Thirty years have elapsed since I last visited the town of my
high school days. Memories of pain and pleasure flooded as Ada and I drove around to the
places she had never seen. Much of what I had known ceased to exist. Many old shops that I
frequented stared empty or boarded. The Post Office, where I once sold newspapers on the
corner, now housed a school-administration center. The Episcopal Church managed to
maintain its downtown location.
The high school where, frankly, some world-class teaching occurred has been replaced. Cotton has been demoted from king to prince. Over-all the town I knew waited on relatives like me to come and see it before it died.
I lived in two houses during separate sojourns in that city. Only one (the smaller) remains. Both were next to churches which remain though the brand name has changed. The smaller of the two housed many guests, was home to my first inclination that I might be a preacher and was home when I was baptized in water. The neighborhood is much nicer than when I lived there. The brick church next-door greatly exceeds the barely-standing structure of my memories.
The house, much improved, still stands, reminding me of the decisions made there: of dedication, of growth; of friends made there and guests housed, of neighbors who named a child after me, of playing baseball in a lot still vacant but much smaller than my memory held it.
In this house I began to discover that the world lied a lot, that trust was routinely violated and value systems differed greatly. I remember the nausea that I felt when I discovered that some people I knew lived promiscuously. They were tender years learning hard lessons.
Ada and I drove to Choctaw Ridge. Perhaps you remember the song that contained the line,
"And Billy Joe McAlester jumped off the Tallahatchie River. If Billy Joe jumped off the bridge,
he might have sprained an ankle!
That song also speaks of Choctaw Ridge, a place of great and warm memories. My family faced deprivation one winter, not knowing how we would get food. A "hillbilly"on Choctaw Ridge named Mode Corter heard of our plight and told us that if we were willing to pick them, he had enough beans in his hills for us to eat. We were willing. Mode and Mary Corter became a joyous part of our lives. Mode was 72 years old and could not read or write. He told me that he had gone to school two days in his life. The first day he learned how to court; the second day he learned how to fight; that was all he needed to know, so he quit.
His stories were a delight, but his actions were hilarious. About every six months, he would don his best clothes (he never wore shoes unless he came to town or church) and head into town for a day. He loved the dime store. He would find a place to sit and simply watch people and the store all day long. Some who came in thought him to be a salesman or the manager of the store. He duly explained different items to help people make decisions though he knew nothing about what he was doing. Job hunters would see him and, assuming him to be the manager, apply for a job. He would listen, ask certain questions, then tell them they were just who he was looking for and to report to work on Monday. Chaos! Of course, by Monday he was safely back up on the Ridge.
One story might have been true, but stretched my ability to believe just a bit. Mary was only twelve when he married her and could not cook. Mode reports that he bought a month's supply of cooking materials, locked her in the kitchen and told her not to come out until she could cook. If she failed with a batch on her wood stove, she was to throw it out the window to the hogs and start again. Whether that happened or not, Mary was a world-class cook.
I wanted to take their picture with my rudimentary, flashless camera so it had to be done outside. Mode called the hogs against the protest of Mary so they could be in the picture, too. "We are hillbillies, Mary, and the picture will look more natural if the hogs are there." There was life in "them thar hills."
My parents began a church up on Choctaw Ridge. There I met old Brother Mays. He could not read or write, but he loved the Bible, so he sought people to read it to him. Often, in church services, he would report on his struggle with difficult passages. He would just ask the Holy Spirit to help him know what the Scripture meant. When he would tell us what understanding the Spirit had given him, I was amazed. It was as if he were in the Seminary of the Spirit. Not a bad school, actually. I wish we had more graduates.
Close to Choctaw Ridge was the little community where I first preached on the streets. Ada and I drove there just to see if the spot remained. To my amazement, not one thing had changed in the forty years since, except that the streets were now vacant, and a government service occupied one of the buildings.
