I recently posted on dangerous missions that prophets sometimes get sent on. When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples, he was doing that very thing. Amos, Jeremiah and Elijah all quickly come to mind as prophets sent on dangerous missions. But I offered a contemporary story of my own personal experience(s), largely in response to posts by other street ministers that faced dangerous, even violent, situations.
As violence is such a deep and rich part of our society, I want very much to face it head on with the Gospel of Jesus. And in a day-n-age when soooooooo many of my brothers and sisters argue tooth-n-nail for arming ourselves to respond to violence with guns, I want to expand the imagination a bit. I live in the state of Texas, a state historically rich with Christian heritage. But I was stunned to see the First Baptist Church of Dumas, Texas offering concealed handgun licensing courses last year. And I have witnessed numerous citizens taking advantage of our recent open-carry laws. And with the pop-slogan which dictates, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”, I want to challenge such narrow-mindedness.
I offered a post last year remembering Nurse Joan Black, who disarmed an active shooter at her hospital in L.A. with a hug! Did you read that??? Let’s put it out there in bold type:
NURSE JOAN BLACK PROVED YOU CAN STOP A BAD GUY WITH A GUN WITH JUST A NURSE AND A HUG!
Does that mean hugs always work? No. I did not say that. But it is proof-positive that the slogan is a lie. Good guys with guns are NOT the only way to stop bad guys with guns. There are alternatives, risky to be sure, but even using a gun is quite risky. So, let’s not pretend it is the only answer. And as a Christian, I am called to face great risks with great faith – AND WITH GRACE!
If I could influence the First Baptist Church of Dumas, Texas, I would urge them to stop the concealed carry courses and start a course in cross-carrying. How do you carry a loaded love into a violent conflict and not only stop bad guys, but turn them into good guys?
You need a big God to do that. And you need a really big imagination if you expect him to live in it. And the pop slogan championed by the NRA has got no room big enough for this God in it.
My story today is not really about a mission. Nor was it even prophetic – though I think it is fair to say it definitely lent itself to prophetic imagination.
Way back in the 1980’s, when I was a Junior in high school, one morning I was getting ready for school and as I came out of the shower, I encountered a stranger in the hallway by my parents bedroom door. He appeared to be Native American, and he appeared a bit dazed-n-confused. It was not at all normal to see such a stranger in my home, nor at that hour, nor in that condition. But… I was a naïve teenager. And I quickly formulated what I thought was a plausible explanation: My dad was a counselor who kept an office in the back of our home. This stranger could have been one of his clients. The fact that he was in our house, especially at that hour was extremely odd, but I was used to a bit of oddity. And I figured if he was a client, then it was important that I not engage the stranger.
So, I went back to my bedroom to blow dry my shaggy Van Halen inspired hair. I closed the door and did not emerge for about 15 minutes. When I entered the kitchen, my mother and father were brewing coffee, something my family only did for guests, and the young stranger was sitting at the kitchen table. He looked petrified, but he greeted me saying, “Bro!”
I think it was my hair. It signaled a kindred spirit. The stranger had hair almost as long as mine. He appeared no more than 2 or 3 years older than me. But he quickly became agitated and jumped up and ran out the door. My parents and I watched as he sprinted out to the highway (we lived out at the edge of town) and kept running until he disappeared over the hill and around the bend in the road.
Then Mom began recounting the strange experience. She had come out of the master bath and found a stranger standing at the food of her bed hovering over my dad who was asleep. She said that at first she thought, “They have come to kill us”. But the stranger made no moves or demands and he seemed a bit “out of it”. So, she too formed a possible explanation in her mind. She thought the stranger had been in an accident on the highway and had wondered up into our home. She asked, and he affirmed it… at first. So, she woke up Dad and told him. But Dad’s questioning began shooting holes in that theory, so he said, let’s put on some coffee and get to the bottom of this. It was shortly after that when I entered the kitchen.
As we pieced this story together, suddenly the stranger came running back up into the yard. He met us at the door with a $20 bill. He begged my dad saying, “Please mister, don’t call the sheriff. I broke your window, but I can pay for it.” Dad asked him his name, and he said, “Tommy Dennison”.
But just then the stranger added, “I think my brother is still in there….”
At that, Mom dropped her cup of coffee on the floor and raced to the back of the house. I had a little sister, and no one had accounted for her yet. She was an 8th grader, and she was primping in her mirror in her bedroom as she got ready for school. She too had gone to the shower and returned to her room. Somehow in the comedy of events, she had not seen or heard a thing, nor had she noticed that her bedroom window was broken and glass was scattered on the floor.
The bright side was that she was fine. But by the time we returned to the stranger at the door, he was gone again. Dad did not call the sheriff, we went “back to normal”, but now I had a strange story to tell. I went to school that day asking all my friends if they had ever heard of a guy named Tommy Dennison. No one had. And though my mother felt a bit more vulnerable about living at the edge of town, after a few weeks, we moved on and pretty much forgot about Tommy Dennison.
