Learning is a lifetime process. Author and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Life is a succession of lessons which have to be lived to be understood.” Personally, I believe our learning ability is much better when you are young but your desire to learn increases with age. We learn in three ways primarily: we can learn by instruction, by corrections and by our own experience which includes a lot of trial and error. C.S. Lewis says that “Experience is a brutal teacher” but unfortunately that seems to be our most effective way of learning. I never expect young people to be thankful or humble. These things take time and failure. This does not mean that all young people are ungrateful. Mark Twain once said “all generalizations are false, including this one.” I have met some young people who were extremely thankful but they had suffered a lot of adversity in their few years. Most youth in our culture have not had a difficult time. To be honest, most of them are spoiled. There is an old proverb, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. Most of us are not ready to learn when we are young and this is unfortunate because are brains are much sharper in our youthful years.
I do speak tongue in cheek but we don’t really begin learning until we get out of college and get married. If you are not married or should I say, if you have never been married, your education is not complete. Getting married is a huge step in the process of learning. Single people are generally focused on themselves; they have not learned to share. They live by themselves. They come and go as they please because there is no one else to please but themselves. Marriage is a sharing experience. I tell folks that June and I have a 50/50 marriage: I give 50% and she takes 50%. My wife goes by the term Big Mama since we became grandparents. She is not big in a physical sense but she does have a big influence. We have a saying in our family, “If Big Mama aint happy, nobody is happy”. When a man gets married, he has to put some time and effort into pleasing his wife. We have a lot of folks that talk big but they are just like the rest of us guys: they do things to please their wives and keep them happy. I’ve seen grown men change 180 degrees in a week’s time due to the influence of their wife. It is not good for anyone to get his or her way all the time. Marriage is a teacher: it teaches us to share.
The next step in the learning process is having children. Have you noticed, the experts on raising children don’t have children? Mrs. Bertha Smith use to preach to women about submitting to their husbands but Mrs. Bertha had never been married. You hear people talk about the correct way to rear children but they don’t have children themselves yet they seem to have all the answers for those who do. Being a parent is a learning experience.
The next step in this progression is parenting teenagers. If you have not parented a teenager: you are not fully educated. Teenagers can teach you a lot. First, they teach us that we must be patient. They say that grandchildren are our reward for not killing our kids when they were teenagers. Teenagers teach us to appreciate our parents. They make us realize that our parents were very patient with us. I have to admit, by the grace of God, that my children were not as hard headed as I was. My mother would be turned into to DHR today for child abuse because she beat me on a regular basis. Her rule of thumb was to whip me wherever I misbehaved. Can you imagine a parent whipping a child with a peach tree limb at Walmart these days? I promise you, someone would call the law. Although my kids were easier to raise than I was, it was still a learning experience and a trying one during their teen years. We have three girls and a boy so I had this girl thing all figured out. I build a special room in our house called a Parlor. It was right by the front door. The young men would come to the front door, I would get to have the Father talk with them and then they would court in the Parlor where Big Mama and I could keep an eye on them. Not a one of them used the parlor. I never got to do my Father’s speech more than once [Hannah’s first prom]. The guy she went with had longer hair than Hannah. I don’t know what went wrong but I never got to talk to another boy. My daughters would slip off and meet them somewhere else: can you believe that! I would tell folks, my girls don’t date and folks would look at me and smile. Everyone knew what was going on except old dad.
Having teenagers is a learning experience but there is more, much more. The next big step is the learning process is the mid-life crisis. For the men, this will come around the age of forty. Women are ahead of men in practically everything and the mid-life crisis is no exception. Women hit it in their middle to late thirties. If you want some good entertainment, catch a man going through the mid-life crisis. His hair will start getting darker if he has any hair. Those that have no hair usually buy some imported hair off the internet. I think they call it a toupee. The ones that have hair start using Grecian Formula. They start jogging or going to the gym. Some even leave they top shirt button open so you can see their chest hair which they have carefully styled with the blow dryer. Then they get themselves a convertible or a motorcycle. Of course none of those things are slowing the old biological clock; it just keeps ticking. Women in mid-life crisis revert back to teenage years and start trying to wear their daughter’s clothes. They start spending time with other women; kind of a women’s night out. They take off their wedding bands and act silly. They may even go to a male stripper show or movie. They too are bad about the sports cars. The worse part of the mid-life crisis is the divorce rate accelerates dramatically during these years. We are afraid that life will pass us by without our getting to fulfill our dreams. We are afraid of being cheated by life. The mid-crisis years are a turning point. Some go backward and never recover while other resist the temptation and really begin to learn. At age forty you wish you had known at age twenty, what you now know at forty. At age forty, you really begin to appreciate your parents and you also begin to realize that life is not at all like you expected. Many of your goals are not going to be reached and many of your dreams are not going to come true. Reality sets in at age forty, which is why so many men go through a mid-life crisis around this age. They are afraid that life is going to pass them by without them knowing what life is all about.
Stayed tuned, the learning is not over, not yet. At age fifty we hit another gear and its petal to the metal. I mean we are learning so much so fast that it leaves us dizzy. Suddenly, we become aware of our ignorance. We begin to realize, “If I only knew as much as I thought I knew when I was twenty, I would be in fair shape.” At fifty you realize, there is so much to know and so little time. At fifty, our affinity for reading increases and we are genuinely excited about learning. I mean, we are like a kid with a new toy and the internet is a wonderful toy when it comes to learning. But it’s not over at fifty: no, no, there is more.
At sixty you don’t want to waste time not learning; T.V. is a bore and books are much more exciting. You read, observe, you study but you have to make lots of notes because at sixty, you can’t remember what you just read. Little children are great teachers; the only problem is that we have to get to sixty before we will listen to them. Anyway, learning is a lifelong process and we learn by instruction, experience and correction. Hopefully, we never stop learning.
As I look back, I can see clearly eight insightful moments, which have literally changed my life. With each insight and there is an experience and a mentor. In this book I will be sharing the insights and the people and experiences that have helped me gain each new understanding. I hope you enjoy the book and I pray that the Holy Spirit will give you at least one new insight.
With each of these insights, there was an experience or a key person whom God used to help me understand the particular truth or insight. These insights have become the principles that govern my life. Dr. James Mahoney helped me understand the nature of the flesh. He came to our area my first year out of seminary. I still have his book, Journey Into Fullness in my library. He probably had some bearing on my understanding of depravity and that experience also came very early in our ministry. The third insight also came within the first five years out of Seminary and the key person here was Dudley Hall. Then I moved to Danville and several years after being at Danville, I meet a man by the name of George Twenty and he recommended a book by Robert McGee [unconditional love]. Shortly after that or perhaps before it, I was influenced by a book entitle Kingdom Principles by Gene Mims. This happened while I was staying with a friend in Grand Bay, Alabama. The next insight happened at an A.L. Williams meeting in Albertville, Alabama [10-10-80 rule]. Next was understanding the preeminence of Christ. This occurred while I was attending an Associational meeting at First Baptist Decatur and God used a country preacher by the name of Harlen Hood to open this insight. Last but not least is the influence of C.S. Lewis, especially his book, the FOUR LOVES and Vichtor Frankl Man’s Search For Meaning. These two master pieces have helped me more in the area of counseling than anything that I have come across. I would say that there are three must read books for pastors. The two above and Robert McGee’s Search for Significance.
THE NATURE OF THE FLESH
Then Jesus *said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’ But after I have been raised, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” But Peter said to Him, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” Peter *said to Him, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” All the disciples said the same thing too. [Matthew 26:31-35, NASB]
“Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” [Matthew 26:41, NASB]
There are two people, both better men than myself, which I do not want to trade places with because their personal sins are recorded in the word of God for all to see. Of course I am speaking of King David and the Apostle Peter. Actually I have more in common with Peter than I do David. David knew how to sing and fight and I can do neither. Peter was very good at putting his foot in his mouth and that I can do with the best of them. Yes, I am afraid that it is true, I am impetuous like Peter. The only time I stop talking is to change feet. Peter made statements without giving them prior thought. Peter was not a bad guy and I am not picking on him but Jesus gave him a fair warning about the deceitfulness of the flesh and Peter did not listen.
