1 John 5:3 (New International Version)
In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,
In 1931, a seven-year-old boy from a dusty Georgia farm town peered hungrily at the wares outside the door of a small grocery store. Times were hard with the country in the grips of the Great Depression, especially for a poor farming family, and the little boy's last meal had been two days earlier: a bit of stale bread and some thin, watery gruel. The boy waged a battle with his conscience as he gazed at the cartons of fruits and vegetables arrayed in front of and his stomach rumbled; he was desperately hungry, but his strict religious upbringing had inculcated him with the proper respect for God's laws, one of which was "Thou shalt not steal."
Suddenly the boy reached out and impulsively grabbed an apple from atop a pile and ran as fast as his legs would carry him into a nearby grove of trees. His hands trembling with fright, he crouched behind a large bush and greedily gulped down the apple. As his nervousness subsided, shame began to take hold of him. He had broken one of God's commandments. His hunger was no excuse for breaking his compact with the Lord and his fellow man by stealing someone else's property. He would never be able to live with himself until he had atoned for his misdeed.
Slowly he stood up, and by sheer force of will he placed one foot in front of the other until his legs had carried him back to the scene of his crime. He almost fainted from fright as he willed himself through the doorway of the grocery and approached the gruff-looking man behind the counter.
"Excuse me, sir" he said timidly, opening up his hand to reveal an apple core, compacted into an almost unrecognizeable slender rod by his fearful, tight grip. "I took this from your stand outside, and that was wrong," admitted the scared little boy as he glanced down at his shoes, unable to withstand the storeowner's stern gaze. "I want to pay you back, but I don't have any money. Maybe I could work for you after school to make it up?" he asked tremulously, forcing himself to look the owner in the eye as he awaited a response.
The man sized him up. He started to speak, stopped before saying a word, and then finally spat out his answer with a sneer: "Why the hell would I want a crook working for me? Get out of here, and don't you ever come near my store again!"
The boy turned on his heel and flew out the door, barely managing to cross the threshold before he burst into tears. He ran straight home, but he told no one about what had occurred. He made a vow to himself and to Jesus that day that he would never again break one of God's commandments. He kept that promise. And he never again went near the site of his youthful indiscretion -- save for one night a few weeks later, when he sneaked out of his bedroom window and surreptitiously slipped an evelope containing three pennies (a birthday gift from his grandmother) under the grocery's locked door.
That little boy went on to graduate from the United States Naval Academy, served as a lieutenant in the United States Navy (where he worked under Admiral Hyman Rickover in the development of the nuclear submarine program), was elected to the Georgia state senate, became governor of Georgia, and in 1976 was elected the thirty-ninth president of the United States of America. Yes, the hungry seven-year-old who copped that apple back in 1931 was none other than James Earl Carter, Jr., a man renowned for a lifetime of honesty and integrity in public service.
And the man who ran the grocery from which a young Jimmy Carter fled in humiliation and shame, the man who wouldn't tolerate "a crook" working for him? He was none other than Bruno Hauptmann, who less than five years later would be executed for the kidnapping and murder of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh's son.
Dear Lord we pray that we would strive to live an honest life. Help us keep our eyes focused on You so that we would make the right choices. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.