Friday, November 16, 2018

When The Gospel Looks Like A Tent & A Sleeping Bag

"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
James 2:26
Emphasis added
(KJV)

It was cold, dark, and raining and the parking lot was crowded as Zach and I drove closer to the front door of Walmart.  Kevin had gone inside to get a quick head start on shopping for Zach's Christmas and birthday, and I wanted to save him from having to walk back to the car in the rain.  There were a few other cars in front of us, and as we waited I noticed an African American gentleman around 60 to 65 years old approach the car directly in front of us.  After exchanging a few words with the driver, he returned to where he had been standing against the wall next to the door.  Soon Kevin appeared, and as he was on his way to our car, I noticed the gentleman approach him, too. When Kevin got in the car, he told us the man had asked for money, and he had given him the only cash he had—$1.00.  Kevin said he overheard another customer asking the man how much he needed.  The man replied that he was trying to get $14.00 to buy a tent, As Kevin listened, the manager came outside and told the man he needed to stop asking customers for money. 

As we started to pull away, Kevin said something that caused me to apply the brakes and reconsider our decision to shrug off the encounter as yet another random scam attempt.  "He told me he's a Vietnam vet."  Kevin's voice was full of compassion.  He rarely prays a prayer without asking God to bless and look out for our veterans and those who currently serve in the military, who are on the police force, and also the firefighters.  We have a soft spot in our hearts for all of them.  Dad was a veteran who served in the Army in Korea, Kevin's Dad was a WWII Navy vet, and in our opinion, no one deserves kind treatment and support more than our veterans.


I turned to look back at the man one more time, and something about his dejected stance as he hovered under the narrow overhang, unsuccessfully trying to find shelter from the cold, stinging rain melted every excuse I could muster to drive away and leave him standing there like that.  I just couldn't do it.  "So all he needs is a tent?" I asked, then quickly followed with, "Do they only cost $14.00?"  "I don't know, but I don't think you can buy one for that,"  Kevin replied.  My eyes were fixed on the man's reflection in the side mirror of my door, and I felt tears coming to the surface.  The three of us kept discussing his situation, weighing it against our own, and ultimately, compassion won.  $14.00 or whatever the cost, soon, Kevin and Zach were out of the car making their way inside Walmart.  On their way, the man told them he needed a tent, then he said, "No, a sleeping bag would be better.  Just a real cheap sleeping bag—the cheapest they've got."

As I waited, I watched the man closely.  At one point, I saw him reach into both of his pockets at once.  It looked like he was trying to locate a cigarette and a lighter, and I muttered, "Don't tell me he is going to smoke."  Self-righteous frustration came to the surface at the thought of the possibility that he would waste money on cigarettes when his basic needs were so sorely lacking.  As soon as I mumbled those words of judgment, God spoke words of reminder, and I was deeply convicted.  "Don't you know how it feels to be bound?  People become addicted and can't help doing some of the things they do.  It's not for you to judge."  I was put in my place real quick and realized with fresh understanding that it doesn't matter how a person gets into the predicament they're in—the reality is that they are in it, they need help, and it isn't up to us to fix them or force them to do the right thing.  Our job is to extend unconditional love, human kindness, and compassion, just like Jesus would.  I sat there feeling like we should do something to "get the Gospel" to that needy man, and again, the dear Lord spoke.  "The best way you could ever get the Gospel message to that man is to reach out and meet his need." 

I am reminded of the quote, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

It wasn't long until I saw Kevin and Zach emerge and hand the grateful man the best quality sleeping bag they could find in Walmart—one that promised to keep a person warm in up to as extreme cold as 10 degrees—and a three-person sized tent.  The man was overwhelmed.  "Are you sure?" he asked.  Kevin and Zach profusely assured him and let him know how glad they were to help him out.  Zach said, "I'll be praying for you.  What's your name?"  The man answered, "Don.  Please, when you pray tonight, please pray for Don."  

