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Old Johnny Is Included

I once served as a volunteer in a mission for homeless men.  My job was to serve the evening meal and spend some time in fellowship with the men staying in the shelter.

After serving the meal I prepared a plate for myself and sat with the men in the dining hall.  I sat at a table with about ten men and began to chat.  Sitting to my left was a fellow known as Old Johnny.  He was a sixty-nine year old gentleman suffering from mental illness and alcoholism.  As I was eating, Old Johnny suddenly grabbed my arm and began to squeeze.  He was surprisingly strong.  “Why are you here?  Why are you doing this?”  He said in a loud voice.  I wasn’t sure how to answer.  I sat frozen in fear.

“Why are you here?  Why are you doing this?”  He asked again—this time with an even louder voice.  “Don’t worry about Old Johnny,” another man said.  “He’s just a little crazy!”  The other man laughed.

“Why are you here?  Why are you doing this?”  Old Johnny asked one last time.  Then he released my arm, grabbed his Little Debbie snack cake, and left the table.
An hour later we all gathered for the chapel service.  Since I was a young “preacher-boy,” I was asked to say a prayer, read the scripture, and bring words of welcome to the assembly.  When I finished I took my seat.  The hall was filled.  There was not an empty seat in the entire place—except the one to my left.  From the back of the room Old Johnny came and sat in that seat.  For the entire service he sat watching me.

When the service was over, Old Johnny asked: “You’re a preacher, ain’t you?”

“Yes I am!”  I replied, nervously looking for an avenue of escape.

“Now I know why you’re here,” he said.  “Now I know why you’re doing these things.”

“Why is that?”  I asked.

“Because you’re forgiving me,” he said.

I got to know Johnny quiet well over the next few weeks.  I learned his story.  He had been raised in a home where mental illness was thought to be the result of demon possession.  His parents took him to several preachers at tent revivals to, as Johnny put it, “kick that demon out on his (rear).”  Nothing worked.  His parents forced him to move out of their house when he was 23.  His family and church rejected him.

For almost 30 years, Old Johnny had lived in shelters, jail, and on the streets.  He was an easy mark for thieves and hoodlums.  He became an alcoholic and was addicted to other drugs.

Somehow, through the ministry of some Christian shelters and ministers, Old Johnny heard the gospel and experienced God’s grace.  He discovered that he was forgiven and loved by God and some of those who called themselves God’s people.
How would you and your church react if Old Johnny, or somebody like him, arrived in your sanctuary this Sunday?  Would they feel forgiven?  Would they feel accepted?  Would they feel loved?  Would they be included? 

* Read 1 John 3

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