Did the Pastor Say “Cigarette”?

February 25, 2008

Yes, he did.  In case you missed it, the word was uttered during last Wednesday’s Bible study.  I was telling a story about a lady whose first act following conversion was to smoke a cigarette.  I was making a broader point — a profound point, I am sure — which probably no one remembers now.  Anyway, like most conversion stories do, the story of the lady who met Jesus and then lit up touched me.  Perhaps you will be encouraged by the story too, especially as you think about people you are longing to see saved.  Here is Linda’s story…. 

My wife, Leeann, and I were serving dinner to friends.  The phone rang.

“Hello, Mack.  It’s Linda.”  I heard highway noises mixed with the sound of my sister’s strained voice.  I can always tell when she calls from her car phone.

“Are you busy?” she asked.

“No, not really,” I lied.  “What’s up?”

“Well, I was wondering if I could, umm, pop over?”

Linda is a successful accountant.  She works with a CPA firm.  Order and discipline mark Linda.  Popping over is not her style.  For all I could remember, this was the first time in her life that she had asked to pop anywhere.  Something was wrong.

“Sure, we’d love to see you.  Is anything the matter?” I asked.

“Well, I just had a bad day at work.  I haven’t been home.  I don’t even feel like going home.  I had a tiff, well, an argument, really, with the other partner and I . . . I just need to get out of town.”

We used the time with our friends to pray for my sister.  I didn’t say much new.  I had been praying for Linda almost two decades.

An hour or so later I opened the door to greet her.  Linda was standing on the front porch finishing her cigarette.  Her Mazda RX7 convertible glistened under the streetlight behind her.  She looked edgy.

“Come on in.  Our guests are about to leave, and Leeann wants to get the kids ready for bed,” I said.

Linda spent some time with her three nephews while Leeann and I said goodbye to our friends.  Then, when Linda and I were alone, I started probing.  “Tell me what’s going on.”

 She sighed and then said, “I don’t know . . . bad day at work, I guess.”

“Is that all?”

She started softly, “No, not really.  I feel so confused.  I feel all jumbled up inside.”  She sighed and looked out the window.  “After the divorce I decided I was going to make some changes in my life.  I’m really trying, but it . . . doesn’t seem to be working.”

Linda stopped twisting the absent ring on her finger and folded her hands.

“I’ve started going to church.  I even like it . . . sometimes.  I just don’t understand a lot of . . .”  Her voice trailed off.  She looked out the window.  She was blinking back tears now.

“What else?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t know.”  Now as she talked she opened and closed her hands.  “I’m trying to read my Bible.”  She gave a sad laugh and rolled her eyes.  “It’s like reading the phone book.”

I smiled.  “What else?”

Then it happened.

“Oh!” she almost shouted.  It was the sound of someone wounded, of someone who is carrying agonizing news.  “Oh,” she said again, now crying, “I’m just so ashamed of my life.”  She looked up at the ceiling and then buried her face in her hands.  “I’m just so ashamed of my life,” she whispered.

The pain in her sobs was piercing.  Tears were in my eyes now too.

I managed to choke out, “Linda, please, let me tell you about the One who came to take away our shame.”

“I’m ready.  I really am.  I guess that’s why I’m here,” she said.  “I’ve watched you guys.  At first I thought it was some kind of show, but you guys are different.”

“Linda, the place to start a new life is with Jesus.  It’s very hard to make sense of the Bible, or of church, or even of our own lives if we don’t know Jesus.  Has there ever been a point when you turned your life over to Jesus and gave him permission to run it?”

She said, “No, I don’t think so.  I do believe that he’s God.  But I don’t think I’ve ever given him my life.”

“That’s the place to start, then,” I said.

“Okay, I’m really ready.”  She clenched both hands now.

“There are some things I want you to understand before you do.  Is that all right?” I asked.  She nodded.

Linda and I went through a simple summary of the gospel: God, People, Christ, Response and Cost.  It really could have been any kind of outline, because it was not technique or fancy words that propelled Linda but the Spirit of God.

Then I said, “Let’s talk to God together.  You can do that silently, or I can pray a prayer that you can repeat, or you can say your own prayer.”

Linda said, “I think I need to say it aloud.  But I don’t know if I have the words.  If you pray aloud I’ll . . . I’ll make the prayer mine.”

Our prayer was kin to my own first prayer years before.  Linda did make our prayer her own.

“Lord, we have made a mess of life,” I started.

“Lord, I have made a mess of my life,” she repeated.

“Lord, we are grateful for your death on the cross,” I said.

“Lord,” Linda was now saying each word forcefully, “I’m so grateful for your death on the cross.”

To the sounds of my sons splashing in the tub upstairs — and angel choruses higher still — Linda stated a simple prayer of rebirth.  Elapsed time: maybe fifteen minutes.  Effect on time: all eternity.

When Linda looked up, tears were hanging on the end of her nose.  She said, “Man, that was intense.  I need a cigarette!”  Then she gave me a flustered look (me being the religious one in the family).  “That’s not right, is it?” she asked.

“Well, let me say that you might start looking to Jesus, not me, for answers to questions like that.  I do have a recommendation, though,” I answered.

“Tell me.”

“You’ve got a lot of things to work on in your life.  I would suggest that you pick just one area to start with and give it to Jesus.  I have a hunch that it might be bigger than smoking.”

Motivated by her nicotine fit, Linda nodded her agreement and smoked another cigarette on the front porch.  It was her first act as a new Christian.       

(Excerpted from Speaking of Jesus by Mack Stiles.  Mack goes on to tell how his sister became a faithful follower of Jesus.  And, yes, she eventually quit smoking too.) 

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