Peter was offended by the word “all”. It was no shock to him that the other might run for cover when things got though but not himself. This is the pride of the flesh: note Peter’s exact words– “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away. Do you hear what Peter is saying… “I am different, I am not like others, they may be weak but I am not.” Actually, all the disciples except Judas made the same pledge. Again note Peter’s boast, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” You know the rest of the story: Jesus was right and Peter was wrong. Peter was not able to keep his promise; he fled just like all the rest. Not only did he not die with Jesus, he denied that he even knew Jesus. What was the problem? Was Peter an out and out hypocrite? What is going on? Why did he say one thing and do another? In Matthew 26:41, Jesus gives us the answer: “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We cannot serve Christ, let alone please him if we live in the power of the flesh. The flesh is strong when it comes to doing its will but it will never carry out the will of God. Paul teaches this spiritual law in Romans 8—“because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so… and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” [Romans 8:6-8, NASB]. When it comes to self-denial and serving God, the flesh is weak and cowardly. It shuns death and suffering like they were the plague. Peter was boasting in his own fleshly strength and he had no idea that his own flesh would betray him. There is a multitude of scripture that warns us not to trust the flesh. Jeremiah said– “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength” [Jeremiah 17:5, NRSV]. I love what Paul said in Philippians three, “For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God* and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh” [Philippians 3:3, NRSV]. The flesh bats 1.000, it has a perfect record of displeasing God, it will fail you every single time. Do not, under any circumstance, trust the flesh.
Every Christian, especially a babe in Christ, needs to memorize Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” Here is the key insight: when you get saved, you get a renewed higher nature [a spiritual nature] from God in the person of the Holy Spirit who takes residence in your life but your old fleshly sin loving nature has not been eradicated, it is still there. You don’t see it that much in a new believer but eventually, the flesh will rear its ugly head and it will try to take over. Pharaoh is an O.T. type of the flesh. He allowed Jacob’s children to live in the land with some degree of freedom for a while but then he raised his ugly head and took their freedom. He inflicted suffering upon them and would not allow them to go and worship. I’ve been on this earth for over sixty years and I am telling you: everyone has a problem with the flesh. A fellow minister and I debated this subject on the way to Ridge Crest a few years back, and I stopped in the middle of the argument and said, “you are arguing with me and that is proof of my point. The flesh demands its way. It will argue and it will not submit.” My friend did not profess to live above sin but it simply denied the fact that a believer has two natures. There are those who believe that they do live above sin and they will tell you point blank “you may have a problem with the flesh but I don’t: I’ve been liberated from the power of the flesh and I don’t sin”. The only way to live above sin is to rent an apartment over a beer joint. I will even go so far as to say that if you could do it [which you can’t], you would be arrogant. You would wear your halo so tight that it would give everyone a headache. Peter struggled with his fleshly nature. He was confident that he could stand with Jesus and even die with Him if necessary but his confidence was in the flesh and he failed. Perhaps you are thinking: well that was before the resurrection and Peter never gets in the flesh after the resurrection. Only one major problem, he made a similar mistake when he visited Antioch. Read Galatians chapter two where Paul elaborates. Peter’s hypocritical behavior almost split the church: it did divide the fellowship.
The flesh is capable of bringing you down. It tricked Peter into denying Christ whom He did love and of dividing the precious fellowship at Antioch. The flesh is a powerful force working in opposition to Christ and the Spirit. It is the number one problem in churches today. The most difficult task of any pastor is to keep his people from getting into a “flesh war” or a war of wills. One of my seminary professors told us the story of the church that had red shingles on the South side of their roof and green on the North side. He was so fascinated that he stopped at a store near the church and ask how this strange phenomenon came to be. The store clerk said, “The church is divided right down the middle, they cannot agree on anything. One group wanted red shingles and the other green and you have seen the result.” Don’t you know that church had a powerful witness in the community? Does it make any difference what color the roof is? Does God have a preference on the color of the roof, the walls, the carpet and all the other things that Baptist fight over? There is no place in our pilgrimage here on earth where the flesh is not a problem. It is always capable of producing an agonizing struggle. It will trip you up. It will talk you into overloading your wagon by making promises you cannot keep. It will divide the fellowship of a church. Pride is rooted deeply in the flesh and it is something that we have to deal with every day of our lives. False humility is prevalent in the ministry. Many pastors appear to be humble. They understand, that this perception of humility is vital to their survival but the truth is: none of us are truly humble. We may appear to be humble; we may be quiet and shy but no one is humble. Sometimes we confuse low self-esteem with humility but they are totally different. A person with low self esteem things little of their self but an humble person thinks little about him or her self. Most of us think for to much about our self. There is a vast difference between thinking of self and about self. Jeremy Taylor lived in the 17th century and at one time was the Chaplain for the British King Charles I. In his book, Rules and Exercises of Holy Living, he gives 19 characteristics of humility. I have put them in the form of a spiritual examination and expanded number 12 so that we have twenty questions.
- Do you understand that you are merely a human and like all other humans, you have nothing in yourself that merits worth?
- Do you understand that you are unworthy? You deserve no honor, no praise and no glory. [Actually, you deserve death and hell]
- Are you content for others to think lowly of you?
- Do you nurture good things in secret? [give without others being aware of what you are doing]
- Are you ashamed of your birth, your parents, your occupation, your employment or your status?
- Do you ever fish for a compliment?
- When someone does praise you, do you, in your heart, give that praise to Christ or do you keep it for yourself?
- Is your reputation more important to you than your neighbor’s need?
- Do you rejoice in the gifts that God has given to others: gifts that perhaps, you do not have?
10. Do you speak lowly of yourself in hopes that someone with rebuke you and give a compliment?
11. Do you get offended when excluded, slighted or when you do not receive recognition or appreciation?
12. Do you boast about your accomplishments? [sharing with someone else what God is doing in your life can become a subtle form of boasting]
13. Do you take an active part in praising others.
14. Do you spend more time dreaming of personal greatness than you do in helping someone else achieve greatness.
15. Can you celebrate the success of others?
16. Do you compare yourself to others? Why?
17. Do you make excuses for your mistakes and put the blame on someone else?
18. Do you give God thanks for your weakness? [it is your weakness that teaches you humility]
19. Do you intentionally expose the weaknesses of others?
20. Are you willing to endure whatever God allows to send your way for Christ sake?
It is a soul-searching test. I hope you will be honest and admit that you did not do so well. Don’t be like the man who was awarded a pin for his humility and then had it taken away because he wore it everywhere he went. If you are proud of your humility then it is not humility that you are proud of; it is your pretense. If I were given the Luke 14 test of seating myself at a Royal Banquet, I know that I would take the lowest seat: not because I am humble but because I am proud. I don’t want to be embarrassed when the King’s servants ask me to move. Never confuse low self-esteem or fear with humility. Just remember, pride is something we have to battle daily. In this life, we can never put pride in the past tense. The pride of the flesh is a continual thorn in our side but alas it does teach us humility.
