My name is Chris Thomas. I’m a fortunate husband, a father of three and Dad to five. I’m an advocate of foster care as an expression of the gospel. I’m a pastor at Raymond Terrace Community Church, a regional church based in the Hunter Valley, Australia. I mostly write about the gospel and how it informs both work and rest.

When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder

When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder

A melancholy yearning snuck up behind me and caught me unaware. It snuck through my defences in a tin of boot polish.

I would sit beside him as he shined his well-worn shoes early on Sunday morning. I was not long awake, but he had been busy for hours. His already pressed shirt was hanging on the back of a chair. His suit coat was hanging from a hook near the front door, beside it was a black Fedora hat. Right now his hair hung ajar from its usual precision, but soon he would lather some Brylcreem and smooth it back into place with a small black comb that lived in his left breast pocket. I don’t recall the brand of boot polish he used, and I thought I’d forgotten its smell. But I hadn’t—its residue still lingers.

I loved my Pop. I still do.

Gordon Norris (Pop) —  far right  I’m sitting on my great-grandmother’s knee

Gordon Norris (Pop) — far right
I’m sitting on my great-grandmother’s knee

I love the way he would sit in silence while many spoke around him, how at some point he would clear his throat as the room suddenly grew quiet. I love the way that a tattered black Bible would almost mysteriously appear in his hand no matter where he was sitting. I love that he would hold it on his lap, but rarely need to find a text as he reminded us of what the Lord said. I love that he hummed fragments of hymns in a sweet medley of worshipful reflection of a lifetime of God’s goodness to him. I love that he lifted his hat to strangers as he wished them a good morning.

My Pop loved to sing. Apart from his Bible, his next most treasured book was a small leather-bound personal edition of the Believers Hymn Book. I don’t recall now how many songs are listed in that little book, I’m sure my Pop could have told me as he seemed to know the number of every one of them. While, I’m sure, I heard him sing hundreds of different hymns, either quietly as he stood preparing a meal or cleaning the dishes, or loudly as he rocked from his heels to his toes during the Open Worship time of our little gathering—the song I associate with him most is, When the roll is called up yonder. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was to do with the way he loved to sing the parts, or his rich deep voice as it rose to a crescendo through the chorus, but for some reason this old song and the memories of my Pop seem inexplicably connected.

I think he would have liked that.

When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll, is called up yon-der,
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.

On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

—James M. Black, 1893—

My Pop, even as he neared the end of his life and death rattled at the door—even as he watched family fall away and friends turn their back, even as disease stole away his memories and disfigured his smile—even then he would weakly hum this tune. “When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.” Long gone was the confident strong baritone, replaced now with a trembling murmur that carried with it a certainty as strong as it ever was.

Much has been said recently of the news of notable figures in the public Christian scene who have turned their back, walked away, and even denied the faith. I’ve wondered what my Pop might have said to this news. I’m sure he would have had an opinion, he usually did, but I tend to think he may have cleared his throat and said something like this:

“Son (he often called me this). Son, fix your eyes on Jesus. Run the race set before you. Hold to the confession you once made. If you do, you will not be put to shame.”

I’m sure he would have said much more—he probably would have shaken his head and with a low voice quoted, in a part, Jesus’ words from Matthew 24, “But as the days of Noah were…”—that was a favourite response of his. But I think his advice would have been to return once again to the confidence that God will keep his own. He knew what I am beginning to discover as the years roll past, that I am weak and frail, that I am not only saved by grace but also kept by grace, that I am prone to wander without the fetter of God’s kindness toward me.

I have no need to fear the coming years, or clench my hands with helpless anxiety over the state of faith in our churches. Assurance lives because Jesus lives. The grave is empty so that our hope may be full. Jude 1 truly is a break-wall for the soul (I’ve written more on this idea here).

Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ — Jude 1

I’m sure there are many lessons to be learnt about leadership and the dangers of the so called Christian Celebrity culture, but don’t lose heart. Christ will not lose any entrusted to his care, his grip is sure, his resolve is unbreakable.

So let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

A Call To Contend

A Call To Contend

Waiting For Akman

Waiting For Akman