It felt like two massive giants were in heated combat inside me. The one simply had to have that piece of pie, and wanted it right now. The other kept reminding me of my own judgmental thoughts just a few moments ago, of others doing what I longed to do.
Several times a year our church congregation has pitch-in dinners, usually scheduled on Sundays after church. Since our meeting place is located in a relatively poor district, many of our congregants are below the poverty threshold, so naturally there’s always a big turnout whenever we serve food. It’s billed as a covered dish affair, but we understand many of the people can ill afford to contribute, and for that reason they’re not required to bring a dish. This usually lays the burden of feeding two-hundred people onto a dozen or so of us, yet we are happy to see everyone’s belly get full.
It was always the same ones: scrambling to be the first in the food-line and heaping up take home containers before everyone has had a chance to get something to eat. They’d be the same persons who attended worship service simply to qualify for a free bag of groceries at our weekly food pantry, usually making an appearance half way through the sermon. It always irked me when they’d disruptively enter the sanctuary by passing between the speaker’s lectern and the first row of pews. I’d have to remind myself: Grace—remember to give them grace.
At the dinner I just shook my head while watching Helen wrap up several pieces of fried chicken to stow in her oversized tote bag. My thoughts were: I bet that bag is filled with everything she could get her hands on. She might even be the one who’s been swiping rolls of toilet paper and paper towels from the woman’s bathroom cabinet. Who in their right mind comes to church to steal?
But Helen wasn’t the only one with a bad case of the gimmies (give me this and give me that). We had several of the same ilk. Yet witnessing a number of those same people transformed by the love of Christ was exciting and is more than an equitable exchange.
I had waited until most of the people had been through the self-serve row of food laden tables before filling my own plate. A few folks were already visiting the dessert counter, which was separate from the food tables. We have a rule that we must wait until everyone is fed before grabbing the highly coveted desserts, and then we’re limited to one dessert each, until everyone has had some. As I scooped up a slotted spoon full of fried green beans I was observing Helen over there at the dessert bar.
Then I spied it: my weakness, pecan pie topped with whipped cream. There were lots of different desserts but only one pecan pie, and two pieces were already gone. I’m not accustomed to the temptation of greed, and so was not on guard for what took place inside my own lustful little heart. I wanted a piece of that pie! And if I waited, like we were supposed to, there was a high probability that I’d miss out on my favorite dessert altogether. Complicating my dilemma, was the fact that I was the one who’d suggested the dessert rule in the first place, six years prior. Oh, I had convincing rationalizations: If everyone were obeying the rules there’d be no problem, but they aren’t. Why should I be the one to suffer?
Obviously my head was clouded by the powerful lust for pecan pie, or else I’d have understood the foolishness of that thought. Suffer? Because I don’t get a specific type of dessert? Somehow I don’t think that qualifies as suffering for the cause of Christ.
Oddly enough, by the time I ate my plate full of food I was no longer hungry and so the power of that pie had waned considerably. Then after packing down a second helping of Grandma Nancy’s savory meat-loaf there was no more pecan pie left. Surprisingly, I didn’t much mind missing out on it—I was stuffed.
But by then the memory of my previous judgmental thoughts began convicting my conscience. And adding fuel to that fire was learning what I’d missed at the last board meeting. It seems in my absence to perform a different ministerial duty, my fellow elders had forgotten to fill me in.
The building committee and trustees had decided that changing paper towel and toilet paper suppliers, along with the dispensers, we would save considerably. And what was left of the old supply would be donated to Grandma Nancy, our most beloved widow. The bathroom supplies had not been stolen as I’d assumed.
Guilt rolled over me like a steam roller. There I was, falsely accusing others, and judging them for their greedy lust, when I was the one being lustful (for pie). It wasn’t even three weeks prior that I’d taught what I felt was a profoundly insightful Sunday school lesson on judging others. My previous feelings of spiritual superiority was yet another sin. Lust, judgment, pride—I was the one who needed to confess and repent.
Later in my prayer closet I poured out my heart to God and was very grateful to again receive His forgiveness. The joy of my heart was like a cleansing tsunami of awe.
“Oh Lord, you are so wonderful and good to me. Your grace truly is amazing! I don’t know how you can forgive me so many times, yet you do. Thank you Lord Jesus for your righteousness. Please help me to have gracious thoughts toward others and to forgive as readily as you do. In Jesus name, amen.”