To Sherlock Holmes, the small oddity is the thing that directs an investigator toward the truth of a case. Three used wine glasses but only one has sediment in it. The dog did not bark. Why was the paper on the desk of a different make than the paper in the victim’s pocket?
We dare not selectively ignore things that do not fit our current concept of the world. We also need to be careful not to manhandle the interpretation of events to force them into explanation in which they don’t fit.
So here is my outlier:
I was at a three-day pastor’s conference in Atlanta, Georgia. The first night of the conference concluded with a worship service. I was sitting in the front row. At these conference worship services an offering is taken to help fund a local mission.
The time for the offering arrived and the offering plate started to make its way down the row toward me. I decided in my own mind to give five dollars. The Bible says that the Lord loves a cheerful giver. I could cheerfully give five dollars. I pulled out my wallet and discovered a problem. I had a one-dollar bill and a twenty-dollar bill.
As the offering plate approached, I had to think quickly. I had already decided to give five dollars. I didn’t think I ought to go lower and give one dollar. People really shouldn’t highball God. But, then again, twenty dollars was quite a bit of money to me at the time. I also thought about the fact that, as a person in the front row, I become somewhat of a standard-bearer. People might follow my lead – either generously or miserly as the case may be. The mission that was to receive the offering might get a great deal more support if I lead with a twenty.
Time was running out, so I decided to pray about it. I didn’t hear an audible voice, but a truth came into my spirit. “Money is not a problem,” said the non-voice. “It’s all mine anyway. I can get you money whenever I want to.”
So, with that, and the fact that my expenses were already covered anyway, I dropped the twenty-dollar bill in the plate, feeling like I had done the right thing. I didn’t think anything more about it.
Two days later, I left the conference a little early and was riding MARTA to the airport. MARTA is the rapid-transit rail system in Atlanta. I was dressed business casual with my carry-on bag and a black leather briefcase. I decided to get my Bible out and do some reading to prepare for a class I was teaching.
At one stop, a young man got on the train. He looked to be college-age with baggy nylon pants, a nylon windbreaker and a large duffle bag slung over his shoulder. Kind of a jock. He sat down in the seat right across the aisle from me in the nearly deserted train car.
After a few moments, he asked what I was reading. I told him it was the Bible. We had a short, light conversation and I went back to my reading.
A few stops later he stood to get off the train. He told me it was nice to meet me, handed me a note and walked off. I was dying to open that note to see what this complete stranger had written to me but, since I wanted to be cool, I stuck the note in my shirt pocket and told him it was nice to meet him too. As soon as we left the station I yanked the note out of my pocket. I unfolded it and read, “Nice to meet someone who loves the Word. Take care, sir.” Inside that note was a twenty-dollar bill. (no, that is not a typo)
Now, this incident doesn’t prove all of my Christian faith, not by a long-shot. But it is a significant experience that is too improbable to be simply brushed off as random.
It is a concrete event. It is not “just” an internal comfort of the soul or a sense of God’s presence (though I am not discounting those as part of a life of faith). It cannot be brushed off as a mental or emotional state, as skeptics are wont to do with so many faith experiences.