by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa

June, 2003

Across the street from us, there’s a house being built. One morning recently, our next-door neighbor came out her front door and found a portable chemical toilet sitting in her front yard. She immediately called the people who had delivered the toilet, and told them that they had until 5:00PM to move it or she would move it herself. Later that day, when she got home from work, the toilet was sitting across the street where the construction was taking place. I don’t know if the people who delivered the toilet made an honest mistake or whether they simply assumed that our neighbor “wouldn’t mind” if there was a toilet in her front yard.

There’s a story about a King who had a boulder placed in the middle of a roadway. The king hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock. Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers saw the stone and simply walked around it. Many complained loudly, and blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but none of them did anything about getting the stone out of the way. Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded. After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway. The peasant learned what many of us never understand: An “obstacle” can present an opportunity to improve our condition. It’s not enough to merely see the toilet in the front yard; you have to do something about it.

The religious folk of Jesus’ day thought of him as an obstacle, an annoyance, and a “toilet in the front yard.” He challenged their assumptions and confronted their presumptions. They certainly didn’t see him as an “opportunity.” They were accustomed to thinking of themselves as “special” because they studied the scriptures, and were the descendants of Abraham (John 5:39; 8:33). But instead, Jesus told them they were “. . . slave[s] to sin.” (John 8:34b NIV.) He told them they were counting on their exclusive status instead of obeying God, and that they were not acting like true children of Abraham (John 8:39b-41a). He also told them they wanted to kill him rather than listen to him (John 8:36b). John writes that, as a result of this, they began to plot against him, looking for a way to get rid of him (John 11:45-53).

Jesus was the quintessential fly in the ointment, the boulder in the road, the toilet in the front yard. Paul wrote that the message of Jesus is “. . . a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,” (1 Cor. 1:23b NIV). Paul’s own encounter with Jesus left him literally blinded (Acts 9:1-8), and changed him from Saul, the man who had persecuted the church (Acts 8:2-3), to Paul, the man who defended it with his life (Acts 14:19).

An encounter with Christ transforms us. It must. We can’t find a toilet in the front yard and go on about our day as if nothing were out of the ordinary. (At least I hope it’s not normal for you to find a toilet in your front yard.) In the same way, we can’t come “face to face” with Jesus and remain as we were. James wrote that “Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” (James 1:23-24 NIV).

Somewhere, someone needs to have an encounter with Jesus. Someone needs to walk out the front door and find a toilet in the front yard. It might be someone you know. He or she might be waiting for you to point him or her down a “Damascus road,” to where he or she can have a life-changing experience of his or her own. It might be as simple as sitting in a church and listening to someone read aloud from the great words of faith, as John Wesley did. It might be a special hymn. It might be a particular testimony. He or she might need to hear about your own encounter with the risen Christ. You can help him or her find the road to salvation.

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Cor. 1:22-24 NIV.)

Copyright © 2003 by David Phelps