“When Troubles Come”: A Tribute to Dr. Edgar M. Arendall
How do children learn to be adults? More importantly, how do they learn to be real men and real women? More importantly still, how do they learn to be godly men and godly women? Two men of God, Moses and the Apostle Paul, give us the answer:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:4-8 NKJV, emphasis added)
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. (II Timothy 2:1-2 NKJV)
Molding godly people out of irresponsible children is a task for mature, godly men and women who determine purposefully to pass on what they know. It is a conscious decision which carries weighty responsibility and a lifetime commitment. The heartaches can be many and wearisome, but the rewards are far greater, not only for the individual, but for all humanity, and for the Kingdom of God. Few answer the call of godly mentorship and discipleship. That is a tragedy played out before our eyes in broken lives and broken nations. And yet it only takes a few to reverse that trend. One man may speak volumes into the lives of many young people. Our Messiah Yeshua showed us the model; the 12 men He discipled changed the entire world.
In my youth I enjoyed the blessing of godly mentorship from a handful of good men. One was my late father, A.J. “Jack” McCarn. Two more were my Boy Scout leaders, William R. “Bill” Hard and Dr. Robert F. “Bob” Taylor. Then there was my Bible teacher at Briarwood Christian High School, Pastor Robert “Bob” Welch. I could write glowing tributes to each of these men, but my purpose today is to honor one who shaped my relationship with my Creator in ways that continue to unfold even now, more than thirty years since I last saw him.
Dr. Edgar M. Arendall (1920-2009) served as pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Homewood, Alabama, from 1948 to 1984. He was my pastor from the time my family moved to the Birmingham suburb of Homewood in 1964 until my departure for college in 1979. The period of his direct influence on me was not much more than ten years, starting sometime around 1969, when I began to pay attention to his sermons. Dr. Arendall was already an authority figure in my life. It was something special to have the pastor come visit our Sunday School class, or pop in at a social function, and as a young child I learned that he was the undisputed leader of our congregational family. He was a gifted leader, adept at establishing a vision, building a team, and carrying through to the goal. I expect that Dr. Arendall would have done quite well in business or in government, but he chose to be a shepherd of God’s people, and in that calling probably made more of a difference for good than even he might have imagined. In the 36 years of his pastorate the congregation at Dawson expanded from less than 700 members to over 6,000, with a multi-million dollar budget. As one of the largest churches in Alabama, and one of the largest Southern Baptist churches on the planet, Dawson Memorial truly had, and still has, a global impact.
As impressive as those figures are, they are not what I remember most about Dr. Arendall. His impact on me was through his sermons. They constituted the first deep-rooted exhortations from Scripture that I encountered. Sometime in 1970 the things he preached began to make sense. I began to understand that there was a God Who made me, and that somehow I and every human being before me had cut ourselves off from Him. It was a problem only God could fix, and He did that by becoming one of us. Exactly what that problem was and exactly how God fixed it were things I did not understand very well at the age of 9, but I did know that Jesus had fixed it, and that if I wanted to be part of God’s family I had to trust Jesus to take me in. And so I did, on a bright Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the 11:00 a.m. worship service in answer to an invitation from Dr. Arendall. My mother wanted to make sure I understood the decision I had just made, so she scheduled an appointment for me with the pastor. It was quite something to be taken into his office all by myself and to sit by him as he explained God’s plan of salvation to me.
I cannot say that I understood everything he said even then, but it was the beginning of a journey that continues still. Were we to sit down in his office today, I have no doubt that we would have some disagreement over theology. For one thing, I now refer to Jesus Christ as Messiah Yeshua. There was no Hebrew Roots movement in 1970, and the Messianic Jewish movement was only just beginning, so I surmise that my grasp of the Commonwealth of Israel is a concept Dr. Arendall would find perplexing. Yet it seems that Dr. Arendall not only set me on my journey with Yeshua, but also helped me begin my Messianic journey. He preached from the entire Bible, regarding all of it as the inspired Word of God. I have heard that many Christian pastors preach exclusively from the New Testament (Brit Chadashah), but I did not encounter such a practice at Dawson. Dr. Arendall preached regularly from the Old Testament (Tanakh), and drew examples from every part of the Scripture. Thus, from an early age, I learned that everything from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 is “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV) All of my mentors taught that lesson to some extent, but Dr. Arendall lived it in front of me. From him I gained the inspiration to take the Word of God seriously as the blueprint for my entire life. That is why I have no doubt that, whatever our theological differences, we would remain steadfast in fellowship as we recognize in each other a deep love of the Word of God and the God of the Word.
