I sat on the front row of the audience at the InTouch Ministries broadcast studio, where I was invited to watch the taping of an exclusive interview between two of the most acclaimed pastors of our time. For 45 uninterrupted minutes, Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, interviewed his dad, Dr. Charles F. Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Atlanta since 1971, and president of InTouch Ministries. The interview will be broadcast during the week of Stanley’s 85th birthday celebration.
I was new to the Christian faith when my husband and I joined First Baptist Atlanta in 2000. I had just moved to America the year before, and those first years away from family and friends were extremely difficult. Although I had broken the language barrier long before moving to the U.S., I found myself fighting feelings of loneliness and inadequacy, while immersing in a new culture, far from all familiar faces and surroundings. Charles Stanley’s practical Bible teachings every Sunday helped me find peace, joy and a renewed sense of purpose in that new chapter in my life.
In October 2016, Charles Stanley released his much-anticipated autobiography “Courageous Faith.” I was one of the first in line on the day of his book signing at FBA. That very afternoon, I started reading about the life of the man whose ministry impacted my faith walk forever.
Charles Stanley’s autobiography is undoubtedly the most selfless memoir I’ve ever read. From beginning to end, as he recounts each story, each trial and victory, he points the reader to the Author and Sustainer of his faith – Jesus Christ. One cannot turn the last page of the book without realizing that, in his darkest hours, when enemies came against him and fear would threaten to steal his peace, Charles Stanley’s response was always the same: He fought each battle on his knees, surrendering each trial to God, and trusting His Maker with the outcome.
Whether you share his beliefs or not, one cannot read his life story without at least becoming puzzled by this man’s faith – where many would question God or give up, Charles Stanley pressed on. The result is evident and unquestionable: His courageous faith weaved a thread of victory through the hardest circumstances, as his ministry kept growing, stronger than ever before.
As I read his book and later watched his son, Andy, recount how his father’s unwavering faith shaped his own, I found myself challenged, inspired and grateful to realize that my pastor has truly lived up to the principles by which he proclaims. Even when obeying did not make any sense. Even when it cost him much.
Andy Stanley writes, in the foreword of his father’s auto-biography: “Dad never ran from trouble or the trials of life, and that made an incredible impact on my sister and me. In my personal life and ministry, my takeway from having Dr. Charles Stanley as my father was that everyone can trust God with every outcome (…)”
During the interview, when his son asked him about retirement, Charles Stanley’s easy laughter filled the room. Anyone sitting on the pews of FBA knows better: He doesn’t believe in it. “Retirement is not anywhere in the Bible,” he says. He believes there will always be work to do for the Kingdom, and he intends to continue doing his part until God tells him otherwise, or “calls him home.”
“Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him.” That is one of Charles Stanley’s most repeated “Life Principles.” That is his life song. It has also become mine. So today, I cheer this man of God on, together with millions of people throughout the globe who listen to his voice on more than 2,600 radio and television outlets, translated to over 50 languages: Keep on preaching, pastor. We are listening. Thank you for a life of courageous, unwavering faith and obedience. Thank you for teaching us that God rewards those whose hearts are fully committed to Him. Thank you for opening the Word of God each Sunday, unapologetically proclaiming Its truths.
An international chorus of believers sings to you today: Happy 85th birthday, Charles Stanley! May God continue to bless and guide you, dear pastor.
Join the celebration at First Baptist Atlanta on Sept. 24 during both service hours: 9 and 10:45a.m. You can watch the interview on every market where InTouch is broadcast starting Sept. 23.
This article was originally published in Patricia’s column for The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Saturday – September 15, 2017.