Looking For A Home
By Timothy Roettger
John’s car pulled into the parking space quietly and unobserved. It was his first time at this church and he was a bit nervous. He looked himself over in the mirror a few times, trying to appear as best he could. He grabbed his bible and headed for the door. There were a few stragglers in the lot with him, all gave him an inquisitive eye. John was sure they were wondering what he was there for. Then he remembered his tattoo’s and smacked himself in the head. He had intended to wear a long sleeve shirt that day to make first impressions a bit easier for them all, but had just not thought of it. He was a bit concerned that everyone he saw was in Sunday best dress. John had always been used to coming to service casual. He had gotten used to being comfortable when he went to God.
Finally he reached the door and grabbed for the handle. The point of no return. “It’s not too late.” He thought. Mustering the strength he managed to get the door open and walk in. The Lobby was full, and people were slowly shuffling into the auditorium. John Made his way slowly through, some looked here and there at him, most gave the tattoos on his arms the ever so settle triple take, of course trying to appear as if they weren’t looking. He shrugged it off and sat somewhere in the middle.
Waiting for the service to start John had received some hello’s and welcomes as was the custom. He noticed a few people dressed casually and it put him at ease a bit. The auditorium was full but not packed. It was a small church and everyone seemed to know the others so a new comer was sure to stand out. Service began with the band opening up with a short hymn. It was contemporary worship style with no organ present, and John had no issues with that. They played well and worship was easy to get into. The song ended and someone stood to the front to speak.
“Welcome, its good to see everyone here today. Let’s pray!” The speaker bowed his head. He was a tall man and nicely dressed. “God we thank you for this day and ask that your spirit be present with us in this service. Lead us to your throne Lord. And God, let us this day cast off ourselves and our sins, let the lost see your light in our service today. Amen.” With that the speaker opened his eyes and peered over the crowd. “I see we have some new comers in our service today…”
“Oh no…here it comes.” John thought to himself, knowing this was a church to single out the new comers.
“If this is your first time to our service today could you take a stand and let us recognize you.” John thought twice about standing but knew he would not be mistaken for a second time visitor. Slowly he stood. To his surprise someone else also stood. There was a vast contrast between the two, John stood tall, casual with jeans and a golf shirt, long hair and of course sported tattoos on his forearms. The other man stood with his wife. Both were dressed in Sunday best, a smart looking couple straight from the country club. The speaker quietly excused everyone to greet and welcome there guests. And suddenly John became very uneasy. He stood helplessly as a steady stream of people walked past him to the other couple. They were lavished with hello’s and welcomes and pats on their backs as a the people crowded around them to make them feel at home. John, only received a few half hearted hellos as the crowd shuffled back and forth. One man apparently feeling sorry managed to excuse himself from his seat at last and shake John’s hand. John went from feeling helpless to angry. He’d hope to find some people at last that would look past the exterior and desire to get to know him, the real him. John managed to contain his anger. And sit down at last. His appearance had indeed changed a bit. He was not as uncomfortable as he was before, he was a bit angry and it was not well hidden.
The service came and went, worship was pleasant and John managed to find a way to let go of the anger and just seek the heart of God. The sermon was well spoken but seemed to lack something. It didn’t really speak anything to him. It wasn’t a lesson or teaching as much as it was opinion, not supported by scripture. Though the words flowed, the content lacked and thrashed aimlessly in John’s mind. The end came and John thought it was for the best to write off this place and try again next week. The pastor began to wrap up with an alter call, the band played quietly and the pastor spoke in calm soothing tones.
”I know there’s some here who need God’s forgiveness. You’re a sinner, and need grace. Now’s the time to come forward, don’t wait till tomorrow. Everyone please be praying now, eyes closed heads bowed” The band began to play and people began to quietly to pray. John followed the directions until he felt uncomfortable. He managed to take a peek to find a few people staring at him. Suddenly they all turned around and the pastor spoke again, with a similar plea. Again John followed the directions only to feel the burning gaze of the others around him. This went on a few times until the older man next to john leaned over putting his arm around him and stated.
“Son the pastor’s talking about you.” The man meant well, but the intent was not the outcome. John had enough. He burnt with anger. He was mad, this type of thing happened way to often. For a church that was supposed to show no favoritism based on appearance most churches he had visited had done just that. He began to wish he’d never moved. He had a good church in his last city and moved away only after a better job opportunity came along. He thought it would be a step up and a way to meet more Christians, brothers and sisters but it turned out to be judgment central.
