I first saw him and his wife, Jean, at a youth camp in North Carolina, when he was serving as a pastor at Bethany, N.C. When I went into the place where services were being held, he was at the piano. (The whole family is musical, I learned.)
I’m sure he never thought that in the future he would serve North Carolina as state overseer under the late M.A. Tomlinson, general overseer of the Church of God of Prophecy.
Later, Brother Coalter was my teacher in the postgraduate course in Bible Training Institute in Cleveland. That was the first time I heard him introduce himself as a happy Christian — it was true and that was his strength.
I remember as he taught that class, he always took time to listen to others and consider their thoughts and opinions. He even made notes of what others said and made each one feel his ideas were important.
I also had the privilege of working alongside of him and Jean washing dishes for BTI students — that didn’t diminish his happiness at all.
He served as state overseer in North Carolina where my family lived; in Florida where my husband’s family lived; and in Tennessee when my husband served as pastor (in Clarksville and Old Hickory (Nashville).
We were all blessed to know this man of God — this happy Christian — this man who loved the Lord with all his heart and “his neighbor as himself.”
And living in Cleveland after his retirement, the Coalter house was where I could go when I needed advice, encouragement or answers to questions. The Coalters always made me feel I was worth their time and, thankfully, their happiness in serving God and others lifted my spirit, also.
It’s a sad commentary when Christians are not known as being happy and joyous.
When I was a little girl about 10 years old, I was particularly impressed by a sister at our church. Her face would light up as she came in and greeted people and she always had a smile and a special word for everyone.
I realized the source of her joy one day when I went home with her for lunch. When we got to her little house, her husband was lying, drunken, on the front door stoop.
She reached down to stroke his head and said softly, “Honey, couldn’t you make it inside?” and helped him to the couch in the living room.
She didn’t apologize for him. She ministered to him. That 10-year-old never forgot that tender moment.
The question emerged, “How could she be so happy when she had to contend with so much?”
And I realized it was love that made it possible. Happiness springs from the ability to love — this unconditional love — and from love springs trust, contentment and joy.
Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote: “Love is the key. Joy is love singing. Peace is love resting. Long-suffering is love enduring. Kindness is love’s touch. Goodness is love’s character. Faithfulness is love’s habit. Gentleness is love’s self-forgetfulness. Self-control is love holding the reins.”
Not everyone is lovable. Not everyone is sweet. Not all the time, anyway. And loving our neighbors — and enemies — doesn’t come naturally.
This godly love is by command of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it can only be actualized when we take on His characteristics after we receive His Spirit.
My dad used to ask when I was a child, “Who do you think you are?” as he impressed on me his authority.
That question is also asked of us. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have the identity of “a happy Christian?”
A.J. Coalter could because his joy and happiness was “love singing.”