by Frieda Cowling
I cannot remember a time when I did not go to church and love it. This is not because of my spirituality, but it is because of my parent’s example as I grew up in their home. They went to church “every time the doors were open” and enjoyed it. I can honestly say I never heard my parents say a critical word about a pastor or the church. I never remember asking my father if I could stay home from church. He wouldn’t have allowed it, but I don’t remember having a desire to stay home. I believe this philosophy is supported by the Bible, and my husband and I have tried to rear our children in the same way. “O love the Lord, all ye his saints: for the Lord preserveth the faithful, and plentifully rewardeth the proud doer.” (Psalm 31:23)
“Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.” (Psalms 101:6)
“As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters.” (Proverbs 25:13)
“A faithful man shall abound with blessings: but he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent.” (Proverbs 28:20)
My parents lived the following principles that taught me to be faithful:
God Was the Center of Our Lives and Home.
If there was a conflict between school or outside activities and church, we went to church. I remember one time in high school when my high school basketball coach scheduled a practice on Thanksgiving morning and made it clear that he expected everyone to attend. Our church was the only one in town that had a Thanksgiving service, and it was scheduled during the practice time. When I mentioned the practice to my dad he said, “You will be at the Thanksgiving service.” I could tell there would be no further discussion on this issue. My coach didn’t bring it up again either, and I played the next game.
My Parents Enjoyed Church and Never made Excuses for Being Unfaithful.
My father lived and died in Madisonville, Tennessee. He had nine brothers and sisters, and most of them lived nearby. Sunday afternoon was “family visiting time.” We had a large house and yard, and I remember many summer Sunday afternoons spent making homemade ice cream and playing outdoor games with cousins. However, my dad would say, “We will be going to church in a half hour.” He was saying to my brother and me, “Go inside and change for church regardless of how much fun you are having.” He was saying to our company, “You may go to church or go home.” I don’t believe my father ever considered staying home from church to entertain anyone.
My Father Was Faithful to Church.
Dad always went early so he could greet everyone. He was faithful as a deacon, Sunday school teacher, and song leader; he never wavered in faithfulness to everything.
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At age 17 I went away to a Christian college and was away from home for the first time in my life. I thought everyone there would be faithful to church as I had been taught. I was shocked when I asked my roommate what time she wanted to go to Sunday school and she answered, “I don’t go to Sunday school.” (I remember thinking, “You didn’t have a dad like mine.”)
I walked from room to room on my floor trying to find someone to walk the two blocks to the local Baptist church the next morning. No luck! By this time Satan was telling me that college students did not need Sunday school and my father was wrong. I must have seemed discouraged as I came back to the room because my roommate said, “I’ll go to church with you at 11:00 a.m.”
I thought, “That will be better than going alone to Sunday school.”
Satan had painted a picture for me of a Sunday school room filled with children…and me, the only college student there. I set the alarm for 9:00 a.m. and thought, “My father will never have to know.”
However, the next morning I awakened at 7:30 a.m. and could not go back to sleep. I kept thinking, “I wonder how my dad would feel if he knew I was sleeping through Sunday school.” I loved my dad with all of my heart, and I never wanted to disappoint him. Then I thought, “I wonder how God will punish me for skipping Sunday school.” Finally, I decided it was ridiculous to lay in bed and worry, so I got up and went alone to Sunday school.
When I got there I found the devil was a liar—as he always is. There were many other college students there. I decided then that I would never listen to him again—not because of my love for God or desire to be faithful but because of my father’s example.
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No Criticism of the Church or God’s Man Was Allowed in Our Home.
My father believed in God’s calling a pastor to serve a church. Just as he had called a man to a church, God could call a pastor to another place; and we were not to “help out God” by criticizing or faultfinding. My dad was deacon chairman, and some people were trying to get rid of a pastor when I was a child. Some people were in church that night that I had not seen there for years. Before a vote could be called, my dad walked to the pulpit and said, “I move this meeting be adjourned.” A second followed, and my dad walked down the aisle and out the front door of the church. No one knew what to do so they all went home, and the pastor stayed.
My Dad Stressed Faithfulness to Church Because the Man of God Was Teaching Truth We Needed.
We were not allowed to misbehave, to talk with our friends during the service, or to sit in the back row or balcony. My parents sang in the choir, so my brother and I sat in the center on the second seat from the pulpit. One Sunday morning, my brother and his friend were poking each other during the sermon. I saw my father staring at him from the choir, but my brother was too busy having fun to notice. Several minutes passed, and I heard a sound from the choir. My dad walked from the choir in his black choir robe and stood by the end of my brother’s pew. He motioned for my brother to stand and follow him. The pastor stopped preaching, and 200 eyes followed my father and brother as they walked out. A few minutes later, we heard my father apply the “board of education to the seat of knowledge.” My brother, to my knowledge, never misbehaved in church again.
In retrospect, I learned faithfulness from my father’s example. It was a lesson that was more “caught than taught.” He had a joy in his life that I wanted.