There are some dates you will never forget. September 11, 2001, is remembered as the day the Twin Towers fell in New York City. The whole world felt it. Many watched. None forget.
For Americans, November 22, 1963, is indelibly imprinted in their minds. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in downtown Dallas, Texas. I had just turned 20 and was traveling to a preaching engagement. I had stopped to buy gasoline in Ennis, Texas. The service station attendant exclaimed, “Someone just shot the president!”
I asked, “The president of this oil company?”
“No! The President of the United States!”
I was stunned. I was about to drive through Dallas on Highway 75 (now Interstate 45), to preach a Friday-through-Sunday revival at First Baptist Church of McKinney. Arriving in the community north of Dallas, I did my best to preach to the few people attending, but most everyone was at home watching the news. That November day will always remain a black mark on the pages of history.
On that very same day, another very significant, highly visible person died and that loss was hidden behind the glaring headlines of an American president assassinated. I am referring to author C.S. Lewis, “the apostle to skeptics,” as Philip Yancey calls him. He was one of the most prolific and influential writers of the entire 20th century. His books continue to sell millions of copies every year. He wrote Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and many others. He has transformed the lives and thinking of some of the most skeptical people.
Something else very important in my personal life also happened on the day of November 22. In 1943, a baby girl was born in Lufkin, Texas, to Sarah Margaret and Victor Freeman. They named her Betty Catherine. She was the third of four children. She has an older brother and sister, and a younger sister. They were a family with a hard-working, union dad and a strong-willed, determined mother. They did their best to get by on modest means. Their mother took them to church while Dad stayed home.
I met this precious sweetheart when I was visiting my foster parents during a summer break. I saw her standing in front of the entrance to Memorial Baptist Church in Pasadena, Texas. I do not for one moment question that if love at first sight is possible, I experienced it. It was not only love at first sight, but it was love at the last sight just a few minutes ago watching and helping her put up Christmas decorations. She so appreciates my sincere interest in her interests and my attempts to help her accomplish whatever she sets out to do. Little things truly do mean so much. All she ever really wants not only for her birthday, Christmas, or any special occasion, is the assurance of my love and attention.
I was talking yesterday with Pastor Jim Garlow about our concern for his wife and her battle with cancer. God is granting them abundant grace, and we all stand with them in earnest prayer.
Jim and I were also discussing our mutual concern for the spiritual condition of the church and for our nation. We long to see harmony among believers. We are both convinced that our greatest compromise as Christians is lack of love for God and for each other, including members of the family of faith. We are convinced that Protestants and Catholics can become one while disagreeing and discussing serious issues including theological differences. Far too many churches were built not because of love, but because of a fight. Still, we are family and we must learn the importance of forgiving one another and walking in love. God’s grace flows downhill, and we are all in desperate need of receiving it and releasing it. In our crusades we used to sing “Give Me That Old Time Religion,” with one phrase claiming, “makes the Baptists love the Methodists.” I would often follow that chorus and comment, “I’d like to see the kind of religion that makes the Baptists love the Baptists!” I am beginning to see my prayers answered. Believers are coming together.
Jim and I also talked about the need to recognize and rebuild our nation’s future on timeless principles that have been proven to work. John F. Kennedy should be a reminder that Catholics and Protestants can still work together for the best interest of the American people. He understood lowering taxes, not increasing them, creates jobs and opportunity. We all recognize that he fought his own personal demons. Don’t we all as believers, and we know who is able and anxious to deliver those who will trust Him.
Back to November 22 – Betty’s birthday. Jim Garlow said, “James, you have no idea how you inspire us as pastors and husbands the way you dote over Betty constantly encouraging and lifting her up. It convicts pastors, leaders and husbands to give more attention to their wives, and I want to thank you. We all do.” I was taken back, but found myself thinking, “I still don’t do it well enough or often enough.” Sometimes I think I sound more like a drill sergeant than a loving husband and father. I don’t encourage others as much as I could and should. God help me to be more sensitive to those around me beginning with Betty, family, staff and all those I contact.
I have experienced the joy of encouraging Betty to become fully adorned in God’s glory. The father of lies and the enemy of life told Betty years ago that she was dumb. She experienced panic attacks any time she faced a test causing her to be filled with doubt and fear. The enemy had convinced her she was not smart. Nothing could be further from the truth. She is not only beautiful outside and within, but also brilliant and I continually point out how smart she is, how quick and keen her mind is. Even though her demeanor is almost always quiet and even appearing to be timid, I try to continually point out her strengths. She is, as Lisa Bevere claims of women, “a lioness”. What a woman, wife, mother, and grandmother she is! I will by the grace of God seek not only on her birthday, but every day, to notice, care for and encourage this wonderful person God sent into my life to bless me beyond belief. When I have failed or disappointed her, and I have, she has never wavered her unconditional love and support. Consistently lifting her up is both a joy and a privilege.
Why am I writing this? Because I am prayerfully seeking to inspire you to encourage your spouse, your family, your co-workers and all those you come into contact with. You are important. You are a difference maker and if a Christian, the difference Christ made in your life enables and commissions you to impact others in the most positive, possible way. You are a great person planted on this earth to produce eternal fruit. You are special and capable of making others realize how significant and important they are.
I once commented to Peter Pretorius, our mission partner in Africa, “I think you and those who work providing relief and assistance to the needy are the greatest Christians on earth.” Peter said, “You’re wrong. The greatest people on this earth are those who pray for and support us so that we can do the work.” I realized with that statement that many people overlook their own great value and importance.
As we approach the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I thank you for being who you are, for reading and passing on what I share, for your prayerful support and friendship. I thank God for His matchless gift of Jesus, for my wife Betty, for our family, and for all of those who love us and also for those who dislike us. I learn from everyone whether they encourage or criticize. I thank God for you, and challenge you to seek every possible opportunity to encourage not only those closest to you, but all those whose paths you cross.