The Saturday morning "Journey Men" breakfast often settles into a discussion of the struggles men face in the world and in our walk with the Lord. That is of course after the usual back and forth of events, personal and public and a smattering of sports, cars and boyhood escapades.
Last meeting’s discussion finally centered on a question every Christian comes to grips with sooner or later...
"How are you spreading the gospel?" Or perhaps more specifically, "Why do we find it so hard to do?"
A few days before the meeting, I had an encounter with a truck driver delivering a shipment to a store I work in on campus. We exchanged a few manly comments about work and the like and I began to share with him some of my life and mentioned that I had worked for many years at a not for profit called "empty tomb"... He said "So you know the Lord?" I said I did but admitted that I fail miserably at obeying him and ultimately sharing Him with others. He agreed and replied "The hardest thing for me to do is share the gospel". Our conversation came in handy at the breakfast.
There were multiple reasons/excuses shared around the table; “Not up to me, we don't need to do that in our country, It's too dangerous in other parts of the world” and ultimately a partial truth emerged; We are more concerned about what the world thinks of us than what God thinks of us. (Or words to that effect).
The next day (Sunday) a woman in our church, who recently went on a mission trip to the Philippines, shared about her trip and how her life had been changed by the experience. And, how even a few years prior she would not have imagined she would be traveling to another country or "preaching" a message in church. After service, I went to another church that I have been connected to over the years. The message came from Philippians and Paul's letter to the church in Philippi. Paul makes it clear that in his life none of his significant accomplishments mattered at all compared to fully dedicating his life to a deep relationship with Christ “Christ is everything”. He was willing to risk all things of this life for a life in Christ… Including, spreading the gospel no matter the cost. And in the process, encourage others to do likewise. What happened next in my journey with Jesus is an account not a story.
I usually plan my trips around the Champaign Urbana area so that I avoid backtracking as I run what I consider important errands. I also am growing in my ability to listen to God's nudging in the midst of my plan and submit to His plan when it means changing mine.
So there I was in the third big box store looking for a particular kind of storage cabinet kits for a project. I found what I was looking for (finally) and as I was discerning if; one: I could get them on a cart and two: if I could fit them in my car. At that moment, young man approached and asked if I needed help. I did and said so. He scurried off and brought back a cart and enlisted the help of another store employee. Then he asked if I needed help loading in my "truck" I said yes but didn't mention I no longer own a truck and haul all manner of construction supplies and tools in a four seat compact car nick named the toaster (when you open the doors you pop out). Anyway He phoned up for help to come and escort me and some very heavy cabinets to my car. What happened next leads me to believe we far underestimate the lengths God will go to show us how we are to spread His message.
Another young man emerged from the endless isles of "stuff" and asked "Are you the person needing help? I nodded and he began pushing the cart towards check out. I will call him Joey. Joey was at least 6'5" tall and I estimated him to be around 240 pounds. He began talking a mile a minute about how he "loved to help people but didn't like to work Saturdays". I was only half listening trying to remember where I parked my car and calculating how much time it would take me to get to my next stop. We had shared our names and as we entered the cattle chute that herds eager materialists to the cash register Joey turned to me and in voice every bit as big as he is tall says "Cecil did you go to church today?" I was a little taken aback but had already realized Joey had some internal conflicts going on and maybe lacked a bit in the area of social skills. So in that moment I determined to focus on this young man and accept whatever consequences ensued. Regardless of what people around us thought.
I said yes I did and added “I actually went to two services” (trying to hide my pride). "Where did you go?" he asked and I told him and everybody else in line... I had been outed as what the world calls “ a Christian”. Joey continued talking about where he had gone to school, how important the Lord is in his life and how he wished he could help me assemble the cabinets "without pay". As we left the store two things happened; I remembered where I parked and I saw a parking lot full of people staring at us as Joey seemingly at the top of his lungs was announcing to the world how much God loves us.
Joey continued helping as we reconfigured the toaster and got everything loaded. Then he turned to me and said "can we pray?" I am glad to say I didn't hesitate. We joined hands and I prayed for him as if I had known him all my life. I thought we were done... And then he said “I want to pray for you”... “I am so glad you were here today”. He prayed for my health and that I would continue to carry on the Lords work. I looked around and there were several people smiling and Joey said “Look there's someone else that needs help” and lumbered off in their direction.
I pray that Joey doesn't lose his job by simply and clearly spreading the gospel by his words and actions… Even in a parking lot in central Illinois. Perhaps one of the most difficult places to spread the words of salvation.