The Miracle Of Prayer

Jesus begins Luke 18 with a most unusual story; a story that no one has ever been able to full interpret. It goes like this…Then he gave them an illustration to show that they must always pray and never lose heart. “Once upon a time,” he said, “there was a magistrate in a town who had neither fear of God nor respect for his fellow-men. There was a widow in the town who kept coming to him, saying, ‘Please protect me from the man who is trying to ruin me.’ And for a long time he refused. But later he said to himself, ‘Although I don’t fear God and have no respect for men, yet this woman is such a nuisance that I shall give judgment in her favour, or else her continual visits will be the death of me!’” Then the Lord said, “Notice how this dishonest magistrate behaved. Do you suppose God, patient as he is, will not see justice done for his chosen, who appeal to him day and night? I assure you he will not delay in seeing justice done. Yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find men on earth who believe in him?” [J.B. Phillips]

Obviously, the focal point of the story is that we should pray always and never give up. In the matter of prayer, we are not to become discouraged or faint hearted. Christ calls us to pray in the Sermon on the Mount,Keep on asking and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking and you find. Keep on knocking  and the door will be opened. Everyone who keeps on asking receives; everyone who keeps on seeking finds and everyone that keeps on knocking, the door will be opened.” [Matthew 7:7-8, NLT] As you see, the emphasis is on keeping on. Prayer is simply talking to God. It is a privilege and a blessing. Do not give up on prayer. Do not quit praying. Jesus said, “We should always pray and never give up” [Luke 18:1,NLT]

Why do men give up on prayer? What hinders or keeps people from talking to God?

  1. GOD IS TOO IMPORTANT TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH A PARTICLE OF DUST. I don’t think it is unreasonable for us to feel small or to sense the distance between His infinite greatness and our infinitesimal smallness. I can not call the White House or get in touch with the Queen of England. I couldn’t even call a congressman. I have a friend that can but I can’t. I have to access to VIP’s. At any level in society, you can only have so many relationships. I cannot listen to more than one person at a time. There are less than 24 hours in a day which means that it is impossible for me to relate to everyone in Danville, let alone the world. If the demands on my time get high enough, then I am forced to ignore or have some calls screened. Junior Hill gets thousands of invitations to speak but there are only 365 days in a year. Thus I understand that very important people cannot give access to the general public, it is not possible. On the other hand, their sense of importance goes to their head in many cases and they become snobs. We humans are bad about prejecting human traits on God. We tend to humanize Him. God became human in Christ but that does not mean that He is limited in the human sense. Things that are impossible with man are possible with God. We must not fall into the trap of viewing God the way we do human dignitaries, as being too important to talk to us.  God can have a deep personal relationship with billions at one time. He is not limited by time, space or energy. To help give us confidence in this area, we need to dwell on the fact that Jesus never cast Himself as a VIP. The humanly unimportant ones are important to God.  Jesus said in Matthew 11…Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Jesus was as down to earth as you could get. Not only was He born in a barn, he was raised by poor parents and he learned the trade of a carpenter. Jesus went to Trade-School not college. It is very true that His disciples tried to make Him a VIP but Jesus would have no part of it. When they tried to shew away the mothers with their little children, Jesus rebuked them and said, “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, for such is the kingdom of heaven”. If I was looking for a great man, a truly great man, in a crowd, I would look to find him among the children. When adults treat children like they are a nuisance, it indicates a lack of character in the adult. Jesus was not uppidy-up: He was lowly and humble. You could talk to Jesus. Anyone could talk to Jesus. A Samaritan woman who had been married six times talked to Jesus. Prostitutes talked to Jesus. Jesus even talked with Pharisees. Sometimes we have to get our head straight before the heart can commit. God invites you to talk to Him. Jesus made this truth crystal clear. God wants a relationship with you. You will never get to know Him unless you talk to Him. Start talking today.

  2. GOD IS TOO DISTANT, TO REMOTE TO HEAR MY PRAYER. Sounds fair enough but let us apply some scriptural truth to this false premise. The creation is vast, too vast for the human mind to fathom. They say that the edge of space in 14 million light years away which is a good distance. If it takes light 14 million years to get to where God is, what good is it going to do to pray. First of all, the Creator is infinitely greater than His creation just as an architect is greater than a building. It is also true that God is above and beyond His creation. In the beginning was God–no creation. The bible teaches that God is above, beyond but also within His creation. I am not talking about pantheism [the worship of nature]. When you cut down a tree, you are not cutting down God. But God is Omnipresent: He is everywhere at all times. David said in Psalm 139… I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!  If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. Paul said in AthensThis God made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and he doesn’t live in temples built by human hands. He doesn’t need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people. From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be. God has done all this, so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn’t far from any of us, and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are. In spite of what seems logical, God is not distant. I went to college with a Methodist friend who was also a ministerial student. I asked him to come and preach at the church where I served and he and I went in my study for a pre-service prayer meeting and when he prayed, he yelled. You could hear him all over the building. He prayed like God was distant. God is not distant, He is in the room. No, He may be closer, He may be in you. It is so very difficult for us to understand, our tendency is to spatialize [think in terms of space] but there is a reality beyond space. God created space. He existed before there was any such thing as space. All of space and the matter that inhabits space can disappear in seconds and I believe some day that it will. We are focused on the reality that we can see but there is a greater reality behind that which is visible. Space is the most relative thing in creation. What is huge to us in tiny to God. It all depends on your perspective. God is much nearer to you than you can imagine and so is heaven. Let’s move to the third hinderance to prayer…

