Once upon a time, I worked as a houseparent in a Christian agency, caring for troubled children. Several houses were located on the property, and each houseparent was assigned a different supporting church to attend with our wards.
In our house lived several teens and three rambunctious eight-year-old boys. The teens were as frightened as I was of our fellow worshipers, so they caused no trouble. But eight-year-old boys have the spiritual gift of squirm. It was like trying to focus on worship while keeping a live squirrel in a paper bag.
One Sunday, two of them, Nathan* and Duane*, plagued one another throughout the solemn proceedings. I scowled. I pointed fingers. I tried to channel my mother. All to no avail. Suddenly, just as the ushers presented the collection at the altar, the two boys exploded, pummeling one another so hard they rolled out of the pew and into the aisle.
I leapt from my seat to intervene, but for several horrifying moments, I became a huffing participant in their irreverent scuffle. Finally, two men who looked like God’s secret service detail came to my aid, picked up the pugilists by the backs of their necks, and plunked them firmly into our hardwood pew.
Throughout the sermon, I fumed as the boys, finally sensing my fury and knowing they’d pushed too far, sat as stiffly as young boys can possibly sit, seemingly enrapt in the pastor’s message. In the final moments of the sermon, Nathan leaned over to Duane and whispered, “I have an idea. Do what I do.”
The one spark of passion the preacher managed to conjure weekly was when he issued a fervent altar call for all repentant sinners who wished to receive the forgiveness of Jesus. “Come forward to the altar,” he cried. “Be set free.” Before I could snatch at their shirts, Nathan leapt into the aisle, followed by Duane. Nathan wailed and Duane mimicked him, both boys weeping loudly as they walked toward the altar.
It was like a scene from a modern version of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The two repentant sinners were engulfed by weeping, rejoicing churchgoers, moved by the way the Holy Spirit had worked in these two rascally hearts. I barely endured the rejoicing that followed in the wake of two lost-then-found lambs before I dragged their forgiven backsides into our van and slammed the door.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I lectured them in the rearview mirror, “You do not accept Jesus just to get yourself out of trouble! Do you hear me?”
“Actually, Lori, that is kind of why people accept Jesus,” one of the teens remarked as the entire older crowd convulsed with giggles.
“I thought you’d be happy I found a way to get us out of trouble, Lori,” Nathan replied in feigned innocence.
“It really worked too!” Duane said, as he nodded.
The next week as we pulled into the church parking lot, anyone who heard my warning to the group might have had serious concerns about my passion for building the kingdom of Christ. “I don’t want to see even one of you accepting Jesus this Sunday. Is that clear? When he issues that altar call, you stay in that pew or you’ll face my wrath!”
Thinking back, maybe my young friends were more honest than many of us as we approach the altar. They knew they were in trouble. They didn’t want to face the consequences of the trouble they’d caused. They knew accepting Jesus would get them out of trouble. Sounded like a good deal, and they took it. An eight-year-old lives in each of us, one who sees the irrefutably great deal Jesus extends. We should let that inner eight-year-old walk us down the aisle.
I hope Duane and Nathan have decided to follow Jesus. If you haven’t yet, and you’re waiting for some noble motives to appear before you do—stop waiting. We’re all beggars at the altar of Jesus. We’re all guilty of brawling in the aisles, disturbing the worship of the Lord. We all want to escape trouble.
And we can. That’s the good news. Next time you feel the impulse to head down that aisle, don’t worry about your motives—just get there. Get to Jesus. No pure heart has ever knelt at the altar. In fact, that may be the heavenly inspiration for the announcement: “Cleanup in aisle three!” I’m one of those aisle cleanups. Are you?
*Actual names have been changed to protect the forgiven.
(Excerpted from Running from a Crazy Man by Lori Stanley Roeleveld, published by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Used by permission.)
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How about you? Are you an “aisle cleanup” too? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Lori Stanley Roeleveld
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Jesus lover. Storyteller. Disturber of hobbits. Making comfortable Christians continually late for dinner. Blogger. Wife. Mother. Part-time dragon-slayer. Not available for children’s parties. You can find Lori at her website, www.loriroeleveld.com, or on her blog, Deeper with Jesus in Rhode Island, or on her front porch, writing.