On Remembering

It's one of Jesus's most enigmatic statements: "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17:32).

Mrs. Lot is a minor character in the Old Testament. We don't know her name. Nor do we know what was in her heart. Some say she was thoughtlessly disobedient when God said "don't look back" at the burning Sodom, while others believed she looked back with regret at the destruction of a city whose paganism she'd grown to appreciate.

Nevertheless, it's healthy most of the time for us to remember many things.

We're in a season of remembering. Memorial Day was established after the Civil War as a time to honor the war dead. Now we use it to remember a larger number. And we'll remember the 74th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 and the brave troops who secured a beachhead in Europe. My Uncle Raymond was a glider pilot ferrying troops on D-Day when the glider casualty rate was 90 percent.

The red stripe in the American flag represents the blood of heroes whose gallantry secured the freedoms we enjoy.

We should also remember with gratitude the host of men and women who shaped our lives and whose fingerprints are yet on our souls. Those raised in church recall Bible teachers, youth workers, deacons and pastors who took time to show us the way to God.

And we think of school teachers who taught us to love learning and shared with us wisdom from their lives.

A man recalled the positive influence of a middle-school teacher after many years and decided to write her a letter. She responded: "Your letter came on a cold, dreary day and cheered me as nothing else in so long. In fact, yours is the only letter of gratitude I ever received in over 40 years of teaching."

We should remember our loved ones who've passed on. The stories of their lives "fill in the blanks" and help us know who we are. We remember their good and seek to follow, and we remember their bad and seek wisdom.

As Christians we believe we live for Christ, and at death, we are "with Christ" (Philippians 1:21). Heaven is many things, but it's also a time of reunion.

We also remember the sacrifice of Jesus. He gave us an ordinance whose purpose is to remember his broken body and shed blood. His death is the central doctrine in the New Testament and the foundation of all we do as his church.

Remembering the sacrifice of Jesus is a lesson in humility, for there's nothing we've done to deserve or earn our salvation. As the old hymn states, "In my hand no price I bring, simply to thy cross I cling."

An Alert Reader

Comedian Dave Barry often thanks the “Alert Reader” (sic) who finds errors in his material. We had an Alert Reader lately when someone found an error in the Sunday bulletin. It was fairly significant, and as editor, I should’ve caught it. I corrected it before the congregation and joked we often print errors as a test to see how closely the people read! Well, all in good humor since the Alert Reader was being helpful.

I respected this Alert Reader more than one I had a few years ago who sent an anonymous letter. She (at least her handwriting looked feminine) took me to task on “ensure” vs. “insure.” I’d written about Gettysburg “insuring” the end of the Confederacy, and this was wrong. It “ensured” the end of the Confederacy. “To insure” is to purchase a product to protect your assets, and nothing more. But I do wish she’d felt comfortable to tell me this personally or by phone.

The apostle Paul exhorted young Timothy to revere the scripture and use it for “instruction and correction” (2 Timothy 3: 16). Bible instructors need the wisdom of God to determine when to correct others with the Bible.

I can remember going to the pulpit a time or two with anger, lashing out at the congregation because one or two members were unruly. I came to quickly regret this. If the pulpit is used in this way it becomes “coward’s castle” as Charles Spurgeon once said. In my better moments I try to remember Ephesians 4:15: “speaking the truth in love.”

But other than this, I’ve never felt I as a pastor should correct everything I hear I believe is wrong. The exception is a moral issue; then a pastor must stand for truth and suffer whatever fallout may come.

But many things in the church aren’t as weighty as moral issues; for example, the interpretation of some passages. Eschatology is the theology including the return of Christ, and there are at least four major theories about his return. We need to make allowance for sincere interpreters.

Across the street from our church is a Methodist congregation who baptize differently than we do. Their student minister called a few years ago to ask about borrowing our baptistery since he had some youth wanting to be immersed. I had good fun inviting him to bring the whole church over for baptism! But we make allowances for different modes of baptism.

We need the wisdom of God to know what needs correcting with scripture, and things that should be overlooked as simple interpretive differences between sincere brothers and sisters in Christ. Augustine wrote: "in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity."

