Sunday, January 04, 2009

My Home and Church

We have just returned from a trip to Louisiana where we saw many friends and spent some time in Monroe, Louisiana – my (Doug's) home town. I haven’t been to Monroe for at least 15 years so it was quite a sight to behold many of the landmarks of my childhood and youth again from a distance. Monroe, like any other small to mid-size Southern city, has certain endemic “Southern” qualities. Most of these I appreciate and even admire. In many ways, however, Monroe is no longer my “home town” as my family died many years ago and my family now resides in Clinton, LA. I’ve actually have friends in Clinton who are more like family to me than my own natural parents. How often I have told them that my Mother and Dad would be so grateful to them because they cared about me and took into their hearts and homes as if I were one of their own children.

It was in this home that I learned to read the Bible. It was here where I practiced my French Horn until my parents were ready to ship me off to most anywhere they could to gain peace and quiet. After my father died, my practice sessions became a refuge for me. I would play for hours in my bedroom working to train my facial muscles for accuracy and endurance as I built my embouchure (aka chops) on my horn. It paid off. I went to LSU on a full scholarship thanks in no small measure to those practice sessions.

This home also holds painful memories for me. Here is the last earthly residence of my Dad. From here one morning we took him by ambulance to the hospital where he died two days later. My mother died in this house – alone. No one was with her when she departed this life. When I found her she had already slipped these earthly bonds to enter the presence of the Lord. I preached her funeral sermon, and to this day I still think about her often.

After Mother’s funeral, I went by the house on my way back to LSU (I was a Junior at the time). I was alone. No one was there. Everyone had gone home. I walked through the house – going from room to room thinking about my life. I took a few pictures off the wall, walked to the living room, opened the front door; took one look back; and never returned.

Perhaps no other influence on my life has been greater than my church – the College Place Baptist Church. T. Earl Ogg was my childhood pastor. This man could preach! He was a pastor/theologian of the first order who gave me books to read and taught me theology as I was a boy. He impressed on my young mind the importance of the gospel; taught me the great traditions of the Southern Baptist Convention; introduced me as a child to leaders such as Baker James Cauthen (former President of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention); Vance Havner; Dr. Robert Naylor – the President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (hence my friendship with Dr. Rebekah Naylor, his daughter); and Dr. Curtis Vaughn – former professor of New Testament at Southwestern Seminary. He taught me to love the Bible, and he was a great influence on my life. When he retired, our church never recovered. What was once a vibrant congregation has now dwindled to little over 100 in attendance.

I owe a great debt to Mrs. F.M. Durham, my Sunday School teacher when I was six years old (I still remember some of her Sunday School lessons – she was that good!); Mrs. Lucille Deland – who made me memorize the Ten Commandments and Psalm 100 when I was six years old. Roy Brake, Sr. was one of the most magnificent bass voices I’ve ever heard. I loved it when he sang solos on Sunday night. Our sanctuary choir was magnificent. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering ingathering was something which I looked forward to every year. It was always a festive time for our entire congregation.

The debt I owe to these great men and women of God is immeasurable. I truly thank God for them. Someone once said that being raised a Southern Baptist is almost like an ethnicity. That is true. It is something hard to explain to those who were raised out of the South. We (the Southern Baptists) were a world unto ourselves. Our entire lives revolved around our church. There are some advantages and disadvantages to such an existence. Yet, as I reflect on the heritage which God has given me, I truly thank God for giving me that congregation and that heritage. I will never forget them, and I thank God for every one of those men and women who invested so much in me. In many ways, I want to make them proud as I seek to please God and obey His commands.

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