Every Friday afternoon, we host an event at our coffee shop. Renaissance Gaming. It's a chance for people to get together and play tabletop games. You may or may not realize that tabletop gaming has grown up. The games often are rather complex and take a significant amount of time even to learn how to play. It's a hobby of adult proportions. Jeremiah took this meeting time on as his ministry. For the first couple of months, he was often here by himself, just being faithful. But now, it's a fun time, and has really developed into its own community. Families have become regulars. And with families come kids. Recently, Jeremiah started an online fundraising campaign (you can still go and donate!! at https://www.gofundme.com/renaissancegaming) to get some newer, more kid-friendly games and toys.
He shared the link on his Facebook page and one of his friends said she couldn't help financially, but she could donate some games from her home. And one Friday afternoon (before Jeremiah arrived for game day), she came to the coffee shop, bearing games.
The woman was a stranger to me, but she said that she'd known Jeremiah since he was a teenager. She asked if the shop was associated with a church. I explained that our little congregation meets at the coffee shop. She said Jeremiah had always gone to church. That his faith was central in his life even in high school and she was not surprised to see he was still a committed believer. Not knowing their connection, I asked if she was also connected to the church he'd attended then. She changed the subject in a way that made it clear that she wasn't religious.
I found out through the conversation that she'd been on staff at the high school and Jeremiah had been in a program for "at-risk" kids (at least I think that's what they called it back then... I can't keep up with terminology). That had been their connection.
About the time we got to that, Jeremiah walked in. He was thrilled to see his old teacher. They hadn't seen one another since he graduated, about fifteen years ago. He introduced her to his wife and told his wife what a huge impact this woman had on his life. She had been someone who challenged and encouraged him. He said how much he respected her, and he valued the investment she'd made in his life.
She seemed surprised. "I don't know about that. You were really angry and disappointed in me."
She told the story. In his high school years, she got divorced. In an effort to pay the bills, she took a job at a liquor store. That was just too much for Jeremiah. She said he let her know very clearly that he didn't approve. After working with troubled kids, she shouldn't be willing to sell alcohol. She felt condemned in a really hard time of her life.
Jeremiah told her he regretted that response and assured her of her positive impact in his life. After she left, he and I talked about the experience. He said the crazy thing was that he didn't even remember that situation. His memories of her were all positive and uplifting. He completely believed that she wanted the best for him.
While she had positive memories of Jeremiah, they were colored by two larger than life details. He was first and foremost a religious and moral person. And she couldn't live up to his expectations.
Jeremiah has grown a lot since then (I mean, he was a teenager...) and grieved that someone he felt so fondly toward felt judged by him. None of us wants to be held to account for the selfish or unthinking things we did at that age. But it's completely healthy to regret those actions.
We talked about the impact our lives have even when it doesn't register in our minds. Words hastily spoken into someone else's life can wound, even without our intent. Especially when that other person is already hurting.
And if we've been open about our faith, it has the potential to sour people on that faith. People make judgments about what it means to be Christian through their personal experience of those who espouse Christianity.
2 Corinthians 5 tells us "Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, certain that God is appealing through us. We plead on Christ's behalf "Be reconciled to God."
That's the message our lives should tell. God doesn't hold your sins against you, so I don't either. God desires reconciliation; so do I.
That message should come through in our attitudes, even more than in our words. When we judge and condemn, people see God as harsh and unapproachable. People will see Him through us. They will associate our behavior with Him. So we need to LIVE the message.
As St. Francis of Assisi is credited "always preach the gospel. When necessary, use words."
In other words...
It's the only way to honestly represent Christ.