The personal attention Dr. Arendall gave me as a boy was no different from the attention he devoted to everyone who came to him. He lived the role of the pastor, and it is his example that still shapes my understanding of what a pastor should be. Yet it is his preaching that carries the greatest weight in my memory. Perhaps the first of his sermons that hit me squarely between the eyes came from James 3:1-12, that unambiguous passage about the power of the tongue. I was about 10 years old when he preached that sermon, but I understood the gravity of the message: if we are going to claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, then we should act and talk like followers of Jesus Christ. The words we say have powerful meanings, and we should choose wisely lest we disgrace ourselves and our Savior. I took that message to heart. From the day I heard that sermon I resolved to speak no word that would grieve my Savior.
The fruit of that resolve became apparent nearly four decades later, during my service in Iraq in 2009. At that time I was working for one of the best bosses I have ever had the honor to serve: an Army colonel of great experience and superb reputation in his field. Yet he remains the most profane man I have ever met. It became clear early in our relationship that I would not change his habits by complaining, nor even by a polite request, so I determined to keep silent on the matter and pray for the man. Some months went by, and then came a day when my boss was in conference with a visitor in our shared office. At one point in the conversation, he turned toward me and said, “I haven’t heard Al say one curse word the whole time I’ve known him!”
That was the result of my resolve to honor my Savior with my speech. I could not have changed this man’s character by preaching, and I could not have stopped him from using the name of Jesus as an expletive, but by quietly living out my love and regard for Yeshua each day, I made an impression that perhaps will help open the way for this man to know the peace that has eluded him all his life. And the inspiration for it all was a sermon preached by a faithful pastor in a church in Alabama long ago.
There is another of Dr. Arendall’s sermons that has remained with me since I first heard it. He preached on one of those Old Testament subjects: the invasion of Judah in the days of King Hezekiah by the Assyrian king Sennacherib. It was probably in 1974, when I was 13, that I heard the sermon, and from it I drew encouragement to investigate the bountiful treasures of the Bible’s historical accounts. Many years later the sermon led me to a particular understanding of Sennacherib’s invasion that perhaps even Dr. Arendall may not have investigated completely. That teaching grew in my mind and heart for many years. Sometime in 2002, as it was taking shape, I had occasion to ask my father if he knew whether Dr. Arendall’s sermons had ever been published, or if perhaps I could find the one about Sennacherib. He took up the task of researching the matter, and not long afterward sent me a letter with a copy of Dr. Arendall’s sermon. My father had written to Dr. Arendall with my request, and he had responded by sending his original manuscript. We were both touched by Dr. Arendall’s generosity, but my father wisely decided to make copies and return the original to Dr. Arendall’s keeping. He sent a copy to me, as well as copies of other sermons which Dr. Arendall had included. I still have them among my cherished possessions.
Recently the opportunity arose to publish my own teaching under the title, The Lie of Sennacherib. Having finally done so, it seemed fitting to publish the sermon that inspired it long ago. Accordingly, I inquired at Dawson Memorial how to obtain permission to publish the sermon. The Dawson staff passed my request on to the Arendall family, and soon I had an answer from Mr. Doug Arendall, the pastor’s eldest son. He and his brother and sister have graciously extended their permission to publish their father’s sermon, noting that he “was always glad to share his sermons with anyone who requested them”. It is therefore my pleasure to share “When Troubles Come: After these things – Sennacherib came”, by Dr. Edgar M. Arendall.
“WHEN TROUBLES COME”
Text: 2 Chronicles 32:1
“After these things – Sennacherib came.”
This is a strange thought. It seems incongruous – out of sympathy with the justice of God – that this could be true. “After these things —.” What were these things? When you read [2 Chronicles] chapters 29 and 31 you realize this was referring to the wonderful reforms brought about by the good king Hezekiah. Here was a man trying desperately to do the will of God. He was the son of a wicked father – harassed by a corrupt court. But in spite of opposition, in spite of difficulties, he opened and repaired the temple which had been closed. He cleansed it – prepared the Passover – tore down the heathen idols – reorganized the priesthood – restored the altar – did away with the false religion and restored the true religion of Jehovah God in Judah and in the greater part of Israel. All of this he did in spite of great handicaps, with Godly courage and against great odds.
And thus did Hezekiah throughout all Judah, and wrought that which was good and right and truth before the Lord his God. And in every work that he began in the service of the house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to seek his God, he did it with all his heart, and prospered. – 2 Chronicles 31:20-21
After all these things the enemy, Sennacherib, came. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, came. What a strange thing to have happen. After Hezekiah had tried to do God’s will; had cleansed the temple; had shifted the evil of his father into Godly work, then the enemy came. Life’s events are strange when looked at from our viewpoint – aren’t they? So unfair.
