Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Remembering Vonette Bright, Day 4

Leslie Basham: At 10:00 a.m., on January 8, 2016, the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida held a memorial service honoring the life of Vonette Zachary Bright.

Dr. David Swanson: All rise, please, as the family enters.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth:  "A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of birth. It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart." (Eccl. 7:1–2 ESV).

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth for Thursday, February 4, 2016.

Nancy: This week we've been taking the time to honor the life of a dear friend and mentor of mine, Vonette Bright. On December 23, 2015, Vonette transitioned from this life, where she lived for eighty-nine years, to the next life, where she will live for all the rest of eternity!

As you listen to these highlights from her memorial service, see if you can do as we just heard from Ecclesiastes chapter 7—"the living lay it to heart." You'll hear a lot of wonderful things being said about a woman who loved people and loved God.

Ask yourself questions like,

  • Do I love others the way I should?
  • How can I grow in my love for the Lord?
  • What am I passionate about?
  • What brings me joy?
  • How can I live my life with a greater degree of intentionality? 
  • How will others remember me when I've passed from this life?

The service was officiated by Dr. David Swanson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Vonette's home church. Dr. Swanson welcomed us and opened the service in prayer.

Dr. Swanson: In the Name of Jesus Christ, I want to welcome you to the service of worship today bearing witness to the hope and the promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and in celebration of the life of Vonette Bright.

We are grateful for that which is always the hope and the promise of God's Word. It is available to us in our times of great joy, our times of sorrow. For every moment and experience in life, we turn to God's Word. We begin there today with two readings: one from 1 Peter 1 and the second from Luke 24.

Peter writes, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose great mercy gave us new birth into a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The inheritance to which we are born is one that nothing can destroy or spoil or wither" (1 Peter 1:3–4).

And then, from Luke 24:5–6, "In their fright, the women bowed down with their faces to the ground. But the angel said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead? He's not here; he is risen!'"

So we gather in the very admonition of those angels. We do not gather today to look for the living among the dead. She's not here—she's been raised! And so we gather in this sanctuary, in God's house, and if we're honest, there's a lot of emotion. There's deep emotion.

There's grief and sadness, that sense of loss of one that we love. But at the very same time there's a great sense of a deep joy, a gladness, at the blessing that God wrought in all of us in our world through the life of Vonette Bright.

So that's why the things that we feel right now, that's the very reason that God came in Christ, to answer our pains and our griefs and our sorrows. He came to point us to the joy and the hope of the resurrection. So we come today in light of that. In light of what He's done, we come to worship.

In the context of our worship of God, we celebrate Vonette's life. So, may we be bathed in His presence, in His comfort, in His power and His love today as we worship as God's people. Let us begin in prayer.

Gracious God, indeed we come with a singular purpose to worship You today. To declare Your praises. We worship You for coming to live and move among us in Jesus, and in us today by Your Spirit. We worship You for that moment where it appeared that all had been lost, that You had been defeated, that death had won—and, I suppose, we have some of those same feelings today, if we're honest—but death didn't win. You rose! And so we have the promise of life everlasting.

So, Lord, may You bring us that joy today—joy in the knowledge that You're alive and at work, joy in the knowledge that You're faithful and true. Thank You, O God, that death doesn't have the final word, but the final word comes from the Word made Flesh in Jesus Christ.

We thank You and praise You this morning for the life of Vonette Bright. As we gather to worship You, may You give us that vision of her in glory with You, joining in worship with us, with all the angels and saints of heaven. So fill us now by Your Spirit. Anoint and bless what we do, that it might be a pleasing and a holy offering in Your sight, our Rock and our Redeemer, amen.

Nancy: Bill and Vonette's two sons shared remembrances of their mother. First, Zachary (who for health reasons was not able to attend the service) shared his thoughts by means of video.

Zachary Bright: My mother, Vonette Zachary Bright, graduated from the Church militant to the Church triumphant on December 23 after a lengthy illness. She was surrounded by many of her family and friends in the last week.

I want to talk about the ways that she touched my life. My mother was the one that pushed me to get my work done. I remember being at the piano late at night, crying, while she was forcing me to finish my piano lessons . . . same thing with term papers and reports.

She had a long life. She was very active, almost to the end. Now she is rejoicing before her God and Savior and with her beloved husband, and we rejoice in that. I'll miss her, but I don't grieve (as Saint Paul said) like those who have no hope.

I loved her. She loved me. She loved everyone. My mother was a person who found that things did not always come easily for her. She needed to go through a process. So she could understand people like me, who go through a process.

I remember, during a time of doubt and great difficulty, she said to me, "Never doubt in the darkness what you've seen in the light." She got that from Henrietta Mears. And she also got this verse, which was one of Dr. Mears' favorite verses and was also one of my mother's favorite verses: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Ps. 37:4).

"Never doubt in the darkness what you've seen in the light." ~Henrietta Mears

That's the story of my mother's life: She delighted herself in the Lord, and she got more than she could have ever imagined.

