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Recently, I had an experience that emphasizes just how hard it sometimes is to strictly life by Christian principles. As you read the following, think about what you might have done, and what you might have thought about.
Around noon, one day recently, as I drove on the Interstate highway near Gary, Indiana, I felt hungry. I pulled off and went into a McDonald's restaurant. Since it was around noon, it was busy and I got into line at the counter.
I'm a pretty observant person and I am always fascinated about the exquisite texture that God has put into our environment that makes it so interesting. As I was looking around, I saw a man enter the restaurant, who struck me as a potentially interesting person. He was probably in his 30s and I got the impression that a substantial part of his life had probably been hard. He wore an apparently new leather jacket that had the logo of a Las Vegas strip club on his back. (For this last reason, I decided maybe I should NOT try to initiate a conversation with him!
He never got very close to me anyway. He did not get into line with the rest of us. Instead, he went over to a newspaper rack that the restaurant thoughtfully provided for customers while they dined. He spent about a minute browsing the various daily papers there. Then he selected one, very neatly folded it up, put it under his arm, and walked out the door!
OK! I realize this was not a felony, but the guy just stole a newspaper! A variety of thoughts quickly went through my head. I was taken by surprise that he had done this in the presence of twenty people. I was appalled that he did it. I was saddened to think that his situation was such that he felt the NEED to do that.
And then I felt several social and Christian responsibilities. After all, I AM a Pastor, and I have the responsibility to my Lord of spreading His Teachings. And, I try to be ethical and moral, and I just witnessed a crime, albeit a small crime.
Should I have yelled at him from my place in line? Should I have given up my place in line to run outside after him, to teach him the error of his ways? Should I have alerted the store manager that the paper had just been stolen? All these thoughts quickly passed through my mind.
Almost as rapidly, thoughts of the reality of the situation followed. Would the man's life suddenly be changed if I confronted him? Rather unlikely, and he would probably stand even farther from any Ministry in the future if he thought that's how he would be treated and judged. The store manager was very busy trying to deal with the noon rush of customers. Would she have wanted to spend a half-hour pursuing my high ethical standards? Or would she rather just blow off the fact that something was stolen. After all, I'm sure she has customers and employees steal various things every day, generally far more valuable than a newspaper.
I felt the tremendous need to do SOMETHING, but I did nothing! Later, I prayed for the man's soul, of course! But, it sure seems like I should have done more. I just cannot figure out what that should have been!
The story does not end here. Because of this incident, I continued to watch the man slowly walk across the parking lot toward a nearby truck stop. Once there, he walked up to a white car and lifted the door handle. I almost stopped watching at this point, because it established that he DID at least have a car.
Except, that was not the case. Moments later, he casually walked to another car and tried the handle, then a third, fourth and fifth. After that, he just continued to walk across the parking lot toward the highway. I just witnessed ANOTHER crime (I think). If any of those cars had been unlocked, he clearly would have gotten into it, which certainly WOULD have been a crime. I am not actually sure if just trying various cars' door handles is a crime or not. In any case, the Lord certainly does not approve of such things, so again, I felt a responsibility to do SOMETHING!
But what? Call the Police? But, technically, there was no car theft. Run out and say "Stop, thief!"? Oh, yeah, THAT would have accomplished something!
Less than a minute after being perplexed about what to do in the newspaper incident, I felt faced with a second dilemma. Again, none of the possibilities that I could think up seemed to be practical, even though they were all ethical. So, guess what? I did NOTHING, again!!
Several minutes later, I had my food (to go) and was headed for the road. I think I was being tested that day, because guess who I soon passed walking along the road? Yup! Same guy!
The thought occurred to me to stop and pick him up. In my entire life, I have NEVER picked up a hitchhiker, but now I was considering it for a man who just demonstrated the ability to commit crime. Since I drive a Corvette, the possibility DID seem to exist that if he was invited inside, he might just decide to keep it for himself!
On the positive side, I speculated about the opportunity to have an extended conversation with him, without specific references to what I had just witnessed. Maybe a conversation about life and hardships and Christianity might open his eyes to a new perspective, a Christian perspective. I suspected it would probably have to be a VERY long conversation, to counter-act a life that seemed generally pointed in a very different direction.
Unfortunately, there were people waiting to meet me an hour later, and I elected not to stop. I can try to justify that in many ways. The time factor. The danger of picking up hitchhikers. Fear. The strong impression that it would be necessary to bond with such a person over an extended period before any benefits could appear.
I have been disappointed with myself regarding several aspects of that day. I KNOW that I should have done more. Even if I was not a Pastor, a Christian is supposed to DO something in such situations, right?
Again, these were miniscule crimes, in view of how modern society is. But the experiences of that day made me think much more about the many people we hear about who witness a murder or other major crime, and who do not then come forward with their information. I still think it's WRONG to act that way, but I think I have a much better understanding of why they might do that.
What would YOU have done? What would YOU have thought? How big or personal a crime would it have to be before YOU would come forward?
What if he stole MY newspaper? What if he entered MY car in the parking lot and stole my newspaper? Or a CD Player? Or threatened or injured someone near me in line in the restaurant?
These are all matters of degree. In all cases, a crime is committed and it is also a sin. What makes us think we can decide which ones are important enough to act on?
There are Christians who would react immediately and prominently in ALL such situations. Much of society quickly categorizes such individuals as weird, and such a person soon has little credibility to anyone listening to him/her. There are other individuals who turn away from ANY crime, effectively saying "It's none of my business!" There seem to be a LOT of such people in the modern world!
Obviously, the RIGHT place to be is somewhere in between. The trick is to listen to the Holy Spirit that indwells in each of us, to get It's guidance in such matters. Sometimes, even when you know a crime or a sin has been committed, it may be best to overlook it. Other times, the proper course is to come forward.
SOUNDS simple! The experiences I described above make it clear that it is not always as simple as that! On that day, I think the Holy Spirit indwelling in me was remaining silent, because It knew that I had the opportunity to learn a new thing about myself and about life. I think I did!
I hope you think about these things, as they apply in your own life. Yes, we want to encourage you to aspire to purity in the many wonderful characteristics Jesus taught us and we list in our web-page. But, we also know the reality of the modern world, and that we must sometimes realize that such purity and perfection should be a GOAL but not an absolute expectation. STRIVING for perfection is GREAT! EXPECTING absolute perfection, of oneself or of anyone else, is a certain path toward disappointment.
What would YOU have done in the circumstances I described? BOTH, what you WISH you would have done, AND what you think you realistically actually WOULD have done. An interesting subject, for sure!
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