“It’s been a long time,” the caller on the other end of the line said, “but when I was a kid, my grandmother took me to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School at Martintown Church. I heard all the stories, from the creation of the world, to Noah and the Ark, to Daniel in the Lion’s Den, to the baby Jesus, to the crucified Jesus, to the risen Jesus. But I don’t know what happened, because somewhere between the ages of 15 and 48, whiskey became my god. I don’t like it. I want to come back. (long pause) Can I?”
That call came out of nowhere. The man never gave me his name. He hung up before I could get it out of him. I told him, he was, of course, welcome to come back. The next Sunday a weather-worn looking gentleman came in a few minutes after the service began and sat down in the back row. He listened intently while I spoke of God’s judgment, His grace and forgiveness. He left during the closing prayer without signing the guest registry. He repeated this routine for several Sundays in a row. Then he missed a Sunday, and another. A short time later while reading the paper, I read the obituary of a man whose name I did not recognize, but whose life was eerily familiar. He was 48 years old. They buried him without a service.
Several things have stayed with me since that encounter. 1) He learned early in his childhood the way to abundant life (and never forgot it). 2) Sadly, instead of following that path, he chose one that led him down the road of a lifetime of regret, frustration, and eventually destruction. But when the going became unbearable and he stared death in the face, he looked for answers from where he had first heard the truth. I hope that is what carried him through to the end. 3) If you are a VBS volunteer, or a Sunday School teacher, take heart, God’s Word never fails. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever,” (Isaiah 40:8).
A few weeks ago our church sponsored a small golf tournament. By sponsored I mean we asked anyone who wanted to spend a Saturday morning on the golf course with some of their church friends to show up at 9 o’clock. We dubbed it “The Martintown Open.” We had a few people come out and had a very enjoyable time. One thing I’ve learned about golfing is that when it comes to us amateurs, we’re all about the same caliber on the golf course - which is pretty bad. Sure, there are a couple of people who put a lot of time into their game and are better than the rest of us, but they are the exception. So we go out there and hack away and do more laughing than cursing. The good players humbly accept that they’re better than we are and they try to encourage us who aren’t quite as good, (it’s all relative anyway). Someone will shout: “Nice shot. There you go!” But really we know it wasn’t a nice shot and we’re not going anywhere, except maybe back to the club house for lunch once this charade is over.
The interest level in our next outing went way up after I announced in church all the fun we had. That in itself is encouraging. Maybe next time, I won’t be the worst one on the course and I can be the one shouting: “Nice shot! There you go!”