Have you ever cried out in agony, “I have tried to do right, but now this trouble has come upon me. I do not understand.” Have you ever said this, or felt like saying it? As we look at this incident in the Old Testament perhaps God will use it to help us understand, or at least know what to do.
It was the summer of 701 B.C. Sennacherib had marched with his Assyrian forces, destroying the cities of Sidon and Phoenicia. He climbed the heights of Lebanon, and passed along the banks of the river. He threw bridges across the streams for his armies to go across. He plundered and destroyed. Every obstacle was swept away. The fenced cities of Judah were taken. Jerusalem alone remained. The invading army reached the city, passed by the side of the walls, chariots and horses filling the ravine, scarlet clothing, flashing armor blazing in the sun. He stood ready to destroy Jerusalem. Thus, came Sennacherib.
Inside the walls was Hezekiah, trying to do God’s will; and yet God permitted the powerful enemy to come against him. Why? Why does the enemy come against you? You try to do right, you try to do God’s will; and yet God permits sickness, death, troubles to come – Sennacherib comes. The enemy comes to you. Why?
It has always been this way. What happened to Hezekiah is but a mirror of the experience of good men throughout all the ages. Hezekiah was not the only good man who ended up with the enemy encamped about him. We look at Abraham who was obedient to the call of God, sojourning in a strange land. Then, of all things, God called upon him to put his son, Isaac on the altar. After Abraham’s obedience came Mount Moriah and his testing. Why? Job was a man of integrity – upright in all of his ways, yet he lost his health, he lost his good name, he lost his children, and he sat there eaten up with jungle rot, his body swollen, his children gone. Why? Why did Sennacherib come to Job? Why did trouble afflict him? Look in the New Testament at Paul. He was obedient to the heavenly vision, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, fought the good fight, kept the faith; yet he ended up a prisoner in a Roman dungeon, and died a martyr’s death. Why did trouble come to him? Why did Sennacherib come? And you say, “Yes, it has happened to some of the best people I know. I remember a man,” you say, “who lived a Godly life. He tried earnestly to serve the Lord; and yet, it looked as if he had more trouble than almost anybody I have ever known.” Sennacherib came.
From a human viewpoint, the providence of God is a strange thing. Rain falls on just and unjust. Christian people are not exempt from the sorrows of life. Sometimes it seems to us as if the best people suffer most. Why – after years of faithfulness – does the person lie there in the bed desperately ill and suffering? Why do troubles, heartaches and disappointments, loss of loved ones, and financial reverses come to good people? Why?
We can all understand it when troubles and problems and sorrows come to Godless people. We feel they deserve it. After all, the Lord says, “Whatever you sow, that you shall also reap.” (Galatians 6:7) We think vindictively, they deserve it. Or, we think, more charitably, perhaps in their troubles they will straighten out their thinking and straighten out their lives. It will be good for them. They might straighten up now. So we see some point in trouble coming to Godless people, but why good people? “Why me? God, why me?” people say. They feel like Hezekiah, “I tried to do right, and yet trouble came.” I cannot explain this. No one can. If a person claims to explain this away, he is not telling the whole truth. No one can explain the universality of trouble and sorrow.
Dr. Edgar Brightman, Professor of Theology at Boston University, had a life filled with tragic illnesses and the death of people closest to him. He applied his brilliant mind to the question of why a gracious God would allow His people to suffer. He came up with a brilliant series of arguments. His purpose was to protect the idea that God is good in the light of what was happening in an evil world. But when he got through he was forced to admit that he had failed to explain it all. Explaining trouble that comes to good people, said Brightman, is like dividing six into fourteen. One divides six into most of the fourteen, but there is something left over, so a decimal point is added and one divides again and something is left over. And again, and again. If one should work from now until the end of time, there would always be something left over. So it is when you attempt to understand troubles that come to good people. One can explain away part of it, but there is always something left over.
Notice what Jesus did. Jesus healed diseased bodies but he offered no reason for the bodies having such pain. Jesus wept beside the grave of Lazarus, yet gave no explanation of the sadness of the moment. Jesus moved among people who had problems and anxieties. He never ignored these troubles; he never debated them. He simply called people to faith and to himself as the answer. You say, “That is inadequate.” It may be, but that is the way it is. Our Lord did not explain why good people suffer. He helped them – but did not explain this human dilemma. We shall know why when we are in the presence of God after death – but not until then.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Starting, then, from the premise that you cannot explain the suffering of good people; you cannot explain the coming of Sennacherib to attack Hezekiah after he had done right before God. Starting from that premise that you cannot explain it, what then? Do we just throw up our hands in despair? No. I hold out the way God wants us to act and react when troubles come. This we can know. The Bible is quite clear about what God expects us to do when troubles come. And this incident is a good illustration.
