What would you do if you were Jimmy? You’re caught in a dilemma because your best friend is a hood. Riff-raff. Wrong side of the tracks. Your parents say you can’t visit him. And he’d do just as well to stay on his side of town, too. But there’s something special about him; that’s why he’s your best friend. He doesn’t have much, but he does have heart and passion.
And a cheap, second-hand guitar he doesn’t even know how to tune.
You come from a good family, with something of a pedigree. You live in one of the music capitals of America, and your cousin is a famous country musician.
Maybe you can still be his friend - this kid some people called “white trash.”
Maybe you can introduce your friend to your cousin. Maybe your cousin can cross the tracks in your place.
That’s what Jimmy did. He asked the cousin to meet with the boy, and the cousin agreed. There on a lane near the house, the singer showed the dreamer how to tune the instrument, then showed him a few basic chords. It wasn’t much. But the kid wasn’t looking for much. Just an opportunity, a chance.
What did you do if you were Jimmy? And you just introduced your cousin to the best friend your parents forbade you to visit?
You just played a role – a bit part – in the transformation of a culture.
You just made a difference in the life of Elvis Presley.
What if You Were the Hood?
Shift gears a minute. What if you were Jimmy, and you were the hood? What if you were minding your own business, on your side of the tracks, and you found your friend’s parents – mugged, robbed, injured? For all you know, they could blame you. God knows, they’ve certainly blamed plenty else on you.
It’s your moment of opportunity.
What would you do?
Did I mention that they are racists, and you’re, well, a race?
What would you do now?
Did I mention that if they weren’t beaten unconscious and left for dead, they’d just as soon die as take help from you?
How about now? Is that your final answer, Regis?
Want a little more drama? What if I were to tell you there’s a pretty good likelihood that the muggers are still in the ‘hood, watching you? Or that the cops are probably on the way, and that if they catch you kneeling in that pool of blood, you’ll do the time? Come on, Jimbo. Walk away. You don’t owe them anything.
Except to love them.
To invest in them.
To introduce them to Somebody you know, who can help them.
Where to Find Your Investments
Being a LifeVestor means learning to spot opportunities. I once heard of a sculptor who had created a unique human-like figure called “Opportunity.” The artist had chiseled a covering of hair where the statue’s face normally would have been. On both feet were wings. He explained that its face was hidden because we seldom know opportunity when he comes to us. The wings on his feet represent the sad truth that opportunity is soon gone, and once gone, cannot be overtaken.
The worst time to talk about opportunities is after they happen. The problem is, many of our opportunities come disguised as something else. I wonder how many opportunities you have encountered lately that came disguised as problems. Or people. Or difficult decisions. Or disappointments. Or delays. Or disease. How many of those opportunities did you seize?
“But I don’t have many opportunities,” you say, “only obstacles.” Did it ever occur to you that opportunities and obstacles are two sides of the same coin? As that coin turns, sometimes the opportunity lands face-up, and sometimes the obstacle does. But it’s rare that you will have one without the other. Every opportunity has its obstacles, and every obstacle has an opportunity sitting close by.
Go back to that thinly-veiled modernization of the Good Samaritan story. It’s filled with clues about where you can find your opportunities to invest in eternity. But to find them, you’ll have to look where even the pros in religious life don’t notice, or don’t care.
Start with one of my favorites – interruptions. The priest and the Levite in Jesus’ story no doubt had good reasons for not stopping. But so did the Samaritan. He had a family too! He was busy too! Probably a little afraid, too! But he was willing to be interrupted – to have his own agenda suspended for a greater need or opportunity.
The needs of others. There you’ll find opportunities galore. Those whining little kids of yours? When they see in you a willingness to care for their little troubles today, then they’ll bring their really big troubles to you when they’re teenagers or adults.
Born out of compassion (which means “to suffer with”), the Samaritan did what was necessary to heal the hurt. In this case, it was a physical wound; sometimes LifeVestors heal emotional wounds, sometimes the wounds are spiritual. Sometimes they act or speak up for those who have no voice of their own, who have suffered injustice. Sometimes they just meet needs, however servile or unbecoming the task may appear.
Believe me, nobody thinks it’s glamorous to clean up someone else’s vomit, or someone else’s broken heart. But you’ll find opportunities anywhere you find a need. And in the process of serving the need, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce them to your famous Relative – and I’m not talking about a country musician.
Did I mention the ultimate opportunity to touch a life? Did I mention forgiveness?
We’ve whitewashed the word “Samaritan” today. In the first century, people said it through their teeth. To be Samaritan was to be hated by any self-respecting Jew. You were a half-breed – a nobody at best, loathed and hated at worst. You were a first-century hood. So you learned from birth to hate back. To invent your own religion, theology, morality, and sense out of life. Who needed Jews anyway?
But what happens when the people who have hurt you now lie hurt? Doesn’t it serve them right? Aren’t they getting something they somehow deserve? Doesn’t God want somebody else to help them – somebody with the same skin color, pedigree, theology, or language? Somebody who actually likes them?
No, he wants you. Hurt feelings, wounded pride and all. He wants you to bridge the gap, to meet the need, to give the money, to finish the job. Not for somebody who deserves it. But precisely because they don’t deserve it.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t be forgiveness.
Where’s Your Focus?
Some people only see the obstacles. Like the children of Israel on the edge of Canaan, they live as though God has only told them part of the story. I guess they’ve been burned, disappointed, or lied to by the world just one time too many. They can see a rainbow and be sure it’s raining somewhere! They don’t need the devil, the world, or even the Lord to make them miserable. They’ve already done a pretty good job of it themselves.
Others only see the opportunities. These likable but naive folks would charge hell armed only with a water pistol and a smile. They are often unprepared for the battle or the disappointments that lie ahead, and the results are devastating.
Here’s how Paul approached it: “a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries”(1 Corinthians 16:9).
He saw both. Soberly but faith-fully. Decisiveness guided by alertness.
Keep your eyes open. Really open. The opportunities are everywhere.
But they don’t stay around long.