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.
It was my turn tonight. You see, last year I was put on a list with several other pastors and clergymen. It’s a list of people who will offer a prayer of invocation at the beginning of one of the monthly meetings of the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
Honestly, I was not looking for something else to do. I routinely have plenty of things on my plate from day to day. Many days, I’ve got enough things for several days. I agreed, however, when I was invited to be a part of the rotation. After all, it’s just a prayer, right? Ten minute drive to City Hall, ten minute wait while exchanging pleasantries with different folks, two minute prayer and then the option of staying for the meeting or heading to the next function. Surely a man can make time for a simple, little prayer.
I arrived tonight at about ten minutes before the hour, just making it inside before the skies opened up and the deluge began. Walking through the door, I took note of the larger-than-normal crowd gathered in the courtroom that had been staged in the official monthly BMA meeting design. Four beauty queens, representing several entities in upper East Tennessee, were on hand to lead the Pledge of Allegiance just before my prayer. There were several others on hand for one of the four acknowledgements and proclamations.
Most of the partnership of the law firm of Hunter, Smith and Davis were on hand. They were being honored as they celebrated their 100th year doing business in Kingsport. I learned that HS&D played an integral part in the establishment of Kingsport as an incorporated city. It was good to see many folks I had not seen in years, old friends of the family and former colleagues of my cousin/brother, Jeff.
“Five minutes!” cried the student assigned to run the audio/video internet stream for the meeting. As folks began to settle down and find a seat, my spirit began to be captured by the moment. The elected city officials of my fair city have invited me — an evangelical, Southern Baptist, Christ-following, Bible-believing, pastor, to open this meeting with a prayer. This is not a schedule busting imposition! This is an opportunity for me to take these people on a journey to take hold of the throne of the Most High God. To invite the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to inhabit our gathering and to bless our leaders and our city. I mean this is 2016. How many city governments still allow prayer to take place in such proceedings? What a true honor and blessing I have been afforded!
Here is the prayer I offered:
Heavenly Father, even as we have gathered together in this place, the seat of power in the city of Kingsport, we readily acknowledge your sovereignty over us, our city, our state, our nation and our world. We remember your admonitions to be submissive to the those who have authority over us and we pray that those in positions of authority would be submissive to You, as well.
Father, we are thankful for the ways in which You have blessed our fair city. Kingsport is a special place and we who have lived here our whole lives know this to be true. You have seen fit to give us unique gifts and grace us with quality people who use the talents you have given them to benefit our community. Father, help us to capitalize on those unique qualities and in the areas of disagreement, we pray for your continued grace to help us become “OneKingsport” just as we are one in You.
We are grateful, Father, for these men and women who sacrifice time from career, family, and their own private interests, to run for and serve in the offices of mayor and aldermen. Grant them wisdom to make the decisions You would have them make.
We are grateful for all those who make our city run from the city offices and departments, to the police, fire and emergency services personnel, every cog in the wheel vital to our well-being as a city.
Bless this meeting tonight, Father, and may you be glorified in all that is said and done.
For it is in the name of Jesus we pray, Amen!
Yes, tonight I was reminded of a very important truth — there’s no such thing as a little prayer. Prayer is the conduit of communication with the King! We must take advantage of EVERY opportunity to speak to Him.
Thank you to the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen for still recognizing the importance and the power of prayer. It simply serves as further evidence that Kingsport is and always will be a special place.