It was a 3-shirt day. In other words, it was summer in the Coachella Valley. Mary Beth and I, as well as the Bible College students, were preparing the retreat-center property for an incoming retreat. The grounds had been tended to, plumbing fixed, and bed linens laundered and placed on the beds. It had been a full week. When all was said and done, with teaching classes and work, I was looking at 70+ hours. Today was Friday. Friday was food-prep day, as well the arrival of the retreat attendees and serving their first meal. We were looking at probably a 14+ hour day. On these days, it seemed like sweat was as common as breathing, and not only did the day require more than one shirt, but it required more than one shower; both to get rid of the stink and wake me up.
The retreat center was situated in what some would consider the barren wasteland of Sky Valley, California. We were living in an upstairs apartment above the men’s dorm, approximately 400 yards to the east of the banquet hall. I took a quick break to walk home and take a ‘refresher’ shower. I walked up the stairs to the back door to enter the residence. The back door opened to a hallway that had two bedrooms on the left side and a bathroom on the right. The hallway terminated into the living room with the kitchen on the right and the front door on the left side of the living room.
I made my way up the stairs, unlocked the door and entered the hallway. As I was passing my bedroom, I caught a quick flash in my peripheral vision. I stopped, backed up and peered back into the room. I froze. Were my eyes deceiving me? Is this for real? I was frozen in fear trying to process the scene that was playing out before me. Standing in front of my dresser and rifling through my dresser drawers, stood a lean, muscled, shirtless, pierced man that was blanketed with tattoos. My fight-or-flight response kicked in. In a flash of anger I thought of the four beautiful women in my life, my wife and my three little daddy’s girls. Let’s just say that I was p$#@&d! My protective daddy and husband instincts kicked in.
I was being burglarized and he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Our eyes were as big as grapefruits as they met. Here he was, a lean, mean, tatted machine and me, 240 pounds of sculpted butter. He panicked and ran at me, while I simultaneously ran at him. We stopped inches from one another, exploding with amplified and undecipherable words. I was screaming, “What are you doing in my home?!” He was flinging a load of personally directed f-bombs with quite a few other expletives thrown in for color.
Then, at a loss for words, the Lord gave me the presence of mind to say something that amazingly, diffused the whole situation. I said, “This is a house of the Lord and you will not cuss in my house!” Can you see the humor in this? This guy was attempting to rob my house and I was chastising him for using off-color language. Because I acknowledged the Lord in the midst of the conflict, the fear of the Lord fell upon this man. Jesus once instructed His disciples in Matthew 10:19, that if they find themselves in an oppressive situation, “…do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say.”
The man’s countenance immediately changed. He softened. His shoulders slumped. He went from a defensive posture to an at ease stance. His eyes no longer reflected anger. They revealed shame and sheepishness.
As the shepherd of my family I was ready to fight with the wolf. In TV like, slow-motion style, I pictured myself grabbing the man by his nipple rings and slamming him like a pinball back and forth against the hallways, then kicking open my front door and throwing him down the stairs. But the Lord gave me presence of mind. Through the Holy Spirit, the Lord gave me eyes to see what my flesh couldn’t. This was not a wolf. This was a lost sheep. We began to talk. His explanation as to why he was looking through my tighty whities, was that somebody in the community owed him money and told him that it was in my house. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but the impression I gathered from the conversation was that this was a drug deal gone bad and my house was the victim of mistaken identity. In the desperate search for his money, he got the wrong house. Or was it? Was this just an ugly coincidence? I think not. This was a God orchestrated divine appointment. This was a redemptive moment.
I wanted to call him a worthless piece of trash and kick him to the curb. But the Holy Spirit said, “No, you overcome his evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) “Give him truth.” (John 8:32) I looked at him and said, as far as I can recollect, “I don’t know what brought you to this point, but this is not what God wants for you. I think you need to get down on your knees and ask God’s forgiveness and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.” His response was not what I expected, nor did it provide the perfect Christian movie, ‘happily ever after’ moment. He said, “Maybe, God sent me here to test you.” Initially, that remark bruised my pride. But, you know what? He was right; we were both right. My faith was being tested so that I would know that it was genuine in the midst of heated hostility (1 Peter 1:7). And, He desperately needed Jesus (Acts 4:12).
He did not verbalize a Sinner’s Prayer, or even acknowledge his need for Jesus. But, a change had happened. His brokenness was exposed and he was confronted with the reality of a true and living God. He apologized to me and I let him leave. That might frustrate some folks reading this, because on the surface, it seems like a lack of accountability. Believe me, I believe in accountability. Just because someone is forgiven does not mean that there are still not consequences. But I was in a spiritually discerning place. I was hearing from God. Common sense and God’s ways are not always compatible. When Jesus was confronted by the religious elite, with the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), common sense and prevailing thought said stone her to death. But Jesus would do only those things which the Father showed Him (John 5:19). God showed Him to do something different. And what He did and said, not only provided a teachable moment, but it exposed everyone to the painful liberating truth and diffused the situation.
The Lord had given me a “go and sin no more” situation. I sent him on his way, trusting in a greater authority; an authority that is not just punitive, but corrective, that would guide him into all truth. I met up with him several days later at the local convenience store. He was holding hands with his daughter. I said to him, “Burglarize any houses lately.” He looked at me, looked down and said, “that was the dumbest thing I have ever done.” We made a little bit of small talk, and before we parted ways, I invited him to my Monday night Bible study. It was the last I ever saw of him.
The Bible tells us to be ready in season and out (2 Timothy 4:2). As people of the Word, we must be intentional about sowing the Word of truth into ourselves (Mark 4:26-29). It is only a matter of time before the Lord provides for each of us, a life changing situation that can not only turn the direction of somebody else’s life, but also reveal the genuineness of our faith and solidify the direction of ours.