I know I haven’t posted in forever. Truth is, twitter has pretty much taken over my public online presence. I have found that most things that I have to share can be stated in 140 characters or less.
That is, until tonight.
First a little background. I have been doing a ton of reading in the last few months. Neil Cole, Shane Claiborne, Mark Batterson, Alan Hirsch, Donald Miller, Brennan Manning – just to name some of the authors that I have been reading lately. Oh, and a lot of scripture. I am in a Life Transformation Group (LTG) with a good friend of mine and we have been devouring the Bible like I never have before in my life. I have been challenged lately to be more missional and to let the Spirit lead me more.
Just last night, I met with 4 guys from the organic church that I am a part of to discuss Neil Cole’s recently released book called Church 3.0. None of us have finished the book, but we got together at Starbucks to start hashing through some of our thoughts about the book. It was a very fruitful discussion time.
One of the things that we talked about was a story in the book that really challenged all of us. I won’t go into all the details, but it was a great story where Neil was fearless when faced with an opportunity to share his beliefs with a group listening to a guy who was out evangelizing a group of people for witchcraft. Just like Elijah challenging the prophets of Baal to make it rain, Neil challenged this guy to a spiritual faceoff right there in front of his potential witchcraft recruits. Unlike the prophets of Baal, though, this guy didn’t have the stomach for the fight once he saw the confidence and boldness in Neil’s demeanor. Instead, he walked off with his tail between his legs.
That story challenged us last night. We all admitted that we weren’t sure if we have the faith required to lay down such an audacious contest. A few of us even told stories of how we had missed opportunities that we were sure the Spirit had opened up for us.
OK, some more background. Last weekend my wife and I were on a walk and we encountered a mother with 3 young children. It was very cold outside. The 3 children all had heavy coats on. But the mother had on just a t-shirt and jeans. My wife and I both recognized this as an obvious opportunity to be Jesus to someone in need. But, for whatever reason – likely fear of offending her in some way – we just kept on walking. Of course within minutes we both felt like we had totally blown it and missed an important opportunity. Both of us had sweatshirts on underneath coats that we would have never missed if we had done the right thing and offered one to her. But, we screwed up. You live and learn, I guess. It was a blown opportunity that we will never get back which we confessed to in our organic church the next day.
All of this leads me to what happened to me tonight.
I went to the gym for a run. As I was getting ready to go out and hit the treadmill, I noticed someone at the sinks – someone, for lack of a better phrase, out of place. He was washing up, and, by that I mean, he was washing more than just his hands; he was washing his arms and looked like he may have already washed his face. He was wearing jeans which didn’t seem normal for someone washing up at the sinks in a fitness center dressing room. His hair was long and unkempt. He was short and probably in his 60s.
I walked past him and felt the Spirit say, “go talk to this man…see if he is ok…see if there is anything you can do to help him out.” I kept walking and went in to use the restroom. As I stood in the bathroom using the facilities, I had a quick wrestling match with God. I thought through all the usual rationalizations: “Just because he looked out of place didn’t mean he needed anything from me” and “I shouldn’t risk offending a guy who was just in there minding his own business trying to clean himself up a little bit”. Then I came up with the trump-card rationalization for this particular situation – he couldn’t even be back here without a legitimate membership to the gym. So, he must simply be a club member who I needn’t bother or, worse, offend.
Then the Spirit reminded me of the lady that should be wearing my coat. And, He reminded me about talking with my friends last night about how we had all heard “that voice” before and how we had all miserably failed by ignoring or outright disobeying what we knew to be the Holy Spirit.
So, this time I decided to give up the fight I was having with God. But, I left myself a small out. I told God that if the man was still there when I finished my business, I would approach him and talk to him. I did need to wash my hands, afterall!
Well, of course he was still there washing up. I walked up to the sink next to his and started washing my hands. I looked over at him and said something really profound and gutsy like “How are you doing tonight?” He had an equally insightful response by grunting out “Doin’ just fine”. Without thinking, I blurted out, “Do you have everything you need?”
Here’s where you expect the story to take off in a wonderfully spiritual direction where I am able to rescue this man from some sort of hopeless situation. You expect me to say that he responded by saying that he hoped someone would ask him that very question and that he had been praying for God to send someone to help him out. You are looking for the nice made-for-Sunday-School story that I can use to package up a nice made-for-Sunday-School lesson for you.
