Frank Blunt didn’t believe in anything good, maybe not even himself. Christmas came for each of his 38 years on Earth, but he had seen nothing to persuade him that it was anything more than greed that drove the gift-giving season. He reasoned that giving only happened when there was an expectation to receive something in return. Frank didn’t believe in the general goodness of the men and women he had contact with every day of his life in the insurance business. Even as he interacted with clients, he could see the greed as they bickered about a dollar here and a dollar there. He was sure people didn’t want to simply give things away for the sake of giving – there was an additional motive in each case.
Frank didn’t care for rich people who seemed to flaunt their wealth and only allow the occasional crumb to fall to those who really needed it as they lived behind walls protected from anything the world might do to infiltrate their wealthy lifestyle. Greed indeed.
But he also didn’t care for poor people. Why couldn’t these people get a job? They would rather beg for money on the side of the road than find a real job that required some commitment to be punctual and contribute to society. It was greed in a different form, he thought. They didn’t want to endure the inconvenience of responsibility. It was lazy greed.
The people who irritated him the most were those Christians. They claimed to be motivated by a mystical being who lived 2,000 years ago in the form of a man called Jesus Christ. Seriously? he thought. It seemed pathetic to him that adults would believe in fairy tales. Still, Frank was sure they were motivated by the need for recognition for the things they would do to help others. It was still greed, only fed through a need to feel less guilty about who they were.
Frank Blunt believed in Frank Blunt, good or bad. It was all he could count on.
Frank’s sister, Joy, had tried numerous times over the years to break through his shell of skepticism. She feared that she had never made a dent or created so much as a pinhole. The shell had proven to be very durable over the years. Still, Joy had prayed thousands of times for Frank and his salvation. If God could soften his heart even a little, maybe he could see that most people were not what he thought them to be. As Christmas approached, she asked God to give her a pick to break through that shell.
But as soon as the Christmas related conversation began, Frank would retreat to his shell and defend his feelings vehemently. “Christmas is about giving, Frank.” Joy would say.
“Yeah, sure, I know, just so people can help other people and make them feel good, right?”
“It’s more than that, Frank. God gave us His son – the most incredible gift ever given. On Christmas we celebrate that gift, in part, by giving to others. But we also simply remember the gift and celebrate what God did for us. Imagine giving your son. Can there be anything more gracious than that?”
“Oh, here we go again!” Frank said. “Christmas is all about greed, not some sense of benevolence. If you don’t believe me, just look at how people act on Black Friday. Last year, someone was shot in a dispute over a toy. The year before that, a 62-year old woman wound up in the hospital because she was trampled at the door because people had to get to those big screen TVs that were on sale. If that is the giving spirit, then I don’t want any part of it.”
Those words triggered a thought in Joy’s mind. The “giving spirit” she thought. She had an idea.
She asked, “So you think there is really no such thing as the ‘giving spirit’ as you called it?”
“Of course not.” Frank said. “Giving is easy when you know you’re going to get something in return. It’s a guiltless way to accumulate more stuff. Nobody gives things away without some expectation of a return on their investment.”
Joy said, “I have a proposal for you, Frank.”
“Yeah, what is that?”
“I want to challenge you to give something away.”
“Easy – as long as it’s not my stuff I’m giving away.” Frank said.
“Okay, so here is my challenge: I will give you $100 to give away, but there are stipulations to who and how you give it away. First, you can only give away five dollars at a time. No matter how much a person may need, you can only give them five dollars. You can give them less, if you like, but no more than five dollars per person. Second, you have to give the money to someone you believe needs it. There has to be some reason, justifiable or not, that you give the money away. Third, anyone you give money to has to be someone you have never met before.” Joy finished, “What do you think?”
“I think that’s an easy assignment. I don’t see the point, but if it will make my baby sister happy for me to give her money away, I’m more than happy to oblige.” Frank said sarcastically, “And, you will see that the world is full of unappreciative, greedy people. I may get a thank you or two, but only because it is the polite thing to do. In the end, you’ll be out $100, and nothing will be different. But I have one stipulation of my own. Once I’m done, for the rest of this year, you can’t try to convince me that people are good or that there is some guy named Jesus who I need to get to know better. Deal?”
“Deal!” Joy exclaimed. “I’m willing to take the chance. You only have to promise me that when Jesus shows up, you will acknowledge it.”
