Friday, April 19, 2019

Good Friday Message - Not to Judge or to Condemn

Something very special happened to me this week that I want to share with those who follow our ministry. While I was in Augusta, Georgia, for business, I decided to take a walk after dinner to get some air and stretch my legs. A mistake in navigating the downtown streets of Augusta turned out to be a blessing not only for the person I met but also a blessing for me and a reminder of God’s love for us expressed through His son, Christ Jesus.

As I walked down Broad Street, I made a wrong turn and found myself in a place most would not want to be. It smelled of garbage and was filthy. I would not have blamed anyone for wanting to leave, but I felt something in my heart that said to continue my walk. I have come to learn that God may have placed me there for a reason and for a lesson.

Part of me wanted to turn around and run as quickly as I could. I felt uncomfortable and very afraid, but I continued with my walk. Each moment between steps felt like an eternity. I prayed that God would show me the fastest way out of this place. As I walked by a dilapidated building, I ran across a young lady who looked as thin as a rail. Her clothing was in tatters and her face was dirty. My heart immediately went out to her. I greeted her with a smile and wished her a good evening.

As my words came out, I saw small tears in the corners of her eyes. It was as if no one had ever bothered to talk to her. To her ears, my words seemed like a gift. When I saw those tears, I immediately stopped and asked her name.

More tears came to her eyes. I honestly believe that no one ever spoke to her much less asked her name.

In a very soft and quiet voice, she managed to speak, “Rachel. My name is Rachel.”

I nodded my head and replied, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Rachel. That is such a beautiful name.”

She immediately began to weep. The ground was soon soaked with her tears. I had some tissues in my pocket and I offered them to her. She sobbed even more and clutched the tissues ever so tightly with her thin, pale fingers. The way she was holding the tissues reminded me of how my daughter would hold a precious Christmas gift.

I asked her when she had last eaten. She told me that she could not even remember when she had a meal. As we stood there, I noticed that we were near a Huddle House. Although I had eaten, I asked her if she would like to join me for dinner. Once again, more tears streamed down her face. 

As we walked to the restaurant, she shuffled her feet and walked very slowly. I slowed down so that she could keep up with me. I did not want her to feel that I was ashamed to be seen with her.

As we sat at a table, she looked at the menu and asked what she could order. I knew exactly what she was trying to say. I just said, “Rachel, order anything that your heart desires.”

She was shocked by my offer and was still very apprehensive about ordering anything. The waitress came over to us and asked us what we would like to drink. I looked at Rachel and asked, “Rachel, what would you like to drink?”

She was shocked. It almost seemed like no one had ever asked her what she wanted. She looked at me, smiled and asked, “Would it be OK to order a Coke?”

I returned the smile and said, “If that is what you wish, then a Coke it is.”

As we waited, we talked about the weather and I told her that I was from Atlanta and visiting on business. She asked me what I did for a living. I explained to her that I worked as a learning and development consultant. As I continued, I told her that I was a pastor. She looked at me and said, “I had a feeling that you were religious.”

I leaned across the table and whispered, “Don’t hold it against me.”

She laughed and I joined her. She felt comfortable and we just continued to talk. The waitress took our order and we enjoyed a quiet, friendly meal. As we finished, she looked at me and then looked at her plate.

I asked, “Is there something wrong, Rachel?”

She told me no, but asked about a second meal for her dog. I did not see one, but I was not about to question her about it. I told her that it would be fine and that I had two little dogs of my own.

As we finished and parted ways, I gave her the money I had in my pocket and wished her a wonderful evening. As I walked away, she ran after me. I turned to face her and she said that our evening together was the best that she had in a long time and thanked me. I extended my hand and shook hers. As I did, she began to weep again. She pulled out the tissues that I had given her earlier and wiped away her tears.

She turned and walked quietly away. As she did, I realized that God had given me a very special gift. Rachel had been judged by her circumstances and ignored. No one bothered to share a smile with her or even asked her name. 

Sometimes we judge others and condemn them to a punishment worse than death. We ignore them and just walk by them without even a nod. In some cases, we turn our heads and eyes away from them and hope that they just go away.

As I walked back to Broad Street, I began to think about all of the people that Jesus talked with, met or had dinner with. He did not judge anyone and treated all with kindness and love. No one was ever beneath him or made to feel insignificant. All were loved and made to feel special.

Jesus, while speaking to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, tells him this in John 3, “16 For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

It is because of God’s love for us and the death and resurrection of His son, Christ Jesus, that we have eternal life. If Jesus had felt that we were not worth it, he could have easily just ignored us and left us to live our lives in darkness and sin. Because of his love for us, he endured the humiliation of a mock trial, beatings, whippings and many other things we cannot even begin to imagine. 

He was made to carry his own cross along the very streets that were once lined with cheering crowds. Now, they were lined with jeering, hateful people who only wanted his blood. Once he got to his place of execution, he was nailed to that cross and lifted up for all to see. A sign over his head read, “This is the King of the Jews.”

It took a tremendous amount of love to endure all of those horrible, ghastly things. As he hung from that cross, he looked out among the people and asked, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

As I recall this picture, I cannot help but think of Rachel. Jesus not only died for those who had much, but he also died for those who had nothing. He did not ignore any of us. He never turned his head away from those less fortunate. Just like His Father, Jesus loved and continues to love us to this day like no one else can or will ever love us.

I hope that I never forget the lesson and love of Jesus and always look at the Rachels in our world and love and care for them just as our Heavenly Father loves and cares for us. Let us always remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 when he said, “35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.

We are to truly be our brother’s keeper and strive to help those who are hungry, thirsty and alone. When we do those things, we will hear the words of Jesus, “40 I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

Strive each day to put others’ needs before your own. By doing so, you can stand firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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