Summary: The church nurtures us as we grow in Christian maturity.

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First Presbyterian Church

Wichita Falls, Texas

November 7, 2011

Witness to the Resurrection

Joe W. Thompson

(September 1, 1923 – November 3, 2011)


Ephesians 4:7, 11-16 (NLT)

7 …He has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ…. 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.

Find a congregation that’s been around longer than the building it’s in, and you’ll hear people talk about ‘the old church.’ This one’s a good example. Our present structure has been here fifty-plus years, but there are people who still remember the building down at Tenth and Bluff.

Joe’s home church was that way. Joe was born and raised in Vernon, less than an hour’s drive up the road. His father, Roy, was an elder in the First Presbyterian Church there, and his mother, Bea, was right by his side. The church is on Yucca Lane now, but not when Joe was growing up. It was closer to town, up on Wilbarger. That’s the church that Joe would have remembered from his boyhood.

When I first came to Wichita Falls, Joe and Eloise were living over on Hursh, and I remember going to call on them one day. The front door cradled a lovely stained-glass window. When I asked about it, Joe said, ‘It’s from the old church in Vernon.’ Every time he entered and left his home, he would see a reminder of his childhood.

Ken, I believe, has one of the doors from the old Vernon church. If I’m not mistaken, it was the door from the sanctuary into the hallway. I mention it because it played a role in Joe’s life. The door had stained glass panels, but in the center, at just about eye-level for an adult, there was a round, beveled clear-glass window. If you were outside the sanctuary, you could look in – that is, if you were tall enough. Joe once told his family that, as a kid, he used to think, ‘When I can see through that window, I’ll know I’m grown up.’

It’s a telling line – isn’t it? – because the Scripture speaks often of growing up. Sometimes, we can take the meaning at face value, like in Luke 2:52, where we’re told that ‘Jesus grew in…stature.’ But sometimes when the Bible talks about ‘growing up,’ it means more than just developing physically. It calls us to spiritual maturity. Peter, for example, at the end of his second letter, urges us to ‘grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’ (2 Pet. 3:18). That’s more than simply getting bigger. It’s going deeper. It’s not just adding inches to your height; it’s adding depth to your soul.

It’s what Paul has in mind in Ephesians, when he talks about being ‘mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ,’ or when he tells us that we are to grow ‘in every way more and more like Christ.’

That was Joe Thompson’s primary mission in life. In another place, Paul says of God that ‘he chose [his people] to become like his Son’ (Rom. 8:29).

When you think about Joe, it’s not hard to recall what he was passionate about. He was an incurably proud Aggie, and he would tell you about it. He was the president of the Wichita Falls A&M Club, and he served as regional representative of the Association of Former Students. He loved the school. He loved its traditions. He loved what it stood for.

More than that, of course, he loved Eloise. He treasured her as she did him. And he loved his family: his children and his grandchildren. He set the standard for being a father and a grandfather. Not long ago, I was at the funeral of a man I knew, and one of his sons rose to speak in tribute to his father. He began with the words, ‘I never really knew my dad.’ Joe’s children and grandchildren cannot say that about him. He was an important part of their life.

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