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, exposing 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.
I kept thinking, 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.
And one question ran through my mind…in the sad faces of people we meet, in the vacuous eyes of people we glance at, can we see Jesus? Behind his tailored suit, beyond the baby on her hip, can we see Jesus?
Matthew 10:27, So he answered and said, "'You shall love the Lord 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."
What helps you see Jesus in the people around you?
by Bianca Juarez, In the Name of LoveLeave a Comment
Gina Meola says
So beautifully said. I find it’s in the most pained eyes I see Jesus, vividly. But in those same eyes, I struggle in knowing what to do. Thank you for the reminder that God finds beauty in what man often seeks to destroy. <3 you**
Holley Gerth says
Bianca, I love the ways you see with the eyes of your heart…and His. You help all of us do the same! What helps me see Jesus in the people around me? Beautiful daughters of His like you who remind me of what LOVE is really all about. Thank you!
Danielle M. says
Oh, this post causes anger to well up in me. I have no idea what category of “they, them, those” this man fell into, but I sincerely and deeply believe that said group would be EXACTLY who our Jesus chose to seek out and spend time with were He right there in that assistant pastor’s shoes. I know, I know. In my anger don’t sin. I also know I don’t have any idea why the asst pastor was so frustrated. Likely, he has been given reason to be. However, I believe the marginalized, poor, hungry, addicted and lonely are the folks Jesus saught out as opposed to turning away. I hope so, because I believe that we all have shades of those categorizations without Jesus’s spirit indwelling us.
@Gina: I love you and Marcus! Thanks for your support 🙂
@Katy: A reminder for us all, for sure!
@Holley: No, thank YOU for allowing me to share my heart here!
@Danielle: Yes, I agree. But we can’t let anger creep in because we will resent people we are suppose to love. Instead, let’s be the change we want to see!
Charissa Steyn says
what a crazy story. But what an awesome reminder for us all. I am sure I have done that to a few people without even knowing it… turned them away, passed them by.. just because of their appearance.
I try to remember to ask God to give me his eyes for people- to see their heart.
By the way… love the way you speak, it’s inspiring to me 🙂
Elizabeth Mahlou says
I would say that man belonged there. Who knows who he might have been and whom the assistant pastor might have chased away.
There is a great story floating around the Internet in which a scruffy-looking man shows up at a beautiful church and is told after church that there is a dress code; if he comes back, he should follow it. He does come back, in the same scruffy clothes. A dean tells him again that there is a dress code, and suggests that he follow it and if he cannot find it in himself to listen to the deacon, he should discuss it with God. He came back a third week, again in scruff clothes. The deacon angrily asks him if he has discussed how he dresses with God. “Yes,” the man answered, “but God was confused as to how to advise me to dress to come here because He said He does not come to this church!” Ouch! I wonder if there are not some parallels here between the deacon and your assistant pastor.
As for seeing Jesus, yeah, often I sense His presence in people just like the one you described, and I try to get to know them and their needs a little. Sometimes I really can help even if only in minor ways. Sometimes, just a little friendship/conversation goes a really long way. Once we had an unknown person, poorly dressed, walk in off the street to our prayer group. She introduced herself only as Connie. We spent some time in pairs, as is our custom, sharing with each other our prayer-life experiences, and I ended up paired with Connie. She did not want to talk about that topic or to have a two-way conversation. She wanted me to listen as she told me about being in the final stage of lung cancer and expected to be dying very soon. What can one say? One can only listen, as she desired. During our contemplative prayer, she was slightly in front of me, and it seemed somehow that she briefly morphed into Jesus right in front of my eyes. Then she got up to leave and walked past me. I was no longer praying; I was watching her. She reached out to give me a hug. I stood up and hugged her, and she whispered in my ear, “Pray for me.” I promised I would, and she left soundlessly. It was like she simply disappeared instead of actually walking out the door. It was an odd experience. After our general discussion, following our contemplative prayer, I told the others about Connie’s request, and I led a joint prayer for her. I am not sure who Connie was, but I do believe that, like all of us, there was indeed a piece of God within her.
Bianca, I’m wondering if the “pastor” even thought of praying for him. Sometimes when I don’t know what to say or do – prayer is the best answer. At least the man came to “Church” to try to get help – but how often do we see “average everyday normal people” and allow them in church, when inside of them – they maybe worse than the “smoker”. Jesus went into the streets – to where the people were and you’ve told His story beautifully. May we all see Jesus in those around us.
Awesome post. As life passes day by day and we get stuck in our own concerns and our own everyday responsibilities and worry, we tend to overlook “those” who need Jesus. Thank you for the reminder.
My own trials and hardships have transformed my heart and perspective…not saying i didn’t have a heart for people…but when you have experienced it, you are able to understand and empathize….my heart breaks for people…I just ask that God would give me the courage to speak to those who need to hear…
Wow, this is exactly a topic I have been discussing lately with my husband. While it can be the hardest to do, it, to me, is one of the most important. Thanks for the reminder!
Deb Owen says
Amen sister!! A big ‘A-men’
Coming out of my ‘unchurched-of-the-world’ days after being raised as a preacher’s daughter, I was only able to return because people loved me and said ‘come’, despite the fact that my behavior had not yet changed. It was that love and that acceptance (not approval, but acceptance) that led me to finally understand grace….and finally return.
