Our Iron Lady…

This evening I listened to Joyce Rogers defend the integrity of her husband during a brief interview on the Mike Fleming show. With calm resolve in her voice, the lifelong sweetheart of the late pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church said precisely what she needed to, and nothing more. She explained how challenges to the legacy of her husband brought her from silent grief to express sorrow for friends and strength for the many Southern Baptists who are watching the strife in Memphis from a distance. When asked about the year-long struggle at the church, she politely declined to comment.

It’s painful to watch what is happening to Joyce Rogers. The church where her husband bled and cried and died is suffering from a crisis of leadership. The husband and pastor whose testimony is blamelessly above reproach is being questioned for reasons no person of sound judgment can comprehend. The flood of allegations and confessions and denials have pulled Adrian Rogers’ widow from quiet service to preserve with courage the legacy of a man whose commanding voice was prematurely silenced by cancer’s cold grip.

I remember seeing Joyce Rogers at conventions over the past eleven years. She was forever by his side, poised and patient with the endless line of men and women whose lives were transformed by the gospel Adrian Rogers preached. I remember sitting in convention halls watching Adrian walk to his seat, Joyce ever by his side, his hand holding hers. He always treated his wife with such delicate grace. At times she seemed frail standing next to him, bold and broad as he was.

I remember the times she sang before he preached, and I remember watching him walk to the pulpit and wipe a tear from his cheek. I remember hearing the same jokes he always told about not kissing his wife before they were married, or about her popsicle leaking down his back when they embraced in gradeschool. I remember the time he told us about inverting his body in the bed one night, putting his feet on the pillow and his head under the covers. I remember the twinkle in his eye when he told us about Joyce leaning over and kissing his big toe, and about the laughter they shared over those moments when he would flirt with her like they were newly married.

I remember Adrian telling the story of Joyce crying out to him from the other room when their infant son Philip turned blue from SIDS and died on a Mother’s Day past. I remember him telling us about their times of shared ministry, and about searching for lost RV hubcaps on family vacations to Florida. I remember the story about Joyce scolding their son David for lowering his car window against his father’s command, only to find out that Adrian had lowered it with the driver controls to get a laugh and break up a tense moment.

For many years we’ve heard about Joyce Rogers from the testimony of the one who loved her more than life itself. We watched as she walked through cancer with him. We cried as she said her goodbyes in a nationally televised funeral.

More than five decades ago she made a commitment to God that she would love, honor, and cherish her husband until death would part them. Last year, they were separated by his death. Today she continues to honor him by reminding us of his love for the Lord, his commitment to truth, and his compassion for people. Joyce Rogers is a woman who keeps her vows, a fact Adrian knew more than any other.

Two years ago she had no idea that illness would claim his body so soon. One year ago she could not have anticipated that foolishness would threaten his legacy so tragically.

As I listened to Joyce Rogers on the radio today, I was drawn away from a remote interest in the threatening strife and disintegration of a congregation so built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Instead, I was compelled to pray for her. I prayed for the Lord to grant her wisdom to speak and remain silent. I prayed for her to rest in the assurance that no accusation against her husband would rob him of the commendation he surely received when he saw the face of his Savior. And I prayed for the Lord to strengthen her for the very high calling which is hers during these difficult days.

When Joyce Rogers stood before the convention in Greensboro and told us that her husband would never have supported the narrowing trends that have choked out gospel unity, the whole place rose in thunders of applause. Soon after that night, and the next days that saw Frank Page elected on a platform of stopping the narrowing trends, Wade Burleson made an observation to me that I haven’t considered much until this week.

Wade said, “Don’t you think it would be remarkable if this convention elected Joyce Rogers to serve as First Vice President.”

Joyce Rogers doesn’t need a place of service. She has already made her ministry by serving her husband and raising their children and laboring alongside the greatest preacher of our generation to build a great church that exalts an even greater Lord. The years that she had hoped would be spent in retirement by her husband’s side have now been eclipsed by his untimely death and the seemingly endless reports of strife that we are all reading about Bellevue.

Steve Gaines is having his gold refined, and nobody that I know envies him. He’s facing calls for his resignation, rumors at every turn, and he’s standing in the crosshairs of ministry transition. He’s made some mistakes, which he readily admits, and now he is facing a criminal investigation for nondisclosure of abuse involving minors. The Memphis news reports that he could be fined, and even imprisoned. Steve had the poor fortune of filling some pretty big shoes, if not the biggest, and he’s fighting to face challenges he never expected from sources he never thought possible.

