“If any human serve Me, let them follow Me.” John 12:26
Today I like to tell you a story that I heard several weeks ago. Let me begin by saying this is not original, and its truth lies with you and me. At the end of the story you will be given an option to where you want to go from here.
“A minister sat on his front porch, rocking in his rocking chair. The heat was almost unbearable. It was 104 degrees in Topeka, Kansas, that day during July, 1896. There was this Reverend, rocking away with his notes in his hand. He was trying to come up with a new way to get people to come to the Sunday service.
Reverend Charles M. Sheldon sat there and wrote away. He was writing chapter by chapter. I don’t think he realized what he was doing at the time. But he was writing a truly great book. It was to be a best seller that would sell 32 million copies. Only one book outsold the book he was writing on that front porch that day, and that’s the Holy Bible. The book was to become, In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon.
He started to write about what he knew about – church life and being a minister in a church. So in his book he created a minister that would be able to say things to his people, to people across the country, (and years later in every foreign language), that he could not say himself. The minister he created was Reverend Henry Maxwell of Raymond.
This was a Saturday afternoon. If a minister’s talk is not written by this time, he or she is not at ease [believe me – this is so true]. Things are a little tense because you wonder what is going to happen if you get to Sunday morning and you stand up there without a lesson prepared. What are you going to do? You’re going to stand there and the congregation is going to stare at you. Many may come a long way, and they expect, and they deserve, something that will uplift and inspire them.
Sometimes, ministers have weeks like this. It gets so busy they are not able to work on their talk until late Saturday. This was the way it was with Henry Maxwell of Raymond. He was working on his sermon which was based on the scripture 1 Peter 2:21 which is, “For this you were called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps.”
He sat there in his study on the second floor of his house. He had gone in there because the house was just too busy that day. There was too much commotion, too much noise. His wife wanted him for something every other moment, so he closed the door behind him. His wife came up and said, “Dear, I’m going to the kindergarten to help out for a couple of hours. Him him You’re going to have the house completely to yourself.”
He breathed a sigh of relief. In a few moments, he heard the screen door close. Then he thought, “Finally, I have some peace and quiet.”
He began to write. He was just beginning to flow with the ideas, and he heard a knock on the front door. He said, “Oh no. I hope they’ll go away.” But the knock came again. Pretty soon he went to the window and looked down. To his surprise, it is a tramp standing at the front door. The knock comes again.
Slowly but surely he comes out of the room, goes down the steps and opens the front door. The man is very dirty. He is holding his hat in both hands. His hair is all tangled and dirty. His clothes are all torn. He stands at the door and says, “Sir, do you have any work that I can do? I’ll do anything.”
Reverend Maxwell says, “I am so very sorry for you, but I don’t have any work for you to do here.”
The man says, “Well, do you know of any work here in the town that I could do?”
Henry Maxwell says, “No. I’m sorry.”
So, the man puts his head down and walks off the front porch. Henry Maxwell stands at the door almost like he can’t leave. He looks out the door and watches the tramp go down the way. Actually, he feels a bit ashamed, but he’s glad the tramp has gone because now it is peaceful and quiet again and he can go upstairs to work on his sermon. He goes upstairs and begins to work again, and he completes his sermon.
Sunday morning arrives in Raymond. This is the first nice Sunday morning they have had in weeks.
Reverend Maxwell expects a large group at his church. His church is the leading church in Raymond.
Many of the well-to-do attend. Everybody who is anybody comes to First Church, (his church), in Raymond.
That morning he gets up to deliver his sermon. He delivers the sermon like he has never delivered a sermon before. People expect that of Henry because he is the type of minister who has a dynamic delivery. He begins to close his talk with a prayer. At that moment, something happens–something that had never happened before at First Church. Someone in the very back gets up and starts to talk.
The church is completely silent. They are perplexed. They don’t know what to do. I want to read to you the words of what happened next.
The gentleman who stands up is the tramp who came to the house. He says, “What did He mean when He said, ‘Follow me’?” About that time he turned around and looked right up at the pulpit. Henry Maxwell said, “It is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps. His steps are obedience, faith, love and imitation.”
The gentleman then said, “What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus? I’ve trampled through this city for three days. I’ve been trying to find a job. In all that time, I have not had one word of sympathy or comfort except from your minister who said he was sorry for me and hoped that I would find a job somewhere. I suppose that is because you get so imposed upon by the professional tramp that you have lost interest in the other sort. I’m not blaming anybody. I’m just stating the facts.
“Of course, I understand that you can’t go out of your way to hunt for jobs for people like me. I’m not asking you to. But what I feel puzzled about is what is meant by following Jesus. What do you mean when you sing the hymn, ‘I’ll go with Him all the way?’ Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves trying to save the lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did? What do you mean by it?”
“I see the ragged edge of things a good deal where I am. I understand there are more than 500 men in this city just like me. Most of them have families. My own wife died just a little while ago. She is out of trouble now and I’m glad she is. My little girl is staying with a printer’s family who still has work. But somehow I get puzzled when I see so many Christians living in such luxury and singing, ‘Jesus, I my cross have taken all to leave and follow Thee.’
