A Surprising Birthday Gift

John ArmstrongPersonal

Yesterday was my 57th birthday. I knew that my family was going to take me to lunch since they let me pick the place in advance. I am a pretty simple person, at least when it comes to picking my pleasures, so I picked T. G. I. Friday’s. I always relish these special times because they allow the whole gang (all eight of us) to be together. I also knew that my wife Anita would do her usual “party girl” routines and make the day very, very special. It was a memorable day but I did not know how memorable it would be at 8:00 a.m. when I came down to breakfast.

Around 9:00 a.m. two very dear pastor friends, Keith Duff and Tim Badal (Village Bible Church, Sugar Grove, Illinois), called to invite me to join them in hearing John R. W. Stott speak at 10:00 a.m., at Windsor Park Manor (a retirement home), which is only a mile from my residence. I couldn’t resist. I dropped all other plans and gladly went; wondering if this might be my last opportunity to hear Stott in person.

I intend to write an ACT 3 Weekly later this month about the life of John R. W. Stott. He has impacted me more and more with every passing year, though we have only had two previous occasions to meet. He has absolutely no reason to even know who I am quite honestly. But he has impacted my life very deeply for well over thirty-five years.

Like so many of you John Stott’s forty-plus books have helped me know the Word of God better with every passing year. I first heard of John Stott, by means of two of his small little books on the message of the New Testament and basic Christianity. I was a college student in 1969 when these works came into my hands.

No one better understands the basic message of the cross than John Stott. In fact, his book The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 1986) is the all-time classic on the cross of Jesus! Stott’s expositions of Scripture are always crystal clear, exegetically faithful, and simple enough for everyone to profit.

What impressed me the most yesterday, and this more than ever, was not the message preached by Stott, at least in terms of Stott’s actual treatment of the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. The message, “Our God is a Missionary God,” was very well done. But what impressed me was the man. Stott’s message is not about Stott, but about Christ. But many great preachers, and frankly there are many who are better speakers than John Stott, can and do preach the same message faithfully. And many do so in ways that are more impressive. What amazed me yesterday, and what frequently filled my eyes with tears during his twenty minute address, was John Stott’s simple love for Jesus. This love is joined with a developed spiritual formation from nearly seventy years of life (he was converted at age seventeen) and a mature humility.

I have seen John Stott attacked from the both left and the right over the years. The late Dr. John Gerstner once suggested, at a pastors’ fellowship that I moderated in Wheaton, that John Stott might not be a real Christian because of his views regarding hell.(Stott has publicly suggested that one way to read the Bible, regarding what follows the resurrection and the coming judgment, is to see the annihilation of the wicked as a possible scenario rather than the conscious eternal torment of the lost.) Most of us were appalled at Gerstner’s approach, to be quite truthful. I have also seen Stott attacked from the left, especially by liberal bishops like John Shelby Song, who frankly despises him.

But what I saw in John Stott yesterday, and what I so rarely see in younger and older men who have great prominence in the Christian world, is sweetness, kindness and gentleness. This man loves Jesus, radiates his love in old age like few I have heard, and lifts up Christ while downplaying John Stott. This was the impression I shall never forget on my birthday.

I celebrated my fifth-seventh birthday by praying a basic, but I trust, very real prayer: “Lord make me a simple humble follower of Jesus like John Stott. Make me a man who does not strike back at my enemies. And do give me the grace to be kind and patient with all.”