When John was looking to start GodWhy he was hoping that a particular local college would rent them a space. He decided he was going to drive around this hopeful location, praying. As he drove around the campus, dreaming of how things might unfold in this church planting adventure he realized that he was thirsty.
Many of you may not know this but for a season Pastor John had an intense relationship with Mt. Dew.
He drove to an area gas station to grab a drink. Standing in line a few people back from the cashier he noticed a young woman in front of him. She was maybe in her early twenties, possibly late teens, with a toddler on her hip, the young woman had plenty of piercings, and a sleeve of tattoos. As the line moved forward her little one got antsy and started to ask for a candy bar. Ignoring the request, the young woman stepped forward and asked the attendant for a pack of cigarettes from behind the counter. Then, pointing to the candy, the child asked, “Mommy, can I have one of those?” The reply? “No. We don’t have enough money.”
Please tell me you just had a reaction. Let me share with you my first reaction to that story. I wear everything on my face, so my first “face” was, “What!?! How does she have money for cigarettes but not for this precious baby to get some candy!?!” Then my mind kept going, “Typical. Figures.”
What was your reaction?
I love sitting in a room when John shares this story…cause everyone has a similar expression, a scoff, a murmur, or an eye roll.
On John’s journey he had become aware of the ugly truth, that he was much more like a pharisee than he ever wanted to admit.
Right as he was in the middle of mentally berating this young woman, God broke in. He had never stopped to ask himself what this young woman might have been through in life. Where had she come from? Were healthy adults investing in her, sharing advice with her, loving and encouraging her? What had she experienced in life? A flood of questions about this young woman, and a realization of both a lack of knowledge and a far too hasty mental judgement on this girl was quickly replaced with a spirit of conviction and humility.
See, that same morning John had read the story that Jesus shared about a pharisee and a tax collector. In that story the pharisee is praying a prayer of gratitude that he was “not like other people.” After a list of his accomplishments, he looks across the room and adds, “…certainly not like that tax collector.” The tax collector wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but beat his chest and prayed, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus states, “that he (the tax collector) went home justified, and not the pharisee.”
John had said to himself, that same morning, “At least I’m not that bad. I’m not as bad as the pharisee.”
But now…in this gas station…
Could he really handle meeting people where they actually are, rather than his desired dressed-up version of their life? John shared how that is the moment when he told God that he was not the right guy to plant a church like GodWhy. He recognized the painful reality that he had judged this young girl just as harshly as the pharisee had judged the tax collector.
My reaction always shifts here. And usually, as John shares this story with groups, the whole room shifts… because we DON’T stop to ask. We rarely stop to think. And the times we do, we usually have such a hard time seeing ourselves clearly that our biases and judgements color our thoughts.
In Matthew 23 Jesus warns his disciples with this, “The teachers of the law and the Pharisee’s sit in Moses’ seat…be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do…they tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
How do we see others? How do we respond when people make choices that we don’t agree with? Do we look at certain people with “heavy and burdensome” expectations?
I’m not trying to suggest that we can’t have an opinion, or acknowledge that we would manage our lives differently, but I am suggesting that we would seek first to love.
See, when an expert in the law asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” I feel like he was trying to narrow the scope. Like, “you don’t really want me to love everyone, right? There are some people you don’t expect me to love love, right?” Then Jesus delivers this story. A story about people loving, and loving lavishly, while others, for various reasons, walk by. (Luke 10)
Where do we try to qualify grace, or quantify love? Where do we judge without really knowing? Is it that person on the side of the street with a sign asking for help? That co-worker that just grates on our nerves? That family member that just can’t seem to get their life together?
I actually asked John about that moment in the gas station just the other day. He said that he has often thought of that young woman and that he hopes one day, in the presence of God, to be able to meet and actually know her, and to share how she unknowingly changed his life.
I can’t imagine how many times I have had a “gas station line” moment that I allowed to pass me by, not checking my thoughts. Oh, that God would break through in those moments, open my eyes to see His children, as they really are, and for all that they could be.