I wish I could end the story that way for you, but that’s not how this story ends.
Here is how he responded: he was visibly hurt by my words. He had a look of pain on his face a mile wide. He mumbled something about being “all set, thanks” and looked away.
In that moment I felt about the size of a tic-tac. More than that, I felt betrayed by the Spirit. I put my hands under the air dryer and tried to act like I hadn’t punched this guy in the gut.
I walked out of the locker room and up the stairs to where the treadmills overlook the main weightlifting area and front desk below.
I put my headphones on and started listening to 1rst Peter (I have been listening to the Bible on mp3 and tonight I was starting a new book).
OK, here again would be a perfect time for me to tell you that the words I heard in my ears out of Scripture spoke to me and that God’s voice delivered a special message straight to me from his Word. But, the truth is, I repeated the first couple of verses of 1rst Peter about 3 times in an attempt to focus in before taking off my headphones and just setting them aside and giving up. I was unable to think about anything except for the encounter I had just experienced.
I prayed. I asked God how he could let this happen. Why had he allowed me to hurt this poor guy for no good reason? Why had he let me down when I had finally decided to trust him?
Then a weird thing happened. I felt the Spirit again. I felt him tell me to keep trusting him. I asked God why I should trust him again after what had just happened. He just said “Trust me”.
Then he reminded me that I could see the front door from where I was running. I felt the Spirit telling me that he wasn’t finished and that I should just do my thing on the treadmill and watch the door and see if I see the man again.
I was still upset, but I figured there was no harm in keeping an eye on the front door just to see what might happen. I honestly thought that by this time he had probably already walked out the front door without my even noticing. But, I decided to give the Spirit another chance and keep an eye out for him.
No sooner had I made that decision when, sure enough, here he comes walking slowly toward the front door. I look at my treadmill and see that I have still got about 10 minutes of running left to do. So, I asked God, “What do you want me to do now? Do you want me to stop my workout and walk down there in all my sweat and heavy breathing and say something else to offend this poor guy?” I didn’t get a clear answer right away. And honestly, even if I had, I wasn’t about to go down there. Not after what had happened in the dressing room earlier. So, I just told God, “Look, if you want me to do something more, you had better just wait until I get done with my run.” (Yeah, I know, you shouldn’t say things like that to God, but pretty much what I said.)
And, so I kept running.
But then an odd thing happened. The guy didn’t go out the doors. He just moped around at the front desk not really doing much of anything. He appeared to be waiting for something or maybe getting ready to do something. He kept looking out the window periodically, pacing back and forth.
The longer I ran, the more my faith became restored. I realized that there really was something up with this guy. There was something definitely out of the ordinary going on and I felt more and more convinced that the Spirit was, in fact, leading me.
I watched as he kept moping, as he kept pacing, as he kept eyeballing through the windows. Then I started talking to God again. I told him “OK, I do believe there is something going on with that guy. I do believe you are leading me.” I told him I would try to trust him again but he was still gonna have to wait until my run was over. Besides, the longer he moped around down there, the more convinced I became that he would still be there when I got done running. And, I kind of felt released by the Spirit to finish my run. I felt like he was telling me that there was more to be done, but that I didn’t need to be in a rush.
So, I kept watching.
With maybe 5 minutes left in my run, I saw him finally do something besides moping, pacing, and glancing. He approached the workers behind the front desk and engaged them in dialog of some sort. I saw one of the workers grab something from underneath the desk and hand it to him. I couldn’t make out what it was, but he took it and slowly moped out the front door.
I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I didn’t jump to any conclusions. I just prayed that the Spirit would lead me so that I could see this thing through.
Then, I felt the Spirit telling me to go talk to one of the workers when I got done with my workout and ask them what the story was with the guy. Afterall, he had moped back and forth in front of them long enough that surely they would at least know who I was talking about. I didn’t really want to talk to them and risk making a fool of myself again, but, on the other hand, I was extremely curious by now to know what the situation truly was. I decided I really didn’t have anything to lose by asking them about it. So I told God, “Sure, I’ll talk to them…but only after my shower.”