“Understanding Our Depravity”
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. [Romans 7:18, NASB]
I served small church during my college and seminary days. In looking back, I would say that my first church was by far the least conflicted. I think it was God’s way of affirming my call. Things got a little tougher in Seminary. We served a small church out in East New Orleans for about six months. The former pastor, also a Seminary student gave me a brief tutorial but I was too young and too full of myself to pay a lot of attention. He said, “the key is to have coffee with Mrs. Lange every Monday. You keep Miss Lange happy and you can stay here as long as you like”. Hey, I thanked him for his advice but told him in no uncertain terms that I ddi not drink coffee and if I did, it would not be with Mrs. Lange who in my view was just another member of the flock. The next six months were exciting. I saw God do things in that little church that I had never seen before or since. There is a sweet little lady in Ashville, Alabama today that I baptized during those six months. She became our “Seminary Mother” and we love her dearly. The church was growing and we had several baptisms. June and I pulled up one Sunday and one of the new converts meet me on the parking lot. “You have to do something about Mrs. Lange” he said, “she is standing on the front porch of the church turning people away…she is telling them that the church is head over heels in debt and that the pastor is a dictator.” When Mrs. Lange saw me coming she made a fast exit and retreated to her home. The church had one deacon but he was very lacking in courage. He did not want to but I compelled him to go with me the next night to pay Hattie Lange a visit. We chit-chatted with her husband who became a friend [bless his heart] and then I got down to business. I said, “Mrs. Lange, you can’t be standing on the front porch saying negative things about the church.” To be honest with you, I don’t remember all that I said but I do remember that she didn’t appreciate my words. She stayed at home until the next business meeting and then she showed up and showed out. She went into a tirade that was so bad that June began crying and June is tough. One of the Seminary Student got June and took her outside while Mrs. Hattie continued her attack. She called me things that I had to go home and look up in the dictionary. Finally, one of the Seminary students [my boss at work] stood up and said, “Mrs. Lange, I think you have said enough.” I’ll be honest with you, that old lady clipped my wings and get this, she controlled the treasury. I wasn’t worried about my salary, we probably gave more than they paid us but the church had bad financial problems and I knew she was determined to create more. I was working 39 hours a week, taking a full load in Seminary and I selfishly resigned a couple of weeks later. To this day, I don’t know if it was the right thing to do or not. By the way, Mrs. Lange called me back to do her husband’s funeral. I traveled 700 miles to do the service and she didn’t even thank me let alone offer to pay expenses. In light of this you can imagine the excitement that I felt upon graduation in May of 1974. I was so excited because I was sure that a bright future full of overwhelming success lay directly ahead. I was the pastor of a small church in rural Mississippi when I graduated and they had no problem with me staying there but I would have to go bi-vocational which at that time, I thought was a compromise for a man of my ability. I soon discovered that there were no big churches with good salaries looking for a preacher of my caliber. The first pulpit committee that came to here me seemed impressed but they were not. They were nice and they did meet with me after the service. They were complimentary of the service and message but had a huge question mark about my age and experience. I didn’t have a resume then or now but an old preacher by the name of Charlie Thompson had recommended me and I thought surely he told them how old I was . Looking back, they were just probably trying to be nice and the age thing was the least offensive thing they could come up with. I have to be honest, I made a lot of friends in Mississippi. I communicate with them to this very day. I was young and I did not think the church had a future but I did love the people. When my first opportunity came, I didn’t pray that intently. It was more like, LORD bless this move and June go to packing. Little did we know that we were going to a church in conflict. Not just conflict but major conflict. The pulpit committee did not give me a clue. Two weeks into that four and a half year education, all hades broke loose. I was 25 years old and green as timber. As Vance Havner use to say, “not only did I not know anything, I did not even expect anything.” The church was split but not down the middle. I didn’t know what to do so I decided to stand with the majority; after all, I am a Baptist. Soon after my decision, I saw the handwriting on the wall. The other faction came at me like a school of piranhas and before it was over, they had blamed me for the entire mess. The next six months of my life was a trial. I found me a small room above the baptistry where I would hid during Sunday School and agonize in prayer before going out to face not only a divided church but some who were hostile. I’ll be honest with you: as I look back, I do not know how I made it. It had to be God’s marvelous grace. The problem is: I did not understand grace at that time and I was fretting daily about my dilemma. One Saturday night I was in my study feeling sorry for myself and worried about facing this hostile crowd the next day. I remember that I had my head down, looking at the floor and thinking “LORD, why are you letting this happen to me? I am a good guy. I have been faithful since I was a child and gone to all the trouble and expense to get a seminary degree and for what? For this, is this why I spent two years in New Orleans? Now the LORD did not speak to me audible but He spoke and He spoke clearly. Basically this is what He said, “Jack, you are right, you do not deserve to be treated like this, matter of fact, you do not deserve anything except death and hell.” I have never forgotten that conversation and I have referred to myself as a death and hell deserving sinner since. Until that night almost 40 years ago, I had no idea what depravity meant.
Symbols are more powerful than words because they do not change in their meaning as readily as words do. Yet I do not think that time has altered the definition of depravity, I think it depends on your doctrine. The word “depravity” means different things to different people. My definition of depravity is that we humans are incapable of producing any righteousness that God will accept. All our righteousness is tainted with self and is as filthy as the rags that they use to wrap around the sores of the lepers. Depravity to a hyper-Calvinist means that man is as dead as a rock and cannot respond to God’s grace or goodness. I like what Blaise Pascal said about free will. “God’s will has been to redeem us and open the way of salvation to those who seek it, but we have shown ourselves so unworthy that it is right for God to refuse to some, for the hardness of their heart, what He grants to others by a mercy they have not earned.” Phillip Yancy says it like this, “God’s terrible insistence on human freedom is so absolute that He granted us the power to live as though He does not exist.” Robert Ingersoll the devout atheist finished one of his speeches with, “If there be a God in heaven, let Him strike me dead in the next five minutes.” There was a lot of tension in the room for the next five minutes but when time was up, Ingersoll said boastfully, “See, I told you there was no God.” A fellow unbeliever said to an older lady as he departed the hall, “He proved his point tonight”…she said, “Yes, he proved that God does not take orders from atheist”. A reputable pastor upon hearing of his fiasco said, “Did the poor fool think that he could exhaust God’s patience in five minutes.” Folks, God has no insecurities. There is nothing that He fears. Jesus died knowing that some would reject His love. There are two sides to everything—a divine and a human. We see this in the person of Christ. In salvation, the divine side is grace [the atonement in Christ] and the human side is faith. All men are depraved but that does not mean that we cannot respond to God’s grace. It simply means that we have nothing to offer God except our lives, our trust, our faith. We have no bargaining chips. All our righteous is contaminated with self. Despite what hyper-calvinist teach, faith does not produce pride. Faith is God’s way of interacting with man. There is no other way to respond to God. You either believe or you don’t. It is not faith that leads to pride, it is elitism. It is believing that you are above others that produces pride. Pride always looks down, humility always looks up. Before you go to pursuing every wind of doctrine, you might ought give your teacher the Jeremy Taylor test.
The big problem in dealing with this subject of depravity is intellectual pride. Some people believe that they have to reconcile all scripture so that there are no contradictions. Any honest bible student knows that there are many contradiction is scripture. The bible teaches clearly that God is sovereign and it also teaches that man has a free will. The intellectual says: “If God is sovereign, man can not be free to choose, this is a contradiction”. I have news for the intellects: God is sovereign and man has a free will and you and I do not have to reconcile the two, simply, believe it. Intellects are long on knowledge and short on faith. I’m like Vance Havner adage, “the happiest people on earth are new believers that have never meet a bible scholar.” Folks, lets face it, our faith is paradoxical—it does not make sense to the intellectual world. A paradox is a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is true. The classic example is that God is a God of love and a God of wrath. Seems like a contradiction. How can God be both? It does not matter how but I we do know this, if he didn’t hate evil, He would not be good. I like what Jack Taylor said repeatedly: “we don’t have enough sense for God’s sense to make sense.” I don’t want to worship a God that some theological Einstein who made 34 on his ACT has figured out. No one is going to give me their spoon fed theology. When people talk more about their pastor and his book, you are border line cult. Cults make more of their leader than they do Christ. I rejoice when I hear that Church members have been critical of me. I do not encourage preacher worship: it is a vain and devilish thing. Your preacher is just like me, he is depraved. He struggled with the flesh just like I do. He is not above sin and neither are you.
The one thing that we must understand and never forget is that we are undeserving of God’s mercy and grace. We have nothing of value to offer Him. Depravity means that we are cursed with a selfish nature that has tainted everything you do. Even your good works are tainted. Just as one bag of tea can taint a glass of crystal clear water, so the fall tainted all our righteousness. Thus we have nothing to offer God and are thereby in need of mercy.
You will never understand grace until you understand depravity and you will never have a grateful spirit until you understand grace. Anytime you encounter a thankful believer, you can bet your bottom dollar, they understand grace. Like Job, they can endure difficult situations with a smile. They are thankful even when they have a bad day. How is this possible? They understand that they deserve death and hell and they are thankful that God has not given them what they deserve. On the other hand, ungrateful people are generally performance driven. They have a works theology and trials cause them all sorts of problems. They demand justice whereas the person who believes in grace does not want justice at all; they are depending on mercy.
When God revealed this truth to me, I began preaching immediately. This truth had opened a whole new world to me and I was excited about sharing it with others but getting people to make Paul’s confession– For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh—is not an easy accomplishment. The majority of folks who attend church, take pride in what they “have done” for God. One sweet lady told a friend, “We really like him [speaking of me] but he never says anything good about us”. It may be very possible that I overstated the principle but it is also true the self-righteousness is one of the devil’s strongholds in the Baptist Church. You cannot build on a faulty foundation. There are times when we have to tear down before we build.
