Where I heard it, I don't recall. Perhaps it was the 700 Club, or even from the pulpit of a church I attended many long years ago, sometime in the mid-80s. That's why the finer details have vanished, but not the story itself. I hope to do it justice as I attempt to share it.
There was a certain neighborhood in a certain community that played reluctant host to an XXX Theater - you know, the kind we associate with utterly poor taste at least, sleaze & deviance at worst; the kind that brings disgust by way of signage alone, not to mention the fare it offers.
Well, apparently there was a certain church in this same certain neighborhood, and many of its fold decided it was time to take matters into their own hands (can anybody say lynch mob?).
They began storming City Hall with petitions, writing their Congressmen, and taking turns as they paced back-and-forth in front of the referenced theater in protest; many of them carrying signs that left little guess-work to their quest:
- You're not welcome here!
- Hell is filled with your like!
- This theater is polluting our children's minds!
- God will judge you!
In the wings was one solitary church-member that felt terrible about the methods being employed to oust the man and his unwanted pornography. He didn't like the theater either, but something in the process left him embarrassed, if not downright ashamed. For the life of him he couldn't get a handle on where love - that key ingredient in affecting change - was being factored in. .
Convicted and convinced that there must be a better way, he decided to call the theater owner; and was taken by complete surprise when the man agreed not only to speak with him, but meet with him.
So, on a certain day the solitary churchman went to meet the porn purveyor.
There were a few awkward pleasantries at first, but before long the churchman decided it was time to speak his piece. He said:
Listen: I, too, attend the certain church that's picketing and protesting your theater. I love those people, but I think they're wrong. I want to apologize to you for what must seem an awful lot like hate-mongering. They mean well, but I fear they may be misguided. So today I just want to leave you with my card, and let you know if ever you need a friend ... someone to talk to ... count me in.
With little more to say, the churchman and the theater owner parted company.
Some weeks or months hence, the churchman's phone rings. It's the theater owner. He asks if the churchman would mind coming to a certain hospital to sit with him. It seems the theater owner's young son lay ill, close to death (though from what illness or injury I do not now recall).
Without hesitation, the churchman made haste in response, praying for wisdom and compassion as he made his way.
For several long hours they sat together in silence. At last the theater owner asked: Is there a God?
The churchman knew exactly where this man's heart was at that moment: confused, scared, hurting, vulnerable ... the sort of ground that's fertile for God's grace.
From that one question came a rather lengthy, but humble discussion about God's love and provision. Before it had ended, the theater owner decided he needed, and wanted to receive Jesus as his Savior. Sitting there together, close enough to join hands, they prayed softly before returning to the silence of the long wait.
In time the child recovered, but long before being released from the hospital, the child's father - the theater owner - had begun the process of closing down his business. The churchman had said nothing about this; it wasn't part of the salvation offer. Yet somehow the theater owner was compelled to channel his livelihood into another, more God-honoring direction.
There's a moral - many morals - to this story. I'll leave you to pick the one(s) that stir you. Suffice it to say I am again-and-again blown away by the gentle grace God applies to those who, in my mind, often don't deserve it.
He alone can and does move in hearts in such mysterious ways - often without our ever speaking a word - and, quite possibly, without picket signs.