The Red Back Hymnal

The CHURCH HYMNAL:  “Keep On The Firing Line”

Bill Lloyd
Bill Lloyd

I never owned a black leather jacket when I was in junior high school or high school, but I did own a jacket that made me *think* I had one. I wanted to give the appearance of being “cool,” so I discovered that if I chewed gum, walked a certain way, and even bobbed my head just right, my simple black nylon jacket COULD give a slight appearance I was wearing a genuine black leather jacket. 

I was walking home from school with a couple of friends one afternoon in the late 1950s, when another student came running toward us all. Looking at me only, he then told how a certain other kid “is looking to beat up some guy wearing a black leather jacket.” 

Well, if you knew anything about me back then, I did the only thing you might have expected me to do. I looked at the helpful kid and remarked to him ever so boldly,”I’m going to do something about that right now!” 

 Without a moment’s hesitation, I removed my lightweight, reversible black nylon jacket, and I turned it inside out.  With the bright red cotton side now visible on the outside, I put the jacket back on and wore the red side out all the way home.  Fight avoided, or should I say, a black eye on me avoided! 
I’m REALLY glad the mean kid didn’t see me and mistake my reversible black nylon jacket for a leather jacket. You see, my Mom and Dad raised more than just three hundred chickens in town that year. They raised 301. 
As embarrassing as this situation is to me today, I was not the first one to ever duck out when a situation seemed too difficult to bear. I know the Bible doesn’t speak of ‘reversible jackets,’ but I am well aware it speaks of those who made bold claims for God, and then later switched to cowardly choices. 
For example, when Jesus told of things soon to come, Peter boldly declared, “…Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.”  Or, as it is stated in the same verse in the Amplified Bible, “…Even if they all fall away [and desert You, ashamed and afraid of being associated with You], yet I will not [do so]” (Mark 14:29).
But the Lord replied by saying that before that night was over and the cock had crowed twice, Peter would deny Him three times.  And it happened. Since Peter had fallen asleep in the garden and failed to pray, and later followed Jesus “afar off,” it’s no wonder that he turned ‘chicken.’ (I always wondered if Jesus didn’t purposely use the illustration of the cock crowing for this very reason.) 
In the Old Testament, God had instructed Jonah to go to Ninevah. Rather than following God’s command, Jonah quickly fled to Tarshish – to flee “from the presence of the Lord.” 
While on this ship, a storm threatened all on board. But Jonah was fast asleep. The shipmaster woke him and asked, “What meanest thou, O sleeper?” You know the rest of the story and what Jonah had to endure before he finally obeyed God.
There is a wonderful old Gospel song found in “the old Red Back book” Church Hymnal (page 212) that tells of the Christian’s great need to “KEEP ON THE FIRING LINE.”
In the first verse, songwriter Otis L. McCoy begins, “If you’re in the battle for the Lord and right, Keep on the firing line, If you win, my brother, surely you must fight, Keep on the firing line;  There are many dangers that we all must face, if we die a fighting it is no disgrace, Coward in the service, he will find no place, So keep on the firing line.”
The church I grew up in often sang this song at “90 miles per hour,” as some used to remark.  Because we often sung the song really fast – as well as many other old songs found in the Church Hymnal – we’d often miss out on the message of the song itself. 
What messages did we often miss?  For one, we as Christians “must FIGHT, be BRAVE against ALL evil” that would come against us.  Secondly, we must be consistent in our walk with God, so we are to “never run, nor even lag behind.”  Then, the bottom line to this song is that we “KEEP on the firing line.”
In a popular 1948 movie I saw on TV many years ago, comedian Red Skelton played the part of a double-spy during the Civil War.  At one point, he was on the front lines between the soldiers of the North and the South, when he was faced with a situation of being shot at by both sides.
In order to get out of the difficult “front-line” situation, he placed one arm inside a jacket of the North, and his other arm inside the jacket of the South.  Then there was the flag problem.  He placed both flags close together, and with that, he proceeded to boldly walk across the front line between the two fighting sides. 
Both sides soon stopped firing at each other and began to cheer “their” soldier on.  One soldier even exclaimed this action was the bravest thing he had ever seen, that is until a gust of wind soon blew the two flags around with the other sides of the flags being seen by both fighting sides in battle.  When that happened, the North and the South began firing at each other again, as well as at the “spy.”
McCoy wrote the second verse of this featured song to highlight, “God will only use a soldier He can trust, Keep on the firing line, If you wear a crown, then bear the cross you must, Keep on the firing line;  Life is but to labor for the Master dear, Help to banish evil and to spread good cheer, Great you’ll be rewarded for your service here, So keep on the firing line.”
Babbie Mason is a noted Gospel singer and songwriter, and is perhaps best known for her appearances on the Gaither Homecoming Friends videos.  The greatest role she claims, however, is that of being a Christian mom. 
In her book, Babbie admits watching football games with her husband. Even though she likes that game, still terrible thoughts of her l0-year-old son, Jerry, possibly getting hurt in his local football games was more than she could bear. 
During one Saturday morning football game, her fears quickly turned to reality. The football was hiked to her son. Jerry quickly looked for someone to receive the pass, but before he could release the ball, he got sacked. Seconds later, the entire opposition team piled on him. 
After the other players stood up, Jerry was still on the ground. The entire coaching staff ran to the field to administer aid. Seeing her son yet lie motionless on the field, Babbie jumped up and quickly ran from the sidelines to Jerry’s side of the field.
Unashamed, she fell to the muddy ground, laid her hands on Jerry and prayed aloud, “In the name of Jesus, you will rise from this field, and you will walk again!” Moments later, Jerry opened his eyes and said emphatically, “Momma. MOMMA!  GET – OFF – THE – FIELD!” 
The Biblical references mentioned earlier point out something important: When we follow the Lord afar and begin to fall asleep spiritually, we’ll always do something stupid. We become cowardly (or, ‘chicken’) in our walk with God. He must then get our attention. Peter later wept bitterly. And the big fish the Lord had prepared later vomited Jonah. 
As a reminder, the chorus of this featured Gospel song says, “You must fight, be brave, against ALL evil, Never run, nor even lag behind;  If you would win for God and the right, Just keep on the firing line.”  
So, what will YOU do? Will you reverse your ‘spiritual jacket’ when the Christian way gets rough? Or, will you be bold like Babbie Mason, one whose love and concern for her child made her cry out to God unashamedly?  
–– Bill  
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