26 June 2008

Weddings and Marriage

The month of June is normally a time for weddings. You can see pictures in the local newspapers of a number of couples who have ‘tied the knot’ and they look so happy and blissful. Young love is simply a beautiful thing. It makes the world go around. It makes ‘old timers’ reflect over the intervening years when they went through the same experience. Isn’t life wonderful? In the midst of so much ‘gloom and doom’ it is good for us all to pause and consider some lighter moments regarding matrimony and the time honored event that we call a wedding. In my years of preaching I have performed several weddings for young couples. There have been some unusual happenings that occurred before, during and after the actual ceremony. I must begin with my own personal experience.

I went all the way to Wildwood, Florida , to meet who I hoped would be my future in-laws. Now brother Sam Slaughter was an impressive looking gentleman from the old school. He had worked for the Seaboard Airline Railroad for many years when I first met him. He also had cattle on his farm that was located between Wildwood and Oxford , just off of U. S. Highway 301. I finally got up enough courage to ask him if I could marry his daughter. Well, would you like to know what he asked me in return? Out of the blue he asked, “Can you hitch up a team of mules?” My integrity was immediately tested. I had to reply in the negative. Brother Sam later said to brother Orvel Boyd in my presence, “Here this young man wants to marry my daughter and he can’t even hitch up a team of mules.” Now I have never understood the connection between hitching a team of mules and marrying the love of my life. I really think he wanted to know if I knew how to provide for his middle daughter. I did go ahead and marry his daughter and to this day I still don’t know how to hitch up a team of mules.

I have been requested to perform wedding ceremonies for many couples but never in this fashion. I was visiting in the hospital in the city where I was preaching when a lady who was employed by the hospital approached me in the hall. Now this lady was a member of a congregation in a different city and she knew me and I had seen her on occasions during gospel meetings, etc. She walked up to me and the first words she spoke to me were, “Will you marry me?” Now I had never been asked exactly that way before, not even when I was single. I knew what she meant but having a sense of humor I had some difficulty in answering her in a collective manner but I did and I said I would.

The ceremony that I have used over the years has been a traditional one. I remember on one occasion the young lady said to me during the rehearsal that she did not want the part of the vows used that had her to repeat “to obey” her prospective husband. I didn’t use it and I don’t think she did. Someone didn’t obey someone because the marriage failed after a few years.

In one wedding the father of the bride was unable, because of sickness, to give his lovely daughter in marriage so her brother was chosen to do the honor. During the rehearsal I instructed him how to bring his sister down to front of the auditorium and where they should stand in front of me. I then instructed him to reply to my question ‘Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?’ in this manner, ‘Her father and her mother.’ He smiled and took this responsibility rather lightly and I reminded him that things would be quite different during the actual ceremony so we went over this part again. It was a beautiful wedding with the men in their tuxedos and the ladies in their lovely dresses. When the time for the bride to enter, her brother escorted down to where they stood in front of the wedding party. I had some choice words about marriage and the sanctity of the home and when I had finished; I looked the bride’s brother in the eyes and asked in a very solemn manner, ‘Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?’ In all seriousness and without any hesitation he replied “Mama and Daddy” and with that he turned and sat down. Well, the groom and the bride were grinning from ear to ear and the entire wedding party was about to laugh out loud and there I stood trying my best to carrying on with the ceremony. The gentleman had no inclinations to be so formal when referring to his parents as ‘Her father and her mother.’ But I have learned whether while preaching, conducting a wedding or whatever, you have to learn to ‘roll with the punches’ and carrying on the best you can, and of course, with a sense of humor.

But on the serious side of matters I want to mention that in preaching for two different congregations recently I had three ladies to walk up to me and mention that I had married them. Two were from the same congregation. The first lady said, “You married me thirty-nine years ago and we are still together and I love you for it.” The second one informed me that I had performed her wedding ceremony thirty years ago. A younger sister in Christ and her husband reminded me that I performed their wedding twenty five years ago. The lady introduced me to a son, a handsome young man, age twenty two. I could mention several couples that I performed their wedding ceremony many years ago and who remain married to this day. Most of my friends who attended the same Christian college that I did and who married are still living together with their mates. They are proud grandparents and in some cases even great-grandparents.