Call Your Mother

An ABC tribute to Gilda Radner some time ago reminded me of the number of people we’ve lost in the last few years who made us laugh: John Belushi, John Candy, Phil Hartman, Bob Hope, Grady Nutt, Robin Williams, Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Clower and others.

Humor has great value. Solomon said laughter is medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22), and sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is to have a good laugh.

Lincoln, a man who suffered depression or "melancholia" as it was called in those days, talked about the value of humor in the stressful days of the Civil War.

“With the fearful strain that is on me," he said, "if I did not laugh, I would die.”

Lewis Grizzard was a great Southern humorist. But, occasionally, he stepped aside from humor and made some pretty astute observations about life. He did this, I believe, in one of his books entitled, “Call Your Mama—I Wish I Could Call Mine.”

Me too, Lewis.

I guess I thought my mother would live forever. She was a constant in the changes of my life.  But there came that terrible December in 1993 when our family had gathered for Christmas and she was so sick she couldn’t function. I thought maybe she'd worked too hard preparing the house and the meal, but she lay down on the couch and didn't have energy to get up. My wife and sister forcibly took her to the local hospital. An X-ray turned up something ominous, and the doctor thought she needed to go to a larger hospital for tests.

The Monday following Christmas the doctors at Birmingham’s St. Vincent’s Hospital confirmed the dread diagnosis: cancer. In seven weeks she was gone. 

Those were weeks of trial as my siblings and I scheduled time to be with her and take care of things. One of the most stressful rites of passage is caring for aging and dying parents. In addition to the shock of impending loss there's the demands of everyday tasks that must be done.

I read something recently about the trauma we experience when our mothers die.  Mothers, the article stated, represent unconditional love, and we're often unprepared for a world in which no one else seems to fill that significant role.

God knew what he was doing when he invented the family and put mothers in them. She is the family's heart, civilizing us and teaching us to care. Mothers fill a niche no one else can. They love us and are proud of us no matter what.

May 13 is Mother’s Day. 

Be sure to call your mother. 

I wish I could call mine.

God Wants To Use You In His Work

A traveling salesman was known for his good sales, but also for his poor grammar. He filled his orders with misspellings and his speech was peppered with dialect. Still he was top salesman. The manager took opportunity to send a note to the sales staff: “There ain’t been enough emphasis in this here company on sellin’. Sellin’s a heap more important than spellin’. George done good. Ya’ll go out and do like he done.”

We have another “George” in the New Testament, namely Simon Peter.

Those who read the original language have puzzled over the poor grammar in 2 Peter, but the excellent grammar in 1 Peter. The answer seems to be that Peter had a coach in writing his first letter. The apostle said in 1 Peter 5:12 that he wrote “with the help of Silas.” Silas was the man who took the affirming letter from the mother church in Jerusalem to the new Gentile church in Antioch (Acts 15:22), and who became Paul’s partner on his second missionary journey (Acts 15:40). We primarily remember him as the missionary who sang praises with Paul at midnight in the Philippian jail. But in this case, he was what scholars call an “amanuensis,” or secretary. He helped Peter craft his message in an acceptable fashion.

But no amanuensis is mentioned in the second letter, so we believe Peter wrote on his own. In Acts he’s called “unlearned.” Of course he was. He was a laborer who had no opportunity for education. But God used him to give us significant truths in this letter he wrote as he faced death in a Roman prison.

The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how God gave scripture, but theologians have proposed several theories about this. One theory is called the “plenary verbal” theory. It states that God dictated words and every single word of scripture is from the Lord. Another theory is called the “dynamic” theory. It states God gave thoughts to the writers who used their unique personalities to give us truth.

I’ve always found this second theory a better option, and 2 Peter is an example. If we believed God dictated every word, we’d need to extrapolate and say God used bad grammar in 2 Peter! This, of course, is ridiculous. Instead God took a wonderfully committed though uneducated man, Peter, and revealed his word to him and through him to us.

I believe this principle offers hope to us all. God made everyone unique. He doesn’t eradicate our personalities when we become Christians, unless they’re destructive. Instead he celebrates and enhances our uniqueness. He fills us with his Spirit despite our flaws and promises to use us in his kingdom work.