One of the stories I’ve told more than once about Ernie is about a song we started singing several years ago at the Church at Redstone. It’s an upbeat song that you could almost dance along to, if a church were into that sort of thing. The chorus of the song goes like this: “Build Your kingdom here / Let the darkness fear / Show Your mighty hand / Heal our streets and land / Set Your church on fire / Win this nation back / Change the atmosphere / Build Your kingdom here / We pray.” It’s a good song. It’s a song about revival not just in the church but in our entire country. A lot of our church members find it very meaningful.
After the first time we sang that song, however, Ernie made a comment about it in the middle of the church service. He said, “Well, I heard the lyrics of that last song. And, well, I was wondering about a line in that song, ‘Set your church on fire.’ I’m not so sure about that. I think maybe we ought to check the church insurance policy before we sing that.”
Ernie was not a man for metaphors or, I suppose, for poetry. But Ernie Bradley was a man who paid attention to the details – to the little things. Not much escaped the attention of Ernie. He cared about the small things that others typically would pass by. He was engineer after all, and so he understood small things matter. And that love for the details was why he served so many years as our church treasurer – and why he was the treasurer at multiple other organizations with which he was involved. I will say this: Ernie Bradley gave a very thorough treasurer’s report! Ernie could see potential problems from a long way off. He had an uncanny knack for making sure all the “i’s” were dotted and the “t’s” were crossed. He was thorough.
I suppose that’s why he loved bird-watching so much, not to mention hunting and fishing. God’s creation gives a lot of stimuli to people who care about the little things. I remember getting into a fairly detailed conversation with Ernie one time about the amount of water in the Colorado, Roaring Fork, and Crystal Rivers. He knew down to the cubic foot per second just how much water each of them carried at different points during the year.
When I think of Ernie, I am reminded how he was a bearer of God’s image in that way – by being a man who cared about the details. Ernie believed God created everything around us. Christians don’t believe the universe inexplicably popped into existence out of nowhere. God created it. And if you consider the intricacy involved in every speck of creation – from the delicacy of a columbine bloom to the complex simplicity of the human eye – it is easy to get overwhelmed. If God created all of this, God must care about the details. He must be very thorough. The little things clearly matter to God.
And this matters a great deal for us, who are made in the image of God. God knows us intimately. Jesus was teaching his disciples on one occasion, and he told them they should fear nothing on this earth. But they should give honor to God and remember God loved them. Jesus said, “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). Think of that! God knows you so well he’s numbered every one of the hairs on your head. God forgets neither the smallest of birds nor the smallest of humans.
Jesus used birds in multiple of his illustrations. And that’s a wonderful thing. If Ernie were here, he could tell us a few things about birds. Jesus, of course, was involved in the creation of birds as the divine Son of God. And he was constantly pointing his followers to pay attention to the details of God’s creation. Jesus one time told his disciples not to be anxious about anything – what they would eat, what they would drink, what they would wear. Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). Jesus seemed to be telling us to pay attention to the little things in God’s creation – as Ernie Bradley so willingly did – because in those little things we can see something of the character and ways of God. And those little things tell us that God loves us.
And God especially loves us in our greatest moments of need. Like today. There’s a psalm in the Old Testament that I read last week, and it made me think of Ernie. Picture this: an ancient Israelite psalm-writer standing in the old temple grounds in Jerusalem. The temple was a magnificent structure of stone and cedar and gold. It was somewhat like the old cathedrals that dot Europe today, with high ceilings and with a special aura of holiness about them – something that makes you go silent with reverence when you enter. The temple in Jerusalem was where the presence of God dwelt among his people. It’s where they went to pray and to seek God’s wisdom.
And so think of that ancient psalm-writer standing there in the temple, taking in this holy scene. And then something caught his eye. It was just a little thing, something others might not have noticed – but something Ernie Bradley might have noticed. High up in the roof beams of the temple, a bird was fluttering around. That happens sometimes in large buildings. And just over the edge of one of those beams, the psalm-writer could see some twigs and grasses. A nest surely was up there, out of reach from human or beast. It was a safe place. The psalmist smiled and turned to write: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! / My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; / my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. / Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. / Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!” (Psalm 84:1-4).
God loves us in our moments of need, and it is to Him that we fly for refuge. In moments of loss, we seek shelter in God. Rest in Him, as I know so many of you have done, as you remember Ernie and grieve his loss. Remember that our God is a God of hope – and the God of an eternity that will be marked by glorious detail (Revelation 21:9-27). And so we can smile, even as we grieve.
We are not forgotten by God. Everything about you and about me is known to Him (Psalm 139). He knows our personalities and our quirks and our tastes and our skills, and he knows our faults and our sins. And when Jesus Christ died on that cross 2,000 years ago to restore our relationship with God, he had you and me in mind. There is not one of us he has forgotten. And any of us can come to him in faith, like that sparrow in the temple – for refuge. He’s waiting for us to come. He longs for us to come. The apostle Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9; emphasis mine).
“Build Your kingdom here / Let the darkness fear / Show Your mighty hand / Heal our streets and land / Set Your church on fire (figuratively speaking) / Win this nation back / Change the atmosphere / Build Your kingdom here / We pray.”