The Life Verse

A tribute my son Eric Jonathan Tharp by his Pop

June 19,1985 - November 28, 2003

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Lamentations 3:22,23, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” 

Growing up within the framework of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement and loving every minute of it I took on several life verses. I recall in a youth camp I determined my verse would be what Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” I could quote it and even signed it in another kid’s Bible right after he signed mine! A powerful verse but worlds away from the reality of my own life. After all, what does an 11-year-old boy know about the depth of what Paul was saying there as he began the deepest epistle in the cannon of holy Writ! Time went on and I claimed another and then another verse all marking the progressive steps into a young man called to preach and now ready to serve the Lord with all the strength of a recent high school graduate. I went to Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, MI in the summer of 1982 and I pulled onto the college property sporting my 1967 Chevy Impala (327 small block) clinging to II. Timothy 1:9, “Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” I still remember how eager I was when Dr. Charles McNeely asked all freshmen to stand up in class orientation and give our life verse. There, I was prepared! 

I loved my college years. I loved sitting in classes where Dr. Tom Malone taught us about ministry. He also taught Shakespearean Literature. Enough said. I sat and learned from men, many now with the Lord, and they provoked me to be real and get ahold of God. I determined to live that verse, my life verse. B.R Lakin thundered in the chapel and in the same year Harold Sightler did too. I can still see Dr. Lee Roberson, Dr. Paul Vanaman, and Dr. Tom Malone Jr. in chapel delivering those targeted messages. They preached as if the entire hope of winning this world was on our shoulders. Many others stood and cried aloud for someone to stand in the gap, Dr. Charles Whitfield, Dr. Curtis Hutson, Dr. Jack Hyles so many more and were profoundly impacted, we the future pastors and missionaries in training. Then to sit week after week in Emmanuel Baptist Church where the 3,000-seat auditorium would seem so full with Dr. Malone’s powerful voice and we were in the best place on earth! I held onto every word those preachers said and even stood in a very long line, you know why, to get them to sign my Bible! I would immediately search out their life verse and even consider claiming that one too! I will never forget having Dr. Malone sign my Bible while my dad was at Midwestern (1973-77) and he signed it using Romans 8:32. I sat right down in the theater seat/pew in the great Emanuel Baptist auditorium where I was saved just weeks before (1974) and read those special words, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things?” My momma signed Jeremiah 33:3 and my dad held to Philippians 3:10, where he as a new believer, at the age of 30, no longer living for himself but now completely surrendered, cried out with Paul, “That I may know Him…” I met and fell in love with my wife JoAnne and over the years she too has had a number of life verses. God gave her Isaiah 43:10 when Mom Boston called her to inform that the cancer had returned. “…Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name: thou art mine.” The life verse was the truth that helped when she was buried so early in life, age 56.

God placed in my heart as a 21-year-old graduate of Bible college I. Thessalonians 5:24, “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it.” The Lord called us to Holyoke, MA to plant a church and in those days church planters did not seek support. So, believe me, we needed the Lord! We simply believed He was able to do in and through us far greater than any other could. We moved into a duplex on Northampton Street and began with Bible studies. I figured out very quickly what a benefit is was to have a little chubby 1 year old going door to door with me. People just seemed nicer. Our church was organized in October of that year and now once again the Lord gave another verse, one that launched the Mountain View Baptist Church, Psalm 127:1, “Except the LORD build the house they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain.” My, how that verse kept our hearts tender and expectation rightly placed. There in very Catholic and stoic New England step by step we watched the LORD arrange a group of people who would call me pastor and love us three! Soon to be four, then five and finally six! God blessed our work there and our lives blossomed even building our own home on 5 acres 9 miles from the church property and buildings we were to enjoy as we grew older.

My life verse changed suddenly. Our eldest boy was a freshman at Midwestern and even class president. Eric preached on Sunday night at Charity Baptist Church in Ruby, MI for my friend Steve Pace. That was the 7th pulpit he had preached in besides mine. He set off to come home for Thanksgiving very early November 26th and made the 638-mile drive coming in very early on Thanksgiving morning. He had some engine trouble along the way but otherwise no problems, our boy was home. We celebrated around the table and then put up the Christmas lights on our beautiful home. Eric, his brother Joe and I always loved working together. At least, I think they liked working with me! Joseph turned 12 on the 21st and we planned a birthday party the day after Thanksgiving for him when big brother came home. I told Eric I wanted him to take his ’98 Ford Explorer to a shop and get the issue looked at. Eric said he didn’t want to do it but I insisted and so at noon he left after kissing his mother and me and saying, “love ya pop.” I left shortly after and was headed into town when my phone rang, “Eric was in an accident.” My wife and I rushed to the hospital and I was destined to bring my wife, youngest son, Lisa and Jessica into a reality that we never dreamed could happen, Eric was killed in the accident. He died instantly on November 28, 2003 at 12:08pm.

Our family came to us. Our church family too. They saved our lives. We sorrowed together and turned to the Lord. My father sorrowed. I sorrowed for him and I needed his comfort, but he was in shock and wonder. Eric lived 18 years 5 months and 9 days. He left a testimony and legacy as a Christian, soulwinner, bus worker, a third-generation preacher and most of all a precious son and brother.

He also left a life verse. His has become mine. …”Great is Thy faithfulness.”

My son knows the Lord Jesus face to face, he has seen him. Eric has become my ancestor and knows the Lord far beyond what even I can imagine. This is now my great comfort that He is great in faithfulness. His mercies are renewed every morning. It is true! His compassions fail not! We will be gathered together in that land where night never comes.

He is buried along the banks of the beautiful Connecticut River in the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts. The city God called us to. On the back of his tombstone are the words of his life verse, now mine, Lamentations 3:22,23.

Pastor Eric M. Tharp
Goose Creek, SC