“I remember how my wife died. She died in a tenement in New York City. She was gasping for air and asking God to take the little girl too. Of course, I don’t expect you people to prevent anyone from dying of starvation or lack of proper nourishment or tenement air. But what does following Jesus mean?”
“I understand that Christian people own a good many of those tenements. A member of a church was the owner of the one where my wife died. I have been wondering if following Jesus all the way was true in his case.”
“I heard some singing at a church meeting the other night. They were singing, ‘All for Jesus. All my beings ransomed powers. All my thoughts and all my doings and all my days and all my hours.’ As I sat on the steps outside this church this morning wondering whether I should come in or not, I kept wondering what that means. Does it mean there should be a new way to follow Jesus? It seems to me there is an awful lot of trouble in the world. Somehow it just wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing the songs went and lived them out.
“I suppose I don’t understand, but what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps? It seems to me sometimes as if people in big churches had nice clothes and big houses to live in and money to spend on all the luxuries, could go away on summer vacations and all that, while the people outside the churches, (thousands of them), die in tenements, walk the streets for jobs. They never had a piano or a picture in their house. They grew up in misery and drunkenness and sin.”
The man then stood silent for a moment. He gave a lurch to the side, and had to balance himself on the front pew of the church (where he had walked to while he was talking). His grimy hand landed on the communion table. He stood there bracing himself. He kept saying over and over again, “I don’t understand.” About that time, very unexpectedly, he fell forward and passed out.
Reverend Henry Maxwell came to the front and said, “This now concludes the church service.” He quickly went down to the man. Many people then gathered around him. They were ashamed. They wanted to do something to help this man because he had come to their homes and businesses earlier in the week and obviously he had not eat him en well for weeks. They wanted to do something, anything, but they didn’t know what to do.
The man did not regain consciousness that day. The minister took the man home and put him in the bedroom upstairs. Every night for the whole week he stayed up with that man. The doctor would come in and see the man, but the man kept failing. The whole church was concerned about the man’s welfare. It was the talk of all Raymond; this man they had let slip through the cracks.
The man was failing badly. He woke up for a brief moment to ask about his daughter. The Reverend held his hand and said, “We have sent for her. I found her address in your papers. She’ll be here tomorrow morning.”
The man said, “Oh, I will never again see her in this lifetime.”
About then, he turned his head and closed his eyes. The doctor said, ‘He’s gone.”
There was silence in that house. There was silence in that minister. He thought about what he had said following his, ‘His steps,’ sermon so many times, “but what does that really mean?” It doesn’t mean to be ordained or to be licensed to minister. It means to go beyond that in daily life. But what did it mean in his life?
He had been very busy that whole week with the sick and dying man, and he did not have time to write a sermon. For the first time in his career, he had no sermon at all. He stood up before the people and he did not have one note. He just talked from his heart about what had happened the past week and how much it had changed his life. And he hoped and prayed that others’ lives had changed too.
At the end of his talk, he said, ‘I’m making a major change in my life. I have decided, from this moment on, and I pledge to you that I will do this for one year, I will not do anything without first asking, and ‘What would Jesus do?’ It’s going to change a lot of things. More than that, I’m asking you to take this commitment with me. Before you do anything, I’m going to simply ask you to ask the question of yourself, ‘What would Jesus do?’”
Then he closed the service. He said, “If anyone’s interested in talking more about taking this pledge, stay after church.” Pretty soon, the church emptied out. He didn’t see anyone left in the church. As he was walking back to his study, he was thinking about the Bible verse over and over again: “He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.” When he opened the door to his study, he was surprised because the leading people of Raymond were in his study – fifty of them.
He went in and the first person he saw was Edward Norman, the editor of the Daily News. He took the pledge. And over the next year, he started with editorials telling people about what he was going to do, and then he started to cut news stories from his newspaper that Jesus would not put in there. The people that worked for him thought that he was crazy because he was going to lose all of his subscribers. They said, “How can you do something like this? Have you lost your mind?” But he continued to ask the question before he put in any story or any advertisement, “Would Jesus do this?”
Then, it came to him in prayer that Jesus probably would not put out a Sunday newspaper. He would want people to be in church. But they said to him, “Sunday is our biggest day of the week. We make our most money on Sunday.” He said, “I have to ask the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’” He canceled the Sunday newspaper.
There was another man in Reverend Maxwell’s study—Alexander Powers. He was a pillar of the community. He worked with the railroad shops. He had dreamed for a long time of building a stockroom so that everything wouldn’t be so crowded. But before he put stock in the stockroom, he had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” The answer came. Jesus would create a place for the good of the workers. In 1896, this was unheard of.
So, he put tables and coffee pots in there. The workers never got to church, so he would have different people come in during the week to speak to the workers about positive subjects for fifteen minutes at a time. The workers loved it! They loved him for doing it. They were even more loyal to the company than ever before.
But we read about Alexander Powers as the year goes on. One day Alexander Powers opened up his desk to check his mail and found a letter that should not have been delivered to his desk. It should have been delivered to the freight department. The letter was opened. As he read the letter he didn’t mean to read, he learned his company was in violation of interstate commerce laws. He said, “Oh no. Here I am in this lofty position. I’m not even supposed to see this. If I send it in inner-office mail, no one will ever know I saw it. I’ll keep silent. These things are impossible to prove. No one will ever find out and everything will continue as it has been.”
