Anyone who knows me can’t help but realize I like to joke around and tease others. One of the people I occasionally tease is Evelyn Creps, our congregation’s board chair person. She also picks back. We both know it’s in fun and we don’t take it to heart. The reason we can do this is because we are building our relationship in other areas. Since she’s been the board chair person for the past two years, we’ve had many conversations regarding church business. We also talk about life. I ask her how she’s doing and she asks about my family.
I went grades 1-12 with a girl I’ll call Sally. She came from difficult circumstances. Her family was poor so often her clothes were outdated, ill-fitting and a little dirty. She also struggled with her grades and, unfortunately, often ate alone at lunch.
Some of the other students picked on Sally about her hygiene and academic struggles. I teased Sally too but, as well as I can remember, I never teased her about her appearance or grades. I just picked on her like I did my friends. Although I couldn’t see it at the time, I now realize there were issues with the way I picked on her. First of all, I didn’t really have a relationship with her. We had different friends and different interests. Second, and most importantly, she never picked back at me. She just hid behind her smile.
After high school graduation, I lost touch with her. A few years ago, she friended me on Facebook. Through her posts, I discovered she’s married and still lives in Pocahontas County, WV. She seems happy in the few pictures she posts but, then again, she’s always had a friendly smile.
Last week, I was working at my desk in the church office. As I was checking some contacts on Facebook, the Lord spoke to me. “Apologize to Sally for picking on her when you were in school.” After wrestling with this for a few moments, I submitted to the Lord and sent her the following message: “Hello Sally, I hope you are doing well. I realize that when we were in school, there were times when I was arrogant, acted like a jerk, and picked on people too much. I want to say that I’m sorry for the times I did this to you and hurt your feelings. I do apologize and I ask for your forgiveness. I also apologize that it’s taken me this long to contact you.” I figured it might take her a day or two for her to respond. I don’t know how often she checks her messages. Much to my surprise, she replied in about 30 seconds.
Do you ever have those moments when the Lord allows you to see past the surface of someone’s words and into the depths of their heart? That’s what the Lord did with me. And he used it to rip my heart out. Her response wasn’t “I forgive you.” It wasn’t even “I don’t forgive you because….” That would have been better than the one she sent. Her reply was only two, simple words.
If I thought I’d offended Evelyn by picking on her, I’d apologize. If she then responded with “It’s OK,” I would know it’s really OK. She would be honest with me if it wasn’t OK. I didn’t sense that’s what Sally was telling me. While I do believe forgiveness was included in her response, I sensed there was something else there because of her background. Many times, people who have been beat down in life don’t put the same meaning behind “It’s OK” as do those who have experienced some success and gained respect.
Their “That’s OK” statements also include, “I’m used to it. I’ve been treated bad and beat down so many times that I no longer expect anything better. I’ve accepted this is my place in life.”
I sent her another message. “No, it isn’t. I really am sorry.” She came back with “I forgive.”
We spent the next few minutes catching up with each other about the paths our lives have taken since we saw last saw each other 30 years ago. Eventually, I had to break off the conversation and get back to work. Her last sentence to me was “Message me when you can.”
That afternoon I couldn’t get our conversation out of my head. This led to a question I’m still wrestling with today. How many “That’s OK” people are right around me and I’ve never noticed them because I’ve been too busy “doing the Lord’s work?” Do I notice the people right around me that are on the fringes of society? In the busyness of your life, do you notice them?
As I thought and prayed about it, I realized the Bible has a lot to say about “OK” people. First of all, Jesus spent time with them. We see it in Matthew 9:9-13. This passage tells us, “9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Pharisees were very religious. They were fanatics about keeping the law. Since they wanted to remain “clean,” they chose not to associate with anyone who didn’t abide by their interpretations of the law. “Tax collectors and sinners” were among the people they ignored. What did Jesus do when he came along? He ate dinner with them. He wasn’t worried about his reputation or what other people thought.
Jesus hasn’t changed. He still has a heart for hurting people, no matter what others think of them. He desires mercy for others over sacrificing through “works.”
Second, Jesus died for the “OK” people. The famous passage of John 3:16-17 says, “16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” There are no qualifications for salvation other than faith in Jesus and then being his disciple. Everyone is eligible to be forgiven of their sins and be part of the church.
Third, and this is a big one Christians need to realize, Jesus’ followers aren’t “OK” people. Perhaps you feel like you are one. Your upbringing was difficult. People picked on you and made you feel small. You barely had enough to get by. Life’s circumstances have been difficult. Even if these things didn’t happen to you, you feel like you just don’t fit in.
As emotionally draining and unfair as these things have been for you, please know the moment you became a disciple of Christ, these difficulties no longer defined you in the eyes of God. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:16-19, “16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.”
The sins that we commit or the sins others commit against us no longer dictate our identity. Socio-economic status, education, power and wealth don’t matter. Disciples of Jesus have their identity in him – not in the circumstance of life.
God no longer views you as an “OK” person. You’re his child. You’re royalty.
Fourth, Jesus commands us to love – and not ignore – the “OK” people. Let’s be honest. It isn’t easy to come along side some “OK” people. There are reasons others ignore them and push them to the fringes of society. The other year during Trunk or Treat at Snake Spring Valley CoB, a member of our congregation wore a purple dress and a weird hat that matched. At one point, she looked at me with a sad face and sheepish eyes and said, “Do you know of a church where someone like me would be welcome?”
I thought about it for a second and then responded, “The Church of God is just down the road. You might be welcome there.”
She replied, “I thought I might be welcome here.”
I finished with, “I don’t know. You look like you might be a lot of work.” Of course, I was kidding and we both laughed about it.
But, with all jokes aside, how many times have we ignored people in real life because we didn’t want to put in the work? What did Jesus have to say about this?
Luke 10:25-37 tells us, “ 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
“Go and do likewise.” Be willing to come alongside the people others ignore.
Don’t give up on that family member who just can’t seem to get it together. Pray for him or her. Be willing to help when the Lord says to help. Don’t automatically write off the difficult neighbor no one else likes. Ask God how you can show love to him or her.
Notice the “OK” people at your job or school. This is part of our ministry to the surrounding community. If you work in the education system, what students need your love? Bosses, what employees need more than just a paycheck from you? Students, what classmates around you do others ignore? When you pick on someone, do they pick back? Are you trying to be their friend? Please don’t make the same mistake I made.
I’ve only mentioned a few examples. It doesn’t matter where we live, work or go to school. There are people around us who are beaten down and need someone to stop long enough to help them up. We don’t want to be so busy doing “the Lord’s work” that we don’t do the things Jesus actually did!
There are a lot of Sally’s around us. What “OK” people has Jesus already brought to your mind? Love them like he does. Eat with them. Be their friend. Love them.