Fiction by Gary Piper
While sitting in the church office I noticed a car turn into the driveway seconds later it disappeared from my view so I left the office and headed for the front door of the church in order to get a better view of the parking lot. I watched as a middle aged man climbed out of his beat up Ford Ranger and move slowly toward the door. Opening the door for him I said, “Welcome to our church my name is Crusty Christian. Can I help you?”
Acting like he was embarrassed he answered, “Can I use your restroom please?” Turning in the direction of our restrooms and pointing, “You sure can its right over there.” Extending his right hand and taking mine he replied, “Thank you so much. By the way my name is Jeb Thomas.” Shaking his hand, “I am glad to meet you Jeb.”
I followed him with my eyes as he disappeared into the restroom. A few moments later I heard the door open so I left the office and met him as he was coming out. “Can I be of further help,” I asked. “Can I sit for a few minutes and rest,” he asked. Pointing to two chairs by the front door, I motioned for him to sit. Once he was seated, I too joined him in the other chair.
I was ready to say something when I noticed the expression on his face turn to one of seriousness. “Can I ask you a question without getting a mess of religious mumbo jumbo?” He asked. But before I had a chance to answer him, “The last week or so I’ve gone from church to church asking to use the restroom for an excuse to ask them the same question. And all I get how much like Jesus Christ their church is and how powerful their worship services are. Personally, I’ve had more than enough religion. I want to know what Jesus is going to do to me and for me not what a church can do for me.”
“Jeb,” I began, “all I can do is try. But first of all there is a great need for churches today and they have a very important place in our crazy mixed up world but sometimes they get so excited about doing Jesus’ work that they think it’s their work, that’s their church and not Jesus’ church. I am not making excuses for them I simply want you to understand there is a place for them even though they’re not as perfect as they should be, are you okay with that?” Without saying a word, he nodded his head in agreement.
Something told me he had a basic belief in Jesus so he wasn’t looking for me to tell him Jesus was his Savior and all that goes with him as the Savior he was looking for something more personal. “What is it you’re really looking for Jesus to do for you or to you?” I asked. Throwing me a quick smile, “you get right to the point don’t you, Crusty.” Returning the smile I replied, “That’s what Jesus does instead of beating around the bush he tackles things head on.” He stood up pointed out the door at his dilapidated car, “I’ve asked Jesus to help me get a better car over and over and he never answers my prayers. If he won’t help me get another car why should I believe in him at all after all giving me a car would be simple for him?”
My first thought was he was looking for a church to help him get a new car but deep inside I had the feeling that was not the case. “If Jesus were about cars and things all of us Christians would be driving the best cars, living in the best houses, wearing the finest clothes, and eating gourmet food but Jesus is not about things Jesus is about lives. And when you stop to think about it Jesus isn’t really about churches either, churches need to be about Jesus. Please excuse me for getting to the point but maybe you should think about working toward getting a car yourself then maybe Jesus will lend you a hand.”
I half expected to see him get up and walk out the door. “You sure didn’t give me any mumbo jumbo that’s for sure. And I am not offended by your frankness in fact that is what I asked for. Being totally dependent upon Jesus doesn’t mean we give up our responsibility to do what we can do to help ourselves, does it?” Breathing a sigh of relief I replied, “You hit the nail on the head there.”
“Crusty, why do you think people attach themselves to Jesus for things rather than attach themselves to him because of who he is?”
Pausing to think about his question, “I’ve wondered about that very thing myself lately Jeb, in all honesty because there are times when your question describes me. While I can’t speak for others, I can speak for myself. My first answer was out of desperation, and then I thought it was out of laziness but neither really satisfied me.” Interrupting me, “So what conclusion did you come up with?”
“Well, first of all I thought about how we humans have a tendency to see all the negative things rather than the positive things so we see the bad things in people rather than the true things in people. Are you familiar at all with the Old Testament book of Job?” Nodding his head and smiling, “It’s on my what-the-heck-is that-all-about books of the bible.”
“The response of Job’s friends is what I am talking about. Each of them was convinced that because Job had fallen into hard times he’d done something to offend God and he was being punished. But Job kept telling them they were wrong. So rather than looking at the negative answers such as desperation or laziness I decided to look at it in a positive light. I decided to look past my surface needs for things to the deeper need of a relationship with Jesus himself rather than what I wanted him to do for me. Let me get a bible and I’ll read you something that may help you understand the relationship between needing things and needing Jesus.”
A minute or so later I returned with a bible and turning to chapter 6 of John’s gospel, I began reading. “So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’”**
“So what you’re trying to get me to understand is when people base their relationship with Jesus on things they really aren’t acknowledging their deeper need simply for a relationship with him, right?” “I am not speaking for other people, Jeb I am speaking only for myself however I strongly believe that is the case with most people who have asked Jesus to be a part of their life. But that may not be the case with everyone.”
“Crusty, let me ask you a question, one that you’ll be brutally honest with me.” Throwing him a quick puzzled look, “Brutally?” “Brutally.” “Okay,” I replied. “What was your first impression of me?” Without stopping to think, “When I watched you get out of your truck I thought you were here to get something for nothing. I didn’t think you were here to rip me off but because many people think church people are do-gooders who never turn anyone down they are under the impression they can pretty much get what they want. Was that honest enough for you?”
“Did what I say about having enough religion change your mind?” Again, without thinking, “That’s an argument many professional takers use. No, it wasn’t what you said at all the Holy Spirit revealed your honesty to me.”
Without saying a word he slapped his knees with both hands, “Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time Crusty, it’s time for me to be moving on.” Standing up and getting ready to leave he looked me in the eyes, “You know someone who can give me a good deal on another car don’t you?” Without thinking about how he knew my son sold cars I told him where he worked and I’d call him and tell him Jeb was coming and to give him a break.
Just before walking out the door, he spoke once more, “Looks like Jesus answered my prayer after all. Maybe I’ll drop back, Crusty.” Throwing him a big wave, “I’ll be looking forward to it.” My eyes followed him as he walked to his car then minutes later, I was only human person again in the building. And I wondered if I’d past the test.
Only time would tell.
**John 6:24-27 ESV
Scripture quotations marked ESV "Are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."