Who’s Wearing Your Pants (July-Aug 2002)

By Matt Dabbs

By Greg Taylor

When Robert Hamm saw the shredded pants dangling from a Ugandan villager’s waist, he decided to give the man a pair of pants.

“Great,” I told Robert, “I’ll bring Sawti a pair next time I come,” I said, easily brushing off his suggestion.

“I’d like to give him a pair of pants today,” Robert replied.

“We’re two hours away from a store, in the boondocks of Uganda. How can we—”

“Let’s wait till after the Bible study,” Robert suggested, with something in mind that had me curious. Under the shade of a bread fruit tree, seated on small wooden benches next to the mud hut of our host, we talked of the radical call of following Jesus—how it changes us, makes us do rash things, at times, in his name.

An elder from my boyhood home church, Robert is a compassionate and kind man whose generosity could be both measured and spontaneous, proactive as well as reactive. At one time a manager of grocery stores, Robert treated with dignity those who paid with food stamps. Robert is the kind of person who would give you the shirt off his back…or the pants off his hips.

When our church meeting in Namu village was over, Robert walked to my pickup, sat in the passenger seat, and handed a pair of pants out the window for the man with the sliced and diced pants. We’re not talking about an extra pair Robert had brought. We’re talking the pants he was wearing.

At first I thought Robert was kidding when he suggested going to the pickup, slipping off his trousers, and giving them to Sawti. Thoughts bounced like a racquetball in my noggin—vital thoughts for my own comfort on the two-hour drive home: Was Robert a boxers or briefs man? Did he realize that tooling along in nothing but your skivvies tends to make a two-hour drive seem tedious as a trip from the beach without exporting the sand from your swim trunks?

Minutes later Sawti was the proud owner of Robert’s breeches. The thirty onlookers were just as amazed as me that a respected older American man such as Robert would stoop to serve a poor village man by offering his only pair of pants for the journey home.

I preached dozens of sermons in Namu village, but none so indelible as Robert’s gutsy sermon in the tradition of Isaiah, who stripped his sackcloth and sandals as a sign and portent against nations that worshiped the consumer baals of earthly security (Isaiah 20:1-5).

Robert’s sign impacts not only those thirty villagers but us today in consumer America. While our sensibilities prohibit us from planting churches in the equivalent of our long handles, as Isaiah did, at least more of us ought to be stripping ourselves of the trappings that choke out of our lives the spirit of charity and kingdom living.

Where are the modern day John the Baptists, who strip down to camel skin and eat locust and wild honey yet stop short of being David Koresh? My ancestor, John Chapman, was in the crowd one day as a pioneer soapbox preacher asked that very question. The following day John—better known as Johnn Appleseed—appeared on the soapbox barefooted, frocked in a gunny sack with a ragged Bible in hand and asked in a loud voice, “Care for some fresh news from heaven today?” Seeing a shoeless person stroll by, Appleseed would givehis own shoes to the stranger and continue on barefooted. Frugal, he figured his cook pot made a nice hat for his journeys into Ohio and Indiana—then the frontier—to plant apple seeds for settlers to have trees in coming years.

Like John the Baptist, Appleseed’s threads proved he was a nut in the line of Elijah. But those who please God always seem a bit insane to casual observers and even closest kin. I had thought Robert was off his rocker that day he gave away his pants. The most joyful people, however, are not the ones who consume the most, but the Appleseeds with one fewer pair of shoes, the elder with one less pair of trousers, the Barnabases with one less field, all handed out the window in the name of our Lord.

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In this issue we’ve countered the consumer narrative that says, “I consume, therefore I am” and “the one with the most toys wins” and “everything I have is mine to use how I want” with a more biblical worldview that says, “my identity will be shaped by Christ, not an ad agency” and “my earthly possessions impact my eternal soul.” Articles in this consumerism issue encourage us to take our families back under the reign of Christ not Madison Avenue, to sit more in the light of Scripture than the flicker of the tube, to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit not the great green monster of envy and consumer impulse.

Jesus Christ, not the green monster of consumerism, must wear the pants in our homes. Besides, this monster is getting too big for his breeches. Slay the monster and stop patronizing it with,“nice pants.”

Is there a monster in your house who’s wearing your pants?

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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