“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10
It was a long day. My daughter, the barista, was supposed to get off at 2 pm, but her shift lingered until 3:30. A long line of cars meandered to the drive through and lines of folks eager for their chai teas and mocha lattes curved through the shop. The after-Christmas crowd armed with gift cards and caffeine deprivation descended on the shop like teenagers descend on the last piece of pizza. It was crowded and people were acting, well, very human.
My girl was spent. She climbed in the car and stared out the window for a while. I asked her about her day and waited as she digested the details. “Well, my day started out with a man who wanted some beans ground and I accidentally punctured the bag and most of the beans spilled on the floor. He yelled at me and angrily walked out. A lot of people yelled at us for not getting their orders done quickly. People ordering were just rude and impatient and unkind. Just as I was about to get done just now an older lady yelled at me because her drink was taking too long. Mom, it was awful.”
Her words soon stopped and the tears began to come. She cried and cried. “Mom, people are so horrible. I mean how can they be that hateful, that cruel, over something so small—a cup of coffee. Really? Is it that hard to just be kind?”
As I listened to her and held her as she sobbed, one phrase kept coming to mind over and over again, “Jesus died for them. Jesus died for THEM.” So I took a deep breath and took my 18-year-old daughter’s hand, and said, “But you know, Jesus died for them, too.”
And this young heart, one for whom the veil of the reality of living in a sin-sick world is slowly, but surely, being lifted, said, “How could He do it, mom? How could He love something so horrible, so unloveable? How could He die for that?”
My answer was honest, “I don’t know precious one, but He did. It is a love that’s beyond our comprehension.”
And it is. Romans 5:8 says “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t die for us because we were so good or so clean or so kind or so gentle or so giving or so selfless. Nope. He died for us in the middle of our wickedness. When we rejected him. When we were cruel. When we were dead in our sin, in our selfishness. See, we don’t clean up and come to Jesus. We come to Jesus and He makes us clean.
Until we realize how desperately ugly our sin is to God, we will never realize how beautiful, how powerful, how gracious, how merciful the love of God in Christ is. In some cultures, like our American Judeo-Christian culture, and, even worse, the Southern Bible Belt culture, we somehow equate good behavior with a good heart. I’m here to tell you, no matter how “good” the outward behavior, unless Jesus Christ has come in and radically transformed a heart, there is nothing “good” in a person. The actions may be good, but Jesus says clearly in the gospels it’s a matter of the heart. And when someone is squeezed or goes through a crisis or even has to wait for a cup of coffee, what is inside will come out, and what comes out of a heart not altered by a relationship with Christ isn’t pretty.
One of the saddest things my daughter shared with me in her now two years at the coffee shop is the people who are often the meanest and most impatient are the ones wearing the Jesus shirts. In fact, her coworkers, most of whom are not followers of Christ, look for the “Jesus shirt wearers” and use them to stereotype Christians. My daughter has had to explain more than a few times that those people don’t represent Christ. She told them Jesus came to save sinners, and we are all sinners. His love is greater than our sin and His grace is what offers us salvation. Those who claim the name of Christ won’t always be an accurate ambassador of His mercy and grace, but Christians desire to be more like him and less like us.
After that long day, my girl and I sat in the van and cried and we prayed. We prayed for forgiveness for our wicked hearts and asked the King to help us to see as He sees and love as He loves. That night I whispered a prayer asking the King to give my girl some glimpses of grace while she was at work.
After work the very next day she told me, “Mom, this lady came in today and she was so kind. She talked to me about what I was doing and encouraged me and she said ‘thank you.’” It was such a simple thing. It may have seemed so small to that precious lady. But she was a city on a hill to my girl that day. A bright light of love and kindness to a heart that needed to be reminded of God’s love and care for her. A small thing reflecting the infinite love of the Father. And it revealed an otherworldly love to my daughter’s coworkers, those who don’t know Him. It was a chance for her to say, “Did you see that? That’s how my God loves His children.”
So what have I learned from the coffee shop?
- Ask the King to give me His perspective. I need to always remember that Christ died for all. I can’t expect those who don’t know Him to act like they do. I need to love the hard to love and give away the love of God without expecting anything in return—even if I’m rejected; even if someone is cruel or hateful in their response. Jesus was rejected, spit upon, falsely accused, and hung on the object of shame, a cross. If He did that out of love for me while I was rejecting Him, how can I not love others?
- If I claim the name of Christ, I need to seek to be an accurate ambassador of who He is. I know I won’t get it right every time, but I do know seeking to be like Jesus could be the healing balm or encouragement someone needs. Even if I don’t say a word, but am patient and understanding in a difficult situation when my flesh wants to scream, I am practicing dying to myself and taking up my cross and following Him. It’s not about me anyway, it’s about bringing glory to Jesus.
- Take time to be kind. Say thank you. Encourage someone who is working hard. Tell them they did a good job. I never realized how those seemingly insignificant things can reveal the love of God in big and small ways to those you encounter at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, at the restaurant. Your kind words may make an eternal difference in someone’s life. Love like Jesus.