Friday, May 20, 2011

My Friend, Thomas

Funeral for Thomas Monroe
(written by Jeremiah Tatum and read by Shane Hughes)

Let me begin by saying that I am heartbroken that I cannot be here in person on this occasion. Thomas is one of my very closest personal friends. I made a solemn commitment, that along with Andy Brown, I would conduct his funeral if God’s will allowed for it. I love Thomas and I would do anything for him. Every time I have visited him over the past few months, he has reminded me that he wanted me to do is funeral, and to make sure to get Andy, too. When I have come back to Lawrenceburg since moving to Cookeville, going to see Thomas was as important to me as going to see my own parents. As I am away for two weeks in New Zealand on a mission trip, this letter is the only way I can keep my promise. Of all the funerals I have conducted over the last 15 years, there is none I am more honored to be involved in than this one. There is only one Thomas Monroe.

I was not just Thomas’s preacher over the last 8 years. I was his companion. We counseled each other. We went fishing together. We ate breakfast quite often. We sat and visited all the time. He taught me about commitment, kindness, patience, goodness, honesty, hard-work – and just about everything that involves the fruits of the spirit.

Thomas would talk about his wife of more than 40 years. He told me about how when they got married they had a bed that was made from straw they had gathered and put together on their wedding night. Times were tough and they had to make due. But they loved each other and they were totally committed to each other. They worked hard and gave their children the best life they could. He loved her so much. When she passed so suddenly it was the toughest moment of his life.

He would talk about Iva Dean, to whom he was married after his first wife’s death. When I first met Thomas, his life consisted of getting up and going to see Iva Dean in the hospital. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s. He would go in the morning and brush her teeth and hair. He would feed her. He would sit with her. He would go home for lunch and return and take care of her until the evening came. He took care of her that way every single day for 5 years until she passed away. It never bothered him because he loved her no matter what. When she passed away I still remember all of the nurses that came from NHC Brink to see him. They loved Thomas and they saw his love for his wife every day. They respected him.

I remember a couple of my favorite stories from early on in his life. When he was about 15 (during the depression) he went to a music contest down at a little crossroads between Lawrenceburg and Pulaski. It was opened to the public with the grand prize going to the winner. He played his harmonica. He made it sing and the people loved it. He won the grand prize! – It was a brand new pair of socks! He was very proud of them at the time. He was probably the only person anywhere around during those difficult times who had new socks!

A few years later when he was playing in a band with some of his friends, they played for a big shindig and got paid $10 (not each but the whole group). That was so much money. They all bought new clothes, and ate at a nice restaurant, and had money left over. They thought they had hit the big-time.

No man worked harder than Thomas Monroe. He took extra jobs. He traveled for jobs. He picked cotton and worked the fields for years. No man could stand a chance of picking more bushels of apples in one day than Thomas. He could climb the tops of trees and pick apples just like a monkey. I am convinced that his longevity had a lot to do with all of his years of honest labor and honest living. He did not smoke. He did not drink. His words were pure and good and seasoned with salt. If he borrowed something, he would return it back sooner than he promise and in better shape than when he borrowed it. If he owed any rent he would pay it early and he would track you down to make sure you got it on time. If you wanted to model yourself after a good man, if you wanted to see Christ in a man, you need look no further than Thomas Monroe.

We had a lot religious conversations. We talked a good deal about the Bible. Thomas knew about the true church, the plan of salvation, and what it meant to be a Christian. He had become a Christian the way the Bible says. He worshiped the way the Bible says. He lived the way the Bible says. He especially loved the New Testament. Over the last few years of his life he read through the New Testament several times. I remember one visit where he told me he was feeling really bad about his spiritual life because at that time he had not been reading the Bible like he should. He asked me to pray with him that God would forgive him for that and so I did. He recommitted himself to reading it. He was 89 at that time. I was reminded to be recommitted myself. If an 89 year-old Christian still understood that he had more to learn, and that he could be closer to God than he already was, then certainly a 34 year-old preacher could do the same.

As I write this from Wellington, New Zealand it is 5:49 PM on Friday here. I am thinking about something very personal that would like to share with all of you. What brought Thomas into my life, is the same thing that keeps me from being present today at his funeral. And this is why I am literally half-way across the world. It is not enough in life just to be kind to people, you have to truly love them with all of your heart. It is not enough just to wish the best for people, you have to love their soul enough to make a difference in their eternity. So what I am saying is don’t afraid to extend yourself and don’t be afraid to build close personal relationships with people. Thomas and I became knit together life David and Jonathan. We shared things together that only people with a very close relationship can share. We will keep special things between each other that nobody can understand or know. Thomas allowed me to have a friend like no other friend I have ever had. I know what to means to be his friend, and how honored that we both felt to be special friends to each other.

