Monuments have been in the news lately, and much of our history is preserved in stone. Our nation’s capital is filled with tributes to Washington, Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, U.S. Grant, Martin Luther King and others. Of course, these men had flaws along with their great deeds, not unlike the rest of us.
I understand West Virginia is filled with tributes to the late Sen. Robert Byrd, who readily admits he spent time as a Kleagle and Exalted Cyclops in the KKK. But he went on to be a respected member of the Senate. A neighborhood in Decatur has streets named for the fallen Challenger astronauts. These streets commemorate their bravery, but also remind us of human error.
Monuments remind us of heroism, and sometimes they remind us of flaws. Both are part of history and both are tools for learning. We learn from good examples and we learn from bad examples.
I met Keith at Southern Seminary in Louisville when we participated in a weekend preaching mission to Ohio. He became a Christian as an adult, and was filled with holy zeal. I came to admire him and had him speak in several churches I served over the years.
Keith told me once about a framed picture he had in his office. It was a picture of the neighborhood church of his boyhood.
“This church must mean a lot to you,” I said.
“Actually, no,” he replied. “I grew up in a poor family without a father. We lived two doors from this church and no one at any time ever came to us to invite us to church or shared the gospel with us. They didn’t care about us. This picture reminds me our church has to do better.”
Oh, my. We might call this picture a monument to mission failure. What a terrible indictment for a church called by the name of Christ, the friend of sinners.
I thought of this story last year and got a bit convicted about the neighborhood closest to our church. I enlisted a lay member to help me, and we walked the neighborhood one evening, went to every house and invited residents to worship with us. Then I thought of my own residential neighborhood. I spent two evenings knocking on every door and inviting neighbors to worship with us if they didn’t have a regular church home. Keith inspired me to do something positive because of a negative experience.
Many things vie for our attention as Christian congregations, but we fail utterly and miserably is we don’t tell our neighborhoods of God’s love for us all. As the apostle Paul wrote, we are ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).