- Wednesday, May 15, 2024

“Let’s do something different.”

That’s what Pastor Ed Newton of Community Bible Church in San Antonio said from the pulpit one Sunday last month. The pastor immediately halted one of his sermons to offer an explicit example of what preachers and houses of worship are called to do: love the lost.

In an era when the nation is brutally torn apart by political antics, the Stormy Daniels-Donald Trump saga, the ever-intense debate over social issues, and other temporal matters, Mr. Newton’s actions offered a moment of pause for his congregation and a powerful blueprint for us all.

Video of the church service shows the preacher abruptly stopping mid-sermon after a homeless man named Anthony hurled an expletive toward the stage. 

It was a startling moment that left Mr. Newton and the church a bit stunned. After all, there were young ears in attendance and that kind of language isn’t typically permitted inside church walls. Thus, Mr. Newton gently rebuked the cursing — but with a compassionate twist. 

Rather than silence or ignore Anthony, he decided to stop and listen, engaging the man from the stage. And that’s when Anthony revealed something shocking that unfolded just before service. 

“I was going to kill myself,” Anthony said. 

This admission instantly changed the room’s temperature. And the story became even more intriguing when Anthony revealed a Community Bible Church member literally saved his life.

That man, named Michael, was at an earlier service before meeting Anthony that day and heard Mr. Newton give a sermon about the parable of the lost sheep. In that famous biblical story, Jesus told the Pharisees and teachers of the day about God’s love and penchant for every person — His willingness to “leave the 99” and go after a “lost sheep.”

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Luke 15:4 (NIV) reads, with verses 5-6 continuing, “And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

That message had a deep impact on Michael. As he drove home after the earlier service and pondered what he heard, he noticed a group of homeless men and stopped to get them food. Anthony, who was with the group, chatted with Michael and asked him to take him to church.

Again, a decision had to be made. Michael had already been to church that day and was likely ready to get home, yet this man in desperate need had an important request.

Michael selflessly headed back to Community Bible Church with Anthony. And that’s what led to Mr. Newton’s moment of pause. After stopping his sermon, the pastor, clearly deep in thought as he learned Anthony’s story and Michael’s kind act, sat on the stage and invited both men up.

That’s when Anthony offered up more specific details of his near-suicide, which he had initially shouted about from his seat. “I was about to run in front of a truck and kill myself,” Anthony revealed. “[Michael] saved my life.”

Silence followed. In those moments, it was clear something big was happening. The church was deviating from its normal routine and leaning in to meet and journey alongside this man. 

Mr. Newton, clearly overtaken by emotion, openly embraced Anthony, who was also in tears. The hug itself was another choice — a decision to show love to a homeless stranger without any conditions, fear or physical retraction. It was deeply powerful to witness.

“You are so loved,” Mr. Newton told Anthony, as he continued to hug him without hesitation.

At that moment, the congregation also had a decision to make: to watch with apathy — or take action. Members of the congregation started coming up to the stage to offer money to Anthony. And it didn’t end there, with Mr. Newton telling the congregation the church was committed to helping him get back on his feet. 

This is what true, unconditional love looks like. In those moments, more essential than a spoken sermon, more needed than music, was a quest to offer hope to someone in desperate need — a man who had, just hours before, planned to end it all.

For the Christian, this story is a clarion call to step up to the plate, to follow God’s promptings and to act in accordance. But, more broadly, it shows what can happen when one person steps out, looks outside themselves, and acts on behalf of others.

In a world torn apart by so much hatred and discord, Mr. Newton, Michael and the congregation of Community Bible Church offer hope to a beleaguered culture. 

The incredible story was made possible by simple choices: a pastor’s willingness to deliver a powerful message, a congregant’s compassion for the less fortunate, and a preacher’s decision to follow God over rigidity. Now, we can only hope and pray Anthony’s future changes, with the aforementioned steps paving the way for that possibility. 

In such a crazy climate in our culture, how can we each look for ways to do what Michael did? How can we take steps to ignite the flames of change in people’s lives and our society? That’s surely worth pondering amid the mess around us.

Billy Hallowell is a digital TV host and interviewer for Faithwire and CBN News and the co-host of CBN’s “Quick Start Podcast.” Mr. Hallowell is the author of four books.

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