My eyes are barely dry from Pastor David Landrith’s funeral as I write this. This is just another one out of many memories folks are sharing. I’m feeling a range of emotions, but amongst them is regret. I always appreciated him but there were seasons in the almost 9 years he was my pastor that I know I took him for granted.
My first time at a Long Hollow Baptist Church service was Sunday, February 5th, 2006. I had been hanging out in Nashville for a few days seeking a job. Coming here from North Carolina I didn’t know anybody, but I had one phone number in my pocket. That number belonged to Larry and Patty Jenkins. Little did I know how that phone number would alter the course of my life. I remembered briefly speaking with them months before as my best friend’s mom, Cheryl Manuel had dialed them up and put me on the spot to talk to them and introduce myself. It was one out of many nudges the people who loved me did to get me to follow my heart. I could go on and on about each tiny “coincidence” that led to that cold February morning at Long Hollow, but that’s for another time.
Larry and Patty seemed so excited about their church, so when I met them one of the first things they did was invite me to go with them the coming Sunday. I was a complete stranger, yet they treated me like an old friend. I was stoked about meeting such great people, the possibility of finding a job, an apartment, AND potentially a great church all in one weekend!
Before we walked through the doors of the church I had been greeted genuinely numerous times. This big church felt like a little country church! When we got to a seat I settled in and the music got going…I was speechless, I was crying! I was already confident that this would be my new church home.
It was Super Bowl Sunday and what that meant in my experience was the preacher would let us have it (or “plow our corn”) if we considered watching the football game rather than going to Sunday night church. But my mouth dropped when Pastor David came running energetically to the pulpit wearing a Steelers jersey! (The Steelers played the Seahawks later that night in a forgettable Super Bowl). Before I knew it he was using props for a spiritual analogy by having some guys run out on stage, tackle each other, and they almost tackled him too! His principles were SPOT on, full of conviction, and the lesson was something I’d remember and apply; rather than forgetting just before I sank my teeth into fried chicken moments after the service. I remember thinking “how is this guy SO country and goofy yet he’s leading in such a relevant, relatable, inspiring way?” It wasn’t him, it was God.
Well, I got a job the next day; moved just off Long Hollow Pike (another specific prayer answered) into an apartment 9 days later on Valentine’s Day; joined the awesome choir the next Sunday after that; and God just kept opening doors and eventually I became great friends with Ben Peeples. Knowing Ben is what led me to meet a beautiful girl named Amy who would become my wife…ALL thanks to the foundation of my new life being built in and around Long Hollow! Actually, all these circumstances can be traced back to Garth, but that story is for another time. 🙂
In 07′ (I believe) Long Hollow put on a HUGE fireworks show. I remember walking through the crowds and running across Brother David, as everyone called him, sitting cheerfully in a lawn chair. I had recently heard him randomly sing a George Jones tune from the pulpit, which stood out in my mind because of my love for country music. In my past, well intentioned Christians had spent a lot of time trying to discourage me from writing and performing secular music, and I had heard sermons against it growing up. But this guy was unashamedly singing country songs while he preached the gospel! It’s not a big deal to most, but it really stood out to me. So we made eye contact and I complimented his taste in George Jones. He lit up, closed his eyes, and promptly responded to me by loudly belting out “He stopped loving her today!!! They placed a wreath upon his door!!!” He was so LOUD and comfortable with himself and never took himself too serious.
Seems like I remember him shooting a fire lit arrow at a hay-bale in the middle of a sermon. Did I dream that one up?
And finally, there was the cancer sermon. A few years ago Amy and I started attending the Long Hollow Gallatin satellite campus. But after hearing Pastor David had cancer we decided to go the next Sunday to the Hendersonville church to see him live and hear what he had to say. It was a sermon I’ll never forget. He was seeking to glorify God and submit to His plan even if that meant dying. It was time to practice what he’d always preached, and by all accounts he did that til he took his last breath 20 months later.
After that shock and wave of emotion from his dire announcement he just kept preaching and I had to go out of my way to remind myself that he was sick because you wouldn’t know it. Every now and then he’d miss a week for medical reasons. But besides a quick update on his health, his humor and humility didn’t allow him to make his condition a leading topic in his sermons or conversation. It was about God, and it was always about others.
Looking back, the thing that impresses me the most is how he was able to still talk about things that most dying people would detach from. He often spoke about current events and little things that are insignificant from the perspective of a dying man, but the rest of us are still caught up in and dealing with. I remember thinking “if he still cares about football and eating Big Mac’s, he’s ok.” Well, he wasn’t OK, he just didn’t let cancer take him off message or change his personality. He had so much empathy. The man could relate.
Just a few weeks ago he preached what I didn’t know was his final sermon. Around this time Amy gave birth to our first child, then I was on the road for several weekends. So I missed his last sermon and I still haven’t seen it. When he went in to get surgery on his brain after that sermon, I expected him back just as soon as he regained his strength. I never realized that he was losing the battle. I prayed for him, but I still missed out on the seriousness of his condition. Then came the email the other day that he’s in heaven.
I tell this story to say that it’s amazing how God weaves our lives into into the fabric of the lives of others. Every seemingly “little” act or moment can change the course of history forever. I’m thankful that God gave me the courage to follow my heart to middle TN and I’m honored to have sat under the teachings of Jesus via the vessel of Pastor David Landrith. I wanted Amy and I to raise our son up in this church under his teachings of the Word. I had it all planned out. But that’s not how the story has gone, things have changed drastically. It doesn’t seem right or fair, but it is God’s plan.
But as Brother David preached more than once; “All things work together for them that love God and are called according to his purpose.” -Romans 8:28
Under him I realized that there’s no need to sweat the small stuff. We don’t have to always agree with the music or the methods people or churches use to reach the world. He often said “the methods will change, but the message will stay the same.” He got out of his comfort zone comfortably, was very disciplined yet all over the place, and his hillbilly delivery helped me understand and grow spiritually in areas I needed most…and still need to. He taught that God can handle our questioning, so go on and ask Him.
I’ll always love the guy who showed me that an old school, country pastor can wear a football jersey on Super Bowl Sunday, shoot a fiery arrow into a hay bale to make a point, and sing George Jones and even Loretta songs all while reaching the lost and standing for the Word of God. I miss him so much.