Like all adam,1 our dear physician Adam Spaetti suffered Adam’s Fall. Thus, like all adam, Dr. Spaetti was a sinner, but he stood head and shoulders above most of us as a good man. He loved his wife, Dawn, and God presented them with the reward of fourteen children. Eight God took back while still in the womb, but six He allowed to live happily, thriving under the discipline, instruction, and love of their father and mother.
Adam died three weeks ago. We all continue to grieve his promotion.
God had assigned Adam the calling of a physician. Back when he first showed up at church as a sophomore at Indiana University, I asked whether maybe he should consider becoming a pastor?
He didn’t hesitate: “No.” He explained he’d been clear for quite a while that God had called him to medicine. When young, he said, he’d had severe GI problems and he wanted to help sick people just as the good doctors had helped him.
Adam became a doctor and served his patients carefully, tending our hearts and souls as much as our bodies. Under the assumption he’d be able to care for his patient better by doing so, he listened carefully.
Years ago during residency, Adam did a stint in the lab. At the end he said he’d never be a researcher. He’d missed caring for people. Between rounds in the hospital as a hospitalist, Adam studied his patients’ problems. He was disciplined intellectually and did his best to keep up with the journals, although it was a Sisyphean task. His learning and research were given conscientiously to his patients, but also to the grandchild of a concerned pastor calling him on the phone for advice. Adam loved and served us all whenever and wherever we needed, doing so with an intelligence and work ethic we took for granted, although those who knew him privately were acutely aware how astounding this was given the loads he carried.
One morning, right out of the blue, our eldest grandson started hemorrhaging. In the emergency cubicle, Adam was there and I saw him up close, caring for Jonathan. He watched every monitor and procedure, doing so with the intensity of a father determined to keep his own son from death. Jonathan’s blood pressure was nonexistent and his life hung by a thread. He was bleeding out, and there Adam stood, praying and watching and giving direction. No drama; just a doc doing his work and a grandfather feeling safer for his presence.
At one point I noted the middle aged, corpulent male nurse expressing irritation at Adams’ correction of a mistake he’d made. Astounded, I watched and listened to Adam take the nurse’s disrespect in stride and continue to give him direction, with meekness and humility. There wasn’t a hint of pushback from him.
It was a close thing, but after being medflighted up to Indy’s Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital and another even more severe crash resulting in sixteen people in the cubicle pulling him back from death’s door, Jonathan survived. I tremble to think what would have happened had Adam not been there with Jonathan at the very beginning. The comfort of a doctor who loved Jesus, loved His Church, loved his pastor, and loved his pastor’s grandson guiding things with a soft, firm voice, working to save Jonathan’s life. It’s what docs do and it was such a Divine comfort.
There are many incidents I could recount of Adam’s medical work. A number of times he called to talk over ethical challenges he was facing. Often I worried his Christian conscientiousness and refusal to participate in murders now routine in our medical world would result in him being fired. But he never was. In fact, a year ago or so, he was asked to serve on a committee that helped deal with the discipline of other physicians.
This is the Scripture continually coming to my mind as I remember my brother, Adam:
Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. -1Peter 2:12
Now though, let’s turn to Adam the elder. Adam didn’t just care for bodies; he was equally hardworking in his care for souls, and particularly within our congregation who had called him to serve them as one of their elders. The weight he carried in his life was something few knew better than his wife and pastors. Among the souls of the Church, there was not a ram, ewe, or lamb that Adam was careless for—and keep in mind that his Church work shepherding the flock was done on top of the demands of his day job.
Husband. Father. Physician. Elder.
As his pastor, I was permitted to watch Adam’s life up close, but it was his work as a shepherd of souls I knew best.
Among shepherds, my hero has been pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones—the man reformed believers over in the United Kingdom refer to as, simply, “the Doctor.” If you haven’t read his biography by Iain Murray (volumes one and two), it would be a good read to commemorate the life of our dear departed Adam Spaetti. In two volumes, Murray does for his friend Lloyd-Jones what Boswell did for Samuel Johnson, paying tribute without devolving into hagiography.
When we first moved from Wisconsin to Bloomington, I began Murray’s bio. My first pastorate here was a church that had lost several hundred of its souls during the couple years before I was called. It was riven by conflicts both moral and doctrinal. From the session meeting two days after my first worship service, the climate was hostile and the work exhausting. Will these bones live?
Lloyd-Jones was food for my soul and I clutched his story with some desperation, watching how he tried to be faithful in his own work of reform first of his congregation in the Welsh town of Sandfields, then later following G. Campbell Morgan at London’s Westminster Chapel. Reading his life was such good medicine for me then that I postponed finishing the second volume of his bio for over a year. There, month after month, it sat on my bed table as I slept each night until, finally, I took it up again and came to the end.
Closing it, I cried. My dear friend Lloyd-Jones was gone and now I had to serve on without him.
All of us here at Trinity Reformed are feeling the same following the death of our dear brother, Adam. As we mourn, I keep remembering the good doctor, Pastor Martyn Lloyd-Jones.
What defined Lloyd-Jones’s pastoral ministry was his clinical approach to the cure of souls. He was called “the Doctor” because he’d worked as a physician prior to leaving medicine for pastoral ministry. Once a doctor, always a doctor, though, and entering pastoral ministry, Lloyd-Jones followed the approach to the cure of souls he’d learned and practiced in the cure of bodies.
