11 March 2009

The 'Tie' That Binds

Perhaps the first thought that comes to your mind will be the beautiful hymn “Blest Be the Tie” but the title of this article is not taken from this song. It might seem odd but the ‘tie’ that I have reference to is the one that I wear around my neck on occasions. You see, the person who taught me how to tie a ‘half-Windsor knot’ was an older brother in Christ who influenced me greatly when I was but a lad and a member of my home congregation in Summerville, Georgia.
Brother Julius Sprayberry was our song leader and he often taught a Bible class on Sunday morning and/or Wednesday night. It was Christian men like him and brother Charles Cochran, along with several other Christian men and women who influenced my life for good. The widows of brethren Sprayberry and Cochran (Thelma & Frances, respectively) still attend the South Commerce congregation in my hometown. When I was a boy growing up in this small church there was no ‘youth minister’ as such but the love and influence exerted upon the young people by the adult members guided us in the way of the Lord and gave us a real sense of belonging and security. We did not have a ‘full-time’ preacher for many years but the men of the congregation would lead us in our worship assemblies. In fact, one of the members, brother Roland Hemphill baptized me when I was a lad of thirteen. These brothers and sisters in Christ were ‘just regular’ members.
It is a beautiful thing to witness members of a congregation fulfilling the thoughts found in Ephesians 4:15, 16: “But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” Professionalism was generally unknown among our congregations sixty years ago. We now live in a mobile society and families seemingly are always on the move from one location to another one and often there is not a real sense of having a ‘home congregation’ by many families today.

Over fifty years have passed since I left my home congregation for college. But I retain precious memories of the time we met in the American Legion Hall in downtown Summerville and later in the brick building that was constructed on South Commerce Street . I have a warm feeling in my heart and often tears will fill my eyes when I think of so many of those members who have gone to be with the Lord. I possess a deep sense of gratitude and debt to those godly men and women who loved me and encouraged me to live for Jesus and to preach the gospel. There was a time when Virginia and I lived in a small trailer on the campus of Alabama Christian College when the church back home learned of our lack of money and they sent us a check in the amount of fifty dollars. It might as well have been a thousand dollars for it provided food for us to eat. It was the love and compassion that motivated the gift that has always endeared the members in my heart.
I have a real feeling of loyalty to my home congregation. I have returned for gospel meetings and it was always a joy to see ‘old friends’ and to reminisce of years past. I would love for all of our children and young people to have such fond memories of a ‘home congregation’ and to know of their roots in spiritual matters. We owe a great deal to the ‘ordinary’ members of the church who live faithfully and carry on the work in a local congregation.

I seldom tie my ‘tie’ without thinking of brother Sprayberry who taught me how to tie the knot and who influenced me to live for Jesus Christ. And when I think of him I also remember fondly my home congregation. I firmly believe that God, by His infinite grace will supply unto us the entrance “into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11) where there will never be a separation from those of His children we have known and loved in this life. Here are two stanzas from the beloved hymn that we often sing and that expresses my inward feelings.
BLESS BE THE TIEBlest be the tie that binds Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.
When we asunder part, It give us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, And hope to meet again.

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