BOWEN: Raccoon John Smith’s lesson from a log

Published 4:29 pm Thursday, June 4, 2020

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Funny where the best lessons come from—a pandemic, perhaps, or maybe a good old-fashioned sit-down ‘talk’ with mama, or just from the famous school of hard knocks.

The best lessons come from the most unusual sources, and they come when you least expect them. Usually they don’t show up politely in a limousine. More likely, they’ll crash land in your front yard unannounced.

You understand.

But who ever heard of learning a valuable lesson from a log? I hadn’t until a few years ago; but when I did, I knew I had to tell it.

Many great preachers emerged during what we know as the “Restoration Period” of the 1800s. Among them was a man named Raccoon John Smith.

He labeled himself as “Raccoon” Smith to distinguish him from all the other John Smiths around. He came up with “Raccoon” because, as he would say, he was from such a remote part of Kentucky that raccoons were the only neighbors he had.

One of Raccoon John Smith’s greatest assets was his determination, especially his uncanny desire to find the truth of the Bible. That determination ultimately led him on a lengthy journey to find his way back to the church of the New Testament. History holds that his commitment to searching and preaching came at the expense of his health and finances.

As great of a preacher as he became during that era, he almost never got started at all. As a young preacher in the early 1800s, Raccoon John Smith once was delivering his sermon in front of a Kentucky audience when he suddenly went blank.

Stage fright gripped him — we can all relate — and he stood there as if in his underwear in front of his audience, unable to get a word out. He just froze.

He turned and saw a back door near the pulpit, and before anyone knew it he was headed for it on the run. He ran as fast as he could to get away from preaching. But a hundred dark feet away from that frightful sermon, something happened that changed his life’s journey. He tripped over a log and went sprawling out into the dirt.

After a moment, he got himself up, dusted off his clothes, and turned around and went right back to the pulpit he had just left. He walked back through the door he had hit running a while ago, stepped up to the pulpit, and resumed his sermon.

I’ve often thought that his audience that night sure had a funny story to tell when they got home.

Now, I can’t say that the Lord carefully placed that log in just the right spot to trip up the famous preacher, although I’m convinced the Lord had a hand in it.

After all, the Lord knew He had Himself a good preacher; and He knew all it would take to shake him up good was a log stretched across his path.

As I think on it, a lot of folks these days could use a log such as that, something to trip them up and get them headed in the right direction. Just look around, you know that’s right. If it worked back with Raccoon John Smith in the 1800s, it’s bound to work today, too.

Just think of it: Because of one, well-placed old log, the good news of the gospel gushed from the lips of a once-scared but powerful Kentucky preacher for more than half a century.