Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Book Covers

"I have shewed you all things, 
how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, 
and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 
It is more blessed to give than to receive."
Acts 20:35
(KJV - emphasis mine)

I got blessed last night.
Really blessed.
One of those heavens-windows-open-wide-pouring-out-more-than-I-could-contain blessings.

I wasn't sitting in church, when it happened.

I wasn't praying....
reading my Bible....
singing a song...
listening to music...
or walking through nature.

I was pulling out of a Huddle House parking lot...in the dark...
after just minding God.

Obedience to God always brings the sweetest, 
most overwhelming blessings.

Zach and I had picked Kevin up from work,
and we had all decided we were hungry.
We drove the few blocks to the restaurant,
settled in to good conversation,
 and were enjoying a pleasant meal.

It was late, and we weren't in the best neighborhood,
so I was happy to see the three cops seated in a booth
caddy-corner to ours.
Every now and then, I glanced in their direction 
to see if they were still there.
Each time, I was glad they were.
You just never know these days.

About halfway through our time in the restaurant,
I saw, out of the corner of my eye, that a group had walked in 
and were heading to the booth in the corner right behind ours.
The group consisted of five young guys,
probably in their early 20's...
some of them looked a bit rough around the edges.
That might be putting it mildly.
At any rate, I began to feel a bit uneasy.

Once again, I found my glance riveted to the three cops,
and I felt comforted knowing they were still there.

Looking at the guys,
I expected them to be noisy,
possibly disrespectful to the waitress,
and thought the pleasantness of our meal might be interrupted.

Why do I expect the worst?
Why do I automatically prejudge?
Why do I look at the outside and make unfair assumptions 
as to what is on the inside?
Why do I judge books by their covers?

Time after time, I found myself looking in their direction.
All at once, out of the blue,
the sweet voice of the Holy Spirit began to deal with me.
"I want you to buy their meal."

"Really, Lord?

"Yes, them.
I want you to stop judging people based on their outward appearance.
I see the inside.
You should trust My assessment.
It doesn't matter how they look,
how they are dressed,
what your assumptions are.
Down under the surface, 
beyond the tough exterior,
they have a living soul.
They feel.
They hurt.
They love.
I created them.
They deserve kindness...as much as anyone else.
Buy their meal.
Listen to My voice.
Mind Me."

One of the five guys pulled up a spare chair,
to put at the end of the table...so they would all fit.
There were seated and began looking at menus.
Contrary to all of my pre-judging assumptions,
they were mannerly and very quiet.
The waitress came.
Opposite of what I thought would happen,
they were respectful.
They all ordered water, which, for some odd, unknown, off-the-wall reason, impressed me.

I looked at Kevin and Zach. 
Their backs were turned to the five guys.

"I can't explain it", I explained.
"But, I feel like the Lord is telling me to buy their meal."

Kevin asked.

"Did you see the five guys who walked in a little bit ago?
The ones who look pretty rough?"

"Yeah, I saw them.
If you feel that strongly about it,
maybe we should buy it."
Kevin has a heart of gold...generous as can be...
and always willing to listen when he hears, 
"the Lord is telling me to..."

I sat there, silently praying.
"Lord, is this You?
If it is, will you give me a sign...
that you really want us to do this?"

I could picture them becoming offended and possibly enraged.
Crazy thoughts were going through my head.
I knew if we did buy it, it would be with the utmost discretion,
and we wouldn't want them to know until we were long-gone.

Another voice started in.
"You know you can't afford to do that.
Their meal will cost a lot.
A meal for 5 men will set you back to the tune of
at least $40 or so.
Just let it go.
Forget it."

The still, small voice kept speaking...
reminding me that it is His money anyway.

"My children come in all shapes, sizes, races, and outward appearances.
There is no one-size-fits-all mold.
You look at people, and you base everything about them on what you see.
You have such preconceived notions.
Such lofty standards.
I have used men who look a lot like these guys.
What do you think Peter, James, John, and the others looked like?
Do you think they were all cleaned up, close-shaven, and well-dressed?
I choose to use people...just like the guys you are judging.
In fact, these guys are Christians.
But, that really isn't the point.
Even if they weren't followers of Me, I'd still want you to buy their meal."

Excuse me, Lord?
Did I hear You correctly?
I must be way off my game tonight....
when it comes to hearing Your voice
and understanding the meaning of Your words.
Did you say these guys are Christians?"

"You heard Me right, child.
They are My children, just as much as you are Mine.
They serve Me.
They are doing their best...just like you are.
They're human....just like you.
Remember when John came rushing to tell Me
that he and the other disciples had witnessed someone
casting out devils in My name?
He said they forbade him to do it, because he didn't follow us.
He was unfamiliar.
He didn't walk by our side.
And just because he was unknown to them,
they branded him as someone unworthy.
They automatically assumed he had no right.
What was My answer to such?"

I knew the exact incident of which He was reminding me.
It is found in the 9th chapter of Mark, verses 38-40.
It has always spoken volumes to me.
Never more so, than right then.

To be precise, this is Jesus' exact words back to John,
"But Jesus said, Forbid him not:
for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name,
that can lightly speak evil of me.
For he that is not against us is on our part."
(emphasis mine)

Aren't we so like John?
Just because people don't look like we do or like we think they should?
Just because the outside packaging is rough?
Just because they aren't with "us"?
Who are "we" anyway?
Are we so narrow-minded as to think "we" are the only ones
who are Christians or the only ones who are going to Heaven?
That we hold some kind of exclusive rights to the Kingdom Keys?

I imagine if Jesus were here....in the flesh....
He would continually shake His head...
at our audacity....
our feelings of spiritual superiority...
our incessant fascination with making people fit into our molds...
instead of His.

