To My Brother Loren—
The Messenger Who was the Message
On the long flight to Atlanta, I leaned back, closed my eyes, and prayed at great length for my brother Loren. He had been on a ventilator for a week, and his prognosis wasn’t promising. As I prayed, the Lord painted a picture in my mind’s eye of a hallway slanted upward toward heaven. Loren was making his way up the hallway, opening doors along the sides and looking into each room which represented a compartment of his heart. I wanted to believe this meant God was using Loren’s time in the hospital to heal hidden places, and that he would share a testimony with us when he recovered. But I asked God if it meant He was preparing Loren for heaven instead. I heard no answer.
A month earlier, the Holy Spirit had given me a disturbing message. Very clearly (though not audibly), He said: “Loren is going to die soon.” “Surely He doesn't mean that literally,” I thought. Surely He was speaking figuratively—that something in Loren’s character would come to death as a step in spiritual growth. I prayed that God would heal Loren and that he would come back with a testimony of spiritual transformation. But just in case God was speaking literally, I prayed that He would prepare him and his loved ones for that day. “What did you really mean?” I asked. I heard no answer.
Two weeks into that month, Loren came down with covid, and a week into the illness, he was put on the ventilator. Two nights later, I awakened and earnestly prayed for Loren, and that God would call others to pray as well. I sensed he would die that night if we didn’t pray. At 2:30 am, I felt a sudden breakthrough. Five minutes later, a friend in Hawaii texted that she had been praying and had felt a breakthrough at the same time I had. The next morning a friend in Nebraska called to say the same. “Loren is going to get well now!” I thought. But then I wondered if the breakthrough was only that God would delay his passing until his loved ones were ready. “Which one is it?” I asked Him. Again, I heard no answer.
Our plane landed in Atlanta; Maureen and I changed flights and headed off to Rochester. As the plane descended, my little sister Andrea called and gave us the news. Now I had my answer: the word I had received a month prior was literal. It was not a call to pray for Loren’s healing. It was an announcement like you would hear from a train conductor: “Next stop: heaven.”
The announcement was God’s kindness to me. I had to speak at a conference the very next day. Because God had warned me of Loren’s passing ahead of time, the news wasn’t as shocking as it could have been. On some level, I had sensed (but couldn’t admit) that Loren would pass on, and on some level, I had already done some grieving. So, I could step up to the podium without feeling overwhelmed with sadness.
After the conference, our kind hosts gave Maureen and me a day off. We woke up early, got dressed, then got back under the covers fully clothed and laid there until 4:30 in the afternoon. Sometimes when you’re grieving, time slows down. You can lie in one spot, staring at the ceiling for hours, and never get bored. You ask the same questions over and over. “Why was this the right time for Loren to go?” I asked. No answer came.
Instead, a childhood memory played out in my mind repeatedly. I was five years old, and Loren was nine. We visited our cousins in Joplin, Missouri, and one night we all went looking for the “Spook Light”—a mysterious orb that had appeared nightly in the nearby woods since at least the 1830’s. Scientists had their theories about what caused it. Natural gas escaping to the surface? Electrical atmospheric charges? We preferred the romantic local lore about a native girl still looking for her lost lover by lantern light. Encountering this apparition sounded scary, but we felt safe because Loren had a pocketknife. Even at five, I knew you couldn’t stab a ghost to death with a pocketknife. But no matter; we all believed that somehow, Loren would protect us.
As children, we didn't understand that If the Spook Light was a spiritual manifestation, it was demonic. Thankfully, in our childish ignorance, God protected us. As I look back on that night, I realize that what we did know is that even as a child, Loren had an authoritative presence that made us all feel safe. So it didn't surprise us that in his adult years, God graced Loren with authority that made the powers of darkness tremble.
As I laid in bed, I ruminated for hours on how Loren protected Maureen and me during a dark, oppressive season. His authoritative presence made us feel safe in the midst of a storm. He walked alongside us into a safer place and helped us launch Elijah Rain.
An old friend once said about prophetic ministers: “The messenger is the message.” Anyone who spent time with Loren could sense the authority he carried. Around him, fearful people felt safe. Insecure people felt confident. His presence made angry men calm.