  3. GOD IS A CONTROL FREAK AND HE MAY WANT TO RUN MY LIFE…I’M NOT READY FOR HIM TO TAKE CONTROL. This is probably the number one hinderance to prayer, we don’t want to change. We are afraid to get into conversation with God because we are afraid that He might speak to us about the way we are living and demand some sort of change. First of all, God is not a control freak, you are the control freak. Control freaks are deeply insecure and God is not insecure. He has no fears but He does have perfect foreknowledge which means He has a distinct advantage when it comes to predicting the future. He knows what is best for you. You think you know what is best but in reality, you don’t. You are cheating yourself when you refuse to lay your self before Christ and pray that His will be done. He can do more with your life than you ever imagined. Insecure people are driven by fear and I can’t think of a worse way to live. Stop being afraid that God is going to call you to be a Missionary to China. You have a long way to go before God will deal with you about China, India or Africa. You must first of all trust Him and pray that He will give you the will to do His will. Approach from the angle of grace, “God if you are calling me to Guatemala, I know you will give me the grace to be excited about going.” I do not know one Missionary that does not get excited about their assignment. Who gives them this excitement? God does! Who gives them the passion for people of another culture? God does! Teddy didn’t give himself a passion for Guatemalans, God gave him that passion. He doesn’t dread the next trip, he looks forward to it. He would be heart-sick if you told him that he could not return. I guarantee you if you ask him this question, he will answer in the affirmative…Teddy, are you experiencing more by being obedient to Christ than you ever dreamed or imagined? The man is having the time of his life. He would not trade places with Nick Saban. Neither would I…I don’t want his job, just his tithe. Let me be frankly honest, I do not care for Rick Warren but he does have the gift of assimilating the materials of others and putting them in to a very practical format. He is not as original as he appears to be and he is no Martin Luther. He is more like a legend in his own mind. BUT as I was previewing the 40 DAYS OF COMMUNITY material, I was deeply convicted. God spoke to me clearly and said, “You can not lead My Church in Danville to do this unless you change”. Hey, I knew is a flash that God was right. believe it or not, I didn’t even argue. I just said, “Lord, you are right. I need to change, I want to change but You must help me to change.” Pastors always have opposition and the opposition seldom follows Christian protocol. They are subtle [a negative comment here, a negative comment there]; they are persistent; they have an agenda and they are effective. Never underistimate the power of negative thinking. He kept Moses [a great leader] from getting the job completed and I am certainly no Moses. As a pastor your tendency is to love the supporters and pray that the others will find another pastor to persecute. I am convinced that this is not what the LORD wants: He wants me to love those who spitefully use me and those who say all manner of evil against me. He even wants me to love my enemies, not that I have any. I’ve been praying for them to change and the LORD told me to change. That is why the opposition doesn’t pray for me. They criticize you, they question everything you do and magnify every fault but they don’t get on their knees before God. They are afraid that He will demand a change in their life. Get over the fear and get with God. He will change your life but it will be the best thing that has ever happened.

A Mary Who Was A Martha

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, my dear, you are worried and bothered about providing so many things. Only a few things are really needed, perhaps only one. {Matthew 10:41, J.B. Phillips} I think we are all familiar with the story of Mary and Martha. Mary was the more passive, contemplative one while Martha was the worrier, always battling her OCD. Mary didn’t let anything bother her while Martha was bothered about many things. When we came to Danville in 1979, Mary Chaney and her twin Brother Gary were juniors at Speak High School. I attended their graduation in the Spring of 1980. Guy Hunt, then governor of Alabama, was the speaker and he did a very good job. He was no Jack Bailey by any stretch but he did fair. His secretary asks him where he was going and he said, “I am going to Speake”…she said, “I know you are going to speak but where are you going to speak?” The governor said, “I am going to speak at Speake”. When Mary and Jimmy got married, I performed the ceremony. Usually the mother of the bride is the most difficult one to please but of course Joyce was no problem. Mary was a perfectionist and she was plenty worried about me and the ceremony. She almost got an ulcer over that wedding but we made it. A few years later, Joyce had a heart attack and spent a week or more in UAB. Mary was so worried about her mother that she would not talk. You could not talk to her and she would not talk to you. Then she became a mother and she worried constantly about her child. Three years ago, she became a grandmother and then she started worrying about her child’s child. Our Mary was a Martha: she was a server, a care giver: she wanted to fix things for everyone. She was dependable. If she made a commitment to do something, you could consider it done. She was faithful not only to her family but she was faithful to her church. She served as Sunday School secretary for over 20 years and she rarely missed. Mary was a good daughter, a good sister, a good wife and a good mother but she was a “great” grand parent and she loved that role as much as any. When she found out how sick she was, her greatest sorrow was not seeing her grandchildren grow up. She wanted to live for their sake. When I came home today around 4:00 [after being at hospitals for two days and nights] I collapsed in the recliner. I sat down to rest but I fell asleep. I woke up wondering if these last few days had been a dream. June said, “I cannot believe that Mary is gone.” I said, “It is unbelievable”. The most shocking thing is the speed in which the cancer worked.  I thought we had more time. I talked to Brian and Nancy on Thursday and Friday and in talking with them, I knew she was worse but I had no idea that the cancer had progressed to this stage. For the record, I hate cancer. I was there Thursday when Nancy was carrying Mary to the doctor. I knew she felt really bad but looking back, I believe she was in some pain. They say that her liver was contracting and that could cause a great deal of pain. My guess is that Mary was being her noble self…she worried about others but she didn’t want others to worry about her. It was one year ago today that I got a call from Nancy telling me that Milton had been promoted on Christmas Eve. Joyce wouldn’t let them call me Christmas Eve. She said “Wait until tomorrow; I want Bro. Jack to have Christmas with his family before we call.” Now, one year later on Christmas day, Mary is promoted. She slipped slowly and gently away from the pier of this on sin cursed world and drifted out into the current of God’s grace that carried her to a world where there is no cancer. I have been trying to pastor churches for 42 years and I never met a family that is tighter than the Chaney’s. They stick together like glue in thick or thin.  I have told Joyce and Milton on multiple occasions, “I don’t know what you two did, but whatever it was, it must have been right.” Church, I want us to undergird Joyce with our love and prayers. This is the third child that has preceded her. Joyce is the most gracious lady that I have ever known and she deserves our support. Her outstanding character is no doublt a product of her suffering, which she does graciously. I know we will support her and her entire family–Jimmy, Logan, Gary, Janie, Nancy and all the rest. They all loved Mary and they did everything humanly possible to care for her. Mary Chaney Asherbranner will be greatly missed because she was greatly loved.