“Trusting God for Every Need”
And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippines 4:19, NASB]
I made some very unwise decisions in my first years out of Seminary. I tried to keep up with the Jones’ and I got in financial trouble. The problem with keeping up with the Jones’ is they may buy something that you cannot afford. Actually, there are several problems: the Jones’ may have a rich uncle or they may have inherited wealth. It could be that the Jones’ have already put their kids through college and both are making six figures. So be very careful about keeping up with the Jones’.
We came to our first pastorate with an old Chevy II. It was banana yellow with a black vinyl top. It was a sight for sore eyes. I could not imagine driving that car in a funeral procession and besides, it developed a few minor problems [nothing that could be fixed] and I did something really stupid, I bought or charged a brand new Impala. The Impala got 11 miles to the gallon. The old Chevy II which unfortunately I had traded for a down payment got about 26. In just a few months we were in a mess. Hannah, our oldest could talk and she recognized the golden arches anytime you got near them. We would go to town in our new car but could not even buy the kid an order of fries. I knew that I had made a bad mistake. I did this all on my own. Few of our members drove new cars and no one had put any pressure on me. It was just a part of my education and the lesson really took. A good Methodist took the gas gusler off our hands and we got an old beat up VW. We had parked the car in the back yard and I found an old beat up VW with a black body and a green hood. One of our good members who is still a dear friend told a friend at work about our problem and this nice man came and got the Impala off our hands. I still remember the day. He was a good Methodist and a true gentleman. He was so kind and sympathic. He said “son, I will take the car it is just what I am looking for. My wife drives to Memphis once a month to see her mother and this will be perfect.” Fighting back the tears of joy, “I said, sir, I have to be honest, the car gets 11 miles per gallon.” He said, “I know that, my friend told me why it was for sale.” Afraid he would back out, I blurted “I’ll make another payment if you will take it.” He said, “son, I got a better idea, get the car and the paper work and lets me and you go to the bank right now and I will give you back last months payment” and the generous kind man did exactly as he said he would. When I got back home, we loaded Hannah and Joe David in the VW and headed for McDonalds.
What I am about to confess reveals my ignorance. It is not a reflection on others. The church that I was serving at the time was paying me $125.00 per week [1975-79], that did include a house and utilities but no car expense which of course is a pastor greatest expense. I had been there for three years without a single raise. One of the younger deacons came to me and talked with me about the problem. He said, “What about $25 per week, would that help?” I said, “anything will help because I am in a mess”. He said, “I will get you a raise” and he did. The very next deacon’s meeting, they ask me to dismiss myself, which I did and it was around 7:30 p.m. I don’t know if they even knew that I was aware of what was going on. The pastorium was adjacent to the church which means that my wife and I could see the lights on and their cars in the parking lot so we knew when they left and it was close to mid-night. What kind of deacons meeting would last until mid-night. Long story short, they were discussing the raise which I desperately needed but the length of the meeting was due to the amount. My deacon friend had recommended $25 per week but the majority thought that was too much. They had debated the raise for 3 hours and it ended up being $15.00 per week was too little too late and I thought given in the wrong spirit. You see, I was young and I assumed that all those men loved me and that they would want me to have a raise and a healthy one at that. To make matters worse, the treasurer who was also a deacon wanted me to thank the church for the raise, which of course I refused to do because the process had been offensive to me. My pride was deeply wounded. I was insulted by the whole affair and was anything but grateful. The pulpit committee had told me plainly that as God prospered them, they would prosper me. I remember the man’s name that said it. I remember it because I had never heard that expression used before and it stuck in my brain. I felt unappreciated and betrayed. From this bit of injustice, a root of bitterness began to grow. My whole attitude was affected. I felt a deep anger toward the church but didn’t have the guts to tell them why I was upset. I was afraid that it would make me look greedy. Meanwhile, I didn’t have enough income to take care of a wife and three children.
That is when Dudley Hall came to town. He did a bible conference at one of the churches in Florence and I attended. God used this big Texan to set me straight and I am so thankful. The study was from I Peter chapter one and to this day, I don’t know how that man got so much from one chapter but it was very enlightening to me. From this chapter Dudley taught seven or eight principles that are to govern the believers life. The only one I remember was the one on stewardship. I can still remember some of his very words such as…”some of you folks have two gods. You have one God that you trust with your sins but you have another that you trust with your money.” Dudley is the first man that I remember hearing say, “your church is not your provider, God is your provider…stop depending on your church and start depending on God.” Wow, did his words convict me; he had nailed me and I knew it. It was like this guy had been reading my mail. He went on to say, “some of you guys think that you are better than Paul. You think that just because you have been to seminary that a church owes you a living. Paul didn’t depend on churches, he depended on God. Show me in scripture where it says, ‘my church shall supply all your needs’”. I did not know Dudley Hall personally and I did not make any attempt to get to know him that week. I knew God had sent him to help me and that was all that mattered at the time. I went back to my church and apologized but I also told them that I was no better than Paul and that I was available for odd jobs because I needed the money. I fully expected to be fired but something unbelievable happened. Not a soul seemed to be upset, one of the deacons came up to me after the service and said, “I have a new chain saw but my back will not allow me to operate it. I will furnish the saw and the truck. All you have to do is cut, haul and stack and I will give you $20 per pick up load if you will cut my firewood for this winter. I jumped on that like ugly on an ape. I make over $100 in less than two days and from that point on, God always provided.
I had grown up thinking that God doesn’t want to hear about our financial problems but I learned to trust Him with all my needs, not just my sins. The church never changed. Matter of fact, I think the $15 raise was the only one I got in four and half years but my attitude changed. God used Dudley Hall to teach me an important life lesson. I am to trust Christ with every need I have and I am to rely upon Him to meet those needs. I have never been angry with a church since for not giving me a raise. I even had my Christmas bonus stopped because not all of our folks get a bonus and I was fairly certain that not all our folks wanted me to have one. The first time I ask them not to do it, they refused and did it anyway so I gave the money to Lottie Moon. The next year the chairman of deacons who was a very good friend said, “Bro. Jack, we are going to do it in a different way this year. There will be no business meeting which was a forum for the unhappy. I am going to tell them that anyone who wants to give can bring the money to me and we will give you whatever is given freely.” I told him that I had just as soon he not do anything. People who want to give freely will. They don’t have to be prompted by another person because they give as God impresses it upon their heart. He went ahead and did what he said he would do but he came straight to me afterwards and said, “I understand now why you feel the way you do. We will do it your way this year.” The very first person to bring him a $20 bill also brought a complaint. I don’t know what she said, he was a good friend and he didn’t tell me but whatever it was, I do thank her because that straw broke the camels back. I already knew that God was my provider and He had deeper pockets than any church. I also knew where my bonus was coming from and I dared to rob Him of His glory. Since I have trusted HIM to be my provider, I have received money in the mail every Christmas. My Christmas bonus has always been more than I deserved and I would be embarrassed to even tell how much I receive from various friends and church members at Christmas time. Quiet, non-complaining, easy to get along with folks do 95% of the giving. Robert Harris said, “A lot of people give God credit but few are willing to give Him cash.” Most Baptist prefer to give advice, not money. Billy Graham said, “God gave us two hands, one to give with and one to receive.” God is my provider and I must give Him all the glory: He has done a marvelous job and I have no complaints.
Understanding God’s Unconditional Love
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as
an atoning sacrifice for our sins. [I John 4:10, NIV]
I was born with low self-esteem. I really don’t know who to blame except myself but I grew up feeling inferior. It’s like the old boy who went to the psycharistic and spent his session talking about his inferiority complex. At the end of the session, the psycharistic said: “I have good new and bad news, which do you want to hear first?” The guy said “well, I guess, the good news.” “The good news said the shrink is that you don’t have a complex.” “Well, what is the bad news”, said the man? “The bad news” said the doc, “is that you are just inferior.” It is easy, I would even say common for children to grow up with feelings of inferiority and this in tern produces low self-esteem. In my opinion, it happens more often than not.
