We’d had numerous people picking up pecans off the grounds at the church where I used to work. I’d seen many of our members out there. One of our shepherds had been particularly zealous in his collection efforts, shaking the tree branches as well as using some type of extension tool that allowed him to reach up into the trees.
Then there were also people out there who weren’t members, but had some connection with the church. Maybe they came to Friends House (where we served meals daily), or our food distribution, or they were involved in some other non-member type of way. But there they were, out there picking up pecans like they were members. Even though they made no contribution to the church, they were helping themselves to the pecans like they helped pay for the property.
Finally, there were people out there that I’d never seen before. I guess they had driven by, seen the trees, and figured they’d just help themselves. They didn’t bother asking for permission. I guess they just assumed it was okay or maybe they didn’t care. Or maybe they felt like they were entitled to help themselves since it was a church. As you can tell, I got a little worked up over it. The truth is, I resented seeing people who made no contribution to the church picking pecans off the grounds without even asking anyone for permission. I had the same kind of feeling you’d have if you walked out into your front yard and someone was there kicking the tires on your car or reading your newspaper.
Since I couldn’t step outside the office without seeing someone out there, I was confronted with these feelings on a regular basis. I even found myself composing a mental list of reasons why they shouldn’t be there . . . They hadn’t asked permission . . . The trees (i.e., pecans) were church property . . . And I waited for the right moment to confront and convict them.
Before that happened though, I thought about it some more and I realized how pathetic it was for me to get worked up about such a trivial matter. The truth was, every tree and every pecan belonged to God, not me. At best, I was just a steward of it. And if someone needed the pecans, who was I to say they couldn’t have them? Isn’t this the kind of thing a church should do? Weren’t the Israelites required to leave the corners of their field unharvested? How could we do anything less with our property? And if someone was here picking up pecans, well maybe instead of looking at them as trespassing, I should look at it as an opportunity for me to do something for them.
So I tried this out one Saturday morning. An elderly gentleman was over in the yard by the office picking up pecans and I went over and said “hi.” We got into a conversation and he told me he picked up pecans wherever he could find them and then sent them to people who had asked him for them. He didn’t charge them anyone anything, it was just something he did for others.
Okay, new thought—maybe these people weren’t here for me to help, maybe they were here to help me!
It dawned on me later how my possessiveness toward the pecans was not unlike the possessiveness some of us show toward the church in our lesser moments. (When I say “the church,” I mean the people who belong to God. People who have believed the good news of Jesus and been baptized). We sometimes believe and act as if the right to be called the church belongs exclusively to the group of disciples who have a sign with the same brand name as ours in front of their building. No one else can be a part of that church and if they say they are, well, they’re just trespassing on our property. The problem with this view is that like the pecan trees, the church doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to God!
Elijah was afflicted with a similar problem when he was convinced that He alone was following God (1 Kings 19:10ff). He was sure everyone else had given into idolatry and prophet killing. Yet God ended up letting him know that the church was seven thousand times bigger than he thought (19:18).
This little piece is not about compromising truth of Scripture any more than Elijah would have compromised serving God for the idols of his time. What it is about is opening our eyes to the greatness of God and our smallness and inadequacy (at times), of our own understanding. Elijah was right in his opposition to the idolatry of his times but he was wrong in regard to his assessment that he was the only one faithful to God. God’s response (I reserve seven thousand in Israel), seems to suggest that Elijah’s assessment had didn’t take God’s power into consideration. Is it possible that we could be guilty of the same thing?
We’ll be content to leave the judging and assessing of such things to our Father when we remember:
The church belongs to God!