Heart-wrenched, Kevin and Zach returned to our car, and for just one, brief second I made eye contact with that weathered veteran standing against the Walmart wall.  I don't suppose I will ever forget the way he looked at me.  I can't really explain the look—the only way I know to put it into words is it was somewhere between astonishment and disbelief and a need to defend what little dignity he had left.  I smiled a smile that I hope conveyed what I most wanted to say—I care, you are important, you are special, you matter, and don't you ever forget it, as we pulled away.

Some would say we were scammed.  Some would argue that the man probably walked the merchandise back into Walmart to exchange for a gift card.  Maybe he did, but I have to say, I don't think so.  I have a feeling his needs were as legitimate and dire as he conveyed they were, and I'll tell you what, regardless what happened afterward, we drove away with one of the best feelings in the world.  That feeling you get when you know deep inside that you just did something for Jesus.  Didn't He say that is the way it works?  Kevin reminded me of His words as we drove along.

"Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in:  naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me.  Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord, when saw we Thee hungry, and fed Thee? Or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?  When saw we Thee a stranger, and took Thee in? or naked, and clothed Thee?  Or when saw we Thee sick, or in prison, and came unto Thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."  Matthew 25:34-40

Granted and sadly, there are a lot of wrong-intentioned people in our world who truly do not have our best interests at heart, and a person has to be more guarded and careful than we used to need to be.  Scammers are real, and it is only wisdom to stay close enough to God to hear His still, small voice offering Divine guidance and discernment and then to follow His lead with open hands. 

I don't tell this story to flaunt anything the three of us did last night.  I write it with a heavy heart because this world we live in right now is SO filled with hate, vitriol, and a seemingly ununifiable divide.  I have never, in all my years of life, seen such a spirit of blatant evil unleashed with such unprecedented anger.  As followers of Jesus Christ, it is up to us to make the positive difference our world sorely needs.  Jesus said, "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples if ye have love one to another."  John 13:34-35

We are the salt and light, and if we don't bring that to our world, who will?
"You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world."  Matthew 5:13,14

Did you ever notice the significance of the correlation between John 3:16 and I John 3:16?  There are no coincidences in God's Word.  Just look at the two verses in consecutive order.  

"For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  John 3:16

"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."  I John 3:16

See how that works?  Jesus laid down His life for us.  In like manner, we are to lay down our lives for each other.  Let's look a bit farther to the very next verse.

"But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?"  I John 3:17

How can we say we love God if we don't love our neighbor?

"We love Him because He first loved us.  If a man says, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.  Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him.  By this, we know that we love the children of God when we love God and keep His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous."
I John 4:19-I John 5:3

If we really love our brother, can we overlook and ignore his need?

No matter what our lot or station in life, we all have something to give.  Sometimes, it has nothing to do with monetary giving.  Sometimes, it is our time that someone needs the most.  Sometimes, it is a smile or a kind touch.  Sometimes, it just means being there.

"Dear Lord, help us to be Your hands and feet.  Help us to really see the needs around us.  Help our hearts to be so concerned that it is impossible for us to turn away.  Fill us to the brim with Your love.  Help us to follow Your example and lay down our lives in service to You and the people around us.  In Jesus' name.  Amen."


24 comments:

  1. Oh Cheryl,What precious words of wisdom..My heart was warmed and also broken..I cried through the song..I beg God use me to help someone..I have said many times why can you not hear a message preached on the one verse..bear ye one anothers burdens and so full fill the law of Christ.So many hurting so deeply..Thank God you 3 listened to Jesus..I was is a service awhile back where a Preacher was preaching on why the bridge fell in Fla. was because was not enough support in the middle to carry the load..I spoke at the end about this verse and said the reason folks do not do that is because to bear a burden you have to be close enough to the person to feel their pain and noone wants that job..The Preacher after preaching on the subject spoke up and I was so shocked what was said .The Preacher said this back to me and killed all that was preached..The Preacher said we each one have enough pain of our own and we do not want to feel others pain..I said nothing but was sure why precious people have to keep suffering in life..I told one that was there..My Bible did not say if you feel like help it just says help..I enjoyed your blog so much today..Thank God for people like you 3 that will obey the still small voice to help...I appreciate you all more and more each day..Pray for Me that my eyes and ears will stay open to the voice and eyes of God..Because of poor vision people will perish..Again thanks..I have something I would like to mail you snail mail if you could call and let me know your address..God bless and lead you all on the road to Heaven..Love Loads,Elaine

