Edith Jennings had a decision to make. She was in her late fifties and had worked many years for the hotel in housekeeping. Now a new opportunity had presented itself. The hotel manager had come to her and asked if she would be willing to quit her job and start a new one, taking care of the manager’s infant son so that she could resume her duties managing the successful enterprise. Edith had already raised 5 children and played a significant role in the rearing of her grandchildren, but her love for the Lord and her love for children compelled her to say “yes.”
She took to her new vocation with vigor, doting over this little boy as if he were her own. She was short in stature, but her heart knew no limitations. They would play together, take walks together and she tried her best to keep the little tike from messing up the house, after all, she would not stand for her boss coming home to a house that had been destroyed on her watch. For three years she cared for and prayed for that young child until his mother could stand it no longer and gave up her career to raise her child. Edith certainly understood and she retired to spend the next 32 years of her life shining the light of Jesus’ love upon all who would know her.
I must tell you it came as quite a shock to me when Mom called to tell me that “Edie,” as I called her, had passed away. I had not seen her or spoken to her since she left in 1973. Immediately after hanging up with Mom, I went to my computer and pulled up the obituaries on the Times-News internet site. I was not prepared for my reaction as I read the words on the screen.
Though my recollections are few–just images really of a sweet lady in a white uniform– I know Edie loved me, prayed for me and invested her life in me even if for a short time. The 47-year-old man who writes this article today “is who he is” because of the legacy of love invested by many people like Edie over the years. My name was not listed in her obituary, but I know, spiritually, I am a surviving descendent of Edith “Edie” Jennings. Never, ever discount the effect of investing your Christ-like love into a life. You may be shocked at the return.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem on the back of that colt, the disciples could not grasp that He was entering His last week of earthly, bodily, ministry. He had poured Himself into the disciples for three years and now He was about to pour Himself out for all humanity. I would never seek to diminish what Jesus accomplished on the cross, His true purpose in coming to us to begin with. I just want to pause long enough to appreciate the investment He made in the disciples during His earthly ministry. What a perfect model to follow! What a tremendous legacy to leave.
“Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” – John 13:1
Okay, okay, in all deference to the John Boy and Billy Show, no one has actually used that particular line on me, but in my line of work benevolent requests are a regular occurrence.
Five years ago I was installed as the Campus Pastor of what became known as the Glenwood Campus of Indian Springs Baptist Church. It happens to be located on one of the main thoroughfares in Kingsport (Center Street) and in an area replete with socio-economic depression. As God blessed our little congregation and He began breathing life into our midst, it was not long before the benevolent requests began to stream in. Having served another church in similar geographic and demographic circumstances, I was accustomed to the dance. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but the truth is 20% of the requests are what I would describe as bonafide, legitimate needs and the other 80% of the requests involve people trying to game the system and abuse the good graces of God-fearing, faithful supporters of the church.
Our church and churches just like ours establish systems and protocols so that we can, in good conscience and under the Lordship of Christ, minister to the people. A large number of requests involve money for groceries and/or diapers and other basic necessities. One of the greatest things we did was to ramp up the food pantry ministry that Glenwood Baptist had been doing for many years. This gave us the ability to immediately meet the need without the risk of giving money which may or may not facilitate other unnecessary things. I will never forget the time one man scoffed at the two bags full of canned goods and dry goods I handed him — completely free of charge — by saying, “My kids don’t like to eat these kinds of things.” Before I could tame my tongue I responded with, “Then they must not be that hungry.” Suffice it to say I had to repent and confess after that encounter.
We do NOT keep cash on hand at the church. If people come with needs for rent money or money to pay a bill, etc., we have them fill out a detailed request form. This gathering of required information serves two purposes. If they just wanted the cash for alternative reasons, they can bow out and play the “I don’t have time for this” card. If it is legit or they agree to play the long game with us, the information we gather can verify identities and check prior requests made to other churches or organizations.
This is all well and good, but what do you do when the individual comes to you, personally, seeking assistance and just wants money? This happens to me quite frequently. I don’t know if it is because they know me or know what I do or I just have “that look,” but this happened just a few days ago. I have developed a response over the years and I want to share this concept with you.
Share Your Time Before You Share Your $
It never fails. They catch me at the end of a worship service, after all my deacons have vanished, or they catch me in the parking lot of a grocery store or Walmart, or while I am standing at a gas pump filling my car. They have a well-rehearsed back story that explains their current plight. I will interject here that often the mistake they make is offering more details than is necessary or humanly possible to comprehend. Then they make the “ask” for just enough money to put with the money they already got from others to meet their need. I am notorious for not carrying a lot of what my father would call “walking around money.” Since the dawn of the age of the debit card, I rarely carry much cash unless I am traveling. This special trait comes in handy in these circumstances because I will not lie to someone about my not having the needed cash. I have been known to carry some Pal’s Bucks (an East Tennessee tradition) or McDonald’s gift cards for people who say they just need some food for their family. It is much harder to convert that type of currency for some nefarious purpose.