My wife and I, the Lord willing, will celebrate our fifty third wedding anniversary this year (August 19). I pray that my generation will not be the last to believe that this sacred and beautiful relationship is for life. I trust there are scores of young Christian men and women who will hold marriage in high esteem as God has intended. Our Lord Jesus Christ in answering a question said, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ “and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” “So then they are no longer two but one flesh, Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).

To Be One With Each Other
What greater thing is there for two human souls
than to feel that they are joined together
to strengthen each other in all labour,
to minister to each other in all sorrow,
to share with each other in all gladness,
to be one with each other
in the silent unspoken memories?
~George Eliot (1819-1880)

12 June 2008

Godly Fathers

One of life’s greatest blessings and challenges for a man is fatherhood. This relationship involves the greatest joys and demands the best one has to give and often will include many sorrows. A godly father loves his wife and is loyal to his marital vows (Ephesians 5:25). He desires the best for his children. A father is industrious. He labors to provide for his family and the needs of others who lack the material things of life (I Timothy 5:8; Ephesians 4:28).

The greatest contribution a father can make to his family is leadership in spiritual matters. In every age, the head of the family has been required of God to provide the proper direction regarding religious training. Modern fathers are most likely to leave this responsibility to the wife and mother. However, Paul exhorted: “And you fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but nurture them in the chastening and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). It is a tremendous requirement to make sure one’s children are taught of God but the rewards are everlasting. A Christian father may not be able to give very much materially to his children but the legacy of having a father who loved his family and the Lord, surpasses everything else. The greatest inheritance a Christian father can leave is one that is rich in faith in God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We should never underestimate the love that a father possesses in his heart for his children. His emotions may not be as noticeable as the mother; yet, the feelings are just as deep. Most fathers would give their lives on behalf of their families. Their hearts are filled with deep gratitude when they witness their children succeeding in life. The Christian father rejoices greatly when his children obey the gospel of Jesus Christ. My father will be remembered for being a fine Christian gentleman. Also, the legacy of having a good name has meant more to me than all the riches of this world. It was the wise man of old who wrote: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1); and, “A good name is better than precious ointment…” (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

Godly fathers are rare in this modern society. But, we should always be thankful for the ones who are. Truly, you are blessed indeed if you have/had a Christian father who placed Christ first in his life. His influence in your life and even in the lives of his grandchildren will be felt for many years to come. Say, have you hugged your father recently?

Fathers Are Wonderful People
by Helen Steiner Rice

Fathers are wonderful people
Too little understood,
And we do not sing their praises
As often as we should.
For, somehow, Father seems to be
The man who pays the bills,
While Mother binds up little hurts
And nurses all our ills.
And Father struggles daily
To live up to "his image"
As protector and provider
And "hero of the scrimmage".
And perhaps that is the reason
We sometimes get the notion,
That Fathers are not subject
To the thing we call emotion,
But if you look inside Dad's heart,
Where no one else can see
You'll find he's sentimental
And as "soft" as he can be.
But he's so busy every day
In the grueling race of life,
He leaves the sentimental stuff
To his partner and his wife.
But Fathers are just wonderful
In a million different ways,
And they merit loving compliments
And accolades of praise,
For the only reason Dad aspires
To fortune and success
Is to make the family proud of him
And to bring them happiness.
And like Our Heavenly Father,
He's a guardian and a guide,
Someone that we can count on
To be always on our side.

10 June 2008

A Great Joy That Fills the Heart of a Gospel Preacher/Teacher

I arose early on Sunday morning because where I was scheduled to preach was over a hundred miles from my home. As I drove down the interstate highway I could not help but observe the beauty of the Lord’s Day morning with the sky so blue and the trees so full of green foliage. From time to time as I drove down a county road I saw beautiful flowers and some promising vegetable gardens that soon would be laden down with fresh produce. The drive was most enjoyable and even relaxing at that time of the day.

