I must first begin by saying I found myself in a place I had not intention of being…that it was a split-second decision that took me to Barnes and Noble in the town where I live. Secondly, I need to tell you a story…hopefully not a long one, but at least to the point. Here are the basics;
Yesterday morning I had a full day planned. This is not so unusual but the way it unfolded led me to what I like to call a “Divine appointment.” I started out my morning at Vanderbilt University Hospital with a visit to one of our friends who had been taken there in the middle of the night by ambulance. He had been in the emergency room all night long and his family waited anxiously to hear a diagnosis from the doctors. You see, Bill had a recent surgery for a brain tumor and after some days at home suffered a blood clot in his lung. Of course the doctors were concerned with other possible clotting, and the nature of his brain surgery prevented the normal treatment for such a blood clot. Done wrong, it could lead to a “brain-bleed” which could yield a less-than desirable outcome.
After visiting with the family for a while, I shared a thought the Lord had laid on my heart for Bill. A thought that I have been sharing in District Leadership meetings across Tennessee. We are but bread in the Master’s hand, and when He allows them to come, they are for the purpose of breaking us so that we can be shared with others (Matthew 14:16-21). At the conclusion of the prayer, Bill said, “I receive that word.” I believed it was a word spoken at the right moment. Bill was later admitted to the hospital and will spend a few days recovering.
I left there and started on my way home. I needed to be in Cleveland, Tennessee by 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, and it is a 3 1/2 hour drive from our house. This is when the Divine appointment happened.
Earlier, I had ordered a specific book from Amazon.com that I needed for research, and it had not yet arrived. I thought; “well, I can go by Barnes and Noble. If they have the book, I’ll just buy it, and I will give the one ordered to a pastor for his/her library.” What happened next has happened many times, in different ways but the result always seems to be the same.
After walking to the section where the book should have been, I decided to go to the information desk and ask if they had it in stock. There was an older man standing at the information desk asking about a book, and the clerk could not seem to find it in their system. I waited patiently and overheard the man give the name of the author. It was a name I had been familiar with since studying this author over twenty-years-ago in college. The conversation then went something like this:
I said, “Excuse me, but I don’t mean to intrude, but I believe I can help you with this.” The man turned and said, “please do.” I then stated, “that book has probably been out of print for many years and you will have a hard time finding it….it was probably published before World War One.”
The clerk then said, “do you know the author’s name?” “Yes,” I replied and shared it with her. She typed the name of the author in and the computer pulled up the title of the book and the author’s other works and she excitedly said, “it was published in 1918, you were right.” Then she said to me, “he is looking for a book to give as a gift to his granddaughter.” And of course my reply was, “I understand that, I have two granddaughters.”
He then looked at me and his face saddened. He said, “It’s not really for my granddaughter, its for me…I am trying to find a book that will help me find God. I can’t seem to find anything here.”
I looked around the large store (I must admit it was on purpose and a bit dramatic) and I said, “do you see all of these books in this store? There are thousands.” I then said, “I know the God have gave all of this knowledge, and in fact there aren’t enough books to contain Him.”
A huge tear dropped down his cheek as he said, “I just don’t understand.” I smiled and said, “may I share something with you?”
By now, the other staff began to gather at the information desk…three ladies all were watching intently and listening to every word. I continued, “Sir, what is your name?” “John,” he answered. I said, well John let me tell you the two basic truths about all true theology.”
I continued, “First…God is. He exists, he is real.” and second, “you can find Him.” At that point he said, “I’ve tried a lot of churches….Evangelical, Lutheran, Catholic even Pentecostal…but I can only find a lot of noise…nothing is speaking clearly with me, I am lost.”
I then said, “John, I am not talking about religion…I am talking about a real relationship with the true and living God….and He wants you to know Him. He wants you to know Him personally.”
By now his tears were flowing freely, the women around the counter hadn’t moved. Now there were two others standing behind me, and I noticed they were paying attention to every word. I said, “John can I pray with you?” His answer was the one I expected and the one I hoped for, “yes…please.”
As I placed my hand on his shoulder and began to bless him, John met the Lord…right there in the middle of the store. To God be the Glory.
After spending a little more time with John and sharing good resources for his new found faith, he said, “I’ve found what I was looking for…I can’t believe you were standing right there when I was searching for an answer.” My reply was simple…”John that’s just how much God loves you. He had a Divine appointment with you today.”
After John left, the woman said, “is there a book you were looking for?” I said, “yes, but I doubt you have it in stock.” She checked and found they DID NOT have it. I realized that the search for a book was never the object of the trip to Barnes and Noble, but John was the object of the search and the Good Shepherd found John there.
Later in the afternoon I made the trip to Cleveland for the memorial service of a great man of God, Bishop Henry Biggers. What an encouraging service, what a wonderful job done by everyone involved in the service, and his son, Larry preached a wonderful memorial service for his father.
As I sat in the church, listening to the songs, listening to the sermon and looking around the room at the multitude of ministers both active and retired the thought of my encounter with John that day was fresh in my mind. I realized that so much is expected of ministers but the recurring thought kept coming to my mind…
This is not what I do…It’s who I am.
And so it is with all of us who carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We care for His people because….
I’ts not what we do…It’s who we are.