I was playing in a church league softball game when I almost killed another player running down a fly ball in the gap. I did not see him, my full attention was on the ball which I caught at full speed just a split second before the collision. Both he and I were dazed but I jumped up to show them that I had the ball and then threw it back to the cut off man before joining my friend on the ground. We were both laying out in left center field in pain. A few weeks later, a good friend told me what his father had said about the mishap. He said, “That preacher plays with a lot of intensity, like he is trying to prove something.” When his son told me what he said, I kind of shook it off but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that his dad was right. Why couldn’t I relax and have fun like a normal human being. It was a church league game for Pete’s sake. Why break your neck in a church league game? I am not saying that this solved the problem: it simply made me aware of the problem. I still have the problem. I have not showed out at a softball game in years but that is because I have not played in years but I did mellow out as I got older.
For the first forty years of my life, I lived in a performance track. I was trying to impress others. I was trying desperately to gain their approval. I got very frustrated when people did not affirm me. I needed lots of encouragement and was easily discouraged. A lot of my problem went back to my childhood days and my relationship with my father. He was a very hard worker but not a man of great affection. He never abused me in any way but I could never win his approval. I never did anything that gained his praise. To be frankly honest, I resented his attitude toward me and unfortunately, I disrespected him as I grew older. Getting married opened my eyes somewhat but having children really brought me around. I had always spoken negatively of my father on father’s day and the LORD convicted me about that. My daddy was not perfect but he did work hard and he was dealing with a lot of frustration himself. So that Father’s Day, I gave a personal testimony about my relationship with my father. Dr. George Twente was in the congregation that day. He came up to me after the service and said, “that was a very good message Jack, kind of reminded me of my relationship with my father. If you have time, I would like for you to drop by my office this Thursday and I would like to talk to you about your message.” Wow! I was impressed. It must have been a powerful message I thought, why else would he want to talk to me. I go by his office on Thursday expecting him to take me to some fancy restaurant but his wife had brought lunch to the office. Dr. Twente knew exactly what he was doing. He said, “Jack, that was a good message last Sunday morning but you said some things that lead me to believe that you have low self-esteem.” Suddenly I realized that he was not all that impressed with the message, he was analyzing me but I was not offended because I knew he was right. He gave me a book and asks me to read it: this book changed my life. The title is A Search For Significance by Robert McGee. It is a great book and a must read for every believer. Over the years I have recommended this book more than any other book on the market.
In the book, Dr. McGee teaches the principle of building your self-esteem on your relationship with Jesus. His death of the cross in your behalf gives you your sense of worth. Never base your self-esteem on the approval of others. Base it on the unconditional love of Jesus. Jesus loves us because He choose to love us. We do not influence His love. His love is infinitely greater than our ability to influence. Nothing that I do or say will make Him love me more or less. His love for me is based on His choice and integrity. It is an undeserved love. Honestly folks, this truth literally changed the way I do everything. The greatest comfort that I have as a believer is that Jesus loves me just the way I am and I understand that He loves me too much to leave me this way. If I fail miserably, Jesus will still love me. My church may not love me, my family may not love me but Jesus will always love me regardless. I cannot tell you how much this revelation changed my life.
One of my favorite bible stories is the story of Joseph. I remember Bro. Alvin Tucker coming to our church years ago and preaching a message on Joseph and his brothers. Joseph brothers were outlaws, rowdy rednecks, hooligans, and thugs who raped, murdered and lied. When Jacob looked at them he probably shook his head in disgust, the only hope among them was Joseph. Joseph was a cut above. Even for a young man, he had a ton of integrity, something that his older brothers did not possess. Joseph was honest and trustworthy and Jacob used him as a spy to keep track of what the other ten were up to. As a young preacher, I saw myself as Joseph but later in life, I came to realize that Joseph is a type of Christ and I am not Joseph, I am among the sorry misfits known as his brothers. At first, I didn’t want to see myself there but then I came to realize how fortunate I am just to be a brother of Joseph. The point is simple: the ten brothers were undeserving of Joseph’s love and forgiveness. However, Joseph was moved with compassion when he saw them and he made a conscience choice to love and forgive them. Remember, Joseph recognized them long before they recognized him. Matter of fact, they would not have recognized him at all had he not revealed himself to them. He could understand the language they were speaking but they couldn’t understand him. Every thing had changed: previously, the ten brothers had the advantage. They threw Joseph into a cistern. He begged them to show mercy but they turned a deaf ear. They sold him to some Ishmaelite traders who carried Joseph to Egypt and sold him to Potiphar the captain of the guard for Pharaoh. Now, Joseph has been exalted and is second only to Pharaoh while his brothers are on the brink of starvation. Now Joseph is in control and it is his brothers who are desperate. Joseph could have had all ten executed but I doubt that the thought even crossed his mind. Joseph deepest passion was to please his father Jacob and to honor his father, he made a decision to love and forgive these brothers for their treachery against him. Once Joseph made the decision to forgive, it was all settled. Joseph never betrayed his brothers and he never made any attempt to get even. It was not that he did not have the right or the power, he had both but he made a decision to love and forgive and that is what he did. Remember that Joseph in this story is Christ. Jesus made a choice before the foundation of the world to love us. Nothing that you do or say can change that fact. You cannot influence His love. You cannot do anything to make Him love you more or less. Can you do anything to make Him more holy? Of course not! You have to power or influence on any of His attributes.
The next time you read the story of Joseph and his brothers, notice the insecurity in his brothers. They have a hard time accepting Joseph’s forgiveness. They are afraid that someday he will decide to even the score. They became especially fearful when their father Jacob departed this world. Joseph had no intention or retaliating. He loved his brother in spite of the fact that they were undeserving. Once I realized that Jesus love for me emanated from His character and His choice and that it had nothing to do with my performance, it simple set me free. I do not pretend to be perfectly whole, I still battle insecurity from time to time but I am telling you folks, this truth that Jesus loves me unconditionally changed my life. No matter what I do or how much shame I bring on myself or family, I know beyond a doubt that Jesus loves me. I am not saying that He is pleased or honored with my sin and transgression but I am saying that His love is unconditional. [I think I have the story of Hosea in another manuscript]
“Grasping the Kingdom Concept”
Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come, Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen
Did you notice that the kingdom belongs to God: it is His kingdom. I was very discouraged when a friend invited me to come spend a few days with him in retreat. He was hosting a guest preacher from out of State for a revival type meeting and he invited me to come stay in his home and attend the services. I threw some books in my briefcase and headed for Grand Bay, Alabama. One of the books that I carried with me on the trip was KINGDOM PRINCIPLES by Gene Mims. After the services on Monday night and retiring to my room, I had trouble sleeping so I got this little book out and began to read: “bingo” the lights came on. I saw something that I had never seen and he freed me from the anxiety that had driven me into retreat.
Dr. Mims book helped me understand that the church where I served was a part of the kingdom but only a part. The kingdom transcends the local church. The kingdom is God’s work international. Whereas it was true that we were not setting the woods on fire at our church, they were experiencing phenomenal revival is West Africa. I think our Missionaries the National Pastors had baptized some 300,000 in West Africa alone. Danville Baptist Church was a part of that work. We were giving to the Cooperative Program and to Lottie Moon. Our tiny fellowship had worked in partnership with thousands of other Southern Baptist Churches to support the work that was going on is West Africa. When this truth hit me, I began to celebrate what God was doing in West Africa, plus I could see God at work in my friend’s church. Up until that night, I had not been able to celebrate what God was doing beyond my on community and sphere of service. Instead of having a kingdom concept, I had a very narrow and selfish view of what God was doing in His world. Understanding the kingdom concept made a huge difference in how I saw things and even in how I felt.
Since that time, I have learned that God is always at work somewhere and I can rejoice in what He is doing beyond the four walls of our church. Goodbye competition, goodbye depression.
I have always admired Missionaries. I would guess that a big part of that is my mother’s influence. I also attribute it in part to Calvin Inman who was my pastor when I was growing up. Bro. Inman said time and again, “God will bless a mission minded church” and I believe that he was correct. When I got back to our church, I told them about my revelation and they were thrilled. They had sensed a spirit of competition between me and other pastors and they were glad to see it go. I did not have any trouble leading them to be more mission minded. We started our tradition of two offerings every Sunday morning believing that if we gave one offering away, God would bless us for thinking of others. Our first offering every Sunday morning goes to Missions. At my own insistance, our Mission money is given before I am paid my salary. I am thankful that it has not been a problem in recent years but after relocating, we had a few very tight Summers. My lay people don’t agree with me here but so far it has not been a problem.
