laughter than talking about the first time he met his beloved, Louise, leading up to their marriage! It was obvious to me that he loved her more than he could ever say. I knew him as a man who loved his wife, loved his children and loved God deeply. Typical of many World War II veterans, J.R. didn’t share his feelings about certain things, but he always shared his thoughts about God’s Word, his love of baseball and his love of family.
In a world where most people gullibly believe what they are told, here was one man who did not follow the crowds. He studied his Bible, searched for truth, reached out for help, reasoned on the Scriptures and proved to himself the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. People like that are hard to find, and even harder to lose.