John quietly grabbed his bible, and started walking up the center isle. He met every gaze and stare with that of his own. Not with Anger but love and sadness in his heart. Slowly he met the pastor on stage, and as he drew near the pastor opened his arms to give him a hug. John put it off with a firm handshake instead and in a single stroke reached for the wireless microphone he was holding as well.
John was firm and confident. He’d felt something come over him and the others had definitely noticed a change. They looked at him differently, not with contempt or judgment but almost a look of Guilt. The look you get on your face when you realized you’ve down something that you will cringe at the rest of your life. The pastor offered no resistance, he appeared as a deer in the headlights caught and unable to move from the truck that was about to side swipe it. John stepped up to the podium pulled open his Bible and read.
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, “You sit here in a good place,” and say to the poor man, “You stand there,” or, “Sit here at my footstool,” have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” John paused a moment to let it sink in. he was reading from James 2, and by the looks of it not many questioned that it was scripture he read.
John continued with a loving town “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?”
John closed his Bible and stepped away from the podium. Everyone still a bit in a daze, some now where not meeting John’s eyes when he gazed at them, but most were avoiding eye contact. John stepped out in front of the podium “You’d think by looking at me that I was a sinner. That perhaps I had been involved in a life of self hate. My tattoos might be badges of sin to you. My hair might be a length long enough to necessitate the scowl you gave me as I walked in your doors. Maybe it was my cloths that turned you away from embracing me. Did I not honor God enough for you because I didn’t wear the best I had, coming to church with a noose and burial jacket. But how did you know this wasn’t my best? And if I had been the very picture of man you judged me to be, do you really believe the treatment I received would be followed by my tearful repentance and begging for forgiveness from the pew evangelists that you all are. Was the passing by that you gave me for a greeting the warm embrace of God’s love? What would have been the factor to lead you to think that a man coming in the doors of God’s home would be the place where you need to evangelize? Are the lost inside God’s body? Is merely attending a service with such loving contempt going to save a man who is as you judge me to be? I will tell you the truth, I am a dead man. What you see before you now is only a faint image of the one I once was. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
John put the wireless microphone back in the pastor’s hand and stepped away from the stage and quietly slipped back in his seat. The pastor stood forward, this time his head was down, and eyes closed. He spoke a few silent words to God and himself and then addressed the church. “The alter is open for prayer. If you feel, as I do, that there is a time you need to spend with God. Come down. God was calling some to forgiveness, but it wasn’t who we may have thought.” In the background the band played quietly. And the pastor turned off and put down the microphone and kneeled at the altar. One by one people began to shuffle to the stage. And the first there was the gentle old man who sat next to him and offered the bit of wisdom “He’s talking about you son.” John wasn’t quit sure what to feel. He felt awkward and out of place. He still was in a bit of shock at what just happened, he’d never done that before and wasn’t quite sure what came over him. He sure wasn’t looking to do it again. And then he thought it would just be better if he stepped to the back and leave quietly before they saw him. He’d caused enough trouble and he felt better just leaving these people in peace. He gathered his things as quietly as he could and shuffled out the side of the pew and to the back of the auditorium and slowly and quietly made his way toward the doors. To his surprise he was met there by the pastor, and now it was him who appeared as the deer in headlights. He fought back the panic and decided to just deal with the consequences and let it be done.
“My name is Pastor Ke…No no, my name is Ken.”
“John” attempting to explain “Listen, I’m sorry I had no right to do that.”
“Perhaps not, perhaps so but regardless it clearly wasn’t you who spoke John it was God. And the words Spoken were true and as Truth does, brought freedom. Its us, no me I’m sorry. I was wrong to look at you how I did. I know better. Things have been pretty nuts lately and I’ve just got too caught up with motions and had forgotten the truth behind it all, the real meaning. What a wake up call. But you know when you don’t get God’s message in private, He doesn’t have a problem getting you to get the message in public.” With that they both chuckled. The service had closed down now and people began to gather around John. He wasn’t uneasy anymore and suddenly this place seemed like home. He was greeted warmly, and sometimes tearfully and there was a great communion that took place. John had no problem coming back to this church now. It suddenly seemed a bit warmer and he marveled at God’s ability to turn the judgment in our hearts into love for others. He and those with him were all a bit more humbled.