We made our way from the long procession through the crowded city streets on our way to the cemetery. It is amazing when going at a slow, crawl-like speed the different things that you observe that never appeared to you before. It is like being on a sightseeing trip without a tour guide. You see dates on buildings, architecture on homes and cracks in sidewalks that, while driving down streets at regular speed, you never notice.
Sometimes it takes a slow speed to make us notice.
Who would have ever imagined we would be burying one of our own on this stunningly beautiful crisp fall day.
Something touched my life that day. I am certain it was the gentle guiding hand of God. I stood in the huge arena that doubled as a visitation place to pay our last respects. I looked around and no longer saw rebellious men with bad habits and wretched lives, I saw men with desperate, pain-filled faces, who desperately needed a Savior. God pierced me with an overwhelming feeling of conviction. They needed a Savior, which I had pleasantly hid from them. I felt God speak to my soul, “Go to them, do not be afraid, they need you. Get out of the safety of the church and be the church for these heart- broken people.”
As we drove, I mulled over the verse that stated: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16(NIV)
When I became a Christian, I chose to become distant and not interact with this group of people. I wanted to be ‘cozy’ within the walls of the church. I knew the verses in John 17, but I chose not to live it. “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Matthew 17: 15-18(NIV). I did not want them to corrupt me with their partying life-style, so I avoided them. Their sinfulness became my justified reason to avoid them.
Once we arrived at our destination, we walked in silence through the grey tombstones and haphazardly placed floral arrangements. We stopped momentarily to talk to a man that had membership in this group. He was on a sleek, polished motorcycle, his breath smelled of alcohol. Speculation would indicate that this man was up all night drinking his woes away. I knew his heart cried, despite his outward toughness and tattoo that indicated nothing could penetrate his soul. Instead of labeling him a hopeless sinner, it came to me as a startling revelation; we were all desperate once.
At that moment, the fire truck came to a gradual halt in front of the tent that was prepared to welcome the mourning. The firemen stood at attention; the wives stood tall but every knee was weak. Who would have ever dreamed that a seemingly routine early morning fire would take the life of this veteran firefighter?
Bagpipes hauntingly echoed “Amazing Grace:” "Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see" (words by John Newton 1779).
I had my sight, but I certainly could not see.
God widened my vision and tore away my Purple Pharisee robe.
That day, I discovered that it was those that I had judged the most harshly, that needed Jesus the most.
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