My second favorite story

I bemoan the death of mail-out church bulletins. The internet–and maybe the busy lives of church members–was the culprit.

Years ago, we preachers would receive as many as thirty or more bulletins from other churches every week in the mail. A secretary in each church was assigned to type up the congregational news, pastoral announcements, and such and put in the mail, usually by Wednesday or Thursday, with the assurance it would be in the mailboxes of the members no later than Saturday.

Most of us received only the mailouts from churches and pastors we knew well, or admired greatly and wanted to keep up with. A few I took because the minister or secretary (or both) could be counted on for a great story. Here is one story taken from a church bulletin that changed my life….

The date is Saturday night, December 6, 1941, the eve of “a date that will live in infamy.” The speaker was Roy Robertson.

My ship, the West Virginia, docked at Pearl Harbor on the evening of Dec. 6, 1941. A couple of the fellows and I left the ship that night and attended a Bible study. About fifteen sailors sat in a circle on the floor. The leader asked each of us to recite our favorite Scripture verse. In turn, each sailor shared a verse and briefly commented on it.

I sat there in terror. I couldn’t recall a single verse. Finally, I remembered one verse: John 3:16. I silently rehearsed it in my mind.

The spotlight of attention grew closer as each sailor took his turn. It was up to the fellow next to me. He recited John 3:16. He took my verse! As he commented on it, I sat there in stunned humiliation. In a few moments, everyone would know that I couldn’t recall from memory even a single verse.

Later that night, I went to bed thinking, “Robertson, you’re a fake!”

At 7:55 the next morning, I was awakened by the ship alarm, ordering us to battle stations. 360 planes of the Japanese Imperial Fleet were attacking our ship and the other military installations. My men and I raced to our machine-gun emplacement, but all we had was practice ammunition.

So for the first 15 minutes of the two hour battle, we only fired blanks, hoping to scare the Japanese airplanes.

As I stood there firing false ammunition, I thought, “Robertson, this is how your whole life has been—firing blanks for Christ.”

I made up my mind as Japanese bullets slammed into our ship, ‘If I escape with my life, I will get serious about following Jesus.’

(Signed) “Roy Robertson”

Underneath in small letters: Roy went on to help Dawson Trotman found the Navigators. He led the follow-up ministry for the 1990 Billy Graham Crusade in Hong Kong. That crusade saw more people hearing the gospel at one time than ay other meeting in history.

Roy Robertson spent all his adult life after the war leading the Navigators ministry throughout Asia. I’d call that “getting serious” about Jesus.

The story is a powerful illustration of lives that are “blanks” or “fakes.” As with Roy’s “false ammunition,” they do no harm to the enemy and no good to their side.

It’s a disturbing picture of churches and whole movements that have lost their power and are going through the motions, but achieving absolutely nothing. Just firing blanks.

In the last days, Paul said to Timothy, many of the Lord’s people will have a form of godliness but will deny its power. (II Timothy 3:5)

We’ll leave the reader to apply this to your life and situation as the Holy Spirit leads, but we would all do well to consider the following questions:

1) Do you see signs of powerlessness in your own life today? In the church where you belong? In the Christian movement as you are acquainted with it?

2) What is it that makes us powerless? Not, “what are the symptoms” but “what is the root cause?”

3) What gives a believer’s life real power, making it a threat to the enemy and a real asset to the Kingdom?

4) Can you think of stories and teaching in Scripture that clearly illustrate both the power of the faithful and the powerlessness of the unfaithful? (My mind keeps coming back to the sons of Sceva in Acts 19 who were unable to cast a demon out of a poor fellow. The demon said to the seven sons, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know, but who are you?” Powerlessness makes us a laughingstock even to the demons!)

One final note about keeping such articles.

When I was a young teenager, our house burned to the ground. No one was at home and we lost everything we owned. Among the worst losses, we thought, were the photo albums of our family. But within a few days, we had back almost every picture we lost.

Over the years, my mother had shared family pictures with our large extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins). And now that ours were lost, they began returning those photos to us. We ended up with every photo we’d ever had.

By giving them away, we had kept the pictures.

There’s a great lesson there regarding stewardship. As one fellow said, “The only thing I have left is what I gave away.”

But there’s also a great lesson about a good story: the way to keep it is by giving it away.

Invariably, I file a clipping and then cannot recall where I put it. But by telling it to the world (and that’s what the internet does for us; how blessed we are!), we’re taking steps to assure we’ll never lose that story again!

Pastors, use it as the Lord leads. No need to give me credit; I didn’t write it.

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