An Incredible Love Story

Well it is the night before Christmas and while there are millions of children excited about Christmas, there are many who are having a hard time getting in the spirit. It seems that in the past few years, I end up spending part of my Christmas in a hospital. This morning, I set out for my Christmas Eve visitation, realizing that it just might be the last time I would get to visit with some of my old friends including two of my mentors. Two men had a huge impact on my life: one impressed me with his spiritual disciplines and the other nobility and integrity. One was a pastor and the other was a Probate Judge and farmer. Time is like a giant river, it must with force to its appointed destination. You cannot stop it nor can you slow it down. The swift current of time changes the landscape and boy has the landscape changed since last Christmas. Before I could get on the road this morning, I got a call that one of my friends had been rushed to the hospital: he was unresponsive. I kept track by phone as I made my way toward Athens. I tried to make all my visits ASAP so I could get to the hospital which I did at 4:00. He had stabilized to some degree and had been moved from ER to the ICU. When I got there he was in X-ray. The nurse allowed me to wait in the room until he and his family returned. I was speechless when I saw him. I could tell that he had lost weight and he had a bruise where he had fallen. I had just seem him in October and I could not believe the difference. He has a form of dementia, probably alzheimer’s. He has to have constant care and has been this way for a long time. His wife of some 50 plus years is his primary care giver. She was tired but not complaining. She was worried about him. Every aspect of her conversation was about him. I asked the doctor if she could spend the night in the room because I knew that she could not rest elsewhere. She is right there by his side speaking in gentle tones; loving him, encouraging him and waiting on his every need. I’m standing there observing this incredible example of agape love while wondering where she gets her strength to serve him with such delight and patience. You would think that she would be relieved to see God gently take him home to heaven but she was visibly upset that she almost lost him earlier in the day. He is totally helpless. He cannot do one thing for her; to the contrary, he depends on her for everything but she delights in serving him and grieves the thought of being separated from him. Kind of reminds you of someone else we know, does it not–His name is Jesus. I left that hospital tonight thinking–“Lord, I need that kind of love. A self-sacrificing love that delights in meeting the needs of others. I do wish that there was no pain in this sin cursed world but that is wishful thinking, not reality. I know the pain and suffering are real but the love of Christ is just as real.

The Greatest Of These Is Love

Paul said in the closing verses of I Corinthians 13…”At present we are men looking at puzzling reflections in a mirror. The time will come when we shall see reality whole and face to face! At present all I know is a little fraction of the truth, but the time will come when I shall know it as fully as God now knows me! In this life we have three great lasting qualities—faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love.” The Apostle Paul was a spiritual giant. He was a very short man physically but he stands head and shoulders above us spiritually. Like most small people, Paul was an over achiever. He was a Type-A personality, heavily driven to accomplish his goals. He did not have a lot of patience with slackers. He pushed himself to the limit and demanded the same from those who worked with him. He became the greatest theologian of all time, writing a third of the New Testament and yet Paul was far from perfect.

Returning from his third Missionary journey, Paul sails into Caesarea. His intentions are to go to Jerusalem for Pentecost. The following passage can be read in its entirety in Acts 21.  On the following day we left and proceeded to Caesarea and there we went to stay at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven deacons. He had four unmarried daughters, all of whom spoke by the Spirit of God. During our stay there of several days a prophet by the name of Agabus came down from Judea. When he came to see us he took Paul’s girdle and used it to tie his own hands and feet together, saying, “The Holy Spirit says this: the man to whom this girdle belongs will be bound like this by the Jews in Jerusalem and handed over to the Gentiles!”  When we heard him say this, we and the people there begged Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered us, “What do you mean by unnerving me with all your tears? I am perfectly prepared not only to be bound but to die in Jerusalem for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Before his radical conversion, Paul’s persecuted the Church. He led the first inquisition by hunting down Christians and having them throw into prison. He was a mean-spirited little man and believers lived in fear of this tiny dwarf with a furious temper. When he was converted; the Christians in the Jerusalem area thought it might be a trick so they were not quick to receive Paul. Over time Paul won the confidence of others in other areas but he never became a part of the fellowship of the church at Jerusalem. It was not from a lack of effort on his part: they just would not accept him. I have a hard time understanding why their acceptance was so important to Paul. I would have told Paul, “Forget the Jerusalem Church: they have James as their Senior Pastor and he has plenty of qualified associates plus they have Peter as their resident evangelist. Don’t worry about that church, there are plenty of other churches that not only need your help but would be thrilled to get it.” Paul did have friends that warmed him not to return to Jerusalem but Paul would not yield. Paul was bound and determined to get to Jerusalem by Pentecost. He knew better than I that Jesus had fulfilled every Old Testament feast day, sacrifices, rituals and celebrations [all of them, no exception]. Paul didn’t need to attend Passover, Pentecost or any other Jewish festival because Jesus is our Passover and He gave us His Spirit at Pentecost. Christianity is not an extension of Judaism. Christ put to death the old things, in Christ all things are new. Paul knew all this and yet he longed to get to Jerusalem for Pentecost and he agreed to the “Rite of Purification” and even to the offering that comes at the conclusion of the rite. My questions is why? Why would Paul, who taught us that these things are no longer necessary turn right around and do them himself? Was Paul a hypocrite? Was he kissing up to the Jews? Why did he compromise his principles? Why did he walk into a trap when others had warned him explicitly to stay out of Jerusalem. All his real friends begged him not to go to Jerusalem yet Paul was so so unreasonable about the subject that they stopped bringing it up.

