Saturday night in North Mississippi as I sketched couples attending the church banquet where I would soon speak, the woman said, “You are from Alabama?”
She said, “We’re from Alabama. Winston County.”
I said, “I’m from Winston County. Graduate of Winston County High School at Double Springs.”
She said, “We’re from Haleyville.” A much bigger town at the edge of the county.
We chatted about that, making connections. Afew minutes later, she was back.
“Your Facebook profile says you are from Nauvoo, Alabama.” A small town to the south in Walker County.
I said, “We lived five miles out of Nauvoo on a rural route. But I never lived in Nauvoo itself. We lived just inside Winston County, which meant we went to high school in Double Springs instead of Carbon Hill.”
Later, I changed the note on Facebook to say my hometown is Double Springs. Which it isn’t, of course. In one sense, I have no home town, having grown up in the open country, some 13 miles from Jasper, AL and 10 miles from Double Springs. And not only that….
It was the big city of Birmingham that really left its mark on me. I graduated from Birmingham-Southern College and am the product of nearby West End Baptist Church (which gave me my baptism, my wife, my call, my ordination, and my wedding). My first-born child arrived at the old West End Baptist Hospital. I worked downtown during college and in Tarrant City for two years afterwards. My first pastorate was 25 miles north of the city.
In a very real sense Birmingham is my hometown.
While the plane was stopped in Little Rock to pick up passengers, I went up in the first-class section and visited with George Lindsey (“Goober” of Mayberry fame). Knowing he was from Jasper, AL, and trying to make a connection, I told him, “I’m from Jasper.” After a few sentences, he saw through that in a hurry and said, “You’re from Nauvoo. Why did you say you’re from Jasper?” I was embarrassed, but he let me off with a warning. (Actually, we had a nice visit. Great guy.)
Saul was from Tarsus so they called him that: Saul of Tarsus. But in a very real sense, he was Paul of Damascus. Or Jerusalem.
Jacob was of Bethel. That’s where he met the Lord and had his life changed.
Jesus was from Heaven. He told Nicodemus, “No one has been to Heaven except the One who came from there, even the Son of Man,” referring to Himself (John 3:13).
Jesus of Heaven. It was HIs hometown. When He spoke of it, He was talking about places and people He knew. He is the ultimate authority on Heavenly things.
He said to Nicodemus, “If you do not believe when I speak to you of earthly things, how will you believe when I tell you about Heavenly things?” (3:12) How indeed?
Everyone else has an opinion on Heaven. Every religious leader had something to say about Heaven. But Jesus was different.
This Man knows.
That’s why we make so much of Him.
Btw, we who are in Christ have dual citizenship, according to Philippians 3:20. So, in a sense, I’m “Joe of Heaven.” Although I’ve never actually been to my new home. But it’s mine, “prepared for me from the foundation of the world” said our Lord in Matthew 25:34.
My identity is not of this world, even though it has left its considerable mark on me. I am “seated with Christ in the heavenlies” (Ephesians 2:6).
I hope people look at me and hear my talk and recognize that. My fear is that they would say of me what they said of Peter, “Your speech betrays you” (Matthew 26:73).
Help me, Father, that people would think of Thee when they come to know me.