“Poured Out Like Wine”
Stories of service motivate us. Paul aimed to inspire the Philippians to greater commitment when he told how Jesus emptied Himself (Phil. 2:7). He even talked about how he was poured out (Phil. 2:17). The stories of Timothy (Phil. 2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25-30) echo the same inspirational note. Even in our own day, people continue to pour themselves out in service.
Stricken with polio in infancy, Jim Hakes now limps, but he still earns his living in the factory and serves in the church. While members of a congregation in Milwaukee years ago, we used a thirty-minute break between Sunday School and the morning assembly to meet visitors over a cup of coffee. Month after month, Jim Hakes made the coffee. Over that coffee, I struck up many conversations with seekers which led to deeper discussions of Christian faith and conversion. Those new Christians often thanked Jim Hakes for lubricating their walk to Christ.
One January Sunday, we woke up to eighteen inches of snow. While the radio reported closed roads and canceled services, our congregation remained open. We left early, took the cleared highways, and reached the building. My task was to shovel the sidewalk that led to the main entrance. I will never forget finally opening the door. . .and smelling the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Jim had walked—limped—two miles in eighteen inches of snow, hours before the roads were plowed, to prepare the coffee.
It wasn’t just the coffee pot that was emptied, it was a life poured out like wine. Inspired by the One who emptied Himself on the cross, he gave himself in service to the Christ.
Ira North told of bringing ten year-old Eddy into the Madison pulpit one Sunday morning in the late 1950s. He asked Eddy if he had ever been to a Church of Christ before. “No, sir.” Ira told him that the church loved everybody, and they loved him. “Eddy, you’re as welcome here as the President of the United States.”
After North sent Eddy out of the auditorium, he told the church about his conversation with the juvenile court judge. Eddy’s crime was that he was unloved, unwanted, and uncared for.
“Brother North,” the judge said, “I’m going to have to send Eddy to reform school just to get him off the street. Nobody gives a hoot about Eddy.”
Then North looked into the eyes of his congregation as said, “As you get in your big fancy cars and go to your big fancy houses where you have your fancy clothes, I want you to think about Eddy. I’m not against nice cars, big houses, or fancy clothes, but what about Eddy?”
As North preached, Madison member Perry Underwood leaned over to talk with his wife. Then in the middle of the sermon, he jumped to his feet.
“Hold on, Brother North, Eddy has a home,” Underwood declared. “We’ll take him until you build a children’s home.”
That was the beginning of a church that poured itself out for the poor. They started caring for children on the church property. Women of the church made clothing for poor children. Retired men opened a furniture repair shop and painted a sign on the tailgate of the church pick-up truck: “Madison Church of Christ. Dealers in faith, hope and charity.” In the 1960s, that pick-up truck often arrived at the scene of tragedy before the Madison Fire Department. A lost world took notice, and soon one hundred people per year were being baptized into Christ.
But more than one church benefited from that story. Ira North talked about Eddy and Perry Underwood all across the nation. Other congregations listened and poured themselves into children and helping the poor. The story of what happened at Madison reminded them of the One who emptied Himself at the cross.
In late April 1997, I called three people to the front of our third service at Highland Street Church of Christ in Memphis. One was ten year-old Levi Dillard. He had come that day to commit his life in service to Christ. He was baptized minutes later.
Then there was Kenny White, who had just been honored in Memphis as First Tennessee Bank’s Adult Volunteer of the Year. He had organized an aluminum can recycling effort at the bank’s branches, collected three tons of recycled metal, and raised $3,000, which the bank donated to our congregation’s school store, an on-going effort to provide poor children with school supplies. Because of people like Kenny, 34,680 disadvantaged children received all the pencils and paper they needed.
The third person was a grandmother, Betty Dollar. She quit her real estate job, sold her house, and moved to Ukraine where she worked from morning into the night teaching the Bible and visiting orphans. Through her efforts, a new church was taking root in that former communist nation. She only had come home to Memphis to make sure her cancer was still in remission.
There I stood, with three great servants of God. Then a wonderful thing happened. The congregation started to applaud, then rose to their feet in unison. For five deafening minutes, they honored those who deserved honor.
Those three people had poured themselves out like wine. The church, moved by their dedicated service, recognized that we all stand in the shadow of the cross where Jesus emptied himself in the greatest model of service in history. That story, and the examples of all who follow, move us to selfless living, to be poured out like wine.
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