So what happens? Paul’s friends are right. Agabus the Prophet was right. Paul walked right into a trap. James the brother of the LORD and the Senior Pastor was an accomplice. I don’t think that James deliberately set Paul up but what he ask him to do was unchristian and unnecessary. James had a hard time letting go of Judaism and I don’t think his intentions were bad but he should have never asks Paul to go through any antiquated Jewish ritual. These rituals had no meaning a part from Christ. Not only am I disappointed in James for setting Paul up, I am more disappointed that we hear nothing at all from James or the church after Paul’s arrest. Hey, this same church that prayed Peter out of jail is never mentioned in Paul’s defence. No prayers were made in Paul’s behalf; if they were, they are not mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. Even James the Elder is never mentioned in Paul’s defence and that puzzles me.

However, the question at hand is “Why did Paul go back to Jerusalem when he knew that it meant certain trouble?”

  1. You may disagree with my first conclusion and you have that right but I believe that Paul was motivated by guilt. I think that he remembers all the mean things that he did to Christians in Jerusalem and he wants desperately to make it up. I do not think it is the best motivation nor the highest but I do confess that guilt is a motivator. I made a trip last Saturday because I was feeling guilty. A sweet little woman helps us through Seminary. Her husband was a truck driver and he worked out of a terminal in East New Orleans. The cars came in by ship and he hauled them to different cities in the region. He made very good money and he and his wife were generous with June and I. He passed away shortly after retiring and left his wife with nothing except a SS check. She worked at a local Walmart for years but now she is 83 and on a fixed income. I wanted to give her some money for Christmas but she had already gone to New Orleans to spend the holidays with her son. They were good to us when we needed help and now I feel guilty that I have not been much help to her in her time of need. I made my trip a week too late.
  2. I think Paul also had a death wish. I believe he had a martyrs complex. He felt so bad about his past and he was so impressed with Jesus sacrifice that I think he wanted to follow in Jesus footsteps. Jesus went to Jerusalem under similar circumstances. His disciples begged Him not to go and He went anyway. Did Jesus walk into a trap? In a manner of speaking, yes but of course we all know that it was a part of God’s infinite plan, so technically, it was not a trap. I don’t think Paul had any desire to die in a nursing home. I fully believe that he wanted to be a martyr.
  3. I believe with all my heart that Paul wanted to be loved by the Christians at Jerusalem. He wanted their acceptance so bad that he was willing to die in order to get it. The sad thing is that it did cost him his life and he never got their love and acceptance. You take a man like Paul, so gifted, so above us in so many ways yet he hungered for love like a little child. It would have made his day for James and the Church to have shown up at his trail. He would have been thrilled to see them come to his defence. They never showed up. The moral of the story is that it does not matter how rich we become or how successful; we all hunger for the same thing–unconditional love. Everyone wants to be loved unconditionally. The greatest theologian of all time and the most successful Missionary that has ever lived wanted to be love unconditionally. God created us with this need. We need love as much as we need air or food. The good news which Paul was very acquainted with is that Jesus loves us unconditionally. In other words, He loves us just the way we are but He loves us to much to leave us this way. He knows us; He knows are deepest sin, even our secret sins and yet He loves us. He does not love us because we love Him. He loves us because it is His nature and choice. If Jesus the Son of God says, “I am going to love man and die for His sins”, who are you to change His mind? His unconditional love is best illustrated in the story of Joseph. Joseph had ten sorry brothers. They were outlaws who lied, robbed, raped and even murdered in cold blood. There was very little you could say about his brothers that was good prior to Joseph forgiving them. They did not deserve Joseph’s {type of Christ} forgiveness or love, let alone his provision and care. Joseph’s love was based on his character not there’s–they didn’t have any. It amuses me how subtle men are in assuming that God loves them more because of their service rendered. Get this fixed in your mind: you are not Joseph–you are one of the ten sorry brothers and you do not deserve to be loved unconditionally but you are because of the nature, character and choice of Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with what you have done or can do. You cannot get the credit for Him loving you so stop trying. Rejoice in Who He is and what He has done. There may be times when His love is all we have. It happened to Job and it can happen to you. If it happens, you will discover that when His love is all you have, His love is enough. Has your spouse ever said to you– “If you ever mess around on me, there will be no forgiveness”. That made your day I bet. We need to know that someone loves us even if we foul up big time. Mother’s are very good at this but Jesus is the best. By the way, it is not impossible for a spouse. Hosea did it and you could to if you would swallow your pride and put others before yourself.

Christmas Is Coming, Don’t Miss It!

