28 October 2008

Re-Living the Past

On Saturday, October 18, 2008, my wife and I attended the annual picnic of my 1953 high school senior class, which was held at the foot of beautiful Taylor Ridge just east of Summerville which is located in the northwest corner of the state of Georgia . In 2003 we had our 50th class reunion and decided at that time that we would not wait until another 50 years before we got together. Since 2003 we have met five times for a picnic in the month of October each year to visit and talk of the past and of what is happening in our lives presently. It was a most enjoyable occasion.
It is remarkable how my classmates have aged over the years. I did feel uncomfortable with these old people but I treated them with dignity and respect. If they needed my help in getting around I tried to accommodate them. Many of them have gray hair or no hair; they have added weight to their bodies and wrinkles to their faces inasmuch that they hardly recognized me (Smile). Seriously we often spoke of the years together at Summerville High School and of the precious memories that were made when we were young and life was not so complicated. I reminisced with Bobby G. when we worked together at the Summerville News and fed the folding machine most of the nights on Wednesdays. I refreshed the memory of Elliott C. about the time we went up the side of a ridge in his father’s army jeep and the incline being so steep that I sat on the hood of the jeep so it would not flip over. I believe that it is unusual for a senior high school class to still be meeting annually after so many years have passed.
We have lost several members over the years but the ones remaining continue to enjoy one another’s company. There is nothing like having old friends and enjoying one another’s company even if it is but once a year. We made plans to meet again in 2009 at the same place between the two lakes at the foot of beautiful Taylor Ridge , the Lord willing (James 4:15).

After spending Saturday night with a loved one on Sand Mountain in the community of Henagar, Alabama and worshiping with the Ider church on Sunday morning we drove over to the city of Arab where I was scheduled to speak in their ‘Super Sundays’ series that evening. Ken Tyler has been preaching for this good congregation for thirty years. That says a great deal about the character of him, his family and the brothers and sisters who make up the local church. This was my first visit to Arab and the congregation.

Prior to the worship hour, a gentleman and his wife walked up to me in the foyer and he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Do you remember where you were in September of 1964?” My mind really went into high gear and I was trying to figure out what he had in mind and so I answered, “Maybe performing a ceremony?” I was thinking of a wedding because I cannot recall all the names and faces of those couples that I have married the past 50+ years. He replied, “Well, sort of” and then he said, “You were in my home 44 years ago in Albany , Georgia .” It was then I remembered working in a campaign in that city when Harvey Starling was preaching nightly under his big tent. My family and I were living in Elba , Alabama at that time. Charlie Boddy was preaching for the College Avenue congregation in Enterprise and he and I were personal workers during the city-wide campaign in Albany . We had home Bible studies with various ones during that week and we taught and baptized three persons. One was a gentleman whose wife was a member of the church. Standing right in front of me was that individual. He was stationed in the Air Force and he and his family were living in Albany. This brother also informed me that he had been preaching since 1971. His name is James Mansil Norris.

I was moved emotionally when he related how Charlie and I had taught him the gospel and how he had been immersed into Jesus Christ for the remission of his sins. This is what I had written in my record book of September 21-26, 1964: “This week, Monday to Saturday, brother Charlie Boddy of Enterprise and I worked as personal workers in the “Savior’s Way Campaign” conducted in Albany , Georgia . We taught three persons enough to lead them to Christ. They were: Mr. James M. Norris (Tues. night); Mrs. Shipman (Thurs. afternoon); and Mrs. Susan Moore (Thursday night). This was a wonderful experience to work in such a great and wonderful effort.” Brother Norris now preaches for the Blessing congregation on Sand Mountain . I had to relate this story to the congregation before I began my lesson that night. It humbles me that I had a part in leading this person to Jesus and it is to God that I give the glory for He is the one who gives the increase (I Corinthians 3:5-8).

We spent Sunday night with Ray and Jo Ann Humphries, a couple we have known since our days at Alabama Christian College on Ann Street in Montgomery during the mid 1950s. We also followed them where Ray had preached in the cities of Ozark and Opp , Alabama . They live in the beautiful country near Joppa. We enjoyed our visit with them so much. We talked about the old days at ACC when life was tough, economically speaking and the people who had influenced our lives for good. We spoke of the various members of the congregations where we both had served as preachers. It was a good visit and they were such great hosts. Ray and Jo Ann have influenced many souls for Jesus Christ during their life time. Such friends have enriched our lives.

One of life’s greatest blessings is that of Christian friendship. When the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13 that he forgot “those things which are behind” he did not mean that there was a complete failure to remember all things because he recalled that prior to his conversion he fought against the church of our Lord (I Timothy 1:13) but such memories did not prevent him from looking ahead in his Christian journey and work. Often our memories of years past help us to have stability and cause us to appreciate from whence we have come. Glancing back over the years can actually encourage us to look ahead of the challenges that will confront us. With the exception of one phrase the following poem expresses some of my innermost thoughts.

Won’t you reminisce with me
From days so long ago?
Please come and look back with me
At the things we used to know.
Won’t you reminisce with me
The things we used to do?
The things we said, the ways we danced,
Memories dear and true.
Won’t you reminisce with me?
It’s sure to wet your eye.
Remembering all the happy times
That now have said goodbye.
And if you’ll stroll down Memory lane
Then I can guarantee,
You’ll have a blast back in the past…
If you reminisce with me.
~ Alyssa Marie Bentham

10 October 2008

A Girl Named Skylar

A long time before this beautiful girl named Skylar was born, I visited the church where she and her family worshiped together. It was in 1953 or 1954, I was a freshman in college at the time, and went with a preacher friend and his family one Sunday to worship with this group of Christians. I remember it so well because the brethren at that time used real wine in the communion. I didn’t know it was wine, and not just grape juice, before I drank it but I will guarantee you that I knew it was wine after I swallowed it. Forget worship, I coughed and gagged for the next thirty minutes.

