SIMPLE TRUTH: Don’t die before you die

Published 10:16 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

By Charles Christmas

Sylacauga was our home for the 10 years following 1957. It was a wonderful town in which to live, raise our children, enjoy the people and serve the Lord in and through the congregation at our church in Mignon, which is the best on earth in our opinion.

After three successive ministries, the Lord placed us in Chilton County and Clanton, and in our opinion, the best place on earth. After being removed from Sylacauga for those many years, Louise and I enjoyed a weekday return visit. It was a social occasion for her, and a time for me to visit my former members, who, by this time, were homebound.

One of the many people Deacon James Culberson and I visited was a resident of the hospital’s nursing home. I was completely unaware that she had been diagnosed with a form of dementia. Finding her looking neat and beautiful, I went straight to her, bent down, took her frail hands in mine, and said, “You remember Bro. Christmas, don’t you?” “Oh, yes,” she said, “I surely do. You know he died, and it was so sad.” Of course, I agreed with her, quickly searched for some follow-up conversation and was amused. Yet, deep inside, I was not amused because a convicting rebuke came to me from the Lord. God said to me,”My son, don’t die before you die.” As we returned late that afternoon to Chilton County, I repeatedly prayed silently, “O Lord, help me not to die before I die.”

In Genesis 17, Abraham said to God, “It is impossible for me and my wife, Sarah, to be used by you now; I am 99 years old and she is 90 years old. God answered, “Abraham, don’t die before you die. I am the Almighty God, and fruitful service for you is not dependent on what or who you are, or your circumstance, but upon who I am. I am the Almighty God.” So, instead of “dying before they died,” they believed God and became the parents of God’s chosen nation, Israel. Even true Christ-followers today are considered to be the children of Abraham.

In Joshua 14, Caleb approached Joshua, and although he was 85 years old, he refused to die before he died. He believed God was the same God he was 45 years prior. Caleb said to Joshua, “Assign to me this mountain, and through the presence and strength of God, I will drive out the enemy and occupy it for the glory of God.”

Experiences slightly kin to those of Abraham and Caleb have touched my journey. Twenty-nine years ago, my singing voice became totally eclipsed and my speaking voice became permanently deteriorated, but God did not want me to die before I died because he is the Lord God Almighty. After 39 years of being a pastor, he assigned to me a role in supporting Pastor Don Graham and the large Center Point Church. After five years of personal struggle, but gracious responses from my church and pastor, I knew my ministry there had ended. It was only because he was the Lord God Almighty that I, at 63 years old and with a deteriorated voice, would be received by a search committee and 55 churches in Chilton County.

When I was 70 years old, I knew my darling wife’s declining health meant she needed more of my time, and I resigned. Still, God did not want me to die before I died, so with my deteriorated voice, he sent me to preach three revivals, and to be an interim pastor for several churches for a period of 25 months.

While sitting in a Bible class at our church, the Lord said to me, “What are you doing here? I don’t want you to die before you die.” So, I followed him to the home of a pastor who was terminally ill with congestive heart failure. I volunteered to do all of his pastoral visitation and outreach, and I joined his church, volunteering to preach at any time he was unable to do so.

When God was through with us there, he sent us to Providence North Church for three years to be a volunteer assistant to the pastor and church. Then he sent me back to my home church in Clanton to be a volunteer assistant for over two years to my excellent pastor and church. Opportunities to preach were non-existent, but God did not want me to die before I died, so the staff of the Clanton Advertiser requested that I write a weekly column with freedom of content.

Earlier, my wife was retired and without a ministry through which to give herself away to others. Therefore, she felt totally unfulfilled, and she, of all people, certainly did not want to die before she died. The Lord opened to her an eight-year volunteer ministry at Shelby Baptist Medical Center. She worked four days each week, and her joy was beyond description. After eight years of service, she experienced a devastating paralysis as a result of vertebrae surgery. It became to us an almost unbearable pit, but God did not want us to die before we died. The Lord, and those who know us well, are aware that those three years following the entrance into that pit, until the night of the stroke that took her life, were years of God’s great grace and power upon her life and ministry. Those years were the best of our life and climaxed with new vistas of God working in our family and in others.

The Lord has said to me, “Although your wife is gone, and you are left alone with no family near, I don’t want you to die before you die.” So he opened the door for me to resume writing my weekly column for this paper and he has sent me on extended trips to give myself away to my immediate and extended family.

As I write this column, a request lies before me from my wonderful new pastor and our ministerial staff to accept a volunteer ministry in my church which is totally beyond my ability. As I seek God’s face about this, he seems to be saying to me,” Yes, it is beyond your ability, but I am still God Almighty, and I do not want you to die before you die.”

I am certainly not worthy to be an example, but if you or someone you know feels like giving up, today’s column can be a word from God to you. You may feel like you are only a pew warmer, dead church member, or a backslidden person. Perhaps you are using the excuse of being too old, handicapped, too busy, or an incapable has-been, but God has a word for you: “Don’t die before you die. I am still the Lord God Almighty and I am the God of today. I want you to live while you live, rather than die before you die.”

—Charles Christmas is a religion columnist for The Clanton Advertiser. His column appears each Thursday.