Just because the cloud in the sky looks like a multi-headed dragon to you doesn’t mean it doesn’t look like a four-leaf clover to someone else!
I was excited when the invitation came for me to address School of Urban Missions, a Bible college, which was having a conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Students who have committed their lives to ministry were planning to gather in the swamp state where by day they would be taught in workshops and by night they would be blitzing Bourbon Street to share the Gospel that had transformed their lives. As a lover of crayfish, boudin, étouffée, beignets, and all other Cajun cuisine as well as being internal Siamese twins to students whose hearts were ablaze with the compulsion to share the hope of Christ, I was fired up. To top it off, this entire event was being held during the annual celebration known as Mardi Gras, during which visitors from all over the world would drape balconies, bars and bistros in search of nightly bliss.
Although I have been all over the state Louisiana and specifically to New Orleans on numerous occasions, I had never visited during the annual two-week celebration of Mardi Gras. I was fascinated the first night as I stood outside the French Quarter and watched extravagant parade floats passing by in the shape of angels, demons, mermaids and sailors. There was even an Elvis Presley float!
Masked people rode the floats and threw beads, trinkets and gifts to the roaring crowds lining the streets. I inquired to a local expert why the riders wore masks and was told it was city law that could be enforced by a ticketed fine. When I discovered it is tradition to keep identity a secret, I pondered masks I have worn over the years to keep my own secrets and identity hidden. While most people did not recognize my masks as a disguise of myself I never could hide the masquerade from the person I wanted to convince the most… me.
The giving of gifts to strangers and the longing of so many wanting to receive them stimulated a variety of parallel thoughts of crowds and individuals I have spoken to all over the world. At some point we all fall under the category of a giver or a taker. Some hungry to bless and some hungry to get blessed; what many bystanders are willing to do in order to get things of so little value still confounds me.
Some trades are really bad…
My second night was teeming with anticipation. I planned to walk down the belly of the French Quarter on one of the most known streets in the U.S. with 400 students who would be sharing the greatest story ever told. And I couldn’t wait! We showed up right before the tangible and intangible darkness set in and I watched as the students begin to sing praise songs. Some people mocked them, some joined in song and others took selfies with the group in the background.
As the group began to talk with individuals, I headed off on my own to grab some dinner and explore. A few blocks later I saw some beefy guys who looked like a cross between professional body builders and Hell’s Angels who were standing in the middle of the street holding signs. Their square formation prevented them from being bushwhacked from their backside. The colorful signs they brandished said things about drunkenness, sin, sex and going to hell. There was an African American man who was preaching, I mean screaming, from a bullhorn.
Curious, I walked up and stood three feet in front of the street prophet and next to a college-aged drunk guy who was voicing obscenities. I was pretty sure he was about to get the beating of his life from one of the goatee defenders who stared him down like a lion over a gazelle. After friends carried off the drunk, even though there were people all around, the sermon giver turned his bullhorn and message towards me: “What do you think you’re doing man? Don’t you know God hates your sin and that you’re going to bust headfirst into hell? You’re a disgrace before God!”
I didn’t flinch, smile or frown but listened intently and he didn’t seem stop to take a breath. His posse stood stone-faced and never spoke or showed any expressions toward anyone.
He continued, “You think God doesn’t know about your drunken ways and your sexual perversion but He knows everything and is ready to judge you! You know you shouldn’t be down here and God is ready to punish you! Don’t you realize your going to wake up in hell someday?"
The scathing went on for another five minutes or so before I decided to move on. Before departing I leaned into the ear of the skin-headed white guy next to him and told him I was trying to reach people for Christ. He stared in my eyes and sternly said, “Then why in the world are you out here?” I replied that I was with 400 students from a Bible college who were two blocks down the street sharing their faith. His two-word reply of “that’s good” came without emotion before he then turned back into his statue pose.
Although some of their message was right all of their methods were wrong. Half-truths are about as enticing to ride as are half-winged airplanes. Yes, God hates sin and hell is real but that’s only part of the story. God loves people and wants no one to spend eternity separated from Him and His Son. And while drunkenness and perversion grieve the heart of God so does the condemnation of others and personal pride. Truth must me tempered and correct doctrines need correct deliveries.
Appearances are often deceiving and even the best vision has limitations. Gold, silver and diamonds are only discovered through layers of muck, mire, dirt and arduous excavation. So next time you decide to pass judgment or write off someone as unworthy, hopeless or incorrigible it is wise to consider you might be the one who is mistaken.
After all, correction without love leads to defiance!