Frank S. Mead wrote a story entitled the “THE VIP”. The setting of the story is the small town of Mayfair. The entire town is excited about the visit of a wealthy tycoon by the name of Henry Bascom. Henry has told the city fathers that he will be coming to spend Christmas with the fine citizens of Mayfair. The citizens gather at the local airport, awaiting the flight from the big city and the billionaire on board. When the plane lands, the people don’t see Henry because they are looking for a man dressed in expensive clothes. A simply and gentle man walked right through them unnoticed and hails a cab for town. This quiet and very simple man does not seem to be a man of wealth and he being a stranger, the people of Mayfair shun him. As a matter of fact, he is either ignored all together or mistreated by the insensitive people of Mayfair. Finally, one old gentleman feels compassion and invited Henry home for dinner. After dinner, Henry graciously thanks his host, orders his cab, returns to the airport and flies back home. He was among them and they knew it not. They were looking for a billionaire dressed in an expensive suit with an entourage of people. They were looking for pomp and circumstance not simplicity and humility. In the same way, many miss Christmas or at least the true meaning and spirit of Christmas.

Many years ago there was a serious coal mining accident in Pennsylvania. There was an underground explosion and miraculously most of the miners escaped but three were trapped hundreds of feet below the surface. The noxious gases delayed rescue efforts for two days but then, even though risk were still high, a team of rescue workers got on to the elevator and were about to descend into the darkness of the mine. A local T.V. Station was there reporting and the reporter stuck a microphone in the face of one of the rescue workers about to descend. “Is it safe for you guys to go down?” asked the reporter. “No” Came the answer for the rescuer. “Are you still going down?” Asked the reporter. “Yes” came the reply, “three men are trapped and they may still be alive, we have to go” and without another word, he puts on his gas mask and gives the signal to lower the elevator.

Just imagine, Jesus takes off His glorious heavenly garb and puts on the rescue outfit. He is standing in the portal between heaven and earth when the angels gathered around in curiosity and say, “where are you going?” Jesus said, “Down on earth, man has lost his way. He is trapped in sin and held in cold black darkness. I am going to offer him away out”. “But didn’t you give them free will LORD? What if they reject your offer? What if they refuse to let You help?” says the angels. Jesus replies, “Yes they do have a free will and it is true that they can and may reject my offer.” Now do you think that it is possible that the angels could have said, “Are You still going down?” If they did, we know what Jesus said, “Yes, I must go down, there are millions who are lost and need a Savior.

Christmas is about Jesus coming down, the Word becoming flesh and pitching His tent among us. This world was cold and dark until Jesus came. He changed everything. You can’t think of anything He did not make better. C.S. Lewis understood the horror of a world without Christmas. In his imaginary world of Narnia, under the curse of the Great White Witch, it is Winter all the time and Christmas has been banned. Santa is a fugitive. No Christmas lights, gifts or celebration. When Aslan shows up, He breaks the curse. Folks, that is what Jesus did: He came to this cold world of endless Winter and broke the curse. The way some professing Christians act around Christmas time, you would have thought He did the opposite. Come on folks, Jesus came to bring us JOY, PEACE and HOPE. He brought us LIGHT, LOVE and LAUGHTER.  He was no wet blanket. The incarnate Jesus celebrated with His friends; he went to parties, I think He probably drank some eggnog. He is not grieved that you rejoice in this season or that you spend more time with family. It does not grieve our Lord that you think of others, even to the point of getting them a gift. Jesus is not upset that you spent $200 on a widow and her son who are struggling to make ends met. Jesus didn’t come to tone it down; He came to brighten it up. It breaks my heart that some folks have never experienced Christmas. Some because they are misers and others because they are miserable and it is all so unnecessary. Lighten up for Pete’s sake, have a little Christmas, what about a cup of cheer. Don’t give me this…”I hate Santa…I hate commercialism…I hate the tinsel, the traffic, etc.” None of these things are the problem: your rotten attitude is the problem. So, what if a real Christmas celebration cost you a few bucks, is that such a big deal. Don’t give me the Judas line…”The money you waste on Christmas could have been given to the poor”. How much money do you think Judas gave to the poor? I think we all know. Judas gave advice not money. Judas was a complainer not a contributor. He didn’t deck the halls, he stacked the deck. He was greedy, he lived a miserable life and died a miserable death which is the fate of all misers like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Don’t give me this bologna about Christmas being just another day of the year. That is like saying, “Jesus was just another Jew”. Pardon my French but I don’t buy that crap. Jesus is not just another Jew and Christmas is not just another day. Jesus gave us Christmas. Without Jesus, there would be no Christmas. Life on this planet is not perfect but it is a lot better than it was before Jesus came. Aren’t you glad He came. How could anyone not get excited about God coming to earth and dwelling among us because He loves us and wants to save us from our sins.

My brother Hal was in the Berlin crisis. He saw the wall and the effect it had on the German people. It wasn’t long until he and everyone who visited Berlin could see a huge difference between the East and the West. The one thing that visitors to the wall noticed more than anything else was the dim lighting on the East side [communist side]. The East had no billboards, no lighted Marquees: everything was dim and gloomy while the West was right the opposite. People risk their lives to get from the dark gloomy East over to the light and glorious West. You cannot blame them. The poor victims trapped on the Eastern side didn’t have a choice unless they wanted to risk their life, which many did. You don’t have to live in the dark and the gloom. You don’t have live with the fear that someone is going to need your financial assistance. You don’t have to live with the resentment that wells up in you every time you hear the Salvation Arm bell. Your problem is that your are selfish and you are not focused on Christ or the needs of others. This Christmas, do something for someone who has less than you do. Don’t try to impress your friends with expensive gifts–give to someone who cannot give back.

