ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE, PRAYER, AND JIMMY

In elementary school in Alabama, the boys at recess used to line up and choose sides — Alabama or Auburn. Most chose the Crimson Tide. In fact, it was our third grade teacher, Miss Sally Smith, that taught Jimmy and I to love the University of Alabama in all things, not just football.

We grew up in the days of Paul “Bear” Bryant and Bama fans expected us to challenge for a national championship every year much like they do with Nick Saban at the healm now. But the entire South is football crazy not just Alabama. Up north they love their football teams. Down south we “worship” our football teams. I have often said that down South during the Fall season, we have two revival meetings every weekend — one at church on Sundays and one at the football stadium on Saturdays. And there is a lot more prayer on Saturdays than on Sundays, believe you me.

Jimmy and I went to our first Alabama football game together along with Eileen (his future wife). That was Nov. 9, 1974 (my Dad’s birthday). At the famous Legion Field in Birmingham, we watched our Crimson Tide smother LSU 30-0 in an afternoon game. Jimmy and I had recently come to faith in Christ. The next game we went to together, Bama lost so I won’t talk about that much!

Growing up, we would shoot basketball free throws in our driveway with the car radio on, so we could hear the game on Saturdays. This was before all the games were televised.

One televised Bowl game of note was the Alabama vs Penn State game of 1979. Penn State was ranked number 1 and Alabama number 2 in the nation. Bama was ahead 14-7 with just a few minutes left and Penn State had the ball inside the one-yard line, 4th and goal (they had been stopped on 3rd and one). The running back for Penn State took the handoff on fourth down and tried to jump over the line into the end zone. The Alabama linebacker came up to meet him at the top of the pile and pushed him back in what is probably the most famous play in Alabama history. What you need to know is that Jimmy and I were sitting on the couch together watching this. Without even thinking about it, when the Alabama linebacker jumped up to meet the Penn State running back, both Jimmy and I jumped from the couch to the front of the TV to help push him back. We did not just watch Alabama games. We participated in them.

Another game I remember, Jimmy and I were listening on the radio (Oct 12, 1974). Alabama was playing Florida State before Bobby Bowden’s time. At that particular time, FSU had lost 16 straight games. But Alabama was down to its third string quarterback. Both Gary Rutledge and Richard Todd had been hurt and knocked out for this game. But everyone said Bear Bryant could be quarterback and Alabama would win easily. FSU took the kickoff to start the game and went 78 yards for a touchdown. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, it was still 7-0 FSU. Bama got a field goal early in the 4th to make it 7-3. FSU then took a safety on purpose with about a minute left because of punting out of the back of their own end zone. They did not want a blocked kick for a touchdown. Then they kicked to BAMA and a young man named Willie Shelby ran it a good ways back. A pass to Ozzie Newsome got it in closer. Bucky Berrey kicked a field goal with 33 seconds left to put Alabama ahead 8-7. What were Jimmy and I doing to participate? Like always, we were praying along with the Crimson Nation. Does God care about how football games go? I don’t know. But Jimmy and I prayed like He did!

I’ll miss talking to Jimmy about Alabama football. When I cross the threshold into God’s country, I may hear Jimmy say to me “Roll Tide.” I’ll say it back and I may even find some Auburn friends to hug — and give them an Alabama hoodie!

Image may contain: 2 people, including Mike Stallard, people smiling, people standing

BUTLER HIGH SCHOOL AND FRENCH CLASS

It is unfortunate that the high school that Jimmy and I attended closed down a couple of years ago. There were a lot of good memories and challenges during that time of our young lives.

Because we were identical twins and people had trouble telling us apart, we were often asked if we ever switched places — Jimmy would take my place and I would take his. Actually, we never really switched places although on the phone some times, I would pretend to be him and vice versa. Of course, when it came to dating girls we didn’t dare switch — that was something special you don’t mess with!

What we actually enjoyed doing was pretending that we had switched places. One day as a senior at Butler High School, a large high school in Huntsville, Alabama, I was in my French class with Mrs. Williams. Right next door in another French class was my brother Jimmy. Shortly after my class had started, Jimmy’s teacher (I don’t remember her name) came storming through the door of Mrs. Williams’ classroom. She said nothing to Mrs. Williams but came straight to my desk standing over me. She looked a bit miffed and said, “Are you Jimmy or are you Mike?” I just smiled and she stormed out.