Thomas, I am sorry cannot be there today. I can assure you that you have been here with me. I have shed many tears over the last several days. I know I still have many more to shed because I will miss you. I want to say thank you for making every visit not be church work – but instead it was a pleasure and I always looked forward to seeing you. Thank you for exhorting me and encouraging me as a preacher. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for the very special way that you trusted in me. Thank you for laughing with me when we talked about life and for telling me stories. Thank you for crying with me when things were not going so well for one of us. Thank you for showing me how to treat others like Jesus would. Thank you for showing me that the greatest and most noble life involves hard-work, humility, and commitment. Thank you for mornings at Hardees and Taste of the Town. Thank you for going fishing with me. Thank you for always being at worship even when you didn’t feel like it. Thank you for sweet words and smiles whenever you talked about my wife and kids. Thank you most of all Thomas, for being the very best friend a young man could ever have. I love you and I will miss you very much. But by the grace of God I know I will see you soon.

I could think of 1000 verses of Scripture that could capture something about the kind of man Thomas Monroe was, but one verse I believe sums it up the best. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23).

Heaven is going to be sweeter because Thomas Monroe will meet me there. Thomas was not just a good man, he was a good Christian man. And he was not just good, but I think ------he was great!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Coming Home

This Sunday marks our first ever "Coming Home" at the Willow Avenue church of Christ. The idea originates from my grandfather, who has been preaching the gospel for 62 years. He saw the need, whenever he began a new work, to invite back all of the people who once worshiped in the church where he had recently become a minister.

In a local congregation things are going to change. People may leave and go to other churches. They move away for jobs or for school. Sometimes they leave and go into a false hope. Sometimes they just allow life to get in the way and they find themselves not going anywhere anymore.

This "Coming Home" is happening for a reason. It is an opportunity for our members to invite their family and friends to worship. It is an opportunity for the church to welcome back all of those who were once members who are not with us anymore. But above all, it is a reminder that God loves us and wants to be our God. Like parents whose children have grown up and moved on with their lives, nothing makes Him happier than to see His family together.

I may not know your current spiritual situation, but I do know one thing. I know that I love you, and that I want you to enjoy the life God has given you and the life He wants to give you eternally. I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that I believe the Willow Avenue church loves you, and wants you to be a part of this family.

We are not perfect, but we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. We are simply trying every day to learn and live and teach what the Bible truly teaches. We want to know what it says. We want to live what it says. We want to be a blessing to others. We want to glorify God.

A great gospel preacher I knew used to say, "In order to go to heaven I must..."

1. Become a Christian like the Bible says
2. Worship like the Bible says
3. Live like the Bible says

I believe this. This approach glorifies God and it allows us to sincerely be His people.

I want to thank you, today, for coming home. God loves you. He sent His Son to die for you. He was raised so that you could come home forever. May we ever have as our most sincere and earnest possession, a heart that longs to be at home with God.

"And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him." ~ Luke 15:20

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How Should A Christian Respond?

Osama Bin Laden is dead. He was a terrorist of the worst kind. He was a murderer. He was a plotter. He was a deceiver. He was enemy number one to America and arguably the majority of the world for the last ten years. His execution was warranted. His demise was a blessing. But in the midst of it all, how should people who wear the name of Jesus respond?

1. The initial reaction should be relief. When Nero died, I imagine this is how early Christians felt. He opposed God and the church. He wanted to kill every person who exalted the name of Christ. He lit his gardens at night with burning Christians. There can be no doubt that early members of the Lord's church were relieved when this terrorist in their lives was no longer able to hurt them or their families anymore.

2. The secondary response should be sadness. Osama Bin Laden died outside of Christ. Even worse, he made himself an enemy of God. The first Scripture that came to my mind, when I saw people dancing in the streets in Washington D.C. was Ezekiel 33:11 - "'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live'..." I found other friends of mine soon writing about and thinking about this exact verse. There is nothing wrong with people who are in the military, or who have family in the military, or who have lost someone on 9/11 being jubilant over a victory that has cost them so much. But when common people, who regularly show their disdain for America and sometimes for God, decide to party at the death of a person who has lost his soul, how can our loving and merciful Father be pleased? How can such a reaction show the world that we are a people who love souls and desire peace?

3. The third feeling should be that of thanksgiving. This thanksgiving should not be misplaced. We should primarily be thankful to God, who has proven once again that He will destroy every work of darkness and work by His providence in our lives. We should next be thankful to the people in our military, who sacrifice a normal existence, are separated from their families, and who daily put their lives on the line so we can be free. No politics, please. No Christian will ever seek an advantage at the cost of another. If we are ever to boast in any death, let it be in the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

I will admit it. I am so thankful that Bin Laden is gone. But I pray to God that my reasons for these feelings are pleasing to Him. I know that the real enemies we face are the spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph. 6:12). I know that other terrorists abound.

May God help us to be a people of love, joy, and peace.

"But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." ~ Galatians 6:14