In the classic 1942 black-and-white film Casablanca, characters played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman both tell a piano player named Sam to play their favorite song. The song was “As Time Goes By,” and contains the phrase, “You must remember this…”. The line is never said exactly this way in the movie, but the famous quote is: “Play it again, Sam!”
I once read an interview with Amy Grant. She had just recorded an album of hymns, and she told the interviewer, “I’ve heard lots of sermons over the years, and I don’t remember any of them. But I do remember all those wonderful old hymns we sang when I was growing up.” Well, excuse me, but that’s not a fair comparison at all. You might hear any given sermon once (assuming you stay awake all the way through it). But we’ve sung those old hymns over and over and over, until many of us have them practically memorized. A hymn is probably sung in a church twice a year at least, maybe more often than that. Let a pastor try repeating the same few sermons twice a year, and the deacons will be meeting to discuss the problem.
Besides that, you’re not supposed to remember the sermon. You’re supposed to remember the Scripture.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time, but I’ve been reluctant to write about it for several reasons. First, because I’m not sure how many people will actually be interested. Second, because the discussion can get technical and “deep in the weeds.” You can quickly get into the nuances of Biblical interpretation, and the Greek language of the New Testament. And third, because, on a personal level, nothing I’m about to write will give you a warm fuzzy feeling or help you get your locker open. So those are the reasons you shouldn’t read this article. If any of that resonates with you, you should stop reading now.
On the other hand, I hope you do read this, for several reasons. First, because I hope it will reassure you about our church. Second, because while I’m going to try hard to not get “deep in the weeds,” I will suggest some resources for those of you who might want to investigate this topic some more. And third, because not everything in the Bible is intended to give you a tingle or a set of easy steps to solve life’s mundane problems. A lot of it is intended to help you think clearly and to know what you believe. As Linus from the comic strip Peanuts pointed out, sound theology has a way of giving us great comfort.
I used to have a buddy named Dave Hoskins. He was a Baptist pastor here in the area. We used to run into each other at Markle’s Music store, because he played guitar, too. Dave was a funny guy, outgoing and full of life. He was about ten years younger than me. I still can’t believe that he died several years ago. He was diagnosed with brain cancer, and it all went south for him really fast. Life is short, folks, and there’s no dress rehearsal.
Anyway, Dave was always telling me things to make me laugh. (I love people like that. Kinda makes up for the other ones.) One day he told me somebody called his church and asked, “Does your church sing off the wall?” He said he was initially confused, and wondered if the guy had heard some of their church members sing. Then he realized the man was asking if they used hymnals or sung the words off of a screen. Apparently, this man didn’t like “off the wall” singing.
There’s a short poem about money I heard a long time ago that I’ve never forgotten. Here it is:
Money talks; that’s no lie.
I heard it once; it said “Goodbye!”
But let me reword it a bit, like this:
Time flies; that’s no lie.
I heard it once; it said “Goodbye!”
Actually, I don’t think time says “Goodbye” at all. It just rushes by without so much as a “See you later!” It really is astonishing how fast it goes.
Now, I couldn’t convince my 5-year-old grandson of this. If he’s waiting for something good—his birthday, or Christmas, or for his daddy or mommy to come home after being away—then to him, time passes excruciatingly slowly.
But the older you get, the faster time seems to go. You’re a kid. You’re a teenager. You’ve graduated from high school. You’re married. You’re having babies. Before you know it, your babies are teenagers. Then they’re graduating from high school. And then, wait—what?—they’re getting married? Now your kids are having babies? And that makes you…a grandparent? How did this happen?
I once heard a man explain why he and his wife had started a new coffee house. They were Christians, and the man explained that they had been attending what he called “traditional church”. Then he said that he made an amazing discovery: “traditional church” is not in the Bible! (He didn’t say so explicitly, but it sounded like they stopped going to “traditional church”.) So, he said, they started the coffee house as a place for their community to meet. The coffee house seems to be a grand success; and, he said, they had met more of their neighbors in the few months the coffee house had been open than they had in the entire time they went to “traditional church” before. Well, glory, hallelujah! (Oops…maybe they don’t say that in coffee houses. My bad.)
I hardly know where to start.
I’ve just read a great book. It’s called The Case for Heaven by Lee Strobel. Strobel is one of my favorite authors. He was an atheist who worked as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune. His wife Leslie became a Christian, and it upset him so much he set out to disprove Christianity and “rescue” his wife. But after months of researching the evidence and interviewing experts, to his dismay he found himself convinced, and he became a believer in Jesus, too. He wrote a book about his faith journey called The Case for Christ. He has since written The Case for Faith, The Case for the Real Jesus, and The Case for a Creator.
In 2011, Strobel had a life-threatening incident that landed him in the hospital and brought him face-to-face with the prospect of his own death. He survived this crisis, but it caused him to consider what happens after we die more seriously. As a Christian, he of course believed in heaven, but he hadn’t given it much thought. After he nearly died, he wanted a clearer idea of what the Bible has to say about the afterlife, and to know if the many accounts of near-death experiences (NDEs) had any validity at all, and whether they supported or contradicted the Bible’s teaching. So, he embarked on yet another months-long investigation, researching and interviewing experts all over America and Great Britain on the subject of life after death. The result was his latest book, The Case for Heaven.
I devoured it in about four days. It’s fantastic. Let me give you the high points.
I prepared for the ministry (as much as you can) at a small school in the Ozarks called Baptist Bible College. It was located in Springfield, Missouri, and I received a wonderful theological education there. I had many wonderful teachers and professors, and was influenced by a lot of godly men and women.
One of them was a man named Elmer Deal. To be honest with you, he wasn’t a very good teacher. It was almost always hard to stay awake in his class. His teaching style was a little, um, disorganized, and it wasn’t always easy to follow him.
He taught a class on Missions, i.e., the importance of missionary work in other lands and how that work is done. And Professor Deal may not have been a great teacher of Missions, but he had been an outstanding missionary. Somebody said, “Agriculture is like farming, only farming is doing it.” When it came missionary work, Elmer Deal had done it.
Someone said there is no such thing as coincidence in the life of a child of God. I love that thought. It’s Scriptural, and it reminds us of God’s sovereignty: that He is in charge of everything.
In December I wrote an article, “Concerning the Future of Our Church”. Then in January I wrote about my mild heart attack in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Deacons Meeting”. In the December article I stated something obvious to anyone who’s paying attention: our church is going to look very different in ten years’ time. And my heart attack in January only emphasized that fact.
Does this mean I think I’m going to die in the next ten years? I don’t think so. I sure hope not. Only God knows for sure. But one thing’s for sure: we’re all going to die sometime. And the impact of that for our church in the next ten years is going to be major.