I knew what Jimmy was up to. He was pretending to be me and giving the impression that we had switched places. He probably was intentionally slow to answer the role call in his class that day and made the teacher wonder.

I have heard of twins who were disgruntled and did not like the fact that they were twins. Jimmy and I never had a second of that feeling as far as I know. It was always special being the “big brother” by five minutes of my little twin brother and spending time with him. Although the Lord in my ministry sent me far away to minister to the Yankees up north while Jimmy stayed down South, distance is not really measured by geographical miles but by the nearness of the heart.

WINN DIXIE — QUIK CHEK GROCERY STORE

The first job my brother Jimmy and I had was keeping score at bowling tournaments back before they had invented scoring machines. We pretty much lived at the bowling alley on weekends. The bowling alley would pay us a free game or a dollar for keeping score for three games of tournament bowling.

But the first real job we had getting a paycheck with tax deductions (unfortunately) was for Winn Dixie — Quik Chek grocery store on Governors Drive in Huntsville, Alabama. It was the major store for that part of town and where my family shopped. It was busy all the time. Jimmy and I bagged groceries, mopped floors, ran cash registers, unloaded trucks including watermelon trucks which liked to break my back, stocked shelves, shucked corn, cleaned out the incinerator — anything but the meat market.

One day (I think before we came to faith in Christ but while we were searching) I was running a cash register early on Saturday morning. Jimmy was bagging groceries. He told me he was going to work that day like Jesus would work. A few hours later he came to my register to bag groceries, sweat on his face and very tired. Then he said, “I’ll never do that again!” He had run himself ragged trying to be like Jesus.

Fortunately, God is a God of grace. We must work as believers as the Bible says while it is day. God does not sanction laziness. But His way is the way of grace. Jimmy and I were soon to learn the marvelous nature of God’s amazing grace. Many of our spiritual discussions in light of Billy Graham’s teaching on television happened during moments at Winn Dixie grocery store, another special place in our lives.

A Thank You to Two Churches

In view of the passing of my brother Jimmy, many people have sent cards, made phone calls or emails, and responded to my posts with words of encouragement and hope as they share a bit in the grief that my family shares. I want to thank all of you. Without your encouragement, the days would be much darker.

But I want to mention two churches that have overwhelmed us with support. It is common to say in our post-Christian America that the church is meaningless and hypocritical at best. There are no perfect churches, of course, since they contain people like me. But I have found that when the chips are down, most Bible-believing churches will give you the shirt off their backs.

Calvary Baptist Church of Smyrna, Georgia is such a church.
It was where Jimmy attended and had a teaching ministry.
The people loved him. They poured food into the house of my sister-in-law Eileen during our worst week. They filled the funeral home during the viewing and brought more food for the family during that time. The stories they shared about Jimmy did more good than they know as they shared with me and others. During the funeral, they filled the entire auditorium. The teenagers sang “Victory in Jesus.” One young lady sang “Ten Thousand Reasons.” These two songs were Jimmy’s favorites — and mine — old and recent songs. The funeral service closed with a trio of brothers doing a blue-grass instrumental that Jimmy loved as they used guitar, fiddle, and banjo to play “I’ll Fly Away.” It was appropriate as Jimmy is a “son of the South.” Then the church fed us one more time. They handled oxygen tanks, sent cards, gave money, and most of all gave of themselves because I know they were grieving also the loss of their brother in Christ.

West Huntsville Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama was the other church of great blessing. It is our home church. It is where Jimmy and I were saved. They arranged the graveside service where Jimmy was buried at the cemetery. They fed us food before our family set off for our homes scattered across America. The words of those who knew us from Huntsville, people from different churches even, continued to help us begin the healing process — which will never entirely be finished until Jesus comes. You see, the great pain we feel for our loss is a sign that our love for Jimmy was not shallow. It was deep, pure, and real. There are many sources to assist us in our grief, but the Church rose to the occasion and has spoken solace into our hearts by word and deed.

My Funeral Message for My Dear Brother Jimmy

For those who might be interested, here is a transcript of the sermon I preached at my brother Jimmy’s funeral.

