They Can’t Take That Away From Me
SEPTEMBER 5, 2018
Later this week (I’m writing this at the end of July), I’ll be teaching a seminar at The Billy Graham Training Center, The Cove, in the mountains of North Carolina, titled, “How to Be Right Without Being Insufferable.”
Yeah, that’s the working subtitle of my new book. I really thought it would be out by now and I would be able to sell a few books. But as the poet Robert Burns wrote, “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
Somehow—and I’m not sure how it happened—someone from Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church, the church I served in Miami for a lot of years, decided that this year at The Cove would be a good time for many of the church members to get together. No one said this to me, but I suspect they thought that since I’m older than dirt and could die anytime, they might not get another chance. Whatever the reason, The Cove this year will be a time to remember and be thankful for what God did in that place.
On top of that, Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church has fallen on some pretty hard times. They have given the building to Crossbridge Church, a large and growing church in Miami with many campuses (Key Biscayne will become one). Crossbridge plans to have a “Heritage Sunday” in September to honor the past and later on share the vision for the future. The pastor of Crossbridge, Felipe Assis (whom I’ve come to love), asked me to record a video sharing stories of what happened at Key Biscayne, and honoring the people and the ministry there. The way I see it, they will have a sort of funeral and, at the same time, a resurrection.
It’s really all good. Frankly, though, recording that video was kind of sad. John Wesley once said, “God buries his workmen, but carries on with his work.” That sounds good unless you’re the workman being buried.
In the movie, Shall We Dance, Fred Astaire—on a lonely, foggy ferry deck—sang the Gershwin love song, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” to Ginger Rogers. The gist of the song is that they were parting, but nobody would be able to take the memories away:
We may never, never meet again…
Still, I’ll always, always keep the memory of
The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you changed my life
No, no they can’t take that away from me
No, they can’t take that away from me.
In the Crossbridge/Key Biscayne video, I talked about how a funeral can be sad for a person or a church you love…unless there is a resurrection. I pointed out the exciting vision for the future of the church, and how it both honors the past and glorifies a faithful God.
I hate change. I order the same food at the same restaurants. I have gone to the same barber forever (hold the bald jokes, okay?). I have been married to the same wife for longer than many of you have been alive. And speaking of Anna, one of the many reasons I love her is the steady anchor she is in my life when my emotions and actions are incredibly mercurial. I drive the same way home each day in the same car I’ve driven for years (it has 245,000 miles on it and I don’t want to get a new one). I mostly read the books of the same authors I have liked for years. I even refused to allow my office carpet to be changed when, after 20 years, the entire Key Life building’s carpet was replaced.
You get the idea. Did I mention I hate change?
That often makes me a miserable person in a world where the only thing that doesn’t change is the fact that everything changes. I want to hold the river in my hand, to keep everybody I know and me young, and to insist that church worship music stays exactly the same…even if, in the past, the old ways were sometimes dull and boring.
I just read what I wrote above and it sounds rather sad, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s not sad at all. Memories without a resurrection are always sad…like visiting a donut shop while on a diet. However, if we worship the God of the future who is sovereign over change, memories become places of great joy and, even more important, one of the best and most exciting ways to worship a loving God.
That’s what the Psalmist did: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God?…You with your arm redeemed your people” (Psalm 77:11-13, 15).
In Joshua 4, God’s people have just crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land and God tells Joshua to have twelve men go and find twelve stones to pile up in the middle of the Jordan. When the people wonder why he’s doing such a weird thing, Joshua says that it will be a sign. “When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord…” (Joshua 4:6-7).
The trick is to make your memories memorials. We all have good memories and bad memories, times we wish we could experience again and times we don’t ever want to revisit. But in all of that, there is God. He has always been faithful and wise.
I remember when we couldn’t pay the mortgage and, at the same time, struggled with how to put our daughters in college. But we did. I remember those times when I made fool of myself and thought the ministry God had given me was over. But it wasn’t. I remember when I thought I was going to die. But I didn’t. I remember my sins and thinking that God would never use me again. But he did. I remember thinking that after I had so often broken my promises to God, he would say, “I’ve had it with you!’ But he never did.
So, as it were, I have built a memorial of those stones. I can look at them when I’m depressed, when I’ve sinned again, and when the “father of lies” accuses me, and I can say, “Leave me alone and go back to hell where you belong! I’ve been there and done that, and God has always been faithful. He is still faithful and he will always be faithful…even when I’m not.” The past is always a memorial to a loving God who is good all the time.
So the nostalgia in the video I recorded and in the coming time at The Cove with a lot of people with whom I share memories, isn’t sad at all. It’s a place of great laughter and joy. It’s where God’s people party.
And no, I don’t think I’ll die soon. That’s not the reason I’m telling you all of this. I once did a network television show titled, “The Late Steve Brown.” It aired very late on Sunday nights. But when the network began to advertise the program, people misunderstood the title and thought I had died. We started getting letters of condolence at Key Life and, frankly, some people were rather glad that I was gone. I’m old and I could die soon, but probably not, given my disgustingly good health. But regardless, “they really can’t take that—the memorials—away from me” ever.
Oh, I just thought of Jesus. When those who don’t know him revisit the past, it’s a sad trip because that’s all there is. But for his own, that’s not true. The past, the present, and the future are all together in his loving hand.
The world says, “Have a drink and forget.”
Jesus says, “Drink and remember!”
And have a party.
He asked me to tell you to remember.
Read more from Steve Brown here