Toward the end of his sermon this Sunday morning, Pastor Mike Miller asked for “those who are going to help me with the rest of this sermon” to come on up. Several singers and musicians stepped forward along with two deacons.
The deacons, Chuck and Jim, are well-known and greatly loved by this congregation. They work for the same investment firm, and from everything I hear, are highly successful at what they do. Chuck has chaired most of the important committees in the church (and a few that weren’t!), including the last pastor search team, and Jim presently chairs the church’s stewardship committee. In the 1990s, when he was younger and his jet black hair long, Jim played “Jesus” for several years running in our Christmas pageants. Chuck is married to Christy, and Jim to Sheila.
Mostly it was Jim’s testimony they were telling. Chuck was there because he had a pivotal role in it: He is the one who witnessed to Jim and brought him to the Lord.
When Chuck graduated from Tulane University perhaps 20 years ago, he went to work for this investment company. It was his first and only choice, he says. Since he was green and outspoken in his Christian faith, none of the six veterans on staff–including Jim–wanted anything to do with him. Yet, one of the six would have to mentor and train him.
They drew straws.
Jim won. Or lost, as he felt that day.
Jim and Sheila were party animals. He was making big bucks and living life on his own terms. Long hair, alligator boots (“I had 13 pair!”), and a cabinet stocked with booze. Or maybe it was ostrich boots. Whatever.
During the training, Jim and Chuck were often in their car six hours a day, calling on clients. That’s when Chuck told Jim about Jesus. And challenged Jim’s ignorance about the Savior.
Jim says, “Chuck was not ugly or negative. Instead, just the opposite. He was winsome and made this sound like the greatest life ever.”
Finally, Jim and Sheila came to church. That’s when they discovered that the preacher–me–lived across the street from them. And I called on them.
I sat there this morning listening as Jim told about my visit in their home. Bear in mind now, this was nearly 20 years ago because we moved away from that location in 1994. My memory of the event is hazy at best.
Jim says I presented the gospel. Sure am glad to hear that. No doubt I failed to at other times with other people.
I did not quite get it whether he and Sheila prayed to receive the Lord that night or later in church. But they came back to church next Sunday morning…after a night of partying.
Jim said, “We had partied heavily. But Sunday morning, we got out of bed and put back on the same clothes we’d worn the night before and went to church.”
Jim remembers exactly where they were sitting (“Second row in the balcony, right where Logan Murray is sitting!”) and what I preached that day. When the invitation was given, he was so heavily under conviction and wanted to step forward. “But I didn’t want Sheila to go just because I was.”
As he looked over at her that morning, tears were streaming down Sheila’s face. “Let’s go, Jim,” she said. And they did.
They’ve been incredible members of the church, the finest of friends to so many of us, and have born a solid witness for Christ through these years.
At one point–and none of this came out in today’s service, because it was already past noon and Mike was bringing it all together now–Jim and Sheila bought a frame shop and operated it, hiring people from the church to assist. That’s when they met and became friends with Marshall and Barbara Sehorn.
At one point, Jim (last name: Parrie) had been a rock promoter. And that was Marshall Sehorn’s background. In fact, many years earlier, Marshall had gone into the home of 16-year-old Gladys Knight in Atlanta and signed her and her cousins (“The Pips”) to their first recording contract, then brought them all to New York City for a recording session. (I read about that in Gladys Knight’s autobiography.) Also, Marshall produced an album with Paul McCartney and Wings. In their River Ridge home hangs a huge portrait of himself and Barbara with Paul and Linda McCartney and their daughters.
Jim Parrie invited the Sehorns to our church for the Christmas pageant. I still remember him cautioning me: “They’re very classy people, Brother Joe. Let’s not rush them too much.” And we didn’t. They kept coming, they gave their lives to Christ, and I baptized them both. When they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, Marshall and Barbara renewed their vows with another ceremony and invited the same music crowd that had attended their first ceremony in order to bear a witness to them.
When Marshall Sehorn died three or four years ago, a number of music luminaries were present in the sanctuary and stood and paid tribute to him. One was Cosimo Matassa, at whose Rampart Street studio the very first rock and roll recording was ever made in 1948, according to historians of these things.
Marshall’s widow Barbara can still be found in her pew every Sunday morning. In the balcony, you will find Jim and Sheila Parrie. Not far away sits Chuck and Christy Simmons.
It’s a great technique for a testimony in a worship service. Have two people stand in front, the one with the story of coming to Christ and the one whose witness and invitation God used. Let them go back and forth spontaneously, in a conversation. At the appropriate time, the pastor thanks them, everyone applauds, and the pastor drives home the point they have just made.
In order for a pastor to do this, he has to know the two people intimately of course, and feel confident of their example, their integrity, their testimony.
Nothing in the service was brought out about Jim and Sheila’s reaching the Sehorns. That’s just my own addition to the story. Obviously, that would have added another 10 minutes to the service which was already longer than usual.
One more thought.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, when our Baptist pastors would meet each Wednesday for 3 hours to plan and encourage and pray, I was often inspired by seeing Pastor James “Boogie” Melerine sitting beside Deacon Don Campbell. What was fascinating about that is that these men, both in their late 60s at least, played prominent parts in each other’s story.
Don Campbell used to visit Boogie at his upholstery shop in the downriver community of Poydras, LA, and witness to him. Eventually, Boogie came to church and gave his life to Christ. Later, he was made a deacon in Poydras Baptist Church and then, perhaps in his 60th year, was called to preach. When he took over the leadership of little Delacroix Island Hope Baptist Church, Don and his family went out to assist.
It was a Mr. Kimble, a Chicago shoe-salesman, who led Dwight L. Moody to Christ. A laborer on the Graham dairy farm in Charlotte, encouraged 16-year-old Billy Graham to attend the Mordecai Ham crusade one night by promising he could drive the farm truck the next day.
No one does this alone. We all owe someone (or some ones) a great debt for introducing us to Christ.
Right now, in our community, there are future deacons and pastors and godly parents and other world-changers sitting at home behind closed doors, just waiting for you and me to bring the gospel to them.
Lord, help us to be faithful.