Was It A Bird, A Plane, Or A Byrd?
When I informed the brethren of the Garden City church that we were moving to Ozark, Alabama, there was a misconception of exactly where we were moving, especially when I told them our new address would be 2 Byrd Circle. To many, it sounded like 2 Byrd Circle was somewhere in the Ozark mountains. I could feel the sympathy of some of the brothers and sisters who thought we were moving to a very remote area of the United States of America.
Two brothers came over to help move us to the city of Ozark. This was before most brethren in small congregations were using companies that specialized in the moving business. The truck was like unto a 'cattle truck'. Virginia recalls that Joel lay on his bed and hugged the mattress, not wanting the men to move it.
Anyway, we made the long haul in one day and got into our small house located at 2 Byrd Circle just off of White Avenue and across the street from Dr. Bob McLaughlin, who later became our family physician. We moved during the month of September, 1960. The church building was located on Martin Street, a concrete building with a new education wing built when Ray Humphries, their former minister, was working with the congregation.
I Didn't Walk On Water, But I Did Row A Boat
A good sister, a widow, came to the office one day and asked if the church might help her financially. This was the day that our church treasurer, elder Ogburn Smith, was not on his job at the local A&P grocery store. It was his day off. I learned that he was fishing at the Dale County Lake, so I drove there and saw him almost in the middle of the lake trying to catch fish. What could I do but get into a boat and row out to talk with him. This was the first time that I had ever tried to reach a brother in this manner, as we did not have cell phones in those days. Was he ever surprised to see the preacher coming his way paddling a boat!
There we were in the middle of the lake, boat to boat, discussing whether or not to help this fine Christian lady. But, come to think of it, Jesus even preached while sitting in a boat. The decision was a positive one and we did, in fact, help this widow. I hope brother Smith caught plenty of fish that day. Maybe it was not a net full but enough for a 'mess'.
Time To End My Sermon
Being much younger the four years (1960-1964) I preached for the congregation in Ozark, I often taught the teenage Bible classes. It is amazing how young people will express their feelings of acceptance to you. Well, while preaching one Sunday morning, all of a sudden, an alarm clock sounded in the pulpit stand. I was about halfway through my sermon at the time and simply hit the stand with my knee. Undoubtedly the clock fell over and stopped ringing. To this day, I am not absolutely sure which teenager set that alarm clock but I think I know. His mother said her son would never have done that. I will admit there is a need sometimes for an alarm to sound when some preachers prolong their sermons that can be immortal without being eternal.
I Was Still Alive After An Explosive Situation
It was at this same pulpit stand that something unusual occurred. Once again, I was preaching during the worship assembly on a Sunday morning when all of a sudden there was an explosion inside the pulpit stand. I thought to myself, 'I am still alive', so I continued to preach. After the assembly I returned to the pulpit stand and opened the door. The only thing I saw was a bottle of Welch's grape juice with its cap missing. Undoubtedly, because of the heat in the building (we did not have air conditioning at that time), the wine fermented and blew off the top, causing the sound of an explosion. You can understand why I became rather nervous while preaching behind that particular stand. I never knew when a sound like a mighty rushing wind might occur.
Big Bad John, I Mean Jess
It was during teaching one Sunday morning Bible class, that I noticed about halfway back in the auditorium Jess Bruton had stood. Now, Jess stood approximately 6' 2" inches tall. His copy of the Gospel Advocate Annual Lesson Commentary was doubled and he began approaching me, moving slowly, with the book in his right hand. Let me tell you now that you can speak on one subject while your mind is thinking on something else! I don't remember what I was saying, but I can tell you what I was thinking, "What is Jess going to do with that book!"
I stood there without moving, although I must admit that my first inclination was to move rapidly in the opposite direction. All of a sudden, Jess made a swift swing with that heavy book and killed a wasp that had settled on my shoulder. Everyone enjoyed a good laugh at my expense and the whole episode that developed in a Bible class while studying God's Word. I do wish Jess had forewarned me so I could have had peace in my heart rather than wondering who was going to speak at my funeral!
A Church On Fire!
Well, not really the church but the building where the congregation met on Martin Street. The family and I were getting ready for Sunday School when Dr. Bob called and informed me that his mother, who lived across the street from the building, said it was on fire! I hurriedly finished getting my clothes on and rushed out. Sure enough, smoke was billowing from the bottom. The fire department was there and the chief asked if I knew where the thermostat was located in the auditorium. Knowing what needed to be done, I made the foolish decision to enter the building.
