As a child of the Depression, Jim Lancaster was poorer than most of us can imagine. When a church in his neighborhood announced they were having a vacation Bible school for two weeks, and at the end, each child would receive a free popsicle, Jim determined to attend. He had never actually tasted a popsicle, but he had seen them, and in 1930s Florida, anything cold and refreshing was a welcome treat.
Little Jim did not miss a day. Then, on the last day, the worker gave the children God’s plan of salvation. “You can be saved,” she said, “by praying and asking Jesus to forgive you of your sins and come into your heart.” She added, “If you want to do this, get up right now and come with me now. However, you will not get a popsicle.”
Out of over 200 children, two boys came forward, Jim being one of them. Years later, both of those boys became preachers of the Gospel.
Jim’s son, also known as Jim Lancaster and the associate pastor of Kenner, Louisiana’s First Baptist Church, told me that story. I asked my wife what she made of it. “Some worker was very foolish,” she said, and she wondered how many children would have responded had the teacher been more considerate of the children.
Frequently, the hard work of a lot of the Lord’s people is undone by some foolish or thoughtless act–even if well-meaning–by one worker. However, there are times when the Lord overrules our foolishness to reach out and touch a life. Today Jim, Jr., says, “I’m so glad my Dad went forward in that vacation Bible school and was saved, because I don’t know where I would have been otherwise.” Jim’s two siblings are also in the Lord’s work.
My son Marty belonged to a church in North Carolina where the children’s minister learned a hard lesson. In the worship service, the boys and girls sat around her as she talked with them on the subject of sharing. Then, she handed each one a candy cane, and instructed them not to eat it themselves, but to give it to someone else.
Marty says if the kids had thought this out they would have turned around and swapped with each other. What actually occurred was a crisis of major proportions as the kids struggled with conflicting emotions–the desire to obey their teacher competing with a consuming yearning for that delicious piece of candy.
The next time we gave the children candy in a worship service I made sure to learn from that woman’s mistake. We gave them two pieces–“one for you and one for a friend.”
Have you ever thought how much more generous God is than we? He gives us ten pieces and asks us to return only one. He calls it a tithe. You would think we would gladly part with so small a portion of the generous blessings He pours out upon us. But, alas, human nature is not so reasonable or generous.
When my grandson Grant was about seven years old, he spotted the plastic cup in my armoire where I dump the coins from my pocket at the end of each day. Usually, a cupful amounts to thirty dollars and I give it to some offering at church. As he stood there gaping at all that cash, one could almost see the dollar marks in his eyes. I said, “Grant, how would you like all that money?”
He would, oh, how he would. I said, “Before I give it to you, I want you to have a conversation with your Dad on what you will do with that money. Let me know when you’re ready.” The next day he called and said, “Grandpa, I’m ready.”
A little while after I’d taken him the coins, I happened to glance down the hall and noticed him and his father on the floor. They had counted out the coins into stacks of one dollar, and separated them into three areas. The larger amount was for saving, another for Grant’s impulse spending, and one-tenth was set aside for the church. Grant had three jars in front of him, suitably labeled, and was shoveling the coins into them. He had no idea I was listening, but when he came to putting the tithed coins into the “church jar,” he would scoop up a fistful and as they dropped into the jar, he said, “Bye-bye, bye-bye” in the saddest voice I had ever heard. “Bye-bye.” It was so funny, and so true to human nature.
Think of it. I had given him thirty dollars absolutely free. All he had to do was give three of it to the Lord, and he would end up with twenty-seven, a small fortune for a kid. Yet it killed him to give away that three bucks.
Don’t ever criticize the preacher, friend, for returning to the subject of money and materialism, of greed and generosity, of tithing and treasures from time to time. It’s a never-ending battle we fight, starting young and continuing until we take our last breath.
“Lay up treasures in Heaven,” Jesus said. “For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:20-21)