The Church of my roots – the one I attended until my early teens – could best be described as country. The building was about 75 miles north of downtown Atlanta, GA back when 75 miles was a long way to go.
There were no straight roads and all the little towns had either a blinking light (requiring one at least slow down) or a 4-way stop sign which, in the South, meant 2 or more cars sat endlessly as the drivers smiled and tried to use a royal wave to get the other car to go first. We’re talking a 90 minute drive from Atlanta, easy.
Back then, 90 minutes or 75 miles was a decade or more on the culture-shift calendar!
Our Church was a family Church in the truest sense: 3 families to be exact. Two of the families had purchased pianos for the Church so, depending on who was leading the singing (the pre-sermon portion of the liturgy), the featured family and their piano was celebrated in song.
The seats were not theater-style nor padded pews. They were benches – huge, hard, difficult to sleep on. And, they had been treated – sometime before WW II – with a glaze that left them eternally sticky. Add warm, humid days and every time folks would stand there was a sound like a mighty, rushing wind (if such a wind sounds like 50 people standing from their leather recliners on the back porch, wearing nothing but short pants!). I can still feel the peel!!
We usually met in the daytime. But, when we did have night meetings they were memorable. We were way too rural for chandeliers. Instead, we had 5 big, yellow, light bulbs (pronounced ‘bubs’) hanging from 10ft-long, braided electrical cords right down the middle of the ceiling. When the wind blew, those bulbs would sway creating terrifying images on the walls.
Our worship services did not include a choir or praise team. It was usually a matter of singing songs, taking up an offering (which was the pastors pay of the day), and listening to a sermon.
The songs were from the Southern Gospel genre. I don’t know how familiar blog-readers are with Southern Gospel Music. But, if you have cable, you likely have at least 1 station which broadcasts Bill Gaither’s Homecoming programs nearly as much as USA plays NCIS. Those artists are mostly Southern Gospel.
I think of it as feel good music. Even when the words of a song made you feel guilty, you walked away from it sure (at an emotional level) that it felt right to feel guilty – at least just then.
Generally, the music makes you tap your toes and bob your head. And, whether inclined to enjoy that kind thing or not, you’ll likely find a smile creeping across your face at some point. It is happy music.
One of the quartets of lore was The Statler Brothers. If you know old-school country music, you might know these guys. They have been inducted into both the Country Music and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.
One of their early songs was titled: “I’m Feeling Fine,” words/music by Mosie Lister.
The song is a ballad, telling the story of a guy who wakes up feeling fine. As he thinks about why he’s feeling fine he identifies things like:
- ‘Joy in my soul’
- A sense that ‘the LORD had control’
- A peaceful confidence that he was ‘walking in the light’
- Knew he had ‘been on his knees in the night’
- and he had ‘Heaven on my mind’
There is, of course, much more to the story. But the long and short of it is, this guy feels fine precisely because he finds his mind is occupied with heaven.
The song likely referred to the sweet bye and bye hopes of a post-depression era people (as my folks were). It was about thinking of another place.
As Colossians 3 opens, Holy Spirit wrote something similar: “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (Col 3:1-2, NLT)
I’ve contemplated these verses lately. And, I have found myself thinking more of heaven… not merely as a place where I will go after I die (as my pastors in that wonderful little Church so often reminded us). But as a bona-fied, here-and-now reality; a different dimension than the one I move about in to-be-sure, but so much more real than this one.
A dimension where (as Jesus prayed), the Father’s will is always done. A dimension where, as Paul wrote, Jesus reigns in the place of honor at our Father’s right hand. A present Kingdom with a reigning King.
Holy Spirit has been calling me to stop spending so much mental energy on trying to fix my world and start exercising a little more faith by meditating on that other world… not just a world to come, but a world that is.
Here’s what I’ve found: when I spend hours on the problems of my current world, I walk away exhausted – frustrated – broken-hearted – discouraged – hopeless. But, when I invest those hours thinking differently (as Rom 12:2 advises) I walk away inspired – energized – trusting – expecting – encouraged – and hopeful.
It turns out Mosie Lister, the Statler Brothers, and my little country Church were right: when I think of heaven I wake up feeling fine.