Wednesday, September 9, 2009

they, them, those...

They picked me up from my hotel while I was breathing out frozen puffs of air like an amused fourth grader. My bible and notes were frozen in my naked hand and my California winter coat did a poor job at shielding me from the east coast chill. The assistant pastor and his wife spoke to me about the event that I would be teaching at and briefed me about what to expect, but I was distracted by the falling snow and frost-breath stick figures I was drawing on the car window. We pulled into the church parking lot before any of the attendees had arrived.

Except for one.

A man wearing an old flannel jacket and wool hat stood against the New England brick wall with a small grin which exposed his toothless smile. Two hours before anyone else had arrived, this man anxiously waited to hear the word of God taught in tattered clothing too thin to keep himself warm. He had a large bible in one hand and a lit cigarette pursed tightly in between the fingers of his other. I greeted him with a soft, Good morning. He exhaled the smoke nervously and began to cough violently. I didn't know what to do, so I offered him a cup of coffee. Before he could answer the assistant pastor angrily told the man to put out his cigarette, quit smoking, and told him to leave the church property if he was going to smoke again. The embarrassed man walked away humiliated and still coughing... and I stood there in complete disbelief.

As we entered into the church building, the pastor spoke of this man in third person plurals; they, them, those. I wanted to die. Didn't Jesus come to save the they, them, and those? Would Jesus care if this guy smoked a cigarette? Would Jesus tell this man to leave if he felt an inclination to repeat the offense? The pastor rambled on about those people while I tried thinking of a response, but I was physically and emotionally numb.

In the sad faces of people we meet, in the vacuous eyes of people we glance at, can you see Jesus? Behind his tailored suit, beyond the baby on her hip, can you see Jesus? If we fail to see Jesus in the people we encounter they will be left untouched like lepers, unreached like the lost, and unloved like the poor. Matthew 10:27, So he answered and said, "'You shall love theLord your God will all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and [love] 'your neighbor as yourself.'" And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."

24 comments:

Kaitlynn Chritton said...

I think all to often we as Christians forget that we are called to LOVE and turn to the easier route, which is to judge. Thanks for the reminder to love.

with love,
Kaitlynn

Anonymous said...

What a good reminder to show love to EVERYONE. thank you Bi. Sadly, i used to be like that pastor. I wasn't rude to the homeless people who would enter but my heart was not right and I couldn't wait for them to leave the office so I can disinfect. Disinfecting is good but my heart was not right. Thank you :)

Johnny said...

So does this mean we should accept smoking on church grounds? If someone is drunk, do we invite them in? The church is a holy place and we need to keep the temple pure.

Can you explain your thoughts on this?

Bianca said...

@kaitlynn and @anonymous: reminders are ALWAYS needed. we have all fallen into the category of pharisee before. the point is to be aware and not act in such ways repeatedly.

@johnny: totally valid questions! thanks for asking :) okay, i've learned from watching my pastor. he's always said that we are a hospital and sick people come here to get healed by the Master Physician. one time i saw him wait until someone smoking on church grounds was done and alone. then he encouraged them to be considerate of church policy. but he went FURTHER by loving on this man and telling him he too had a smoking problem long ago. he asked the man if he wanted prayer for divine intervention. not because smoking is wrong, but because addiction is wrong.
i honestly believe that my pastor acted like Jesus. and I want to follow in suit :) hope this helps!

Diandra Ann said...

this made me cry. I want to go find that man. Oh my gosh... I am sad for him. Im praying right now that he finds a church that accepts him and loves him. wow. don't even know what else to say.

Jasmine said...

Great answer, Bi!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bianca, this post got to me just in time, my husband and me decided to stop going to church because people like that “Holly” made us feel so unworthy that we though that we do not deserve to be at the same place as them because we can never be as holly as them. so being as no holly as we are we stupidly decided to leave the church, sadly this people are our own family that are ignoring their problems and living a different life there at church where they can show the world that they are perfect when they are not.. We are a messed up couple, with messed up problems that are trying to move forward God. so I thank God for this post because we are not leaving the church and we don't care if those super "holly" people ignore us or are even ashamed of us, our LORD is not!! Thanks

Lydia said...

Wow, so heart-breaking!

Johnny said...

It makes more sense. I still have reservations, but thanks for answering with boldness.

Sanctified Slim Shady said...

People who are concerned with "keeping the temple pure" need to remember that everyone has to start somewhere. So much legalism in the church has ostracized an entire generation who isn't clean-cut and perfect. Perhaps we should evangelize to the evangelicals about the true and authentic love of Christ.

Jesus went to lepers, sinners, prositutes, whores, and tax-collectors. We've become so hygenic that we can't stand to be around people who we WOULD BE LIKE if it wasn't for the saving grace of Jesus.

Anonymous said...

It is for this exact reason that a lot of people are turned off to christianity.
It is this legalist and hypocritical attitude in the church I grew up in and a few others that I have atttended for short periods that have made it difficult for me to find a church that I feel is genuinly concerned with the people in the community instead of merely creating their own community where only fellow church members are truly welcomed.
Church should not be all about the members it should be about the people they are trying to reach and help and care for like Jesus did.
I would love to find a church where I could take my children and not have to worry about them learning to be judgemental and hypocritical christians.

