This week I received my Dad’s Bible. My cousin sent it to me while she was going through things he left behind in his house after he passed away in November. I have been looking through his old, worn Bible repeatedly since I received it. This two-pound, King James Version Thompson Chain Reference Bible was purchased in Savannah, Georgia in 1982. This is a major league Bible of Bibles. He preached many sermons from it. There are still some old sermon outlines and notes in it. Looking through his Bible, sermon notes and outlines are proof that my dad was very dedicated to his calling. I have heard stories about how he was called into the ministry and you will need to have some knowledge about the Pentecostal way of how things work.
My mother was the daughter of a preacher. She did NOT want to marry a preacher. Funny how things work out because she is the reason that dad was called into the ministry. My dad felt the calling but wanted confirmation from God about it. He didn’t get a burning bush but he certainly got the confirmation he was looking for. His prayer was that if God wanted him to preach that God would use my mother to confirm it because he knew how much she was against it. The story was relayed to me that one night in church the Holy Ghost worked in my mother and in the strange way this method operated, she was used to speak to dad that he was called to preach. Now, I don’t know about all of this nor could I ever expect to explain this to you but I do know that this set the course of our lives from that night.
So, as I look through my dad’s Bible I think about that course we took in his calling. Although my mother was used in the ritual described above to call dad into the ministry she was never happy about being a preacher’s wife. I often lament about my life as a preacher’s kid but I can tell you that next to the preacher, the preacher’s wife really has to put up with a whole lot of crap that most wives wouldn’t dream of. People are mean and it’s even more disenchanting when the mean people are the self-righteous ones in the church.
Still, my dad pressed on with his calling. I think if dad had been a minister in any other organization that things would have been much different. Unfortunately, we were sucked into a very peculiar (and they loved being called peculiar) Pentecostal denomination called the Church of God of Prophecy. Yeah, people usually respond with: “Church of God of what??” Back in those days this church was a cult. I always say that you don’t know something is a cult when you are in it but looking back it was definitely the definition of a cult. I have talked enough about this in past posts so I won’t repeat it here.
My dad was strict. He was a strict father and preacher. Sometimes the lines were blurred. I experienced the preacher more than the father. If I’m being honest about this Bible, I have to admit that I’m torn. It is both sentimental and troubling. I’m sorry but I’m just being honest. My dad was a minister for over 40 years until being forced out by a weak church leader who didn’t want to stand up for what was right. Ironically this same leader is the leader for the entire organization. So don’t hate on me for not going back to that church. You haven’t walked in my shoes or lived my life.
In spite of the weirdness of the church, my dad tried to preach the truth – or at least the truth that the church organization told him that it was. There was resistance in many places. I could curl your hair with stories about the inter-workings of the church. I think my dad was sincere in standing up for the truth. He tried his best. I can’t fault him for that I just think he could have done a better job to avoid the church propaganda and refused to drink the koolaide. (Yes, I went there!) Unfortunately, he was in an organization that made perfection the same as Godliness. I have to give my dad credit for not following reputation or money in the ministry as so many do these days. He stuck to what he believed whether I agreed or not.
When he was laboring as a minister in Georgia churches while I was growing up, he was never appointed to a “big” church because he didn’t suck up to the leadership. In those days, a “big” church was those churches who might have 50 or more members. We were never at any of those churches. In fact, some churches barely had enough to keep the church doors open. I remember when we were at a church called Oak Hill which was near Temple, Georgia, that many times the only ones at church was just the three of us. My dad would still have a short service with the three of us. He wouldn’t preach but he would have a short devotion and prayer, then we would go back home.
The worst experience of his ministry when I was living at home was when we were moved to a church in Axson, Georgia. Those church folks were resistant to him from the very beginning. It was a family-run church and we weren’t family. They picked dad’s sermons apart, criticized what my mom wore, did or said and the kids picked on me mercilessly. Yeah, you don’t think of this happening in church do you? The members even tape recorded his sermons and sent it to the leadership critical of what he was preaching. They didn’t like it. There was even one night when a group of men tried to run us off the road. Scary. My dad had enough after that and resigned. In that church organization, you were tainted if you resigned a church. In those days we lived in a mobile home and we moved it to Waycross, Georgia where my dad used his G.I. Bill to go back to school and certification to be a TV repairman. Just as he was ready to work a normal job, church leadership called him and asked if he would take a church in Villa Rica, Georgia which the pastor had vacated to accept a leadership role in Nebraska. He prayed about it and decided to take the church. We stayed at that church three years which was the longest stay at any church.