…And it made wayward people walk a straight line. At age nine, Loren’s son Nathan led a group of boys in vandalizing a vacant house. When the police reported this to the other boys’ fathers, one of them screamed and threw things at his son. Another refused to talk to his son for six weeks. But when the District Attorney asked Loren what his son needed to turn him around, he gently and lovingly answered, “He needs to learn who he really is as a leader.” (Although Nathan was nine, he was the one who had led the boys, the oldest of whom was sixteen!) The D.A. turned to Nathan and said, “No community service for you; you’re going to write me a paper on who you are.” Today, Nathan is a pastor who is known for his respectful, loving nature.
Loren had a presence people wanted to be near. It was such a big presence that we could never imagine a world without him. My brother John has reminded me of a time when he and Tim, at ages seven and four, wrapped themselves around Loren’s ankles in a humorous, feigned attempt to keep him from going off to college. His departure left a large, empty space in our home.
As my family has mulled over our memories of Loren, we have come to understand that If the messenger is the message, the most important question is not, “Why did God take Loren home when he did?” It is, “Why did God send him into the world when He did?” This was true of Jesus. Scripture doesn’t say, and no one ever asks, why Jesus left the earth only three years into His ministry instead of twenty or thirty. Scripture writers focused on the timing of his coming: “When the fullness of time came, God sent His Son” (Galatians 4:4a, NAS). Since we are made in His image, the same is true of us: “And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times” (Acts 17:26a, NAS).
Why was this message named “Loren” so essential for this place and time? Because this time in history needed Loren’s virtues. He stood in his God-given authority as a pastor with a passion for the Church to find its vision, and as a lone voice in a prophetic movement that had lost its compass. In his books, he urged those with the gift: be biblically sound. Don’t speak a prophetic word too quickly; test it. Make yourself accountable to others. Honor the authorities placed over you. Don’t make an idol of the gift. Seek healing for the flaws of character that might warp your hearing and the way you share what you hear.
If the messenger is the message, the messenger must be willing to pay any price to live out the principles he calls others to obey. The most important principle a prophetic voice lives out is repentance. When my older sister Ami was a toddler, Loren pulled her around proudly in his little red wagon. But when he became a local rock star, a star football player, and a cheerleader’s boyfriend, he shamed her for hanging out with a bunch of “nerds.” When he acquired the wisdom of age, Loren asked Ami’s forgiveness for being a “jerk.” His wife, Beth, tells me he always apologized. Not that he often needed to; he was very kind. And he went beyond mere apologies; he made restitution. Loren became Ami’s champion. He promoted her gifts. He gave her a place of honor in his staff’s inner circle and valued her voice. His honor was sincere; he encouraged Andrea to use her gifts, and she says he was “always encouraging, but never flattering.”
Loren reminded us that prophetic voices are supposed to call others to repentance. Therefore, if you give a false prophecy, model what you preach. Repent to those who have been hurt by your false word. Search your heart for any weakness that prompted you to speak falsely. I know of only one time when Loren ever gave a word that didn’t come true. Just before the presidential election, he acquiesced to the “authority” of a chorus of voices that predicted Trump would serve a second term, and he prophesied what he wished would come true. When it didn’t, he was one of only a few who offered a public apology. For this, he was punished with a firestorm of criticism, some of it shockingly hateful. He was called a “traitor” for suggesting that the prediction was indeed false. By repenting, Loren stepped back into his God-give authority, and he stood his ground. My brother Tim says his apology spoke more loudly to him than all the true prophecies he ever gave. Why was Loren born for such a time as ours? One of the many reasons is it that takes a person of great strength and authority to publicly model such humility.
Loren’s earthly message is now complete, and some of his book titles sum it up well: Purifying the Prophetic. Life Transformed. Yes, There’s More (subtitle: A Return to Childlike faith and a Deeper Experience of God). As engaging as his books are, those who knew him personally have his message written on pages of flesh. These persons are the best books he left for others to read and learn from.
Loren, if we could talk to you one last time, we would say, “You lived out your message well, and we wished you could have stayed and shared more with us. If we could have, we all would have wrapped ourselves around your ankles to keep you from leaving. But until we see you again, we are comforted knowing that you gave us a message we can live out as you did. With the authority you imparted, we will do our best to live out that message on every page of our lives.”
© 2021, Mark Sandford