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« Reverend J. L. Hall | Main | Pastoring in the Twenty-First Century »

My Tribute to Joe Carpenter

Greatness up close appears ordinary; the majesty of a mountain is often lost to the preoccupied traveler. It is only when the perspective undergoes a dramatic change that the magnitude of one’s blessing or relationship becomes apparent. So it was with the man who now lies in state before us. His unassuming ways camouflaged the greatness of his character. 

You may have known him as Reverend Carpenter, Brother Carpenter, Pastor, Bishop or District Superintendent, and deservedly so. Please indulge me as I refer to him as Joe, because that’s the way I knew him, and he would know that if I called him anything else, I wouldn’t be serious. I loved him; I just didn’t know how much until he left us. 

Philippians 1:19 “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope  that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.“ 

I was eight and Joe was ten when my dad moved our family to Jackson, Michigan. We became fast friends, although I suspect that the real reason he wanted to hang around me so much was because of my sister, Vicky, who, by the way, couldn’t stand him. More about that later.  Joe and I were part of an active youth group. He played the cornet in the orchestra and I played guitar. We both sang in the choir. We played baseball every Sunday afternoon during the summer, back when church didn’t start until 7:30 and we didn’t know about coming early to practice. Joe played the infield, and he had the coolest ball glove because he knew how to oil it and stretch it until it had the perfect pocket to catch a ball. 

Joe knew how to do a lot of things. At sixteen years of age, he installed a complete furnace system in his parents’ home, electrical wiring, ductwork and all. At seventeen, he totally rebuilt the engine of his ’57 Chevy. He was a math and science major in high school and was breezing through Calculus class when I was trying to figure out basic Algebra. His mind seemingly knew no boundaries of abilities or interests, and his formidable intellect allowed him to pivot from the abstract to the concrete without missing a beat. As we both matured, I remember our constant debates over every subject under the sun, whether it was golf, politics, theology or cars. He frustrated me to no end because he always knew what he was talking about.  

What Joe didn’t know, he was willing to learn, and when he learned something, he excelled at it. He worked for a brick mason and earned his trust to the point that he was put in charge of running jobs by himself. I worked for the same man and didn’t make it through a whole summer. My dad was so confident in Joe’s ability that he let him design and implement remodeling projects for the church building. 

The only thing that Joe floundered at was his ability to make an impression on Vicky. He was struck with her at an early age, but couldn’t get out of the shadows of the Larrys, the Chucks and the Jerrys— to name a few. But this only revealed another quality of Joe—his incredible patience. He knew who he wanted, and he was determined to have her. Eventually, his patience was rewarded, and he got his bride at age eighteen. Five years later, he was my best man at my wedding, and he became my golfing buddy, our navigator on countless trips, my ministerial colleague, my fellow General Youth Committee and General Board member and my faithful confidant. Many times, I used Joe as my sounding board, my instant situation analyst, my official opinionator. I always wanted to know what Joe thought about my plans, dreams and projects. His ability to cut through the fat and the spin was worth it’s weight in gold. 

Joe’s brilliance in a wide spectrum of subjects was surpassed only by the integrity of his character. This is possibly illustrated best by reflecting on his given names, Joseph and Daniel. To those of us who are familiar with the Bible, each of these names is significant. There are probably not any two Bible characters whose lives represent more appropriate comparisons to Bishop Carpenter than these. 

Genesis 39:2-6 (NKJV) “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph’s hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate. 

Daniel 6:1-5 (NKJV) It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss. Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him.” 

It was said of John, “there was a man, sent from God, whose name was John.” there is no doubt in my mind, and certainly not in the minds of those in Mt. Morris, Imlay City, and the Michigan District, that Joe Carpenter was a man sent from God. Earlier this week, a minister remarked to me that if he ever had to settle down in a single church, he would want Brother Carpenter to be his pastor. I can understand that sentiment. To Joe Carpenter, life was never about Joe Carpenter. It was always about Jesus and others. 

In speaking of duty, honor and country, Gen. Douglas McArthur told a graduating class of cadets at West Point: 

“They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness; the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength

That was the measure of this man.

To those of us left in the wake of this man’s greatness, do not let the question of “why” overshadow the expression of “wow!” The light of his life has shone brilliantly enough for all of us to see clearly. I see my life better because of his example. I see Jesus better through the life of Joseph Daniel Carpenter.

Oh, yes, I didn’t mention the meaning of his third name, Carpenter. The picture of Jesus as the carpenter, the one willing to get his hands callused and dirty, and still retain his dignity, is the perfect completion to this Carpenter’s son. 

To all of his close friends, Joe cherished you. That’s why, anytime he could, he dropped everything and went on vacations, played golf, or just spent time with you. His friendship was loyal and true. 

To the Michigan District, Bishop Carpenter loved you from Monroe to Three Oaks to the Keweenaw Penisula. In his last days with us, he suddenly exclaimed, “Souls, souls, evangelize!” He wanted this district to grow. It was his mission and he pursued it methodically and intently. 

To the precious saints of Mt. Morris and Imlay City, Pastor Carpenter loved you. You will never know how much he sacrificed for you to see you prosper. When you suffered, he suffered. When you lost jobs or lost loved ones, it devastated him. You were his life. He is going to present you to Christ with great joy. 

Samuel, Joshua and Kelsey, you brought great joy to your Grandpa’s life. Never forget the fact that he loved you.  

Joe and Sherrie, Angela and Jay, Dad not only loved you, he was immensely proud of you. He tried to mute his praise of you to keep from boasting, but you could see the pride in his eyes.  He basked in the light of your successes and accomplishments. You validated his fatherhood. 

Vicky. Even at sixty-five, you could tell that he still couldn’t believe that he was the one who got you to marry him. We’ve all seen the picture of that kiss—no not 46 years ago at your wedding.  I’m talking about just last year in Venice! To say he loved you would be an understatement. You were his queen. Other than Jesus, you were his reason for living. 

That brings us to the open week on his calendar. His date book was filled with appointments and notes on almost every day or week of the year.  As we flipped through it, however, something very strange leaped out at us.  There was only one week that had absolutely nothing penciled in—that was this week, the week in which he passed from this life on Monday, his wake was held on Thursday, and today, Friday, October 7, 2011, his homegoing service.  The only thing I can figure out is that he must have told God, “Well, if you want me to come home, I only have one week free that I can do it!” 

Today, the draftsman is admiring the architecture of paradise. The district superintendent is in awe of the organization of heaven; the pastor is recounting the sheep given to him to care for and the brilliant mind is overwhelmed by the omniscience of God in full display. 

And for me, the travel agent is checking out the accommodations and amenities. First class, all the way! 

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. 

Goodbye, my good friend. I’ll see you in the morning.

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Reader Comments (2)

Uncle Mark, this was an incredible tribute... thank you so much for so eloquently describing Dad, and sharing your own heart with us. We love you, and thank God for you and your family. You did an outstanding job on Friday, and this weekend... I know he would have been proud.

October 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJay Jones

That is the Bro. Carpenter everyone in Michigan knew and respected. There's a tremendous poem by Carl Sandburg, a favorite of my wife and I, entitled "The Couple." I told my wife that Sandburg must've known the Carpenter's because they were a couple. Great words for a great man of God. Thanks for sharing this, I wish I could've come to pay my respects to a man our family honors and esteems greatly.

October 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrandon Hartzell

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