I never thought I would write an article that opened with protecting somebody’s real identity, but I want to tell you about this guy—let’s call him “Noel.” Noel was something of celebrity in my town when he first showed up, now he’s just a part of the “local color.”
Noel drives a 20 year-old car spray painted with “Jesus Saves,” “Read Your Bible,” “Repent” and other such exhortations. Nothing is misspelled, and his handwriting with an aerosol can is actually pretty good. When he is driving down the street, he will honk the horn at random, just trying to get people to look at his car and read the messages. When he is not driving, he will park the car along the busiest street in town, lay on top of the hood and wave at people passing by. Sometimes Noel holds up his gigantic Bible and points at it repeatedly as people drive by. He looks a little like those animated humanoids at a Disney theme park. You can tell he’s pointing at a Bible because he has attached those large reflective letters on the front of it to spell out “H-O-L-Y B-I-B-L-E.”
Actually, Noel fits in pretty well around here—our town used to have a guy who drove a hearse in the 4th of July parade (with a casket on top of the car) and a sign that read, “Taxes are killing me, how ‘bout you?”
Noel has a conviction about the spreading the gospel that puts him out on the street nearly every single day. Not even bad weather will hold him back. Sometimes people stop and chat with him. Sometimes his convictions earn him a ride to the local psychiatric unit for 48 hours of observation.
His other conviction is that multiple churches in the same community are an affront to God. When my friend (a local pastor) stopped by to invite Noel to church one day, Noel said, “I’ll come to your church when you take down the sign in front of your church.” This sign informed people that they were entering a United Methodist church. Turns out that Noel’s complaint is not necessarily with United Methodists, but with the concept that there could be more than one church in any given town. “You won’t find that church name in the Bible,” he told my friend, the mis-named Methodist pastor. Noel won’t so much as enter into a building that identifies itself with a denomination. He certainly wouldn’t worship in such a building.
Noel is energetic, tireless and, by most accounts, friendly. Of course he doesn’t seem to have many friends—Christian or otherwise. His conviction sends him into the street (that’s a conviction I could use more of). But his conviction also separates him from most other Christians.
So here’s the problem (for me, anyway): I suspect he is unbalanced, and I am certain that his efforts are misplaced, even if they are sincere. If I were more honest and less charitable I would say he is nuts, except that I have seen God use sillier and stranger people.
What chaps me the most is Noel’s nearly complete disconnect from the local church. He’s on his own. He’s out doing his thing, which is most definitely not my thing. Noel is a true believer, and he will tell you so: “Today God told me a park on Broadway and wave at the cars.” Tomorrow he might report that God told him to walk up and down Main Street pointing to his big Bible. Mothers literally take their children off the street when he walks by.
So why won’t Noel connect with a church? Believe it or not, there are churches in our town that would eagerly welcome him, but he’ll have none of it. Plus I think that if he were associated with a church, I suspect that he would bolt the first time the pastor suggested some moderation or change of tactics. Noel told my Methodist friend, “You’re just a pastor; I’m an apostle!”
It would be so easy to dismiss Noel as a crank, as crazy local color, as a sad or lonely misfit. But I’m afraid if I do dismiss Noel and his outreach efforts, I might hear the Holy Spirit whispering my ear: “So, do you think you could do better?” And that would be a disaster, because then I might have to do something.
What do you think? Could you do better?