Blessed Brooding About Bethlehem

I am still brooding over being forty. A very blessed brooding, mind you. Stunned, when I have the leisure to let my mind run back through my memory. Grace upon grace.

Marty Wade told me last Sunday that he had spoken on the phone with Nancy Ponder. She's the woman with whom I went to high school in South Carolina and who is coming to Minneapolis for surgery. She said, “You should have known Johnny when I knew him.”

“Why?” Marty asked. All she could say was, “Well, a miracle has happened.”  That's what I mean by grace upon grace. Forty years of unspeakable grace. You all have tasted what I mean.

But mainly my brooding is over the future. I just picked up a book by W. A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. At 74 he looked back over his life and marveled at the electing purposes of God.

God breathed the breath of life into me. I am not of my own begetting. Before I was born, a daughter was born to my father and mother. She lived just a day or two and died. How is it that I lived?

In the days of my youth, I grew up with a young man who belonged to a sweet family in our little town. That young man was vile, vicious, obstreperous, and incorrigible. After breaking the Texas state law, he was sentenced to the penitentiary. He returned and after a time robbed a post office, which put him under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Then he was sent to the federal penitentiary. While in a baseball game one of his fellow convicts took a baseball bat and beat the boy to death. How can such a thing be?

In that same tiny town, in that same little church, I grew up also, turned in heart and spirit as I am. In those youthful years, even as a child, I studied and studied. When I went to college at seventeen years of age, I became pastor of small country churches. I studied and read and shepherded my little flocks. 

My brother is not like me, though the two of us were reared in the same home. He has no interest in books at all. How is it that my heart is so enmeshed in study? I study every morning; I study every night. I love my pastoral assignment. 

He came to First Baptist, Dallas, at the same age I came to Bethlehem, 34.  He has now preached there for forty years. What might Bethlehem's metropolitan and global ministry be if we all had that kind of staying power?

Steadfast in the storms with you,

Pastor John

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