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Heart Cry: Forgetting Is A Dangerous Thing

Philippians 1:3-11

I wish to read for you from the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. This is the Word of God.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart. For whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer. That your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best, and may be pure and blameless, until the day of Christ. Filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

May God bless to us the reading and the hearing of this portion of His holy Words.

Pray with me, please. Give me, Jesus. Lord, give me Jesus. You can have all the rest. Just give me Jesus. Amen.

Several years ago, Trisha and I had the delightful privilege of visiting the lovely town of Bedford in England. It was in that town that the great John Bunyan spent most of his adult life as the pastor, having come to the faith primarily through the efforts of his wife. He went on to become a very powerful and effective preacher. So much was that the case that several times during his earthly life, he was actually thrown into prison because of his faith. It was during one of those times of imprisonment when he proceeded to write what has become one of the great classics of English literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress. In that noted book, the hero, Christian, leaves the city of destruction and is headed toward the celestial city, which of course is heaven. As he makes his way on the journey, he encounters some who try to harm or hinder him in that effort. Those like Apollyon, and Giant Despair. But he also encounters some who seek to be helpful to him, like Interpreter and Faithful. After a long series of amazing adventures, Christian finally crosses the river and reaches the celestial city. It’s a great read.

But I have to tell you that one of the passages in that great book, which I especially love, is where we are told that the children of Christian are following after him. And they say to their guide, Great-heart, “Where is the place where our father battles the Apollyon?” And Great-Heart replies, “At a place yonder, in a narrow passage, just beyond the Forgetful Green. That is the most dangerous place in these parts, because those travelers suffer most who forget the favors they have received along the way, and how unworthy of those favors they are.” Well, Great-Heart is right. Forgetting is a dangerous thing, and that’s why I believe it is so important for all of us to remember. To remember the favors that we have received along our life’s way. And to remember how unworthy of those granted favors we really are.

That seems especially true for me today. You see, it was in August of 1967 that I was ordained into the ministry of Jesus Christ, and the 47 years since have been an overwhelming joy, privilege, and honor for me to preach the great good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And yet, as I have recently been pondering and reflecting upon that long, long pilgrimage with the Lord, I do not want to make the mistake of forgetting the favors which have been granted to me along the way.

I suppose that maybe that’s why the words that Paul wrote in the first chapter of Philippians resonate so deeply in my soul. Paul wrote—and I tell you, you can sense the great emotion in his heart. The emotion which wraps itself around the words. Paul wrote, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

Now, whom or what might Paul have been remembering? Well, obviously, we cannot know for certain. But I do believe there are certain things we can assume. You see, when you read in the book of Acts 16, you find some of the experiences which Paul had when he was in the city of Philippi. And then, therefore, I believe that we can assume that the people and events, which are recorded for us in Acts 16, at least in part would be what Paul was thinking about when he wrote those words, “I thank my God every time I remember you.”

I believe, for example, there can be no doubt that Paul was remembering Lydia.

Lydia. Oh, what an amazing woman. She was Paul’s very first convert on the European continent. You may remember that Paul saw a vision in which a man was calling him to bring the gospel to Macedonia. To Greece. And Paul responded to the vision, but when Paul got there he found not a man, but a woman. Lydia. Oh, what an impressive and successful businesswoman she was. She came to Christ under the teachings of Paul. She offered Paul her house for his use while he was there. And, in fact, it was in her house where the church at Philippi was formed and established. And Lydia underwrote the cost of the whole venture. We also know that Lydia provided financial support to Paul as long as he was engaged in the Lord’s work. Paul was so blessed to have Lydia in his life and in his ministry. And I believe that when he wrote those words to the Philippians, he was remembering Lydia.

