When You Deny Someone The Gospel

The wait was over. I had finally made it. March was here and I was headed to Port St. Joe. I spent summer 2012 with a team of 25 college students. We spent every day praying together and studying the Bible, sharing the gospel with as many people as possible, serving the community, and running a day camp for kids. My heart has hurt so badly this past year to get back.

I had prayed for months to go back. On some really lonely nights, I would go to this map (pictured) and pray individually for houses and churches using Google Maps Street View. Now, after months and months of anticipation, I was going back! I couldn’t wait. Professors had been spoken to. A mid-term had been delayed. Homework had been knocked out ahead of time. Bags were packed. I finished work on Thursday, jumped in the car, and drove to the gas station. I was on my way to Port St. Joe, Florida once more. I couldn’t wait to get there and share the gospel with people I love again. Names came flooding into my mind: Mrs. V. MacDonald. Verenetta. Angel and her kids. Jazz. India. And on and on and on they came…. so many names! I had geared up. I was ready. I was prayerful. But first I had to get gas.

I pulled into the gas station, elated to begin my long drive to Florida from Louisville. It was going to be a great week! I ran in, paid for my gas, and then headed back to my car and start pumping. I was  listening to a sermon in the car, and I was ready to get back in and keep listening as I drove eagerly down I-65. That’s when I heard it. I looked over and see a janky, nearly broken down car rolling up right behind me.

The driver got out. He looked around, clearly not intending to walk to the pump, caught my eyes, and begins to walk right towards me. It’s clear from the start he isn’t walking over to say hello. A hundred thoughts ran through my mind. Run. Hide your wallet. Get your keys in between your fingers. Solar Plexus Instep Nose Groin (kidding). From the first word, judgments start flowing out. This guy is gay. The audacity this guy has to ask me for money. Did he really just call me sweetie? Without me even saying a word, he dove straight into a diatribe about how he had 80 miles to go to get to his loved one and how he had no gas and no money, he was having a terrible day, and (it appeared to me) was on the verge of tears. Finally he gets to his point: Can he have some money? Of course you can’t have money.  I’m not giving you money to buy booze with it. I’m certainly not getting out my wallet so you can rob and kill me. I’m never as bold out loud as I am in my mind, but generally I end up sounding like this scene from Liar, Liar.

Back to the story: 

I just said, “Sure,” and got out my wallet. I handed him 10 bucks and turned back to my pump. He cleared his throat. I turned back to him.

“Do you have any more than this?” he says, “It is 80 miles and I can’t get there on ten dollars.”

After spending the entire week previous to this worrying about money and how I’m even going to afford to get to PSJ, I wanted to shout, “No I don’t have more than this. Are you kidding me?? I just gave you 10 bucks. Is 20 bucks the going rate for you to leave me alone now?” Instead, I just say, “Sure” and ask him for the $10 back. He handed it over and in exchange I gave him a crisp twenty. The guy was clearly embarrassed at this point, ashamed to have even asked me. I refused to make eye contact for the most part. Again, he’s on the verge of tears when I gave him the $20.

“Thanks sweetie!”

That’s what he said to me right before he turned to walk back to his car. At this point, all I’ve said is “Sure” twice and given a few reluctant looks as I handed this guy money. So what do I manage to say to this guy after 5 minutes of awkwardness on the brink of 7 days forthcoming where I’ll be sharing the gospel?

“Hey, God bless, man!”

Like an idiot. He just stared right through me. God bless? God bless, when this dude stood before me asking me for help in a world that certainly wouldn’t help the likes of him 9 times out of 10? God bless, when I could have told him that Jesus Christ has given to me abundantly so I don’t mind giving to him? God bless, when I didn’t take 30 seconds to introduce this guy to the God who owns the sheep and cattle on a thousand hills and has no problem providing for the both of us?

Yeah. God bless, because I’m a coward.

Then what? I got in my car. I drove to the exit. I watched as this guy walked in, paid for his gas, and goes back to pump it (no booze purchased). I felt one last pang to go back and talk to the guy while he pumped his gas. Naturally, I pulled out and headed to I-65, likely to never see this guy again.

Why do I say naturally? Because naturally, I’m a coward. Naturally, I don’t do the right thing. When I’m relying on my own strength, I don’t naturally share the love of Christ with people. Naturally, I’m not like Jesus. This is most clear in Luke 8:40-48:

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 And there came a man named Jairus, who was a ruler of the synagogue. And falling at Jesus’ feet, he implored him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. 43 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. 45 And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” 47 And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:40-48, ESV)

In this story, Jesus wasn’t going to see the woman with the discharge of blood. Jesus was going to help Jairus’s daughter. On his way he was interrupted. The truth is, however, that Jesus’s ministry wasn’t interrupted. No, not at all. Instead, Jesus rightly saw his ‘ministry interruptions’ as his ministry. No qualms. No frustration. He didn’t begrudgingly slid $20 into the ladies hand and tell her to find a doctor. No. Jesus cures what ails you. Jesus is perfect. Jesus sees the hurting in the crowd. Jesus has compassion. Jesus heals. Jesus gives peace.

Likewise, we are to give the message of peace. And I failed. I whiffed so hard I nearly threw my back out. So what now?

Hebrews 4:15-16 says:

…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So what do I do when I whiff so hard at doing the very thing Christ has commanded me to do (share the gospel)? I turn to him. I gladly believe that as he headed to Jairus’s place and the crowds pressed in on him and the lady reached out to him, Jesus was tempted to draw back. “Don’t touch me” was the tempting thought. “Quit slowing me down. I’m going somewhere important.” The lies were whispered in his ear. He was tempted as we are, yet he was without sin. He didn’t submit to the lie. Because he didn’t submit to the lie, I can draw near to the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. O, how I needed that grace pulling out of the gas station. By the time I hit the Interstate I was so wracked with shame I nearly turned around, just in case the guy is one of those people who takes 45 minutes to pump $20 worth of gas.

By the time I got to Nashville to pick up a friend, I had to confess. I told him right as we got on the road. After I told him, I felt relief. Why? Because he encouraged me. He pointed me to the grace of God. He didn’t tell me what I did was ok. My behavior wasn’t ok. My attitude wasn’t ok. My failure to proclaim the gospel wasn’t ok. It was a sin. I confessed to him and to God as a sin. Then he pointed me to grace. God is true when he tells us that,”If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9, ESV)

And he did.

Oftentimes, the gospel is for people who fail at sharing the gospel. The gospel is the best ointment that exists for the worst burn of shame and guilt. You need it. I need it. And after it heals us, we learn that the guy who asks us for money at the gas station needs it. 

One thing is sure:  Next time, he’ll get it.

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