Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
August 17, 2014
Blessed again by the jubilee crowd
Last Monday was a wonderful day for me and my sweet wife Dean. We shared a Jubilee Celebration with a crowd of “old geezers” at Auburn Methodist Church.
Lynn Jackson arranged the meeting. She serves on George Mathison’s staff at the church. Brother George loves to brag about Lynn’s creative ministry to the church’s senior children. She really does a super job.
We began at 10 o’clock with a splendid devotional message given by John Poole. John chairs the Jubilee Council that sponsors this celebration every summer.
What an honor to team up with Joe Pat Cox from the little Frazer Church in Montgomery! Though Joe Pat has turned 79 he has not slowed down at all. The man can lead singing! Full of enthusiasm, Joe Pat can use laughter and tears to turn a congregation into a choir within 15 minutes.
My assignment after the spirited singing was to keep the crowd awake until lunchtime. Lynn had asked me to reflect on the admonition in Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” I had a good time talking about helpful ways to begin the day with God.
The first thing I do every morning is give thanks that I am alive! Life is a gift. Glory! I move more slowly these days but I thank God I am still moving. But before I move even one step I obey the Psalmist. He said, “Be still.” Actually my doctor said that also; stand still, he said, and let your blood circulate a bit before you start walking.
While I am standing still for a few minutes I acknowledge and celebrate the presence of God. It helps to remember that though I may feel lonely sometimes, I am not alone. God is with me. His name after all is Immanuel, God with us. And not only is God with me, he loves me! That thought energizes me more than coffee!
Aware of God’s presence, the best thing I can do is not talk to God but listen to God. I learned from E. Stanley Jones the value of being quiet each morning and letting the Lord speak to my soul. Brother Stanley’s discipline was to arise each day at the same time and listen. He called his morning quiet time his “listening post.”
I remember laughing as Jones described one morning when weary from lack of sleep he arose as the appointed time and began to listen. He said he heard the Lord say, “Stanley, you need some more sleep. Go back to bed for a while.” A God like that is easy to love!
Learning to listen to God relieves us from the pressure of trying to tell God what he needs to do for us. Many mornings I do not “hear” a lot from God but it is enough to hear him say a simple thing like, “I want to help you to be my man today.”
Some mornings I may eat grits, oatmeal or cereal for breakfast. But I need also the nourishment that comes from reading His Word. For this spiritual food I often read from The New Testament in Modern English by J. B. Phillips. As much as I like grits and eggs I like even more the stimulation that comes from digesting a passage like this one in the first chapter of Colossians:
“As you live this new life, we pray that you will be strengthened from God’s boundless resources, so that you will find yourselves able to pass through an experience and endure it with joy. You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light. For we must never forget that he rescued us from the power of darkness, and reestablished us in the kingdom of his beloved Son. For it is by his Son alone that we have been redeemed and have had our sins forgiven.”
That, my friends, is good food!
Over the past 50 years I have spent time on many mornings with my dear friend Oswald Chambers. His book, My Utmost for His Highest, has blessed me more than any book except the Bible. Many times to read Chambers’ brief one page devotional is like having a slap in the face.
At times all of us feel drawn back beneath the bed covers; when I am struggling with that feeling I can hear Oswald saying bluntly, “Get up! God will not do for you what you can do for yourself. Take yourself by the nap of the neck and do what you know you should do!”
The poet Carl Sandburg said, "There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud." He is right! And each of us has to decide every morning whether we shall live like an eagle or live like a hippo.
If I choose to live like an eagle I will often soar into the life of someone who is lonely or suffering, someone whose pain is greater than my own. God’s “eagles” like to land where people are hurting and lend a helping hand or offer a word of encouragement. But before I can live like an eagle I must decide not to live like a hippo wallowing in the mud.
I reminded the old geezers at Auburn that we are not far from the finish line. Every morning we must ask God for the grace to finish well. It helps to realize that God loves us and is eager to help us cross the finish line a winner.
I left Auburn thankful for the honor of sharing once again in the Jubilee Celebration. I felt like I had been in the presence of some of God’s finest eagles. They know how to meet God in the morning and find strength for the day. Those Auburn Methodists are my kind of folks! + + +
1. Suffering is a great teacher. It teaches us to value every waking moment. I was brash, cocky and carefree until our son David was diagnosed with leukemia. Then my real education began. I realized what pain doctors and nurses endure in order to serve others. Dr. T. Fort Bridges and his staff were such gracious, loving people; they hurt with us during David’s 9-month battle with leukemia. Our crash course in suffering culminated one morning when Dr. Nels Ferre took us in his arms and said, “God hurts like you hurt.” We have never forgotten the compassion of this good man who lifted the dead body of our son off the bed and asked the Lord to receive his soul. A second lesson is this:
2. We are not alone. God is with us. His name is Immanuel, God with us! My wife almost died from a terrible lung disease. Suddenly one day she was better. The doctor did not know why. My wife complained that it was terribly hot and stuffy in her hospital room. Then a cool breeze came into the room. She said, “I felt a Presence. I looked around but could see no one. But I felt someone was in the room. Then, all of a sudden, I felt well.” The doctor confirmed her wellness the next morning and dismissed her.
You are not alone as you walk the halls of the hospital. There will be times when Christ will seem so present that you can feel his hand on your shoulder. When you are weak, He will give you the strength to carry on and you will know then that He is with you. He helps popes and preachers but He also loves to help doctors and nurses share his compassion with the sick. The final lesson is this:
3. Gentleness and kindness are more valuable than diamonds when you are suffering. When I almost died because of a blood clot, I was on the brink of departing. I remembered Paul’s words: “The time of my departure is at hand.” I thought my time was up. But the doctors and nurses who cared for me gave me hope and treated me with unbelievable gentleness and kindness. I shall never forget those days or the kindness extended to me. It went far beyond the requirements of professional care. What they gave me was compassion like that of Jesus, and it stirred my gratitude to the depths.
