Stories From My Dad’s Bible

bible1This 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.”



The Pope, An Atheist and A Hypocrite Walk Into A Bar….

Okay, this isn’t a joke.  In fact, the Pope recently made the following statement:

“There are those who say ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this and that association.   There are many Catholics who are like this and they cause scandal,” he said. “How many times have we all heard people say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”say ‘if that person is a Catholic, it is better to be an atheist’.”

It took me a while to find the actual statement since it was reported different ways in the media.  

So is it better to be an atheist or a bad Christian?

There was a time when I would have said it was better to be a bad Christian or a hypocrite because at least they were in church and might learn to do better.  I’m of a different opinion on this today.  If you continue to practice bad behavior you will never change.  At least an atheist comes into this honest about the whole thing.  Is it better to stay either way?  Absolutely not.  What the Pope was trying to say is that the bad Christians give the church a bad name and do nothing to convince anyone to be a part of the church.  

In fact didn’t even Jesus say that He would prefer that someone be either hot or cold?   If you are lukewarm He would spit you out.  (Revelation 3:15)  Jesus expects people to be all in or not at all.  Halfway doing it doesn’t do anybody any good. 

And who did Jesus have the most problems with?  The Christian Leaders.  Specifically the Pharisees.  They were all about doing things for show but their motives weren’t always pure.  

In my lifetime, I have seen my share of church people and a lot of the negative side of people.  It isn’t pretty and no surprise that people have no use for attending a church.  For me, it has taken a lot of time and deep soul searching to separate truth from the hypocrites.  Separate the dark side of church from who God really is to me personally.  

You see, I used to “drink the koolaide” as they say.  I attended every Sunday and carried out my responsibilities.  The problem was that I was dying inside.  I left church feeling worse than when I came.  It was terribly frustrating.   I won’t say it was all bad but I was bad.  I was a total hypocrite.  And good at it too.  That’s not what I wanted to be or the life I wanted to live.  It took me a long time to unlearn the things that I was taught that was wrong.  I came to a startling revelation that there were many things that the church taught that wasn’t what God had intended.  Denominational leaders had taken some things and made it the extreme of what it was intended.  Much like what the Pharisees did in the Jesus’ day.  Did you know that some wore the actual law on their heads (and still do)?    Talk about legalism to the extreme!

So is it really better to be an atheist than a bad Christian?  Well, I’ve never been an atheist but I have experience at being a bad Christian.  It has been a painstaking experience reprogramming from the things I had learned.  I won’t say it was ALL wrong but I really had to deal with the legalism.  It would have been a lot easier to learn it the right way in the beginning.  Today, I can tell you that my relationship with God is much more personal and meaningful than it has ever been.  Time alone with God is much more fulfilling than sitting in a church pew for an hour on Sunday morning.  

Are all Christians hypocrites? Absolutely not.  In fact, there are many examples of selflessness, courage, moral action and reform and many other positive influences on the world. These are sincere believers transformed by the resurrected Christ and are models of what a good Christian is supposed to be.  Sadly, we tend to focus more on the bad apples rather than the good fruit.  

The point that the Pope was making in his statement is that none of us are perfect.  Just because we call ourselves Catholics, Christians or whatever religious title we want to wear, we have ALL sinned.  We ALL need that amazing grace every day to do better and be better people.  We aren’t better than someone else because we go to church or belong to a religious group.  

I often say that I was brought up in a church home but it took me a long time to discover God personally.  I’m glad I did.  It doesn’t make me perfect I just hope it makes me a better person.