Soon after the Mission Offering came the BLOCK PARTY. I don’t have any idea how much we have given to the community the past 11 years. It is well over $100,000.00 in goods and that doesn’t count many things such as the grand prizes. We have a multi-purpose building that the Minites use more than we do, at least in the area of recreation. Everyone is the community uses what we call the FORTE and I think practially everyone has a key. Even former members use the FORTE. When we dedicated the building, we dedicated it to the LORD and several of the lay people were insistent that we not be selfish with the building. I may be wrong, but I don’t think anyone can accuse of being self-centered when it comes to our facilities.
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness,
And all these things will be added to you. [Matthew 6:33, NASB]
We had four kids, all in school and my wife had not yet entered the work force. She would later earn her degree and work for 20 years as a Nurse. The year was 1985 and I did odd jobs and worked for friends to make ends meet but I longed for the day that I could be a full time pastor. So, I was looking for supplemental income and an opportunity to attend an A.L. Williams seminar in Albertville, Alabama came along and I took advantage. I rode to Albertville with a friend who had every intention of getting me into the Life Insurance business. I went but I had reservations about my ability to sale anything. My late mother-in-law use to say, “If it was raining soup, you couldn’t sell a spoon; folks would be asking for forks”. She was right, I am a horrible saleman. But I went and I listened and I was absolutely blown away by what I heard. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement.
The man who led the seminar was an insurance agent out of Birmingham and I do not remember his name. He was up in years; I want to think late sixties or early seventies and he was the father of 12 children and a herd of grand kids. He was also a very successful business man and basically this is what he said. When you drive into any town, look for the most elaborate buildings. Among them will be banks and insurance buildings: those are the people who make money with your money. He went on to say, there are three basic ways to get income:  You earn it by working hourly or on salary  Someone gives it to you either through welfare or endowment  or you accumulate enough money so that your money makes money.
Although all of this was new to me, the next line is what really shocked me. He continued by saying, “this is not a church meeting but I want to share a secret, I call it the 10-10-80 rule. First of all, you need to give 10% to the LORD’s work, to your local church”. I could not believe my ears. This man had 12 children and was a millionaire and he was not Catholic nor did he inherit the money. Then what he said next shocked me even more, “give the second 10% to yourself”. Wow! I had never heard anyone say anything like this before. He said, “I know most of you are sitting there thinking, I cannot afford to tithe and I sure cannot afford to save 10% but you can do it. You make car payments and house payments so look at the first 20% as a debt owed, pay the Lord and then pay yourself. When you have done both, learn to live on the 80% you have left. Do whatever you have to do to make the adjustment. If you have to get rid of something that you don’t have to have like a TV, extra car, boat, etc. then get rid of them. You can learn to live on the 80% if you will try.” I could not believe my ears; I was 35 years old and had four children with the oldest being 10. We had three in school and our baby was 4 years old and I took care of her during the a.m. hours while her mother went to Nursing school. We had one substantial income and it was not very much. I knew that I had to take this man’s advice but there did not seem to be a way to save the 10%. We were already giving 10% but that is all. We probably tithed to the penny. I called the annuity board rep in Montgomery and talked to him for several minutes and he told me what to do. Then I called the annuity board in Dallas and told them what I wanted to do and they set it up so that I never saw the money, it came out of my check. I knew that was the only way I could save 10% and it worked. That was almost 27 years ago. If I can do it anyone can do it.
My financial problems were not over but at least I got a start on saving a little from each check. It was a step in the right direction but I was by no means cured. I continued to spend compulsively until I reached a point in my life where I realized that the stuff I was accumulating was not worth all the effort and it was hindering me from giving more to the church. Now my goal is to give. I want to give more this year than last. Generally speaking, I do not worry about money. I rarely check my investments. I understand that it all belongs to the LORD and so there is no need to worry. Last year, my wife and I aided by an inheritance were able to meet our giving goal. We both consider it a miracle and very few would believe us if we shared the amount. It is one of the most phenomenal things that has happened to us. We set a giving goal was well beyond our means and God worked a miracle. When we set the goal, I started having second thoughts. I told my wife, we have set our goal too high. We will never be able to give that much and survive. She said without hesitation. I think we need to leave it where it is and see what the LORD does and so we did. Every quarter, I would check with the financial secretary to see how we were doing and as we went into the last quarter, we were behind and reaching our goal seemed impossible. Then I got a call from my oldest sister: she said “you are going to inherit $13,000.00”. It did not dawn upon me immediately but a couple of days later, a still small voice spoke to me [I believe in was the LORD] and said, “this will enable you to get your goal” and it did. The goal was reached by the grace of God. It was a miracle. There is no way that we would have reached the goal otherwise.
Folks, it is the law of the harvest: you do not give to get. You give to get to give again. You plant, you reap and you plant again. The more you plant the more you reap and the more you are able to plant the next year.
Colossians 1:15-18 CEB
The Son is the image of the invisible God,
The One who is first over all creation,
Because all things were created by Him:
Both in the heavens and on the earth,
The things that are visible and the things that are invisible.
Whether they are thrones or powers,
Or rulers or authorities,
All things were created through Him and for Him.
He is the Head of the body, the church,
Who is the beginning,
The One who is first over the dead
So that He might occupy the first place in everything.
The Apostle Paul concludes the letter to the Galatians by listing the characteristics of the false teachers. One of those characteristics is that they refuse to preach a pure grace because they do not want Jesus getting all the glory; they wanted some glory for themselves. The Lord says in Isaiah 42:8 [NLT], “I am the LORD; that is My name! I will not give My glory to anyone else.” Jesus said, “when the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak of His own, but will say whatever He hears and will proclaim to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because He will take what is mine and proclaim it to you.” [John 16:12-14, CEB]. In John 17:5, Jesus prayed, “Now, Father, glorify Me in your presence with the glory I shared with You before the world was created.”
Growing up I was under good sound preaching and I know that I must have heard at least a thousand times that Jesus is to get the glory but somehow that never sank in. I knew that He was supposed to get glory, even most of the glory but somehow I thought I was to get a little for myself; you know just enough to keep me going. I had my ego crushed more than once because people refused to affirm me or give me any credit. This probably explains why I stayed discouraged most of the time. The LORD spoke to me at our annual associational meeting of all places. I remember well the exact place. We were meeting in the old sanctuary of First Baptist Church, Decatur, Alabama and Harlen Hood was our preacher. He spoke from Colossians chapter one on the Preeminence of Christ. I cannot remember all that Harlen said but I do remember that the Holy Spirit used him to speak to me. My son Joe David had just finished his high school basketball career. Joe David turned out to be a good athlete and the ‘go to guy’ on his basketball team. They lost only four games his senior year and all four were in tournaments. Joe David’s experience was the mirror opposite of my own. I loved sports and wanted desperately to play but my high school career was a dismal failure. You would not believe the truth if I told you but lets just say I didn’t make it in anything. I attended Athens High School from 1965-1967 and I was cut in Basketball as a sophomore and played less than a dozen plays in three years of football. There are few morning that I don’t wake up thinking about those days and how disappointing there were for me. Now my Son not only played but he was all county, all area and an honorable mention for all state. The question that the Father spoke to my heart that day was: “Jack, if I gave you the power to change places with your son so that you would be the star athlete and receive the honors he recieved and he would watch others from the bench like you did; would you exchange places with your son?” I said, “No Father, I would not take the boys glory. He is my only Son and I am very proud that he got to play. I would never take his playing time or his glory from him.” In that very instance, I knew for the first time in my life that it would be just as wrong for me to want the glory that belongs to Christ as it would for me to covet the glory that came to my son. I felt ashamed and yet relieved. It was a transforming experience to say the least. It made a huge difference in my thinking but the greatest change came in worship. I had always divided what we call the “worship” service into two parts. Part one was the “song” service and part two was the “preaching” service and I probably don’t have to confess which of the two I favored. If it had been left up to me, I would have had one song, a prayer and then turn me lose. The song service was an agony in some ways because all I could think about was my sermon. The revelation at the Associational Meeting changed my thinking. I love praise and worship. I love everything about worship. I love worship. I love giving Jesus glory in song, prayer or sermon. Our Bumper Sticker at Danville is CELEBRATE JESUS and that is what we do. He is the answer to all our questions. He is our song and our sermon and we don’t have a prayer without Him. I don’t want anyone to walk into Danville Baptist and then leave without hearing the name of Jesus and not just in the closing of a prayer but in everything we do. One of my old friends told a story years ago that I have never forgotten. He went up into Tennessee to preach a week long Revival Meeting so you know it was a while back. Toward the end of the week a little old lady came up to my friend and said, “You do know that we are going to ask our pastor to resign as soon as this meeting is over, don’t you? “No mam” he said, “I had no idea. What on earth is the problem? Is he not a good preacher?” “Oh, he is a very good preacher” she said. “Well” said my friend, “Is he a bad example as a family man?” “Oh no” said she, “He is a wonderful father and husband.” “Well mam”, said my friend, “what on earth is the problem?” She said, “Well, I am going to tell you. All He talks about is Jesus. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus and more Jesus and we are sick of it”. I’ll tell you right now, if you don’t want to hear Jesus, Jesus and more Jesus, don’t come to Danville Baptist because that is exactly what you are going to hear. There is no doubt in my mind, I have sinned against God more than once for trying to getting a little glory for myself.
