It all started in my Junior year at college, at the 1979 Peach Bowl in Atlanta, Georgia. I was walking into the stadium with my college roommate’s family, elated to watch our Baylor Bears take on the Clemson Tigers.* As we walked into the stadium, there were models sporting long fur coats, passing out FREE packs of cigarettes (I’m not joking!). Of course, I politely declined their offers. However, right behind me, my roommate’s dad, took a pack! “Rev. Bailey! What are you doing?” I asked in disbelief. We walked on about for a few seconds, and he dropped the pack into a trash can. He explained, “I’m happy to waste their money.”
Ever since, I have occasionally followed this practice, but I have not discarded my contraband. On my bookshelf, you will find my free copies of: The Book of Mormons; The Little Book of Buddha; The Bhagavad Gita; Science, Health, and Keys to the Scripture; and the Al-Qur’an (it’s an English translation, so it can’t be called the actual Qur’an). My favorite collection of freebies, however, is kept in a drawer. It includes a miracle prayer cloth, miracle water, a pack of wheat flour, miracle rose petals, and seeds from the olive trees where Jesus prayed in the Garden of Eden (“the very trees that only God Himself could have kept alive for more than twenty centuries”). Three of the last five came from the same faith-healer. As my grandad used to say, “If it’s free, take two.”
There’s a wonderful little “gotcha” that when an advertisement says something is free, the product must be given away upon request. The product cannot be withheld just because the requester fails to donate. Requiring a donation, in exchange for the gift, would be SELLING the product. That would mean sales taxes need to be collected and delivered to the state. I’ve frustrated more than one telephone operator (who was “standing by”) with my ready response. “No, no donation. Just send the gift my way.”
But what if the “gotcha” was reversed? What would happen if these same people came after me? What if they came after you? What if they turned the tables on us and asked what WE have to offer? Would we have something ready? Would it be truly free? Would it be of any value? What would you and I say? What do we have to offer from our lives, from our faith, from the Bible, from our churches, from our denominational affiliations?
I think my immediate answer would involve “authentic relationships.” Of course, I’m talking about a real relationship with Almighty God, acquired when one makes the conscious decision to follow Jesus as Lord. I’d include the Christian community’s ability to create significant relationships with other humans, as well. In fact, I find the human quest for a relationship with God and others supplies THE answer for what pastors should focus on in ministry. It’s all about relationships, relationships, relationships. People need relationships that make them better, that tell them when they’re wrong, that stand with them when things are bad, that rejoice with them when life is good. Such relationships don’t come with a promise that there will be no physical, mental, social, or spiritual problems. Authentic relationships come from those who stick with us—God, family, true friends—whatever circumstance we are in.
Now, what about you? How would you answer the “gotcha” question? What do you and your church have to offer?
*Baylor 24, Clemson 18