As you care for your patients, do the best you can, and leave the rest to God. Offer every ounce of kindness and cheer you possess and depend on Christ to refill the reservoir within you. The more compassion you give away, the more He will restore your supply.
He will help you to grow in your capacity to love people – even those you can love only for a little while. As you feel pain, and shed tears, remember that our Lord was acquainted with grief. Offer your tears to Him and allow Him to turn your tears into the wine of joy. Never look for a way to avoid being hurt by the suffering of others. Remember you are made in the image of the God who hurts like you hurt. Pain is part of His plan for shaping us into the compassionate servants He wants us to become.
As James reminds us, our life is but a shadow, like a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes. While we have life, let us do the very best we can with it in the hope that one day our Savior will welcome us home with that best of all greetings: “Well done, good and faithful servant”!
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Don Bennett – climbed Mount Rainier in Washington, 14,410 feet to summit. He made it on one leg and two crutches, becoming first amputee to climb that mountain. Asked to share most important lesson he learned, he spoke of his team that helped him realize his dream, and said,”You can’t do it alone.”
George Matheson – songwriter and preacher – lost his sight at early age. Prayed that God would take away his thorn in the flesh. Then he realized that the creative use of his handicap could actually become his personal means of achieving happiness. He wrote, “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my thorn. I have thanked Thee for my roses, but not once for my thorn….Teach me the glory of my cross. Teach me the value of my thorn. Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.”
Concert in Royal Festival Hall in London, in 1952, the conductor, Dr. Boyd Neel, came to a passage of a piece of music, “The Banks of the Green Willow,” which called for solo parts for the French horns. To his embarrassment, instead of solos, there was only silence. The horn players were all backstage. They had missed their cue for the only part in which they were required!
Fast forward now to the first Century, and to the Book of Hebrews in the New Testament. The writer describes another great crowd in 12:1-2. Because this crowd is unseen, the writer calls it a “great cloud of witnesses,” heroes of the faith like Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, David, Samson and others. Though unseen, faith makes them real for the Christian.
The important lesson for us is that LIFE IS MEANT TO BE SHARED! When we came to Auburn 54 years ago, back when it was still Alabama Polytechnic Institute, we shared life together. We had our fraternities, our sororities, our drinking parties, our games, and yes, we gathered in the stadium to cheer for our Tigers in games that were very important to us. We can remember the thrill of roaring together in the stadium as our team won. That of course, was after 1950, when our team lost all ten football games, and the coach was fired, and replaced by the man we came to love and admire, Coach Shug Jordan.
Think about your life now. Is there anything more disheartening than a lonely struggle? Life is almost unbearable when no one else sees or cares, or when no human friend shares our burden. If we are to win in the contests of life, we must learn to share life, to find the strength that comes from sharing with our Christian friends the heartaches of our lives.
However, what the writer of Hebrews shows us is that we can rely not only on the help of our comrades, we can draw strength and encouragement from the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us in this present hour.
Psychologists tell us that in every person’s life there are two kinds of people. There are the people who evaluate us, and the people who encourage us. The evaluators constantly nitpick, looking for flaws they can point out to us. The encouragers are those who come alongside us and help us believe in ourselves. The evaluators live in our basement, the encouragers in our balcony. These persons may be dead as well as living. It helps to think of them as basement people and balcony people.
If we are to win the race of life, we must learn to stop listening to our basement people, and to pay attention to our balcony people. To live well, we must be willing to speak to our basement people. What we need to say firmly to them is this: SHUT UP! I AM NOT GOING TO LISTEN TO YOU AGAIN! Every day I try to look up and around me, and listen to my cheer leaders, men and women who have mentored me, and coached me, and helped me to do my best. Some are dead now, but they are alive in my balcony. They cheer me on when I am down. They inspire me to get up, pick up the pieces, and try again when I have failed. I could not live well without the encouragement I receive daily from the great cloud of witnesses in my balcony.
Some of those whose lives we celebrate and remember today, will be in your balcony. Their memory is dear to you. You remember sharing life with them, and now they continue to bless you by cheering for you from your balcony. Our balcony people cheer us on to victory!
The great good news is that they are not simply watching our race to see its outcome. They are participating in our journey with us. They are for us, and with us, and in a quiet moment we can hear their cheers and feel the strength they offer to us by their encouragement. They keep reminding us that though life is hard, we can overcome hardship and conquer our enemies by the grace of God.
They remind us that the grace of God, his mercies, are fresh every morning, and by faith we can endure to the end, and claim finally a crown that is far more valuable than the ancient olive-wreath crown. A gold medal will pale in significance one day to the sound of the Father’s words as he says, “Welcome home my child; you have won the race, and now you can rest in my arms as I share with you the eternal reward of my love to enjoy forever.”
My friends, we are not far from the finish line. Finish the race by sharing life both with your friends and the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. And never allow a single day to pass that you do become quiet for a moment and listen so that your balcony friends can offer you the encouraging help that they alone can give. And never forget that the Head Cheer Leader in your balcony is none other than Jesus Christ. Hear his voice in the midst of the noises of this world and with his mentoring, you can cross the finish line a winner. Glory Hallelujah, Amen, and War Eagle!
Song by Philip Bliss: “Hallelujah! What a Savior”
1. His Presence makes all the difference!
Song: I stand amazed in His Presence!