Lloyd-Jones treated his vestry as an examining room with one of his deacons serving as his male receptionist. His sheep met with him one by one after services Lord’s Days. The deacon welcomed each individual, inquiring concerning the man or woman’s concern. Then, each time one soul departed the Doctor’s office, the deacon entered and gave the Doctor the name of the next sheep, after which he was ushered into Lloyd-Jones’s office.
Very few of these sheep ever sat down with their pastor. It wasn’t because Lloyd-Jones didn’t care for them. He was entirely focussed on his diagnosis, but there wasn’t time for small talk. Just questions, probing, and therapeutic recommendations.
At first I was scandalized. The Doctor’s practice reminded me of Jonathan Edwards who declined to visit his parishioners’ homes, although he welcomed his sheep young and old to his parsonage for pastoral care. This subjected Edwards to accusations he was disinterested in his sheep and I found myself wondering if Lloyd-Jones, too, might not also have been somewhat disinterested?
Lloyd-Jones approached each inquirer keeping primary in his diagnostic questions the matter of the condition of the sheep’s soul. Was this soul regenerate or not? His sense of the answer to this first question determined his approach to the presenting issue.
What I found striking was the apparent absence of any slightest concern on Lloyd-Jones’s part to forge some pastoral bond with his sheep. He simply assumed and relied upon his sheep’s trust for him as their shepherd. Rolling up his sleeves, he got to work. No preening. No fanfare. No emotional drama. It was merely work done in a workmanlike way.
Honestly, I don’t think I understood or had sympathy for this pastoral approach until, following years of Adam being in our church as an undergraduate, med student, then a few years away completing his residency, he returned and was ordained to the eldership. It took a few years for him to get his sea legs under him on the session, but then he came online, fully, and took off.
What I noticed as the years passed, and had commented upon several times to the pastors this past year, was how good it was to have an elder who worked as a doctor. I was wont to say “doctors make the best elders.” Thinking about Adam and Steve Wing (who serves as an elder with my brother, David), back on September 4, 2019, I tweeted:
Every congregation needs elder who’s a doc. They’re used to bad smells and handle them manfully. Long-established clinical habits carry over from sickness to sin. No squeamishness. Calm and direct. #goodshepherd
Adam loved his patients and our sheep, but few would describe it as love because, in our social media stupor, love is supposed to call attention to itself and drip with sentimentality. Adam wasn’t sentimental; he left that to his wife who, prior to working at home raising the brood God blessed them with, sang opera. She was Adam’s songbird and Adam was the whalebone stays in her corset.
Adam’s love was practical. Helpful. Never showy—if he had been, his Dad would have disowned him. So would his wife. Opera’s leading ladies know stagecraft when they see it. Apart from hair salons, opera’s leading men are about as vain a bunch of men as you’ll find, and the leading ladies have to work at tolerating them.
There are men Dawn has had to work hard to tolerate. Sometimes Adam didn’t understand why Dawn’s patience was wearing thin with this or that guy. It wasn’t that he was naive, but Dawn’s years onstage helped her spot the fakes quickly. The hair. The pouting lips. The flirting. The self pity. Now that I think of it, everything that was opposite from her generous, hardworking, kind, wise, thoughtful, discerning, bearded, faithful, and self-effacing husband.
A few days before God snatched him, Adam called to talk over a family in the church. He’d spoken with one of the parents at church the previous week and had been grieved at the response, not because of bitterness or aggression or coldness, but pain. What concerned him and needed us to think together about was a way to heal the pain. Help the sheep to stop grieving and trust God and brothers and sisters in Christ; trust that we all really loved them and had no desire ever to hurt them or distance ourselves from them, but only to care for them tenderly. The problem was how to say this without causing them to be embarrassed at our efforts, convincing themselves even more that their suffering was selfish and should be hidden.
If Adam were alive still, I’m sure he’d be talking to me about our church family whose father had just died, suddenly. He’d be concerned that we carry their grief. He’d be asking about their financial needs. He’d visit them with his wife. He’d miss nothing among their needs.
You see this is a love letter. Intentionally. Countless times when other elders and I were weary and ready to throw in the towel on caring for this or that sheep, Adam said “let’s roll” and was off for the meeting, ready to do the heaviest lifting of admonishing, rebuking, exhorting, and hugging. Gently and firmly.
If your church needed an elder and Adam said he’d go and help, I’d send you this same message sent by the Apostle Paul to the believers in Philippi to precede Timothy’s arrival:
But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. -Philippians 4:19-23
But now, you will not share with me the joy of serving alongside Dr. Adam Spaetti. In His perfect wisdom and kindness, the Lord exercised His Own prerogatives and took Adam home.
|↑1||This Hebrew word “adam” is the specific name God gave our race, both women and men together. Countless times it is used in the Old Testament, but instead of transliterating it into English and distinguishing the first man from the race by capitalizing the first letter of the first man, Adam’s, name, Bible translators have chosen to use the English “man”—and now “human”—for the race. But the name for our race given by our Creator is “adam” which reinforces God’s Fatherhood in the male, and not the female, of the race, and therefore the fact that it was in Adam, not Eve, we all died. Calling the race “adam” reinforces the federal headship of the first adam, the man Adam.|