sweet rivers of jerusalem

I’ve had a few heroes in my life.  In my youth, I thought President John Kennedy was the greatest man in the world.  I was a kid and he was highly promoted by my dad, a fellow navy man, so it was easy to put him up on a pedestal.  As I got older, found out some things about the man I didn’t like, but he is still one of my heroes because of all the good he DID.  Read or watch PT 109 if you doubt my assessment.

As a teen, my pastor, Willard Tallman was my hero.  He’s with the Lord but he is still a hero to me.  He tirelessly stood for God for more than 4 decades and never ceded a thing to the evil of this world.  That man, with little formal education, stood head and shoulders above the illuminati of his day.  Once, while visiting the holy land and sitting in an outdoor cafe (not in Israel) someone offered him one of the very small cups of Turkish coffee.  You know, that dark black liquid enjoyed in that part of the world. Well, if you knew Willard, you remember he had a powerful voice and an out front personality.  When he downed the little glass, he announced, “Sweet rivers of Jerusalem.” What else could a hero say!

As a young preacher, Dr. Theron V. Farris became a hero. He taught me how to think about theology without letting theology get in the way of my relationship with God. He taught me how to learn biblical languages and how to teach them.  He taught me how to weave the narrative of Scripture into  something easy to follow and easy to teach.

Then there is my dad. George Sykes taught me how to use my hands and apply my mind.  What else can I say.  I had the joy of leading my dad to faith in Christ.  Something he would later call, “the best day of my life beside the first day I saw you.”

What makes a hero anyway? Dictionaries suggest a hero or heroine is someone who displays courage and the will for self sacrifice for some greater good for all humanity.  For me, a hero is someone whose words of wisdom guide my life while they are here and continue to do so years after they die.

Well, another of my heroes has gone the way of death and into the presence of our Holy God, Dorothy Ruth Deal, my mother-in-law.  My life is better, much better because of Dorothy Ruth.  She and her husband, Hoyt, their son Steve, and daughter Debbie (my wife of 40 years), introduced me to Christianity.  That’s not to mention their other three children who have profoundly affected my life, Carolyn, Penny,  and Hoyt junior [Sonny].

Dorothy loved me when I was truly unlovable.  I was a fake Christian when I met her beautiful daughter.  I professed Christ and did my best, but I know she knew I wasn’t really saved.  She loved me anyway.  When I was saved and called to preach she told me she would pray for me every day that God would use me.  Practically every time I saw her, talked to her, or read one of her thousands of letter to me, she reminded me that she was still praying for me every day.  She was my personal prayer warrior.

Like Kennedy, Tallman, Farris and Sykes, Dorothy is a real hero.  She DID things that changed peoples lives.  With quiet grace, she stood for Jesus, never wavering.  She was smart, not because of book learning, but because of bible learning.  The very first time I taught a 10-year old boys vacation bible school class, she stood by me and taught me how to do flannel graph.  I experienced her genius first hand.

She was wise, not because she had been to so many places and done so many things, but because she walked in the power of the Spirit of God.  You could not be in her presence and not know that God was in the room. Her dignity was in her kindness.

And she was a good cook. I remember when Debbie was pregnant with Chris [who by the way posted on Facebook about his grandmother with these words, “She was the godliest woman I’ve ever known”], she gained 25 pounds and I gained 40.  How I loved to sit at her table.  Sure, I loved the food, especially the mashed potatoes and meatballs, but I just loved to sit and listen to her sage advice as she guided me without me even knowing it most of the time.

Dorothy Ruth Deal was not perfect. After all, like all of us, she was human.  That means she was a sinner in need of a savior.  She found Jesus and showed Him to everyone she knew. That my friends ain’t just a saint, that’s a hero!

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