I. When Troubles Come We Are To Rise To Our Best Efforts
Let us see the scene. Encamped around Jerusalem were the enemy forces led by Sennacherib; inside Hezekiah and his men. What did Hezekiah do? He talked over the situation with his princes. Then he had his workmen and soldiers stop up the two springs of Siloam. He diverted the waters of Kedron. He fortified the walls; rebuilt the towers, which had probably not been repaired on the north side since the assault of Joash, King of Israel. He assembled the people; organized the army; made darts and shields in abundance; then spoke to them.
“Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles.” And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah. – 2 Chronicles 32:7-8
The coming of Sennacherib aroused Hezekiah and his people to their very best effort. United them!
Sometimes, when faced with difficulty, we realize that we have pampered ourselves. We have taken it easy. We have been too self-satisfied. We have been spiritually lazy or we have been obtuse – introverted. Sometimes when troubles come, we draw closer to those we love the most. We need this, for we are all inclined to take each other for granted. It makes us break out of our shell and think right about other people and our responsibilities.
You remember Emily coming back to earth in the play, “Our Town”. Just for one day she comes back as a twelve year old girl. When she is ignored as she walks among her family, she says, “Look at me just once, as if you saw me.” Sometimes when trouble comes we look at each other and really see each other for the first time. How long has it been since you really looked at the one you love? A man said to me one day, “My wife and I were headed for a divorce. We had come to the conclusion that we did not love each other any more. Then our baby got sick and died. And, through all that agony of standing by the baby’s bedside and then going through the funeral service, we realized we really did love each other very deeply. We were drawn together – we realized how much we cared. It changed our marriage and we got a fresh start.” . . . Yes, Sennacherib came; tragedy, and it changed things.
It often takes the coming of Sennacherib to make us rise to the occasion. A football team loses some games. What does the coach do? Teach them some tricky ways? No; they drill on the fundamentals of blocking and tackling.
Temptation comes and we say, “I need to fight against sin. I need Christian friends. I need to change my habits. I need to get involved in church.” Illness comes and we slow down and go more regularly to the doctor. We begin a program of exercise. Financial problems come and we work harder. Loneliness and boredom come and we decide to get out and do things for someone else. The church needs to engage in a building program such as that facing us, and it makes everybody resolve to give more in order to do the thing that needs to be done.
What is it with you? What troubles have surrounded you, threatening to conquer you? Is your trouble that your father is never around; or that he is around and you cannot get along? That you set out to succeed and you have failed and you have been frustrated; or you succeeded too much and it is empty? Or that you are going to have to move; or that you would like to move and you cannot. That you have no children; or that you have children but can’t handle them. Or that you are getting old, or that you are too young. How are you going to come to grips with life’s troubles? When troubles come they need to drive us to our best efforts. We need to ask, “What can I do that I have not been doing? What can I make out of this?”
A little boy was leading his sister up a mountain path. She complained, “Why, it is not smooth at all”, she said. “It is all rocky and bumpy.” “Sure,” he said, “The bumps are what you climb on.” This is what Robert Louis Stevenson did. He probably never would have written what he wrote had he not been in poor health all of his life. Catherine the Great, of Russia, ruled one of the greatest empires of all time, yet her body was so twisted and deformed that for years she had to wear braces day and night. She was 26 years old before the bones of her skull grew together. She was tortured all her life with headaches. Yet, look at the accomplishments of her life. She rose to her best efforts. Most people think an untroubled life is the ideal. But sometimes, if it were not for troubles, we would be so shallow, so lazy, so irresponsible, that we could never really rise to what God expects of us.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: – 1 Peter 4:12
No, Sennacherib comes. Troubles come and we are driven to our best efforts. Obstacles become stepping stones.
II. Troubles Come And We Are Driven to Our Knees
And for this cause Hezekiah the king . . . prayed and cried to heaven. – 2 Chronicles 32:20
There are those who have drifted away from God and it is only when trouble comes that they are driven to their knees before Him. Hasn’t this happened to you? You had gone along without much prayer until suddenly trouble came and you really prayed, driven to your knees by an insurmountable problem.