I eventually arrived at my destiny and went inside the church building in this south Alabama city of Brewton . I soon met old friends and was introduced to new friends who are members of this congregation. After the evening assembly a young father introduced himself to me. I asked his last name again because I recognized not only the name but the city where he informed me he had lived previously. I asked him his parent’s names and immediately I knew who he was when he told me that their names were James and Linda Barron. I looked at him and told him that I not only knew his parents but his grandparents.

Standing by him was his beautiful daughter which I supposed to be about twelve years old. I moved along side her and gave her a hug and said, “Let me tell you about your ancestors.” In actuality I was looking in the face of the fourth generation of the Jesse and Magdalene (Mary) Miller family. I was moved with deep emotions when I remembered the story of this family that obeyed the gospel many years ago. But before I progress in this particular story I must relate to you what transpired the following Wednesday evening when I spoke at the College Avenue congregation in the city of Enterprise, Alabama .

One of the first people I saw after entering the building was Brenda Miller Penn, the aunt of this small girl’s father I met on the previous Sunday night. You see, Brenda is a daughter of Jesse and Mary Miller and the twin sister of Linda Barron who is the grandmother of the small girl. Brenda then introduced me to her daughter and husband and their small children. As you can perceive, there is a real story about to unfold in this article.

It was in the winter of 1965-66 that the good church in Elba, Alabama where I was then preaching, heard about the Jesse Miller family that was in dire need of help because the husband/father had been seriously injured while working and was unable to provide for his family. Of course the Christian brothers and sisters supplied the needs of the family and because of the kindness and love manifested toward this family a door of opportunity was opened to study the Bible with them in their home. My good friends and brethren Roy Fuller and Harris Winston (now diseased) studied with the family and I also encouraged them as they were contemplating giving their lives to the Lord. It was on Sunday morning, January 30, 1966 that I had the wonderful privilege of immersing Mary, the mother, along with the children, Jerry, Brenda and Linda into Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins. Because of the unusually cold weather (24 degrees) for south Alabama and the serious injuries Jesse had sustained, we waited until Tuesday, February 2 to baptize him.

The members of the Elba church soon fell in love with this wonderful family. Jesse continued to mature in Christ as well as the rest of the family and later he became a deacon in the local congregation. Several years later Jesse died and Mary and the family moved some thirty miles north of Elba to the city of Troy . There they became active in the work of the Lord’s church. As the years passed by the children all married and had families of their own. Some members of the Miller family moved to other locations but one thing that stands out in my mind is the faithfulness to the Lord of the children and grandchildren and yes, even the great-grand children of Jesse and Mary Miller.

As Christians we should never underestimate the good that can be accomplished when we assist individuals and families who are in need with the necessities of life. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 6:9, 10: “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” In this life we may never fully realize the full measure of good done by the kind and benevolent acts that are shown toward others. And remember this, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love…” (Hebrews 6:10).

The decision by the Jesse Miller family to give their lives to Lord over forty-two years ago determined the direction that the future generations would travel; that is, obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ and living for Him. God has allowed me to live long enough to bear witness to this truth as I continue to meet members of this good family, even to the fourth generation. I could not help but think of what the apostle John had to say about a similar situation as found first of all in 2 John 1 when he was writing to “the elect lady and her children…” He expressed himself as recorded in verse 4: “I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.” Then in 3 John he wrote to his dear friend Gaius. He expressed himself in this manner: “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (Verses 3 & 4).

As a gospel preacher of more than fifty years I can truly say that one of life’s greatest joys is to know of the faithfulness of people who I have encouraged to give their lives to the Lord. I am mindful of the deep feelings that Paul expressed for the church in Thessalonica as found in I Thessalonians 3:7-9: “(T)herefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith. For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God…” Our young preachers and teachers should learn that while we do the planting and watering it is God who gives the increase (I Corinthians 3:6). The harvest of souls may be soon or later but it will come. Learn to be patient. I close with these thoughts from Psalms 126:5, 6

“Those who sow in tears, shall reap in joy,
He who continually goes forth weeping,
Bearing seed for sowing,
Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,
Bringing his sheaves with him.”