Monday, September 24, 2007

He should have stayed home?

Sometimes we go to church and it's just church, nothing remarkable happens, but it's still good. Then there are other times when the day at church impacts someone very deeply, sometimes it impacts all of us very deeply. The awesome part for me is that, as pastor, I get to be in the middle of it.

We had a missionary today. His name is Jeff Friedman and his calling is to the Jews of the world. He traveled almost three hours after sundown on Saturday night after observing Yom Kippur in Philadelphia to arrive here in our little coal town.

When he showed up early for Sunday school and started setting up I asked him how things were going. He said things were okay, as he struggled to piece together his display which had somehow come unglued.

Then it happened. He said that yesterday, Yom Kippur, his mother-in-law had died. I immediately thought to myself "what is this man doing here?" So I asked him why he did not call and cancel. He explained that his wife was already in Alabama where the funeral will be held, and that he would be going with his children tomorrow. His mother-in-law was a believer so there was a certain amount of peace, but you could see the weight upon him.

As the day unfolded it became more and more clear that, although it was counterintuitive, Jeff Friedman belonged with us today. We are in the middle of our missions emphasis and his message was very timely and something we needed to hear. But Jeff Friedman needed to be in our church because God wanted to bless us by allowing us to bless and comfort him. The blessings just kept coming.

Ours is not a wealthy church, but this is an old coal mining town and our people are known to respond to genuine urgent needs. We normally take a benevolence offering on the third Sunday of the month. Today the Lord led me to receive this offering for Jeff Friedman and his family as I sensed that the financial burden for six people to fly to Alabama and back would be very heavy. The people responded as I knew they would and we raised enough to pay for several plane tickets. But there was more.

As I spoke about the offering I watched as this dear brother put his head in his hands and wept. You see, he was fulfilling an obligation, maybe by rote, by coming to our church, but I think he was a little surprised that God showed up too. But there was more.

After service I spoke to the elders about the possibility of taking Jeff on for monthly support. I mentioned a monthly amount but they thought it was too low. So Jeff left with not only a cash gift, but healthy monthly support too. But there was more.

I was able to give him several gift items including a book from my library, and he also got a few "Pentecostal handshakes". But there was more.

At the Chinese buffet restaurant after service we filled him up real good and he was getting ready to leave. Just then our Sunday school superintendent walked in and called me to the side. She asked if it would be all right if the Sunday school gave an offering to Jeff Friedman. I said amen, but noticed that she gave him two checks not one.

During the Sunday school hour at the beginning of the day Jeff Friedman told our people that God blesses those who bless the Jewish people. It was so easy to bless this man today. The Lord has already blessed us back by knowing that we eased our brothers burden, and made his trial a bit easier.

Next time I'm thinking about staying home I hope I remember Jeff Friedman.

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