43 Years Ago

by Audrey on May 1st, 2014

When I get ready for a run these days, most of the time I look for a sermon based on its length, not necessarily its topic or book of the Bible.  If I want to run for an hour, I search for an hour-long sermon – if it’s a short run day, I choose a forty-minute sermon.
Because I listen to great men of God, I don’t have to worry about the depth or clarity of the message.  I don't have to wonder if they will twist the truth or just tell me what will make me feel good.  I don't have to wonder whether they are holding fast the faithful word (Titus 1:9).  I listen to tested men, men who have been and are still faithful.
Well, the other day, I didn’t want to run for a whole hour, but neither did I want to  run only 40 minutes … so I searched for a sermon in between and I found one  – 51 minutes. 
Perfect.  I noticed it was from John 14. Perfect again. I was excited as I began my run.
As I ran and as I listened, I was convicted.  I was stirred.  I was encouraged.  I was exhorted. I took comfort in the passage and mostly in my Savior.
That pastor affectionately called it the comfort chapter.
And it was.
When my run was over, I looked for the sermon title so I could later listen to the rest of the series – and suddenly, it was like someone dumped a huge bucket of cold water on my sweaty body.  I stared at the screen.
I noticed the date.
June 6, 1971
43 years ago. 43 YEARS AGO.
I had not even reached my 13th birthday forty-three years ago.   I had never heard of this man.  I wasn’t doing in depth Bible studies. 
No, at that time of my life, my family was living in a little town. It was a town where, for the first time in my life, I actually lived inside the “town limits.”  But there was strange irony about that - I walked to the high school with my older brother and sister and then my younger brother and I got on the bus to be bussed out to the middle school – which was in the country.  I remember thinking how weird that was.  
But still, this was a time when my life consisted of doing middle school homework, noticing boys, wondering why my parents wouldn’t let me wear certain clothes or listen to hippie music.  It was a time of going to church, to my brother’s baseball games, and learning to cook supper for the family – really, just doing all the things you do when you live in a little Southern town.  I was in the teeny-bopper years collecting Tiger Beat magazines and going to Osmond Brothers concerts and singing You've Got a Friend by James Taylor.
Just growing up.  And yet, at the same time, forty-three years ago, this preacher whose 1971 sermon I was listening to just last week was a young man.  Probably in his mid-30s.   I tried to imagine what he looked like back then – but it didn’t matter – he was doing then what he does today - teaching the faithful word. 
And I thought how fresh and relevant his sermon was – forty-three years later as I was running.  I would have never known it was so, well, "dated" had I not noticed the date.   My heart was so encouraged.   This message was fresh and relevant because God’s Word is always fresh and relevant.
And I was thankful that for all these years – this man has honored God.  I was thankful that no big scandal touched his life – that he was still in the pulpit week after week, teaching, exhorting, comforting, pleading, expounding . . .  not only to those who were members of his church, but also to those far beyond his church.  Those who would, like me, one day be listening to his message  . . . being encouraged, exhorted.
He couldn’t have imagined the impact of his faithfulness all those years ago.  And yet his faithfulness has not just touched my life – no – he has touched thousands - millions even.  
And there are others like him.  In this day, when many pastors have come and gone, when they’ve fallen or turned away, or given up, or left . . . this man of God and the others like him, representing their generation, are still here.  Still proclaiming the truth.  Like mighty oaks.  Which yields its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither.  They are still preaching the word, in season and out of season.  No matter the trends in Christianity or the trends in the world. And I don't ever, ever want to criticize or tear them down - no, I want to pray for them. I want to be like Deborah of old - I want to strengthen and encourage them to do what God has called them to do.
I am grateful.  And I am inspired.  And I thought about my husband – now 30+ years in the ministry – 24 of those in the same church just continuing on . . . shepherding, teaching, exhorting, pleading, loving . . . faithful. 
It wasn’t too long ago that I read an article by Brett McCracken called “Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness?”  It’s worth the read (you can find it at The Gospel Coalition).   The entire article really resonated with me for many, many reasons, but one part in particular:
“But why must ‘real’ be synonymous with flawed and imperfect? When someone opens
up about their junk, we think, ‘you’re being real,’ and we can relate to them.  But what
about the pastor who has served faithfully for decades without any scandal, loved his
wife and family, and embodied the fruit of the spirit? Is this less real?”

I know the focus of McCracken’s article was not about pastors, yet this one example, this one observation, moved me to tears.
See, I’ve been married to a faithful pastor for nearly 34 years.  And while I know all his flaws - my life has been so blessed by his faithfulness.  And I know too, as President Reagan used to say about economics, that my life has been blessed through the “trickledown effect” of those who walked before him ... those who invested in his life.  My husband was once the young pastor of his day listening to the older men, modeling after them, learning from them.  He was grabbed by God and God hasn’t let him go and he is still preaching the faithful word in our day.
All this stuff – flooding my mind – all this from a date on a sermon that I thought I was listening to because of its length
Oh my.  God has so much to teach me.  More than just learning about the comfort chapter (which would have been enough), God was teaching me about faithfulness, about staying the course, about perseverance, about continuing, about wanting to imitate those who've walked before me in their faithfulness, and about being the kind of person worth imitating.
"Yeah, we all have bruises," as the song says. But God calls us to faithfulness.
So …. I began to give thanks for so many – by NAME – whose lives have blessed mine through their steadfast loyalty to Christ.  Those who have pointed me to Him – many who will NEVER EVER KNOW what they have meant to me. Who don't even know me.
I thanked God for those who have walked before me and have lived faithful godly lives and have served our risen Savior Who is in the world today.  Those who are here and those who speak from the dead – through what they’ve written and what they’ve spoken.
Then, as if all of this wasn’t enough - my mind drifted to the night before Easter of this year.  My son-in-law read words that the great missionary John Paton wrote about his father back in the 1800s.  My son-in-law read them for my grandson – to encourage him before his baptism the next day. But those words profoundly touched my heart.
See, when my children were small, I had read John Paton’s missionary story to them.  About his leaving home and the comfort of his life, saying goodbye to his parents –how he was so faithful, but I had forgotten . . .
I had forgotten so many things . . . . . 
A few days later, I pulled out my John Paton missionary story and re-read it. I then remembered the extent of the sacrificial life he lived as God used him greatly in the New Hebrides Islands.  He lived well – and died well.  Born in 1824.  Died in 1907. 
John Paton walked before me - his parents and other faithful men walked before him.
Each one passing on the legacy of a life lived for the Savior.  Holding fast the faithful word.
I want to be like them.  I want to stay the course.  To stay true to the One Who saved me.  I want to live a faithful godly life. 
I hope to be an encouragement to those who come after me – 43 years from today – 100 years from today – 1000 years from today, if the Lord should tarry.
God is faithful to ALL GENERATIONS.
All this from a sermon preached 43 years ago.  And I haven’t even begun to grasp all that God is still teaching me.

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