We can’t reach and save the lost if we are determined to stay in a holy huddle and kick the rest out. 😉
This is the saddest story I’ve heard in a long time. How awful for that man, eager to hear God, instead to hear those words of rejection. I only pray that God has worked on this pastor’s heart since then!
@Charissa: Your continued support motivates me to do what I do! Honestly!
@Elizabeth: WHOA! I got the chills reading your story!!! Wow. I’m praying for Connie too.
@Christy: God has given you a heart of encouragement. You always have an encouraging word and I pray you use it fully 😉
@Shannon: Conversations are the impetus for change!!! I’m so glad you are addressing this 🙂
@Deb: Holy Huddle? Hahahahhaha! I’m stealing that!
@Elaine: I hope so too. But in the meantime, I haven’t forgotten his face and I hope he went back to church…
Melissa Runcie | Madabella says
In a car full of church women, a conversation about this very topic came up…them, those, they…
I am not always quick on my feet and silently I kept praying, “Lord! Help a daughter out! What do I say?”
A few moments later, all I could say was, “So, how do we show THEM the love of Jesus?”
As the conversation turned hopeless, I found myself thinking of the women I traveled with as “THEM” and God exposed my own heart….reminding me I can be just like “them” at times, too.
Seeing Jesus is remembering that God sees the heart. He always sees the heart. Lord, may this be my ferverent prayer to live radically sold out for you!!! And may I have the brave courage to speak up and speak out.
Wow! This totally reminds me of a book I just read called “Under the Overpass.” It’s about two college students who spend 7 months among the homeless to see how the church treats the homeless and to reach out to them, themselves. Thanks for the reminder as I embark on my own first missions trip as well.
Deb Owen says
@Bianca – Feel free! I stole it from my senior pastor! HAHA
This morning, as I was on my way home from running errands, I saw a man sitting in the sweltering heat just off the interstate exit across the way from me. As the light changed, car after car just passed him by, and and I couldn’t help but have tears well up in my eyes as I made my left turn home.
I couldn’t see the sign he was holding, as he was facing away from me quite a distance away, but I’m almost certain that he was asking for help. For someone to notice him. That he wouldn’t have to feel invisible. I immediately prayed that he would get what he needed, but felt guilty for not getting out of my car and running across the street to ask him myself.
That moment, as well as this post is confirmation that I need to not only be more aware of seeing Jesus in others, but to act accordingly. Thank-you for this reminder.
For me…it’s remembering I’m just as much as a sinner in need of saving as anybody else. My sin may not be as “obvious” as some, but I know it’s there and so does Jesus.
He came to seek and save that which is lost.
Oh my, this just breaks my heart.
I actually wrote a post addressing this very issue just today…
Thank you Jesus for loving me… a they, them, those.
Love this devotion sis. This is such a clear reminder to all of us that we ALL have sinned and come short. So often we are so quick to point fingers at others, when we should look at ourselves. None of us … NO ONE …is perfect. Just the fact that this one, had a sin that was noticeable. He smoked … it is something that was apparent on the outside. So everyone could see it instantly and pass judgment immediately. Not saying that this is right, but perhaps we should examine our hearts and ask God to help us all.
Perhaps the one that was smoking had issues that he/she was dealing with that were greater that caused them to be smoking that if you would reach out and help them, you could be of greater service as a christian instead of passing judgment.
Dear Lord, help us all.
Taking Heart says
Such a sad, true story. I encounter this every day in my work… and I am ashamed to admit that at times I fail… I fail the opportunity to be who I am called to be in that small moment.
Thank you for the bittersweet reminder.
What helps me see Jesus in people is simply to look. The reflection of God’s image may be dim, but because all are formed in His image, it’s there. Thanks for helping me remember to look.
This made me cry, of course. When you said “I wanted to die” I knew just what you meant. In my head as I was reading the sentence before I was screaming “What?!” All I can say is that I feel blessed that God has not allowed the harshness of this world to wear away my “gullibility,” my ability to listen to the “sob story” and feel the pain beneath it, whether or not every word is true; my desire to see the person behind the circumstance. I have found that since I am always looking for that, that is what I see, and I have been blessed to come in momentary contact with many children of God – we may not know each other’s names, but we talked on the bus, or on the corner, or in the supermarket line. I hope that I have helped them see that not everyone is hard – some people love you just because you are a fellow human being. Not everybody has that gift, and I know I am truly blessed to be charged with it.
This certain homeless man (by choice–go figure??) started attending our church for a few years. (We have them often. But this is just his story.) He went to another local body to inquire about their church, a church staff member actually said “Go to Pastor ____’s church– they accept anyone.” He meant it derogatory, but when word got back to us (I’m pastor’s daughter) we practically went into shoutin’ mode! PRAISE GOD!
I can’t believe the body of Christ can have such religious sticks up one’s ___!
“they, them and those”
I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who is bothered by those words.
We are in the same boat in this life – all our righteousness as filthy rags and needing divine intervention. When we forget this, we step away from understanding grace AND being able to extend it.
The Least of These says
[…] thought about this after reading an article on the (In)Courage web site a few days ago. The writer stood by helplessly while an assistant pastor proceeded to […]