“Okay. If the 2,000-year old man shows up, I’ll let you know.” Frank retorted.
The next day Frank found himself wondering how he had gotten into such a strange situation. How exactly would he identify people who “needed” the money? Where would he start? He had already been to the bank and exchanged Joy’s 100 dollar bill for 20 five dollar bills. Twenty people, five dollars each. This should only take an hour or so, he thought.
Downtown. How many times had he been approached by people who were living on the street and asked for spare change? He could capture all twenty of those “needy” people in a few square blocks. That would be the most efficient avenue to shut his sister up for the rest of the year.
As he drove to the parking lot, he identified four vagrants, as he liked to call them, along the way. He parked the car and immediately saw a group of three men huddled in the corner of the parking garage. They were sitting on upside down buckets and seemed to be joking with each other. It seemed clear that they were only there because they were trying to keep warm by staying out of the wind. Their clothing and demeanor persuaded him that they may be homeless. They would qualify for a hand out according to Joy’s rules. Frank approached them and asked them if they would each like five dollars. One of them looked at him and said, “What’s the catch?”
He said, “No catch. Five dollars in the spirit of Christmas.”
“Just for free?” They asked suspiciously.
“That’s right.” Frank confirmed.
“Well, how about $20 then?” Another asked coyly, confirming Frank’s paradigm of a greedy world. Here he was giving money away, and it just wasn’t enough.
“No, just five.” He reached into his pocket, peeled off three five-dollar bills and handed them out. They guys high-fived each other. He might be done in less than an hour at this rate. As he walked away from the group he mustered up as much sarcasm as he could and said, “Merry Christmas!”
He left the parking facility walking north and found a lady on a bench laying under some cardboard trying to sleep. There was a shopping cart filled with her belongings next to her. The cart was tethered to her arm by a rope tied around her wrist. Why would people choose to live this way, Frank thought. He approached her and said, “Ma’am? Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure.” She said suspiciously.
“Could I interest you in a five-dollar bill?”
“Oh, no thank you.” She said firmly.
“Seriously? You can’t use five dollars?”
“Of course, I can. But I haven’t done anything to deserve it. I can’t just take your money.”
“What if you consider it a Christmas gift?”
“But you don’t even know me. Why would you give me a gift?” She had not received a Christmas gift in two years.
“I insist.” He took another five-dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to her.
She looked at the bill as if it were priceless. A tear formed in her eye and a smile on her face as she said, “I prayed for this. God has sent you to me, I’m certain.”
Frank knew the truth, that his sister had sent him. He elected not to vocalize that fact, and even wished he could give her more money. But rules were rules. Again, he said, “Merry Christmas,” only this time much less sarcastically, and it may have even felt good to say it this time. He had found the one person who appreciated receiving a gift. What were the odds, he thought.
He moved on and began to realize that the homeless were more difficult to find than he had thought. He walked a few blocks before seeing a man just ahead who was going from one pedestrian to another asking for money. This one would be easy. As he approached the man, he was anticipating the question. Only the question was different than he thought it would be. The man said, “Could you buy me some food. I haven’t had anything to eat today.” So much for the rumor that all of the homeless are alcoholics looking for their next drink.
Frank said, “How about if I give you five dollars and you can go get something to eat?” He handed him the bill looking deep into his eyes as they brightened with the news.
The man smiled and with heartfelt gratitude he said, “Oh, thank you so much, sir!” Frank smiled back at him and again said, “Merry Christmas.” That one felt pretty good.
As Frank was about to walk off the man said, “Sir, may I ask you a question?”
Frank thought, why do you have to ruin a good interaction by forcing me to have a conversation? But instead said, “Sure, but I can’t give you any more money.”
“Oh, that’s fine. Sir, are you an angel?”
Frank didn’t know what to say. He didn’t believe there was such a thing as an angel. “No.” He said surprising himself with his calmness. “Why do you ask?”
“Well, it just seems that you are different from everyone else I see on the street. You looked at me like I was somebody. Most people are always trying to do anything but make eye contact with me. They hope that I won’t approach them. I wish I didn’t have to, but I don’t know what else to do. But you are different. You seemed to be eager to help me. I thought maybe you were an angel sent by God to help me. Anyway, thank you so much for your kindness. Have a Merry Christmas!”
