By: Joe Wright
Have you ever embarked on a project without all the facts? I’m thinking now of a gas grill I attempted to assemble while ignoring the instructions. I almost did that with this article. Self-reliance is an admiral trait by worldly standards but John 15:5 flies in the face of that conventional wisdom. Jesus says plainly; “apart from me, you can do nothing. “It is no coincidence that my wife and I recently participated in an in-depth study on the book of Joshua.
I didn’t count the number of times the phrase “be strong” is recorded in the book of Joshua, but it’s a bunch. God started it and by the end, Joshua is repeating it. Give that some thought. God said it, Joshua repeated it. He repeated it just before he died and he exhibited the directive throughout his life. Joshua was not self-reliant, he was God-reliant.
I was asked to share a story from my life that required Godly courage. I confess that being that transparent and vulnerable in publication qualifies as such a situation. But I will share one event that, without a doubt, came from the hand of the Father.
As a young veterinarian, my wife and I lived in an old house in a one-stoplight town. One morning as I glanced out the front window I saw a disheveled man across the street. In one hand he had a dead snake and he was dirty – from head to toe. I found out later he had been hired by my neighbor to get rid of snakes.
That was my introduction to Amos. For quite a while my contact with Amos was limited to sightings around town. As best I could tell he always wore the same clothes including an old fedora on top of his unkempt hair, three-day growth of beard and big bushy eyebrows.
When Amos wasn’t walking, he traveled on an old riding lawnmower. He was tolerated and considered harmless. Amos drifted around the edges of our busy life like a grimy shadow – pitied but largely ignored.
One spring day that changed. We were in the yard when I noticed Amos coming down the sidewalk. But instead of his usual route, he began to trudge up our driveway. My wife and kids hid behind the playhouse. Toothless and winded he shuffled to a stop across the flower bed. Amos was nearly deaf but he possessed a booming bass voice. As a result, it was inevitable that I jumped when he proclaimed; “I want you to come give my dogs a rabies shot!”
It was more of a demand that a request but despite the fact that he was armed it seemed unlikely that I would be forced to perform disease prevention with any harm done to me. We began to talk. The wife and kids came out of hiding. Amos had learned that I was a veterinarian but it was more than that. He had grown up with my father, gone to school and rabbit hunted with him. I learned that he had once had a family – that he cared for his dogs and that that he could laugh. A remarkable thing happened that day as is often the case when two people actually communicate. From that day forward I was, to Amos, simply Joe Boy.
The vaccination clinic did not start well. Amos had tried to pen his dogs but when I got there he was cooing; “Here puppy, puppy, sweet puppy” to the renegades. They considered it a disingenuous display of affection. They were right.
It was evening by the time we finished. We talked again then he showed me his garden and gave me some okra. He told me how he and his family use to walk to church and he apologized for the cursing. As the sun set, his soiled and grizzled features seemed to soften. I asked him if he knew Jesus. His eyes misted and filtered through a once-good mind dulled and damaged by too much drink and too little human compassion he managed a somewhat muddled understanding of salvation. At that moment, I very much wanted God’s grasp on him to be secure. We bowed our heads and I prayed for that which I felt we both needed most – Grace.
I wouldn’t take any payment for the rabies shots and so it was that a few days later that Amos showed up at our back door with an old grocery bag. Inside was a pie baked from scratch by Amos himself. I’d like to be able to say I ate the pie but I had seen inside his house. But the flavor of that gift will linger in my soul forever. What a gift, one given out of sincere gratitude, sacrificially from meager resources with no agenda to advance and no façade to maintain. As I accepted that grease soaked bag from the dirtiest man I ever knew I was overcome by the realization of how little separated Amos and me. It was obvious that most of his dirt was on the outside, most of mine was on the inside. Suddenly Amos didn’t seem so grimy. It might have been the pie. It might have been the evening light. But I know it was God’s Grace.
Amos died in 2002 when he was 90 years old. I went to his funeral. There were only a few people and a borrowed preacher. Amos was buried at the far corner of a windswept hill next to the pines. We sang Amazing Grace. It was a good choice.
When God asks us to be “strong and courageous” He does not always send us down a familiar path with clear instructions. Sometimes He leads us to proclaim His name to people who appear, at least to us, very different from ourselves. But rest assured that by His Grace it is always for our good and His Glory.