Church at Alta Loma
The following "Happenings" was written at night, Nov. 8, 1970, seventeen years before the Lord called me to write an adventure every month.
Witnessing for the Lord through my writings is a special blessing to me. Sometimes I am led to write to certain people. Sometimes I just pick folks out at random to send my writings to. It's just like dropping in for a little visit. I do not write for praise…only to strengthen someone's faith; to encourage others to testify to their fellowship with God; to pass on an idea for inspiration; but most of all to call attention to God. My writing periods are getting farther apart these days. Then came Sunday, Nov. 8, 1970--the 75th anniversary of the First Baptist Church of Alta Loma, Texas.
Jack and I left our home at 9:15 a.m. to attend this event with our two teenage daughters and Dortha's boyfriend. We planned not to get there early enough to attend Sunday School, but in time for the church service. We made better traveling time than we anticipated, arriving at 10:20. A gentleman greeted us as we walked along the sidewalk around the church and directed us to the kitchen to put up the food we brought for dinner. As he invited us to attend a Sunday School Class, we made the excuse of not wanting to interrupt. We took our food to the kitchen. There, my brother Jerry, the church pastor, met us. Kind people took the food as introductions were made. Our teenagers were sent in a southerly direction after Jerry inspired them with: "We have the greatest program in the world for teenagers. It's NEW! It's DIFFERENT! It's for THEM! We wrote it ourselves." They were eager to get involved.
"Now, how about you and Jack?"
"Oh, we'll just wait around. It's almost over, anyway. We don't want to interrupt" we chorused.
"But you don't know the blessing you'll get. We have the greatest teachers in the world. When I came here, I told them I didn't want anyone teaching in this church who was not a God-called, dedicated teacher. Some dropped out. Those who remained made public their calling. We sure have some consecrated teachers."
Suddenly, I wanted to go to Sunday School! A very strong "urge" insisted that I attend the remaining few minutes. I could see Jack's resentment of the idea. He didn't have to speak--his thoughts were loud enough. My brother was delighted! We walked along the driveway to a bus. "Tillie, your class is meeting in this bus; and Jack, your class is in that old storage shack across the street."
I saw the teacher standing at the front door. "Oh, does the bus have a back door?" I asked. Jerry said, "I'm afraid not" and he was introducing me to the tacher as she welcomed me. I felt like a celebrity. I was JERRY'S sister. A lady beckoned me to sit beside her. Wasn't this great? A church so crowded for space, they used the bus for a classroom! Who could explain why I had to attend Sunday School at that moment? After a few minutes, I knew why the Holy Spirit led me to this place. It was incredible. The teacher, Mrs. Mildred Bethune, was speaking:
"Aren't you thrilled by the reading of Paul's letters?" We were reading from Thessalonians. "When Paul couldn't GO, he WROTE. I work, and the times I have for visiting are not the most convenient times for those I visit. But I could write!" She called out the name of one present, saying, "I'll bet you have forgotten that little note you wrote me a few months ago…but it came at a time I was depressed; and you have no idea how it lifted my spirits. I thank you for it. You'll never know what at blessing you were. So, when we can't visit in person, visit in a letter. God was speaking to me through her. In a flash, incidences down through the years reminisced before me. Tears streamed down my cheeks of all the blessings my writings had been to those God directed me to write to. I was glad the class was having prayer, so I could wipe away my tears, and thank God for His wonderful grace. It was glorious. "Let me have a closer walk with Thee." The prayer was ending, and the Sunday School hour was over.
Jack was waiting as I got off the bus. We walked to the sanctuary. It was filling up fast. We had to sit in chairs added in back of the pews. Our children joined us, but there were not five seats together. They sat on the row behind us. My mother and dad entered. We quickly grabbed the two remaining chairs on our row for them. It was unbelievable: People searching for seats, saving seats for others. More chairs were added in the aisles. Jerry announced there were five seats in the choir for anyone who could hum. Six people walked up. Another folding chair was added to the choir. Chairs were placed out in the lobby for the overflow crowd.
The choir began singing, "WONDERFUL GRACE OF JESUS," often sang by the Billy Graham team. It sure put us in the spirit…"Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus…greater far than all my sin and shame; O magnify the precious name of Jesus; Praise His Name."
Jerry preached from II Peter 1:1 saying, "All we can talk about on a day like this is JESUS, the Son of God," and all the deacons shouted, "AMEN." It was one of the greatest sermons I've ever heard. It was soul searching, inspiring, uplifting…just everything. It brought everyone face to face with God who gave so much for a sinner like me. Jerry asked "Who is Jesus in the Old Testament?" Then he went through the entire Old Testament from Genesis to Malachi quoting chapter and verse of every reference to Christ; and all without looking at notes. It was fabulous.
I looked around this building that housed these wonderful Christians. It was once a Military Chapel. The lights hung from rafters overhead. So did the "central heat"--two stove-like apparatuses, one hanging in front and one in back. The "stained" glass in the windows was not in color as perhaps in your church, but stained with age, bordered at top and sides with faded red drapes. How great the vision of the congregation, as indicated by the new building underway, adjacent to the chapel. Foundation, roof, and most of the sides were constructed.
Where have I heard the words, "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so?" At the close of the invitation, several people publicly professed Jesus as Lord of their life. Jerry asked them to tell what had happened to them today. They voiced their testimony that Jesus had saved them. The congregation shouted, "GLORY!" to welcome them in Christian fellowship. Precious!
The congregation left the sanctuary as the choir sang, "When They Ring Those Golden Bells for You and Me." I prayed, "Oh, Lord, when you call me home, let it be on a day like today, when I am so filled with Your Spirit; when my soul is so full!"
You wouldn't believe the physical feast that awaited us after this spiritual feast. Tables were prepared out under the trees on the future parking lot beside the church. There was every food you could think of. It was fantastic! When everyone was filled to capacity, there was still enough for another like number. The food and fellowship was the next thing to Heaven.
At 2:30, we all gathered under the roof of the new building to have pictures taken. This church has the most dedicated, consecrated choir director. He's wonderful! As soon as the crowd was all in the new tabernacle, he led them in singing "How Great Thou Art." Everyone sang with all their heart, shouting all the way to God's throne. One can only sum up a day like this with "How beautiful Heaven must be."
Many times in my life our church planned special services. I would invite people to come. They made excuses not to. I would be blessed by the planned worship, just as on this day. I'd weep in sadness because those I invited did not come to experience my blessings. Perhaps Jesus wept also when He appeared to the 500 on His last day of resurrection (as Paul told in I Corinthians 15:6) telling them to go to Jerusalem and wait for the Holy Spirit. When that day arrived, only 120 were there (Acts 1:15). 380 missed this tremendous blessing. After-wards, Peter, being filled with the Spirit, preached and led 3,000 to accept Christ (Acts 2:41).
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