Nancy: Brad Bright was able to be there in person. 

Brad Bright: When Kathy and I got married that year, Christmastime, my mother sent out Christmas cards with our wedding photos in it. And we, only half-jokingly, said she sent it out only to her closest, most intimate ten-thousand friends. (laughter)

My mother loved, loved people. Most of us are here today because Vonette Bright loved us and we loved her! This is a Bible that's been lost for years. This past week, Dorie Ryan found it in the archives. It is a piece of our history, of our DNA.

January 1, 1946—Bill Bright was twenty-four years old, starting in business in Hollywood. Vonette Zachary was nineteen years old, a sophomore in college. Bill Bright had been a Christian for about a year at this point. Vonette was still a year-and-a-half away.

Three years, minus two days, after this, Bill and Vonette would get married. Almost six years later, Campus Crusade for Christ would launch. I want to read you part of what was written here, and then I'll tell you who wrote it (some of you may already have figured it out).

Dear Bill,

Remember Christ's words as you step forth in life: "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go forth to bear fruit" (John 15:16). Your life is a plan of God. Strive to become what Jesus Christ has willed you should become.

Be patient as you wait for Him; God always uses the yielded life, but in His own way. This Word will always be your dearest earthly treasure. It contains the mind of God, the way of life, the map by which you daily walk, the sundial by which you set your path, the balance by which you weigh your actions. Read it to be wise, practice it to be holy.

We should both love and live God's Word. Make Jesus Christ King. Preaching and teaching are only great as they make Christ great. In your ministry, strive to have no superior when it comes to exalting Christ. Let Christ be supreme. 

Signed, your teacher in the bonds of great love,
Henrietta C. Mears. 

A year-and-a-half later, Dr. Mears would lead Vonette Bright to the Throne and introduce her to Jesus Christ. For the flyleaf of this Bible, I would give everything I own to possess this. It is the genesis of who we are. 

I remember about a year after my dad had passed away, I was at my mom's condo. I was trying to walk out, and in about the sixty seconds I was trying to walk out, my mom about five times was trying to get me to do something. I can't even remember what it was. I finally turned to her, looked her square in the eye and said, "You just won't take 'no' for an answer, will you?"

She said, "Well, Ruth (she meant Ruth Graham, Billy Graham's wife) once told me I was the most persistent person she knew!" (laughter) Wait!

I looked my mom square in the eye and I said, "I'm not sure she meant that as a compliment!" (more laughter) Wait!

My mom, her chin dipped a little bit, and she said, "I'm not sure she did either." (laughter)

A number of years ago, my mom and dad were changing planes in Chicago O'Hare. Tim Bolan was with them. Walter Cronkite came walking down the hallway. You need to understand, Walter Cronkite (for those of you who are young) was the anchorman in America.

Well, what my mother knew was that Walter Cronkite, the next night, was supposed to be on a panel on TV talking about abortion—and really talking it up, that it's okay. Well, my mom saw him, and she made a bee-line for Walter Cronkite.

Bill Bright and Tim Bolan slunk down in their chairs and put their papers up, waiting to see what was going to happen. (laughter) She went up to Mr. Cronkite and said,

Mr. Cronkite, you have incredible influence in this country. When you speak, people listen. You can't do this! Because if you go out there and promote abortion, how many more impressionable young women will have abortions because you told them it was okay? Please, please don't do this!

Walter Cronkite was not on the panel the next day. My mother was not timid.

I remember after I graduated, I went to work for Senator Armstrong in Washington, D.C. One day my mom called me and said, "Brad, I'd like to get the National Day of Prayer on to a specific day so that every year we know what day it's going to be on. How would I do that?"

"Well," I said, "You need to call a bunch of Congressmen and Senators, and you need to lobby them and get them to get some guys to sponsor a bill and then to push it through the House and the Senate. But the key is, you need to be able to get hold of them, which means you probably ought to reach them between 7:00 and 8:00 in the morning, before they really launch into their day." Not so hard, huh? Except on the West Coast, that's 4:00 a.m.!

She got up at 4:00 a. m. morning after morning after morning, calling Congressmen and Senators, to get them to sponsor, and then push through, the bill making the National Day of Prayer the first Thursday in May.

You see, that tenacity, that persistence that sometimes I found an annoyance, God used to benefit the entire Body of Christ in the world! We're here today to celebrate Vonette Bright, because she exalted Jesus Christ.

Thank you for coming. Love you so much! So many familiar faces—faces I love. We're so grateful that you came to celebrate with us.

Nancy: That Vonette Bright's younger son, Brad, doing what Proverbs 31 talks about-rising up and calling his mother blessed! Numerous other friends of Vonette shared some meaningful remembrances. The whole service was really so special!

You'll find a link to the entire service at our website. There's not enough time to include all of it here today. But here is some of what was said. 

