November 17, 2019
A Tribute to Other Veterans
Veterans Day is an important day in America. Every November 11 is a national holiday, when countless tributes are paid to our military veterans. It is a good thing to honor the men and women who have made many sacrifices to serve our nation and preserve the freedoms we enjoy. I have two sons who served our country proudly, one in the Navy and the other in the Air Force. Some of my grandchildren are veterans.
During the Second World War my Uncle Luke Johnson served as an Air Force pilot. I was nine years old when the United States entered the war. My mother obtained her brother’s address so I could write him. It’s hard to describe what it meant to me as a young boy to receive a letter, and sometimes pictures of his B-17 Flying Fortress bomber, from Uncle Luke. I was awestruck by his taking the time to write me. When I saw newsreel pictures of our American fighter planes, I imagined myself flying the P-47 Thunderbolt in combat.
Last Monday I got to thinking about the debt we owe to veterans other than our military veterans. For example, the men and women who are veteran Sunday School teachers in our churches. I grew up in the church, so I am indebted to many men and women who taught me as a child, a youth and an adult. Though the Sunday School teaching ministry is not as strong today as it once was in our churches, I can testify that my faith was shaped and strengthened by those who taught me.
Most Sunday School teachers have received little training in theology. They learn the faith through Bible study and listening to Sunday sermons. But like me, some of them learned how to teach by spending years in Sunday School classes taught by people whose faith they admired. Those who become excellent teachers of the Word are those who “stay in the Word” studying and seeking the help of the Holy Spirit, the Great Teacher of us all.
Howard Hendricks loves to tell about the great lesson about teaching he learned as a college student. He worked in the college dining hall, and on his way to work at 5:30 every morning he walked past the home of one of his professors. Through a window he could see the professor studying at his desk. At night Howard stayed late in the library studying. On his way home he would see the light on and his professor still studying. One day he asked him, “What keeps you studying? You never seem to stop.” His answer: “Son, I would rather have my students drink from a running stream than a stagnant pool.” God rewards those who study his Word.
The most effective teachers are not those who acquire the most knowledge through diligent study, but those who also love their students. Wise teachers know that the best way to win a student to Christ is to love them into the Kingdom. When teachers love their students, they pray for them. When one teacher was asked the secret of his success with his class, he pulled out a little black book. On each page he had a picture of each of the boys in his junior high class. Under each name, there were notes the teacher had made like “having trouble with math,” “his parents have no interest in church,” or “would like to become a missionary.” Said the teacher: “I pray over these pages every day and I can hardly wait for Sunday to see what God has been doing in their lives.”
For 16 years I have observed and admired several teachers of adult Sunday School classes at Saint James United Methodist Church. They are the real heroes of the church. Many of them are seasoned veterans of the “war” Satan has launched to win the minds of people who are not sold out to Jesus. Some of these teachers have been on the firing line for 20 or 30 years, longer than the average veteran has served in the military. These veteran teachers take seriously the truth that all who become disciples of Jesus are under orders to carry out the Great Commission – to go into all the world spreading spiritual holiness, making disciples, baptizing them, and teaching them what Jesus said. These teachers understand that God wants to use them to expose and overcome the corruption constantly at work in our fallen world – and to lead unbelievers to faith in Christ. They know that as trustees of the faith, they are to guard it and pass it on to other faithful disciples who will keep the chain strong until Christ returns.
My good friend Cecil Spear spent his life working as a civil engineer in the steel business. When it seemed wise to move from Montgomery to Auburn a few years ago, Cecil did not want to give up his turn as a rotating teacher in his Sunday School class. So every second Sunday he drives from Auburn to teach the class and worship with his lifelong friends at Saint James. Fellow class members welcome his teaching because they know he is a faithful veteran who loves them and for years has sought to “correctly handle the word of truth.” The Greek word translated as “reliable” or “faithful” means one who is believing, one who is loyal, one who can be depended upon. Like his fellow teachers, Cecil knows that the privilege of teaching is a sacred trust. He and the others are doing what Paul urged Timothy to do in 1 Timothy 6:20 – “guard the trust that has been entrusted to you.”
Effective teaching is hard work, but it does have its rewards. The teacher’s example in “walking like he talks” can influence his students to “hear God” speaking in the scripture lessons and inspire them to give up living on the periphery of life and surrender to the Lordship of Christ. When that happens, you realize that the best rewards of teaching are eternal rewards.
A chaplain, ministering to a wounded soldier who knew he was dying, listened intently as the soldier asked him to write a letter to his Sunday School teacher. He said, “Tell her I died a Christian because of what she taught me. The memory of her earnest pleas and the warmth of her love as she asked us to accept Jesus has stayed with me. Tell her I will meet her in heaven.” The chaplain sent the message to the teacher and soon received this reply: “May God forgive me. Just last month I resigned as a teacher because I felt my teaching had been fruitless. How I regret my lack of faith! I have asked my pastor to let me go back to teaching a class.” Perhaps this story will inspire some teacher who has become “weary in well doing” to refuse to give up and get back on the firing line as a faithful teacher.
Pause for a moment. Recall the names and faces of your Sunday School teachers. Then join me in giving thanks for these veteran servants of God who deserve to be honored for their faithful work as guardians of the truth. Many of us can say, with grateful hearts, “It was my Sunday School teacher who inspired me to fall in love with Jesus.” + + +