God accepts U-Turns, The Fireman's Call

by Doug Malear on February 26th, 2011

If any man be in Christ he is a new creature, the old has passed away, behold, all has become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17

The Fireman's Call

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I had stopped by my office at the church to pick something up. This was back when we were meeting in the closed-up unemployment building in downtown Muskegon Heights, Michigan. I wanted to get in and get out, to avoid getting caught up in any church work. It had been a long, eventful week without much break, so I was looking forward to a little down time. Even though there was no one there to engage me, I knew how easily my attention could be captured by things around the office; that unread stack of mail, unfiled papers, reports waiting to be initialed, etc. These things and a hundred others could potentially arrest my attention and sabotage my free afternoon. And because we were in the heart of the inner city, transients, the homeless, and other visitors would begin knocking on the door if they thought I might be there.

So, I was on a mission and determined to have a free Saturday afternoon at home. I found what I was looking for and started for the door just as the telephone began to ring. I know that ninety nine times out of a hundred, a call to the church on a Saturday afternoon is almost always about something that can easily wait until Monday. Most times, a phone call to the church at that time would be a wrong number, a salesman hawking something we don't need and can't afford, someone calling for information that the answering service could give them, or for something better off left til Monday. But, once in a while, the call is someone dealing with a real emergency, a life or death situation that cannot, and will not, be put on hold. Every now and then it's something that cannot be answered by some generic information that has been recorded previously. Occasionally, it is a caller who needs to hear a real human voice in real time that can actually hold a conversation. It's not always life or death but, for the caller in these types of calls, it can seem like life & death.

Our answering service is not like those answering machines that allow you to hear the caller speaking, it just gives information to callers and records the messages they may leave. So, there I was, caught between convincing myself that it was one of the 99% who did not need me to answer, and the very slim possibility that it could be the seldom heard 1% who really needed someone to talk to. As the phone rang I recalled the parable told by Jesus in Luke 15:3 thru 7 in the NIV.
Then Jesus told them this parable: 4"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

Well, I felt like the Lord was telling me to answer this particular call and somewhere between the 3rd and fourth ring I picked up the phone and said, “Hope Lighthouse Ministries, may I help you?” The voice on the other end said in a surprised tone, “Wow! A real person, I can't believe it.” I said, “Hi, this is Pastor Doug, can I help you?” The male voice on the other end said, in a defeated sounding voice, “I don't think so.” So I asked, “Do you know why you've called here?” My caller simply said, through what sounded like soft crying, “I don't know, I'm really not sure? I found your number under HOPE in the yellow pages.” I was a little put out with what seemed like his evasiveness but, at the same time, sensed there was some deep need here.

We talked for nearly three hours. I did not experience the free afternoon at home I was planning, but I never felt freer in the Lord and led by the Holy Spirit. My afternoon reminded me of the Bible story in John 4. The disciples of Jesus went into town to buy food while Jesus stayed behind and ministered to a woman in great need. When the disciples returned and offered Jesus food he told them in verse 32, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” The three hours I spent on the phone ministering blessed me more than having a free afternoon at home. Through the course of our talk I learned a lot about my caller whom I will call Sam (not his real name).

Sam was a Fireman in a nearby community, and along with other firefighters that he worked with and was close to, he was involved in Rodeo competitions during the summers. He was a fairly young guy (early thirties) with a wife, a child, a home, and all that comes with the American dream. The one thing that was missing in his life was a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Sam and his buddies were tough, out-going men. They worked hard and played hard. They had a dangerous job fighting fires, and they seemed to live life with an enthusiasm born out of the high risk vocation they were a part of. It sounded like a great fulfilling life; a loving family, great friends, steady job and a bright future. So why was it, that on this Saturday afternoon, Sam was calling me from his home, all alone with a 12 pack of beer he was working his way through, and a loaded six shooter in his hand, with the idea of taking his life when he finished the last beer?
Things are not always as they seem. Although many people seem to have a great life and everything looks wonderful, many times we do not see what is going on beneath the surface. No matter how exciting or blessed someone's life may look on the outside, without a relationship with Jesus they will eventually realize they are empty and shipwrecked on the inside. So it was with Sam. It looked as though he had it all, but it was a great façade. Throughout the afternoon I learned that Sam had recently been diagnosed with a terminal disease and did not have but a few months to live. I also learned that his wife had just left him and filed for divorce. He had not told her of his illness and was afraid if he told her now she might stay for the wrong reason, out of pity. His pride could not take that. The Lord intervened that day and began to change Sam's heart. I talked to him about God's plan of salvation for all men. Then I pointed out his opportunity to live forever with no sickness or death if he chose to follow the Lord's will for his life (2 Peter 3:9 says in part, “…….. the Lord is not willing that any should perish”).

Well, Sam invited the Lord Jesus into his heart and life that day and promised me he would call his buddies as soon as we hung up the phone. I did not hear from Sam again but was visited by a group of his brother firemen a few months later. They showed up before service started one Sunday morning and asked to talk with me. They told me that Sam had just passed away and did not get to fulfill his desire to come and meet me before his death. They told me that after our phone conversation that Saturday afternoon a few months earlier, Sam had called them as he promised me. He told them all that we had talked about and his decision to follow Jesus. They told me he was in quite a bit of pain toward the end, but they had never seen him happier. He had become a great inspiration to them and the entire Fire House. They were heading west, to some location I've forgotten, to compete in a Rodeo, and for the first time, it would be without Sam.

These fellows told me they had purposely planned their trip so as to stop by our church that Sunday morning. They said they were compelled to come by and thank me for answering the phone that Saturday afternoon when one of their brothers was in such dire need to hear a human voice. I will be eternally grateful to God for directing me to answer the phone that afternoon. Because Sam heard a human voice that proclaimed the wonders of Christ to him he became a new creation, he made a U-Turn.
Are you on the wrong path today brother or sister? God not only allows U-Turns, He will help you make the turn if you will just ask Him.

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