I read a story just last week about a man in a nursing home. He had no one that came to see him on a regular basis. Someone asks him about Christmas and he said, “I love Christmas. It is my favorite time of year. I sit here all year and no one comes to see me but at Christmas, carolers come, church groups come: I get lots of company at Christmas. Most of the year I am nobody but at Christmas, I am somebody.” Hey there is some lonely person waiting for you to make them feel like somebody. You find them and have a Merry Christmas.

Divine Providence

Dr. Albert Schweitzer was sitting at his desk preparing for a lecture in the University where he served as a professor when the urge hit him to open his mail. He opened one letter that was sent to the wrong destination: the names were simular but it was actually addressed to someone else. He opened it without noticing that mistake. He was a plea from a Missionary Society. They were calling for Medical help in the Congo [Africa]. Dr. Schweitzer read the letter with keen interest and than laid it on his desk and exclaimed, “My search is over”. He then proceded to do all that he had to do [he was Lutheran] to be appointed by a more conservative Missionary Society. They did not want his service because of his liberal views in Christology but they were desperate for Medical Missionaries. Schweitzer already held degrees in Music, Philosophy, and Theology but he resigned his post as professor and went to medical school for the next seven years. He got his degree and got appointed to go to the Congo where he built and administrated a hospital. I did not realize it until I read his bio this week. He is a contemporary: He died when I was in the 10th grade. He won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. He was good friends with Albert Einstein. Both of course were German Jews and survivors of the holocaust. Bottom line: Albert Schweitzer’s life was changed because he opened a letter meant for someone else. Was the letter a mistake? No! He did not think so and neither do I: If was Divine Providence. I believe God wanted Schweitzer in the Congo, not in College.

Someone will give me a book and my first thought is: “Just what I need, another book to go with the hundred or more that I already have and have never read” but I take the book graciously as is my manner [kidding] and put it on my book shelf. A year later, sometimes more, I am sitting in my study and for some strange reason, my eye catches that book. I take it from the shelf and begin to read. To my absolute amazement, it is exactly what I need at the moment. Folks, I marvel at God’s providence.

On a Sunday morning in March of 1979, I was about to get up and resign the church that I was trying to pastor when I noticed a group of strangers. They were all men, sitting together and I sensed pulpit committee right off of the bat. I was a bit nervous to begin with because I had every intention of resigning that morning; due to our unexpected guest and respect for the congregation, I opted to wait until the PM service so there would be no visitors in the audience. It was after that nerve-racking service that I meet Hugh Fitzgerald for the first time. I had no idea that a committee was coming. I was visibly upset by their presence. I wanted to get the resignation over ASAP and so I was just a bit annoyed with their presence. Hugh was undaunted. He certainly was not intimidated by my bad attitude. I think his first words were…”You are acting awful nervous. What are you so upset about?” I said, “Well, to be honest, I had intended to resign until you showed up and now I will have to do it tonight.” I know the sermon could not have been good. I don’t think Hugh or any of the others were impressed with the sermon. Hugh didn’t even ask why I was resigning. He just got to the point, “Would I be interested in coming to Danville?” I said, “I’m not interesting in going to any church right now.” He said, “Would you consider preaching for us on Sunday until either you are we decide what we want to do.” Long story short, I agreed. I started preaching for DBC on the first Sunday in April 1979 and for the next two months, all I did was show up on Sunday and preach. We lived in Athens and I worked as a carpenter. Hugh and the committee had no idea that I was going to resign and I did not know that they were coming or even had my name. They didn’t have a resume because I didn’t have one then and don’t have one now. They required us to build a resume while we were in Seminary but I later threw it in the trash. A resume means nothing, not in the ministry. You say wow, what a coincidence but I say wow, what providence. I agree with Vance Havner– “God makes some things happen, He allows other things to happen but nothing just happens”. When I look back at that experience, I have no doubt whatsoever that God led Hugh and the committee to Cherokee that day.

I had never met anyone like Hugh or anyone remotely close. I had never seen a church like Danville. Although introverted to some degree, they were the most laid back congregation that I had ever seen. The first Sunday that my family and I walked into the sanctuary, it sounded like a bee hive. My first thought was: “This is an irreverent bunch of folks but I later changed my mind. I was almost like the bitter preacher who had failed repeatedly so when he went for yet another trial sermon, he entitled it , “Ten Reasons You Don’t Want to Call Me To Be Your Pastor.” You may think that I’m a little direct now, you should have known me then. I should have been fired the first month. By the way, I have preached only one trial sermon my entire life. At DBC, I got to preach two months of trial sermons and in most of them, I gave reasons or proof as to why they shouldn’t call me. God was leading all the time and I did not know it. He led me to Danville but I just didn’t realize that He was doing it.

Everyone I talked to in my professional circle [not that big] said “Don’t go, it is not a good situation” and so I decided without any help from the LORD that I would tell them to go ahead and look for someone else. I called Hugh early in the week to tell him that I was not coming. I wanted to give him time to get someone for the next Sunday. His son Bradley answered: I gave him the message, “Tell Hugh I am not coming back. Tell him to go ahead and get someone else.” I had a couple of miserable days. “LORD, what are you doing? Surely You do not want me to go. It will be a mistake.” By Thursday night I was fit to be tied and so I decided to call Hugh: if he had gotten someone else, it would be a sign that I was confused. I called Hugh and once again, he was not home and his son Bradley answered. It was a relief in a way because I dreaded hearing Hugh tell me that I had made a mistake. I said, “Bradley, tell your daddy that I don’t have any peace about the decision and if he has not found someone else, I will be back Sunday. Bradley in his unique and flippant  manner said, “No problem Bro. Jack, I never gave him your first message. I must have forgotten.” I was relieved and told him that it was probably the LORD’s will. Most of the rest is history. I did try to negotiate with Hugh a little on the salary. I haven’t forgotten his words, “It’s all we can pay” he said…I said “Hugh”, it is not all you can pay.” “OK then”, he said, “It is all that we are going to pay.” I laughed because I knew he was telling the truth. I said, “That being the case, I will come under one condition, I will have to work some on the side to support my family because I cannot live on your salary, there is only a $2 difference between  your salary and my previous. He said, “You’ll have to talk to the committee on that” and we did. Bobby James said, “Most of us work two jobs, I don’t see anything wrong with you doing it” and so we were off to the races. I think everyone understood the “Two Job Deal”  except Mrs. Lillian.

