One morning at breakfast over some “million dollar bacon” at First Watch Cafe with socialites :D Ralph and Paula Walker, Mark’s pen was flying as he scratched down (old school style) every congregation all around Florida that Ralph and Paula could think of that we should eventually get around to visiting. Among them was the Chipley church of Christ in northern Florida near the Alabama border. Weeks later, we realized the timing was perfect to visit this congregation, since we’d just spent several productive days just west of Chipley at the Twin Lakes RV Park near DeFuniak Springs where opportunities surfaced left and right to give out copies of Your Fresh Start and the Christian owners of the RV park agreed to make my book available in their gift shop!
When we pulled up for worship, we were happily surprised to see the large size of the congregation, relative to the size of the small town of Chipley. When we walked in, friendly greetings were exchanged — though they had many of us visitors to meet and greet, including about a half dozen singers from Florida College who had performed for some of them the evening before.
As we walked toward an empty pew, Terry and Rosa Nichols snagged us for a quick chat and before we could even sit down, we had been invited to spend time with them that evening for what turned out to be a bi-monthly gathering at the preacher’s house. After a good class on comparing Old Testament prophecies on the predictions of the life of Christ, to New Testament fulfillments of those prophecies, we had our break and the sermon began on the topic of teaching our children. Preacher Darrel Yontz walked us through first “how” we are to teach our children about God’s commandment in Deuteronomy 6:7 “You shall teach them diligently to your children”. He then pointed out “when” of having these open conversations on spiritual topics with our children, “when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (in other words, at every opportunity!), and the very blunt “why” in Proverbs 23:14, and that is to “deliver his soul from hell”. We then explored the benefits the souls of children receive when they open their hearts to receive God’s instructions through their parents in Ephesians 6:1-4 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother," which is the first commandment with promise: "that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth."
Brother Yontz reminded us that often our instruction will be more likely to be persuasive if we treat even our children the way we ourselves would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12), that is, with love (Ephesians 5:25; Titus 2:4; 1 Corinthians 13), kindness, gentleness, and humility (1 Peter 3:7; Colossians 4:6). We are to set a good example in all things, including being “still” inside, especially in periods of chaos so we can show our children how to feel and know that “God is God” even during the storms of life. And lastly, we must realize and teach our children that true knowledge comes from listening attentively to God so that we can gain an understanding of His wisdom, to be able to use that spiritual wisdom to make better decisions. Clearly, this congregation treasured the souls of its children— the topic of the sermon showed such to be so.
After the closing prayer, announcements were given. I found this to be a brilliant idea that lends more flexibility as to what kinds of announcements can be made and by whom. In addition, they had created a handy, blank announcement document that could be filled out and passed on to whoever was making the announcements. At the end of the announcements, the same brother, Terry Nichols, who had invited us to the evening gathering, stood up and with much emotion expressed the deep joy, gratitude, and relief he was feeling for having seen, for the first time at this worship service, the new, and much loved little baby boy whom the congregation had collectively poured out such exceptionally earnest prayers for regarding his healthy development and delivery. Truly, the love this congregation has for their little ones is from the heart.
We were offered some afternoon hospitality between morning and evening worship by Tom and Virgie Bowen — so kind of them, especially given the fact they had just housed the young men from the college who had come to town to sing and encourage the local youth. In the Bowen’s living room, we shared stories and got to know one another while Mark washed the Airstream. When he finished, he came in and I went out and napped in the van while he took a turn enjoying their good company.
After evening worship, we joined this happy church family for the delicious Mexican food Rhenea Yontz and others had cooked for the crowd, then had a great family conversation with a houseful on the importance of habitually being still and silent every day while listening to God, that is, reading the word and being devoted to prayer. It was so encouraging to share each one’s little tips and hear the blessings our brethren had experienced in the course of being disciplined in this treasured corner of their lives.
As we said our goodbyes, I learned how Rhenea managed to care for her bedridden father while juggling regular Sunday night gatherings in her home with the youth (who happily stay until the wee hours if there’s something pressing that needs counsel), along with parenting classes, ladies classes, marriage classes — whatever is needed. I commended her for somehow wrangling the energy of a 30-year-old with all they have going on in their congregation, and she just giggled. They do a lot of that around this congregation. I mean a lot.
On a side note, one thing we giggled over was that earlier in the day, after the sermon, Mark mentioned the preacher had in the past preached full-time for a congregation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Only then did I realize I had actually stayed in Darrel and Rhenea’s home one night with my friend Stephanie Merrill on the aforementioned 11,300 mile, 57-day journey in 2017 we called the “Only God'' road trip. How could I have forgotten?! We had arrived at the Yontz’s late that night, having crested a mountain, not expecting to see the vastness of the beautiful city lights of Albuquerque below and after a great night’s sleep, the next morning Darrel showed us some samples of long rectangular polymers that we could choose from that he then took out to his garage and returned with pretty little pens he’d somehow instantly made out of them. In fact, I had that very pen in my purse the whole time I was listening to him preach, thinking I’d not met him before. Ha! #brainfreeze
Chipley church of Christ
1295 Brickyard Road
Chipley, FL 32428