Today, I’d like to remember some Lydias in my own life. The very first person to speak to me about going into the ministry was Mrs.Villarubia. She was my teacher in the fourth grade in school. She, at one point, assigned to all of us in the class a task that we were to write a speech, and then we were to actually deliver the speech to the class. She assigned me the subject of the Good Samaritan. You know, I guess that would never happen in most schools today, sad to say. Oh, in any case, when I had written my little speech and delivered it, Mrs. Villarubia said, “I’d like to see you after class.” I thought I was in hot water with her. I’d been in hot water with her before. However, when I approached her desk after class, she said to me, “Have you ever thought that one day you might like to be a preacher?” She’s the first person who ever said that to me, and I’ve never forgotten her because of it.

Another Lydia for me was Margaret Dodson. She was Trisha’s mother. My mother-in-law. She is now with the Lord and we miss her terribly, but let me tell you, she was a giant in the faith. Just a few days before I preached my first sermon in my first church in Presbyterian church in Kilgore, Texas, I received a note from her. A note I’ve carried in my bible ever since. Here is what the note said. “Dear Howard, I feel like the woman who pressed a paper into her minister’s hand one Sunday. On it was written, ‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’ Howard, only the church has the unique message of Jesus Christ, son of God, Savior of all, who can transform people’s hearts and change the world. Paul and Peter took every opportunity to preach that message. Now, the opportunity is yours. Through you, we would see Jesus.”

I carry that note in my Bible and I carry that message in my heart. She taught me some things of which I am now and forever certain, and that is why I thank my God every time I remember her.

But, do you know, I also believe that Paul was thinking about the young woman who was a pagan fortune teller in Philippi.

When you read her story in Acts 16, you begin to realize that she was just trapped in her own fears, and thus had given herself over to this Pagan superstitious practice. And, as a matter of fact, because of that, she struck fear in the hearts of everyone around her. She was the pawn of money-grubbing men who owned her and who used her and misused her for their own gain. But then Paul introduced her to the liberating, death-defeating power of Jesus Christ, and she was never the same.

I remember in my own life, the first time in my life I had to look the reality of death square in the face. And I remember the icy chill that gripped my heart. It was when my grandfather died. Grandaddy had been one of the great heroes of my childhood. I loved spending time with him every chance I got. I especially loved the times when he would invite me to go with him into his library, and there he would read to me. In that wondrous room where shelves lined the walls and books lined the shelves. There were law books—he was a judge. There were history books. I tell you, he could recount the events of ancient history almost as if he had been there. There were books of sermons and theology. His faith was sweeping and obvious and unashamed, and he regularly took to the pulpit as a lay preacher. And it was in that room where words straight from his lips, word repeated to me over and over again, were carved into my consciousness so that I could never, ever forget them. He said to me, “Son, when nothing else in life seems certain, Jesus is. Other things may change or disappear. Jesus never will.”

I was in my mid-teens when Grandaddy died. I couldn’t conceive of life without him, and what little faith I had at that point was shattered to pieces. I remember standing in the Magnolia Cemetery in Mobile, Alabama watching as his casket was lowered into the ground. And fear took a stranglehold on my soul. It was at that point that a great big bear of a man, Dave Hemphill, a friend of our family, walked over to me, put his huge, strong arm around my shoulder and pulled me tight. And in just a few words and sentences, delivered to me nothing less than the suffering, courageous love of God and Jesus Christ. You see, the testimony of our faith is that God comes into the horrendous fears of the human experience, and God lifts us up right in the midst of them. And when you catch hold of that truth, even though the pain may still be there, you suddenly are aware of God’s power and God’s presence enveloping you all about. That’s why I can never forget Dave Hemphill, who one day walked with me through the valley of the shadow of death, and by so doing enabled me to conquer once and for all and forever my fear of death. He taught me something of which I am now and forever certain, and that is why I thank my God every time I remember him.

And then I believe that Paul was thinking about the fact that there in Philippi, he was locked in prison.

You know, when Paul preached the gospel, some people were turned on. Other people were turned off. But, you know, that is always true whenever the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly preached. It certainly happened to Paul in Philippi. There the people who opposed him decided to try to silence him by locking him away behind bars. And what happened? God sent a great earthquake and shook that prison into ruins and set Paul free.