I loved watching my son play ball. He was very unselfish. As a matter of fact the coach had to insist that he shoot more and pass less but for me, he was exciting to watch because he could make things happen. Just as I got immense pleasure from seeing my son play and seeing him get recognition for his play, so I now get great pleasure when I see Jesus get glory and he gives me great delight to give Him glory. I suffered through so many years of my life not enjoying my call but now I have a ball. I can’t think of anything more exxerating than giving Jesus glory. Hallelujah, what a Savior. I get excited just thinking about it. If an earthy father delights in see his son get glory, just imagine how much delight the Heavenly Father gets when His Son gets glory.
I remember the night that a group from our church went to see the PASSION OF CHRIST. I had a wall seat and it is a good thing, I laid my head on the wall and wept during the entire movie. How could anyone love me the way Christ did? I was in absolute awe of His love. I am telling you folks, after what He suffered in our behalf, He deserves the glory so lets give Him the glory, amen! a
This insight literally changed my life. That very evening at the Associational Meeting, I expressed my sorrow to the Father for what I had done and made a commitment that from that point on, I would make much of His Son Jesus Christ. My life was changed. I can honestly say that I have never been the same. It changed my approach to everything but especially the way I worship and witness.
The greatest joy in life is giving Jesus glory. In the old days, I would endure the “song service” but the truth is: I couldn’t wait to do my thing. I especially despised a long praise service. Matter of fact, I was guilty of telling a praise and worship leader to make sure he did not go over twenty minutes. We were in revival and he was my guest and I just wanted to have an understanding before we got into the Revival. I said something like, “Don’t wear them out, just tune them up and give it to the preacher.” He looked at me with a cocky grin and said, “Bro. Jack, Jesus never got in a hurry and neither am I”. Bro. Jack was speechless. I don’t even know what the evangelist preached on that night, I was trying to come up with a scripture reference where Jesus got in hurry. It was down right humiliating for me to let a “song leader” correct me on a theological point. I have ceased to call them “song leaders” and yes I have come to love the praise portion of the worship service. Matter of fact, I get winded and exhausted sometimes because I sing with a lot of enthusiasm, not much talent but a lot of enthusiasm.
It took a huge burden off my shoulders once I realized that it is not about me. The major problem with everything being about ‘you’ is that then; everything depends on you. Worship is fun and exciting if you center it around Jesus but when it is centered on yourself, it is a drag. Our purpose has change, in the old days, we sought recognition for ourself and was terribly upset that no one recognize our gifts. Now our purpose is to glorify Jesus Christ and enjoy His grace. Jesus is the cosmic glue that holds everything together. He is worthy of our worship and praise. Max Lucado is a word smith and I love the way it states this principle in GRACE FOR THE MOMENT. Imagine the event. You are before the judgment seat of Christ. The book is opened and the reading begins—each sin, each deceit, each occasion of destruction and greed. But as soon as the infraction is read, grace is proclaimed…the results are that God’s merciful verdict will echo through the universe. For the first time in history, we will be aware of the depth of His goodness and the depth of our depravity. As we experience His kindness, His mercy, His grace, we will stand in awe. The devil will shrink back in defeat and disappointment. The angels will be wowed as saint after saint is acquitted. As we begin to realize how much Christ has forgiven and how much He has loved us, we will bow down and worship Him.” Max concludes by saying, “there is only one in heaven that deserves the applause and He is the One with the nail pierced hands.”
Not long ago, someone gave me a sermon on disc by a well known preacher in Atlanta, Georgia. The message was about contentment and it was filled with great information but the man never mentioned Jesus one time. I listened in disbelief: this man preaches three or four times each Sunday to a full house. The only time we have a full house at Danville is at WEE Care graduation. I am not qualified to instruct you on success, not from the world’s point of view but I will tell you this, there is no greater joy than exalting Jesus. If we don’t get anything else right, we are bound and determined to lift up Jesus.
“The Four Loves”
We humans have a tendency to bring God down to our level. We assume that He loves the way we do and that is not correct. There are four Greek word’s for love and three of them are human.
Storge – Affection.
Storge is fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed “valuable” or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Ironically, its strength is also what makes it vulnerable. Affection has the appearance of being “built-in” or “ready made”, says Lewis, and as a result people come to expect, even to demand, its presence—irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.
Philia-Friendship or brotherly love
From this word ‘philia’ we get the word Philadelphia which means city of brotherly love. Philia is the love that exist between family, friend and people who share a common interest. David and Jonathan are good examples of Philia. “Friendship”, says Lewis, “arises out of mere companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some interest or insight or even taste which the others do not share and which, till the moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure or burden” [C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves] [as the case may be]. Friendship is most likely to occur when two or more people are doing something together such as fishing, hunting or perhaps playing ball. Friends don’t necessarily have to agree on details but they share the same concerns. Friendship must be about something even if it is nothing more than playing cards. Friendship has no limits: one can have several friends. Matter of fact, I believe it is healthy to have more than one. Friends have a tendency to congregate because they get strength for each other. Lewis says that “friendship can make good men better and bad men worse”. Some people never experience friendship, they lack the trust to be a friend.
Eros– (ἔρως) is love in the sense of ‘being in love’. We get our word erotic from this word and it is usually associated with romantic love, the love that a man has for a woman or vice versa. Eros longs for the emotional connection with the other person but it is the most conditional of all loves. Eros needs an affirmative response. Eros is also very jealous. Friendship can be expressed with words but eros demand affection. Friends stand side by side but lovers stand face to face, even eye to eye. Friendship will have souls naked whereas eros will have bodies naked. Whereas Eros demands to be alone, friendship is not obsessed with privacy or with being alone with one person. It is perfectly normal for lovers to become friends. Philia, Eros and Storge can dwell together in harmony.
What you must understand is that all three natural loves [storge, philia and eros] are conditional but eros is the most conditional of all. Every married person needs to understand the volatile nature of eros. Eros is passionate; it is like a fire. It is easy to start, yea even natural but like a fire, it has to be maintained or it will go out. Ideally, a married couple would have eros, philia and agape but in many cases: the marriage is based on eros alone and given time, eros will fail. Years ago, when people told me that they had fallen out of love with their spouse, I corrected them. I tried to convince them that they were being deceived. I was wrong, you can fall out of eros due to its conditional nature. Eros demands many things but affection is at the top of the list and if this need is not met, there will be problems. Any fire, no matter how hot at the time, will go out unless it is maintained. A fire has to have fuel. You have to put a little wood on it now and then or it will go out. I tell couples these days, “look, you have to put some wood on the fire or in some cases, you have to stir the embers”. I refuse to marry any couple that will not watch the movie “Fireproof”. This movie depicts the problems in most marriages. A woman’s greatest need is security, to know that she is loved and will be cared for. The man’s greatest need is affirmation: he needs praise and respect. If you watch “Fireproof”, you will see that both needs [male and female] are going unmet. We are asking for trouble when we take our spouse for granted. I had a man tell me once, in the presence of his wife, that she was like an old hound dog, he said, “I could not run her off if I tried”. Now I am fairly certain that he was kidding but I’m telling you there are guys who feel that way. They believe that they are the catch of the century and that there is no possibility that their wife could find an upgrade. I am telling folks, you are playing with fire. Never take your spouse for granted. Never assume that no one else could possibly be interested in them.