This small congregation is located just south of a community called Deatsville, Alabama. The building sets a good distance off the highway. There are massive oak trees practically on every side of the building with large roots protruding from the ground. The steps leading up to the front entrance are steep and many. The setting is serene and pastoral as a rural church building should be. Over the intervening years I have preached in gospel meetings, spoken on special occasions and have ‘filled in’ for the regular preacher for this congregation numerous times. During these visits with the Cold Springs Church I became acquainted with most of the families that attend the assemblies there. And that brings me to Skylar Norton.

On the Sunday mornings when Virginia and I would arrive at the church building for Sunday School usually Rick and his two children would already be there. Jamie, the wife and mother would arrive later. The father would open the building and he and his two children, Skylar and Tyler would begin various duties. Usually Tyler would begin sweeping the leaves off the front porch and the steps. Skylar would go to the room where the communion bread and grape juice were located. She then would prepare the communion for use in the worship assemblies. It seems that this was her job. She did it for a long time. Virginia tried to help her once and she replied kindly, “I can do it myself.” Skylar was a beautiful and sweet child. You could see it in her eyes and hear it in her voice. She was always ‘lady-like’.

She was a Daddy’s girl. He would take her hunting with him and give her the opportunity to harvest a deer. She and her younger brother were inseparable. She was greatly loved by all her family. I knew her grandfather Tillman while we were in college. It was on a Friday evening of October 3, 2008 that as a member of the Holtville High School Marching Band she was preparing for the football game that old Death descended like a tornado and struck down this precious thirteen year old child in the presence of her classmates. But Death did not get the victory because God sent His angels quickly to gather the spirit of Skylar and brought that lovely child to rest in a paradise prepared for His children.

There was much rejoicing by the host of angels that such a beautiful child had been brought home. But on this side of eternity there were the hearts of her father, mother, brother and all her family and friends that were broken. There were uncontrollable emotions being vented through the rivers of tears that were being shed. As frail human beings we began to ask “Why”? It is not that we doubted God but as little children we just did not understand why such a beautiful child as Skylar should have her short life to end so soon on this earth. When all the disasters struck Job and that included the deaths of his ten children he still said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Perhaps in that better land we will know the answers to our questions about the tragedies we have had to suffer in this life. Here is a rather lengthy poem I want to leave with you that hopefully it will give comfort to her parents and loved ones.

(Author unknown)

“I’ll lend you, for a little while,
A child of mine,” God said,
“For you to love the while he lives,
And mourn for when he’s dead.

It may be six or seven years
Or twenty-two or three;
But will you, ‘til I call him back,
Take care of him for me?

He’ll bring his charms to gladden you
And, should his stay be brief,
You’ll have his lovely memories
As a solace for your grief.

I cannot promise he will stay,
Since all from earth return;
But there are lessons taught below
I want this child to learn.

I’ve looked the whole world over
In search for teachers true;
And from the things that crowd life’s land
I have chosen you.

Now, will you give him all your love
Nor think the labor vain?
Nor hate me when I come to take
This lent child back again?

I fancied that I heard them say:
“Dear Lord, Thy will be done.
For all the joys Thy child will bring
The risk of grief we’ll run.

We’ll shelter him with tenderness,
We’ll love him while we may –
And for the happiness we’ve known
Forever grateful stay.

But should Thy Angel call for him
Much sooner than we’ve planned,
We’ll brave the bitter grief that comes
And try to understand.”

04 October 2008

A Heart Warming Story

You could not help but to be touched by the moving story related in the local newspaper a few years ago regarding a young boy’s death and his last request, that his heart be given to a girl he secretly loved. You see she was dying because her heart was malfunctioning. She faced certain death unless a donor could be found to give her a healthy heart. It was a true story that books are written about and movies are made. In a world wherein most of the news deals with crime, violence, threats of war, famines, earthquakes and other disasters, natural and man-made, it was so heart warming to hear of a tender story that made you feel sad and happy at the same time. It was sad because a young boy died, but happy that a young girl’s life had been prolonged.

There is another sweet story recorded in the Holy Scriptures that should move us to tears because of the death of a young man, Jesus of Nazareth, age 33. You see he knew that mankind was suffering from an awful malady. The sickness from which there was no earthly cure was a fatal heart disease called sin. The prophet Jeremiah described the symptoms in this manner: “The heart if deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it (Jeremiah 17:9)? The only remedy was the precious blood of the Lamb of God (Ephesians 1:7). But, this meant that Jesus would have to die for all men. His death on Calvary was not by accident. It was “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23 ). Furthermore, the Lord willingly laid down his life for us (John 10:15, 17, 18). “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ).

If you would be saved from sin and a fate worse than physical death, you must respond to heaven’s gift, the death of Jesus Christ on your behalf. Please consider that Jesus loved you and shed his precious blood for you nearly two thousand years ago. Please obey from the heart the gospel of Jesus Christ that you might be free from sin and that you might live a new life in the Lord (Romans 6:17, 18; 2 Corinthians 5:17 ).

If the story about the boy who died and donated his heart to a girl he loved so that she might live touches you, you should be moved emotionally at the tender story of Jesus and his love that motivated him to give his life on Calvary that you might be saved now from sin and have the hope of eternal life with Him and all the redeemed.