A while back I met a guy named John. John was a Vietnam War veteran who had no family, job, or home. I first met him at a red light. He was holding a cardboard sign… I was trying hard not to make eye contact with him. A few days later I saw him sitting outside of a McDonalds so I went over to him and offered to buy him something to eat. He was grateful and I moved on.
About a week later I ran in to him again at the red light. He noticed me and came walking over. I felt sort of obligated at that point to pull out my wallet and give him money. When he approached the car he told me to put my wallet away… He just wanted to say thanks for buying him dinner.
Over the course of a few months we began to build a relationship with one another. I heard his war stories… I answered as best I could his questions about God. I had been inviting him to church all along but he was to ashamed to come in the door. He felt he didn’t have the right cloths. He was afraid of what he smelt like. And he had a bit of a drinking problem. There was rarely a moment when I didn’t smell alcohol on his breath. But I didn’t care… That doesn’t bother me. I reassured him time and time again that he would be welcomed.
He finally showed up! I was proud… He was embarrassed. This was the moment I had been praying for… And for 99% of our congregation… They welcomed him with open arms. I was so proud of the way they responded in love to him.
But there is always the 1%! The 1% that tends to cry the loudest. If you’re a leader… You know exactly who I’m talking about.
I had a lady who came up to me who just had a sour look on her face. She says with a loud voice so others could hear… “That man wreaks of alcohol!”
I was pissed! How dare this lady try to come up and ruin a work God had been doing in his life. Why she felt the need to be so judgmental in church… I will never know. After all, isn’t that who were trying to reach out to? The broken, hurting people in our community? Jesus is come as you are… Not come as you ought to be.
In that moment… I responded with the only thing I could think of…
“Well lady… You wreak of pride!”
And to be honest… That’s the most offensive smell of all. That’s the smell that has been running people out of church for years. And that’s the smell that I have worked hard for 2 years trying to remove from our church.
The sad part… A lot of us smell that way and we have no idea. Myself included. It’s something we all need to work on. Dying to self daily.
That lady left offended… But so was I. She never came back… And I was grateful.
John did have an encounter with God that day… He didn’t raise his hand for salvation. He didn’t radically given up alcohol and get a job and start a family.
His encounter with God came through the wonderful people at our church. Loving him. Accepting him. Making him feel part of a family. I have never been more proud of the great people I Pastor!
John moved to Florida a few weeks later to get to warmer weather… But I know he will always feel welcome back at our church… And I pray to see him again soon one day.
So the question is… How do you respond to people who seem to be less fortunate than you? Do you look down on them? Or do you love and welcome them with open arms?
I sincerely pray the later!