I imagine if we could have witnessed some of the men...and women...
God has chosen to use through the eras of time,
we would gasp....
take on our pious, "holier-than-thou" stance, dig in our sanctimonious heels,
and turn up our smug noses....
until we witnessed the extent of the power of God in their lives.
We judge John for doing what he did.
Don't we do the same?
Each time we do what I did the other night?

The Potter is so faithful to set things right.
He tells me like it is, and that is what I want...
with all my heart.
I want the truth.
So I can be set free...from every shred of self.
I want Him to remove every drop of judgmentalism right out of me.
I want to stop trying to categorize people....
to just love them....
for who they are.
To leave the heart-judging to God,
the only righteous Judge.
I still keep asking myself,
"Just who do you think you are anyway, girl?
Who made you judge and jury?
God looks upon the heart, remember?"

All of this was going on...under the surface....
sitting across from Kevin and Zach.
Once, one of the rougher looking guys happened to look my way.
We made eye contact...for a brief second,
before I quickly turned away....
afraid he could somehow read my awful, judging thoughts.

"Are you okay?"
Kevin always seems to be able to look right through me...
straight to the heart...
and know when something is gnawing at me.

"I'm okay.
I am just waiting for God to let me know for sure...
about what to do.
I wish He would give us a sign."

All through the rest of the meal, 
I kept looking...waiting....listening...for that sign.
None came...
until the very end.

We finished our meal,
stood up to put on our coats,
and started to leave.

"They're talking about the Bible",
Kevin whispered.

What did they say?",
there I was, guarded, making wrong assumptions....
thinking maybe they were sneering or showing irreverence for God's Word.
Even after what God had just told me,
it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the possibility that
these rough, rugged-looking guys could be the respectful-to-the-Bible type.

"They are talking about the Ten Commandments....
in a good way."
Kevin read my thoughts....again.
"They're asking each other which is the first commandment....
very respectfully.
Things like that."

Okay, so I got my sign.

"Let's do it",
 I looked up at Kevin as we walked towards the cashier.

"Okay, I'll do it quietly."
Kevin handed the cashier his debit card,
took care of our meal,
then quietly told her what he wanted to do.

She looked shocked.

"You know which ones I mean, right?"
Kevin wanted to be sure.

"Yeah, the guys in that corner booth over there, right?
She still looked surprised....
in a pleased-kind-of-way.

"Yeah, that's them.  There are five of them."

"Okay, you can do that.
It will be $21.96."

"For all of them?"
Kevin asked, not understanding how five grown guys could
possibly get enough to eat for such a meager amount.

"Yes, that is for all of them."

My mind went back to the lies satan had been feeding me...
trying to dissuade me from minding God.
In reality, the guys had ordered under $22.00 worth of food,
just half of what we thought the check would be.
Soon, the transaction was completed, 
and we hurried out the door.

We got situated in the car,
drove off,
and soon reached the opposite side of the building
nearest to their booth.

As we passed their table,
Kevin and I simultaneously glanced towards their direction,
and there they were.
Faces pressed to the glass.
Grinning from ear to ear.
Waving at us...for all they were worth.
Gratitude, humility, true happiness...
radiating all over each of their faces.

Turns out, the cashier wasted no time in hurrying to their table
to tell them what had just happened.

The looks in their eyes spoke volumes.
It was obvious we had made their night.
But, not nearly as much as they had made ours.

We waved back, and drove off into the night.
I broke down and cried right there in the car...
blubbered like a baby.
Happy, heart-filled-to-the-brim tears.
I felt like God had just sent down a heavenly shower of blessing
all over me...from head to toes,
soaked my inmost spirit with His grace,
and drenched my heart with His love.

"Mama, are you all right?"
Zachary asked, as he heard my sobs.

"Yes, Zachary, I'm fine.
I feel so thoroughly blessed."

"Did you see their faces?"
Kevin asked.

"Yes, I saw."

It hit us driving down the road that the reason their check cost so little
could have been because they didn't order all they wanted,
due to lack of finances.

They could have been college guys,
operating on a shoestring budget.
We'll never know who they were...
or what their circumstances might have been.

"I wish now I would have asked the waitress to get them something
else to eat...added a burger for each of them or something,"
Kevin's said, as we drove along.

I wish we would have done more, too.

You can't judge a book by its cover.
Some of the best-written, most interesting, intriguing literature
lies behind dull, unattractive binding.
Some of the best-intending people lie behind rough exteriors.
And even if they don't have the best of intentions,
they need love....just like everyone else.
Just like you....and me.

I am still feeling that blessing.
Still thinking about those guys.
I've been praying for them.
May they live for Jesus all their days.
May they go out and reach the world for Christ.
I have a hunch His hand is on each one of their lives.

I'm glad He doesn't look on the outward appearance.
He isn't affected by anything we do to the outside.
Sanctimonious airs do nothing to impress our Maker.
The thing He notices is the heart....
that inmost part of us.
He recognized those guys as His...bought and paid for.
Looking on the outside, I would have never guessed.
Here I was, sizing them up,
figuring them to be gang members, hoodlums, ex-cons,
or who knows what else.
Maybe they were...at one time.
I think the key word here is "ex".
Whatever their past, they now belong to Him...I have no doubt.
After all, the ones with the biggest, stickiest messes,
end up having the loudest, most effective messages, right?

I know one thing....I'm glad we stopped at Huddle House.
I'm glad they crossed our path.
I ended up with a huge, life-altering lesson....
and a long-lasting blessing that filled
and continues to fill my inmost soul with joy.

Books aren't always what they appear to be.
It pays to mind God,
and it is definitely more blessed to give, than to receive.

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