Clarence Jordan (pr. Jurden) was a Baptist preacher and ethicist who died much too young in 1969 at the age of 57. Before his death, however, he managed to touch a lot of people with his unique (to say the least), controversial (without a doubt), and prophetic (to be sure) ministry. He re-wrote the New Testament stories in what is known as the Cotton Patch Gospels and founded Koinonia Farms, a Christian community near Americus, Georgia, where people of all color could live and work together. In 1942. 1942.
Foy Valentine was a 21-year-old seminary student in 1944, between terms at Southwestern Seminary. He decided to spend some time at Koinonia. Foy was studying to be a Christian ethicist as well and thought that the experience would hold him in good stead. Little did he know. In addition to working on the farm, he and Clarence teamed up for revival services in local churches where they performed trumpet and saxophone duets featuring the old Isaac Watts hymn, “When I Shall Read My Title Clear.” I plan to request this to be sung at my funeral.
Foy was leaving to go back to school for the fall semester when Jordan handed him a signed, blank check. “In case you need anything,” Foy was told. “In case you need anything.”
A number of years ago, my mom showed me a copy of a picture she had recently been given by a friend. It was a group shot, taken of the gathered Vacation Bible School clan at East Side Baptist Church in my hometown of Paragould, Arkansas. The year was 1955. I’m standing in the front row, looking like I’m about to tell the photographer how to take the picture. My brothers Steve and Hugh are there, as is my mom. My mom, pretty as a picture, was only 32 years old.
Russell Duffer, the pastor – the first pastor I remember – is standing near the back row, alongside Mrs. Duffer. Bernita Rogers, who gave the picture to Mom, is seated on the front row. Ricky Williams, my old chum, is standing near me and Mrs. Jackson is behind him.
Viewing that scene caused me to do some reflecting. I’ve never had Foy’s experience of having someone give me, literally, a blank check. But it dawned on me that I’ve received many figurative ones. Sometimes blank checks come in the form of a firm handshake, a promise, or a prayer. Blank checks can be a kind word or a pat on the back. In my case, a blank check occasionally took on the form of a stern word or warning or a piece of advice. But always, always, it came with a human face, someone who cared for me and was willing to invest himself or herself in me.
On one, very important, level that is what church is about. Think of the blank checks that have been written in our congregation over the years. Consider those who have taken a vested interest in you. Look closely and you will find their signatures written on the blank check of your life. The question is, what will you do with it?
I can tell you what Foy Valentine did. Eventually, he went on to serve for many years as the executive director of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission and touched countless people with his courage, wit, and leadership. And, according to his own testimony, he kept that check until the day he went to be with the Lord.