Our second sojourn in that city began in a most unusual manner. The decision had been made to return from living in Oklahoma City to start a new church. The house that had been lived in by a city official was available and purchased. The neighborhood knew that building plans were being made for the adjacent vacant lot. This was not to their liking.
When we arrived with our furniture, we were met at the door by a representative of the neighborhood with a petition signed by everyone (except one person)within a three block radius informing us that we were not welcome and all legal efforts would be made to block our activities. They felt that we would lower the value of their property and they did not want another church.
For months, no one would speak to us. Our neighbor behind us, a policeman and ringleader of the petition effort, would throw his garbage over the fence onto our property, rather than put it in a can, and poisoned our dog, Buster. He had two large, aggressive dogs that he would send out to attack my father when he would go for a walk. Since my father's left side was paralyzed, he could not run; and as he tried to escape, the dogs would chew up his left hand that hung limp from his disabled shoulder.
We will revisit this policeman after I tell you some other events.
I became immediately active in the high school and began to be known in the city. Every week, my name would be in the city newspaper for some school or community activity going on. I was on the football team and captain of the debate team.
We cleaned up the house and lot and carted away loads of empty liquor bottles in the garage and on the grounds. The fears of the neighborhood were obviously unfounded. One by one, beginning with our next-door neighbors, and often with tears, the people of the neighborhood came and asked forgiveness and asked to personally scratch their names off the petition. When the process was over, only one person's name remained on the petition--the policeman in the house behind us. His signature remains on the petition to this day, but let us come back to him later.
By the end of my junior year, my activities had enlarged to being president of several school organizations, state president of the Hi-Y and finally president of the student body. Between junior and senior years, I was chosen to be one of the representatives of the city to the Boys State program. One of the graduating senior leaders strongly urged me to run for governor of Boys State. I reluctantly agreed to do so and was, indeed, elected to that position as well as sent to Boys Nation in Washington, D.C.
Being governor of Boys State was a high honor for that town and when I returned from the state capitol, a crowd had gathered at the steps of the city hall where the American Legion, who sponsored the activity, waited to honor me and my parents. At the city limits, a police motorcade awaited to lead the car I was in, with sirens screaming, to the city hall. Yes,(You are ahead of me.) Leading the way on his motorcycle was the policeman who lived behind me. Haman rides again!
On to the city of my undergraduate college. Warm memories surround the Griffiths, the Lovetts, the Sanders, the Sconiers and others in that city. None permitted me to spend a weekend in the dormitory of the college. If I were sick, it must be at their house, not in the dormitory room. To honor that group I named my son Clyde from a representative name.
Ada and I married while I was in college and ferried ourselves around in a car that needed towing more than driving. We traded it for one barely better, but at least our feet didn't go through the floorboard. That second car triggered an event I shall never forget.
I was part of the jail ministry sponsored by the Salvation Army but peopled by these men, truck drivers all, that surrounded me. One Sunday morning, as we descended from the upper floor of the jail in the two-person elevator, Clyde called me aside and said, "Gayle, your car is not going to make it. When you graduate and leave to begin preaching, why not take my new foreign car (Foreign cars were novelties then and this one was as precious as a child to him.)and drive it until you can afford a car of your own?" I was overwhelmed and told him I would consider it.
He had just finished when J.C. called me aside and said, "Gayle, your car is not going to make it. Why don't you take my car and use it until you can get your own? My wife and I never drive our car because of the company truck I have."
I believed them about my car but hesitated to accept such a large gift from either of them. I didn't know what to do. I planned to take my wife and our daughter Gloria across country preaching as soon as I was graduated. I decided to attempt to purchase a new car.
Much to my amazement, I was able to buy a compact car in the second year they were out though I told the credit manager I did not have a job, had no money except the $100 I paid down, had no promise of a job and had no idea how much I would be making, if any. Why they gave me the loan still causes me to think a miracle occurred.
