Get Off My Place!
The young pastor and I were visiting in a rural community in a western state. As we approached a ranch house and parked, he told me we might not be well received. We ambled across the yard toward the livestock corrals to meet the tall rancher with my usual greeting, “Howdy, Howdy.”
I learned his name and began the conversation asking about his cattle, horses and the hay crop. We had been warned that he might be combative, but he seemed friendly enough, so I assumed he might be “more bark than bite.” After a few questions and comments, I decided to launch into the real reason for our visit so he wouldn’t think we were just killing time. “Mr. Jones (not his real name), are you a Christian?”
We were standing side by side, facing the livestock. He wheeled around facing me, his face turning livid. “That’s it,” he snarled, “you’ve gone too far . . . now get off my place!” Thinking I might still salvage the contact and pacify him, I stood my ground and spoke up sharply, “I’m sorry, Sir.” He pointed toward the car, scowling with sudden rage. Then he spun on his heel and stomped away cursing loudly, reiterating the command, “Get off my place!”
Growing up in the west, I am acutely aware of how territorial these rugged men are. My mind flashed back to the story of my Granddad sitting on the chimney of the old log house with a 45.70 rifle ready to enforce his property rights over a dike he built for irrigation. Granddad fired a warning shot, but I knew I had already received my warning from Mr. Jones.
I started toward the car, but then realized my apology might be misconstrued. Turning to face him again, I said, “Sir, I’m sorry I offended you, but I can’t apologize for asking if you’re a Christian.” This only enraged him more. The pastor was several paces ahead of me, moving rapidly toward the car. I remembered he had warned me that the man was known for violence. His rage reminded me of other unreasonable men I’ve known, who dominate others by their intimidating wrath. Instantly, but with sadness, I admitted to myself that my time had expired.
Turning on my heel, I began walking toward the car, my back to my antagonist. I prayed that he would honor the western code of conduct and forego his opportunity for an ambush. I never looked back, knowing that if I faced him again he would interpret it as a challenge to his authority.
He moved in rapidly, closing the gap between us. I could hear his approach, breathing hard between curses. Then he grasped my shoulders and picked me up, shoving me forward. I landed on my feet and kept walking without a word, never looking back.
Through the years, I prayed for him and wrote to him, begging him to receive Christ as his Saviour. His son was a deacon at the church where I preached that week. As far as I know, he never repented of his hard heart of unbelief.