And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him. – Revelation 6:8
He spent his life on a Harley Davidson, but ended it on a hospital bed. I’ll never forget the day I met him and heard his story. It still sends shivers up my spine.
The streets and a prison cell
Richard Edgar grew up on the streets in Los Angeles. Being raised in a violent, alcoholic home, Dick ran away the first time at just 12 years old. He eventually dropped out of school, hit the streets and never turned back. The law of the jungle was his only government.
Dick fell into a life of crime, and by 18 years old he was serving five years for armed robbery in Arizona’s Florence State Penitentiary.
After doing five years of hard time, his brother Jerry said, “Dick actually straightened up for the next four years. Well, ‘straight’ for guys like us!” Dick actually went back to school and got his degree in psychology from UC Berkeley. “I couldn’t’ believe it!” Jerry exclaimed. “We even started a clean and sober biker club, but we couldn’t stay clean and sober!”
Jerry and Dick hit the road on their Harley Hogs for the next 18 years. “I was bad, but he was real bad. No one – and I mean no one – told him what to do. I saw him take out five guys with a bat once.”
Jerry and Dick traveled every state in the nation with Hell’s Angels or any other bikers they could find. In some places they stayed a few days and in others a month, as long as they could find odd jobs in the construction industry as heavy equipment operators. Jerry added, “Or until law enforcement or someone else ran us out of town.” One time, in Louisiana, a manager of one bar told them, “We don’t serve your kind here.” When Jerry and Dick resisted, they were literally shot at all the way out of town.
Travelin’ man settles down
Eighteen years of a biker’s lifestyle took its toll. Jerry and Dick also had five failed marriages between them. “The Edgar men aren’t very good at marriage,” Jerry commented. “We even got on each other’s nerves after a while. We were both tired of being on the road.”
Dick settled in rural Northern California for the next 15 years. His reputation preceded him, living a life of licentiousness and abuse, until he discovered he had cancer riddled through his body.
Cancer and confession
Providence would have it that Dick moved into a small apartment directly across the street from a pastor. “More cases of beer went in that apartment than flowed through a factory,” the pastor told me. “Sometimes Dick would just sit drinking in a chair outside of his front door, just watching me and my wife work in the yard or me playing with my kids, not with a criminal eye but a curious one – like he was missing something that he was seeing.”
“I had never been in his house until one day when his neighbor told me that Dick wanted to see me,” the pastor continued. “I walked inside and he immediately said to me, ‘I’m dying, and I need a clean slate.’ I can’t give you that, I replied, but I know Someone who could – his name is Jesus.”
Before the pastor led Dick in a prayer for forgiveness and to receive Christ as His Lord and Savior, Dick wanted to get a few things off his chest – crimes that he felt he needed to let someone know. The pastor told me, “His confessions took a while!”
From that point onward, though the cancer crippled his ability to attend church, he and the pastor would meet weekly and discuss the Bible, including what heaven would be like for Dick.
At the same time, after 10 years of being apart, his brother Jerry was located in Las Vegas, and he came to live with Dick until he died a few months later.
A walk in the clouds
Providence again would have it during that time that my wife, Gena, and I were on vacation taking a walk through the woods when a man came jogging by. It was Dick’s pastor. Noticing us, he jokingly said, “You can’t get a Total Gym cardio-workout unless you pick up the speed!”
We walked together for a few miles and he told us about biker Dick. Odds would have it that he and Jerry were also “Walker, Texas Ranger” fans. I was moved by their story and said, “Why don’t we go visit them?”
I’ll never forget Jerry’s reaction to me, as he bear-hugged me with his huge, bare biker body. Dick was lying down on a hospital bed, close to a coma, but gathered his strength to lean up on his elbow and give me a great smile, which warmly welcomed me into his home. I could tell before me was a changed man. We spoke for a while, prayed together and then I signed a couple photos, which I understand still hang in that apartment where Jerry has lived since his brother’s passing and is now unfortunately in failing health himself.
Never early, but always on time
As time took its toll on Dick’s health, so it hastened toward the pastor and his family’s departure overseas for a month – a trip years in planning. Of course, Dick wanted his pastor to do his funeral, but the plane tickets were non-refundable. “I’ll work with you,” Dick somewhat sarcastically told the pastor, when discussing if he would die in time.
Dick died on a Friday, two days before the pastor was to leave abroad. When the pastor inquired of possible funeral times with the mortuary, the earliest the service could be arranged was at 1 p.m. on that Sunday. The pastor was leaving at 2 p.m. “Dick and God both worked with me,” the pastor replied. “God’s never early, but always on time.”
With the help of many in Dick’s neighborhood and the pastor’s church, money was donated for a coffin burial, which he deeply desired. He respectfully asked for one more thing: an entourage of old biker buddies leading the hearse to the cemetery. “There’s no way we can get everyone here in two days,” Jerry responded, as he and the pastor resolved that this one request simply could not be fulfilled. But God had other plans.
God’s cavalry – The Eternal Riders
On the Sunday of Dick’s funeral, the pastor was conducting the last of two church services when a worship leader came running into his office just shortly before the 11 a.m. service: “You will not believe who is out in the congregation! It is a group of Christian bikers, who just happened to be visiting today!” The pastor himself could hardly believe it.
As he welcomed the church, he spoke publicly to this pew of black-leathered bikers: “Is there any specific reason why you are here today?” “No,” they all responded, “just visiting the area.” After briefly explaining the providential timing of their visitation, the pastor asked them if they would be willing to lead Dick’s hearse to the cemetery. They said they would be honored. They would also serve as pallbearers.
In 20 years of ministry, the pastor had never seen a group of Christian bikers in church. “To be there on that one Sunday, right before the funeral, is a provision that can only be described as miraculously from the hand of God.”
That day God’s cavalry came – and it was in the form of “The Eternal Riders,” who have posted on their website some photos of their part in the funeral, as well as a picture of Dick and his brother Jerry at home just before he died.
Richard Edgar was laid to rest on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006, at 1:45pm, 15 minutes before the pastor needed to leave for the airport but just on time for Dick’s arrival in heaven. He was buried in a rodeo shirt of his choosing, which says, “I found Jesus at the end of my rope.”
Riding on streets of gold
I could think of no better story than this one to convey before the celebrations of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Dick Edgar’s life, spiritual decisions and end-of-life provisions from God remind us all of the power of Holy Week.
First, just as to the thief on the cross hanging next to Jesus, who had led an undeserving life, so God offers us the same promise to ride on streets of gold: “Truly, truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”
Second, in order to hear those words and obtain eternal life, all we must do is, just like Dick and the thief on the cross, answer Jesus’ ultimate question with an affirmative, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish. Do you believe this?”
Dick did. Gena and I do. Do you?
(Write me and let me know your answer.)
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