Thirty Years In Tullahoma
On December 24, 1995 I concluded my work with the Westwood Church of Christ, after thirty years and six months. The following is an abbreviated form, with a few additional thoughts, of my farewell remarks on that date.
Some folks will little note nor long remember the remarks that I make here tonight However, the work that I have endeavored to do among you, will endure both time and eternity. It belongs to the nature of things that cannot be erased or removed by the passing of time, nor the forgetfulness of men.
The world has turned over many times since that warm June day in 1965 when Aurelia and I, along with our three children, pulled into Tullahoma, even before day began to dawn. Our furniture was en route but we were pulling a two-wheeled trailer with a few items we did not send on the truck. When it was light enough to unhitch the trailer, I began to look for something with which to block up the trailer. As I did, a snake slithered off into the weeds and grass. I recall remarking to Aurelia, "Well, the Old Serpent has served notice on us that he intends to oppose us for every inch and foot of ground we undertake to retake for the Master." Now, I did not actually take that to be an omen or divine warning of some kind. However my assessment of what lay ahead of us, was right on target. Being aware that such is true, helps us to be alert and aware of his many devices, as he operates even as an angel of light, and his ministers as ministers of righteousness.
Nevertheless, God has dealt graciously with me. The good has far outweighed the evil that has come our way. Our blessings have been innumerable, and immeasurable. Our true and trusted friends outnumber by far our foes. God, the giver of all good things, has more than supplied our necessary food, raiment, and other material needs. Spiritually, he has blessed us above all we could ask or think. My heart rejoices beyond expression. By his marvelous grace, we are his and he is ours. What is there more important than this?
Additionally, God has given us children's children, and memories that fill our cup to the overflowing. I am eternally grateful that God has seen fit to so use me here in this work. And my prayer is that my labor here is accepted in his sight.
My sentiments, as I bring to a close thirty years and then some with this congregation, are not easy to express either by pen or by tongue. The nearest language that fits the occasion can be found in the "Farewells" of the apostle Paul. Five times in his epistles, Paul came to say "Finally brethren."
The term "finally" carries with the idea of concluding something. In the context of my use of it, it carries the idea of ending my thirty years and six month work with this church. As you think of that, be reminded that we are all also terminal. The time will come when you will end, in one way or another, your labors and work with this congregation.
Before, looking at some admonitions I want to make from Paul's farewells, I want to take a glance backward for a few moments.
It has been in round numbers 1600 Sundays ago that Aurelia and I came here in answer to our "Macedonian call." In December of 1964, a group of truth loving, dedicated brethren began to meet down on South Polk Street in what had been a dirty, greasy, abandoned restaurant building. There were just 23 people in the first gathering, including several small children, some of whom are here tonight with their own families. They formed the South Polk Street Church of Christ, because there was not an-other congregation in the town that had not embraced digressive practices. They stated that they wanted to build all things according to the pattern in God's revealed word. In this they spoke the language that I spoke and under-stood well. With great anticipation and enthusiasm I accepted the challenge and came fully determined that in those goals I would give them all the help and aid I had the power and ability to provide. I was determined to know nothing but "Jesus Christ and Him Crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). To the best of my ability, I have not swerved from that purpose. Such has been my constant theme. Some who were there in the beginning, have departed the faith and some who came after them stated that they were sick of "Bible authority." Nevertheless, to that commitment I have remained steadfast and unmoveable thru all these years of labor.
Tonight, I come to turn in to him who gives the talents and the pounds, who opens doors of opportunity, my report on those 30 years and then some. He is the one who knows our abilities, and our failings. He knows our real motives from the asserted ones. He knows where we are lacking and why. He knows when our heart has pained and when we have not found sleep because of the sheep that were discontent either with food or fold. He knows the difference in caring shepherds and mere hirelings. It is into his hands that I place my report which he already knows perfectly.
