This was a story my pastor at church told on Sunday. What an amazing illustration of how words are powerful.
Many years ago, a seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One morning, they were eating breakfast at a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished- looking, white- haired man moving from table to table, chatting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.”
But sure enough the man eventually did amble over to their table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked in a friendly voice. “Oklahoma,” they answered. “Great to have you here in Tennessee,” the white- haired stranger said. “What do you do for a living?” “I teach at a seminary,” the professor replied. “Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well I’ve got a really great story for you.” And with that the gentleman, uninvited, pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple.
The professor groaned and thought to himself, Great. Just what I need— another cheesy sermon illustration. I bet I’ve already heard it. The old gentleman pointed out the restaurant window and said, “Do you see that mountain over there? Not far from the base of that mountain there was a boy born to a poor unwed mother. He had a very hard time of it growing up, because every place he went he was always asked the same question. “Hey boy, who is your daddy?” The identity of the illegitimate child’s father was a mystery the town gossips were constantly trying to solve.
So, whether he was at school or at the grocery store, people would ask him the same question— “Who’s your daddy, son?” Sometimes the question came innocently from a stranger. But usually it was asked out of meanness and spite. Regardless, he heard that question wherever he went. And he dreaded it. He would hide at recess and lunch time from other students. Many times he would avoid going out in public because those words hurt him so badly.
On Sundays, the boy would always go to church late and slip out early in order to avoid the disapproving stares and the dreaded question. Then, when he was about 12 years old, a new pastor was assigned to his church. And on that day, the pastor finished the benediction so quickly that the boy got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. Just about the time he got to the back door, the preacher saw the unaccompanied child, put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Hi there, son. Who is your daddy?” A sudden hush fell over the exiting crowd. The boy felt his face flush as he sensed every eye in the church looking at him. How would he answer? Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question. The mystery would be solved.
This new pastor instantly sensed the awkwardness of the situation and, following a prompting from the Holy Spirit, quickly followed his question with these words: “Wait a minute,” he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance now. You are a child of God.” With that he took hold of the boy’s shoulders, looked him square in the eye and said, “Son, you have a great inheritance. Go and claim it.”
A smile bigger than anyone had ever seen flashed across the boy’s face. And he walked out the church door a changed person because of the words that were spoken to him that day. From that day forward, whenever anybody asked him about his daddy, he just told them, “I’m a child of God.” The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, “Isn’t that a great story?”
Touched by the story, the professor admitted, “Yes, it really is a great story.” As the old man walked away, he turned and offered one final comment. “You know, if that new pastor hadn’t told me that I was one of God’s children, I probably never would have amounted to anything.” And then he walked away. The seminary professor and his wife were stunned and deeply moved to learn that the man had been speaking of himself.
They called the waitress over and asked, “Do you know that older gentleman who just left our table? Who is he?” The waitress grinned and said, “Of course. Everybody knows him. That’s Ben Hooper, the former governor of Tennessee.”
Our words have to power to wound and the power give life. Make sure you are giving life to all you see today.
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