Sunday, July 20, 2008

Somewhere between Middle Fork Baptist Church and Tweetsie Railroad

Okay - imagine my surprise when we are walking to the Ferris Wheel and I pass by this sign. I wondered what this sign meant - was there once a church here? There is a message here about the grounds where a Baptist church once stood now being populated by an amusement park. I will let my buddy, Dr. Nathan Finn, who is a church historian look this up and find out more about this church. Just beyond that fence in the background is a cemetery.

Yep - if Nicole would have been with us, she would have said this is from God, with a sigh. Only I would depart the grounds on the way to the Ferris Wheel to look at a graveyard. (Honey - if Nathan were with me, he would have done the same thing.) Obviously, this was the graveyard of the Middle Fork Baptist Church. There were even some recent burials there. Again, the irony of it all struck me with great force. A cemetery next to an amusement park.

This headstone was broken and lay on the ground. As I passed by and read this man's name I couldn't help but wonder who he was, how he lived his life, and how he died. Was he a faithful member of the Middle Fork Baptist Church? Was he a Christian? He was born before the Civil War and died two years before my father was born. What mattered to him? Did he marry? Did he have children? What did he look like?

I imagine few people even knew he existed in this world. It was a sobering reminder to me about the transitory state of this life. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring. As the Bible says, "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." James 4:14.

I must say, as I stood there with my son, I wondered if people (or even my son) would one day be standing over my grave. I do not even know the name of my great grandparents or where they are buried. Why would I think my grandchildren would even know me? Bradford never met my father or mother.

It was then Bradford asked me if I knew this man. I told him no, but I told him that one day this man - like all others in this cemetery - would be raised and come back to life in their bodies. I told him that Jesus said this would happen, and that Jesus would send some to heaven and others away from his presence. I told him that one day soon - though it may seem like a long time to us - this would happen.

I realized at the very moment the radical absurdity of the gospel. How could all of this be true? How could the bones of a man who had been dead going on for one hundred years and whose headstone was broken in a cemetery of a church that no longer existed near an amusement park be raised just as Jesus said in John 5:28-29? It is by faith granted to us by the Holy Spirit of God that I believe this to be true. I believe that the same power that raised Jesus from his own grave will one day do the same for us.

I couldn't help but think of Tony Snow, whose funeral was this week. One hundred years from now (if the Lord tarries) he will be no more remembered than this Moses Johnson in this very cemetery. On that final day when Christ returns, however, it will matter only if he is remembered by Jesus and is raised to life forevermore. I can understand the skeptics and their trouble with this sort of fairy tale. Without God's help I couldn't believe this gospel either.

And then we turned and went to ride the Ferris wheel. I will never forget that experience. Its sobering reality still causes me to pray and look to Christ for help and mercy.

"Don't be amazed at this, because the time is approaching when everyone in their graves will hear the Son of Man's voice and will come out-those who have done what is good to the resurrection that leads to life, and those who have practiced what is evil to the resurrection that ends in condemnation." John 5:29-29.

1 comment:

The Hodges Family said...

I can't wait to hear about the history of that church.