"Armed Robbery and Emmanuel"

I was taught a valuable lesson about being the “Emmanuel” of God by an armed robbery.

Between March and August, 2011, I worked in a jewelry store owned by my neighbors. They hired me while I got back on my feet and started building the foundation for Dwelling 1:14. During my six months at the store, I never did find my mojo as a jewelry-guy, but I got to know the staff and became friends with many of them. I got to know their stories and they got to know mine.

Of course, most of my story is wrapped up in being the husband of Susan; the father of Amanda, Emilie, and Ellen; a pastor for 20+ years; and a follower of Jesus. Some of the staff embraced me right away. Some were unsure of the “new pastor guy.” I had to prove I was there not to sell religion to them, but jewelry to the customers. And eventually I did.

Even though I never got the hang of selling jewelry, as the months passed I began to gain the trust of the rest of the staff by at least trying hard and being willing to laugh at myself. And even though I wasn’t selling religion (or, more likely, because of it), I eventually found myself having spiritual conversations with most of them. I did that not by being a pushy or clever Jesus-salesperson, but by being a watchful Jesus-follower. I simply watched and listened for what Jesus was already up to. I would ask some questions, do some listening, offer some encouragement or insight or, sometimes, prayer. I was surprised when they began jokingly referring to me as “the Pastor of Lewis Jewels and Timepieces.”

When the day came for me to resign my position so I could lead Dwelling 1:14 fulltime, I was leaving a group of friends. And, after that, I would make it a point to regularly stop in to say “hello” and stay in touch. Which is why I was so concerned when I got the phone call from my owner-friend a couple years later. The store had been robbed at gunpoint. Shots had been fired. The armed robber had been wounded. Everyone was fine. But no one was fine. They had shut down the store for a couple days to clean up the damage. “But could you come by?” my friend asked. “I think everyone needs some encouragement and prayer.” We set it up that I would come the next morning.

When I arrived, the store itself was almost back to normal. But the staff was not. They were trying to be brave but their eyes were still haunted. Fear remained close by. My friend gathered his staff. The store became a sanctuary. I gave them words of grace and encouragement. We held hands and prayed in the name of Jesus. It was good. It was reassuring. It helped.

Then my friend made a little announcement. “For the remainder of the morning Greg will be available to talk with you in the back office. Feel free to come back. Take as much time as you need.”

Everyone headed back to work and I headed back to the office to await the first person. And I waited… and I waited… I had waited about 15 minutes when I realized no one would be coming to me in the office. I wasn’t sure what was going on, so I decided to go back out into the store and see. I went up to the first lady I saw and just asked her how she was doing. For the next several minutes she poured out what she had experienced the day of the robbery, what her thoughts had been, and what her feelings still were. I was able to repeat several of the things I had said earlier to the group, but this time it was to her personally. There were tears, there were smiles, there were hugs.

I spent the next couple hours going from person to person doing the same thing.

What had I learned? I call it “the Lesson of Emmanuel.” I could have waited all day for the people to come to me in the office and nothing would have happened. But, as soon as I went to them – and was with them – the words and feelings and healings began to flow. They just needed someone to come to them. To be with them. To ask. And then listen. When all the “bad stuff” from inside got out, then the “good news” I had to share could be heard and get in.

Of course, “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” And Jesus is Emmanuel… literally. He is the “with us” God. He is God made flesh and dwelling with us. And as the Father sent him, so he now sends us. Because Jesus is inside of us through baptism, we are now Emmanuel… literally. We are the body of Jesus living in the neighborhood, heading off to work, attending classes at school.

And we are sent. Not to sit in offices waiting for hurting people to come to us, but to go out to them and see how they’re doing. Allow me to repeat: Not to wait for them, but to go to them. To be with them.

That’s what an armed robbery taught me about Emmanuel.