Sharing Life While Holding My Breath
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:1-2 Coming home from work this morning was quite normal, except for one thing in particular. As I took off my usually brown-stained t-shirt and shorts, I realized that they wreaked. Now granted, usually after a long night of 90+ degree conditions loading boxes can leave a distinctive scent, but this was a scent of another sort. It was the smell of cigarette smoke. No. I have not started smoking (and yes, I am still a teetotaler). I happen to have a Monday night class which ends around 9:30 p.m. from which I proceed to work and find a nice, comfortable booth in the UPS cafeteria to study. However, because some cafeteria ladies think that the normal room temperature means being able to see your breath, I had to find a better place to study, so I went outside and sat on the benches where my co-workers normally take their smoke breaks. Last night, my reading goal was to complete the first chapter of Tell the Truth by Will Metgzer, a God-centered book on evangelism and personal witnessing. Shortly after beginning my read, a couple of folks sat down on the benches beside me to start their pre-work smoke (I didn’t realize that some people smoke 3-4 cigarettes at one sitting). Immediately, I was tempted to get up and find another break area to study, especially since I really have a hard time with the smoke. Yet for some reason (I believe it was the Lord), I decided to stay and attempt to read. A few moments later a couple more folks came over to sit and smoke, and before long there were more than 10 people sitting around me smoking and sharing life, talking about their weekend and all the stuff that comprises small talk. Many of the smokers who sat around me were people who I have seen on a regular basis but have never been close enough to share a meaningful conversation. They either work on another belt or area, or I end up spending time being selfish and reading in a secluded area. Over the course of the next 30-45 minutes, a really cool thing happened. No, they did not all come to me and say, “Rev, what must I do to be saved?” But I did learn to hold my breath at certain incremental moments when the smoke appeared to funnel my way. In between catching my breath, I was able to share about my life, some previous mission work, and more than anything, listen to their stories. Knowing that I was a minister (or rev. as they call it), they wanted to show respect by reducing the four-letter words to 3 per sentence instead of the normal 5 to 10. When our conversation ended and we headed our separate ways to work, none of my coworkers heard the gospel nor did I share my testimony. No, they are just as lost and needy of Jesus as they were before they lit their first cig. While there was little to no change (at least visible) in my coworkers, there was an obvious change to me. As I walked up and down the belt, my coworkers noticed that I had a strong scent of cigarette smoke on my clothes (being around 10-12 smokes for almost an hour will do that). Yes, there was some very different about me. For too long, I have held my unbelieving coworkers at arms’ length and have attempted to reach them on my turf, whether it was inviting them to church or on the belt where I am comfortable. Then the passage I quoted above came to my mind, how Jesus received “tax collectors and sinners” and partook of the most intimate occasion as having dinner at one’s house and welcoming them into his arms and ultimately eternal life. Jesus shared his life and experiences with them, a lesson that I have known for a long time but have been an inconsistent practitioner in. I am reminded of what Paul says to the Corinthians: But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. 2 Corinthians 2:14-17 As I conclude this day with a smoke-stained t-shirt and burdened heart for my unbelieving co-workers, I am reminded that I am, we are, the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved as well as those who are perishing. May God find us faithful in spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. It is my earnest prayer that the fragrance that leaves the break rooms and smoking benches of UPS is not the residue of nicotine but the sweet, savoring scent of Jesus—the same Jesus who reached out to the thieving tax-collectors hands will undoubtedly receive the nicotine-stained hands of sinners. Who is sufficient for these things? That is the question. I am not the witness I should be, but by God’s grace, I hope to be a faithful and loving representative of my Savior to the world he has given me to embrace. From tonight on, I pray that my life and wardrobe will not reveal a life absent and distanced from scent of sinners, lest I forget that among them I am chief. For such a debtor to sovereign mercy, far be it for me to miss another opportunity to love my friends and give them Jesus, even if that means me losing my breath.