With my run completed, I headed down the stairs and toward the locker room to hit the showers. But, at the bottom of the stairs, I felt the Spirit stop me and say, “No, I want you to go talk to the workers right now, not after your shower. If you trust me, go right now.” I started to ignore it, but then just decided to just go for it.
I walked up to the guy behind the desk. He looked at me with a look that said “Can I help you with something?” So, I just blurted out, “I am really curious, what was the story with the older guy that was moping around down here a little bit ago.” At first he didn’t seem to know what or who I was talking about, but then it registered on his face and he just kind of shrugged and said “I don’t really know…he mentioned something about car trouble and I think he was waiting on someone to arrive.”
I nodded and said “OK, yeah, I thought there was something wrong.” Still not sure why the Spirit wanted me to talk to the employee right away instead of after showering, I continued to tell him that I had seen the man in the locker room and had kind of offered to help him out but that I thought I had offended him. He nodded and shrugged and his look said “I don’t know what to tell ya, man.”
So, I went and showered.
While I showered I asked God, “what are you trying to teach me?” I was still a little mad about it, but had calmed down a bit knowing that the man did indeed have a problem with his car. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to learn from this whole episode, but I couldn’t help but think that there was a lesson being taught. As I prayed, I felt the spirit once again telling me that this wasn’t over yet. I responded by saying “Good, I want to know what you are teaching me and I want to know what that guy’s story is”.
After I dressed, I headed out the front door.
I did notice that the same worker had a phone to his ear and was at the same time trying to help someone in line. I imagine that if I had waited until after my shower to talk to him that his busyness and the extra person standing there would most likely been enough for me to just head on out the door.
But, anyway, back to the story.
As I headed toward my car, I looked around the parking lot on the remote chance the man was still around somewhere. Of course I saw him. Way on the far side of the parking lot, there he was, standing beside what I presumed to be his car.
At this point I kind of chuckled to myself and said “Well, I have to go talk to him.” So I went to my car, put my gym bag inside, grabbed my phone and walked in his direction.
As I drew closer, I noticed that his car was full of belongings. It wasn’t a big car, just a small model vehicle. But, it was absolutely full of what I assumed to be his things. At this point I am not sure what that means to the story, but it might indicate that he is on the move, or that he is on the run, or both. Who knows…but it further confirmed to me that I was being led by the Spirit.
Cautiously I approached. His back was now to me, so before I got close enough to really scare him, I hollered out, “Excuse me, sir.”
He turned around and saw me. As he started to recognize me and looked like he might become alarmed or defensive, I quickly said, “I just want to apologize if I offended you earlier.”
The tension died off of his face and he said “It’s fine, don’t worry about it. I wasn’t really offended.”
Then, I said to him “But I still want to know- is there something I can help you with?”
OK, here we go again. I wish so much that I could give you a happy ending to this story. But I can only offer the truth. And the truth is this. He responded with, “NOW I am offended. Leave me alone.”
Undeterred this time, I said “I am a believer and I am trying to do what I feel the Spirit is leading me to do. So, at the risk of further offending you, let me ask you one more question. Is there anything I can pray about?”
He said, “Yeah, pray that you stop being so obnoxious and forceful.”
I said, “I am not trying to be forceful – I apologize” and turned and slowly walked away. I got in my car and drove away.
I wish I could tell you that he came running after me in the parking lot or that he flagged me down in my car before I left the parking lot. But, that isn’t what happened.
Wow, this post is already over 2900 words. Sorry about that. Well, guess I might as well go for an even 3000.
So, what am I supposed to learn from this? What’s God trying to teach me? I am convinced that that was his Spirit I felt tonight. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.
Maybe I will bump into that guy again tomorrow or next week or in a month and this will all make more sense.
But, somehow I don’t expect that.
Maybe the lesson is just trust God. Maybe the experience is just meant to be shared. Maybe I will have a chance to tell it to a neighbor or a co-worker. Maybe it will mean something to them, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just about obedience. I know I obeyed the Spirit tonight. There wasn’t anything else I could have or should have done; I know that.
Something Mark Batterson said in his book “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” is coming to my mind just now. Maybe it is relevant, I don’t know. But, I will share it so you can decide. And, I am paraphrasing since I don’t have the book in front of me: “The cure for the fear of rejection is not acceptance. The cure for the fear of rejection is rejection.”
OK, there’s my story. Sorry, we are at 3177 words and counting…