We must stop judging people for sinning differently
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.