The Story of a Hairnet

Your motives will determine your reward.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

From stocking ice cream in a refrigerated tanker at the age of 14 to sanding columns and pillars by hand at 17, I have been a hard worker all of my life. While I never regretted my history of employment, especially my 14 years of military service, I had always wondered how things would change if I were a college graduate. Sitting in a stewardship committee of a church I pastored when I was 30; I gave some input on the topic being discussed. I will never forget the response from the committee chairman, who said, “Pastor, do you have a college degree in business?” “no, sir,” was my reply, “then please let us handle this matter without your input.” I was stunned, angry, and, most of all, embarrassed. Three years later, I hung two degrees on my wall; an Associates and a Bachelor’s, both in business. It was shortly after that God called me to start a new church. Not wanting to burden or distract any new members, I decided to refuse any financial compensation for the first year, took my bachelor’s degree, and started teaching for a local school district. I never stopped my education, as the day I had my bachelor’s degree conferred, I started my first class toward a master’s degree.

Two years after receiving my undergraduate degree, my family and friends cheered from the bleachers as I had my first master’s degree conferred. A few months after graduation, I received a call from the school district with a job offer, a special needs adult student who required one-on-one instruction at his job site. This position would allow more flexibility with my schedule, which would help our new church grow, so I thanked God and accepted. This student worked at the Virginia Veteran’s Care Center (VVCC), doing different janitorial and laundry service tasks. My job was to provide two hours of tutoring in the morning on his job site before he started his workday, shadow him as he completed his tasks-providing practical instruction-and then resume schoolwork during his breaks; for a total of six hours each day. I was thoroughly enjoying my new assignment and praising God for such an opportunity for my family and our church. Until…

As usual, I reported to the front desk of the VVCC to sign in and find out where my student would be assigned so that I could start our morning instruction. That morning was a first, my student had been assigned to the kitchen, and I had the dining hall as my classroom for the initial two hours. When my two-hour instructional period had ended, my student’s supervisor for the day came over to introduce himself and lead my student to his work area in the kitchen. As required, I followed along to shadow my student. As I approached the entrance to the kitchen, the supervisor, a young 20-something, placed his hand on my chest and condescendingly declared, “You can’t come in here until you suit up with a bib, gloves, and a hairnet. This is my kitchen, and you will follow my rules.” I replied, “I don’t think you understand. I will not be working in the kitchen; I am here to supervise my student, document his progress, and ensure he is given all accommodations in his contract. I won’t get near the food preparation area; I will hang back and observe”, to which he replied, “My kitchen, my rules. Suite up with a bib, gloves, and a hairnet, or I won’t let you in, no matter who you are!” I took the high road that day, suited up, and did my job-even washing dishes as instructed by the kitchen supervisor-with a subtle, passive-aggressive attitude, birthed out of pride. As soon as the clock revealed my day was over, I threw my bib in the laundry, flung my gloves in the trash, and stomped angrily to my car. 

Plopping down in the seat, after slamming my door, I looked in the mirror to see that hairnet still on my head. Ripping it off and flinging it on the passenger seat, I had a conversation with myself. “I am a grown man! I have a teaching license issued by the Commonwealth of Virginia! I have a master’s degree in education! I will not let a 20-year-old, pimply-faced kid with an attitude boss me around; I don’t work for him! I have worked too hard to be here; I am better than this!” It was that last statement that God decided to interrupt my conversation with a scripture, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I. Cor. 10:31, ESV).

My pride turned to humility, my anger to peace, and my sin was no longer justified but confessed. At that moment, in that car, on that day, I realized what it meant to do everything for the glory of God. The reason I had such an attitude was that I had been doing that job for all of the wrong people; the school district, my congregation, my family, and even that arrogant kitchen supervisor. The truth is, if Jesus Christ had asked me to put on a hairnet and wash dishes, I would have considered it an honor and done so with joy. For me, when we change “who” we are doing things for, everything changes, even our attitudes. The next day forward, that kitchen supervisor and I got along famously; he saw a man, old enough to be his father, willing to submit to his authority with joy and work harder than anyone else in that kitchen. That assignment only lasted three months, but the lessons I learned have lasted over 15 years.

Scripture: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” -Col. 3:17, ESV

Question: Do you ever find yourself working begrudgingly? How about complaining about your job or seemingly insignificant tasks you’ve been assigned? Do you ever feel you could be in a better position, one where you would have more respect for your experience or education?