The only time I ever resisted moving was when dad was considering a move from Villa Rica after my sophomore year in high school. I so much wanted to finish my high school there but my dad was intent on following “God’s will” and move us to Savannah. In my mind I thought it was due to the decline in attendance so on a night when our state bishop was to visit our local church I devised a plan to have all of my friends come to church that night. I had lofty expectations that this plan would convince my dad and the state bishop to keep us at the Villa Rica church. I stood on the front porch when the church doors opened looking for my friends to pull up and boost our attendance and change the course of what was inevitable. In the end only one of my friends showed up. It wouldn’t have mattered if they had all showed up because it seemed that God had wanted us to move to Savannah.
After I left home for the Air Force and start my own life, my dad continued to serve at a few more churches in Georgia until he decided to try another state. My parents moved to North Carolina with hopes of better opportunities. Unfortunately the grass wasn’t any greener on the other side of the state line. They were met more religious rebels, hypocrites and spineless church leaders. During this time my grandfather passed away. His passing changed my mother drastically after that. She never recovered from his death and caved under the criticism with being a preacher’s wife. In the final years of ministry, my dad had to deal with churches who were a bit too loose with the church finances. My dad told me a few stories on his death bed including where one of those churches wanted to give a local business a blank check. When my dad opposed this suggestion, they rebelled and called state leaders to deal with him. Yeah, it’s hard to believe these are “Christian” people we are talking about. When church leaders failed to back him up, my dad had enough. That was the last straw. He had to find a normal job so that he and my mother could live. So, my dad resigned, gave up his license and left the church. If resigning wasn’t bad enough it is scandalous when a preacher “leaves the church” which most people compare to leaving God which is ridiculous.
My dad worked at Belk in the credit department in Charlotte, North Carolina for several years so he could get some health benefits and a retirement. By the way, the church had NO retirement – well they did have a retirement system until a church leader in the worldwide headquarters embezzled the money. (Do you see a trend here? And what does the Bible say about the love of money?)
To my knowledge my parents never attended church again. My mother did not want dad to be sucked back into the ministry again when they moved back to Georgia to live near my grandmother and her sister. She was very adamant that she did NOT want him to even go to church again but when my mother passed away my dad eventually felt the pull back and during his last year he was reinstated and was even appointed as pastor to a church. I nearly fell out of my seat when I heard about it. I wondered why he would do this after all the hurt and pain it has caused them over the years. For some reason, he felt compelled to return to his calling. When I hear the Steven Curtis Chapman song, “For The Sake Of The Call” I think that’s how my dad felt about it. I may not have agreed with it but that was how he lived.
So all these memories come back to me as I look through my dad’s Bible. I look through this Bible and wonder why he highlighted things that he marked in his Bible. I also read the notes he has taped to his Bible and the sayings he kept in it. Also, as I look through his Bible I wonder if he prayed for me like he did over the handwritten list of church members in his Bible. When he read this Bible did he think of me? Did he wonder what burdens I was going through? Did he pray for my life in the same way?
It seems that the page that he highlighted and wrote in the most was in the Book of James. The first chapter of James usually refers to where the apostle encouraged believers patience when they were going through tough times. I’m thinking he probably needed to read this passage a lot. With all of the incredible crap he had to endure from church members and church leaders in his life, he truly had to have a strong faith in God. Maybe that’s why I have a strong faith in God because of what he went through. I may not know the man who owned this Bible but I am thankful to have a relationship with the God of his Bible. When my own father was absent, God was never absent in my life. God always sustained me and was consistent even during the times I was not as consistent in return. I have often prayed the prayer: “God, please never give up on me as long as I never give up on you”. I have only made it this far because of my Heavenly Father.
In the last week of his life, my dad apologized for what he put us through because of his calling. I reassured him that I understood things a lot better now than I did then. In the end he became the dad I always wanted instead of the preacher.
With his Bible, I have a part of him but it is a part I never experienced from him. I can’t say for sure that I will keep this Bible or not. I have had to make my own way through this journey of my life. If he is in paradise right now I’m pretty sure he sees things a whole lot differently now. I love my dad and glad I was there in the end when he needed me the most.
In the back of his Bible, Dad wrote this statement: “Success is not measured by heights attained, but by obstacles overcome.”