The Heart of a Champion: Serve Others
I wonder why they called it “the Beautiful Gate”.
Did you hear it mentioned in the reading of the story from Acts 3? Listen again. “One day Peter and John were going to the temple at the hour of prayer, at three o’clock in the afternoon. A man, lame from birth, was being carried in. People would lay him daily at the gate of the temple called the Beautiful Gate, so that he could ask for alms from those entering the temple.”
But why did they call it “the Beautiful Gate”? There is no archeological or historical evidence to give us the answer. We are simply left to wonder about the name “the Beautiful Gate”. In any case, what happened there constitutes quite a wonderful story—a story which commences with life that limps, continues with life that lifts, and concludes with life that leaps…
The story commences with life that limps.
As Peter and John approached the Beautiful Gate, they encountered a lame man. Later in the story we learn that the man had been lame from birth and that at this point in time, he was more than 40 years old. For all those years, each day, he would be brought to the Beautiful Gate, there to beg from those entering or leaving worship. We see the same thing here every Sunday. You are the rare member of this congregation or visitor to our services if you have not been approached as you have entered or left this church by those seeking financial help from you. Things today are as they were yesterday.
Orlando is called “the City Beautiful”, and rightly so, yet there are so many hurting people here. You only have to walk a few blocks from this church in any direction on any given day during the week to find those who are lame, on canes, on crutches or walkers or in wheelchairs. You see sleeves or pants legs pinned where healthy limbs used to be. You see bent spines, support braces, and the unmistakable evidence of malnutrition. If you magnify that to include not just bodies that are hurting, but spirits and souls that are hurting too, then the numbers start to become overwhelming. As you walk the streets of this beautiful city, you pass those who are abused and addicted, those who are friendless and jobless, those who are immoral and amoral, those who are defeated and depressed, those who are down-and-out and those who are up-and-out. Yes, this is a beautiful city, one of the most beautiful cities in this country, yet as you walk the streets of the City Beautiful, you know that you are surrounded by a sea of suffering. One is reminded of what the Bible says about Jesus: “And seeing the multitudes, He had compassion on them.”
I heard about a Presbyterian minister who played golf one Monday with a minister friend from another denomination. The Presbyterian announced that he could only play nine holes because he had to get back to his office and begin working on next Sunday’s sermon. The other minister said: “That’s the trouble with you Presbyterians. Always studying. Always preparing. What you ought to do is rely more upon the Holy Spirit. You need to stay out here and play golf and then trust that God’s Spirit is going to tell you what to say when the time comes to say it.” Well, the Presbyterian preacher decided to try it. He played 36 holes that day, and he had a wonderful time. Then he cruised through the rest of the week, relaxed and happy. On Wednesday, the choir director wanted to know what the sermon was going to be about so that he could choose some appropriate music. The preacher said: “I don’t know. The Lord hasn’t spoken to me yet.” On Thursday, his secretary wanted to know what sermon title to print in the bulletin. He said: “I don’t know. The Lord hasn’t spoken to me yet. Just put ‘Sermon by the Pastor.'” The weekend came and he spent Saturday in prayer and in quiet before the Lord, but there was no word from Him on high. Sunday morning, he was beginning to be a trifle nervous, but he put on his robe and headed toward the pulpit. Just before he stepped through the door and into the pulpit, suddenly a big voice called out: “My son!” He thought to himself, “At last. This is what I’ve been waiting for. Here comes the message from the Lord.” He then said: “Yes, Lord?” And God said: “You’re not prepared this week, are you?”
The implications of that for preachers are obvious, but let me translate it to a different plane. I am amazed at the individuals who go about seeking the call of God, waiting for God to direct them into some area of service, looking for some special delivery message from on high, and all the while they are swimming through each day surrounded by a veritable sea of suffering. They are wandering through vast pastures of problems and pain, they are waiting for some clear direction from the Lord, and all around them is life that limps. My friends, we don’t have to look too far and too hard to find others to serve in the name of Jesus Christ. Peter and John were on their way to church. They entered the Beautiful Gate, and there, right before them, was life that limps.
So this story, which commences with life that limps continues with life that lifts.
The Bible notes that as soon as Peter and John heard the pleas of this lame man they stopped. Clearly, the man expected from them a gift of money, but those disciples gave him so much more. Peter said to him: “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ stand up and walk.” Then Peter took him by the hand and lifted him up. Life that limps meets life that lifts in the name of Jesus Christ.
We are reminded here that the greatest asset the church possesses is not material wealth, but the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Faith practiced is much more powerful than finances proffered. Mind you, I am not suggesting that stewardship doesn’t matter. Not for a moment.
I believe you can tell as much about a person’s Christian life by looking at their checkbook as you can by looking at their prayer book. But here is what is true: genuine disciples are always generous donors to the church of Jesus Christ. And of course the church needs money to fuel its ministry to the world, but here is also what is true: in the long run, disciples are more important than donations. Surely, if we haven’t learned anything else in recent years, we have learned that money can’t solve many of our most pressing human problems. We have thrown money in staggering sums at the social problems in this country, to no avail. Money can’t transform an individual or a society, but the touch of the Lord upon them can.
