When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord." But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Sam 16:6-7 NIV)
What in the world do Chinese school children and homeless families have in common? Well, if you’ve been hanging around our church, you may know that both have made their way into my Sunday messages, but more importantly ‘both’ have made their way into my heart.
For the last month or so, I have been sharing a sermon series, titled Reflections from China. Unlike most sermon series – these are not based on a particular book in the Bible, but a series of observations, sometimes admittedly random, that I thought about during my recent trip to China. What would happen is, I would see or experience something and it would make me think of a particular Bible story or in some cases an interaction or experience during my life as a follower of Jesus Christ. During last Sunday’s message I showed a picture of a number of Chinese school children gathered around my wife and me. I asked our church family, “What do you see when you think about these children who at this point in their lives have almost assuredly not received Jesus into their heart, or even been exposed to The Gospel of Jesus Christ?” I asked, “Do you see potential atheists denying the existence of God or potential greatness praising God? Do you see those who would grow up to persecute Christians or Christians who would be willing to be persecuted for the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Do you see current Communists or future Christians, Buddhists or Believers?”
During this time, our church also hosted almost 30 homeless men, women and children as part of CARITAS (Congregations Around Richmond Involved To Assure Shelter). Our church families served these families faithfully and shared the love of Jesus in both word and deed. This year was a little different than many of the years we’ve hosted in the past. The families seemed much younger and there were many school age children – several about the age of the Chinese children I had recently seen. To be honest, these young families were a little more challenging, less mature, needier and more messy. When they left, it took several folks several hours to scrub, clean and get our church back in order. After they left, I also reflected on our homeless guests, especially the children, as I had done when I left the children in China. I wondered what we saw. Did we see pathetic lives or potential living in them? Did we see people who were trapped in the system or people who worked the system? Did we see hopelessness or hope, powerlessness or potential? Did we see anything other than our mission at hand, which was to house and feed these struggling folks for a week, and then walk away feeling good about ourselves? Do we see the need to pray for them even though they’re now gone?
There’s a familiar story in the Bible in which God is selecting the next king of Israel. God has let his prophet Samuel know that this king would come from the sons of Jesse. After looking over Jesse’s strapping young men, Samuel chooses Jesse’s oldest boy, Eliab, but is quickly overruled by the Almighty, who tells Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." God literally chooses the runt of the litter, an insignificant shepherd, the youngest son of Jesse, who was not even brought out for consideration. That young man was named David and became the most renowned King of Israel and the lineage that gives birth to the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.
As I reflected on all of this, as well as started to prepare my heart and mind for our upcoming shoe ministry and Vacation Bible School this month, I thought perhaps when we look at those who don’t seem to measure up to our expectations, or who look dirty or different, indigent, undignified or even undeserving, perhaps we need to look again, and see them with the potential that God sees in them. In order to do that, we’d actually have to open our eyes, and our hearts wide enough to see what God sees. For it is impossible to see when our eyes, and especially our hearts, are closed. My prayer is that we would open both wide and God would give us ‘Perfect Vision’ to see and do all that He desires for His glory.
God bless. Pastor Win