We had been driving quite a while, on our way back towards our home in Florida, and we found ourselves in rural South Carolina.
Tired and getting hungry, we decided to stop at the next exit that touted a name-brand hotel that my bride of 44 years could tolerate. So we ended up stopping at a very nice and reasonable hotel, and they happened to have a room just for us!
Task #1 – Getting a room – Check!
But looking at the area, “Task #2 – Getting a meal” promised to be a little more difficult. Oh yes, there were several fast-food outlets nearby, but our desire for a nice sit-down dinner was something that seemed remote at best.
We browsed through the hotel’s directory of restaurants in the area and found only one that sounded interestingly different. It was called “Harold’s Country Club.” Now, I haven’t worn a coat and tie in – well, months – and both my bride and I have had a standard of dress for this vacation that was, at its most formal, shorts and sandals – that’s my standard dress for all occasions these days!
So any place that had “Country Club” in the title had to be out of our class, but it was the only place listed in that restaurant directory that was not a fast-food franchise or a chain restaurant. I called them up and the lady who answered the phone told me that they had a pork chop buffet tonight for $11.
When I asked about the dress code, she laughed and replied, with her strong southern drawl, “Oh, honey, come as you are! There is no dress code here. When we call this a ‘Country’ club, that just means it is out in the country. And we don’t even have a putt-putt golf course here!” So we got in the car and headed toward this “country” club for dinner, getting hungrier by the minute for a pork-chop buffet.
As we approached the building with the sign “Harold’s Country Club”, I began to think we had made some sort of mistake. The outside of the place looked like the front of Goober’s gas station in Mayberry on the old Andy Griffith television show.
There was an old-fashioned gas pump that did not look like it had been in working order for quite a few years. There were benches lining the front of the building and silently proclaiming, “Sit down here … and set a spell!” It did not have the appearance at all of anything I could imagine a country club even remotely resembling.
But two elderly ladies were in front of us, walking as rapidly as they could toward the entrance to the building. Before they reached the front door, one of the folks lounging out front on one of those inviting benches greeted them and said something like, “I thought I would see you here tonight!” One of those two ladies said, “I don’t ever miss the pork chops night. Best pork chops in the world!” (Being from Tennessee originally, I could translate their southern drawl lingo for my Akron bride!)
That comment told me we were in for a treat. We walked into the building, through the “club” portion of the building which was complete with a bar, a band stand, and a pool table (the next night was open mic karaoke night!), and into the “restaurant”, which was nothing more than a large “barn” replete with long tables and folding chairs, with antiques and other gems of yore all around the outer walls of the place.
The pork chops were on the food table at one side of the barn, along with all the other food, complete with homemade pies and cake. The dinnerware was fancy – paper plates, plastic utensils, and Styrofoam cups. The whole atmosphere was one of a down-home “country” church dinner!
When I commented about the dinner to the two elderly ladies, they each continued to rave about the pork chops!
When I reflect on our evening at Harold’s Country Club, I am reminded of 1 Samuel 16:7, where we read the Lord’s words to Samuel the prophet when He said, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
The outward appearance of that place was anything but attractive. There was nothing that would entice someone to come into that “country club” – not even miniature golf! And what is so often true of places like Harold’s is true for people as well. That was the point the Lord was attempting to demonstrate to Samuel.
Looking for a replacement for King Saul, whom the people had chosen to be their king based upon his outward appearance, Samuel had attempted to use the same criteria for selecting the next king.
But God was gently correcting his checklist, and eventually led him to the “man after God’s own heart”, David, who was at that time a mere shepherd boy.
We have all heard it said that you should not judge a book by its cover. In essence, that is the point here today. The outward appearance is important – no doubt about it. But even more important is what is going on in our hearts. Repeatedly throughout the Scriptures, we are challenged to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5).
Proverbs 4:23 tells us to “Guard the heart; for from it flow the wellsprings of life.” And Matthew 5:8 encourages us with “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
God is looking more at our inner life than our outer life. The challenge for each of us to indeed take a serious and deep look at our hearts.
Oh, and by the way, those two ladies were right – the pork chops were absolutely “out of this world!” I am convinced that even God would say that!
God bless …
Chuck Tabor is a regular columnist for the Times-Gazette and the News Journal. He is also the former Pastor of Port William UMC.