Prayer: Father, there are times I allow pride to hinder my work and affect my attitude. May your words take root in my mind and heart so that I intentionally purpose to do everything for you and your glory. Thank you for giving me the health and strength to rise each day to serve you, no matter what you have me doing. Please help me recognize that you have a plan for my life that includes my work, and may you see a faithful, hardworking, and cheerful servant each day I report. Please help me recognize that my attitude and work ethic is a reflection of my relationship with you. Father, may I show you my gratitude today by what I do in your name. Thank you for your patience with me. In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray. Amen.

Stop Judging, Start Loving

We must stop judging people for sinning differently

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I will never forget that January day in 2009. I was leading both a Wednesday morning and evening prayer service and Bible study as the pastor of a church in Southwest Virginia. As usual, I checked two things in preparation for that church service; the news and the weather. The news to be sure I am meeting the current spiritual needs of our congregation by addressing the issues that cause us to struggle, and the weather because I like to be outside greeting people and need to know if I need an umbrella or a jacket! That particular day, both the weather and the news were cold, and both took my breath away. It was on this Wednesday, January 21st, that Haiyang Zhu, a Virginia Tech student from China, walked into the college campus cafe’ with a knife, and brutally attacked fellow student Yang Xin. What made this crime stand out more than other murders that took place in our world was that Zhu beheaded Xin in public, and that this heinous crime was committed on the same campus still reeling from the 2007 shooting that left over 30 dead. The church I was about to lead in prayer was just 35 miles away with many in our congregation having ties to this college; the news really struck an emotional chord.

When I arrived at church, I made sure that I was prepared for the service; brewed a few pots of coffee, walked around each table and prayed for all that would be in attendance, unlocked all doors, printed and copied handouts for my lesson, and turned the heat on-remember it was cold that day! What I was not prepared for was the reaction to the news by some in attendance. Most, if not all, of our congregation had already heard the news and were freely discussing their opinions around the coffee pots and at their tables. As I walked around greeting everyone, I heard things like, “There is a special place in Hell for someone like that”, and “This is what happens when we allow people from other countries to come to America, we invite evil to infect our country”. Again, while I was prepared for the church service, I was not prepared for this type of reaction. As a pastor, I remember this day so vividly because my heart was broken. How quickly we forget that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and that we all deserve that “special place in Hell” for our sins (Rom. 6:23), when we allow the sins of others to overshadow our own. How can we truly appreciate our own salvation to its fullest if we really believe there are some that hold greater sins? And, how can we hope to change the world around us if we see some people as beneath us?

Yes, Haiyang Zhu committed an act of evil and Satan seemed to have won a battle that day. But Satan did not win, and I saw a glimpse of that hope during the prayer request portion of our service after I insisted that Zhu and his family needed prayers too. That hope came in the form of a seasoned believer-one of our cherished senior adult members who raised her hand and simply announced, “Pastor, we are all sinners in need of a Savior, I hope this young man repents and falls in love with Jesus”.

In front of the judge, just before his life in jail sentence was pronounced, Haiyang Zhu lamented, “Not a single day went by without my conscience being tortured by guilt and my heart aching in pain. I will never forgive myself for what I have done”. And, after his sentance, he tried to take his own life at least three times. I often wonder what happened to Zhu, did he ever find release from that guilt and pain by surrendering to the love of God? I have prayed many times that God would place people of grace before him instead of people of judgment; that Zhu would hear there is love and forgiveness even for him.

There are many more like Haiyang Zhu in this world, perhaps not as outwardly violent, but certainly as inwardly sinful. As you rub shoulders with other sinful people as you navigate this world throughout the course of your day, will you be more like those on that cold January morning that believe there is no place in grace for them, or will you be like that precious woman who reminded everyone that there is still room at the cross?

Scripture: “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” -Colossians 3:13b ESV (Italics/bold are mine)

Prayer: Father, it is easy to compare myself to those that walk around me; viewing their sins as worse than mine and their actions as something that I would never do. Please help me to focus more on what is above me instead of around me-your love. Father, I confess that my sin was enough to cause you to send your Only begotten Son to the cross to die, and I thank you today that I did not get what I deserved. In the midst of my sin, your grace and love reached down and saved me, forgave me, and loved me. May I never get over that, and may I not judge those that are still in their sin but be quick to share the hope of love that is within me because of you. Father help me today realize that your love is not mine to keep but yours to give-to all-freely. In the name of Jesus, I pray, amen.