Anonymous said...

It is for this exact reason that a lot of people are turned off to christianity.
It is this legalist and hypocritical attitude in the church I grew up in and a few others that I have atttended for short periods that have made it difficult for me to find a church that I feel is genuinly concerned with the people in the community instead of merely creating their own community where only fellow church members are truly welcomed.
Church should not be all about the members it should be about the people they are trying to reach and help and care for like Jesus did.
I would love to find a church where I could take my children and not have to worry about them learning to be judgemental and hypocritical christians.

Kristy said...

Kudos to you for this blog!

There are two lessons to be learned, 1. We are all children of God and should treat each other with love and respect and, 2. Think before we act/speak.

I’m not sure how I would have handled that situation but I’m sure it would have been harsh. I probably would have said something to the pastor before thinking my words through, especially if someone was humiliated and or hurt (I have a tendency of doing that). If you don’t mind me asking, how did you end up handling the situation?

Bianca said...

@SSS and @anonymous: i want to clarify that this is NOT a bash of church or christians. it is an observation (internal and external) of where we fall short. because ALL of us have fallen short. the critique should be less to do with this pastor and more to do with us. like a wise man once said, "BE the change YOU want to see."

@kristy: i wish i could tell you i stood like paul at the areopagus and gave a rousing speech about injustice... but i didn't. i'm a slow processor so i meekly defended the guy and mentioned that i hope he wasn't deterred from coming back. booooo! i get an F in boldness :( i'm workin' on it though!

Michelle said...

Thanks for the comment about being a "slow processor." <-- That feeling of "I shoulda said this or that" is so frustrating sometimes. But perhaps the lesson for us slow processors isn't to try to speak quickly but to really learn from the experiences and be ready for the next time... because in my experience, there's always a NEXT TIME. Thanks for the challenging post. LOVE THAT! :)

aaronatbella said...

What about Grace, I can't remember who said this but 'the greatest cause of atheism in the world today is christians who deny Him by their lifestyle'
There are too many christians out there that try to live their christian live by the Law and throw off the grace that our saviour gave us.

You post is so heart breaking. Where have we come to that a soul is discarded because he doesn't act perfect. We all deserve to be punished yet God sacrificed his son so we didn't need to be.

reany. said...

B, heavy post today! As I read everyone's comments, I thought of John 8:1-12.

I just want to encourage you, Oh Internet, to read it and take heed to Jesus' words in verse 7, "...He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at [the cigarette smoking homeless, judgemental pastor, or any other believer or unbeliever] first."
But we can't, Oh Internet, because like Paul writes in Romans 3:10 and 12b "there is none righteous... [and] there is none who does good, no not one." That means you... that means me... that mean "they, them and those" So, like the "righteous" scribes and pharisees, lets just drop our stones and leave too because we are just as wicked! Who's with me?

Good job, B! This blog continues to be a blessing!

Anonymous said...

@Biancca: I am truly sorry if my comment sounded like it was bashing church or christians in general.
I know that I am in the wrong for my feelings against specific christians and churches. I do harbor bitterness and it is a sin. I do not know how to get my heart right abou it though.
I have had someone I loved very much take their own life after being treated repeatedly the way the pastor treated the man with the ciggarette you spoke about.
I know I should not harbor bitterness, but this story struck a sensitive chord with me.
I want to learn to forgive, otherwise I will be just like the people I am upset at. I need some definite help.

Bianca said...

It's all good! Grace is the drink of the day, so drink up every last drop :)
@aaron, @renay, @michell: LOVE the insights. So refreshing!

Jen said...

I stumbled across your blog thanks to the wonders of the "Browse" feature on my Google Reader. And now you're saved as a favorite. Thank you for loving, despite appearances. I think we all forgot sometimes that everyone is a child of God, even if someone smokes, or looks a little worse for wear.

Jen said...

The only way to keep a church pure is to leave it empty.

ALL, not just the homeless, the drunks and the addicts, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

I think we all do well to remember that.

I'm here via (in)courage. I'm pretty sure I shall get comfortable and stay :)

lauren said...

As a teen a youth pastor once told my friend that she'd probably still get into heaven if she smoked but she'd smell like hell!

It often astounds me how hard it is for Christians to love everyone. We all (Christian or not)put "labels" on people, which are essentially products of our own fears/weaknesses/issues. If only we could learn to change our way of thinking- and be like a child with innocence, boldness and acceptance. And fewer inhibitions!

Thanks for always being so real! :)

Tricia said...

That was powerful! I remember once when I visited a church and the pastor repeatedly refered to "those people who live in those apartments" in his sermon. When I went to the visitors reception after the service, I was asked where I lived. I simply said, "Those apartments." Everyone in the room knew exactly what I meant. When we categorize people like that, we miss knowing who they really are.

Lydia said...

I don't know if you've already seen this or not, but this reminded me of a video clip, Jesus Wants the Rose:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-zR3h2UsR4&feature=player_embedded

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