When I first moved to Welch I met a young man who was eager to share his testimony. So, one day we sat down at a restaurant and had a nice chat over a piece of pie.
The young man, John*, at a young age became very immersed in “biker culture”. He never owned his own home , or a car, or anything else that would cause a man to settle down and put down roots. He bought a Harley, and in his opinion, that was all he would ever need. He road with a group of other men who lived hard, fought hard, drank hard… and used hard drugs. It wasn’t long before John was severely addicted to some pretty nasty stuff.
As I listened to his story, I was astounded. John was the same age I was… and although I am the first to admit that I have hit some really rough stretches in my life, but I had never had to live through anything as difficult as the life this man was talking about.
More astounding than his hard past, though, was the dramatic transformation that had taken place in his life.
When his life was at its lowest… at what seemed to him to be the point of no return… John had some pretty strong forces in his life who were still praying for him. Perhaps they had done all they could do to get John back on a good path, but they knew that God still had some work left to do, so they didn’t give up.
Eventually, John crossed paths with another biker, Joe. They quickly became close friends. Joe had ridden the same paths that John was currently traveling. He had been involved with some pretty tough stuff and had done things that he would willingly talk about, but was obviously deeply ashamed of. And so he delved into his shameful and painful past to let John know that he knew what it was like and that there is no low-point that is too low for God to reach into.
It took time, and it wasn’t easy, but John eventually walked away from the hard-core biker culture and the drug and alcohol addictions. By the time I met John, he had been clean for nearly two years and had completely rededicated his life to Jesus. In his testimony he confessed over and over again that it was only through the loving, forgiving grace of Christ that he had found the strength to battle his addictions. There was no mistake about what had happened in John’s life. Jesus had saved him.
He was baptized by a minister Joe knew well–also a biker and former addict who had abandoned a life of sin in order to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. Upon exiting the water, he was presented with a new leather vest to replace the old one he had worn. The old one had been filled with badges and reminders of all the sinful things he had once done… this was a new one, a symbol of Christ’s love and the new, blank slate he now had. With the new vest came a new life.
Every day, John got out of bed and dressed himself in the uniform of a warrior: old blue jeans, heavy boots, t-shirt, and that blessed vest. If he wasn’t working, he was wearing the uniform of a hard-living man saved from himself. He was never afraid to tell his story. If he saw someone flailing about the way he once had, he’d tell his story in the hopes that they might hear Jesus in his words. When he met someone like me, he told his story because it was good practice and a way of sharing with his fellow Christian brothers and sisters how profound God’s love truly is.
John found a church and began to attend. At first, everyone was thrilled to have him. Here was a young man on fire with the love of Christ. He was full of energy and optimism. He had lived a hard life, so there was nothing that could be put in his path now that could stop him from powering forward in his faith life. He was never afraid to testify, never afraid to share the gospel, and never afraid to fall to his knees in humility before the Lord (and mind you, this was a sight to see… John was a huge man).
For awhile, he was always accepted just the way he was… and then one day one of the church leaders pulled him aside after worship and said, “Don’t you think it’s about time you start dressing the part of a Christian? We are supposed to want to put our best foot forward when we come to the Lord’s house.”
John was flabbergasted. He was putting his best foot forward. Every. Single. Day.
That vest was not a celebration of his sinful past, it was a celebration of the inward transformation that Christ had worked in his life. What better foot can you put forward than to constantly celebrate and witness to the miracles the Lord has worked in your life.
But the leaders of that church wanted John to “keep up appearances.” They were afraid that if people saw John coming to church several times a week and taking leadership positions of his own that other people would think it would be okay to live in a worldly culture.
John saw it differently. Christ had come into John’s life, into the midst of all the sin and hurt and suffering, and rescued him from perishing. The clothes he wore were a constant and subtle witness to all those people of his past, and to the new hard-living people John was meeting in his personal ministry. They saw the vest and they saw the Christian symbols and they knew that John had abandoned the path they are on to walk this new one. Had John stopped wearing what he saw as a “uniform” he would have lost an important part of his witness to a people desperately in need of good news.
John called upon Romans 10:13-15: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”
John was the first to admit that the places he went are not for everyone to go. The sorts of bars that he walked into in order to share the gospel were not places for the faint of heart. And the people who hung out in those bars were not the sort to don a suit and tie and head off to church. So, then, how would they ever be able to call upon the Lord if no one went to them?
“If this is the uniform I wear when I go out to share the message… if it’s the uniform God gave me the day I came up out of the water a born-again man… then how could it not be my best foot on Sunday morning?”
I had to admit, John had a very good point. Who are any one of us to judge what the “best” of someone else is? The “best” of a former drug addict and active biker looks a lot different from my best. And my best looks different from the best of a construction worker, whose best looks different from the best of a lawyer.
Our role as Christians should never be about “keeping up appearances,” but in living into the love and grace of Jesus Christ. The world is diverse. Christians look different from place to place and from culture to culture. And yet, the Kingdom is open to us all… regardless of our appearances.