About 3o of the last 34 years, Hugh has been my coach. He has chewed my rear more than once and I have witnesses. He didn’t like it when I ask the church to reaffirm my call and he told me so. We talked about it standing beside his tractor shed. Finally I said, “Hugh, you may be right. All I can say is that I did what I thought God was telling me to do. I guess we will have to wait and see, time will tell.” That was the end of it: he never brought it up again and neither did I. We learned early on that even if Hugh was wrong on any issue, he was not going to admit it.

Hugh did not want scrubs around the new church building when we relocated but he got out voted. The first year we had to re-mulch them, he pulled up, found me and chewed me out. I said, “Hugh, I am just here as a worker. I had nothing to do with the scrubs. Jeff was the chairman of that committee, go chew him out.” He grunted and then said, “You have something to do with everything that happens around here” and he turned and got in his truck and took off. James Kyle was working right beside me and he was one of Hugh’s best friends. Hugh was so upset that he never spoke to James Kyle. James Kyle laughed and said, “What was that all about?” I said, “He wanted river rock and no scrubs.” The next day, Hugh came barging into my office and said, “Come on, me and you are going to take a ride.” I said, “No we aren’t, I don’t have time.” [You know how this one turned out] “Yea you are, come on, I want to show you something.” This was back when the old 74 was in mint condition [kidding]. I went out and got in the truck with him. He said, “Don’t mess with anything, the last time you got in my truck, you cut the heater on and I was never able to get it off” [true]. We rode up 157 all the way to the top of the mountain. He got in the slow lane and said “Watch this”. He drove up the mountain in high [3 on the column] doing about 30 MPH. He said, “Listen to her purr”. I’m thinking “Hugh, you bring me out here to show me your old truck can climb a mountain in high gear” but I didn’t say a word. Probably an hour later, we are pulling up on the parking lot and he takes that massive hand and grabs me by the back of the neck and makes me look at him. “He said, “You know I love you, don’t you?” And I said, “Yea, Hugh, I know you love me”. When he left and I got back into the quiet sanctuary of my office, a still quiet voice said, “That was his apology for chewing you out yesterday”. I am a blessed man, I am one of a few that has ever got that much from Hugh. Hey, I have 50 stories of Hugh. I guess I need to write a book.

Folks, I have no doubt that God providentially lead me to Danville, Alabama. I would not take anything for the last 34 years. My life has been enriched beyond measure. I cannot begin to tell you how much I appreciate my friends in Danville. Every now and then someone will ask me “What is the most difficult part of staying at one place for so long?” Without hesitation, I always say, “Seeing an entire generation pass away”. I still think of Lewis and Lillian Sims often. Kenneth use to refer to Hugh, John and Jimmie as the BIG THREE. Of he original active Deacons, Charles is the only one left. The first group I worked with was–Charles, Kenneth, Louis Glenn, Jessie Roberts, Bobby James and Jimmie Stephenson. John had rotated off and came back on the next year. There were some 15 widow women living on the strip [36] and everyone of them are gone. I think Ma Akers was the last to go. Hey, it will not be long until we are all reunited.

The Big D And We Are Not Talking Dallas

One of the most painful and destructive things that can happen to a family is divorce. As a pastor and preacher, I have to address the subject; it would be morally wrong for me to ignore it all together. As a pastor, my primary task is to prevent divorce. I cannot do anything about the past even though I know that some have painful memories. Once a divorce is finalized there is not much I can do but hope for the best. I say hard and shocking things from the pulpit in an effort to get people to thing about divorce and the devastation that comes with it. Divorce can be a solution at times but in most cases, it does not solve the problem, it creates a new set of problems. Practically everyone who has endured the experience feels that their case is an exception. There are exceptions but not as many as folks pretend. Most divorces can be prevented.

The honest truth is that although most Divorces can be prevented, it is generally one of the two involved that can prevent it. I don’t even accept adultery as a reason for divorce. I think things can be worked out even in a case where one or both have been unfaithful. The problem is: when one or the other sets their eye on a new mate, you have major problems. This particular person wants out of the old relationship so he/she can get into a new relationship legitimately [most of the time, they are already into the new relationship]. So here is the scenario in many cases: one spouse is committed to the marriage and wants to work things out, the other has found someone else and does not want to work things out. It is the one wanting out of the relationship that can prevent the divorce. The spouse that is committed to the marriage is helpless. He or she may not want a divorce but it is impossible for them to make a relationship work when their spouse has found someone else and is bound and determined to get out of the marriage.

I want you to understand what I am saying: Many of us would be divorced if it were not for the grace of God and a spouse that is committed to the marriage. It really helps when both husband/father and wife/mother work together to stay together. What I try to do is make people face reality and that is not an easy task. I bumped into a woman in her 60’s a few years back. I had not seen her in a good while. During that time her husband had passed away. I would guess that it had been two or three years since his physical death. The woman came out of a department store that I was about to enter and she looked like she had been eating bananas side ways, she was grinning from ear to ear. Matter of fact, I think she had lip stick on both ears. I said, “What on earth is going on?” She said with the voice of elation, “Bro. Jack, I am in love and I feel like I am 16 years old”. She had that inverted, she was 61 years old. Now her case was legitimate. She was a widow marring a widower but the point is this: you don’t get to old to fall in love and when it happens, you don’t think straight.