Suddenly those the words “Merry Christmas” rang in his head. He had wished these poor down and out people a Merry Christmas. What did they have to be merry about? He was going to go home in an hour and sleep in a warm bed tonight while these people would sleep in the cold or in a room with fifty others in a shelter somewhere. But this guy just wished FRANK a Merry Christmas. The seemingly incongruous phrase was not lost on him.
As he walked around the town, he had many more similar interactions and conversations. He began to feel more comfortable speaking with these people. With each one, he felt a little more compassion. He didn’t know why these people were living the way they did, but one thing was sure – it’s not what they would have chosen if given a better and more comfortable choice. Most of them really had no choice. The thought of having to live on the streets began to run through his mind. He didn’t know if he was tough enough to do it.
Many of the conversations revolved around God and angels or other spiritual matters. If these people did believe in God, and it seemed clear that they did, why would they rely so heavily on a being that had left them in the circumstances in which they were living? But even as the thought came to him the answer bounced back quickly – what else did they have? God was allthey could rely on. Frank had never had so much compassion for people he didn’t know. For that matter, he had never had anycompassion for those he didn’t know.
By the time he had given out 17 of the 20 five dollar bills he had in his pocket he was losing track of time. He was enjoying the conversations and the idea of helping those who needed it. Sure, there were a few who were scammers and just looking for a few extra bucks. But the overwhelming majority of them were hurting. He began to hope that his words were soothing to them. He actually wanted to help. By this time, it had been two and a half hours, and the sun was going down. It was getting colder.
He approached number 18, an older thin gray-haired lady who was missing her false teeth. As he gave her the money, she asked if she could pray with him. He reluctantly agreed. If it would make her feel better, he was willing to go along.
She prayed, “Lord, thank you so much for sending this man my way tonight. You knew how much I needed it and you provided. I praise your name for your goodness. Lord, bless this man. I don’t know who he is, but You are surely using him tonight as Your servant. I pray that, even as he blesses those around him, that you will see fit to bless him with Your goodness and mercy. Amen.”
Frank thought for a moment and couldn’t think of anyone who had ever prayed with him alone before. Once again, someone with far less than most seemed to have something that he clearly did not. Though he had grown more compassionate through this process, he knew that if he were in their circumstances, he could not be as positive as many of them were.
“Thank you for that. I hope you have a Merry Christmas. Do you have a warm place to sleep tonight?” The words startled him as they fell from his mouth. What was he going to do if she said no?
But she let him off the hook and said, “I’m heading for a shelter in a few minutes. They don’t open the doors until 6 pm.”
“Great!” he said in relief.
As Frank turned in search of number 19, he noticed a man looking at him from across the street. He was clearly not one of the homeless he was looking for, but the man kept watching him. When he caught Frank looking his way, he waved and looked both ways as he crossed the street. He was headed straight towards Frank. “Oh no,” Frank thought as he wondered if he was someone of authority who was going to tell him that he couldn’t do what he was doing. Was he in some sort of trouble?
The man reached the other side of the street and said, “Do you have a minute, sir?”
“Depends what you want to tell me.” Frank said with more than a hint of suspicion.
The man continued, “My name is Wilbur Rexhall, the third. I have seen what you have been doing for the last hour or so. Are you giving money to the homeless in this community? Because that’s precisely what it looks like you are doing.”
Growing more suspicious, Frank said, “Why is that any of your business? You’re not with the police department, are you? I’m not doing anything illegal, am I?” The questions kept coming to him and spilling out of his mouth.
“Oh, no sir! I own three businesses downtown and I spend a lot of time people watching. I couldn’t help but notice the very deliberate way you were walking from one person to another, not only giving them money, but taking time to speak with each of them for a couple of minutes. In the 30 years I have been around here, I don’t believe I have ever witnessed such a display of individual generosity.”
Frank was put on the spot. He knew his motive for doing what he was doing had begun in a far from charitable way. He was only trying to prove something to his sister. Still, he had softened his stance considerably by this time. He was much closer to the right motive by now, but he was still looking for number 20 so he could get in his nice car and drive to his warm house.
“Well, just trying to help those less fortunate than myself, you know.” Frank said, immediately feeling guilty for the way he took credit for what he was doing. It wasn’t even his money he was giving away!
Mr. Rexhall asked, “Do you own a house?”
What an odd question, Frank thought, but answered, “Yes sir. It’s about ten miles from here.”
The stranger continued his line of questioning. “How much money do you owe on your house?”