I had to enter through the first floor of the education complex and walk up a flight of stairs in order to get to the auditorium. Opening the door, the smoke was so thick I could not see anything. So closing my eyes, I walked across the room, felt along the opposite wall from where I had entered and was able to turn off the thermostat so the gas would stop flowing into the furnace. By the time I left the building, coughing had become a problem. However, assuming the building might be burning down, I drove my car to the rear of the building, where my office was located on the first floor of the educational complex and quickly began carrying my precious books through the window, loading them in the trunk of my car.
Preachers always endeavor to build up brethren in the Lord but that day I took an instrument and began to knock holes in the bottom of the building so the firemen could get their hoses underneath the floor of the auditorium and put out the fire. The cause was found. A well meaning Christian lady, who cleaned the building, decided to put a rubber mat on the floor furnace that was located in the small foyer. She didn't realize that when the heat came on, the mat would eventually begin to burn; and it did, along with the flooring in the auditorium.
The preacher's job should be to 'set the church on fire for the Lord', not to break blocks in the lower part of the church building. A rather humorous but serious telephone call from a fellow gospel preacher that Sunday afternoon, who was trying to get his brethren to build a new church building, informed me that the "Lord sent fire to the wrong building". I think he was wishing that the fire had occurred where he was preaching.
The Spirit Was Willing But The Flesh Was Weak
There have been many opportunities given in the lives of preachers to teach the gospel to truth seekers. After the funeral of an aged mother, a couple agreed to study the Bible with me in their home. Following several studies over a period of time, I was pleasantly surprised when I entered their home and the husband, Morris, announced that he and his wife, Pauline, were ready to be baptized. Of course this news made me rejoice; however, before he completed the sentence he stated emphatically that his wife was "scared to death" of having someone place her in water backwards. I smiled and said, "I have never lost a candidate." He replied, "I am being very serious, she is really afraid of being baptized." I encouraged them to get ready and we would to the church building.
Did I mention it was in the middle of winter and it was a very cold night?! Well, it was! I called some family members and friends and we gathered in the building on Martin Street. It was frigid inside the building, so you can imagine how cold the water was in the unheated baptistery.
I showed Morris and Pauline where to go to change into garments we had for those being baptized and told him that I would baptize him first so Pauline could witness how things were going to be done. Putting on rubber waders, which came up to my chest, I walked down the steps into the icy, and I mean icy!, water. I could feel the coldness through my 'baptizing suit'. Morris followed me and I immersed him without any difficulty, except he nearly froze to death.
Now it was time for me to walk across the baptistery to assist Pauline down into the water. She was nervous and freezing at the same time. I remember when her foot touched the water she let out a very loud sound like 'I am going to freeze to death in that water!'. I was finally able to coach her down the steps and into the baptistery. I informed her that the Lord commanded me to immerse her in water and so I told her, due to her great fear, to bend her knees and I would place her into the water forwardly. I made a few remarks and began to place her face first into that frigid water. Then her instinct to survive came into play.
She reached over with her left arm, grabbed hold of the side of the baptistery and I could not get her all the way under the water. She came up and made a chilling sound, shaking because of fear and the cold. It was then that I told her, "Pauline, we are going to do this again because you did not go completely under the water." Well, with some hesitancy, she agreed and we started the whole process again. While placing her face forward into the water, she once more grabbed the side of the baptistery. This time I took her hand off the side and forced her under the water. That was the first and only time I have ever done that in of my experiences of baptizing people.
But that is not the end of the story. When I forced her into the water there was a large splash that caused that icy water to go upward and you know it was going to come back down according to the law of gravity. Well, when it did, the water landed on my head and down into my waders. I was soaked. For two weeks, I was sick with a cold to the point of visiting our family doctor to obtain medicine. But it was worth it. Over the years when I would look at Pauline, she would have a smile on her face, as I did. We both remembered one cold winter's night when she was immersed into Christ for the remission of her sins - in spite of her fear of being put under water by someone.
Why Another Blog?
Over the years I have had various experiences in working with people. Some humorous and some not so humorous. If you know me personally, you know I enjoy a good, clean joke. In fact, some will say that it 'sounds like a Raymond joke' when they hear a particular kind.
True humor to me, is that which happens unplanned and unrehearsed. I believe that has contributed to my sanity over the 56+ years of preaching and working with the brethren. To try and have a positive attitude in life, to retain the pleasant and good memories of years past helps one physically, emotionally, and mentally. We read in Proverbs 15:13, "A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken". Again in 17:22, "A merry heart does good, like medicine. But a broken spirit dries the bones".
I do "love life" (1 Peter 3:10). God is truly my "refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Psalm 45:1). I enjoy an "abundant life" because of Jesus Christ, who gave His life for me (John 10:10). I hope you find the following remembrances enjoyable and entertaining.