I remember in my own life being locked away in a prison. Oh, not a literal prison. A different kind of prison. A prison of the mind. I was imprisoned by the fact that when I was young, I was chasing all of the wrong priorities in life. I had no sense of what it meant to dream great dreams or to try to live a significant life. Two men helped me to break free from that prison. One of them was Dean Charles Diehl He was the dean of men at my college. He was also my professor in freshman English. I landed in trouble with Dean Diehl right off the bat. Within my first two weeks of college, I managed to soak down the college’s head basketball coach with water balloons. Now, believe you me, I never intend for you to know the full story behind that incident. Dean Diehl immediately slapped me with disciplinary probation. That was bad, and I knew my preacher father was soon to learn about what had happened. That was bad, but what was worse, I still had to face Dean Diehl in class. At one point that semester, he assigned us all a research paper and that research paper was going to comprise a significant portion of our grade. He delivered to me the subject for my research paper was to be John Donne. Now, let me tell you something, at that point in my life I could not have cared less about John Donne.

And so I went to Dean Diehl and asked for another subject. Dean Diehl said to me, “Mr. Edington, you need to learn about John Donne.” And so, following his order reluctantly, I tried to learn about John Donne. Learned that the early portion of his life, he was chasing after all kinds of sensual things, but ultimately he came to faith in Jesus Christ. And he became a very powerful servant of the Lord. He wrote magnificent poetry, and he preached powerful sermons. The line I suppose for which he is best remembered is, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Well, as I immersed myself in the life of John Donne, under the constant pressure from Dean Deal, I came to admire this remarkable poet preacher from long ago.

And, as a matter of fact, I concluded my research paper with the epitaph which appears on John Donne’s grave. The epitaph was actually written by Isaac Watts, the great hymn writer. The epitaph says, “Readers, I would have thee know, Donne’s body only lies below. For if the grave his soul comprised, Earth would be fairer than the sky.” Dean Diehl wrote down at the bottom of my paper, “See? I told you so.”

But, you see, it broke my mind open. Set me free. Allowed me to understand that I could dream great dreams and try to live a significant life. That’s why I thank my God every time I remember him.

The second man was James Stewart of Scotland. He was my professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His teaching transformed my life, and his teaching continues to shape my ministry to this very day. He was a slight, almost shy man. Silver hair. Warm face. Gentle voice. And at first glance you wondered how in the world could he have been named one of the greatest preachers of the 20th century? But then when he stepped into the pulpit and opened his mouth, and his language lifted you and his spirituality enveloped you then you knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that you were in the presence of one specially anointed by God.
He had an incredible passion for Christ, and for the Bible. And he taught me so much. I remember one day, he was sitting on the edge of his desk, and he was talking about preaching. And suddenly he reached over and he picked up a book, flipped through the pages, and he began to read. What he was reading was actually the great king’s prayer speech in Act III of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. “Words fly up, but my thoughts remain below. Words without thought never to heaven go.” He closed the book, and then he said, “If you are not living Jesus Christ every day of your life, then what you say from the pulpit about Jesus Christ will never lift your people up into the presence of the angels.”

He taught me the power of the preached Word when it flows out of the fountain of a truly faithful and committed life. He set me free from the prison of my own sense of inadequacy for the ministry. He inspired me. He challenged me. He set me free to dream big and to try to live a truly significant and committed life. He taught me things of which I am now and forever certain. And that is why I thank my God every time I remember him.

Well, I’ve shared with you some of those who have given me favors along my life’s way. Favors which I have not deserved. And that’s an appropriate thing for me to do. I know you may be saying to yourself, “This hasn’t really been a sermon, it’s just a collection of memories.” I make no apology for that. You see, I am now beginning my 48th year in the ministry of Jesus Christ. And I never want to forget those who have granted me favors along the way. Great-Heart was right. Forgetting is a dangerous thing, and that’s why I thank God every time I remember those who brought Christ’s love to me so that I might preach Christ’s gospel to you.

Soli Deo gloria.
To God alone be the glory.
Amen and amen.

 

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