My Dad had a great heart for the Lord. He and Mom had been attending church after they were married on December 8, 1956. Mom was a Christian, but Dad had not yet trusted Christ as His personal Savior.
Several years ago my Mom told me an interesting story about how my father came to salvation. One evening one of Mom’s friends from church came by the house a few weeks after I was born in May of 1958 and visited with her. She said, “Linda, you and Cotton are already coming to church, but I want to encourage you to come regularly. You have a new baby and it is so important for you to have your family in church”.
This spoke deeply to my Mom’s heart and she encouraged Dad to attend services faithfully with the entire family – and he did. It was shortly after this that he came to faith in Christ.
Though I do not remember these events I did see the clear evidence in his life that he was a Christian in the years to come. Whenever a person is born again there is a change in their life that is real. It lasts because it happens in the heart and is not just behavioral modification which only lasts until one gets tired of reforming themselves without the strength to change.
The Bible speaks to this reality – “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27) This is what happened to my Dad in 1958. Let me highlight a few areas where I saw a genuine transformation in my Dad’s life.
One area in which I noted his love for God was that he wanted to attend church. Dad never sent us to church, he took us to church as a family. Though Mom told me that early in their marriage church attendance was not consistent, that was never true as I grew up. For our family it was the old adage, “we went every time the doors were open”. Our schedule as a family was centered around the events at church. And we all enjoyed it.
Dad loved the Word of God. I saw him read it faithfully and it was his discipline to do so that created in me a desire to do the same. His Bibles were well-worn, marked by his pen having underlined specific verses, and the names of speakers written by the passages from which they preached. I recall sitting by him many, many times in church with his open Bible on his lap following along with the speaker. In later years we would travel to other churches in the area to hear preachers we knew.
I knew my father loved the Lord because of his prayer life. We prayed before meals at home and in restaurants, but I am not talking so much about these prayers. Our church had a special prayer meeting on Saturday nights at 9 p.m. and I came along with Dad to this meeting when I was a teenager. We also had a prayer meeting on Sunday afternoon before church and I was with Dad during this hour. So, I heard him pray frequently during these prayer meetings.
One of the most common memories people share of my father is listening to him pray. When Dad prayed there was a sincere pathos in his voice. It was not a mechanical, dry recitation, but the expression of a heart that was burdened. He often wept as he prayed. I will always remember how He addressed God as he prayed; Dad called Him “Master”. These are special memories for me.
My father loved to sing about the Lord. He sang in the choir for a period of time and he had a good voice. Dad was an usher, too, and served in the foyer of the church helping late-arriving guests be seated.
Once I had to see Dad about something during the song service and I went back into the foyer to find him. My father was standing in a semi-circle of men around an open song book singing with the congregation and Dad was holding the song book. That is a sacred spot for me when I visit my home church. I love to go in the back of the church in the foyer and stand there and remember Dad singing with other men as unto the Lord.
Most mornings when I was a teenager the way I was awakened was by my Dad singing! He would sing all sorts of gospel songs and hymns. And he wasn’t singing to wake us up, he was singing to the Lord. Many times he echoed a positive attitude early in the morning by singing, “Oh, what a beautiful morning; oh, what a beautiful day. I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way”.
Dad loved his pastors and other preachers. As I grew up I never heard my father speak negatively about our pastor or other preachers. I’m sure that if he had done so that I never would have surrendered my life to be a preacher. He supported them and it made a difference in my life.
In the early years of my current ministry we went through some very difficult financial struggles. The church had a lot of debt and things were very, very tight. I was very young as a pastor (in my late 20’s) and the pressure caused me to be discouraged deeply sometimes.
I would confide in my Dad about my fears and concerns. His words in those times still ring in my ears, “Son, you just keep on telling people about Jesus and winning souls and everything will be all right”. His encouragement to be faithful to what God had called me to do helped me to stay by the stuff. And he was right. Everything turned out all right.
These are such simple thoughts, but the most profound thing about them is that if you were to ask my Mom, or my sister and brother, they would vouch for everything that I have written. He was the real deal! Dad loved the Lord with all of his heart and it was so obvious and genuine that it touched all of our lives. May my own children and grandchildren be able to say the same of me one day!