Following Adrian Rogers can’t be easy, but if Gaines has a chance of surviving he would do himself a favor by learning from a woman who followed him all her life.

Sermon tapes

Most preachers have accumulated enough sermon tapes over the years to fill a small volkswagon. Before the internet revolution, particularly, the buying and sharing of the great pulpiteers’ sermon tapes was the only way to hear the best of Southern Baptist preaching. Now, with the advent of streaming audio/video and podcasting, tapes are becoming more and more obsolete.

Last night I decided to sort through my file box of sermon tapes with the intent of discarding the ones that were of little use. But I found myself clinging to them, refusing to discard any. In that box are sermons of W.A. Criswell from the 50s and 60s, the very best of Adrian Rogers on the Lordship of Christ and Jerry Vines on the ascension, sermons by Charles Stanley on personal holiness, and sermons by Joel Gregory on depression.

I’ve got sermons of Junior Hill that make me laugh and cry, and sermons by John MacArthur that drive me deeper into Scripture. There are tapes of friends who have matured into exemplary expositors: men like Ben Durand in North Carolina and Frankie Melton in Kentucky. I have copies of my own first sermon, an abysmally dismal attempt to explain Joshua 24, and I have debates of Paige Patterson with Cecil Sherman and Clark Pinnock.

I have one tape where Patterson endorses the servant-calling of deaconesses, and another where Bailey Smith hints that Janet Reno is a lesbian. I have a brave sermon by O.S. Hawkins from Jude entitled, “A Clown in the Halls,” and another excellent challenge by Guidestone’s president on the fear of the Lord.

The most listened-to sermon in my collection is one by the late Homer Lindsey, Jr., on Acts 20:20. Dr. Lindsey wasn’t the best expositor, but something about his authenticity and integrity compels an audience with anybody who loves the Scripture. I have tons of sermons by Al Mohler, whose sermons always have a way of telling the old, old story of the gospel in ways that make me want to read and study and write with theological precision.

I have sermons preached by Miss Bertha Smith, Theresa Brown, Anne Graham Lotz, and Dorothy Patterson. There are a few sermons from some crazies, like a man that used to excoriate First Baptist Dallas as a “den of whoremongers,” and the various rantings of Jack Hyles and Bob Jones. There are sermons from the days when Jerry Falwell could get through a message without rallying the troops for some America nationalism or promoting Liberty University. There are sermons by Ken Hemphill that move the soul and by Johnny Hunt that prick the conscience. I have in my possession a veritable banquet table of the heavenly bread without which men do not live.

And then there was a sermon collection that I was given, but I had never opened.

The day of Dr. Criswell’s funeral was the date it was given to me. A pastor friend from North Carolina and I had flown into Dallas for the noon funeral, after which we traveled north to attend the mid-week services at Prestonwood Baptist Church. Arriving at the church shortly before the services began, we made our way to the book store and perused the sermon series of the church’s pastor, Jack Graham.

We had barely been there ten minutes when a blonde lady with a kind face approached us to offer her assistance. She greeted us warmly and asked about our ministries. We explained to her how we had come into town for Dr. Criswell’s funeral, but we had one more night in town and had decided to come see Prestonwood. She introduced herself to us as “Deb,” and asked us to wait for a few moments until she could return.

While we browsed the store, Deb retrieved four sermon albums of various messages preached by Jack Graham. When she returned, she gave them to us at no charge. She offered a quick expression of thanksgiving for our commitment to preach the Scripture, told us that she hoped the sermons would encourage us, and then went back to her responsibilities.

At the time, I knew who she was, but she never let on and I did not press her. She was unassuming and unpretentious, a perfect lady who took time to be a blessing to a couple of anonymous young preachers who were quite overwhelmed at the size of Prestonwood’s behemoth facilities. She put a welcoming face and a warm heart to an potentially intimidating place. Her ministry to us was that of a servant, and not what many people expect from a megachurch pastor’s wife.

So today I opened one of those tape albums given to us by Jack Graham’s wife, and listened while I drove to the sermons of Jack Graham that feed God’s flock at Prestonwood. For those wondering how a church can grow the size of Prestonwood, it is easy to understand when you hear the way that their pastor seeks to explain the Bible to them with simplicity, sincerity, empathy, and grace.

I intended to write Mrs. Graham back in 2002 to thank her for the gift, but as so often happens the busy-ness of ministry and the delay of time robbed my memory of her generosity and kindness. Last night, with sermon tapes scattered about my living room, I determined that it was time to say thank you…to a gracious Christian woman and her husband, who has had every reason to succeed in ministry with such a helpmate at his side.