It's Real

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Joe Stump (yes, that's his real name) was the son of a pastor and theologian. Joe reached adulthood during the First World War and, like many of his colleagues, enlisted into military service and was sent to battle in France.

2. One day in the heat of battle, an officer approached Joe on horseback and asked where he could locate another officer. Joe turned to point the way and heard an enormous explosion. When he turned back, the horse was without a rider. The officer lay dead on the ground.

Heavy shelling burst out, and Joe threw himself down for protection. As he lay with his face in the dirt, he promised God, "If you get me out of this war alive, I'll become a pastor like my father."

When the war was over, Joe, true to his word, went to seminary, studied for the ministry, and was ordained a pastor. Within a few years he led a large congregation in Wisconsin.

Working diligently, Joe rose through the ranks and was considered one of the up and coming ministers of his denomination. But Joe had a problem: He had experienced God's protection, but he had not experienced the salvation of his soul. Consequently, the ministry brought him no joy or peace; it only made him deeply aware of his spiritual emptiness.

Joe was married to Nelda, whose mother was a fervent Christian who made things worse by saying things like, "Joe, you're a good preacher. You'll be a great blessing once you know Jesus."

The situation came to a crisis when one of his church members lay dying of cancer. Almost daily, Joe went to the man's home with a prayer book from which he would read a Scripture verse and a prayer.

Finally, as death approached, the man asked, "Joe, is this the best you can do for me?" Sadly, Joe said that it was.

Joe was heartbroken. He knew that if it were he who lay dying, it wouldn't be enough for him. How could it be enough for his friend?

When his friend died, Joe performed the funeral and then told Nelda that he needed to get away for awhile. He wanted to deal with his nagging emptiness. He wanted a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, whose gospel he so faithfully yet fruitlessly tried to preach.

He first went to Chicago and asked friends if they knew where he could go to be saved. They didn't know for sure, but someone referred vaguely to The Bowery Mission, an evangelistic center for the down-and-outers of New York City. Joe was so desperate that he took a train to New York and checked into a hotel just a few blocks from the mission.

The first night he was there, he dressed himself in a fine suit and walked to the meeting. Surveying the surroundings, Joe took a seat among the derelicts, joined in the singing, and settled in to hear the sermon that started something like this: "All men are sinners. There are sinners of all types: drinkers, carousers, adulterers, thieves, and murderers. They all need to be saved."

Then the preacher seemed to zero in on Joe: "There are also finely dressed, white-collared sinners. They too need to make their way to the altar and admit their need of salvation."

Joe was incensed. He felt he didn't need to be treated like a common bum. He put on his coat and stomped out into the rain. Walking back to the hotel, he splashed through the puddles, so angry he scarcely noticed them.

When Joe arrived at his lodging, he walked up the stairs and, without taking off his wet coat, threw himself into an easy chair, and complained to God. "It's not fair. I don't need to be treated like a bum. I can find salvation in some other place."

Proud, self-righteous, and yet so needy, he told God all the reasons why he should not have to go to the altar like the common sinners did. As a pastor, some special consideration should be given to him. But as the hours passed, his pride turned to shame and despair. He realized that he was a blind leader of the blind and concluded that he was not too good to be saved, as he first thought, he was too wicked to be saved.

Joe opened the window of his room and considered plunging to his death, but decided he would go back to the mission the next night and hear the message one more time.

When the moment came, he dressed himself again in his fine suit and sat with the down-and-outers. He heard essentially the same message he had heard the night before, but this time he knew it was for him. As the preacher concluded, he invited all who wished to be saved to go to the altar, kneel before God, and pray for forgiveness and new birth.

Convicted so strongly of his need for salvation, Joe abandoned his pride and made his way forward. When he arrived at the front, the preacher told him to move to the end of the altar and make room for those who were seeking God. It wasn't enough to be saved like a common bum; he would have to humble himself more than they did.

But Joe was ready. Christ found Joe at the end of the altar and Joe humbly asked Jesus to forgive his sins and come into his life.

This time when he left the mission, he walked the same street and splashed through the same puddles, but now it wasn't anger that kept him from noticing them; he felt he was walking on air.

Once in his room, he sat in the same chair and cried tears of joy. Joe knew that he was now a child of God. He was beginning a new life. He could neither doubt nor deny that he was born again.

Joe's favorite song became, "It's real, it's real, Oh, I know it's real. Praise God the doubts are settled, and I know, I know, it's real."

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