I come not to bury my faith tradition, but to praise it.
I had the great pleasure while out in Kilgore last week of spending an afternoon with my Uncle Gerald. He’s the family historian. He’s the story teller. He’s the one who remembers. Uncle Gerald is the one with the funny home movies of all us cousins as little kids, squinting into the bright glare of the camera’s light. He’s the one with the silly songs and the made-up terms that celebrate and describe everything from our schools and neighborhoods to dirty diapers and hand-me-down clothes. He had the Howdy Doody doll. We shot each other with cap guns when I was little. He’s the one who named some of my favorite stuffed animals. He reminds me today that “we were white-trash, we just didn’t know it.” I love my Uncle Gerald.
Last Tuesday he took me to one of his favorite sandwich shops on the historic strip in Kilgore, just a block behind the famous “World’s Richest Acre.” In between quoting lines to each other from It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and meeting the unending line of people who know and respect my uncle in Kilgore, we talked about our family and our faith heritage.
And it was good.
We talked about my grandmother walking my then 3-year-old dad down Buckner Boulevard in 1945 to the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Dallas. We gratefully recalled her single-minded fidelity to her Lord and his Church while receiving very little, if any, support from my granddaddy at the time. We talked about her involvement with the Pleasant Grove Church as it moved to its present location on Conner Drive in the ’50s and her commitment to the congregation’s mission to evangelize Southeast Dallas with the Gospel. She attended every worship assembly and participated in every Bible class. She cooked for the church fellowships: banana pudding in that big blue bowl! She taught my dad and my uncle and aunt about God’s love for them in Jesus. She instilled in them the value of Bible study and prayer. She modeled a consistent portrait of learning and living in Christ. She was always craving more knowledge, more study, more God. Uncle Gerald remembered last week that, after a lengthy Bible Class series on the Holy Spirit, my grandmother summarized, “The only thing I learned about the Holy Spirit is that it’s a person.”
My grandmother raised my dad and uncle and aunt in the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. My mom and dad, in turn, raised me and my sisters and brother in the same Pleasant Grove Church of Christ. And I’m so grateful. I’m so very thankful.
I’m thankful for the faithfulness of the people at Pleasant Grove to my family and me. I praise God for the encouragement I received at Pleasant Grove, for the opportunities I had to grow and learn and serve there, and for the unconditional Christ-like love I received there. I’m grateful to Inez Smithey and Kayla Casebolt for making me learn memory verses. I thank God for Tillie Prosser who taught me how to read Scripture and lead singing. I’m so grateful for Jim Martin who encouraged me to be a preacher. Aaron Welch would ask me five minutes before the services began, “Old man, would you help us on the table this morning?” and I felt so honored. Paul Barron made me feel like the smartest kid in the world. Don and Liz Connor spoiled me. Glen and Becky Burroughs drove us across DFW to Summer Youth Series. The people of that church gave me Bibles and good advice; they employed me in the summers and taught me in the falls; they prayed for me and blessed me. The Pleasant Grove Church of Christ threw Carrie-Anne and me a wedding shower 24 years ago.
The Christian faith was passed on to me in and by that congregation of God’s people. And I love them for it.
I admit, there was a time not too many years ago when I talked about the Pleasant Grove congregation in derisive terms. I showed very little appreciation for what God had planted in me through those people. Honestly, I think my faith is different today — I know my theology is! — than what was taught me then. My personal understanding today of God’s matchless love and grace is not the same as it was believed and proclaimed by the preachers and teachers there. No, ma’am. The ways I think about God’s Kingdom and talk about Christ’s salvation wouldn’t fly at P-Grove.
But that’s OK. It’s fine.
My grandmother walked down Buckner Boulevard in 1945 to take my dad to church because she believed God loved her and wanted to redeem her and her kids through Jesus. She believed she and her children needed to give their lives to Christ and join a group of people who were committed to sharing God’s salvation with the rest of the world. I thank God for that. My grandmother and my dad were faithful to what our God started in them there. By his grace, he brought me, through them, to where my family and I are today. That’s better than OK. It’s more than just fine. It’s an amazing and divine act of loyalty and love.
Thank you, Uncle Gerald, for reminding me of my faith heritage. Thank you, dad, for your unwavering commitment to our King and his eternal Church. And thank you, Pleasant Grove Church of Christ, for your eagerness to believe in a little boy with a bowl haircut and a Roger Staubach jersey. And to pass on the faith.