I was watching TV recently and one of these smug, sophisticated individuals told how he did not believe in God. He was cool and confident. As I listened to him I felt sad for him, and for other people like that man. I was tempted to sit down and write him a letter of sympathy, but he would have laughed at it, wouldn’t he? What a shame not to feel any need of God. Many a person has barreled along through life like that. What will it take to bring him to his senses? Will trouble strike and this man wake up to God? Then trouble has come and the person has realized he needed a higher power in his life.
A little boy was sailing his boat on a small lake and the boat got out beyond his reach. A big boy came along and began throwing rocks in the direction of the boat. The little boy cried and told him to stop it. But the big boy was throwing rocks beyond the boat and each wave he created was gently bringing the boat closer to the shore. Many times the problems of life come to push us back closer to God. We say, “It was good that I had that problem. It was good that I was afflicted. It taught me how to pray. It drove me to my knees and a new dependence upon God, for I was drifting away from God.”
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; – 2 Corinthians 4:17
Sennacherib will come to your life. Trouble will come. Faithful though you might be, heartaches and trials will come. They came to Hezekiah, they will come to you. They came to Abraham, they will come to you. They came to Job, they will come to you. They came to Paul, they will come to you. They came to good people whom you love, they will come to you. When Sennacherib comes, do everything you know to do from a human viewpoint. Build your temples, build your walls, fortify your city, let Sennacherib drive you to your best effort. But let Sennacherib’s coming drive you to your knees. Really pray! And if you will do this, God will bring victory out of it.
Pray without ceasing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:17
III. Troubles Come – And God Brings Victory
And the Lord sent an angel, which cut off all the mighty men of valour, and the leaders and captains in the camp of the king of Assyria. So he returned with shame of face to his own land. And when he was come into the house of his god, they that came forth of his own bowels slew him there with the sword. – 2 Chronicles 32:21
What was the result when Sennacherib came? God’s hand swept down. When Hezekiah had done all he could do, when he had prayed and depended upon God, God answered with a great victory. God’s angel came and destroyed Sennacherib and the army. God’s winds came. Sennacherib was utterly defeated.
Coming up from Egypt was a man named Tirhakah. As he came along, he heard the glorious news of Sennacherib’s defeat. It was a testimony to him of the power of God. Three centuries later, the psalmist writes about the defeat of Sennacherib. The Maccabees were strengthened in their struggle against Antiochus by remembering how God delivered Hezekiah from Sennacherib. Here is an event that will live throughout history. It was God’s victory.
And many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth. – 2 Chronicles 32:23
God brought victory out of it.
The other day I had one of those wonderful incidents that makes the life of the minister such a wonderful one. I went over to the nursing home to see Dr. John H. Buchanan who, for many years, was pastor of the Southside Baptist Church here in Birmingham. I was thinking as I drove over there of what a help Dr. Buck always was to me as a young minister. When I moved to Birmingham and I ran up against anything that I did not know how to handle, or needed some advice, I would always call Dr. Buck and he always had time to talk to me. I would go down and he would council with me and it was always helpful to have an older friend in the ministry like Dr. Buck. He was always a source of such encouragement to me. When I walked in to see him the other day, he was lying there on the bed. He is now well over 90 years of age, and his big body has wasted away. Naturally, at his age, his mind is not always clear. But the other day his eyes sparkled, and I said, “Dr. Buck, this is Ed Arendall.” He said, “Hello, boy. Are you still at that church?” “Yes, sir, I surely am. Been there almost 26 years now.” He and I talked a while and then I got ready to go and I had planned to ask Dr. Buck to let me pray as I left (as I always do in the nursing home and hospitals), but he beat me to it. He said, “Before you go, let me pray for you.” Then, Dr. Buck’s voice which had been relatively quiet and somewhat broken during our conversation all of a sudden boomed out as he prayed, reminiscent of the great voice of Dr. Buchanan as he stood in the pulpit of Southside Baptist Church. As he prayed for me, his voice could be heard all the way down the hall. When he said, “amen”, I felt that I had, indeed, been lifted into the presence of God.
Big voice booming. Why do old people linger when they are not in good health? Why illness? Why suffering? Why heartache? Why trouble? Why does a person who has lived right – find Sennacherib at the gate? Trouble is always there. Why? I do not know. But I do know that from some lives like Dr. Buck’s, the big voice of faith continues to boom as long as they live!
When troubles come rise to your best effort. Fall on your knees and let God bring victory out of it.
Let us pray.
 This is a transcription made as faithfully as possible from a copy of Dr. Arendall’s original sermon manuscript. The manuscript included his handwritten editorial changes and marginal notes, some of which were difficult to decipher. The manuscript was written for oral presentation, not for written publication. Consequently the punctuation, grammar, and style may appear awkward in places.