Back in 1997, I was the pastor of a small church in Rogers, Arkansas, but one that was big enough to require two services, and I also taught Sunday School in between. Late one Sunday afternoon after a full morning of church that included a lunch with some parishioners, I settled down to watch the second of two professional football games--having missed the first one. The late one featured my beloved Dallas Cowboys. In 1960, when the Cowboys were first formed, one of the quarterbacks was Eddie LeBaron who lived in Midland, Texas, where I was in high school. Dad knew him and introduced me, and I was a Cowboy fan for the next forty years or so. Anyway, the game was entering the last quarter with my Cowboys ahead by just a field goal against my hated Redskins when the phone rang. The Redskins were about to score a touchdown which would put them ahead and I figured I had done enough religion for the day and deserved some rest, but after a significant pause, I sighed and muted the sound of the game and answered the phone. It was a complete stranger who told me he was nearly suicidal and needed to talk. I was about to refer him to a suicide hot-line when he told me I was the third Methodist pastor he had called—that the other two couldn’t be bothered. As most of my discipleship is reluctant anyway, when he said that, I reluctantly turned off the television and listened to him for over an hour. We made an appointment to talk at the church the next day.
When I hung up, I turned the tv back on only to learn that my team had won with just three seconds left in the game (this was before TIVO that was invented by pastors—I think). I was a little miffed, but I wasn’t about to be the third Methodist pastor in a row to turn the man down. He came in the next day and we talked some more. He was separated from his wife who was into witchcraft and the separation had estranged both himself and his wife from their sixteen-year-old daughter who was living with a relative. He started attending my church, brought his wife after a year or so and I began counseling the two of them. Over the next several years, his wife gave up her witchcraft, and we had a little ceremony of her burning all her witchcraft books and paraphernalia— of course this was on a Sunday afternoon and I missed another Cowboys game, but this time the choice was much easier. Eventually, they reconciled, renewed their marriage vows at the church and their daughter came back to live with them.
The day this man called me, he was the head of security for Wal-Mart (and was a former CIA agent) and his wife ran an occult shop that sold witchcraft stuff. Seven years later, he was a United Methodist minister and she was the head of Habitat for Humanity in the New Mexico town where he was serving as a pastor. The daughter went on to attend Yale University on a full scholarship. This is not a story about the man and his wife and daughter. It is the story of the man who reluctantly was obedient to his calling and turned off a football game to listen to a stranger in need of a friendly voice. It is a story about being available and obedient which is all God asks of us. It was nice that the story had a rather happy ending over the years, but even if the man had committed suicide the next day—that had nothing to do with the moment when I turned off the tv set because that was the moment I was available and obedient and that was what counted.
God calls us all to be obedient and available and it is not always convenient or comfortable to answer His call, but that is the measure of our spiritual life—not how many times we attend church or how many committees on which we serve. We offer ourselves to God and like Abraham (God sent Abraham to a far country and sent Karen and I to Africa), we do so with a faith that calls us to be obedient and available. Most often we are not to know the ultimate result of our obedience, but had Karen known, she still would have gone—as would I. We are not all called to move to Africa, but we are all simply called to do what God counts on us to do. Answering God’s call, even reluctantly, is still answering God’s call.