A week from this Wednesday, God willing, I will be celebrating my eighty-fifth birthday. If anyone had ever suggested I would live into my 80's, I would have suggested that he or she had lost his or her mind. Yes, I know, the previous generation on my Mother's side - the women at least, all lived into their nineties. Their youngest brother, the only one who survived the birth process, went "home" when he was eighty-nine. Given my health - today, and my spirit being, I plan to out live the others.
I can hear you now, "Are you kidding, Sherwood, you'll be fortunate to be here for your next birthday!"
It is important that I do as I carry in this mind and body, decades of experience - in church and on the outside, and I am truly concerned about my brothers and sisters in the faith. Even this very morning, my brother in the faith, Ray Waddle, who pens articles for The Tennessean, can be quoted as saying, "Minute by minute, byte by byte, a shift is taking place. Online life suggests a libertarian-consumer paradise where each of us stands wielding the power of choice, accessing a universe of knowledge and falsehood at the speed of light, preferably for free."
I suggest that what he is saying is that "the church as we have known it for over two centuries" is on its way out of existence. Oh I know, many of the buildings will remain in place for decades to come and as long as "Dad and Mom, Grandpa and Grandma" are with us, many among us will continue to pay homage to that fading emphasis that once guided society through our ups and downs. But as one of the younger generation of "fire breathing evangelists" recently concluded, we are tiring of the claims that God is - like Santa Claus, "making a list and checking it twice" lest we be left out on that day certain when the earth as we know it, ceases to be, or our lives as we really do not know them, come to an end.
I attended a country church as a youngster and came to believe that I had "better watch out, better be good" or else, if I happened to die before committing my life to Christ, I would surely "burn in Hell". That belief lingered for decades. Along the way, however, I found myself on a troop ship headed for Japan and one night, I climbed "up top" and lay there, thinking, "How could this be?" I was only 17 years old and here I was heading for duty in a nation that had been slaughtering people like me for more years than I had even lived!" I looked up and as far as I could see, from the North to the South, from the East to the West, there had to be billions of stars and maybe, thousands of comets that I could see streaking across the horizon and - just like my Science teacher had taught in high school, there were planets without number, as far as my eyes could see. I will never forget the thought that crossed my mind; it was like God saying to me, "See what I have made for you to contemplate." Contemplate? I didn't even know the meaning of that word, that night. But it has remained to this very hour.
I had to look it up in the dictionary. It means - to me, to "consider thoughtfully". It took awhile, but it would change my life as I listened to people express their opinions, offer their suggestions, even demand that I learn from what I was hearing. Years went by and I lived by that admonition - that advice, even on occasion, a rebuke. It got me in a lot of trouble on many occasions. Then, one day, I was reading my Bible and I came to a verse in Genesis (3:11) where God says, responding to the excuse offered by Adam, "Who told you that....? The rest of the question you can see for yourself, but those four words, stuck in my mind and I use them, often.
I think of it often as I read my Bible. I have followed the critics or the Bible who often want me - and you, to believe there were errors in the ways that the original transcripts were used, some insisting that we don't even have the original transcripts. That is fascinating to me as I contemplate what I am hearing. They may be right, but then, millions have been reading the Bible and believing - every word, and I have to ask, what happens to their faith? I just walk away as I am not interested in what others believe until I see their faith expressed in every day living. Take Ray Waddle for example. I have read his work for almost two decades; I even met him one day, but I still "consider thoughtfully" what he has to say. To me, it is amazing how much we seem to think alike.
But you know, I live - as some say, ..."just below the buckle on the Bible belt." I love Christian radio - especially, the station that comes over my radio. I love the music and this local station has a lady who not only plays good music - to my ears, she prays for people and when I hear her, I think of a scene I once saw, either in my imagination or it actually happened. The people in heaven are gathered around, listening to the words of our Lord and there is music playing in the background, Then I hear a pause and the Lord tells the others, "Be still, this is a favorite of mine, praying for people that often times, she really doesn't know, and her words are like music to My ears." "Wait a minute, while I see what I can do to answer her prayers."
Be careful with the thoughts that you might be imaging at this moment. Don't hurry to believe that was just a figment of my imagination. You really do not know what else I am thinking at this moment, so you will just have to read what follows.... maybe tomorrow, God willing.