As we neared Monticello, Florida I had heaven on the brain.
You know we're all nomads, you and I, (Hebrews 11:13) and something I'd just observed had me pondering where every believer's Grand Adventure ultimately lands. This train of thought had originated from a stop on the way to Monticello to explore Blue Spring in Madison, Florida.
When we parked, we noticed a Canadian license plate, something we hadn’t seen during this quest, due to the borders being closed for well over a year to try to slow the spread of the COVID virus.
I had always wanted to see the brilliant shades of blues and green in these kinds of springs, but it wasn’t until we stumbled upon a ranger there on an observation deck overlooking the spring who was waiting for some divers to safely surface, that we learned that about 30 feet below the colorful pool was a maze of cave passages that certified cave divers from across the globe come to Madison to explore. Eventually we saw the bubbles from the tanks of a couple of these divers surfacing, and as they rested by the deck stairs later, we could hear them talking about their dive. I can only imagine the beauty of what they may have witnessed!
As we hiked around the lake, I kept thinking to myself that the pristine hues of the clean water I was seeing seemed to me to be perhaps the closest thing I would ever see, on this side of eternity, to the "a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb"(Revelation 22:1).
It was dark by the time we pulled our conspicuous, big black van into the parking lot of the Monticello church of Christ. This warm church family welcomed us with such interest that it was hard to get all our initial conversations in before Bible class was to begin.
After a lively and lighthearted drill to name the primary content of each chapter in Genesis, we landed on chapter 25 for the duration of the class, and shared ideas of how we could prevent in our own lives, falling into the moral traps, and bearing the inevitable painful ripple effects that Issac, Rebekah, Jacob and Esau fell into, including such things as favoritism, manipulation, exploitation, deception and lack of foresight.
It was a conversation that many in the class participated in and a very useful class for everyone, given the fact that we had, every one of us, been guilty of the many of the same sins that tripped up our spiritual forefathers.
The brother who lead our thoughts toward the end of hour together presented the solution to all that entrapment with an entry from Gary Henry’s book “Obeying The Gospel”, entitled “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”. It read:
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2
Paul was grateful for his brethren in Corinth, but he was worried about them.. they had divided into factions, each group following its favorite teacher of the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). This kind of sectarianism was very common in cities like Corinth, of course, where the public forum was filled with philosophers, orators, and teachers - each wooing followers by showing himself to be more on the intellectual cutting edge than the others.
Yet this was the very kind of attractiveness Paul had tried to avoid. "I decided," he said, "to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." And his reason was both clear and practical: "My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom...so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:4,5).
"Jesus Christ": It is hard for human reason to accept the fact that the Creator of the universe took human form in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, but that is exactly what the gospel affirms. Only once in history did such a thing happen- and having happened, the Person in whom it happened, Jesus, is now the One through whom God is offering to reconcile human beings to Himself.
"And Him crucified": When God became a man, He did so in order to die for our sins. It was not to be a great prophet or a perfect moral example but to die an atoning death that God entered our world as a human being. Speaking of Himself, Jesus said, "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). So the gospel is not just the message of Christ; it is the message of Christ crucified. If God, in the person of Jesus Christ, did not die for our sins, then we are still lost.
We come to Christ, accepting His invitation, we come empty-handed, recognizing our own insufficiency and lack of power to procure our own salvation. But more than that, we come yielding to His decision as to our greatest need. Whatever other gifts our "wisdom" might say are more needful, we are content to receive that for which He was crucified: the forgiveness of our sins."
"Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to thy cross I cling"
Augustus Montague Toplady”
As we stood to sing, it was to me an invitation to everyone present to see for themselves for all eternity something much more beautiful than what I had seen earlier that day. It was an invitation to loose our feet from the chains we often forge ourselves, to be set free from the resulting chaos, and one fine day to see for themselves the "...river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:1).
As we stood to sing the following song, we were, in essence, asking God to awaken our hearts and minds so that we can be forever focused on that glorious moment when we are reunited with Him throughout eternity.
"Light The Fire
I stand to praise You,
But I fall to my knees.
My spirit is willing,
But my flesh is so weak.
Light the fire
In my soul,
In my weary soul
Fan the flame,
Make me whole.
Make my spirit whole
Lord, You know
Oh Lord You know
Just where I've been,
Where I've been
So light the fire in my heart again.
I feel Your arms around me,
As the power of Your healing begins.
You breathe new life right through me,
Like a mighty rushing wind.
So light the fire in my heart again,
Light the fire in my heart again,
Light the fire in my heart again."
After Nathan Peeler’s great class, as we lingered to connect and better know these brethren a little better, it was encouraging to hear how the men were gathering regularly to pray together, how they were helping one another in this way or that and how some were driving substantial distances to worship with this church family.
As we chatted over the big and little things in life, many shared with us their ideas for things we could see and do in the area, including joining them to watch a small-town, lighted holiday parade later in the week. By the time we parted ways, we even had an invitation from Sandra and Jerry Boltz to "moochdock" on their property. We sensed these brethren wanted to extend their time with us as much as they could --- a quality that is so key to a congregation's growth.
We took them up on their offer, treating them to a Mexican dinner out, to express our gratitude for their eagerness to show hospitality to strangers (the very day before they had more company coming in!).
When we woke up on their 5 acres early the next morning there was a rare, picturesque blanket of fog lingering silently among the trees. Jerry made us a hot breakfast, and as we sat around the dining table we discussed things many would only entrust only to a therapist.
Later on the porch Sandra and I were still sharing our thoughts when their next houseguests arrived, whom we also got to know through long, open conversation.
Anticipating our long drive ahead of us to the Twin Lakes at DeFuniak Springs, we gifted to both couples as many copies of Your Fresh Start as they thought they could give out in one year to whatever friends and family they wanted to draw near to God and then said our good-byes with a promise to stop in any time we were back in the area to visit again these beautiful people with such open hearts.
Monticello Church of Christ
475 S. Jefferson Street
Monticello, Florida 32344