Funeral Message for Jimmy Stallard
by Mike Stallard
Calvary Baptist Church, Smyrna, Georgia
March 16, 2018

Note: I preached this sermon from an outline except for the opening statement. I have written it here from memory the best I could trying to fill in the details and smoothing things over with a few additions. It was by far the hardest sermon I ever preached. But a young girl raised her hand at the end saying that she had prayed to receive Christ. I know Jimmy is happy about that right now. I am grateful for the large crowd that filled the church that day. The congregation ministered to my family more than they know.

Introduction
They say that I look like Jimmy. Even my mannerisms and voice are like Jimmy’s. I’ll try not to spook you out. I wish I could be anywhere but here. I wish I did not have to do this message. If I could, I would give a kidney and a lung to my brother if only he could be the one standing here instead of me.

Death is obscene. It is a great enemy. Unless the Lord comes back, death will take us all down. BUT, death is a defeated enemy, a defeated foe because of what Jesus Christ has done for us. If you know Christ, you will hug Jimmy’s neck again. So many suggest that the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity are irrelevant for our modern times. They are wrong. At this moment, our faith is the most relevant in this cruel world.

Memories of Jimmy
Stephen, you did a good job of talking about your Dad. I’ll say a few words about Jimmy and then share some Scripture.

As the family was waiting to come in, my Mom reminded me of her Facebook post: “Mike and Jimmy are in a relationship with gravy and biscuits.”

When Jimmy and I were saved at West Huntsville Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, we began to notice a young girl named Eileen. We actually talked to each other about which one of us would ask her out for a date. After things were serious between Jimmy and Eileen (who became his wife), Jimmy and I concocted a humorous story to tell her which we used for a few years from time to time. We told her that Jimmy and I flipped a coin — and Jimmy lost!

I remember a time in Eufaula, Alabama along about the second grade. Jimmy and I played our guitars in front of a filled high-school gym in an elementary school program. Together we sang the old Burl Ives sad love song “A Little Bitty Tear Let Me Down.” The applause was so long that we did not get to do the second song we were scheduled to play and sing. Mom and Dad were proud of their boys that day.

I remember the Stallard Fantasy Baseball League from 1966 to 1970. Jimmy was the American League. I was the National League. We used Strato-Matic Baseball as Stephen mentioned. We played whiffle ball in the driveway and yard to do the league games. We kept meticulous and complete statistics. Hank Aaron led in homeruns in our league as he should have as we tried to make things realistic.

We also loved bowling. What many of you may not know is that Jimmy represented the state of Alabama in 1971 in a bowling for college scholarships in Washington, D. C. I was proud of him and bowling was one of the great joys of our youth.

But not all memories are good. The only person I ever had a fist fight with in the world was my brother Jimmy. One time – I think I was around 11 years old – I got so mad at him that I picked up a pencil to stab him. But in my haste and anger, I picked up the wrong end of the pencil! I stabbed him with the eraser. It did not have the desired effect. I was holding the lead end in my hand. When I stabbed Jimmy, it drove the lead end of the pencil into the palm of my hand. To this day, I have a lead coloration mark in the palm of my hand that reminds me of the dangers of arguing. It also reminds me of Jimmy. Read the rest of this entry »

When Prayers Change Quickly

On the way down to Atlanta from Philadelphia to see my brother Jimmy who was fighting stage 4 kidney cancer that had spread to his lungs, I was praying like I had the last several weeks. Lord, please work a miracle and save my brother from this horrible disease. Remove it from him and give him his ministry back. But when I got there to the hospice facility, I was confronted with Jimmy’s suffering. I was overwhelmed by his physical pain. Immediately, my prayer changed. Lord take him home and stop the suffering. He died about 24 hours later. I have cried more tears this past ten days than perhaps the rest of my adult life combined. It is not a sorrow with no hope. I will hug Jimmy’s neck again. But the power of the reality of physical suffering jerked me to speak to God in a different way even about the most important thing close to my heart at the time. Prayer can change quickly when confronted with reality even if the desires of your heart want to go in a different direction.