Crawford Loritts: I'm Crawford Loritts, and I serve on the Board of Cru. We recognize people for their accomplishments, but we honor people for what they sacrifice on behalf of others. There are a lot of great people who have accomplished an awful lot, but there are relatively few who have given themselves up for a greater cause and for other people.

That's what Vonette was all about. She loved people.

We recognize people for their accomplishments, but we honor people for what they sacrifice on behalf of others.

Judy Douglass: I have had the privilege of knowing and walking near Vonette for fifty years. She has been an incredible leader and an amazing mentor to me, and such a friend!

Ney Bailey: Vonette was my dear and cherished friend for fifty-four years, and I loved her dearly.

I love what Beth Moore said. She said, "In my eyes, Vonette was ten feet tall!" And in our eyes, she was definitely that–for all of us who knew her. All of us her knew her well rise up today and call her blessed.

Kay Arthur: As I thought and prayed about what I was to say, Deborah (in Judges 4 and 5) came to mind. "The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, until I [Deborah] arose, I arose a mother in Israel" (Judges 5:7).

Nancy and I were talking at the internment about this, and we both discovered that God had laid the same verse on our hearts for Vonette—and I get to go first (laughter), so here we are.

As Deborah sings her song of victory, with Barak, this is what Scripture says, "The leaders led, and the people volunteered." When I think about Vonette and I think about Bill, I think about leaders that truly led. And the testimony all over the world of those that volunteered because they realized that this was godly leadership.

Nancy: Hello, I'm Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth—I love saying that!

My dad knew Bill and Vonette Bright before he knew my mother, so I have never known life without Vonette Bright. And, thinking of the passage in Judges where it says that she was a "mother in Israel, who rose up," Vonette was a mother—a mother to so many of us in many different ways. To me, Vonette was a mother, a friend, a sister, a mentor.

How I thank the Lord for decades of phone calls, letters, visits, time spent together in prayer, and more. We've heard so much today, and so many here could add story after story of her pervasive, far-reaching, relentless influence.

As I've been listening over the last twenty-four hours to people sharing their stories, I realized that the nature of Vonette's influence was not so much through her public and grand accomplishments (significant as those were!). It was more, or at least as much, who she was off the platform, away from the public eye.

Nancy (announcing): Finally, we heard from Steve Douglass, President of Cru. 

Steve Douglass: When someone dies, we want to honor them, and I think that's okay. Well, honoring Vonette is really easy! I'm just going to wrap it up for you—it's really, really easy. 

Point 1: Follow her example as she followed the example of Jesus Christ.

Point 2: Maybe implement at least some of the things that she would exhort you to do. That's how we can honor Vonette Bright!

Nancy: Again, we've been listening to just some of the highlights from the memorial service for Vonette Bright, who went home to be with the Lord on December 23, 2015. If you'd like to watch the video of the entire service, you'll find the link to it at our website, ReviveOurHearts.com.

Let me encourage you to take just a moment to reflect on what you've heard today. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Do you know Him in the way that Vonette Bright did, so that when your time comes to pass from this earth, you'll know that you're spending eternity with Christ in heaven? And perhaps something you heard has stimulated you to love Jesus and others more.

I can remember sitting on the front row of that memorial service that day, and thinking about the kind of woman I want to be, and the legacy I want to leave. That includes really loving Christ and loving others well, and living this life with joy as my sweet friend Vonette Bright did so well.

I loved seeing the woman that Vonette Bright became, that she was at the end of her life, nearly ninety years of age. She was a happy woman, a joyful woman, a woman of prayer, a woman who loved other people, a woman who loved Jesus with all her heart! She loved His Word. And there's so much more that I could say.

I'm reminded that she didn't become that woman at the age of eighty-nine. The woman she was at the age of eighty-nine was the woman that she had been becoming for many years of her life.

So, as I think about the woman that I want to be at the end of my life, I realize that the choices I make today, the life I live today, determines what kind of woman I will be at the end of my life.

So, Lord, I pray, as we consider the faith of this precious woman of God, that You would speak to our hearts, that You'd speak to my heart and show us what kinds of choices we're making today, the way we're living today, and how that has bearing on the rest of our lives.

Would You be helping us to live lives that are intentional, so that when it's our turn to be called home, we'll be able to face You with joy. We'll be able to hear that precious word of our Savior, "Welcome home, my good and faithful servant." That's what we want to hear! So help us to live today in light of that longing. We pray it in Jesus' name and for His sake, amen.

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. To hear any of the programs from this week, "Remembering the Life of Vonette Bright," you can visit our website ReviveOurHearts.com. Also at the site, you can read the tribute Nancy wrote to Mrs. Bright. You'll find the link in today's transcript.

Tomorrow, we'll hear the secret thoughts of an unlikely convert. If ever there was someone who seemed unlikely to accept Christ, it was Rosaria Butterfield, but a pastor and his wife showed her hospitality and engaged with her.

Dr. Rosaria Butterfield: I figured, "Okay, here are evangelical Christians, and I am a lesbian atheist. I'm a project."

Leslie: Hear the story, starting tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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