“Well, that’s kind of a private matter Mr. Rexhall. Is that what you said you name was?” Frank was sure to reply in a manner that said, “Back off, mister!”
“Yes sir. Wilbur Rexhall, the third. I suppose it is forward of me to ask such a question out the blue, so let me explain. The Lord has blessed me far beyond anything I could ever have expected. I grew up poor and spent some time on the street, just like the people you have been talking with this evening. I’m not going to live forever, and I can’t take all that money with me. I would like to pay off your mortgage sir, if you would allow it.”
WHAT? What did he just say? Frank wondered if being out in the cold for a couple of hours could alter your hearing in some way. “Excuse me?” He said.
“I’m terribly sorry if I have offended you in some way. I only wanted to return the kind gesture that you are so graciously offering to these people.”
“No, I mean, seriously, what did you just ask me?” Frank said, still trying to gather himself.
“I’d like your permission to pay off your mortgage, sir.”
That’s what Frank thought he had heard. “You can’t possibly be serious?” He asked incredulously.
“Well, yes sir, I am being serious. As I said, I have been so blessed by God, and I feel His urging to do this for you.”
Frank’s mind was going a million miles an hour. It was almost as if this man knew that he had been struggling to make ends meet lately. Although he was not behind on his mortgage, he had some bill collectors calling his house for other bills that were delinquent. Not having a mortgage payment would allow him to catch up every other bill he had due.
“That’s an incredible gesture, sir, but why would you do such a thing.” Frank asked.
“As I told you, I have a soft spot for the homeless. As a matter of fact, I own a small warehouse around the block that I open up every year when the weather gets cold so that the homeless have a place to go. I open it at six o’clock each night and serve them some soup or other small meal that can help them keep going to the next day. For many of them, the next day is really all they have to look forward to. I see myself laying on those cots, and I know that those nights are cold, and I appreciate the man who opened up his warehouse for me almost 40 years ago. Without that man’s generosity, I might have frozen to death on one of those cold nights.”
“I also think about Mary and Joseph under similar circumstances. They had no place to stay except for the generosity of a man who offered a stable as a warm place to stay for the night. To make matters worse, poor Mary was pregnant and about to give birth. The Savior of the world was born under circumstances not far removed from the homeless shelter of today. We never know who we help. It could be a young man who would wind up owning several businesses one day and he may decide to give back to those who helped him and those who are helping those who are like he once was. Or, it could be even bigger than that. The man who offered his stable had no idea that Jesus would be born under his generosity, but that’s what happened. No sir, you have no idea who you have helped tonight with your simple gestures of money and conversation. You may have changed someone’s life tonight. That, sir, is why I would do such a thing.”
Frank took it all in and was overwhelmed by it all. Every paradigm he had ever believed was being challenged in this moment. Poor people weren’t who he thought they were. Now, he finds out that rich people aren’t the greedy scumbags he thought they were. Even crazier, this man had him intrigued about that whole Jesus story, as crazy as it was. He wanted to know more.
“Do you really believe the Jesus story? It is so incredible that it seems impossible.” Frank said.
“It not only seems impossible. It was impossible – for humans! That’s how we know it was God Himself who wrote the story. Oh, I am certain of the authenticity of the story. Not only do I know it is true because of what He has done for me, but if you will spend some honest time looking at the facts, you will come to the conclusion that it has to be true. It sounds like you are not a believer?”
Frank answered, “Well, I like to think I’m a common-sense guy who thinks practically. It is awfully hard to square a virgin birth with scientific reality, not to mention being raised from the dead!”
Mr. Rexhall answered, “I completely understand. I was right where you are a long time ago. It didn’t make sense to me either. But that man who opened his warehouse for me all those years ago also gave me my first Bible. I was homeless and didn’t have much to do besides looking for a job, so I scoured that Bible looking for loopholes at first. When I could find none, I began to see the facts. Do you know that the prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of Jesus hundreds of years before it happened and with some detail I might add. If the Jesus story is not true, how did that happen? Yes sir, being practical will only lead you to believe in Jesus.”
So up is down and backwards is forwards, Frank thought. Everything he believed was wrong according to this man. He seemed to be a normal man. He had no agenda that Frank could see. In the span of a few hours, his entire life felt like it was changing.