Let me boil that truth down to a single incident. A Sunday School teacher out in Oklahoma City named Ron Roche tells of an encounter which took place in his class one Sunday morning. There was a little boy in the class named Tommy. He was not having a very good morning. He was being mean and spiteful to the other kids. Ron tried to ignore him, but soon he was so disruptive that he could no longer be ignored. Ron got upset, asked one of the other teachers to take over the class, and ordered Tommy to step out into the hall with him. He could tell by the angry look on Tommy’s face that he was expecting a tongue-lashing, and that’s exactly what Ron Roche intended to give him. But suddenly something moved Ron not to lash out with words, but instead to reach out and give Tommy a hug. He said: “Tommy, you’re just about the smartest kid I know.” Ron said that he was as surprised as Tommy at what he had said. There was silence for a moment as these two just looked at one another. Then Tommy said: “My dog died yesterday.” Ron didn’t quite know what to say, so he gave Tommy another hug. The little boy looked up—there were tears in his eyes—and he said: “My dad yelled at me yesterday and told me I was stupid because I left the back gate open and my dog got out and got hit by a car.” He paused for a second and then he asked: “Mr. Roche, do you really think I am smart?” Now Ron Roche had tears in his own eyes and he said: “Yes, Tommy, I think you’re very smart.” And they talked a little more about his dog and his dad and the gate. And Ron Roche said: “When Tommy went back into the class, he was smiling.”
A simple story carrying a simple truth: sometimes, more times than not, a word of grace or an act of mercy can change everything. That’s what happens when the spirit of Jesus Christ enables life that limps to meet life that lifts. There, at the Beautiful Gate, Peter took the lame man by the right hand and raised him up.”
Now, this story, which commences with life that limps and continues with life that lifts, concludes with life that leaps.
Look at what happened to the lame man in the story. “Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God.” When life that limps meets life that lifts in the name of Christ, then the result is life that leaps. Please notice this as well. The lame man wasn’t the only one leaping. When you read on in the story, it is clear that Peter and John were energized as well. They went on to preach and lead boldly. Here’s the principle then: serving others in the name of Jesus Christ not only brings help and hope and healing to them, but it also brings light and love and life to us.
I don’t suppose I will ever get over reading the story of Thelma Perkins, her husband, Ray, and their adopted daughter, Alice. But then I don’t want to get over it. I want that story to stay with me, and I want it to stay with you as well. Thelma Perkins is a fully devoted follower of Christ who wanted to serve others in her life. At age 38, with her three children grown and gone, she went back to school and became a nurse. She works at the neo-natal unit of the University of Tennessee Hospital in Knoxville. One morning when she arrived for work, she was aware that something was wrong in the unit. Hushed voices, averted eyes, scurrying feet told her that there was an emergency. One of the nurses pointed to a particular bassinet and said: “Thelma, don’t look. It’s not a pretty sight. A baby was born without a face. No eyes, nose, or mouth. Just a shapeless mass of wet mucous membranes where the face ought to be.” But Thelma did look. She said: “This poor baby was so tiny and vulnerable that I couldn’t help crying for her.” Then Thelma checked the baby and discovered that apart from her face, she was perfectly healthy. And then Thelma said to the rest of the staff: “I don’t want to hear anymore talk about this baby’s appearance. Her name is Alice. She has a purpose in this world, and we are going to treat her like any other newborn child.” Those who tended to Alice did their job, but did it uneasily. Only Thelma cooed and talked to the baby and picked her up and cuddled her. The child’s mother was an 18-year old who couldn’t face the challenge Alice created, and so she signed the baby over to the state. It was then that Thelma told her husband, Ray, about the baby. Ray is a carpenter, but he has the heart of another carpenter, Jesus. He said: “Let’s take her on.” And they did. They adopted her. Over the next 6 1/2 years, Alice underwent twelve operations where plastic surgeons gradually created a semblance of a face. Nothing could be done about her eyes, so Alice remains blind. But apart from that, the love and devotion of Thelma and Ray have given Alice hope and life. They taught her to walk. They taught her to speak. They taught her to identify shapes and objects by touch. Best of all, they taught her about Jesus. Alice’s future will always be filled with problems, including social rejection. Interestingly enough, children accept Alice more easily than adults. At Sunday School one morning, a woman seeing Alice for the first time blurted out: “Who’s that monster?” A little girl standing nearby said: “That’s our friend, Alice, ma’am. We love her a lot.” Then she took Alice by the hand and the two went running and skipping and jumping down the hall into class. Of course, I love what Thelma and Ray have to say. They say: “Alice may be the best thing God has given us. She surely has given us a reason to live.”
There it is. When life that limps meets life that lifts in the name of Christ, the result will always be life that leaps. “And Peter took the lame man by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. Jumping up, he stood and began to walk, and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And the people recognized him as the one who used to sit and ask for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple.”
You know, maybe that’s why they called it “the Beautiful Gate.”