Last Sunday I preached for the 210th homecoming at Poplar Springs North Baptist Church near Dublin, where Cecil Clegg is the transitional pastor.
There was a great spirit in the church. They love Cecil and appreciate his leadership. The fellowship was convivial. The homecoming meal was accented with fried chicken, fresh vegetables, and a sumptuous, luscious, mouth-watering coconut cake – one of a plethora of tempting desserts.
Glenn Cowart, music pastor, did a masterful job with the choir, special music, and played “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” on a soprano saxophone during the offertory. Sidney Bechet, the supreme aficionado of the instrument, never played his soprano sax better. The congregation was also led in singing “When We All Get to Heaven” with Glenn playing the banjo for that hymn. It was fabulous!
As we were singing “When We All Get to Heaven” I realized that am rarely in a church service when songs, hymns, and choruses are sung about heaven. Are such songs just a throwback from the past?
I like “I Can Only Imagine” written by Bart Millard for the band MercyMe, but it has been almost 20 years since it was first released. It was inspired by the death of Bart’s father and speaks of what it would be like in heaven and to be standing before God.
But when I was a boy I remember singing many songs about heaven in our worship services. “The Unclouded Day,” “In the Sweet By and By,” “When the Morning Comes,” “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown,” “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder,” and “When I Can Read My Title Clear” were all common fare in church services in days gone by.
My parents lived through the Great Depression, which started in 1929 and lasted a decade. I am told that shantytowns appeared across the U.S. as unemployed people were evicted from their homes. My grandfather was a pastor and got paid in chickens and produce, if he got paid at all. Times were tough!
The U.S. stock market crashed in 1929 and the widespread failure of the American banking system destroyed society’s confidence in the nation’s economy. Fear and desperation became the order of the day and people dreamed of a better world. They went to church seeking hope and solace and sang about a place “where all is peace and joy and love, and the soul of man never dies.”
Hard on the heels of the Great Depression came World War II, the most devastating and destructive global conflict in history. Over 50 million soldiers and civilians died. When Japan, an ally to Germany, bombed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 their actions awaken a sleeping giant and the U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war on Japan and Germany.
When the United States entered the war there was a significant impact on the economy and the workforce of the nation. Whereas the unemployment rate had been hovering around 25 percent, it dropped to almost 10 percent overnight. American factories were retooled to produce goods to support the war effort and women went to work to fill jobs traditionally held by men.
But the men went into the military and during WWII there were 16 million personnel serving. There were 291,557 who died in the war effort and 1,076,246 casualties. My dad was among those men in the U.S. military and I remember going to church with my mom and hearing of men in our small town who had been killed or wounded in battle. Once again, we sang about a place “where all is peace and joy and love, and the soul of man never dies.”
We don’t sing those songs much any more. And, it doesn’t seem like very many contemporary Christian songs speak of the glories of heaven. Maybe it is because we have gotten so comfortable down here that we don’t think much about things of an eternal nature.
We keep feathering our nest, thinking that this is as good as it gets. But I recently posted on Facebook these words, “Compared to what the Bible says about heaven our life in this world is like a night in a second-class, roach-infested hotel.”