Memories of a Kind Heart

One memory I have of my brother Jimmy was in the first year after we came to Christ. We were 21 years old. A bunch of young men, including Jimmy and me, were playing tackle football in a field — something we probably should not have done. One young black man (I don’t remember his name but I’ll call him John) was with the rest of us young white men. In the game, John went down with a wrenched knee. Jimmy had been witnessing to him about Jesus and the gospel of eternal life. When John went down, Jimmy was the first one over to him to put John’s arm around Jimmy’s shoulders so John could be helped to a car. As I was standing there watching, I thought of the kind heart of my brother Jimmy. I believe Jimmy may have loved more deeply than me.

My Twin Brother Jimmy Goes Home

My brother Jimmy was born on October 13, 1953. That was five minutes after I was born. I watched my twin breathe his last breath on this earth around 10:45 am on Monday, March 12, 2018 after battling kidney cancer that had spread to his lungs. His entire family was gathered around him. Sunday and Monday (March 11-12) were probably the hardest days of my life. He was 64. For the first time, I have lived in this universe without him being an email, text, or phone call away.

I have posted memories of him in Facebook but will begin to copy them to my blog for those who do not access to those posts.  As of the original writing of this post, I am trying to keep myself together as I work on the funeral sermon I will preach on Friday, March 16. Jimmy was a great evangelist and a great brother. He is still alive in heaven and is no longer suffering as he was the last few weeks. I look forward to the time when Jesus will come and begin to make all things right.

“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4

The NFL and the Star-Spangled Banner and the Desire for Freedom from Criticism

Like most of you, I have been somewhat riveted by the debate of recent times spawned by the refusal of some NFL players to stand and show respect for the US Flag during the national anthem before games.  The President waded into that debate over the last weekend, perhaps unwisely, but time will tell.  What I want to concentrate on here is tangent to the debate, but still important.  Jim Harbaugh, the Michigan football coach, responded by telling the President to read the Constitution.  If I understand his statement correctly, he was suggesting that the President was violating the free speech rights of the NFL players given in the First Amendment.  But this is patently untrue.  It is a fallacy we all fall into sometimes.  When we are debating someone else, especially if that someone else is a good debater, we resort to a false challenge.  This happens a lot from those on the Left side of the political spectrum but they are not by themselves.  What they are really arguing for is “freedom from criticism.”  The First Amendment does not say we have freedom from criticism.  NFL players who are unhappy with America have the right to criticize by kneeling down during the national anthem.  Others have the right to criticize those players if they disagree.  Even Presidents have freedom of speech, although we can criticize them and even vote them out of office.  As a Pastor and Seminary prof, I received plenty of criticism.  If we are supposed to be free from criticism, I want to pass the offering plate again.  Somebody out there owes me something!

Gospel-centered, Jesus-centered, God-centered, or Glory-centered?

There is much emphasis on “gospel-centered” in the evangelical culture and scholarship of our day.  I have written here and in other forums that this is not where I am.  I have suggested that “Jesus-centered” is a better way to go since such an approach encompasses all that Jesus does, past-present-future, on our behalf.  While the gospel of eternal life serves as a foundational truth for past accomplishment, present experience, and future blessing, it is not broad enough to integrate all that Jesus is and all that He does, from the creation of the world, provision of salvation in the Cross and Resurrection, setting up of a kingdom when He comes again, and the ushering in of a new heavens and new earth in the end – all of which combined offer more breadth than the simple gospel.  This should not be taken to minimize the strategic role the gospel plays in history or in our theology.

Last week we had our annual Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics.  The topic was “Dispensationalism and the Glory of God.”  Much profitable discussion centered on a doxological unifying theme of the Bible (Ryrie).  The Niagara Conference men of an earlier generation said the same thing but would be comfortable with the words “doxological purpose or purposes for biblical history.”  I think the presentation is legitimately biblical.  However, the Niagara Conference men also treated this doxological purpose for history as focused on Christology.  That is, it was “Jesus-centered” as I have mentioned above.  My paper on Arno C. Gaebelein at the Council was the illustration I used for this point of view.

When we ask if the Bible or biblical history or Christian life (or however we word it) is primarily soteriological (gospel-centered), Christological (Jesus-centered), theological (God-centered), or doxological (glory-centered), we are in danger of skewing the truth if we are not careful.  All of these things are so tightly intertwined that to diminish one may be to diminish the others in our theological discourse.  But if I had to choose, I would believe in a doxological purpose to biblical history with a Christological center.  Jesus-centered to the glory of God.