Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

September 13, 2020


God is full of surprises


            The most important three-word sentence you will ever read is this: “God is love.” That simple statement is found in the writing of John in the Bible. This truth is important because it reveals the nature of God. Love is the greatest attribute of God, a love God revealed when he sent his Son Jesus die on the cross for our sins.

            The most important three-word sentence you can ever repeat is “Jesus loves me.” Those are the beginning words of a simple song known all over the world.

            Nothing you will ever learn is more important than the truth of those six words: God is love. Jesus loves me. When you respond to the love of Jesus, and surrender your life to him, you begin discovering many more wonderful things about God.

            You discover, for example, that God is full of surprises, which some people, mistakenly I think, call coincidences. Over the years I have come to enjoy God’s delightful surprises, one of which has been to introduce me to a “dynamite” disciple of Jesus. As you reflect on some ways God has surprised you, let me share one of my cherished surprises.

            One summer when we were living in Demopolis, Alabama, a church member came to me on a Sunday morning with an unusual request. “There is a retired missionary visiting our church today, a charming person,” my friend said. Would I please recognize her during worship and let her “say a word”?

            As any pastor can tell you, it is rather dangerous to give the microphone to a stranger during a worship service. However, that day I felt no sense of alarm and agreed to honor the request. I knew nothing about the woman except her name. I had no idea where she had served as a missionary. So, before the morning prayer, as a gesture of kindness to an elderly servant of God, I invited Julia Lake Kellersberger to offer a word of greeting to our people.

            What happened when she took the mike was stunning. For about five minutes the little woman’s “greeting” electrified the congregation – and me. We were spellbound, wanting her to keep on talking. I knew immediately that her brief comments were more exciting than any sermon I had preached in months. To this day I have wished I had had the good sense to surrender my sermon time to her that morning.

            What did she say that was so stirring? Actually, it was no so much what she said as it was the manner in which she said it. How can I explain it? She simply radiated the presence, the joy, the glory of God! She was aglow with energy and enthusiasm. Expecting to see a weary, tottering old woman, I saw a radiant, captivating person who was totally alive!

            I felt like talking off my shoes when she described where she had served. I knew I was standing on holy ground when she shared that with her husband, Eugene, a missionary and a medical doctor, she had served leprosy colonies in Central Africa for 24 years.  That was the culminating chapter of their ministry; combining the years of their service, they served over a hundred years as missionaries in 27 countries on five continents. Together they visited and raised funds for leper colonies around the world.

            Julia was 83 the Sunday she visited our church. Her husband had died but not before they had retired and spent several years at a retirement home in south Florida. She had driven her small Toyota to return to her roots, having been born in west Alabama on a farm near Linden. You will get a taste of her joyful spirit in the introduction to her delightful book, The Bush is Burning:

            “As a child on a cotton plantation in the Deep South, I would swing high over our split-rail fence and wonder what lay beyond our neighbor’s pasture. I did not like that fence! It kept me from seeing far enough. Later, when Don’t Fence Me In became a popular song, I claimed it for my own. I want no fences, whether traditional, geographical or spiritual. I am Alabama-born but I am not Alabama-bound. I am proud to be a southerner unrestricted by the Mason-Dixon line and an American with global citizenship. The Master Architect broke down the middle wall of partition between me and all people, and I refuse to be re-fenced by man-made pickets. My circumscriptions are limited only by the firmament of heaven, the sunrise and the sunset. I do as I please, but I please to do the will of God for my life. That is why I have peace in my soul, joy in my heart and a song on my lips.”

            While Julia was visiting “her roots” for a few weeks, my wife and I accepted her invitation to share a meal in the little camper friends had provided during her visit. We enjoyed the “volcano” meal she prepared for us – mostly Mexican food stacked on a plate. Beside each plate was a tiny surprise wrapped in aluminum foil – an Alka Seltzer tablet which she claimed we would need after eating the volcano!

            After the meal, and a brief conversation, Julia grasped our hands, slipped to her knees and began praying. The little camper suddenly seemed filled with the presence of God as Julia praised Jesus and asked the Lord to bless each of us with a clear vision of His will for our lives.

Once again, I did not want her to stop talking; the more she talked, the nearer God seemed.

            Julia returned to her “mini-mansion” in south Florida and spent her last years “proclaiming the good news not with my lips but with my life.” Responding to a rumor that Julia had died, a friend called to see if she was dead. “Not yet!” She replied. Amused by this call, Julia commented, “If any of us, regardless of our age, considers our work to be finished, then we are finished. We might as well put a sign over our door, ‘Gone out of business.’ Life is immortal until our life’s work is done.”

            That last sentence had stuck with Julia all her life. Very sick as a baby, she was told the story of how she almost died one night. Her mother had rocked her in her arms all night, fearing Julia would not live until morning. That morning a visiting pastor cheered her weary mother with these words: “Daughter, your child is not going to die yet. Her lungs are too strong. God is working out his purpose, and her life is immortal until her life’s work is done.”

            Finally, at age 89, Julia’s work was done and in her own words, she moved into her “maxi-mansion” in the New Jerusalem, not needing a moving van because “all of my earthly possessions can be packed into my car, with room to spare.” She had said to me, at age 83, “The older I get, I want more and more of less and less.”

            Today, I celebrate the goodness of God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who continually surprises me by introducing me to some of his “dynamite” disciples. I am a blessed man for having known his servant, Julia Lake Kellersberger. I am amazed at the difference one disciple can make in the life of another. + + +