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Friday, June 8, 2012

A Life Transformed


       
Sunday evening, May 27, 2012, in a church near my hometown in East Texas, I sat with other family members waiting for the service to begin. Feeling emotional (in a good way) about what was to take place, I fondly recalled a photograph of two sun-tanned and barefoot children standing among tall rows of corn where they had played many times. No doubt, these two had to cease their adventures long enough for one of their parents or siblings to snap the photo.  At the moment the picture was taken, these two little country kids had no idea what lay in store for them as they embarked on their journey into adulthood. There is no doubt that God had a plan for each of their lives (Jeremiah 29:11).
The picture that I referred to above is one I will always look back on and remember with a smile, for it is a picture of my brother Jimmy, and me.  Of the seven children in our family, Jimmy and I were second and third from the youngest.  It will come as no surprise that we played together, fought together, and experienced all the things that siblings do who are close in age. Being three years younger than Jimmy, there were many times that I aggravated him to no end, but in this writing we’ll just skip that part!
Our attendance at church that evening was special because Jimmy and his entire family attend church there each week.  However, the most special thing about the evening was when Jimmy had the opportunity to give his personal testimony of a life transformed through faith in Jesus Christ, as well as a message of how we as Christians ought to live.
Jimmy has given me permission to share some of his testimony and message. Naturally, because he is my brother, it is my desire to honor him for what the Lord has done in his life. More importantly, for those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as Savior, my hope is that they will understand how much God loves them;  that regardless of the type of life they have lived, He longs to forgive, to wipe the slate clean, and to make them into a brand new person.  This is what faith in Jesus Christ did for my brother, for me, and for all who have turned to walk in a new direction--a wonderful path that leads to eternal life.
As he began, it was clear that Jimmy’s message was being directed by the Holy Spirit. We were touched as he thanked his wife, Janice, for always being so supportive of him, even when he wasn’t living for the Lord.  Jimmy stated that for many years he ran from God, always making excuses as to why he didn’t go to church or live as he knew he should.  Still, during those years, he was thankful that without fail, Janice read the Bible to their three daughters each night.  She took the girls to church and she continued to pray for him.  Then, one day, Jimmy came to the place where he knew he had to stop running from God and at that moment he made a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ.  This was a wonderful turning point in his life.
Reading from the Bible in the book of Matthew, Chapters 6 and 7, Jimmy spoke about how Christians ought to live.  When talking about how we should help others who are less fortunate than ourselves, and those who have fallen on hard times, he said, “If someone needs $20.00, give them $40.00.” He also read scripture from Matthew 6:1-4 that tells us we should not brag about helping others because God knows our hearts and sees what we are doing, and will reward us accordingly for our good deeds.  Over the years, Jimmy and Janice have helped many people and both have such giving hearts. I have never once heard them brag about their good deeds.  A member of my immediate family has been the recipient of their love and generosity, for which I will be forever grateful. Jimmy and Janice definitely practice the model that our Lord Jesus Christ has given us of showing compassion and tangible support to those in need.
Something that touched me greatly was a story from some years back that I had never heard. Not surprisingly, Jimmy stated that he seldom ever told this story. While emphasizing the importance of how the church and we as Christians should always strive to meet the needs of others, Jimmy told the congregation of an apparent homeless man he saw one morning in a local store.  The man was scrounging around in his pockets looking for enough money to buy a cup of coffee. When he could only come up with 23 cents, the store owner impatiently told him to “just go ahead and take the coffee.” The man went outside and sat down at a picnic table.  Jimmy followed him out and also sat down at the table.  Here he began to ask the man a series of questions: “Where are you headed?” “What’s your story?”  “Where did you sleep last night?” “How long since you have eaten?” The man told Jimmy that he had lost his job, and had walked over 75 miles in an attempt to get to a town further north where he would be able to find employment. His wife had died and his son had been killed in the military. He had slept in nearby woods overnight. Someone had bought him a hamburger the previous day. After obtaining this information from the man and discerning that there was no harm in him, Jimmy then gave him a ride into town and bought him breakfast.  Upon finishing the story, my brother said the only thing he regrets about that day is that he was not yet living for the Lord; therefore, he was not able to share his faith with the man.  I believe that God used Jimmy to be helpful to this man by showing a genuine interest in his situation. Therefore, he was a witness to the man.  He did what Jesus would have done. He showed the man kindness and compassion, and he fed him.  In His divine providence, God knew that Jimmy would be led to tell this story many years later as he stood sharing a message in the pulpit of his church, and that its impact would remind each of us how we should always treat others. What a great example of Christ’s love in action! In addition, this story also serves to remind us how God places us in the middle of where He is working, even if we don’t realize it until years later. There was a purpose for Jimmy’s encounter with this man.  It was not by accident, but rather a divine appointment—one that was for  specific purposes. 
From Matthew 7:1-5, Jimmy read scripture that tells us we should not judge others, lest we be judged.  It is easy to find fault in others and not look within ourselves to see our own faults, so we must be careful not to be judgmental.  We must love others and treat them as we would want to be treated. We must love others as Jesus did.
I love my five brothers and one sister very much, and all of their spouses.  What a wonderful thing it was for us to have been raised in a home where Christian principles were taught and practiced.  We are a family of givers and it only seems natural for us to help others who are in need. What a comfort and encouragement it is to see how the Lord has blessed all of us in so many ways. 
Because of our family’s spiritual heritage, I stand in awe and am extremely humbled and thankful for the good work the Lord has done in Jimmy’s life and the life of his family members.  After he began going to church, Jimmy was baptized, and assisted in the baptism of several family members.  I don’t know of anything that would bring more joy than this type of family commitment, and I am so thankful for their dedication to the Lord. 
As Jimmy said in his message that Sunday evening, “God will forgive any sins you have committed and He will give you a clean heart if you ask Him.”  He will pour His Spirit into you and you will never again have to remain enslaved to the things of the world that have no lasting value. 
Jimmy read the poem, “My Prayer Was Answered” during his message and I wanted to include it in this blog, as it definitely reminds us how God knows so much better than we do what is best for us.
My Prayer Was Answered
“I asked for strength that I might achieve;
He made me weak that I might obey.
I asked for health that I might do greater things;
I was given grace that I might do better things.
I asked for riches that I might be happy;
I was given poverty that I might be wise.
I asked for power that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness so that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things that I might enjoy life;
I was given life that I might enjoy all things.
                 I received nothing that I asked for, all that I hoped for,
My prayer was answered.”
Author unknown…possibly the prayer of a Confederate soldier.
Prayer:  Father, God.  You are wonderful! You love us and are not willing that anyone should perish. Thank You for answered prayer and for prayers that have been offered up to You. Even though we have seen no visible answers at this time, Your Word tells us that nothing is impossible with You.  So, we continue to believe that You will come through for us in Your timing; for we know from past experiences that You are never late. Thank You for the mighty work you have done and are doing in Jimmy’s life and the life of his family.  Help them to be a blessing to those who are hurting, and in turn, bless each one of them in a mighty way for their faithfulness to You.  I pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Amen.