Now. I tell that story noting that if we had been a gun-toting family (actually we did possess a pellet gun and a small shotgun), especially the kind that sleeps with fire arms in the night stand, we would have been fully justified in court for shooting that young man dead and asking questions later. The laws protect homeowners in that way. This young stranger had actually broken the window and entered in the classic scenario fashion.
And if we had done that, the young stranger would have died in our home. We would all have been deeply traumatized by it – even to this day. And that is pretty much the agenda the First Baptist Church of Dumas, Texas has set out for their congregation and the surrounding culture. But it is a very limited imagination and has no room for the GRACE of Jesus in it.
So… As Paul Harvey used to say, here is the REST OF THE STORY.
It was a solid year later. The summer after my high school graduation. And I landed a job at the local Pizza Hut with some of my buddies. I was a delivery driver. My buddy Scott was a waiter. We both made tips each night. And often we had to stay to close the store down – to clean it up after hours, which often worked us until midnight.
That summer, I did not have a car. I drove the company van for deliveries, but when work was done, I relied on friends, family, or coworkers for a ride home. And usually, I would offer to buy a plate of French fries at the M&M Truck Stop so we could eat and unwind after work, if someone gave me a ride. It was practically a ritual. (In those days, the M&M offered a heaping plate of French fries for only a dollar! And teenagers out past curfew, barflies (after the bars closed), and truck drivers all had a 24-hour hangout there.) We were rocking along like this until about mid summer.
Then one day we got a new cook in the kitchen. His name was Tommy Dennison – a young Native American guy who we all quickly learned was a devout member of the Potter’s House Church! He had a clean hair cut, a strong work ethic, and constantly praised Jesus singing hymns while he worked. He also preached at us coworkers, evangelizing us nearly every time we spoke to him.
“You need to get into Jesus….” he would say.
I was a bit repulsed. In those days I was a “nominal Christian” on my best day. This new guy, Tommy Dennison, was a kook as far as I was concerned, and only cramped my style. And, no… I did not recognize him or even his name.
Soon, Tommy was talking about faith with my buddy Scott. I joined them at the break table one evening and listened. I chafed at the discussion of Jesus in my workplace. I had an attitude that my faith was a matter of private, personal piety, and really should not be discussed in public – certainly not at work! (Boy, have I ever changed since then!) Nevertheless, the engagement helped me to break the ice with Tommy. And soon I found myself closing down the store with Tommy one night and asking him for a ride home.
As usual, I offered to buy fries and unwind at the M&M if he would drive me home. Tommy seemed grateful for the opportunity. His pastor had lent him the church van for transportation, but Tommy did not get tips as a cook. So, it worked out well that we could accommodate each other this way.
I had not foreseen it, but when the fries were delivered to our table in the middle of that truck stop full of truckers and barflies that night, Tommy Dennison bowed his head to pray. I wanted to crawl under the table. I looked all around to see if we had drawn attention to ourselves. No one seemed to notice. I was relieved.
But as I sat there looking at the top of Tommy’s bowed head, patiently waiting for him to say “Amen” so we could eat, it began to dawn on me that I might know this guy. His hair was cut, but so was mine. We both had changed appearance. More than a year had passed. But by the time he raised his head and smiled at me and said, “You need to get into Jesus…”, I was sure I knew him!!!
I was shocked!
Could my mind be playing tricks on me? I was relying on this guy for a ride back home; I did not want to offend him now! But I was eaten up inside. I had to know. But I dared not ask. I don’t think I even ate a bite. I just was shocked the whole time.
Then as we were leaving the restaurant and walking back to Tommy’s van, I was overcome with curiosity. I had to ask, “Tommy, Did you ever break into my house one time?”
It stopped him dead in his tracks. He doubled over in shame. It took him almost a minute to respond. Then he stood up, looked me in the eye, and said, “Man! I thought it was you!!! I didn’t know for sure, I was afraid to ask, but I kept thinking it surely was you….”
Tommy Dennison then proceeded to tell me how he had gone out drinking with some friends in Farmington, New Mexico the night before. When, in the wee hours of the night, they returned home, they were all drunk and stoned so much they could not find Tommy’s place, which, he said was only a half-mile from my place. Finally, his friends were so exasperated that they just dumped him out on the side of the road. In desperation, he wandered up to our house and found a leanto at the back. He went in and curled up to sleep. The next morning, he heard noises in the house, and still being disoriented, he broke the window leading to my sister’s room, trying to get out.
By this time, as his story unfolded, we had a good laugh. Tommy apologized again and again. He said he had been saved since that night, and wanted to make things right. I said, the damage had been minimal, and he had already paid his restitution with $20. I think it put his mind at ease.
Tommy Dennison and I remained friends for the next two years. He kept trying to get me saved; I kept resisting, but we had a very unusual bond. I even attended his wedding! (He actually married a girl who had a crush on me years before in high school!) And the last I knew, Tommy Dennison was a productive member of society and a devout member of his church. And I have since adopted a much deeper faith in Jesus which is modeled in part by what Tommy Dennison shared with me.
NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE IF EITHER MY DAD OR I HAD SHOT TOMMY DENNISON DEAD WHEN HE BROKE INTO OUR HOUSE!
Thank God we served him coffee instead!