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    1. I love that song, too. It is such a dear blessing to me. I love the verse in Acts where it talks about Jesus saying that it is better to give than to receive. It is SO true. So many times, we have given from a place of sacrifice, and GOD has always, always blessed us and taken care of our needs, in spite of all. He is our Father, and He is SO faithful to every one of His trusting children! Yes, we all have enough pain of our own (sometimes it feels like more than enough), but we all have enough strength to help bear the burden of another. In helping others, we are so blessed. My little family and I have proven that over and over and over again. Jesus lived life looking out for others, not putting Himself first. We should do the same. Thank you ever so much for sharing your story and kind words of encouragement, sweet friend. May Jesus bless you abundantly and meet any needs you have today. Sending much love to you!

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  2. Cheryl, what a beautiful story of love and grace. This has happened to my husband and me several times, I do believe God gives us the nudge that we are supposed to help someone. We don’t feel that nudge every time someone is standing with a hand out. We never give money, we try to buy what they say they need, just like your sweet family did. Our world is in a sad state. I have never seen so much hate in my 65 years. Blessings and thank you for sharing dear friend.

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    1. I have surely never see so much hate, either, my friend. The only thing strong enough to overcome it is the Divine, agape love of God. Surely, it can penetrate through the darkness and break down the walls. I am so grateful for your kind words and encouragement and trust Jesus to bless you richly!

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  3. This is a beautiful story. When we hear the Lord speak to us to give to someone in need, it becomes about obedience. Yes, there are many scammers out there but it is not our responsibility to question what their motives are when we just don't know. You may never know what Don did with the tent and sleeping bag but thing that's important here is that you gave from a heart of compassion. God bless you guys!

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    1. Thank you ever so much for your kind words, my friend. You are so right ~ it is all about obedience. The times that I have failed to listen to His still, small voice, I have always lived to regret it. It pays to just follow Him and do what He asks. He is always faithful to open those opportunities, if we will only seize and act upon them. May God bless you!

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  4. Dear Cheryl,
    I love this story that you shared of being the hands and feet of Jesus. God has prompted us in similar situations to give also--but never a tent! I love the creativity of our Lord! Oh, may I continue to keep my eyes and ears open, though, to respond even more to what God nudges us to do. Sometimes it doesn't make sense what He asks us to give--but His gifts are never wasted. Even when we don't see what happens with those gifts, when we obey God, He is always at work. Thank you for giving, and then for giving to us also as you shared here. Blessings and love to you!

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    1. Oh, how true are your words, dear Bettie! His gifts are never wasted. What a comforting thought! I trust the Lord will richly bless you and your dear family on this Thanksgiving day! Sending many blessings and much love back to you. :)

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  5. This is a beautiful story of Christ showing His love through the three of you. I can add nothing to the words of the dear sisters that commented before me, except to say that I agree wholeheartedly with your words. You showed Don Jesus, and I believe that is the sum total of what we are here on this earth for.
    Blessings,
    Betsy

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    1. Oh, sweet friend, I believe that is the sum total of why we are here, too! To be His hands and feet, to reach out and show love to the unlovable, and to be available to Him. God bless you and your family on this Thanksgiving Day! Many blessings and much love to you. :)

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  6. Your story has brought down the walls around a calloused heart. It's so easy to take a soul in need for granted... but our Father doesn't. Your defense with scripture is far better than the best sermon I've heard on the subject.

    I know you're heart is in the right place to share and to encourage us to be the folks our Father is calling us to be.

    Well done and thanks, sister.

