He and I were staring at each other, standing ten yards apart in the middle of the road. He was studying me with narrow eyes, trying to catch his breath, holding my laptop. I guess I should tell you how we got to that moment.
In November of 2011, my wife, Joy, and I bought a fix-me-upper in an under-resourced section of Huntsville, AL, where we have since moved (July, 2012). The move is part of a nudge from God to simplify our lives and build more of our time around loving and serving people.
In January of 2012, my daughter, Rachel, and I drove from Connecticut to Huntsville to begin rehabbing the Huntsville house. In our first week, we rebuilt and re-shingled the roof, and then we began doing some work inside the house. Ten days later, Rachel had to fly home, leaving me to work on the house alone for a few days.
The day she left, I was working in the kitchen when someone called out to me from the back yard. I stepped out the back door and met a teenager who asked if he could use my phone. He had just gotten off the bus stop and needed to call his mom. I told him I’d be happy to call his mother for him, and I proceeded to get the phone number from him.
As I began to dial the number, things took an interesting turn. I heard a sound inside my house. I peeked inside the back door only to see a young man running out the front door with my laptop….full of important files…that I had never backed up. (I know, I know!)
I gave chase, my mind piecing together what was going on. Obviously, I had been set up, the guy in the backyard distracting me while the other guy slipped in the front door. My laptop guy darts down 8th street, which dead ends into a railroad track and then woods. If he gets to the woods, my laptop is probably gone forever. A video of the chase would be great youtube stuff—me running as fast as I can, repeatedly yelling: “I’ve got to have the files on that computer. I’m a pastor, and I’ve got to have that information.”
For whatever reason, he began to slow down, perhaps sensing an opportunity. I too began to slow down, in an effort to try and have a conversation. We both stopped…about ten yards apart…in the middle of 8th street. Then he said the words I don’t think I’ll ever quite forget: “What will you give me for it?” That’s right. He was asking me to give him money for my laptop!
Isn’t that ridiculous, negotiating with me for something that I actually own! He was acting like He owned my laptop! That’s absurd, of course, but as I think about it, I realize that I’ve done the very same thing. It was God who brought this up, in his own annoying way, an hour or so after my laptop chase. I have acted like I owned His stuff.
Have you ever thought about what God actually owns? Believe it or not, the Bible gives a detailed list. I’ll quote the list from the Bible: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (The Bible, Psalm 24:1, NIV) The list of what God owns: 1) the universe, 2) everything in it, 3) everyone in it. I’ll summarize: God owns it all.
My life, my time, and my stuff belong to God, but I have repeatedly acted as if they were mine to use any way I wanted. I’ll give to others in need if I want. I’ll forgive if I want. I’ll avoid porn on the internet if I want. As if my life and stuff were my own. It is as misplaced as a guy trying to sell me my laptop.
It can happen in other ways as well. “God, I will be generous with my money if you take care of my needs.” “God, I will change this relationship if you heal my sister or give me a job or (fill in the blank).” It makes me wonder just how often I have been the kid in the street, offering to sell God His own laptop.
O.K. back to 8th Street. I bought my laptop. I told him I had twenty bucks in my pocket. After a minute of fumbling in my pockets, I finally pulled out the crumpled bill, and he agreed to the exchange. Warily, he edged closer to me until he was three feet away. I slowly reached for the laptop, but he pulled it back, insisting that we exchange the bill and laptop at precisely the same time. I felt like I was in a movie.
I grabbed the laptop, and he snatched the bill, preparing to run. I asked him to hold up a second, figuring I had bought an opportunity to speak a word. “You’re better than this,” I told him. “Times are hard, man,” he countered. “I know they are, but you could have come up to my door and asked if I had work you could do. I’d give you work, you know.”
He stared at me–as if momentarily confused–and then bolted for the railroad tracks. And I began walking back up 8th Street to my home.