Romantic love [Greek word is eros] is highly conditional. Don’t confuse eros with agape. Agape is divine love, or love from above and it is unconditional. God does not love us because we deserve to be loved. He loved us because he choose to love us. It is a committed and unconditional love. Romantic love is not that way. Although it can be committed at times it is never unconditional. Eros is like a fire: if you want to keep it going, you better put a little wood on from time to time, stir the embers and fan the flame or eros will go out. Men are horrible when he comes to romancing after the wedding ceremony. They consider that the romance is over, they have their catch and she is legally bound plus the fact that she over achieved and could never find anyone better. Guess what, men of full of it! Go ahead guys, treat her like she is a piece of property, a maid, a child, or a prostitute and you will destroy her love for you. She will slowly but surely fall out of love. Most new relationships get started because certain needs are going unmet. Needy women as well has needy men are vulnerable to new relationships because they are starved for romance and intimacy. If you are more passionate about hunting wild game than you are romancing your wife, you have problems. The older guys may get by with it but you younger men had best be careful. You treat your wife with respect, you love her mother and her family, you treat her like a queen and you will most likely have a partner for life. You mistreat her or take her for granted and someone else may come along and win her heart. Whose fault is it? What I am saying is that most divorces can be prevented if we act in time.

There are exceptions. Hosea married a whore and she returned to her ways like a sow to a mud hole. One man was not enough and children were a distraction and a nuisance. When a woman has no affection for the fruit of her womb, you have major problems. Most mothers are going to love their children but there are exceptions like Gomer. She abandon her three children, never wrote, never called, never remembered their birthday, etc. Meanwhile she moved from motel to motel sleeping with every man who would provide for her needs. She lived like a prostitute until no one wanted to sleep with her. After she became a slave, Hosea redeemed her and carried her home. There is no doubt that some have mis-married. They did not pray nor think: they followed their heart and got attached to the wrong person. Gomer was not wife or mother material. occasionally this happens. The spouse comes home one day and says, “I don’t want to be married” and there is nothing you can do. They hear the call of the wild and they are gone, leaving you with the kids, the bills and all the responsibilities. This however is the exception, not the rule. In most cases there are going to be custody battles and the kids are going to get caught in the middle.

Whereas many divorces could be prevented, it is impossible to prevent them all. I know of cases where the spouse who walked out was being literally begged to stay. In this case, we have a victim. We have a person who has been rejected and abandoned. The emotional scaring from this experience is harrowing. Some people never rebound. Divorce is not only hard on the rejected party, it is hard on the children and the parents. Divorce will destroy the holidays. It can all but destroy the security of the children involved. They have to move every 10 days to two weeks. Everything in our judicial system protects the rights of the father and mother but the children have no rights and grandparents certainly have no rights, not in a court of law.

Most cases that I get involved in are resolvable. Pride can be a factor, the third-party is always a big factor but if people had a mind to do it, they could work through the difficulties and save the marriage and the family. Little children are devastated by divorce even though they don’t understand what is going on. As kids grow up, they learn to put two and two together. Eventually, they will figure it out, you left their mom or dad for another person and when you did, that person became the focus of your life. Even women can get so preoccupied with their new lover that they forget their children. What I tell them and what I am telling you is that the apple is going to lose its shine and it has an ugly worm at the core. You are going to die with regret because you are going to be a lonely old person. Don’t expect your kids to make you a priority because you did not make them a priority. These nest jumpers are not looking twenty years down the road, if they did, they would stay in the nest.

The one thing that you do not need to tell me if you are thinking about a divorce and you have children is…“I’m just not happy and I think the Lord wants me to be happy”. Oh really, show me that verse. I’ll tell you what the LORD wants, he wants you to grow up and be responsible. He wants you to be holy and that mean that He wants you to do the right thing, not the selfish thing. One other thing and I will cease and desist: women are smarter than men. Sorry about that men but it is true. Men do not think with their brain. Another part of their anatomy overrules the brain unfortunately. Women think! Men fish, women catch! Women calculate, they always have a plan. You did not accidently bump into her at the water fountain. She knew what time of the day you go to the fountain.  Men fly by the set of their pants; their plans are immediate, like what are we going to do tonight but women think long-term. They think future and security. Generally speaking, they are not looking for a one night stand, they are looking for a long-term plan. If he has a good job or pension, that makes him all the more attractive. Younger women may yield to vanity but they learn fast and eventually they are attracted to kindness, gentleness, sense of humor, position, and of course things that they associate with security such as possessions. Even an old man has no trouble finding a wife if he has a huge bank account.

A businessman was attending a convention several hundred miles from home. His wife called him four and five times a day. Finally, one of the other men said, “What is up with your wife? Why does she have this need to call every few minutes? The man looked up and said, “She is not my first wife and we met at a convention.” Read between the lines folks. Don’t make me have to spell it out. The wife was deeply insecure because she was afraid that another woman would do to her what she had done to the first wife. It is simple logic: if he did it once, would it not do it again. If you are in a second marriage, you better talk about these insecurities. I promise you, they are real. First marriage, second marriage or third: stick it out, don’t quit. By the grace of God, make it work. Most of all you must remember that when I am on the subject of divorce, I’m not trying to beat you down, I am trying to get the others to think before they too make a painful mistake.