Mr. Rexhall continued, “If you want proof of the reality of God, look no further than the fact you and I are standing here speaking. Do you think it is mere coincidence that I saw what you were doing this evening? Think about the conversations you had with those people this evening. Do you see God in any of those when you look at it from His perspective?”
“I don’t know what to say, sir. Yes, I do see where it is possible that a God could have coordinated what happened tonight, but it seems so crazy. Why would a God who could do so much be interested in me? I have done nothing but make fun of Christians for years. Surely, He has much better things to do tonight,” Frank concluded.
“No, Frank, He doesn’t. You see that’s the most incredible thing about God. He loves every one of us whether we love Him back or not. Tonight, you were the most important person on His mind, as were billions of other people. He knew this day was coming before you were even born. We can’t understand that in our finite minds, but it’s true. God has always been around you, but it looks like you can see Him tonight. Am I right?” Mr. Rexhall’s question pierced Frank’s heart.
Frank answered reluctantly, “It is hard to explain it any other way, I suppose.”
“Listen Frank, I can tell you’re struggling with the enormity of it all. But, that’s how God works. I see it all the time, and you will too if you choose to believe and live a life for Him.”
Frank said, much more boldly now, “Honestly, this has been the most incredible night of my life. I want to have more days like this one. How do I go about doing that? What do I have to do next?”
Wilbur Rexhall led Frank Blunt through several verses about God’s salvation plan from the book of Romans – aka the Roman Road. It still seemed impossible to Frank that he had felt so differently just a few hours prior, but after what he had seen and heard that night, he knew nothing was impossible with God.
Frank drove home and couldn’t wait to talk with Joy. He realized that he still had ten dollars of hers in his pocket. He didn’t complete his assignment – or did he?
When he walked into Joy’s house, he had the biggest smile she had ever seen. Oh no, she thought, he must have given away all the money and now he’s happy that he doesn’t have to hear any more about Jesus for the rest of the year.
“Sis,” Frank said, “I owe you my life.”
Startled by his comment, she asked, “What do you mean?”
“God didn’t just show up tonight, He showed off!” Frank exclaimed.
They talked about the evening for nearly two hours. Eventually, as the time ran off the clock, it was time to go home and go to bed. It was an incredible day that Frank would certainly never forget. It was difficult to fall asleep, but he did, only after saying a prayer before bedtime for the first time in his life.
At work the next day he was still giddy about the prior evening’s activity and the result of meeting an incredible bunch of people. He couldn’t stop telling everyone he met about what had happened. He wasn’t very productive as the world would measure it, but God doesn’t use the same measures as the world.
Lunch hour came and he used the time to check his e-mail. In the list of messages was a communication from a bank. He clicked on the message and was astounded by what he saw. As Mr. Rexhall had promised, it was an e-mail congratulating him for paying off his mortgage. In all his excitement, Frank had forgotten about the promise. But he had only told him his name and who the lienholder was on his home. How had he been able to complete the transaction so quickly? He thought he would need to give him more information if he was still going to insist on paying off his mortgage, but Mr. Rexhall was apparently a very well-connected man.
Frank wanted to personally thank him, not only for the debt release but more importantly, for changing his life’s direction. But in all the excitement of the moment, he never asked where his office was located. No matter – if he owned three businesses downtown, he would be able to find him.
Later, he went back to the same place he saw him the day before, but he was not there. He went inside several establishments, but oddly, found no one who knew him. Frank remembered the night shelter Mr. Rexhall opened. If he could find the shelter, he would almost certainly be able to find him. He went into one more place, and sure enough, a lady knew where the shelter was located.
He walked three blocks to the shelter, entered, and looked for someone who appeared to be in charge. He found a man who was helping to serve some food, waited for a break, and asked where he could find Mr. Rexhall.
The man asked, “Who?”
“Mr. Rexhall,” Frank said, “The man who owns this building.”
“Oh, you must be mistaken. This building is not owned by anyone with that name. I’ve never heard that name before.” The man seemed absolutely sure of himself.
“Well, that’s odd. No one seems to know who Mr. Rexhall is. Thank you for your time.” Frank said dejectedly.
As he began to walk away, he turned and asked, “What is the man’s name who owns this building if it’s not Mr. Rexhall.”
“His name is Gabriel. You know, like the angel. He prefers folks call him Gabe, though. Something about not wanting to draw attention to himself.”
All Frank could get out was, “Yes, that’s just like Mr. Rexhall – I mean, Gabe!”