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    1. You know, thinking back about his eyes, I would say your assessment of a calloused heart would be spot-on. They say eyes are the windows to the soul, and his eyes told quite a story in that brief glance between us. I have thought of him so many times and wonder how he is today on Thanksgiving and wondering if, as we sit down to our bounty, he has something good to eat. The poor, dear soul. God bless him and keep him safe and fed. Thank you for your kind words, brother. They always mean so much! Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

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  7. A beautiful reminder, dear Cheryl, of how God speaks to us in various situations. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you for reading and for your constant friendship and support, my friend. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

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  8. What a wonderful encounter you had with that veteran. Who knows whether God put that man there to test your obedience in reaching out like Jesus would have? You did what you felt was right and it blessed everyone. That happened to me once and after I gave the woman money she had simply disappeared when I looked back! An angel of God? I don't know but I was led to help her and that is all we need to do.

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    1. You know, I never thought of it that way, but maybe God did do that as a test. The opportunities are there, if only we open our eyes to see them, aren't they? WOW! I loved reading your story about the woman you helped! That is the neatest thing. Thank you so much for sharing and for your kind words of encouragement. God bless you with a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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  9. What an example of the love of Christ you all were. It's so easy to not give because of the fear its a scam. And everyone has been scammed at one time or another. My husband has one of those giving faces, he gets ask for things much more than I do. When we were on staff at a church the secretary would say don't let Bro. Draper answer the phone, he won't say no to anyone who needs whatever. I am so glad he is like that. Has he been scammed, sure but more often then not he gives to someone who really needs it. And through the years his discernment has grown. I love this tory Cheryl. Happy Thanksgiving my sister in the Lord.

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    1. Your husband sounds a lot like mine. We are blessed to have such Godly, kind-hearted husbands who love Jesus and want to convey that love to others. Even if they do get scammed, God is faithful to redeem their efforts for Him. I am so grateful to you for your sweet comment and friendship, and I hope the dear Lord has blessed you with a wonderful Thanksgiving Day, too, my dear sister.

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  10. Oh Cheryl, you Zach and Kevin were there at Wal Mart at the exactly right time! How wonderful that you listened to the whispers of what Jesus was telling you all to do. I appreciate your honesty about to judge, or not to judge the man. Thank you for sharing this story of listening to your heart and the word of God. Happy Thanksgiving and God bless all of you.

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    1. I believe you are so right, sweet friend. God just let it all fall into place just the way it was supposed to. Thank you so much for your kind words. I have thought of you today and know it will be a sad first Thanksgiving without your dear Mom. I trust Jesus will hold you close and comfort your dear heart. Sending many hugs your way!

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  11. Hi, Cheryl! What an amazing story you have shared with us here. Often, the Lord convicts us concerning another's true need just as He did with all of you. Yes, the world has become such a hateful place these days, but was it any different, really, in Jesus' time? As Christians, we need to walk that extra mile with our brothers and sisters in need, and love them as Christ loved us and gave Himself as the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
    So glad you reached out to me! I'm now following your blog, too!
    Blessings to you and yours!

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    1. You are so right! It surely was the same in Jesus' day. I am SO thankful to know that you are following along here, and it has just been such a blessing to meet you. I am so thankful our paths crossed and look forward to many more sweet blogging visits together. God bless you on this beautiful Thanksgiving Day!

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  12. Cheryl, this story broke my heart, encouraged my heart and made tears come to my eyes. My husband and I have done similar things when prompted by the Lord. You are so right - we can't let our "what-if's" stop us from blessing others. No matter what happened after you left him with those precious gifts, that's not the point. You blessed him and that's what God calls us to do. I, too, have had those thoughts of thinking someone was just scamming me but then you can look in their eyes and know that they are hurting inside and need a loving gesture and kindness. What a privilege to be able to give and show the love of Christ! I feel the same way about the Vets. They are forgotten and un-cared for in so many ways and it's not right. I pray that this will change. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It encouraged me so much!!!

    Much love - Julie

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  13. Hi Sweet Friend, This was such a poignant account of being the hands and feet of God. I call these moments the "urge to push". When we can just feel the Lord compelling us to do something for His great name sake.

    Thank you so much for sharing your precious heart here.

    Sending you much love,

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