Tuesday, January 18, 2005

So Who Was Mordecai Hamm, Anyway?

Luke 15:4-7 (New International Version)

4“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninetynine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninetynine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

I read a post this morning on Letters from Babylon titled “Influence, Small and Great” that really got my wheels spinning. Here’s a piece of what John Zimmer, the author, had to say:

“And what is the price one pays to attain it? I wonder whether bloggers sacrifice an influence more local in hopes of achieving national or global recognition. What have I accomplished if I generate 75,000 hits per day, but do not concern myself with lingering over a cup of coffee with a coworker on the verge of pouring out his heart, in need of a friendly face and a listening ear? What have I gained if I spend 14 posts debating the merits of the scientific method but do not pause for a meaningful conversation with my labmate? Widespread influence with strangers is a laudable goal, worthy of pursuit. But I pray that I do not succumb to tunnel vision and miss opportunities for intimately local influence, with a hurting friend or a depressed cab driver. There is something about a particular face with a specific name, 18 inches from my own particular face and name, something about palpable, warm-blooded hands clinging to the same park bench as mine. May I not be blind to those hands in my quest to save the world!”

Like many of the bloggers John describes, I struggle for influence and recognition. In a world where some have audiences of thousands and tens of thousands daily, my influence sometimes seems unimportant by contrast. Now I really know that what I’m doing is important, but I still have to admit that the numbers do sometimes overwhelm me.

This morning before breakfast Nancy and I talked about “things.” She was reading from Romans and asked, “Do you remember when we were in New Jersey studying Romans? We were in it for two years and never did get too far. There’s a lot of theology in it.” I nodded in agreement. “You know,” she continued. Sometimes people think that they’ve got it all together, that they’re very astute. Reading Romans, written so long ago, ought to give them pause.” “I agree,” I responded. “Paul was a very bright man.”

Not wanting to face the prospect of discussing Paul’s theology at the moment, I changed subjects and mentioned John Zimmer’s post. “Coach, I think he’s right, but I have to admit I still struggle with recognition.” Without hesitation she asked me a question. “Who was Mordecai Hamm?” I stopped for a second and thought. “Who was Mordecai Hamm? Is she being clever with me? Is this a trick question?” When she didn’t get an answer she answered for me. “He was the evangelist who led Billy Graham to the Lord. Not many people remember his name, but if it hadn’t been for his faithfulness who knows what might have happened to Billy Graham and the millions he’s influenced over the years.”

He was just one man that few know much about, just one man being faithful. And, interestingly, he’s part of a long train of faithful people stretching back to 1885 who had a seemingly small hand in the lives of others that eventually led to him. I found the following little blurb on the web a few minutes ago. I hope you find it as interesting and timely as I did:

“It was July 1, 1885 when Edward Kimball felt the tugging of the Spirit to share his faith with a young shoe salesman he knew. At first Kimball vacillated, unsure if he should talk to the man. But he finally mustered his courage and went into the shoe store. There Kimball found the salesman in the back room stocking shoes, and he began to share his faith with him. As a result, the young shoe salesman prayed and received Jesus Christ that day. That shoe salesman's name was Dwight L. Moody, and he became the greatest evangelist of his generation.

But the story doesn't end there. Several years later a pastor and well-known author by the name of Frederick B. Meyer heard Moody preach. Meyer was so deeply stirred by Moody's preaching that he himself embarked on a far-reaching evangelistic ministry. Once when Meyer was preaching, a college student named Wilbur Chapman accepted Christ as a result of his presentation of the gospel. Chapman later employed a baseball player to help him prepare to conduct an evangelistic crusade. That ballplayer, who later became a powerful evangelist himself, was Billy Sunday.

In 1924 a group of businessmen invited Billy Sunday to hold an evangelistic campaign in Charlotte, North Carolina, which resulted in many people coming to Christ. Out of that revival meeting a group of men formed a men's prayer group to pray for the world. They prayed for Charlotte to have another great revival. God sent another evangelist named Mordecai Hamm. Hamm went to Charlotte in 1934 to hold a crusade. Ham's crusade went well, even though it did not have many converts. On one of the last nights under the big tent one tall, lanky young man walked up the aisle to receive Christ. That man's name was Billy Graham.
Talk about a chain of events! And it all started with an ordinary Christian named Edward Kimball, who reached D.L. Moody, who reached Wilbur Chapman, who reached Billy Sunday, who reached Mordecai Ham, who reached Billy Graham. Look at what God has done over these many years because of the faithfulness of one person.”

