Summary: A quest for truth often begins with disillusionment, but is easily diverted to something that appears good on the surface; but when you find God's truth, even if it is in a strange place, embrace it quickly and fully.
The LORD does not see as [men] see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.
Ridgecrest is a large Baptist-run assembly ground, nestled in the mountains of western North Carolina. All summer long, every year, thousands of Christians come to Ridgecrest for training, inspiration, Bible study, and challenge.
A few years ago, during a conference, people began to notice a man hanging around the grounds. He did not look like he had just stepped out of your typical Sunday School class. His clothes were tattered and torn; they looked like something even the Salvation Army would throw away. His face had not been visited by a razor for a long time. His shoes could best be described by the title of Hymn No. 2 in the book – “Holy, Holy, Holy”! And worst of all, there was the BO. You know about BO? Let’s just say that when you got close, you did not get a whiff of Chanel No. 5. This young man was clearly “not one of us”, not the kind of person you normally see at Christian campgrounds.
What did he do? Not much, really. He did not approach anyone. He did not harass anybody. He did not ask for money. He mostly just hung around. When chapel services were held, he would walk across the front and sit down. When classes were under way, he would lie down on the grassy slopes nearby. And when meals were being served, he would stand on the dining hall porch, not far from the long lines of people clutching their meal tickets. No begging, no demands, just standing around.
At the end of the week they announced that there would be a special speaker for the closing service, and that he would speak on the theme, “Inasmuch as you have not done it unto one of the least of these, you have not done it unto me.” They promised that the audience would truly remember this message. The hymns were sung, the prayers were prayed, the choir sang, and the special speaker approached the podium. Who do you think was that special speaker? Who brought that memorable message?
That scruffy young man! That hangaround bum with the worn-out clothing, the messy beard, and the offensive BO! It turns out that he was a young pastor who had been asked to play a part by the organizers of the conference. And his message stung as he said to the crowd, “No one tried to include me in anything. No one asked me if I needed help. No one invited me to the dining hall. No one sat down to listen to my story. A few put religious tracts into my hand. One or two pulled out a dollar bill and gave it to me. But most of you turned your eyes and pretended not to see me. My appearance offended you, and you left me out.”
Appearances are deceiving. He looked like a beggar and a bum, but he was a pastor. (Please don’t anyone say that’s all the same thing!). People trusted their reading of his appearance, and didn’t go any deeper. People made an assumption about his worth, based on what they saw, and did not look for the truth. But appearances are deceiving. The truth is always deeper than what appears on the surface.
Some of you know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of this. Some of you know what it’s like to be put down just because of your appearance. How many of the men in this congregation have been walking down a street, and up ahead you see someone cross the street and walk down the other side, trying to avoid you? Or as they approach, they clutch their purses a little closer, their hands go back to their wallets, and they try not to look you in the eye? Do you know that move? What does it mean? What does it say? It says, “You’re young, you’re black, you’re male, and I don’t trust you.” Appearances – and the way we interpret appearances – are deceiving.
Now I am not able to comment very much about appearances. Fads and fashions never meant much to me. I went through high school on two gray flannel shirts. Actually neither one of them was gray when I started out, but after about a thousand washings, they were both a mousy gray. I don’t know much about clothes or about fashion. But I have kept my eyes open, and I have been watching what men wear these days. I have discovered that there is one piece of clothing that needs to be brought back. There is one item of clothing that seems to have gotten lost. When I walk past Coolidge High School, something tells me that we have lost our belts. Judging from the baggy pants and the view south of the border, we don’t know about belts anymore.