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Anti-clerical Pizza Man Helps Minister Appreciate the Gospel

Pastor and Author Matt Woodley writes in a blog post titled "Evangelized by the Pizza Man”:

My friend Emilio owns a tiny pizzeria that makes the best New York pizza on Long Island. Emilio hates "organized religion." Above the stove where he sticks the orders, he also collects small newspaper clippings about flawed and fallen ministers. I call it his "rack of shame." Every time I come in for pizza, he leans over the counter, slides a few clippings on to the counter, and whispers, "Hey, look at this. This padre walked off with $80,000. This pastor slept with three church members. This guy abused little boys for twenty years. Okay, do you get why I don't need your church?" Then, with a triumphant flair, he sticks the articles back on his "rack of shame."

A few months ago, fed up with his clergy-bashing, I blurted out, "What does this prove, Emilio? So priests and pastors do despicable things. What if I started a rack of shame for people in your profession and then declared that I will never eat pizza?" Actually, over the next few weeks I tried rummaging through newspapers looking for articles about pizza guys doing nasty things—spitting in the bread dough or using cheap Ragu instead of homemade sauce—but apparently pizza guys live pretty clean lives.

Finally, after a month or two of bickering back and forth, I came to Emilio and said, "I need to order two slices of cheese, and I need to ask your forgiveness."

He bristled and shot back, "Is this a joke or a trick?"

"No, really, Emilio, I'm truly sorry for being a jerk and for arguing with you—and I want the cheese slices, too. The truth is that ministers do screw up. We can be pretty decent people; but sometimes we're frauds and hypocrites. Sometimes I'm a sham."

Emilio immediately softened, and we've actually become friends. But I didn't say this as an evangelism strategy. I said it because it's true and it's the gospel. I love the line that summarizes the gospel this way: "We are more flawed than we'd ever dare to admit; we're more loved than we'd ever dare to imagine." I'm not sure why it's so hard to get this simple truth. I qualify for the cosmic rack of shame, but through God's infinite mercy, Jesus took my place on the rack and set me free.

Emilio, my outraged, anti-clerical, unchurched, pizza-making friend, helped me see the gospel again. I guess he evangelized me. I guess I have to be more careful: Jesus keeps sneaking up on me. I never know where he'll pop up next!

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