Then he remembered he made the pledge. He had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” He sat there, put his head in his hands and had one of the worst nights of his life. In time he resigned. In time, because he took that action, he was able to reform the railroad companies that were so crooked in that year.
There was another person in the study – the soloist of First Church. Her name was Rachel Windslow. She was beautiful. She had a gorgeous face and a gorgeous voice; so much so that she was offered a job with the national opera company. She was so excited. But then she had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do? Would He take this job?” She went to the minister and asked, “How do I know?” The answer is that the inspiration has to come through you. You are the only one who can tell what Jesus would do in your life today. You are the judge. You put that Jesus standard in your life and it will work for you.
She decided not to accept the job. Instead, she went down to the worst section of town and began to have tent meetings for the men down there. We’ve heard about these men before. They are the 500 men in the community with their families living in the slums. She started to provide positive messages for these families so they could lift up their lives. She gave her life to that for the next year.
Another gentleman in the study was a businessman who was not only tops in Raymond but also around the country. His name was Milton Wright. He called the minister one day and said, “This is what I believe in my business now.” Yes, he would continue to engage in his business, but to do so for the purpose of glorifying God by employing people to help them build their lives and to help build the city and finally to reach out to his customers to create a relationship with them.
This changed a lot of things in his business dealings. It changed a lot of the activities he would have gone through in a normal day. This commitment changed him and the others for the better.
The one year was over. They looked at the town and saw much that was still very wrong, but there was much that HAD been changed. The politicians, who were filled with corruption before, were changed by people who decided to get into politics who had pledged to do what Jesus would do. They took over the leadership of the city.
The people in that town changed not only their town but the whole world. They met at the church to look at what had happened. People questioned, “Is this it? It’s worked so well here. What’s going to happen?”
There were two ministers there that morning. They had come to examine the phenomena that were happening in Raymond. They were a bishop and a minister from the largest congregations in Chicago, Illinois. They wanted to take the experiment with them to Chicago. They did, and hundreds of people decided to take the pledge.
The bishop and the minister decided to resign from their lofty, luxurious positions. They moved to the slums of Chicago and built a place called, The Settlement, to help people; to give them a new perception of what life could do for them.
In about a year or two, Henry Maxwell, decided he would pay a visit to Chicago. He spoke to the men about what happened at Raymond and at The Settlement. After he spoke, the men who were so downcast were invited to speak and give their opinions. One man stood up and said, “Your story was very, very close to me because I knew Jack Manning.” About then, the minister’s eyes and the eyes of this young man froze on each other, because Jack Manning was the man who died that afternoon in the upstairs of the minister’s house.
The man in The Settlement said, “Jack was a good man. It was just that nobody would give him a chance. He was laid off and he couldn’t get work.” The man said, “I worked by his side for two years in a print shop and I have not been able to get work again either. None of these men have been able to get work. We’re good people. We just need a chance.”
That afternoon, a telegram came for Reverend Henry Maxwell. He was invited to speak in the largest church in Chicago. He said to himself, “I can’t do it. I’m a good minister, but I’m not good enough. I can’t go there and stand before thousands and thousands of people. I just don’t have it in me.” Then he had to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” He went.
He said he had never been so afraid in his whole life. But he talked about what happened in Raymond. He talked about the commitment of taking the pledge. Then he talked about the change that occurred in peoples’ lives and in all the lives around them for good. Thousands of people came forward to change, not only their lives, but the lives of those around them.
“He that says He abideth in him ought himself also to walk even as He walked.”
Yes, we’re talking about a fictional story this morning are we? But stories that change lives are not really fiction, because these stories become real inside of us.
Each one of us needs a standard to base every action on. We need a yardstick. We need a guide. We need a measure. The Bible says, “Whosoever forsaketh not all that he hath, he can’t be my disciple.” This is forsaking your outer senses, or wants, to go in another way.
“Every day we hear about commitment in the church-world. We hear people saying, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior” I’m asking you to accept Jesus Christ as your Way show -er. There is a major difference. One has you sitting at the feet of the Master, looking up. The other has you walking in His steps. True Christianity is a way of life”. It says in the Bible, “If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (daily) and follow Me.”
The Bible says, “If any human serve Me, let them follow Me.” It also says, “Be there for imitators of God as beloved children and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you. He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness. What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.” We say to God, Master I will follow you wherever you go. He says to us, “Righteousness shall go before you and you will follow in the way of my steps.”
From Daily Word, entitled, “Free”. “Today I claim the freedom to choose my path and make the right decisions for my life. Sometimes I may be tempted to act according to others’ expectations. At such times, I check with my inner wisdom and ask for the ability to discern which choices are best for me. …….”
Today, I’m talking about asking in your own individual lives, before you make some decision in the remaining months of 2015,
“What would Jesus do?”
Give yourself power by having a Divine standard in your life. You will never go the wrong way. Righteousness will follow you.
God Bless You!