“God has a very interesting way of teaching us the most valuable lessons in life. The following true story highlights a powerful lesson in humility.”
I believe the year was 1997; it was still early in our ministry journey. During that particular time, I was the pastor of 3 churches which were Emporium and Austin; both Free Methodist churches and the Gardeau Community Church; a small non-denominational country church which we reopened in 1996.
My Sunday routine was to preach in the Austin church at 9:00 am, and then hustle back to Emporium for an 11:00 o’clock service, followed by a 1:00 pm afternoon service in Gardeau. By the time I finished my circuit; I was often pretty spent and would just relax the rest of the day.
On this particular Sunday, I had preached on the topic of going the extra mile, and serving your neighbor . . . And who is your neighbor after all . . . you know, the kind of preachy stuff, preachers preach.
Well, when I got home, I remember sitting on the back stoop of the parsonage; the smell of Sherri’s famous beef barley soup, wafting through the air. I remember whispering a prayer to the Lord; “please, I hope no one interrupts this quiet, peaceful afternoon . . . I just want to rest.”
Well, it only took about 10 minutes for the telephone to ring and it happened to be the cleaning lady down at the First Baptist Church. It was Anna, a very sweet elderly lady, who would straighten up the church following the Sunday morning activities.
She called; asking me if I could help her; it seems there was a man there who had stopped by the church, claiming to be almost out of gasoline. He was asking if the church could give him some gas money.
She went on to tell me that her pastor was away that weekend and she didn’t know what to do. So, not wanting to be disturbed on my “Sabbath Day,” I suggested that she refer this man to the United Methodist Church and Rev. John Spahr, who was also the treasurer of the Cameron County Ministerial Association.
I told Anna that he should be able to help this man with some money for gas. Anna hesitated a moment and said; “Well, okay pastor, I will tell him that,” and she hung up the phone.
It only took about a millisecond after she hung up the phone before the Lord kicked me squarely in the pants!
He said; “Rock, what are you doing? There’s an elderly lady, one block from where you are, talking to a man she doesn’t know who wants money from the church! Now go!”
Well that’s all I needed to hear, and I realized how un-thoughtful and self-centered I was; so I ran out, jumped in the car and sped down the end of the street, and when I got to the stop sign I looked over and I saw this man, with what I can only describe as having “wild hair” standing by a car gesturing towards Anna.
Anna was obviously waving goodbye to him as he climbed into his car with Minnesota license plates. I noticed as he was getting into his car that he fired up a cigarette; his dog looking out the window at him.
The man pulled away and drove down the street. I became indignant and I thought to myself; here is a guy just out ripping off churches taking money from the Lord so he can just fill his gas tank, buy cigarettes and keep on bumming around the country! Disgusted, I turned the corner and went back home.
As I was parking the car in front of our house and as I was getting ready to get out; the Lord rebuked me again! Only this time he said; “Tell me Rock, who did you say that guy was ripping off?” I said; “Well, You of course; this man is just running around out there, trying to take money from the church, an easy target and I think it’s despicable.”
Then the Lord said this to me, and it was about to change the way I view people forever!
He said; “Rock, My pockets are deep and I will give to whom I will give and I will take from whom I will take and you are not to judge anyone in that respect. Do I make myself clear?” “Yes Lord;” I said, as I climbed out of the car.
My head was hanging low as I headed into the house; having been rebuked sharply by the Lord twice in the span of 20 minutes!
As I reached the front door, the Lord began talking to me again . . . Oh boy!
He said; “Rock, this is what you’re going to do. Go inside your house and take all of the beef barley soup that your wife has made for dinner; yes Rock, all of it! You’re going to put it in a container, and you’re going to take the loaf of bread that your wife bought this morning for dinner too. Then you’re going to take it to this man and give it to him. Not only that; the money in your pocket; yes Rock, all of it, every last penny, you are going to give that to this man as well.”
So, quite flustered, I went into the kitchen and began to put the soup in a container and Sherri looked at me asking;“Can’t you wait just a few more minutes for dinner” and I said; “No honey I can’t; I’m on a mission.
God has told me to do something and I don’t have time to explain, just trust me, I have to do this.” Sherri stood there and watched incredulously, as I poured all the soup into a container; grabbed a loaf of bread and hurried out the door.
I jumped in my car and rushed down to the United MethodistChurch to see if this man was there, but he was not. I drove to the other end of town, driving back and forth several times, looking up and down the streets; I couldn’t find him an anywhere!
I told the Lord how sorry I was, that I regretted how hard of heart I had been, and asked him to forgive me. I told him I would never let this happen again and so I began to head back to the house; thankful for the lesson, and also a wee bit thankful that I could still have the beef barley soup, which was still hot sitting next to me in the passenger seat.
As I was about to turn the corner onto the street where the parsonage was, God told me to pull over and stop. I stopped the car and the Lord said; “Rock, where would you go if you were in this town and you had no money, you had no food, and you were tired; where would you go?”
Immediately I thought about a big tree at the end of a street not far from the United Methodist Church. I would park my car under that tree because of the heat of the day, and the Lord said; “go there.”
I immediately turned around and I drove down to where that tree was, and there, parked under that tree, was an old beat-up car from Minnesota!
I pulled my car up close, got out and I knocked on the window. The little dog started barking, and the wild-haired man jumped up shirtless; quickly pulling on a T-shirt, and as he did, I noticed the whole left side of his chest was bruised badly.
He stepped out of the car looking concerned; perhaps thinking I was going to tell him to leave. I explained that a lady from the Baptist church had called me and suggested that he may need some help.
I told him that I was there to see if I could help in some way. I presented him with the hot soup and bread, and I told him that it was really, really fresh . . . and still piping hot! I also reached into my pocket and gave him the money I had, hoping that it would help him get a little further on his journey; wherever that was.
The man looked at me and he was so grateful; and with emotion in his voice, he told me that his mother, who lived in upstate New York, had passed away about a month ago; he was trying to get to her grave site to pay his respects. He really thought he had enough money to get there, but now he found himself here in the mountains of Pennsylvania, only about 250 miles from this destination, broke and feeling rather hopeless.
He said he had been working in a lumber yard in Minnesota, and about 2 weeks ago there was an accident and a log rolled over him; possibly breaking a few ribs.
We talked for a while and I prayed for him. He was so very thankful for the food and the money and he felt he would be able to get to his destination.
I’m thankful for a God who loves me enough to take me to the Woodshed when I need to go there. I’m thankful for the God who loves people more than I do. He loves the outcast; the downtrodden; He loves the poor, those that are hungry, those without money; and He especially loves the wild-haired guys of this world!
The biggest take away from this encounter is the fact that as a follower of Jesus, all we have, all we own, is at His disposal. We must be aware of this fact; otherwise, we begin to think that somehow what we possess belongs to us and we will hoard it; selfishly grasping things that can be used for His purposes.
God wants to lift us up, so we can view life from His perspective; from the UP-SIDE! From there, we get a whole new perception of life down on earth. We begin to see things His way and we can then begin to live life His way!
So . . . when you see someone ripping off the church, or a stranger sitting by the road with a sign; be careful how you view them; God certainly knows the . . . rest of the story; perhaps you will be fortunate enough to learn it!
Matthew 25:38-40 (NASB)
And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
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