Listen…When someone in your group is obviously stained by sinful activity or the baggage of past history, don’t tell them then expect them to clean themselves up. If they could, they would’ve done so a long time ago. And don’t ignore saying anything about the stain so you don’t have to deal with an uncomfortable moment. The discomfort you create for them may lead them to the life they’ve always dreamed of. Instead, point out the stain, then you and your group work with them and in tandem with God to help clean up. After all, transformation takes place best in Christ-centered community, and you oversee one.
I had the opportunity last week to lead sessions at the North Central States Rally. This incredible event gathers church leaders from four or five states for the purpose of inspiring and training. It was a great honor for me to be there. It was also embarrassing… kind of.
My flight landed in Indianapolis just in time for me to see a movie before heading to the convention center/hotel where the event was taking place. As I often do, rather than having lunch, after getting my ticket in hand, I bought myself a medium popcorn and a large Diet Coke and made my way to theater number 15. The massive viewing room was nearly empty, as is often the case when seeing an afternoon flick mid-week…and I love it that way. I gotta tell ya’, I was feelin’ the moment. I locked into a center seat (I was lookin’ straight at the dead center of that screen.), my popcorn in hand, enough soda for at least two flicks, and almost no one to interrupt my movie going experience. I leaned back in my cushy seat proudly, propped my feet up on the back of the seat in front of me, and thought to myself, “What a life, I’m somebody today.” But had I known what was about to happen, I would’ve had other thoughts.
After getting really comfortable, I wolfed down a few bites of that well-buttered, slightly salted extravagance known as theater popcorn, and then it happened. Had I been thinkin’, I wouldn’t have ruined my day and my reputation. But I wasn’t thinkin’, I was gloatin’. The salty stuff made me need drink. So, like a camel requiring a fill up…I tilted that small pitcher of Coca-Cola perfection up to my parched lips and began to gulp through that straw as though I had never known drink before. Suddenly and without warning, I felt cold running down my snowy white, long-sleeved, well-pressed shirt. With the speed of Mike Tyson throwing a quick left jab, my head jerked down. It was then that the gravity of my situation came to light. I was astounded to see at least a third of that massive drink flowing down the entire front right side of my shirt onto the theater floor.
There was nothing I could do. I was way past cleaning up and I’d paid $7.50; I wasn’t leaving the theater. When the flick ended, I looked down to see that what was once a beautiful white dress shirt had been transformed into a two-toned top. One side was white as snow, the other side a disgusting dirty brown. Then it hit me, I had to go to the convention center, wait in line to register for the event, and then wait in line to get my room key. I was about to see old friends, new friends, and people who knew I was on the program. How would they react, and how would I react to their reaction? Come to find out, there was no need to ask myself any of these questions.
Amazingly…I greeted old friends, hugged old friends, introduced myself to people I’d never met before, and had elongated conversations…WEARING MY TWO-TONED USED TO BE WHITE SHIRT. And no one ever said a word, not a word, not even a sarcastic, “Nice shirt, Howerton.” It was as though I looked normal.
It seems to me when we’re stained and people know it, they will respond in one of three ways, 1) They’ll tell us what they see so that we can be at work cleaning ourselves up, 2) They’ll ignore our ugly stain lest they create an uncomfortable moment for the two of us, or 3) They’ll point out our obvious stain and help us clean up.