On this sentimental journey, we visited Charles and Myrtis, people we hold in highest respect and for good reason. On the night of my graduation and before the morning we were to leave on our mission of message, they had insisted that we come to their house. Around coffee and pie, Charles said,"All I own belongs to you. Don't ever let your family go hungry or be deprived as long as I have anything, because it is yours as much as mine."
We left that city with warm and reeling hearts. I knew that God brought me to that city, not to attend a world-class college, but to teach me what love in the Body of Christ actually meant.
So our few hours of renewing friendship with Charles and Myrtis, as we journeyed through, were precious to us.
Nightfall on this journey brought us to the home of an old high school buddy and his wife. He had been the left guard on our football team and I was the right guard. Now he is a medical doctor, and a recent renewal in their spiritual lives had brought us back together. Fellowship in the Lord is vastly superior to simply being on the same football team.
Such a journey is always filled with excited remarks of "Look at that!" when familiar sights still stand or if they have been replaced. The greatest sights are old friends or parishioners who continue with the Lord and grow. A visit to a prior pastorate provided just such smiles and "Alrights!" as we visited with the current pastor who updated us. Such visits also contain the pauses that accompany news of those released from this physical plain.
The final leg, whose main memories will be reserved for some future journal, brought us to the sun coast town that oversaw my first six years of life. The saltwater smell moves in my bloodstream. On a fishing trip with my brother Wayne in his boat, I caught a 20 pound red snapper. Honest! I have witnesses. I am sure you wanted to know this.
"Among the passengers of the Sea Venture who`had survived hurricane and shipwreck to land in a despairing colony (Jamestown,VA.) was John Rolfe....He believed there was a Christian purpose for Jamestown, and he sought to advance the Honor of God, and to propagate the Gospel'...
One native who particularly touched Rolfe's heart was Pocahontas, daughter of the Indian chief Powhatan. He was unsure whether marriage with her would be in God's will. He finally thought that as a laborer in the Lord's vineyard, he should plant the seed of the gospel so that she could become a Christian. With her conversion, Pocahontas took the Christian name of Rebecca, and she became John Rolfe's wife."
Disney seems to have lost it's way in its treatment of Pocahontas.
Few expressions are sadder than the bland admission, "I know I'm not living exactly as I should, but..." It really makes no difference how the sentence is finished, the introductory phrase tells it all. And it condemns completely! All the extenuating circumstances in the world cannot mitigate the admitted guilt: "I know I'm not..."
We simply can't afford to waver--even a little--from the known path of right. For, you see, we are not creatures of time, but of eternity. Nothing can be measured by the now; we are going to live forever. And any veering from conscious truth can and will be ultimately disastrous.
I was looking at an old college textbook on astronomy when this truth was made especially real. A picture of the Cepheids in the Andromeda nebula caught my attention. Then I noticed their distance--1,500,000 light-years away! (A light-year is the distance light travels in one year at 186,282 miles per second: nearly six trillion miles.)
The Item read: At that distance, a degree is subtended by a length of about 30,000 light-years." Wow! If I am one degree off in my calculations, I would miss the Cepheids by 180,000,000,000,000,000 miles! If I miscalculated only one-millionth of a degree, I would still come no nearer than eighteen trillion miles to the Cepheids!
Such vastness nearly blows the mind. Yet it is nothing in comparison with eternity--and that's where we're going! Now do you see why we can't afford to waver from the known path of right? Now do you see the awfulness of the confession, "I know I'm not living exactly as I should, but....?"
John wrote, "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then we have confidence toward God." (1 John 3:20,21) And Paul Preached, "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men." (Acts 24:16)
"But," some might protest, "how can we know what is absolute truth? Look at the churches for instance. They all claim to be showing the way to heaven, but they can't even get together on that! So what is the right way' into eternity? If the path is so ambiguous, who can find it?"
