We have made it to Athens, Tennessee. It is a chilly 30 degrees outside as I type this. The low tomorrow night is 27 degrees. That’s a bit cooler than it is on the Coast, but we are enjoying the climate change. I talked with Tim Gunnels on the phone tonight and we look forward to a supper with his family on Saturday night. Tomorrow we will likely rest a bit, look around town some, and who knows … maybe drive over to Pigeon Forge to eat apple fritters at the Apple Valley Restaurant! (I’m still awaiting the arrival of my South Beach book…don’t worry…that day is coming soon!)
I’d like to take you back to last night at Central for this post, though. I decided that since we had these wonderful tables in our auditorium (donated by Healing Hands International), we could have each table do their own Bible study for the night. As I explained what we were doing, I looked around and to my right was a table with three folks that might be classified as ‘visitors’ or ‘newcomers’ …. many of the classifications of people have been blurred over time. God knows who His people are … and we are to love all people anyway. But these three were at a table by themselves. I do not want to sound mean spirited about these three, but they are probably the most unlikely to be gathered together for a Bible study. I determined that I would sit with them, since it just so happened that none of our ‘members’ did. (Note to self: Self, Let’s do a blog on ‘membership’ sometime.) I do not think this was intentional … but it happened just the same. The only way to perceive the irony is to tell you a bit about each one of them.
One was an elderly gentleman that I have known for years. His recent strokes, however, have left him very quiet … but he never misses coming to any assembly. Next to him was a lady who claims to be the last living wife of Elvis Presley, who lived in Pascagoula under another name, but passed away last year. She’s a brassy, talkative lady who sometimes lives in our world … and sometimes not. She told me she had spent the last few days in jail, but she didn’t tell me why. And last but not least, next to her, was a lady that I first met when she asked me to exorcise a demon from her through prayer. I did pray for her … although from what she describes I know that her “demon” is really a medical condition. However, she is so convinced that it is a demon she will not seek out medical help. At one point she thought that an alien inhabited her apartment and wanted me to call the Department of Defense. Her chain smoking and bladder problems have left her with a strong odor. Yes, these are three ‘characters’ and then there was me (and anytime I’m the most normal person at the table, we are in trouble!). I want to be clear that I’m not making fun of these folks … there’s much more to tell about each of them … only God knows what they have been through in their lives to bring them to this point. And Katrina brought them to us. The story I’m about to tell is dependent upon you realizing what kind of folks are sitting around this table.
We worked our way through the Bible study, and the great serendipity of these studies is that subjects you couldn’t have planned come up in conversation. Somehow in studying about Zacchaeus, discussion turned to the days following Katrina. The elderly gentleman was asleep – and I feel very gracious about his sleep – not offended at all. It was all he could do to be there. But the two ladies… as they talked about the days following the storm, a very perceptable change overtook their features. The lady with a demon had the most precious smile on her face as she related that each morning she would get up early and go outside just to watch people help each other. Elvis’ widow was also smiling as she talked about how everyone treated one another with dignity and an attitude of acceptance – something even I noticed. It was such a magic moment….a God-thing … and the SON came out after the storm …. and here He was shining at this table where no one wanted to sit.
The last activity was a group prayer. The older gentleman declined to word a prayer, but the one lady said she would. And the lady with a demon / alien / acid reflux looked at me with such an expression on her face and said, “I am trying to learn how to pray.” She was so humble about it, really childlike. Then she said, “I’ve been learning the Lord’s prayer.” So I asked her if she would say that for her prayer, and she said she would. We held hands at that table while these two ladies prayed … ladies that really do not always have a grip on reality … who live in made up worlds sometimes … but who want and seek a REAL relationship with a living God. Their prayers were precious to me, and I closed us out with a prayer as well.
I don’t know how things went at the other tables. Perhaps some really special things were shared there. But at our table, I felt that God sat down with us as well and touched each of our hearts in ways we may not yet even know.
And if I may pontificate a bit at the end of this post, I think we all need to think about the widows of Elvis and the demon possessed ladies in our community. These are the people that no church wants. People like James that I wrote about a few weeks ago who knew he wasn’t welcome in the church he had stumbled into, so he offered someone his last $4 to drive him to Central. A couple of years ago it was Keith, who said he was JFK…and his mother was named Rose. A year or two before Keith it was Charles who shook everyone’s hand, said he was a pastor, and unashamedly smiled and clapped during the songs – unaware that he was the only one. Charles was unaware of a lot of things, but he loved Jesus and talked about him all the time.
Maybe all churches have their people like this. I think they have their special angels that watch over them. How do they even make it in this world? I do not know. They may frighten us at times, get involved with drugs or crime or other things at times, and we already know that they will not be the pillars of our congregation. I really believe Jesus has a special place in his heart for the helpless and unprotected. He loves these precious ones with a pure love. We have a lot to learn, but he’s teaching us. For years he has been sending them our way. May our hearts be open to those who can offer us nothing … but the opportunity to minister to Jesus in a special way.