Let Me Tell You about My Mother…
SEPTEMBER 16, 2020
Believers think that their preaching is more effective than a silent illustration of the truths they believe.
And that can be a problem. It is said that St. Francis said (he probably did not, but it is still a good thought) that Christians should preach the Gospel and, when absolutely necessary, they should use words. There is an old story of the time that St. Francis and his simple friars came to a village and discovered that the village church had changed its name to “The Church of St. Francis.” He directed his followers to tear down that church rock-by-rock. As they left the village, one of the friars said to St. Francis that he thought they had come to the village to preach the Gospel. St. Francis replied simply, “We did.”
I agree with the view that Christians are the measurement of what the world sees about the Christian faith. The trouble is that being a proper and adequate measure is often conflated with being pure, obedient, faithful, and nice. The implication is that if Christians are not these things, they will hurt their witness. No, actually that is not what hurts their witness. I rarely come across someone who became a Christian because of another Christian’s goodness. That is not even our witness.
Let me tell you about my mother. My wife and I spent the last three months of my mother’s life living with her in the mountains of North Carolina. We always had a place for her in our home in Florida and expected that the time would come when she would no longer be able to take care of herself and that she would come to live with us. God had other plans. He allowed our home, along with the place in our home we had prepared for her, to be destroyed by Hurricane Andrew. When her doctor called me and said my mother was terminal and that something needed to be done, my wife and I decided to move to North Carolina and live with her for the duration. During that time, I did the Key Life broadcasts from the back-porch of the home where I grew up and handled the business of the ministry with my phone and computer. In between, my wife and I helped my mother die.
Well, maybe helping her die is not the best description. She needed very little help in dying. Her friends came in droves to say goodbye to her, and neighbors would check in on her to see if there was anything she needed. She gave instructions on marriage (and everything else) to her grandsons and granddaughters. She expressed her fear and her faith with such authenticity that everybody who knew her was amazed. She continued to read the Bible and Spurgeon, to pray and, for as long as she could, attend church. And she got every relationship fixed, apologized for things she had said, was sometimes inappropriate, and seemed even less than Christian when she laughed at the jokes she found funny. As I watched my mother die—and I was holding her hand when she did—I wanted to take out an ad in the local newspaper to invite others to, “come and see a godly woman die!”
That is the mantra of Christians who have decided not to be the mother of the world: “Come and watch!” See the human side of the faith—the failure and the success, the laughter and the tears, the love and the not so loving, and the reality of those who know that life is about Jesus and that he is enough.
For some reason, when I was a pastor, I started saying from the pulpit, “I’m not your mother.” To be honest, I started saying it because it had a nice postmodern ring to it. Eventually, it became a regular occurrence with a more focused purpose. I remember saying once, “If you don’t buy into this Christian thing that’s okay. However, you ought to get some benefit from attending church and I’m here to help. Read the Bible. You say, ‘I don’t believe the Bible.’ That’s okay, I’m not your mother. ‘But I don’t even believe in God.’ Again I’m not your mother. But listen to me, if you read the Bible and try to conform your life to it as much as you can, even if you don’t believe it, you will sleep better at night, you’ll feel better about the world, and you’ll be a much nicer person and people will like you more. As I said, I’m not your mother and you can do what you want. But if you try it and it helps, you don’t have to thank me. I was glad to help.”
Do you know what I discovered? I found unbelievers drawn to what I was saying and many of them even became Christians. I discovered that they were drawn to the warmth of our fire and the last thing they wanted was a mother. They already had one of those.
Nobody needs more than one.
Adapted from Steve’s book, Talk the Walk.