However, as my work with the congregation is brought to an end so does the report of each of you go into the same hands of the perfect record keeper. We have professed to be "workers together with God," for the advancement of the greatest work on earth, the only enduring work. He knows when we have been workers and when we have been shirkers. He knows when we have been backers and when we have been blockers. He knows the difference in mere rhyme and reason. So, we are each and everyone turning in our own report tonight on a work to which each of us committed our pledge to God to give him our all. Only eternity will fully reveal how well we have performed in our respective roles. These matters are not matters we can dismiss with a wave of the hand or shrug of the shoulder. We are men and women accountable to God above. I come now to make a few final admonitions to you.
Be strong in the lord and in the power of his might" (Eph.6:10f).
A. What will make you strong in the Lord.
1. Being in every way a Scriptural church.
a. Scripturally organized (Phil.1:1).
b. Scripturally functioning (Eph. 4:11-12).
c. Taking orders from Christ the head (Eph. 1:22-23).
2. Being a church composed of true believers (Acts 4:4).
3. Deep convictions, willing to suffer (Acts 8:4); sharing prayerful (Acts 6:6-7); walking in the fear of the Lord, and comfort of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:31).
4. Strength is not to be confused with size.
B. You will have issues to face that will require the best in all of you.
1. Issues on marriage, divorce and remarriage.
2. Issues involving dress and conduct.
3. Perhaps sooner than you think you will have to deal with issues involving the role of women in the church.
C. Only by being strong in the Lord will you be able to handle successfully these and others is-sues.
II. Finally, brethren rejoice in the lord (Phil.3:1).
A. There is much joy and rejoicing for the people of God.
1. Romans 14:17.
2. Joy in Christian association (Phil.1:3).
3. Joy in worship (Psa.122:1).
4. Joy in seeing people obey the gospel (Acts 8:5-8; 3 John 3, 4).
B. Brethren, if your service to God is boring and you cannot find joy in it, heaven will not be for you.
III. Finally brethren, think on things true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report (Phil. 4:8).
IV. "Finally, brethren, farewell, be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the god of love and peace shall be with you" (2 Cor. 13:11). Whether I come and be with you or else be absent, I want to hear of your affairs (Phil.1:27). Like Paul, I want to hear that you are standing as a solid phalanx of committed men and women committed to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Don't be terrified by your adversaries. They will think that your standing for the truth is a token of your damnation, but you know that it is a token of salvation and that of God.
Sometimes men and women in the church get so careless and loose in their conduct and in business affairs that even the world would blush with shame. Let me say that if members of the church stand fore square upon the truth, and conduct themselves in a way that adorns the gospel, there is not a force in the whole world that can stop or hinder their onward march for the Lord, for He has promised never to leave or forsake such (Heb.13:5). This church will live or die, survive or vanish, according to the character of those on the inside. The enemy without can do but little harm and that only due to our own failings within. It is my honest conviction that we are our own worst enemy! I want to hear of unity in truth, soundness in faith, steadfastness in labor, purity in life, and untiring efforts in Christ.
V. My final "finally" is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:1. "Finally brethren pray for us." Paul wanted the prayers of his brethren, and so do I. He was not asking that they pray for his ease and comfort. He was asking that they pray for him that the word preached by him might have free course and be glorified. He was asking to be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men. Those are my sentiments tonight as I leave you. Pray for me, that the word of God might have free course. Pray that I may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men. My heart and soul is wrapped up in the desire to preach his word, to saving of souls and up building of his cause and Kingdom. Pray that hindrances may be minimal. Pray for our strength and continued good health to that end. Pray that the Lord's will may be done in all my undertakings.
I placed on the bulletin board a statement which can never fully express the bounty of thanksgiving and gratitude which Aurelia and I have for our years in your midst. We feel richly blessed. And I close with the admonition: "Therefore My be-loved brethren, be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." (1 Cor.15:58). "And now brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified" (Acts 20:32).
Guardian of Truth XL: 6 p. 22-24