Most divorces are preventable. The most common mistake that couples make is that they let the romance die after they get married. I recommend that you keep dating and especially after you have children. After four children in six years, my wife went through post partum depression. I was so ignorant that I didn’t know what was going on until our Doctor sat me down and explained things. She was couped up in the house with four pre-school age children all day long and when I got home, I was tired and ready for supper. I did not think about the strain that she was under. The doctor demanded that she stay in the hospital for a few days and I became mom and pop for a couple of weeks. It was an eye opening experience. After two or three days, I was depressed. Cooking, cleaning up, watching the children, cooking, cleaning up and watching the children, cooking cleaning up again and making the children go to bed before I could blow my brains out. It was an endless routine of doing the same thing over and over. I realized that she could not survive unless we did something so we got her enrolled in Nursing school. She began by taking one course per semester but it got her out of the house and gave her some time to herself.
Men think that because they have worked all day and they are bringing home a pay check that they responsibilities are fulfilled and that is not correct. The children are as much your responsibility as they are hers. After a few years of marriage, she is not going to be turned on by your body, it will take some kindness and understanding. Treat her like a lady, a queen but not like your servant.
Remember, eros is conditional and it has to be earned. If you take your spouse for granted, eros will die. That does not necessarily spell divorce: some people stay in the nest because they know it is the right thing to do. Rarely will a divorce solve any problems. In most cases divorce creates a new set of problems.
I call agape, love from above. It is not human in origin. It is an imputed love. It is God’s love and it is totally unconditional which makes it radically different from the other three. In counseling with young folks before marriage and with those who are having problems: I like to explain the radical difference between ‘eros’ and ‘agape’. Eros is very conditional and Agape is unconditional. Eros is highly conditional and if it is not nurtured, it will not last. Most men think that the “I do” settles it and they stop romancing their wife as soon as they are married. Let me tell you what will happen if you stop romancing your wife or your husband, she or he as the case may be will fall out of love with you. You stop tending to the fire and the fire will go out. We have to remember that ‘eros’ is condition and it depends in part on our behavior. If you take your spouse for granted or treat them disrespectfully, you definitely damage ‘eros’.
Now, when a person is a child of God, they have the ability to love unconditionally. This love is agape. It is an imputed love, a grace love that loves the unlovely but do not confuse it with eros. This imputed love from above can give us the ability to love those who do not love us in return. You must understand, the natural man cannot love in this fashion.
I heard a Dr. Adrian Rogers say several years ago that when the good ship matrimony left port, there were ten happy couples aboard but by the time it sailed back into the harbor, four couples had jumped overboard, two were giving it heavy consideration, two had tied themselves to the mast where they could not jump and two were actually happy. You could question my judgment because I know this sound outrageous but Dr. Rogers numbers are very close to being accurate. About one in five couples have a happy marriage. Another one in five stay together for the kids or moral reasons and three out of five end up getting at least one divorce and the statistics bear this out.
I heard a man on the radio say the other day that money issues are the leading factor in divorce. I disagree! In all my 40 plus years of pasturing and counseling, not one time has money been an issue. The number one problem is ‘intimacy’. There is a lack of trust and a failure to be open and honest about our problems. The average male does not want to talk to his wife and he certainly does not want to listen. He thinks intimacy is getting naked and getting in bed but intimacy is getting naked emotionally. Intimacy is bearing the soul. It is lifting the veil and letting your spouse see the real person. Some folks have been married for years and yet they don’t know one another because they have never revealed the deep secrets of their soul.
Over a period of time and a multiple number of rejections, the spouse that is dying to be known finds someone who cares enough to listen. It has nothing to do with sex or the person’s attractiveness; the root of the attraction is kindness: someone cares enough to listen. A lot of marriages end in divorce because someone refuses to listen. I had a man come in my office years ago and he said, “preacher, she told me at least three times what she was going to do if I did not change and I didn’t believe her. Now she has left me and she will not come back”. That was a long time ago and she never came back.
A lot of people have the idea that people are driven by their sexual desires and some are but not the majority. It all begins with conversation and someone showing enough interest to listen. Then the sparks begin to fly and before long you have a fire. It all seems so natural. It was not premeditated, it just happened. Then you get into a relationship of mutual trust, something you have never had in your marriage and then the devil goes to work… “look at what you could have, this is what your heart has longed for”. The next step is rationalization. Well, my marriage is not what it needs to be and I have an opportunity to have a good marriage and before you know it, you are giving heavy consideration to divorce and you have a list of ways that you can justify what you are doing. It is all a diabolical trick of the devil. He is conning you. The red shiny apple that he offers is not going to make you happy; it will eventually make you miserable.
Take a child for instance: if you allow the child to have his/her way all the time, does that make the child happy? No, the child becomes a spoiled brat that no one can stand. We adults are the same way, getting what we want will not make us happy.
The secret to success in marriage is agape. Love your spouse unconditionally. I love the story of Hosea. Hosea married a woman with a pagan background and a few years into their marriage, she jumped the nest and became a mistress. From there, I suppose she became a prostitute and from there, a slave. Meanwhile, Hosea never remarries, he simply does the best he can to raise his three children and one of the three is not his and he knows it. Years later, he is walking downtown and he goes near the square where they auction off slaves. From a distance, he sees a woman that reminds him of his wife. As he gets closer, he discovers that it is his wife. She is on the slave block. Hosea must have been a little aggravated at himself because he felt compassion on her and wanted to buy her back himself. He must have breathed a prayer about it because the Lord told him that he should go ahead and redeem her. Hosea has to use all his groceries and his cash but he buys his wife back and takes her home. She did not deserve freedom or to be restored as his wife but he was motivated by a higher love, the love from above, agape.
Jesus concluded the Sermon on the mount with a story about two men: one wise and the other foolish. The foolish man built his house on the sand while the wise man built his house on a rock. Although Jesus was a carpenter by trade, He is not talking literally about building houses; He is talking about building a life, a marriage and a home. The storms are coming. No matter who you are or where you build, the storms are coming. You may be head over heels in love with your spouse but the storms are coming. You say, “they are coming to me”. How do you know, do you control the weather; I think not. When you least expect one, a storm is going to hit and hit hard. Every life will be tested. Every marriage will be put to the test sooner or later. Eros will not get you through the kind of storm that Hosea endured. The only thing that will save your marriage is Jesus. You may be thinking, “I know a lot of people that don’t have Jesus and their marriage is just fine”. That is what you think but you are not seeing the real picture. Our heavenly Father has made it impossible to have a healthy marriage without Jesus in the center of the picture. You may know couples that are happy without Jesus and they may appear happy but they do not have a perfect union. Man is body, soul and spirit. Eros will join the body, philia and storge can join the soul but only agape can unite the spirit. If you don’t have agape, you don’t have Jesus and if you don’t have Jesus you are not joined spiritually and this my friend is the major problem: it is spiritual in nature.
We humans do most things backwards. We put heavy emphasis on eros [the physical] and totally ignore agape [the spiritual]. The young couples use to come to me wanting to get married and I could tell they were moon struck. I would talk to them about the spiritual aspects and I could tell it was like water off of a ducks back. The physical does not last but getting young people to believe that is next to impossible. They are convinced that once it is legal for them to crawl into the sack together that everything is going to be alright. It doesn’t matter about church, denomination, convictions, bad habits: all that matters is love and they are so in love they want to eat each other up. The fact is the body is going to age and eventually the wear and tear is going to show. Face lifts and tummy tucks are not going to work. There is nothing more pathetic than these movie stars who try to remain young by have plastic surgery and they end up looking like a freak at a circus. Your body is a temporay house. It is going to wear out but you can grow daily in agape and in the end have a much greater love than you ever imagined. You cannot do this if you leave Christ out of the picture.