Today’s post is from Joel Furches.
An old and haggard looking woman enters the cell phone store where I work. I greet her as I’ve been trained to do.
“How are you doing today, Ma’am?”
She doesn’t respond. She’s the only customer in the store and my manager is standing right behind me. When she ignores me, he begins to take interest. Together we watch her begin to rifle through her purse.
I wonder if she may be pulling her cell phone out to show me some problem it is having. But eventually she produces a check book. Mystery solved. She has come to pay her cell phone bill.
Only ten minutes before, my manager had instructed me not to take any payments by check. A payment of cash or credit can be directed to our payment machine, but if a customer pays by check, we have to ring it through the register.
When we do this, the customer is flagged for a survey on how our store did providing them with customer service. Any answer less than “very satisfied” gets us penalized with a reduced commission. My manager’s solution is to simply refuse to ring up unnecessary transactions.
“Are you paying your bill today, Ma’am?” I ask.
She doesn’t respond, doesn’t look up. She’s searching her purse for a pen.
“Ma’am.” My manager says.
She doesn’t respond.
“Ma’am!” he shouts.
She doesn’t look up. He tries a third and a fourth time before she glances up and informs us that she is deaf. My manager grabs a piece of paper and writes out that we can’t take her check. She becomes angry and tries to argue. I suggest that she cash the check at the bank. She refuses and storms out.
As he watches her go, my manager launches into one of his typical diatribes against humanity. Fifteen years in retail have made my manager a bitter man.
He talks about how entitled people are because businesses and the government bend over backwards to make their lives easier until they feel it is a right. He hates immigrants because they come into the country unable to speak the language and expect us to accommodate them. He hates the handicapped because they expect people to assist them and are ungrateful when they do. He hates liberals because they enable people to continue being lazy and irresponsible. And he hates Christians for falling back on false comfort of an invisible God who “works in mysterious ways.” They waste their time and energy praying to someone who isn’t there expecting things to get better instead of getting out there and doing the hard work of making it better.
Looking at my manager, I see a man who has stumbled upon the first step towards Christian faith. He has seen the depravity of human beings. He has a keen recognition of the flaws and faults that we all share in common.
“The difference between you and I,” I tell him, “is that I see all of the bad things about other people that you do. But I also see those exact things in myself. I have no right to criticize or condemn others when I am so deeply flawed.”
“I know I have flaws,” he responds. “I’ve got a horrible temper. It’s always been a problem. But at least I take responsibility and work to support myself! These people want everyone else to support them!”
This man believes that he is a good person because he takes responsibility for himself, earns his wages, and pays his way. More than this, he expects – he needs – everyone else to live up to the same standard.
In reality, though, he doesn’t really meet his own standard. He is as frustrated with himself and his own failure as he is with everyone around him. When he fails at anything he tries, he beats himself down for that failure. No matter how hard he works, he can’t succeed, even at a standard he set.
Despite his love of hard work, when someone comes to his store to pay their bill, he won’t even take their money if it might put his commission at risk. Do you see the irony? In noticing her faults, he misses his own shortcomings.
The next step towards Jesus is so simple.
As Jesus hung on the cross, there were criminals on either side of him. They were well aware of Jesus’ reputation. You can hear the mocking tone in one criminal’s words: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
The other criminal responds, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”
This criminal might have been the very first convert to Christianity. He asks Christ, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus responds, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
There was no long discourse, no digging to theological depths. A man looked at a criminal haranguing an innocent man. He looked at himself and saw a criminal as well. At that moment he realized that he was as guilty as any other man. He had no right to condemn, for he was also condemned. He could only plead for forgiveness (see Luke 23:32ff).
When we see the faults of others, we are so close to seeing the faults in ourselves.
Sometimes we take a detour, condemning others and justifying ourselves.
But when we realize that Christ took our condemnation so that we might be forgiven, there is an incredible opportunity to humble ourselves.
This recognition of one’s own depravity, this realization of one’s helplessness to improve oneself, this throwing oneself on the mercy of the innocent Jesus, is essential if we are to follow Jesus. After all, the first Christian died on a cross next to Jesus.
When we humble ourselves and acknowledge our need for Christ, it kills the constant desire to serve ourselves. As we experience Jesus meeting our needs, we realize that our true purpose in life is not to serve ourselves, but to serve Christ and His kingdom.
As He renews our lives, and we begin to serve our neighbors – for their benefit, not for our self-justification – we know that Jesus deserves the credit for this transformation.
The Christian life is one of humility and dependence upon Jesus.
It isn’t about judging others, but about realizing that all of us deserve judgment.
It isn’t about justifying ourselves, but realizing that all of us need God’s mercy.
These little reminders are available for us in all kinds of ordinary circumstances. The humble, repenting path is the way to Jesus. It is the path to life, to serving our neighbors, and to honoring God.
Which route will you take?
There is the path of denying our sin, blaming others, and not really improving, despite our best efforts. Or there is the path of acknowledging our sin, repenting of it, and experiencing Jesus’ renewal.
What’s keeping you back? I encourage you to bring your faults and flaws to Jesus today.
You can contact the author at Joel.firstname.lastname@example.org.