“Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” – Genesis 15:6 (NIV)
“But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children.” – Psalm 103:17 (NIV)
right·eous – (adj.) (of a person or conduct) morally right or justifiable; virtuous. Ex. – “He is a good, righteous man.”
There are those moments too poignant to forget. Those brief occasions of relational purity so powerful that, on some level, they will live on in universal memory.
Such an occasion happened to me in September of 2007. My father, Lester, had just passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. Though our family was given an immense outpouring of love and hope though Dad’s artistic ability revealed after the diagnosis, those biting doubts and questions in the human mind still remained. Why? Why did he have to suffer so? Why did it happen to him – he was a good, good man.
As those must do who have lost loved ones, we mustered the strength and will to take care of funeral arrangements, obituaries, and all the other tasks required at such a time. Because of Mother and Dad’s relatively late move here to Tuscaloosa from their long-time home in Aliceville, we wanted to have a visitation to receive those friends and family back home, in addition to a memorial service here. So we got together some cherished photographs and images of Dad’s art and gathered at the Aliceville First United Methodist Church to greet those who had meant so much to our family for so long.
What a blessed relief to again embrace people who have loved you, cared for you, and want nothing but the best for you! But those receiving lines after death are emotionally draining, as well: a bright sadness to those of us remaining on the earth.
As my family and I stood there that night, I saw so many people who have meant so much to us over the years. And I remember the night so well—what was said, and what was not said—what was imparted; what was gifted.
And as long as I have breath, even if I have no more mind, some part of me will remember Brother Joe, and what he said to me that night.
Dr. P. Joe Whitt (“Brother Joe” to me and many more) was one of the most beloved and revered people in our town of Aliceville when I was growing up. The long-time Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, Brother Joe was a community icon; ever joyfully present in the lives of those who were members of his church family, and the lives of those who weren’t (my family attended First United Methodist Church, but by the care, mentoring and love expressed through the life of Joe Whitt, you would have thought the whole community was his beloved Baptist flock – I feel sure that in his eyes, it was.)
His sparkling smiles, deep laughter, reverent spoken prayers and elegant, stirring sermons are etched on my memory for sure. But it is his love and righteous example, molded by the Master’s Love and Righteousness that I cherish most deeply, and always will.
As Brother Joe made his way down the aisle of First United Methodist Church that night to greet us and express his sympathy and concern, I don’t know if he had thought about what he was going to say to comfort us. All I know is this: what he said to me that night could not have brought more comfort or a greater blessing – a blessing which has continued to be present in my life.
Brother Joe drew near, shook my hand and then gave me a hug. With tears and great mercy, love, compassion and conviction in his eyes, he said to me in a voice I had heard as a young boy in prayers, revivals, funerals, weddings, and wise counsel…
“Danny, Lester Potts was a righteous man.”
I knew it. I believed it. My father did his best all of his life to live as he believed God wanted him to live. He was not perfect (and that is a compliment). But he was righteous in the same way father Abraham was righteous. He was righteous because of faith, because of belief, and because of the righteousness, mercy and love of His Father in Heaven. He tried to live a life of humble obedience to that great Love which was the hope of his life. And he has passed that on as much as a human parent can through the unfathomable mystery and mercy that is God’s outpouring covenant of Love and Grace, given through the gift of Christ.
But to hear these words from Brother Joe, a man who so truthfully lives a life steeped in love, faith and obedience touched me so powerfully that I don’t think I will ever be the same.
My family and I have received untold comfort from the words Brother Joe spoke to me that night. It is my hope and prayer that those words about Lester Potts will be spoken of him by future generations – ‘his children’s children’ – and that such knowledge of their ancestor will buoy up their faith in times of trouble, testing, or blessing.
And we will no more ask, “Why?” But we will know that the way of Love is the way of suffering transformed, of a cross that must be carried, of a death that leads to life eternal. And there is no greater righteousness than the laying down of one’s own life so that others might live.
It was my pleasure to see Brother Joe not long ago. He is the same man…the voice, the spirit, the kind eyes, the joy. And we spoke of that night in 2007, and of those blessed words he said.
But even more than before, Brother Joe seems to me to be a walking, breathing prayer. A fleshly bearing of soul, having a radiance only displayed by those who have taken up their cross and followed, and have allowed themselves to be transformed into the image and likeness of their Lord. A work in progress, yes. But a life which is drawn forever toward the light of the coming Kingdom, and its coming King.
“Pure gold, your Daddy was pure gold,” he said, when I saw him.
And so are you, Brother Joe. By the gift of God, so are you.