The church looked no different from dozens of others I had visited in my life. The massive wooden doors were framed by an ornate concrete molding. The pews were worn wooden benches and rested upon a fraying indoor-outdoor carpet with thin padding. The altar and stained glass were familiar and reassuring and I settled in to listen to the sermon.
Many years ago, I was a guest of a friend from work who invited me to visit his church. I heard rumors that the church was part of a fringe movement within Christianity with its international leader, a self-proclaimed prophet and some claimed, a messiah. As I listened to the sermon, I found myself shifting my posture uncomfortably, disagreeing with many of the things he was saying. I tried to keep an open mind but I knew this was not Christianity. At the completion of the service, my friend accompanied me to the front of the church where the pastor was greeting his congregation.
He was an attractive man, his neatly combed hair slightly graying, and dressed casually in a collared shirt and wool sweater. His affable nature was comforting to the parishioners who were eager to greet him. My turn arrived and I was introduced to the pastor. His eyes twinkled as he shook my hand and asked, “Did you enjoy the service?”
Something snapped inside of me and instead of wisely keeping my opinion to myself, I decided to respond. “Well, I do have some questions about some of the things you said.” I foolishly and callously launched a vitriolic attack upon this pastor. I referenced things he said and then attempted to refute them with the Bible. This happened in front of my friend and his family, who stood next to me in horrified silence and then quickly directed his wife to escort his children away. The pastor politely listened to my rant, smiling and nodding. An associate pastor crept next to us and motioned to the pastor wondering if he should intervene, but the pastor shook his head and continued to listen to me. He finally stopped me and said, “Well, we should certainly meet again and discuss some of your points.” At that point, I realized the full impact of my disrespectful and insolent behavior. As we walked out of the church, my friend stared at me and asked, “Why did you do that?” I had no answer and I was completely mortified. I wanted to apologize but it was too late.
Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them.
Jonah 1:8-10 (ESV)
The prophet Jonah felt the sting of his hypocritical behavior when he was questioned by the foreigners on the ship he was traveling upon, attempting to run from God. Although they did not believe in the same God, they were well acquainted with the God of the Hebrews and feared Him. Knowing how great God was, they questioned why Jonah would disobey Him? Why indeed?
There are few things more humiliating and humbling than to have my actions and behavior rightly questioned by another. If I declare my faith in Jesus Christ, I am His ambassador and my life should be a reflection of the positive and godly transformation that Jesus Christ does for myself and all who believe in His Name. When it is not, I am the poster child for hypocrisy. Absolutely nothing could ever justify my cold-hearted attack upon this pastor, especially within the setting of friendship and community. I forcefully declared that I was a Christian but my actions belied my confession. My tongue and sinful nature, once again, destroyed my witness for Jesus Christ. I attempted to apologize to my friend and his family but not surprisingly, he never forgave me and we have never spoken again. To this day, it remains one of the most shameful things I have ever done in a very public setting.
Although this was over thirty years ago, this incident is a constant reminder of how desperately I need my Savior, Jesus Christ, to continue to transform and conform into His image. I have failed Him so many times because I refuse to let go of my prideful and sinful behavior. For Jonah, God created the harrowing experience of being swallowed alive by a great fish to deal with his pride and arrogance. For myself, God tore away a friendship by showing me how my depraved pride and arrogance had grown into a hateful smugness. Instead of seeking to build relationships by showing the love of Jesus Christ, I isolated myself, secure in the false confidence of my sinful nature.
Love and trust the Lord; seek His will in your life.