I'm so glad you asked. You say, "Look at the churches, for instance." No, don't look at the churches, for instance! In fact you should make a wide circle around any church which asks for your attention. Churches exist to point men to Christ, no more, no less. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each painted a slightly different picture than the other, yet each point a lost world to Jesus Christ who died on Calvary for a fallen race.
The Bible tells us to "run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith." (Hebrews 12:1,2) Keep your eyes upon Him, and you can't waver.
The Living Bible has a beautiful and powerful paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. Read it carefully. "In a race everyone runs but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears. So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step. I fight to win. I'm not just shadow-boxing or playing around. Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it roughly, training it to do what it should, not what it wants to. Otherwise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside."
You don't have to make a total about-face in order to miss heaven. Just angle a little either to the right or the left. Make something else important besides Jesus--it doesn't have to be instead of Him, just along with Him. And the detraction has begun.
David never became a murderer and an adulterer overnight. Judas never became greedy for money in an instant. These, and other, awful conditions began with a minute veering from the path of conscious right. There was a time when each could have said, "I know I should, but...." And that would have been the moment to have done something about it.
David came back. Judas did not. But the big question is,"What are you going to do?" Condemning others will not put you back on course. Admitting your weakness does not rectify it. Comparing yourself with others does not make you any more Christ-like.
Run to Jesus. Look to Him alone. Ask forgiveness and help. Then say with the apostle, "This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13,14)
By: Bill Popejoy
From a letter sent to a certain denominational magazine.
"... our rector was launching into a reading from the Bible. Never a man to fear questioning some of the Scriptures, he prefaced the day's reading with, 'As most of you know, I sometimes question certain passages. This one is no exception; while possible, it is not necessarily probable.''' And they wonder why they are losing members so rapidly.
From the same magazine, this letter came from a missionary in Zimbabwe:
At the school, I teach Bible knowledge to the seventh-graders and math and English to the form-2 students. Bible knowledge is a required subject in the national school system. The curriculum is very biased but I've been trying to inject a more objective perspective into it by incorporating information about other world religions. I've decided my job for this class is to educate the students about the dogma of major religions so they may make an informed and sincere decision about religion. Heartbreaking! She decided, "Why teach them about Jesus when there are so many other religions in the world?" Maybe it is time for their grass to wither.
OK, we are going to try something and see if it works. Demand for Servant Quarters in foreign countries has become very high, but mailing costs prohibit it. So, we are going to take the plunge – E-MAIL. If you know someone in a foreign country who would like to get this newsletter and he is online with his computer and you know his address on the computer and you will send it to us, we will do the rest. Click here to send us that information.
Little Chad was a shy, quite young fella. One day, he came home and told his
mother that he would like to make a valentine for everyone in his class. Her
heart sank. She thought, "I wish he wouldn't do that!" because she had watched
the children when they walked home from school. Her Chad was always behind
them. They laughed and hung on to each other and talked to each other
But Chad was never included. Nevertheless, she decided she would go along with her son. So she purchased the paper and glue and crayons. For three whole weeks, night after night, Chad painstakingly made thirty-five valentines.
Valentine's Day dawned, and Chad was beside himself with excitement! He carefully stacked them up, put them in a bag and bolted out the door. His mom decided to bake him his favorite cookies and serve them up warm and nice with a cool glass of milk when he came home from school. She just knew he would be disappointed. Maybe that would ease the pain a little. It hurt her to think that he wouldn't get many valentines...maybe none at all.
That afternoon, she had the cookies and milk on the table. When she heard the children outside, she looked out the window. Sure enough, here they came, laughing and having the best time.
And, as always, there was Chad in the rear. He walked a little faster than usual.
She fully expected him to burst into tears as soon as he got inside. His arms were empty, she noticed, and when the door opened, she choked back tears.
"Mommy has some warm cookies and milk for you." But he hardly heard her words. He just marched right on by, his face aglow, and all he could say was :
"Not a one. Not a one." Her heart sank. And then he added, "I didn't forget a one, not a single one!"