Confession # 1: I do not like Oprah Winfrey. I do not like her show. But let's give credit where it is due here. If I were an author who had just written a book, I would not be disappointed to be mentioned by Oprah. Writers who receive a nod from her genuinely fair quite well. Furthermore, whatever her motivation may have been for building a school in a place where such a school is desperately needed, I tip my hat to Oprah for her generosity, compassion, and courage to do what's right. How many so-called "megachurches," or for that matter, even non-megachurches have given their resources and time to build schools for underprivileged children living in a country frought with unspeakable violence? Thank you, Oprah, for reminding us Christians what we ought to be about.
Confession # 2: I cannot stomach Pat Robertson. Isn't there some way we could just cancel his program and keep him off of our TVs? Of course that would make us communists, but it would almost be worth it just to shut guys like him and Falwell up. The disaster he prophecied about may have actually been his show.
Confession # 3: I am embarrassed at my lack of compassion and sick and tired of being represented on mainstream media by idiots like Robertson and Falwell and the like. I am embarrassed that I have been consumed with my own meager financial troubles and have never once considered building a school somewhere. I am embarrassed to be called a "pastor" in a world where we parade only those pastors who have megachurch status and set themsleves up as a goal to be attained. I am ashamed that for many years, that was, in fact, my goal. Today, if I had a 15,000 member church, I would divide them up into 150 smaller churches where such churches are needed. I fear that we are going to have to answer for the "Americanized" Christianity we perpetuate.
All of this reminds me of a man named Clyde who is a member of my former church in Walterboro. Clyde is a quiet, unassuming man. He can also be quite hysterically funny! One Wednesday night I had just locked the doors to the church and was getting into my truck to head home so that I could catch something on TV. Clyde was getting into his vehicle when suddenly a man walked up to him from the gas station across the street. The church is located right off of I-95, and so we had a lot of transients come to the church looking for help. This gentleman, if I am not mistaken, was stranded and had no cash and wanted something to eat. I am in my truck at this point, locking my doors, and looking to see if Clyde is going to be OK. He was retired from the Highway Patrol, so I figured he could handle the guy if things turned violent. I sat there and watched as Clyde reached into his wallet and handed the guy a $20. I thought, "Well, Clyde just got taken! I would have just sent him to a local shelter or something." Then I saw somethng that forever changed my life. Clyde prayed for the man! He put his hands on his shoulders and prayed for him! Then he HUGGED the man. A stranger! A transient! Clyde HUGGED him! Yeah he had been taken, all right--taken by genuine Christlike compassion.
As I watched Clyde wipe a tear of compassion from his eye and look at me to wave goodbye, I was so humiliated. Here I was, the PASTOR, and I had no compassion in me for this stranger in need. I recalled those familiar verses which speak about doing it for the least of these being like doing it for Jesus. I realized that I was a lot better at preaching Jesus than I was at actually BEING Jesus. Then something really hit me:
- When my transmission blew up, it was Clyde who initiated the Men's Fellowship to "pass the hat" and get it fixed for us.
- When our heater at the house conked out, it was Clyde who showed up with a load of firewood which he had cut, loaded, and unloaded just for us.
- On many a Sunday, Clyde took my family and I to lunch.
- Clyde is one of the most giving people I have ever met. If I were 1/10 the man he is, I'd be doing a lot better.
Since I have left that church, the image of Clyde ministering to that stranger has not left my mind. In 2007, I am endeavoring to give more. I was to preach a message on giving at that church and I never really felt the release to do it. Now I know why. I could not stand there and preach on giving while being such a selfish person myself.
Thank you to Oprah and Clyde for reminding us that it truly IS better to give than to receive. Now, Lord, help us to live it out day by day.