In 1972 a young pastor and his wife started a church in Woodlawn, Tennessee. Woodlawn was a small farming community just outside of Clarksville. They had 3 boys ranging in age from 3 to 10 whom they tried to feed and clothe on a Pastor’s salary. During Christmas the mother would buy a few used toys that would be given to her boys on Christmas day.
Though the family had very little monetarily, their lives were filled with the richness of being in a church family who loved their pastor and his family. There were many stories that would show this love the church had for its Pastor, but none greater than the love shown by the Smith Family.
James and Imogene Smith lived close to the church and had a farm with a few cows on it. On one occasion James told the young Pastor, “Pastor I want you to know that I am raising a cow for your family to make sure you have something to eat this winter.” The Pastor thanked James and said, “Thank you but I don’t have a freezer where I can place the meat.” James said, “No need to worry about that, I will get you one.”
Before long James dropped off a used freezer at the parsonage to help store the meat when the day came. The freezer was not there long when one day James approached the pastor and said, “Preacher I am sorry I have some bad news for you. It seems that your calf died. I’m not sure why but you don’t need to worry about it. When we slaughter mine I will give you half of the meat.”
Every time I hear that story it chokes me up. James was not willing that his Pastor miss out on what he had promised simply because the calf died. The Pastor of the church was H. Lamar Smith, my father. I was one of the sons that was loved through James and Imogene and many others.
The scripture that comes to mind is Deuteronomy 6:10-12.
When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you–a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant–then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
I attended Trevecca Nazarene University, married a wonderful Godly woman, have four beautiful kids, and work full-time at a church north of Nashville. In spite of all my accomplishments in life, I know… I am not self-made. I did not earn those things. The best gifts in life are not earned.
Before I knew what the church was, I was raised in it. My parents loved my brothers and me by choosing Godly things for us before we could choose for ourselves. I was raised in churches that loved and cared for the parsonage family. The story of James and Imogene is not the only story.
There is the story of Jimmy and Carol Perry who took me camping with their family when I was in middle school. Jimmy and Carol were the salt of the earth. They are a couple that loves their church and serve in about every way possible. A couple of years ago, as a young man, Jimmy had a stroke around Christmas time and lost much of his ability to speak. Today his family and friends lift his name to God in prayer asking that God would do what only God can do. I love those two and could never repay them for the love they have shown me.
And how could I forget Erlene Hooker? She prayed for me for many years during the formative years of my life. When she prayed she touched heaven and everyone knew it. If you made it onto her prayer list the devil did not have a chance. Her prayers moved mountains and through her prayers God moved me. I am unworthy and undeserving but God did it anyway.
Finally today I’m thankful for Ken Dunn who taught my 5th grade Sunday school class as a young boy. Ken’s class was filled with nothing but boys. Poor Ken!! He took the entire class fishing one day at Smith Lake which was close to our church. The topic of conversation coming home was, “how long can you hold a vienna sausage in your mouth till it melts?” Best we could figure was it takes about 15 minutes. Ken taught us about the Bible and he loved us. I am forever grateful.
And the stories go on…
I have been given wells I did not dig, churches and church families I did not build, loving relationships that treated me with unconditional love and a God who loved me enough to provide all of those things without my asking.
Knowing how God works and knowing many of you, I believe that the story of your life might just be similar to mine. This is just the way our God works. He refuses to give us what we deserve.
It is the words from Deuteronomy 6:12 that echo once again, “then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
The best gifts in life are not earned.