Well I learned something this morning and I also re-learned something I had already known. Nancy’s point about Mordecai Hamm and John Zimmer’s point about recognition are the types of things I think we all need to heed. We all need to do our own part, and a good deal of it means that many of us seem to work in what appears to be obscurity.

As I said, part of the lesson of the day is re-learned. I remember when I started this blog that I got very discouraged, wondering if what I had to say was relevant or whether anyone at all was even reading my work. Then on October 13th, three months ago now, I got an e-mail from Paul Vartenesian. Paul was the man who had told me about Jesus when I was in Vietnam. On the same day I was wondering about the viability of my blog, Paul was in Atlanta wondering if some of the things he had shared with me an others forty years before had ever taken root. At that same time his son in Kentucky was doing a word search on the name “Vartenisian.” He noticed that my blog had mentioned the name and the communications outfit that Paul and I had served in at Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Vietnam. He called his father and then one thing led to another. Paul and I had a reunion by phone later that morning. We both clearly saw God’s hand in what had happened.

Later that day I penned a piece on my blog titled “Serendipity.” It was so evident to me that God had used this medium to reach one man and let him know that what he had done on His behalf had taken root that I just had to tell the world about it. Knowing what I knew then I was sure that God would find the audience for what I had to say. Reading John’s piece and talking with Nancy helped me see it all again.

There are times when we’d like to be in the limelight. We want to know that what we do and say has value, that it’s important. But I wonder how often we see the tradeoffs in an equation with the limelight on one side and value on the other. I find that I all too often assume that this is an equation with an equal sign between the two parts. I think that the sum of God’s equation may look more like the equation that he gave to Paul through Ananias on his conversion. That equation looked like this:

Acts 9:15-16 (New International Version)

“15But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16I will show him how much he must suffer for my name. (my emphasis added)

I wonder how I’d have interpreted Ananias’s words if I’d have been in Paul’s position. “Man oh man. You’re going to carry the message to kings and the people of Israel! This is big…..very big…..and very, very important!” Knowing myself like I do I doubt that I would have heard the second part – “how much he must suffer for my name.”

That was an equation with a price, and I suspect that there is a price to every equation. As John pointed out so ably, a wide audience is no substitute for meaningful conversations with “labmates, the hurting friend, or the depressed cab driver.”

Although one doesn’t necessarily have to follow the other, that large, broad audience can become a trap that keeps us from seeking “the one.” Really that’s what this is, or should be, all about. Three months ago “the one” was Paul Vartenisian. Today there may be someone else who needs to hear what I’ve said. God knows this medium and how to use it much better than I. And His message has been consistent since I’ve started this enterprise. It’s simple, not complicated at all – “Seek the one” and I will make sure that “the one” hears it.

It’s all as simple as that, really. We do our part and God does his. We may be like Mordecai Hamm and toil in what seems to be obscurity, but God places value beyond our wildest imagination in these “small things.”

John Zimmer, if you by chance read this post I want to thank you for sharing what you did. I’m not a cab driver, there’s not much need for them in Emporia. I’m just one soul out here in the blogosphere that needed to hear what you had to say. Thanks! Your words hit fertile ground.


Feeble Knees said...

Here here. Thanks for this Phil, I needed this today.


Feeble Knees said...

p.s. I just linked to this post. Look for "A Dose of Just What I Needed". Thanks again!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your words too! You are right to say that our job is to do our job, and that limelight does NOT equal value.

Your writing has strengthened me!

John Zimmer

Anonymous said...

Thanks Phil, Praying for a friend and this is God's answer for her and the sermon I will preach this morning. God Bless you brother.

George Tucker

Stan said...

Thanks, Phil. I was browsing the net looking for the story of Rev. Hamm and Billy Graham.

I found it and much more at your delightful web page.

Thanks for being a blessing

Hoot_N_Annie said...

Thanks Phil for taking the time to share this awesome lesson. I have felt almost a season of Isolation as of late and have been pretty discouraged. this is just what The Master ordered. Thank you for being "His" willing servant.


Anonymous said...

Hello Mr. Dillon, I still look back at the story you wrote about my father (Paul). I get goose bumps everytime I read it or share the story to someone. You have helped realize how proud I am to be his son. I have been reading your articles ever since that day. You provide a great choice of words and meaningful writings. Thanks for doing so, you should be proud too!

Ken Vartenisian