Have you ever missed an encounter with God? Were you aware of the invitation of His Presence in the moment? Or like me, did you not realize this missed opportunity with the Holy One after He had already departed, or more likely, after you walked away from Him? That was my sad situation, yesterday. Here is the story.
It is not unusual for my wife and I to go to the movies at a theatre for a matinee (where we might save a couple of dollars.) There was a movie that we both had determined to watch sometime. My sister had sent me an online credit to Cinemark theatres which was “burning” in my pocket to be used. I looked online to see when this movie was being played and noticed that if we hurry, we could catch the next showing to take place in 20 minutes. So, we scurried around and headed to the theatre, which was about a 12-minute drive. As we pulled into the parking lot, I was in a hurry because there might not be the preferred seats available to us as I noticed that there were several other patrons making their way to the doors ahead of us. Upon getting out of my car, another vehicle came up from behind and took the parking spot next to our car. The driver rolled down his window, assuming a face of desperation that I had recognized from other encounters in other parking lots over the past few years. As he started to give me his request for a handout, he said, “Can I ask you for a big, big favor…?” I had been in this situation with this guy before. I recognized him, but really doubt that he recognized me.
Before he could make his request for money with some made-up story (lie), I just said “NO!” Moving past his car, my wife and I made our way across the parking lot into the theater. I was angered that this guy was trying to con me once again. Over the past few years, had he even tried to get a job? What was it that caused him to “target” me? Am I just a “soft touch?” Worse yet, I was made steward over these resources that he was trying to pilfer with some scam. I didn’t look back, but rushed into the theatre concerned that we might not get into “our” movie before the first scenes played.
The movie was really good, even, moving my emotions from time to time, nearly tearing up at certain scenes, getting angry at injustice perpetrated in certain scenes. We left the movie quite satisfied that this was worth the money and time for our entertainment fix. Then, I went home to watch playoff determining games of the National Football League. Good day.
However – then came this morning where I frequently call out to God to have mercy on me, a sinner, while reminding myself that His mercies are new every morning. As I was preparing my breakfast and taking my vitamins (my normal routine), I started listening to an old video of Catholic Bishop Fulton Sheen. His sermon was about GENEROSITY. My attention was turned to the generosity of our savior who gave His life, His breath, His blood for me while I was yet a sinner. The bishop spoke of an unshackled generosity of our time and money. One of his statements was about Judas Iscariot who was the keeper of the money bag for Jesus and his team. Judas objected to the use of the very expensive oil that the woman poured over Jesus’ feet. To that event, the bishop said that “Judas knew the price of everything but the value of nothing.” That was me.
Earlier in the day, yesterday, before we went to the movie, I was working on my spreadsheet where I tracked our annual income and expenditures for our household, on a monthly basis, concluding with the final number for the year 2023. As I examined those numbers (my wife and I are both retired, on a fixed income), I noticed that with the current inflation, we were just breaking even, meaning that we were spending on an annual basis almost all our revenues for the year. We were not saving anything. Yet we were living very much like we had lived for the past ten years. I compared 2023 to 2022 figures. I made a comment to my wife, wondering if I should supplement our retirement income with some kind of job. As I pondered this question, the thought came to me, “I WILL TAKE CARE OF THAT.” Interpretation: God will take care of our needs, our necessities, our resources if I would continue to attend to focusing on Him, spending time with Him, daily devoting my time to Him and serving those to whom I am sent. Mike – don’t worry about what those spreadsheets say. You have experienced My economy of provision for you during your entire life that you cannot account for on a spreadsheet. You look back and wonder how I (the Lord) provided for you when the numbers don’t make sense.
How many times have I declared that all I have is from HIM. Everything is a GIFT from HIM. I am entrusted with those gifts for the purpose of distribution. What a convenient theology that is resting easily on American abundance. Consider the caution about how to treat strangers because we don’t know when we will entertain angels? Also, Jesus said, “But love your enemies, do good and lend, hoping for nothing in return: and your reward will be great and you will be sons of the Most High. For HE is kind to the ungrateful and evil.” While I do not consider the fellow in the car to be my enemy, nor was he asking for a loan, yet my RESPONSE is of concern. A week ago, I chose a “Word for the Year 2024”. Unfortunately, that word was RESPONSE. This word came from some scriptures in the Book of Job (38:1-3). Particularly, the Lord told Job to “gird up his loins like a man.” Why? “For I shall ask, and you shall answer me.” The Lord proceeded to ask Job 42 questions in a row, then stopping to inquire of Job’s answer. The questions of the Lord reflected the unawareness and lack of consideration Job had for Yahweh’s majesty and creative powers. Job had heard about the Lord, and even acknowledged Him; but, never really meditated and considered all those things in full view. Job answered, “I had heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee.” That was my condition yesterday.
The Lord rode up to my car as He sat in the back seat while giving the driver instructions where to go. I didn’t see Him, but He was there. Mike, here was an opportunity for you to RESPOND as I would have responded, but you missed the opportunity that I provided for your good. You recalled the time this driver approached you for money to feed his kids while they were all in the back seat eating McDonald meals and the time he approached you for gasoline money so that he could return “home” to Dallas because he was stranded in Abilene, as well as a couple more like encounters. Upon this new opportunity, you did not take time to hear his newfound lie. You were on a mission. The movie was calling. Perhaps the priest and Levite were also headed to a mission as they passed the beaten man ministered to by a Samaritan. Their mission may have been more noble than yours. Maybe they were going to Jericho to minister to people. But you – a movie?
This encounter with the man in the parking lot was, indeed, targeted and personal. That guy probably didn’t even recognize me, but the Lord targeted me to hear my RESPONSE which was a full-throated, disgusted “NO” before the request was made. What am I to do with Jesus’s instruction (Matt. 5:40), “Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away?” I was so glad that I had emptied my wallet of traveling money a few days earlier, or else, I might have been moved to give the man money, my $200 would be at risk. It is so much wiser to only carry credit or debit cards because that alleviates one from having to give cash to a panhandler. And, perhaps, then we could respond as Peter and John at the temple (Acts 3:1-10) when the lame man requested alms, of which they had none. Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have, give I thee (at least, that’s how the song goes.) They fixed their eyes on the lame man and required him to look at them. In the name of Jesus Christ they healed him. I had “alms” at a minimum but would not look at the man in the car…dismissing him, walking over this “Lazarus” like the rich man who could not, later, cross the gulf into the bosom of Abraham. At a minimum, I could have given out of my abundance, “loaning” to God. But what about a deep piercing look into his eyes – would I have seen a deeper desperation that only Jesus could heal? Could I have been an agent to address that deep need? I was in a hurry to feed my flesh with entertainment. Besides, I was in no mood to be taken advantage of, again. This encounter was not some guy standing on the corner with a homemade cardboard sign, or a nameless telemarketer trying to guilt me into giving to their cause, or a mailer with a self-addressed envelope to send money to them, or the tear-jerking professional video advertisements trying to draw your emotions into their charity. This was targeted…personal…Jesus was there watching. I missed God.