However, what I started doing that has produced the greatest results is offering my time instead of money. A few days ago, the lady who approached me at the gas pump at Food City who needed money for a tow truck for her disabled car that was on John B. Dennis, who already had a little money and just needed some more, who worked at the hospital and who’s sister also had some job somewhere [breathe] – turned on her heels and marched away when I had the audacity to say, “Ma’am, I don’t have any cash to give you, but I would be happy to go to where your car is and see what I could do.”
Then there was the man who needed gas for his car so he could make it up to Big Stone Gap, VA, where his brother-in-law was in the hospital with stage four cancer and was not supposed to make it through the night. He stopped me in the parking lot behind my church. I said, “Sir, I don’t have the money to give you, but I will follow you down to the corner market where I can buy you some gas on my credit card.” He actually took me up on the offer. While going through all the motions to put the gas in his car, I asked him about his relationship with Christ and shared the Gospel with him. He was not really interested. Oh, and his Toyota held a grand total of $3.78 worth of fuel. I’m thinking he could have made it Big Stone just fine.
But once every so often, this tactic pays off. Like the time I elected to not give a man money for food and, instead, offered to take he and his family to McDonald’s. I sat and watched his kids eat like I was about to take the food away from them. I was able to share my faith and show my faith rather than just throw money at a problem.
Offering to share your time before you share your money can prove to open some doors for opportunity and, most certainly, close some doors where they need to be closed. I hope this helps you live the Life and give the Life.
My heart is full as I sit down with my Macbook in the lobby of the hotel in which we have been staying for the past seven days. It is 5:19 a.m. back home in Tennessee, but it is 4:19 p.m. here in this particular city in Thailand. I hesitate to post the precise city name because I have a duty to my new friends to protect them. You see, my new friends gathered here this week from all over South Asia for a season of rest and revitalization. The team you see in the picture above was tasked with the responsibility of providing programming for the children so that these new friends of mine, brothers and sisters in the ministry of the Gospel, could focus on God and each other.
My heart is full because I had the high honor and privilege of opening the glorious Word of God each day and allowing the Holy Spirit to minister the Gospel among us. Each day a ballroom full of men and women who have said, “Yes!” to the call of God in their life, who work and serve in some of the most spiritually dark places on Earth, listened intently and graciously to the messages God had placed in my heart and in my mouth. I did not feel worthy to stand before them, yet, I was fully aware of the One who called me to this ministry and He certainly is worthy to stand there in me as I stand in Him.
My heart is full because I was able to sit for hours on end and listen to stories of the miraculous works of God. Stories of God saving individuals from lives bound up in the worship of statues and dead men, turning instead to the One who had died yet rose again victoriously. I heard the story of “Amelia” – not her real name – the seven-year old daughter of two of these faithful workers who just two weeks ago had confessed her faith in Jesus Christ. Her father warned her about the fact that now that she had committed her life to Christ, Satan, the enemy, would be attacking. Only one week later, Amelia began to convulse with violent seizures. She was rushed to the hospital where she began a battery of tests to determine the cause. They were concerned that it was a parasite in her brain or, possibly, tuberculosis. While lying in the hospital, Amelia turned to her father and said, “Daddy, this is what you were talking about isn’t it?”
My heart was full five days later when “Amelia” and her family walked victoriously into the ballroom where we were gathered to the thunderous applause of all in attendance. Take that, Satan!
My heart is full because as a Southern Baptist pastor, I hold a leadership position in a local church that supports these workers with Cooperative Program giving and funding from money given to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering each year. Some may question what happens when those checks are written, when those apps are initiated, or when those bills hit the offering plate. I feel as though I have hitched a ride atop one of those wire transfers and have followed it all the way to the field. I can say, unequivocally, as for me and my house, we will gladly and generously continue to support this work because I have seen with my own eyes and heard with my own ears what God can do when He gets the right people in the right places. His name goes forth in power and lives are transformed from death unto life.
My heart is full because this team of which I am a member, went above and beyond the call of duty this week. They worked hard and they loved harder. They stepped out of their comfort zone and pretty much slammed the door so hard they shattered. These baby toting, child disciplining, youth engaging pals of mine are my new heroes. Their hard work enabled me to participate in virtually every aspect of this conference and it has radically energized me even as I was coming to try to energize others. God is sneaky like that! We pour ourselves out for Him and He fills us to overflowing.
My social media pages will not be graced by the images of my new friends. No hash tags will be formulated to encapsulate these days. Because the enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, I cannot publicly disclose the awesomeness that we have experienced. I must have faith in the applause of heaven that cannot yet be heard. I must be satisfied with the fullness of my heart that will not soon be exhausted.